ErinyesBack in July, I gave a somewhat eventful Marlowe&Shakespeare talk for a local club, and then another in August, as part of a cycle of four. Of the other two talks, the first I heard and liked, the other I missed, because I was in London. Apart from a rather adventurous start, I had a good time with my talks – and never thought about them again, until last week.

Last week, I heard from people who knew other people who attended the fourth talk, that the speaker – a college teacher I never met – cited me as someone who will speak about English literature without being qualified to do so…


My first reaction was of fury, the second of some disbelief. Not that I had any reason to doubt my source, but it seemed such a nasty and unwarranted thing to say… And I rather doubt the lady in question had heard my talks: what could she possibly have against me? Moreover, we all know how stories blossom and swell from mouth to mouth, don’t we? So I checked my fury and set out to discover what had really happened.

After a miss or two, I ended up asking the lady who presides over the venue – a beautiful Fifteenth Century town house with a perfect little Renaissance garden. I told her I’d heard so and so, and didn’t want to believe it, but my curiosity was roused…

Being very nice, Mrs. R. hesitated a little, but in the end gave me the whole story – only, I suspect, slightly edited.

It seems that, due to a series of chance circumstances, the club’s website was left sporting my picture well after the date of my last talk. unfortunately, the college teacher noticed this, and called in a passion, to give Mrs. R. a piece of her mind, and announce she was calling off her talk. Mrs. R. apologised profusely, hastened to edit the relevant page, and spent a couple of weeks smoothing the lady’s ruffled feathers.

In the end, the Enraged One relented, and condescended to give her talk. So, on the appointed evening, she arrived, and prepared to dazzle the audience. Alas, who must meet her almost on the garden door, but the red-headed, Donne-loving, generally obnoxious Conference Loon? And of all the things she could have said, the Loon chose to ask why, why, oh why couldn’t the visiting lady give a joint talk with Clara Giuliani about John Donne?

Here I suspect a first bout of unpleasantness – because Mrs. R. skirted around the answer and cut to the talk itself, during which, it seems, the lady saw it fit to be “scornful and sarcastic” about the two previous talks. My talks. Again, Mrs. R. claims to not remember what she said, but really, nothing “scornful and sarcastic” can have been very nice, can it?

Mrs. R. was horrified, many members of the audience were not amused, and the lady must have thought herself revenged for the (entirely unintentional) web-slight. End of the story.

So, am I furious after all?

Well, not overly so. Not that it is any fun to be called incompetent in public, but the fact is that incompetent I am not. I may not have a degree in English literature, but I’m good at what I do – and that night’s audience, having heard me before, knew it. Enough that, it seems, many of them didn’t like the stab at my poor and absent self. All else apart, it is not done: you don’t go around badmouthing other speakers before an audience – much less within a same cycle of conferences… So, the excitable lady cut a poor figure for no real reason, and I rather doubt she did anything irretrievable to my reputation.

I’ll hardly develop friendly feelings towards her for this – but really, in the end, it was all so petty, it isn’t even worth getting angry, is it?