Well, obviously, I have it – the luck of the Irish. This week I accidentally came across eight dinkum four-leaf clovers! Like a lot of my adventures, it all started with a book.
In the middle of a postal strike, I got my second-hand copy of Jack Dunphy’s John Fury (1946) by special delivery. And what a book it is … No wonder the youthful Truman Capote fell for that flame-haired dancer, some eleven years his senior.
I have a thing about books in general and old books in particular. This year has been particularly lucky for me in this respect. In January the search of a lifetime (no exaggeration) was rewarded when my son found me a copy of A de Quincey’s The last of the Dragons (1946) in an Australian antique shop. It arrived like an old friend reincarnated, in far better condition than when I’d seen it last. “It’s like it’s never been opened!” I gasped in disbelief. “Probably never has” murmured my son. (My family support my habit, but do not share my enthusiasm.)
My quest for John Fury is far more recent. From background reading on To kill a Mockingbird I discovered that Nelle Harper Lee’s character, Dill, is based on Truman Capote, who was her childhood friend. So I duly devoured all things Capote. Knowing the extent of the research Harper Lee did for Capote’s In Cold Blood I felt vicariously insulted by the way he “dismissed” her efforts by bundling her together with his lover in a joint dedication (“with love and gratitude” if I remember correctly). Given that Capote also described Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winner as “a children’s story” I became curious about his lover’s so-called “one-and-only” novel. Did Capote’s put-downs so damage those close to him that they never wrote again? Although Harper Lee submitted a second ms, she withdrew it before publication, but I now know that Jack Dunphy actually published several articles, plays and other books. Apparently, he was simply less popular than Capote. Far less popular. Unless that too is a myth. Revelling in John Fury I’m reminded of the feeling I had on first reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury; it has that much unique appeal. (Perhaps there is something in a name.)
From the blurb on the back cover, I discovered that Dunphy grew up in “Irish” Philadelphia, the setting of this first novel. I too come from Irish stock. Someone in the Old Country still sent my grandfather a shamrock every St Patrick’s Day more than a century after the family left Ireland. Now, for the first time, I’m wondering if that shamrock was a four-leafed clover (I’ve had some close squeaks), because I’ve found a dizzy total of eight genuine shamrocks pressed between the pages of my copy. And all of them have four leaves. They are undoubtedly the Trifolium repens variety, with all its distinctive features. Definitely not the look-alike Medicago lupulina, Trifolium pratense or Oxalis; still faintly green, despite being almost transparent with age.
The shamrock’s leaves stand for faith, hope and love, and (when there’s a fourth) luck. It is estimated that there are 10 000 three-leaf clovers for each one with four leaves. I wonder if these keepsakes brought their owner any luck…
And what about Jack Dunphy? Were those 35 years with Capote a “good innings”, or did they amount to nothing at all? And would he too have become famous if he had “gone it alone”, or was he was only saved from ruin by his partner’s financial support?
From reading between Google’s lines (errors and all), I suspect Dunphy had more than his fair share of faith, hope and love. Unlike Capote, his pleasures were the little things in life, like chocolate, and old books. Which is probably why he could survive 35 years of life with a leprechaun and still write another masterpiece at the end of it. (OK, I’m assuming that Dear Genius is all its fifty-star Amazon review says it is, but maybe I’m a bit of a leprechaun myself.)
[Photo of four-leaf clover: Wikipedia]