Graham Greene, as a good converted Catholic, was literary aroused in the thickest brothels. To one of them, in Paris, he took his new lover Yvonne. He left her on the bar in front of a drink and he entered the labyrinth hugging a prostitute. His lover was a married woman whom he had rescued from an executive in the jungle of Cameroon, an orderly Frenchwoman, with every passion in its place, but after that adventure he began to think that Graham’s soul was darker than it was. he looked like a gentle bourgeois design. She fell in love with that man to the bottom where black fish swim that never see the light.
Greene died in Vevey, a town in Switzerland. The funeral was the last sequence in any of his novels. On one side of the church was Vivien, his 86-year-old first wife, from whom he had not divorced. In the other, there was Yvonne, 60, his last lover, who had not separated from her husband either. In the middle stood Graham inside the coffin, at the door that led to both heaven and hell.
James Joyce on June 16, 1904 came across a girl standing in front of a shop window on Nassau Street in Dublin. He demanded it. She smiled back at him and that was the seal that from then on linked their lives to death. Nora Barnacle was a red-haired girl from Galvay, who worked as a waitress at the Finn’s Hotel, attached to Trinity College. Uninhibited, illiterate, realistic, happy and determined to do everything, the girl taught that repressed young man to free himself from Catholic morality. To begin with, he broke the barrier of sex. One Sunday afternoon, the couple were walking along the quays of Dublin Port and when darkness came, sitting on the stairs of a lonely alley, she made him taste with some skill the delights of masturbation, an act that in the morbid mind de Joyce unleashed a storm of retrospective guilt and jealousy, a drag on his Jesuit background.
Joyce’s relationship with Nora was a continual erotic storm in which she ruled the wheel with extraordinary mastery. Sometimes she excited him with pornographic letters during his absences, other times she kept him at bay by pulling his mouthful to immerse him in pure obscenity while protecting his life down to the smallest domestic detail.
Rainer Maria Rilke met Countess Franziska von Reventlow in a Munich brewery, a beautiful and bohemian creature abandoned by the family who wandered aimlessly in the midst of solitude. Rilke rehearsed his particular form of conquest with her. A first approach through tenderness, some incandescent verses and when the hunt had already been collected, the poet fled while flooding her with beautiful memories with letters and messages, of returns and departures.
Shortly after, a piece of big game entered his life. Lou Andreas-Salomé. This woman was dedicated to trying men of the highest level, flying over them, making them fall in love with them and leaving them without ceasing to be unforgettable. Nietzsche, Freud and Mahler, fourteen-pointed deer, would pass through his life. She and Rilke used the same way of loving.
Rilke moved from high halls to seedy boarding houses in a superhuman struggle to make the visible invisible through his poems. In the midst of misery, suddenly, he received an invitation. It could be from the Countess Giustina Valmarana of Venice, one of whose daughters he had fallen in love with on a previous trip. In this same city he had had other lovers, the first of them Mimi Romanelli who would never recover from the poet’s verses. But the call could also come from Berlin or Hamburg. There were aristocrats there who collected Rilke nights and he catered to their requests. He would go to the appointment, spend a few days, a few weeks, a few months among gardens and porcelain, and draw blood in solitude to release the deep poetry that inhabited it. His was to brush with lovers as with the wings of angels.
Jorge Luis Borges. “What happened to Borges with women?” I asked Bioy Casares one day.
“That he fell in love and was tackled,” he answered, crossing his arms with a pincer gesture over his chest like rugby players do to protect the ball.
“What woman could fall in love with a man who ordered boiled hake in a common restaurant on Maipú Street and made small balls with the breadcrumbs?”
Bioy smiled. Indeed, Bioy only seemed to perk up when he talked to her about women. I told him that, at a certain age, women look at you and no longer see you. Bioy was 83 years old at the time and commented that he had experienced this sensation.
“When did you first feel invisible or transparent?”
—Last year, Bioy answered tersely.