Pedantry and Patricia Highsmith

In the BMJ (subscription required) Dalrymple reviews the short story collection Eleven by Patricia Highsmith:

Highsmith was a writer who revealed the horror that often (or is it always?) lurks behind the façade of ordinary life. She had alcohol dependency issues, said she preferred animals to people, and kept pet snails—creatures not particularly known for reciprocating affection. Snails feature in her story, but they are not the kind of snails that were kept by Miss Highsmith. Rather, they are giant, man eating snails that inhabit a remote and uninhabited Pacific island.

Professor Clavinger, a zoologist, wants to immortalise himself by finding this species, which he thinks will be named after him. An equally obsessed doctor tries to discourage him, apparently to save him from wasting his time, but in reality to save his life. In due course, Professor Clavinger is duly eaten by his great discovery—a denouement that perhaps serves as a metonym for humanity’s Promethean bargain with expanding knowledge and technical capacity?

In the title, and throughout the story, the giant snail is referred to as Blank Claveringi (the professor cannot decide what genus it belongs to). But surely it should be claveringi rather than Claveringi? This tiny point ran through my mind like one of those irritating tunes you can’t get out of your head; but I cannot say that it was entirely without pleasure that I alighted on it.

2 thoughts on “Pedantry and Patricia Highsmith

  1. Vera Crooks

    These BMJ links — “subscription required” — are a terrible tease. Even without reading the full column, I can say he’s right about the genus-species thing. I noticed the error — “B. Claveringi” — even before reading his next sentence explaining the error. And yes, I experienced the same little frisson of pleasure.

  2. Clinton

    Vera, I know it is a tease. Sorry about that. We do try to quote liberally from those pieces, while still adhering to the principles of fair use, in order to give people at least some of the content therein. Truth be told, though, his BMJ pieces are often very short – not surprising, considering he the challenges inherent in reviewing one medically-related literary work each and every week.


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