The 1938 Club: Delmore Schwartz ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’

The-1938-Club

And sneaking in just under the wire here, my contribution to Simon’s (from Stuck in a Book) and Karen’s (from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings) 1938 Club – a week of posts dedicated to all manner of writing published in that year. Such a great idea, and I’ve loved reading the various contributions. You can link to many via Simon’s original post here.

Knowing time was limited, I picked a short story – the fantastically titled ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’ by Delmore Schwartz who, with a name like that, must surely have moonlighted as a crime-noir detective. Although it appeared first in a 1937 issue of Partisan Review, the story was published in a collection of other poems and stories by Schwartz in 1938. So I hope that counts!

According to Schwartz’s biographer, the story was written over a weekend in July when Schwartz was just 21 and was one of Nabokov’s favourites. And it opens like this:

“I think it is the year 1909. I feel as if I were in a moving-picture theatre…”

The first person narration is seemingly Schwartz himself and the film he is watching turns out to be about the occasion of his parents’ engagement, following a day spent on the boardwalk in Brooklyn.

While it’s only a little over six pages long, there is an astonishing amount of scope within this story. With one of the best ‘it was all a dream’ endings I’ve come across, Schwartz’s writing contrasts the prosaic detail of his parents’ day with beautiful descriptions of the wider world encompassing them,  poignant insights into their personalities with a growing sense of tragedy at their decision and what it will mean for the years to come.

It reminded me, pleasingly, of how important each word can be when there aren’t many of them to begin with, as well as doing that thing that really good short stories do whereby the larger, more interesting story is outside of the story being told, so that  your own imagination gets fired up while being taunted with the gleeful frustration of knowing you’ll never find out what happened.

An excellent introduction to Schwartz – if the intention was to whet my appetite for more. And I’ve found a copy online if you’re interested in whetting your own appetite. Or perhaps you want to hear it read by Lou Reed (and whyever not?!).

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