I remember once shopping for Sicilian wine, and choosing a bottle of Grecale for no better reason than the beautiful name. If I were being written, I thought, this wouldn’t bode well for my life expectancy…
No, really. We all know how certain signs in a character are sure to spell early death. First and foremost is a cough: Marguerite Gauthier, Edgar Linton, Louis Dubedat, Ralph Touchett… and I could go on. Anyone in a book/play/movie start coughing, and we know that getting fond of them is very unsafe. Then there are the Girls Too Sweet For This World, like Little Nell, Beth March, Little Eva and their ilk. These seldom live past girlhood – and I must confess that, having no heart to speak of and an allergy to narrative sugar, their early demise is never early enough for my taste. The Archangel of the Revolution also tends to die young: Enjolras in Les Miserables, Victor Haldin in Under Western Eyes, Gauvain in Ninety-three… The intransigent fieriness combined with no sense of reality spells early death more often than not.
But, and here we go back to our subject, there is another, less frequent and perhaps less obvious sign: a love of names beyond any practical reason. Let’s consider. In Reunion, Konradin von Hohenfels is sure that Alicarnassos must be a beautiful place on the sheer force of the name: Konradin faces an execution squad at twenty-five. In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Johnny Nolan brings his new bride to live in the dark, narrow and unhealthy Bogart Street because of the picturesque assonance with the Boggart, a goblin from the stories of his native Ireland; Johnny dies in his early thirties of alcohol, pneumonia and sheer inability to face life. When he’s not hunting for evocative combinations of sound on the piano, young Hanno Buddenbrook spends whole afternoons in a gloomy sitting room, making up poetical and fine-sounding names and repeating them endlessly to himself; Hanno dies of typhus in his teens…
See what I mean? While nobody says that loving names will kill you, writers like to depict a love of names as the symptom of an unpractical imagination, a lack of common sense, a tendency to make injudicious choices… all in all, a foreboding of doom.
I can’t help thinking of this when I consider Kit Marlowe’s obvious love of fine names and his early death. And of course not only he is no fictional character – but, being a poet, he has a practical use for all those beautiful names – not to mention all sorts of unpoetical reasons for ending stabbed in Deptford… But still, the combination is there, and I find it narratively alluring.
What do you think? Do you have other instances of the Doomed Lover of Names in mind?