My favourite time was soon after sunset, when I liked to catch the first sight of the evening star, suddenly bright, high in the west above the darkening outlines of the copses. It was a solitary ritual, wound up incoherently with bits of poetry said over and over like spells: sunset and evening star [Alfred, Lord Tennyson], the star that bids the shepherd fold [John Milton], her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west [Gerard Manley Hopkins] . . . It intensified and calmed my yearnings at the same time, like a song. In one poem I’d seen that first star referred to as the folding star, and the words haunted me with their suggestion of an embrace and at the same time a soundless implosion, of something ancient but evanescent; I looked up to it in a mood of desolate solitude burning into cold calm. I lingered, testing out the ache of it: I had to be back before it was truly dark, but in high summer that could be very late. I became a connoisseur of the last lonely gradings of blue into black.
– Hollinghurst, The Folding Star, pp. 222-23, brackets added
I know that Hollinghurst’s prose does not move every reader, but there are times he takes my breath away. In a previous post, I noted how tenderly and insightfully Hollinghurst alludes to a line of Wordsworth. Here, he seamlessly ties together (without naming) Tennyson, Milton, and Hopkins, and he leaves the most important allusion even vaguer; “the folding star” appears in “one poem.” Though our narrator recalls chiding his first lover, Dawn/Ralphie, some pages later for not knowing that this business of a “folding star” is an allusion to Milton (“Don’t you know your Milton?” I said pityingly, “The star that bids the shepherd fold? As when the folding star arising shows His paly circlet?”), the second question actually appears in William Collins’ “Ode to Evening.” But no matter; I like how Hollinghurst’s narrators/characters cling and stitch together literary fragments, how Edward Manner manages to associate his solitary walks with a string of images, a singular tunnel through literary history that intensifies his ache. More importantly, I like that Edward can’t really control how this literature haunts him, how it has become the logic, the optic, and the technology ready-at-hand for experiencing and feeling his way through the world.