A Good, Ordinary Wine
written in 1909 and it anticipates Eliot’s world of Prufrock and ‘Portrait of a Lady’ both of which were written over the following six years. The tale opens with indecision:
Three times within a quarter of an hour – shifting the while his posture on his chair of contemplation – had he looked at his watch as for its final sharp hint that he should decide, that he should get up.
White-Mason is fully aware that ‘if he did call on Mrs. Worthingham and find her at home he couldn’t in justice to himself not put to her the question that had lapsed the other time, the last time, through the irritating and persistent, even if accidental, presence of others.’ Although she hadn’t arranged to ‘keep that day for him’ he felt the beckoning of wealth and expectation. However, upon arrival at the polished and prosperous home of the rich widow, a home which bore the ‘gloss of new money’ and the ‘glare of a piece fresh from the mint’ he encounters a friend from long ago, an older time: Cornelia Rasch. After that lady has taken her leave White-Mason is left in a Prufrockian circle of Hell as he counts time:
Shall I now or shan’t I? Will I now or won’t I? Say within the next three minutes, say by a quarter past six, or by twenty minutes past, at the furthest – always if nothing more comes up to prevent.
He leaves and pays a visit to the modest Twelfth Street apartment of Crapy Cornelia which has no ‘swaggering reproductions’ but just the carefully chosen and retained momentos of an old world set of beliefs. As he ‘dropped into the other chair by her fire’ he leans back to gaze at the flame:
I can’t give you up. It’s very curious. It has come over me as it did over you when you renounced Bognor. That’s it – I know it at last, and I see one can like it. I’m ‘high.’ You needn’t deny it. That’s my taste. I’m old.
These late tales offer a profound insight into a mind that has come to terms with both achievements and loss, public recognition and private awareness of its cost.