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"I've read many books," said Professor Mephesto, with an odd finality, wearily flattening his hands on the podium, addressing the seventy-six sophomores who sat in easy reverence, immortalizing his every phrase with their pads and pens, and now, as always, giving him the confidence to slowly, artfully dramatize his words, to pause, shrug, frown, gaze abstractly at the ceiling, allow a wan wistful smile to play at his lips, and repeat quietly, "many books ..." A grave nod of his magnificent head, and he continued: "Yes, and in my time I've traveled widely. They say travel broadens one—and I've ... no doubt that it does." Here he pretended to drop some of his lecture notes and, in retrieving them, showed his backside to the class, which laughed appreciatively. Professor Mephesto's course, Contemporary Ethics, was one of the most popular in the school. In addition to being so highly intellectual and abstract, the professor was a regular guy, not just a simple armchair crackpot. "Yes, I've no doubt that it does," he said softly, keeping a straight face as he adjusted his notes, and now letting a slight edge enter his voice—because, having given them the laugh at that point, he was now setting them up for the high seriousness to follow—this being his formula: one part tomfoolery, two parts high seriousness. "And in my travels, I've seen ... beauty in every form. I've seen the rainbow on Mont Blanc, and I've seen the illuminated manuscripts of the Flemish monks where every page took seven monks two years to produce! God, they're lovely! Yes, I've strolled through the dew-sparkling Gardens of Babylon in the dawn of a summer morning, and I've seen the birds of paradise stand at eventide against the white glittering marble of the Taj Mahal. God, what a sight!" He paused to touch his temple, as though nearly overwhelmed. "Yes, I've seen the ... wonders of the world ... I've seen the beauty ... of the world ... the Pyramids in the thunderous blood-colored dawn, and the Tower of Pisa, and the paintings of the Great Masters ... I've seen them all. I have seen beauty ... in every form. I've stood on the ancient bridge in a snow-falling morn and heard the winter peal of the silver bells, from the high towers, over the dark stone and mysterious waters of old Heidelberg. And I've seen the Great Northern Lights ... and the flowers of the field!" And he leaned toward them, touching one hand, as though absently, to his hair, and he spoke with a soft, terse defiance, so that everyone knew how very serious he was now, "... and I've seen the SUN! The glorious, glorious sun! Beauty, I say to you, in every form. BUT ... but ... I'll tell you this": and his lip curled in a strange, almost angry way, and a tremor came into his voice, while in the lecture hall, not even a breath was heard, "I have never seen anything ... to compare ... with the beauty ... of the ... human face!"
The bell sounded at precisely that instant, for it was another curious feature of Professor Mephesto's lectures that they reached a dramatic high point at the exact second of the bell.
In the fifth row center, Candy Christian slowly closed her notebook and dropped her pen into her purse. She was sitting on the edge of her chair, holding her breath; then she gave a soft sigh and sat back limply. She felt utterly exhausted, yet exhilarated too. A great man, she thought, a truly great man. I'm in the presence of a truly great man.
She gathered up her things and filed out slowly with the others. At the door she had a glimpse of Professor Mephesto walking down the hall toward his office, clasping his notes up to his chest, talking amiably to one of the students, his arm around the boy's shoulder—a very young boy with wild hair and a sullen face. She wondered what they were saying. She wondered what she would say. How she would love to be a part of the conversation! Yet, what could she say? She decided to go straight to the library and read for the rest of the afternoon, then she remembered that she had promised her father she would come directly home after class and go with him to Aunt Ida's. "Darn Daddy anyway!" she said to herself.
Candy was born on Valentine's Day. Perhaps this was why she was so beautiful—or so her father often remarked, at least in the presence of others; when they were alone, however, he was inclined to be a bit strict with her—not strict so much as insensitive to her needs, or possessively solicitous. But he was, after all, only a simpleminded businessman. At any rate though, there was something like a Valentine about Candy—one of the expensive ones, all frills and lace, and fragrance of lavender. But she was sometimes petulant, and perhaps it was this, her petulance, more than her virginity, which was her flaw and her undoing.
Mr. Christian was waiting in his armchair when Candy arrived. "Hi!" he said, glancing at his watch and only half lowering the paper. "Learn anything today?" She came over and gave him a perfunctory kiss. She wanted so much to tell him about Professor Mephesto and the human face, but of course he could never understand, not in a billion billion years. "Yes, I think so," she said quietly.
"Anything wrong?" asked Mr. Christian. He didn't like to see her face in repose, or perhaps thoughtful.
"No," she sighed and gave him a tired smile as she put down her books, "just that things are a little hectic with exams coming on."
"Hmm," said her father, getting up, brushing some tobacco from his lap, looking at his watch again. "Well, we'd better get started, if we're going," he said. "I don't want to be tied up there all afternoon. I'll get the car out."
Candy went into the bathroom and quickly brushed her hair and freshened her makeup. It did so please her father for her to look nice at Aunt Ida's. Still holding the brush she stood gazing at herself in the glass. "And I've seen the glorious sun," she said softly, "... but I've never seen beauty to compare—"
Two short sharp burps from the horn of her father's new Plymouth made her start slightly and put down the brush. She turned out the bathroom light. "Darn Daddy anyway!" she said to herself as she hurried for the car.CHAPTER 2
Professor Mephesto was a pacifist, and today's lecture had been about War. Since he did not have a regular question-and-answer period in his lectures, he very often posed knotty problems to himself and then proceeded to answer them, as he was doing today in his closing remarks.
"I spent last summer in Stillwater, Maine, with a friend of mine, Tab Hutchins ... it's a place of incredible beauty, Stillwater, you'll want to go there sometime. Well, Tab isn't by our pompous standards, an 'educated' man ... I mean he doesn't have the robe and the scrolls, and he doesn't speak in polysyllables, but I can tell you this: Tab Hutchins has one of the finest minds of our time. An auto mechanic by trade, a positivist-humanist by choice, and a scholar of the classics by inclination. I always get a little thrill somehow to see old Tab crawling under one of the dilapidated trucks that the farmers around Stillwater bring for him to fix—crawling under, a volume of Plato sticking out of one pocket, a volume of Aristotle out of the other.
"Well, one day Tab and I were talking and he said to me, in that serious way of his: 'Meph, you say you're against War. You say that War never accomplished anything.'
"I said, 'That's what I say, Tab.'
"He drew on his old briar, thoughtful for a moment, and then he said:
"'Will you answer me one question, Meph?'
"'I'll answer it if I can, Tab,' I said.
"Tab said, 'Then what about the American Revolution? Do you mean to say that didn't accomplish anything?'
"I said, 'Do you know who it was we fought that war against, Tab?'
"'Of course, I do,' he said, 'the British.'
"Well, I didn't say anything more for a while, and I think Tab felt that he had me all right, the way he was watching me out of the corner of his eye, and drawing on his old briar. I was looking at the truck he had been working on all morning.
"'How's that truck running now, Tab?' I asked him.
"'She's running fine now, Meph,' he said, 'had to tear down the differential a little, and clean a few cogs: and now she's running fine—but I don't believe that answers my question.'
"'I'll answer your question, Tab,' I said, 'but let's take a drive first. I think we ought to give that truck a pragmatic test before returning it to its owner. I'll drive,' I said.
"Well, we got in and pretty soon I had the feel of the old bus, and we were going along at a great rate, down country roads, and across, and back, along the highway for a while. It's beautiful countryside around there, and I remarked on it to Tab.
"He said, 'Yes, it is.'
"I said, 'Do you know where we are, Tab?'
"He said, 'Sure I do.'
"I said, 'All right,' and we drove on for a while, and pretty soon I asked him again, 'How do things look out there now, Tab?'
"'Pretty much the same as they did when you asked before,' he said.
"I said, 'Do you know where we are?'
"Tab said, 'Of course, I do.'
"I said, "Where are we, Tab?'
"He said, 'Do you want a technical answer?'
"I said, 'Yes, I do.'
"He said, 'We're on the planet World, of Solar System number one, Western Hemisphere, North American Continent, U.S.A., and I should say about seven miles northeast of Stillwater, Maine.'
"I said, 'You're wrong, Tab. We're not in the U.S.A. now; we crossed the border into Canada about ten minutes ago. Canada is still a British protectorate, Tab, and it's exactly what we didn't accomplish by the American Revolution—and yet you can't tell the difference! I guess that answers your question, doesn't it, Tab?'"
Clang went the bell as, with the last word, Professor Mephesto gathered up his papers and started for the door.
In the fifth row center, Candy had just written, "What about the American Revolution?" and was drawing a very heavy line under "about," when she looked up to see the young boy she had seen with the professor yesterday, coming down the aisle, unmistakably toward her.
"Are you Candy Christian?" he asked when he reached her.
"Meph wants to see you," he said, with a disgruntled expression, "in his office."
"Yes," said the boy almost with a sneer, "Professor Mephesto." Then he turned abruptly to leave.
"What on earth—" Candy began, but the boy stalked away.
She gathered her things and left in a hurry—and, at the doorway, she looked up and down the hall, trying to catch sight of him again, but he was not to be seen.
"Good Grief," said Candy, and walked rapidly to the girl's lounge, where she put down her books and got out her comb and makeup. "What on earth—" she kept saying, combing her hair briskly, and finally spending an unusual amount of time putting on lipstick. She was very cross now about not having gone to the library yesterday. "Darn Daddy!" she said, and she decided to put on a bit of eyeshadow to make her look older, more mature. Since she hadn't been able to read, or learn anything yesterday, she reasoned, the least she could do would be to try to look a little more intelligent. So she decided to darken her lashes a bit too—just for balance—pinched some more color into her cheeks, and tucked her blouse in tightly. Thank goodness for that at least, that she was wearing one of her smartest blouses, fresh and sweet, with her most lavishly embroidered slip peeking over the top through the V-neck, or V-breast, one might say, it being rather low.
At last she was ready and left the lounge, and walked primly down the hall to the professor's office. At the door, she knocked very lightly, and heard almost at once the voice which she so admired.
"Come in, come in," it said grandly.
Candy pushed open the door slowly, as though she thought there might be so many books in the room it would be partially blocked.
"Come in, my dear, come in," said Professor Mephesto, standing and ushering her in with a flourish. "I was just having my afternoon drop of sherry. I hope you'll join me.
He looked at her, expectantly, his great round, somewhat red, face overflowing with the joy of his full, rich life.
"Well, I—" Candy began, but the professor was already pouring her out a small glass.
"Yes, I always have some sherry and a bit of cheese about this time of day. Some people prefer tea, but I find it lacking—a habit, I suppose, acquired during my student days at Heidelberg, and at Oxford, no doubt—still I do find a good sherry has bodyand edge, while tea is such a messy affair at best, don't you agree?"
"Well—" said Candy, taking the chair indicated by the professor. The girl was quite flushed for the moment—she had never had sherry in the afternoon, though she had read of such practices in the fashionable novels and knew it to be quite proper. Also, she had heard, of course, of certain students being occasionally invited to Professor Mephesto's office and "having a drop," as it was expressed; naturally, it was mostly confined to senior and graduate students, and, even among them, it was considered a signal honor to have done so.
"This sherry was sent to me by Lucci Locco, the Portuguese humanistsymbolist poet—now living in Paris, of course—I think you'll find it rather good."
He took a swig himself, then encouraged the girl to do so, by raising his glass.
"A la tienne," he said, "to the soul of our childhood and its sinful joys—lost forever, alas! To youth then! And to beauty!"
He allowed the last of the toast to linger on his tongue, and he gave Candy a piercing look. The girl flushed terribly and sipped in obedience.
"It's about your thesis, my dear," said Professor Mephesto, turning to his paper-strewn desk, and drawing off one of those on top, "the one on 'Contemporary Human Love,'" and he leafed through two or three pages to a place where the margin was marked with a large red X.
'Good Grief,' said Candy to herself, preparing for the worst, and she started to blurt out some foolish defense in advance, but Professor Mephesto quickly went on, clearing his throat, and shaking the papers once or twice:
"Here we are. Now here, you say: 'To give of oneself—fully—is not merely a duty prescribed by an outmoded superstition, it is a beautiful and thrilling privilege.'"
He put down the paper and looked at the girl expectantly, raising his glass of sherry again.
"Just what did you mean there, my dear?"
Candy squirmed a bit in her chair.
"But—but," she stammered, "isn't it right? Isn't that what you said? I was almost sure that—"
Professor Mephesto rose from his seat, clasping his hands together and looking at the ceiling.
"Isn't it right?" he marveled. "Oh my dear! My dear precious girl—of course, it's right! So very right!"
He paced about the office, intoning:
"'To give of oneself—fully— is not merely a duty prescribed by an outmoded superstition, it is a beautiful and thrilling privilege!'"
He sat down again, and put a hand out to the girl, as though in an effort to express some extremely abstract feeling, but then finding it ineffable, let it drop, as though it were useless to try, onto her knee.
"And the burdens—the needs of man," he said with soft directness to her, "are so deep and so—aching."
Candy involuntarily shuddered just slightly and looked down at the big fat hand on her leg—though, of course, she did not see it as that, but as the great, expressive hand of the Master—the hand she had seen so often raised from the podium in the beautiful extolling gestures to human worth and dignity, which did, of course, include her; and she was very ashamed of having shuddered. Professor Mephesto gave her knee a little squeeze before withdrawing his hand.
"It's an 'A' paper, my dear, an 'A-plus' paper. Absolutely top-drawer!"
Candy's heart gave a little leap. It was certainly a well-known fact that Professor Mephesto never allowed more than one "A-plus" paper to his entire class for any particular thesis.
Excerpted from Candy by Terry Southern, Mason Hoffenberg. Copyright © 2000 Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted August 28, 2001
I received 'Candy' as a gift from a good friend of mine....I read it all in one train trip back from NYC to CT.....could not put it down....a classic and must-read for 'banned book enthusiasts'!
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Posted July 24, 2000
I read Candy in the 60's. I enjoyed it so much then, that I wrote about two chapters to a sequel, but never finished. I just re-read the precious, sweet book again and was completely thrilled. It is one of the finest books in the history of the world. YOU should read it. It just may make tiny mushrooms grow on your chest. That would be very good.
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