Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson is one of the strangest novels that I have read in recent times. It is a monologue by a woman who is the epitome of the unreliable narrator. There are numerous allusions o culture, both high and low. It is a bizarre book but entertaining. It also draws on feminist issues of daughters and sons who have been erased by history.
“One’s language is frequently imprecise in that manner, I have discovered.
Actually, the story of Turner being lashed to the mast reminds me of something, even though I cannot remember what it reminds me of.” (12)
“I am not particularly happy about this new habit of saying things that I have very little idea what I mean by saying, to tell the truth” (58).
“In addition to remembering things that one does not know how one remembers, one would also appear to remember things that one has no idea how one knew to begin with” (61).
“To tell the truth, I may even have made believe that I was Helen, once. …. Or perhaps it is only the past itself, which is always smaller than one had believed” (126).
“One can hardly put down everything that exists in one’s head.
Or even begin to be aware of it, obviously.
In fact I have no doubt that I have more than once written things that I did not even remember I remembered until I wrote them.
Well, I have commented on that.
Though as a matter of fact there are also certain things that one remembers while one is writing that one did not remember one remembered but does not happen to put down, either” (156).
“Possibly one of them was even a Greek edition of William Shakespeare’s plays. By a translator who had been under the influence of Euripides” (45).
Helen of Troy had at least one daughter, Hermione and Leonardo da Vinci bought buy birds in Florence and let them out from their cages (58). Rape of Artemisia Gentileschi.
“There is a famous canvas in the National Gallery, of Penelope weaving, and nobody stopped the painter from putting everybody from Ithaca into clothes that people did not wear until practically three thousand years later, during the Renaissance” (148).
“Although what I have entirely left out is that the painting is not actually of the fire either, but of a reflection of the fire.
So in other words what I am ultimately seeing is not only a painting which is not a real painting but is only a reproduction, but which is also a painting of a fire which is not a real fire but is only a reflection” (153). Photographs of Lawrence of Arabia.
Once, Bertrand Russell took his pupil Ludwig Wittgenstein to watch Alfred North Whitehead row, at Cambridge. Wittgenstein became very angry with Bertrand Russell for having wasted his day” (61).
“Well, and I certainly would have found it agreeable to tell Ludwig Wittgenstein how fond I am of his sentence” (100).
Brahms carried candy in his pocket to give to children of the people he visited (169).
“Perhaps I have not mentioned that one of the children to whom Brahms now and again gave some of that candy might very well have been Ludwig Wittgenstein.
On my honor, however, Brahms frequently visited at the home of the Wittgenstein family, in Vienna, when Ludwig Wittgenstein was a child” (170).
“Wittgenstein also played an instrument, incidentally.
And sometimes did some sculpture.
I enjoy knowing both of those things about Wittgenstein.
In fact I also enjoy knowing that he once worked as a gardener, in a monastery.
And inherited a good deal of money, but gave it all away.
In fact I believe I would have liked Wittgenstein.
especially since what he did with the money, once he did decide to give it away, was to arrange to have it used to help other writers who did not have any” (173).
“Ludwig Wittgenstein actually sued to carry sugar in his pockets, when he went for walks near Cambridge himself.
The reason he carried the sugar being to give it to horses he might see in the fields while he was walking.
On my honor, Wittgenstein used to do that. …
Wittgenstein was never married, by the way. Well, or never had a mistress either, having been a homosexual” (220).