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Introduction Kingsley Amis considered writers who had recourse to notebooks to be somewhat suspect. The implication was that writing secretly and solely for the author’s own eyes smacked of, yes, playing with oneself. Philip Roth, whose best-known work, often as he may seek to rise above it, is Portnoy’s Complaint, told me that he once tried to keep a notebook. He was unable to continue because he didn’t know who his audience was. Unsurprisingly, his novels are often cast in the rhetorical, stand-up mode of a woeful comedian: they tend to be laments, accusations and confessions, in whatever variety of voices. Without an audience to play to, such a performer becomes self-conscious, then mute. My notebooks have been compiled with no audience in mind. Until some twenty years ago, when Michael Schmidt became my Maecenas, it had never occurred to me to type out (some of) the always handwritten pages of these carnets. Their only intended purpose had been, and remains, to serve as a repository of specimens caught alive and, like Nabokov’s lepidoptera, pinned on the page for later inspection. I have not reproduced in print my manuscript dreads and regrets. Unless comic or lyrical, like that expressed by Catullus in his verses, self-pity is nobody’s business or pleasure. If the volumes in Personal Terms furnish an involuntary autobiography, they do so by depicting the world from my point of view: I am shaped – who is not? – by choice and chance. What I write may be inescapably ‘me’, not least when false, jejune or pretentious, but my subject is not myself. A number of the characters described and plots outlined have served as the source of fiction, sometimes almost at once, quite often years later. Not a few of the people and events have lapsed entirely from my memory: Denys Gueroult, for instance, is among those whom I would swear I had never met, were they not penned in my private zoo. It may be that the tone which I imagined to be dispassionate will strike some people as unduly caustic. If so, so be it: I am not a camera, but – as these carnets prove – I am a pen. The moving finger writes differently from the clicking keys. Manuscript has a small affinity with drawing: the hand seems to think, and shape sentences, as well as the brain. When writers abandon handwriting, they lose something of their signature. Our daughter Sarah was invited, as a very young artist, to paint the ix

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