Probably permanent

At half-term I went with Demetriades to Athens. He wanted to take me to his favourite brothel, in a suburb. He assured me the girls were clean. I hesitated, then — isn’t it a poet’s, to say nothing of a cynic’s, moral duty to be immoral? — I went. When we came out, it was raining, and the shadowing wet leaves on the lower branches of a eucalyptus, caught under a light in the in the entrance, made me remember our bedroom in Russell Square. But Alison and London were gone, dead, exorcized; I had cut them away from my life. I decided I would write a letter to Alison that night, to say that I didn’t want to hear from her again. I was too drunk by the time we got back to the hotel, and I didn’t know what I would have said. Perhaps that I had proved beyond doubt that I was not worth waiting for; perhaps that she bored me; perhaps that I was lonelier than ever — and wanted to stay that way. As it was, I sent her a postcard telling her nothing; and on the last day I went back to the brothel alone. But the Lebanese nymphet I coveted was taken, and I didn’t fancy the others.

December came, and we were still writing letters. I knew she was hiding things from me. Her life, as she described it, was too simple and manless to be true. When the final letter came, I was not surprised. What I hadn’t expected was how bitter I should feel, and how betrayed. It was less a sexual jealousy of the man than an envy of Alison; moments of tenderness and togetherness, moments when the otherness of the other disappeared, flooded back through my mind for days afterwards, like sequences from some cheap romantic film that I certainly didn’t want to remember, but did; and there was the read and re-read letter; and that such things could be ended so, by two hundred stale, worn words.

Dear Nicholas,

I can’t go on any more. I’m so sorry if this hurts you. Please believe that I’m sorry, please don’t be angry with me for knowing you will be hurt. I can hear you saying, I’m not hurt.

I get so terribly lonely and depressed. I haven’t told you how much, I can’t tell you how much. Those first days I kept up such a brave front at work. And then at home I collapsed.

I’m sleeping with Pete again when he’s in London. It started two weeks ago. Please please believe me that I wouldn’t be if I thought… you know. I know you know. I don’t feel about him as I used to do, and I don’t begin to feel about him as I felt about you, you can’t be jealous.

It’s just he’s so uncomplicated, he stops me thinking, He stops me being lonely, I’ve sunk back into all the old Australians-in-London thing again. We may marry. I don’t know.

It’s terrible. I still want to write to you, and you to me. I keep on remembering.


You will be different for me. Always. That very first letter I wrote the day you left. If you could only understand.

I wrote a letter in reply to say that I had been expecting her letter, that she was perfectly free. But I tore it up. If anything might hurt her, silence would; and I wanted to hurt her.

— John Fowles, The Magus

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