When Fielding first realised he had begun to talk in borrowed sentences, he was intrigued and wondered for how long he had done this. Was it possible that for years, without realising, his conversation had been littered with lines from literature and film?
Fielding had discovered early on that he preferred to read rather than talk. He had hidden behind the covers of a book or a newspaper, absorbing. This was a strange word for him to choose but it felt like the right one, particularly now. And then of course there were the films. He had escaped into the dark, staring at a cinema screen so often and for so long that this pastime had hardly registered. The physicality of it, the actual doing, the sitting and the watching. But the films had registered and so absorbing, yes, it did feel like the right word.
In fact, Fielding had absorbed so much that after not talking for so long he was able to hide behind the words. He had quite an arsenal from which to draw and would quote from his favourite books. From Catch 22 and Rum Punch, from Crime and Punishment and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, from One Hundred Years of Solitude.
He didn’t paraphrase but would re-use the dialogue verbatim and was very careful not to inhabit a particular character. Although he stole the words from out of their mouths he didn’t, nor did he want to, become Willy Loman or Joseph K or Raskolnkov. When he was stealing from film it was much more difficult not to mimic Brando or Bogart but he worked at it, managing to expound Stanley Kowalski’s bruised and impassioned pleas as deadpan and as coolly as if they were succinct one-liners courtesy of Sam Spade or Philip Marlow.
Fielding had garnered a reputation as an eccentric but he didn’t mind. He was impressed with himself – his recall was astounding – and remarkably he was getting away with it, or so he believed. He delved deep into his memory, managing to dredge up passage after passage. In the evenings he read voraciously, seeking out a particular speech or a certain rant. Often it was just a single line that he needed to store in order to re-use.
For the first time in his life Fielding was keen to converse and this was exhilarating for him. He had soon dispensed with waiting for the opportune moment and at any given chance he would hold court. Forcing himself into a group he would recite, the words ringing beautifully in his ears but no-one was listening. He had become a laughing stock.
A laughing stock, but for how long? Fielding asked himself this constantly, a question to which he didn’t really want to know the answer. He tried to picture himself back then and it seemed unlikely that he hadn’t heeded his own advice. That he had begun to emulate Bogart and Brando but he could easily imagine himself taking to the stage. A dusty and hammy old relic, quoting, expounding, reciting.