On Being Daunted in Public

For whatever reason, one of my favorite pieces of dialogue in The Sun Also Rises is Bill Gorton going on about never being daunted in public. It’s almost a hundred years old, but it’s still funny.

There’s nothing wrong with being daunted in public, of course. And I guess old Bill has nothing against being daunted in general. The trick is, don’t stay there.

Here’s the exchange:

Certainly like to drink,’ Bill said. ‘You ought to try it sometimes, Jake.’

‘You’re about a hundred and forty-four ahead of me.’

‘Ought not to daunt you. Never be daunted. Secret of my success. Never been daunted. Never been daunted in public.’

‘Where were you drinking?’

‘Stopped at the Crillon. George made me a couple of Jack Roses. George’s a great man. Know the secret of his success? Never been daunted.’

‘You’ll be daunted after about three more Pernods.’

‘Not in public. If I begin to feel daunted I’ll go off by myself. I’m like a cat that way.’

I like what Sally Skinner has to say about it:

“Sparkling, pitch-perfect dialogue or what? The drunken swagger captured phonetically in almost hiccuped fragments of speech; the different shades of meaning taken on by the word ‘daunted’; the easy, natural wit. More than a little daunting to a novice writer…

There’s a carefree hedonism that blows through this book like a cool breeze. This makes it refreshing sort of read, even when the character are drunk, or brawling, or lapping up the violence of the bullfight. But it’s worth reading purely for the dialogue.”

Sally is absolutely right.

As for being daunted? Bill seems to know it’s impossible to never feel this way, so he mitigates by slinking off. (Notice how Hemingway mercifully does not use the word slinking, but cuts right to the chase with “I’m like a cat that way.”?)

It turns out being daunted in public can be a great way to build community, especially in lieu of French cafes and Gertrude Stein. I’m talking, of course, about finding support, commiseration, encouragement, and inspiration in the company (perhaps virtual company) of other writers. In many ways, being daunted in public is another way of saying publishing or sharing your work, or of sharing a part of yourself. A writer who has never been daunted or isn’t willing to be daunted in public most likely ends up with Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery. Amazing title aside, what a waste.

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