Rebecca Front: 'To my husband’s horror, I’ve never read Ezra Pound or heard Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht'

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The Independent Online

My husband, a peerless man in almost all respects, has one very irritating habit. He'll start talking about a book, play, symphony or whatever, having made the generous assumption that I know the book, play, symphony in question. But when the conversation reaches the point of unavoidable return, where I am simply duty-bound to admit that I have not in fact read, seen or heard whatever it is he's enthusing about, he does the following: he raises his eyebrows, widens his eyes, opens his mouth and emits a near-silent glottal stop, as if he's too shocked even to scream. He then rocks forward and clutches his chest – I'm not making this up – before saying in a strained voice: "You haven't read any Ezra Pound/ heard Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht...". He doesn't do it to belittle me, I promise you, he's not that kind of person. He does it because he's saddened at these shortfalls in my cultural education.

Whatever the intention, it drives me insane. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there are plenty of gaps in his knowledge which I could hurl back at him, but at the time when he's eye-popping and gasping at me, I can never think of one. The second is that this apparent horror over something pretty arcane makes it impossible for me to admit to the many more mainstream artistic endeavours that I've never got around to enjoying.

This feeling of inadequacy was compounded recently when I narrated a documentary series about the 20th- century novel. As a literature graduate, I approached the script with smug confidence. It became obvious, however, not only that I had read only a fraction of the authors I was talking about, but I couldn't even pronounce some of their names.

I left the studio and immediately bought around a dozen novels I was embarrassed not to have read. I put them in prominent positions on the bookshelf, to remind me to read them. I haven't. So there they remain, bearing false witness to my breadth of knowledge, and awaiting the day when my husband spots one, asks me what I thought of it, opens his eyes, clutches his chest and gasps...