The Goldfinch

I’m reading The Goldfinch, a new novel by Donna Tartt, and this passage illustrates the beauty of the life of an object of wood furniture and how profoundly it can affect human emotion. A piece of furniture can connect us to generations, make us aware of the passage of time and our place in it, act as an agent of memory and nostalgia, co-exist with us almost as if it is alive:

Downstairs—weak light, wood shavings on the floor—there was something of the feel of a stable, great beasts standing patiently in the dim. Hobie made me see the creaturely quality of good furniture, in how he talked of pieces as ‘he’ and ‘she,’ in the muscular, almost animal quality that distinguished great pieces from their stiff, boxy, more mannered peers and in the affectionate way he ran his hand along the dark, glowing flanks of his sideboards and lowboys, like pets. He was a good teacher and very soon, by walking me through the process of examination and comparison, he’d taught me how to identify a reproduction: by wear that was too even (antiques were always worn asymmetrically); by edges that were machine-cut instead of hand-planed (a sensitive fingertip could feel a machine edge, even in poor light); but more than that by a flat, dead quality of wood, lacking a certain glow: the magic came from centuries of being touched and used and passed through human hands. To contemplate the lives of these dignified old highboys and secretaries—lives longer and gentler than human life—sank me into calm like a stone in deep water, so that when it was time to go I walked out stunned and blinking into the blare of Sixth Avenue, hardly knowing where I was.

-Donna Tart, The Goldfinch (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2013) 170.

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