It’s one thing to drive a point home, but certain pieces of information in Absalom, Absalom! are delivered with all the finesse of a rhetorical nail gun—as if there might have been concern the intended audience suffered from short-term memory loss. When the word fool is used, for example, it is not used sparingly—Miss Coldfield calls her sister a “blind romantic fool” three times in the first chapter, then later “blind woman mother fool” for good measure; and, as has been mentioned before, the phrase “self-mesmered fool” appears in the book twice as often as seems advisable (which is to say that it appears twice)—but Chapter 8, particularly as it concerns the characters of Charles Bon and a family lawyer, is the real fool’s paradise.
Bon is a fellow who, we have been told, has a tendency to wear a false smile (although “tendency” might not be a strong enough word considering that we are told this about nine times). As to the mental acuity of the man behind the smile, we have the opinion of his attorney, “who considered Bon only dull, not a fool.” Lest this evaluation slip from the mind in the space of a page and a half, we are almost immediately made further privy to the lawyer’s thoughts on his client—“even if he was too dull or too indolent to suspect or find out about his father himself, he wasn’t fool enough not to be able to take advantage of it.”
Ten pages after this—to ensure against any depreciation of the reader’s acquaintance with this relationship dynamic—we are reminded of Bon, “[l]ike that lawyer thought, he wasn’t a fool.” (Aha, but now the dramatic complications deepen, as the sentence continues: “the trouble was, he wasn’t the kind of not-fool the lawyer thought he would be.”*)
The investigation into the complexities of this Bon-foolery persists eight pages on (although it has become so complex that the author himself seems to have gotten reversed which things the attorney thinks Bon is and isn’t): “Because, though the lawyer believed him to be rather a fool than dull or dense, yet even he (the lawyer) never for one moment believed that even Bon was going to be the kind of fool he was going to be.”**
Four pages later and, for those readers who might be thinking, “Seems like the finer points of Bon’s foolishness have gone underexplored in this chapter so far,” additional evidence arrives in epistolary form, “a letter…that boiled down to eighteen words I know you are a fool, but just what kind of fool are you going to be? and Bon was at least enough a not-fool to do the boiling down.” (“Not-fool” now joining “self-mesmered fool” in the ranks of “fool-related terms and phrases one does not expect to see more than once within a single literary work.”)
Continuing on the same page, the subject somehow not yet exhausted, the lawyer offers some closing thoughts: “he still did not really believe that Bon was that kind of a fool, though he was about to alter his opinion somewhat about the dullness.” Even with allowance for this final bit of wiggle room vis-à-vis the legal proceedings of Foolish v. Dull, surely the point has at last been more than driven home—it’s been driven home, taken inside, and put summarily to bed.
• • •
* Not-fool ? (I guess I’m only surprised it wasn’t unfool.)
(Gary Larson, The Far Side)
And, footnote p.s.: the parenthetical clarification “the lawyer” in this sentence is the book’s, not mine.