Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Literary Dinner Party

Literary Dinner Party
by Connie Keller

Several months ago I was invited to the Great Fiction Literary Banquet held every two years by the Canon of Literature. Now, of course, you may be wondering why I was invited; after all, I haven’t contributed anything to the canon—in fact, not a single novel I’ve written has even been published. I could argue that some of the greatest works of fiction remain unpublished and that my work belongs to that category. But, the truth of the matter is that I stole an invitation that had been addressed to Emily Bront—Ď. And I don’t feel too bad about it—who in their right mind thinks that Wuthering Heights should belong to the Canon? If it hadn’t been written a few decades too soon, it would have belonged to the Harlequin romance genre.

In any case, I arrived at the banquet clutching Emily’s invitation. A butler met me in the foyer, and I handed him my invitation. He read it, nearly raised an eyebrow and said, “Good Evening, Madame.”
I would know that “Good Evening, Madame,” anywhere. “Jeeves,” I asked, “is that you?”

“Mr. Woodhouse was good enough to allow me to assist in the festivities,” he answered.

“Is he here—Mr. Woodhouse, I mean,” I asked.

“I regret not. He is currently being pursued by a bevy of aunts.”

“’Like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps,’” I quoted.

“Precisely, Madame,” he said and escorted me to the drawing room.
After we arrived, he asked, “And next to whom would you prefer to dine?”
I scanned the cavernous room. In one corner was Will Shakespeare. Surely, he’d make a superb dinner companion. I could ask him how he learned to write in iambic pentameter. Or, I could tell him how much I loved Much Ado about Nothing and ask him what he thought about Emma Thompson in the role of Beatrice. I was just about to tell Jeeves that my choice was Will, but then I saw him guffaw wildly and slosh his cosmopolitan all over George Elliot (she was none too happy and ticked Will off). It occurred to me that Will was a bit too in love with himself and would probably spill a glass of cabernet on my silk blouse during dinner. Will was out.

I was about to ask Jeeves for a recommendation when he said, “Please excuse me. I see the Misters Hemmingway and Joyce trying to break in through a window—they try every year.”

“But don’t you invite them?” I asked and watched two giddy faces pressed against the window.

He shook his head, sadly. “We did, once—they imbibed all the port, pinched Madame Bradstreet on the backside, and purloined the silver. Besides, their table manners are appalling. Not to mention the fact that Mr. Joyce was unable to keep his personal pronouns straight; he kept referring to himself as “he” and “you.” Unfortunately, it gave Signore Dante a migraine, and he threatened to include us all in the third circle if those gentlemen were ever allowed sup with us again. Needless to say, Misters Joyce and Hemmingway have not received an invitation since,” Jeeves finished as he straightened his gloves and stiffened his spine.

“Wise decision,” I murmured as he hurried away, and I made a mental note not to sit next to Mr. Alighieri. I wondered how long I had to come up with a dinner partner. I saw Dorothy Sayers walk by. She’d be great, but the truth was that it wasn’t Dorothy I wanted to sit with, it was Lord Peter Wimsey. She might lecture me on Roman Catholic theology. She was out too.

“Hello, my dear,” I heard whispered into my ear. “Loved your last book, truly set the standard, don’t you know.” I turned to find out who the liar was. He pressed a double olive martini into my hand. “Drink up—it’s all free. I’ll keep you well-supplied. I’m looking for a dinner companion and I think you’ll do.”

“Thank you, Lord Byron,” I answered and took a sip. His eyes lingered on the neckline of my blouse. I buttoned the top button and didn’t care if it made me look like a librarian. The thought of dinner with the Lord of Learing made me finish the martini in one big gulp.

“Well done. Let me get you another.”

“Oh, Lord Byron,” I said, “by the way, I heard there’s a women’s reading group waiting for you in the carriage house.”

“Modern women?” he asked.

I nodded and added, too quietly for him to hear, “from a women’s study program at Wellesley.”

He ran his fingers through his hair and tossed back the last of his martini. “I love modern women, literally. Ha Ha.”

He swept away, but I figured I’d laugh last.

But then I saw the butler coming toward me. I needed a dinner choice, now. I skimmed the crowd and dismissed Poe, too weird, Dickenson, ditto, and Thoreau—a grown man who brings his laundry home for his mother to wash is not a good dinner companion. Then I saw a dear friend. She wore a modest gown and had mousy brown hair. I walked over to her as she asked the bartender for a small glass of sherry.

“Ah, Bacchus, make that two. Anyone who rids us not only of Emily but also of Byron deserves a sherry.”

“Well, thank you,” I answered and took a sip.

“Anytime, dear,” she replied. “Come now, let’s hurry to the table. Jeeves always saves the best seat for me—he has five nieces and I’ve promised to find husbands for them all. After all, I took care of the Bennetts’ daughters.”

“But they weren’t all good marriages,” I pointed out.

She winked at me. “They weren’t all good girls, were they?”

“No,” I smiled and knew I’d found my dinner companion.