Yesterday the memoirist Patricia Hampl came to Hofstra University as part of the Great Writers Great Readers series, started by Phillip Lopate six years ago. I had never read her work before, but started reading from A Romantic Education and was swept away immediately by the precision and beauty of her detail, of the small speaking to the large.
Last night, Hampl read from The Florist’s Daughter, her most recent book. “These apparently ordinary people in our ordinary town, living faultlessly ordinary lives, and believing themselves to be ordinary, why do I persist in thinking–knowing–they weren’t ordinary at all?” Under Hampl’s gaze and through her memory, the lives are made extraordinary. And this makes me think of the ending of Middlemarch–
…[For] the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who have lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
Hampl was brilliant.