An interesting piece riffing on George Steiner’s thoughts about envy. In the literary world we see this affliction in every nook and cranny of existence. In some ways, the whole system is based on jealousy. It’s surprising, in fact, that more people aren’t killed on a yearly basis.
The most fascinating chapter is entitled Invidia, or Envy, and envy is a perennially fascinating topic for writers, and indeed for anyone who has put their careers at or near the centre of their lives. Steiner writes that he once wanted to write a book about the obscure 14th-century Italian poet, Francesco Stabili. The project would have been fascinating but Steiner had to avoid it because it would have meant analysing the poet’s legendary envy of his contemporary Dante; Stabili was reputed to have been as madly, insanely, self-loathingly jealous of Dante as Salieri is now thought to have been of Mozart.
This struck too near the bone for Steiner who confesses – in the most grippingly personal way – that he is often crucified by envy. A critic and scholar of his exalted position is often on very close terms with the greatest thinkers and authors. Agonisingly, he is almost, almost in their league. But not quite.