Mrs Hedges
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In my copy from school of En Attendant Godot there are the usual humiliating marginalia, in manic capitals: ORIGINAL SIN, CIRCULARITY, IRONY. These notes, I note, get sparser as the play continues. At one point, there is a sad line on its own – scrawled, for some reason, above Lucky’s speech: ‘l’amour est l’homme inachevé– Eluard trans. by Beckett.

I loved my French teacher very much. Her name was Mrs Hedges. She always walked round school with her books in a wicker basket. She was very pretty. She had a delicate, grave face. And what I most loved about her was her delicate, grave sarcasm. She was never impressed by anything.

Because in general I have difficulties with teachers: I mean, with the fact of being taught. Even taking our puppy to puppy-class left me sensitive and ill at ease. I find it difficult to get the appropriate tone. At school, this was therefore a problem. In an essay, sure, I could be myself, but put me in a class and I got fretful: I became very shy and very quiet. That I had my drugged-up moments was also possibly a factor in this quietness. I tended to drift away and in retrospect I can see that this might have been a difficult pose for any teacher to bear.

But Mrs Hedges had cool. She could quote Eluard and Beckett and did not think that this was cool – a fact which seemed to me the pure definition of the truly cool. She had total self-possession. (Her first name was Katherine. But of course, no teacher has a first name, really.) So obviously I wanted to impress and charm her. I wanted her to like me very much. She offered some kind of ideal where reading high art was what everyone did – like takeaway, and breathing.

And then one day, she asked if I could babysit for her two children. And so I sat there, on a Saturday night, in her house near Hampstead Heath. In retrospect, I think I did feel jealous of Mr Hedges, whose face I cannot remember, although presumably we met. I was jealous of his obvious machismo and financial lavishness, the kind of lavishness that meant he could live with Mrs Hedges in this giant house. But what I really remember about that evening is that I had been browsing on her bookshelves: these bookshelves that were so alluringly full of books in French. I had taken down Erich Auerbach’s giant study of the real in literature: Mimesis. I do not know why – it must have just impressed me with its casually gigantic range. It looked like the kind of book a genius would write, or read. But me, I had not read it. I had not even looked at it. I had just absentmindedly left it on the desk. But the gesture I remember and that made me love Mrs Hedges completely was that when she and her husband came back from whatever restaurant or party or arthouse cinema or orgy, she gravely said that I should take it, that I should read it.

I took it. I am not sure that I read it. Or, more precisely, I tried to read it, but I was only 17, and I was not really able to think about the history of the real in literature. But then, the history of the real is not what’s in fact important. The important aspect was her immediate generosity.Should I admit this? The love was definitely love. And it occurs to me now that, in my innocent way, I did even consider employing Mrs Hedges in some kind of sexual fantasy. It happened once. In this fantasy, while roaming through my flickering imagination, I was back at her house: with its quiet garden, and secluded living room. I think in this fantasy she had invited me over – knowing that this time her husband and children were gone. But at that point in the fantasy, I found myself perplexed. She was possibly naked, true, and definitely on the sofa. But that was the highest transgression I could imagine in relation to Mrs Hedges.

I really did like her too much. She had offered me this vision of a perfect world: where reading was living, too. I didn’t want to let loose a puppy in this world, and let my lust clamber all over the furniture, drooling and excitable. I just wanted her to be happy. I still do.

'Arete is a journal as exquisite in its execution as in its intentions.'
John Updike

'Vous m’avez donné un grand plaisir … votre revue m’est très sympathique et proche.'
Milan Kundera