‘The Quality of the Affection’ by Lloyd Lynford


Olga Rudge, c.1915

From Granta:

That night at Natalie’s in Paris, Olga was wearing her most boyishly cut jacket and a low-waisted skirt so she’d be ready if someone asked her to foxtrot. But before any of that could happen, before the dancing, before she could remove her jacket or display herself at her flexible best, he came up to her and touched her on the arm. Why the arm? If Ezra liked a woman, she’d heard the gossip, he would become paternal, kiss her on the forehead or draw her onto his knee. But he touched her arm. Then they began to tease, describing each other’s eyes – Ezra went first. Botticelli, he said. How could Olga not flush at being compared to Venus? She knew to stay away from art or literature – but she should reciprocate – so she scanned the room, both in English and French. The ice chest, perfect, so she covered as much of his hand as she could with her own long fingers, and whispered cadmium. Or, no, now she was unsure, maybe he’d seen her eyes searching behind him, so she took it back – not cadmium, no, more amber. Surely he was playing a joke, turning away from her like that, surely he couldn’t have been disappointed – hadn’t the Botticelli reference been in jest? – had she misread his intentions? – One more chance, she pretended to plead, and when Ezra turned back and smiled she said, Your eyes are topaz in Chateau D’Yquem.

When Olga Rudge met Ezra Pound he had just put the last flourishes on his theory establishing the link between complete and profound copulation and cerebral development. The brain is a great clot of genital fluid held in suspense and the woman’s role, Ezra had written, was to be the passive receptacle for the poet’s sperm. Not any woman – for a permanent liaison, only a woman of artistry and classical beauty would do.

Olga had nothing to gain by becoming Ezra’s lover. She was no third seat in a provincial orchestra. She’d performed in London – he’d seen her – that night she’d been the soloist at the top of the bill. Olga had nothing to gain by becoming Ezra’s lover. If only Mama were here, but Olga was alone in the elegant flat near the Bois. She was secure – knew Paris like a native, travelled in better circles than Ezra, who after all arrived just before Christmas. He was a decade older than Olga, was rarely seen in public with his wife Dorothy. He’d been sleeping with three or four women she knew and just last week she’d heard about one recent late – night prowl of Ezra’s that began on Boulevard Arago and ended . . . or did it ever end? So Left Bank, she thought. How could she converse with a man who complained he’d spent the whole summer of 1921 without finding a congenial mistress? That was the word he used, congenial.

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Part II