At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances : A Professor Dr von Igelfeld Entertainment Novel (3)
Readers who fell in love with Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, now have new cause for celebration in the protagonist of these three light-footed comic novels by Alexander McCall Smith. Welcome to the insane and rarified world of Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology. Von Igelfeld is engaged in a never-ending quest to win the respect he feels certain he is due-a quest which has the tendency to go hilariously astray.
In At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, Professor Dr. von Igelfeld gets caught up in a nasty case of academic intrigue while on sabbatical at Cambridge. When he returns to Regensburg he is confronted with the thrilling news that someone from a foreign embassy has actually checked his masterwork, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, out of the Institute's Library. As a result, he gets caught up in intrigue of a different sort on a visit to Bogota, Colombia.
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December 27, 2004
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Excerpt from At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances by Alexander McCall Smith
PROFESSOR DR MORITZ-MARIA VON IGELFELD's birthday fell on the first of May. He would not always have remembered it had the anniversary not occurred on May Day itself; as a small boy he had been convinced that the newspaper photographs of parades in Red Square, those intimidating displays of missiles, and the grim-faced line-up of Politburo officials, all had something to do with the fact that he was turning six or seven, or whatever birthday it was. Such is the complete confidence of childhood that we are each of us at the centre of the world--a conviction out of which not all of us grow, and those who do grow out of it sometimes do so only with some difficulty. And this is so very understandable; as Auden remarked, how fascinating is that class of which I am the only member.
Nobody observed von Igelfeld's birthday now. It was true that he was not entirely alone in the world--there were cousins in Graz, but they were on the Austrian side of the family and the two branches of von Igelfelds, separated by both distance and nationality, had drifted apart. There was an elderly aunt in Munich, and another aged female relative in Baden-Baden, but they had both forgotten more or less everything and it had been many years since they had sent him a birthday card. If he had married, as he had firmly intended to do, then he undoubtedly would now have been surrounded by a loving wife and children, who would have made much of his birthday; but his resolution to propose to a charming dentist, Dr Lisbetta von Brautheim, had been thwarted by his colleague, Professor Dr Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer. That was a humiliation which von Igelfeld had found hard to bear. That Unterholzer of all people--a man whose work on the orthography of Romance languages was barely mentioned these days; a man whose idea of art was coloured reproductions of views of the Rhine; a man whose nose was so large and obtrusive, vulgar even, the sort of nose one saw on head-waiters--that Unterholzer should succeed in marrying Dr von Brautheim when he himself had planned to do so, was quite unacceptable. But the fact remained that there was nothing one could do about it; Unterholzer's birthday never went unmarked. Indeed, there were always cakes at coffee time in the Institute on Unterholzer's birthday, made by Frau Dr Unterholzer herself; as Unterholzer pointed out, she might be a dentist but she had a sweet tooth nonetheless and made wonderful, quite wonderful cakes and pastries. And then there were the cards prominently displayed on his desk, not only from Unterholzer's wife but from the receptionist and dental nurse in her practice. What did they care about Unterholzer? von Igelfeld asked himself. They could hardly like him, and so they must have sent the cards out of deference to their employer. That was not only wrong--a form of exploitation indeed--but it was also sickeningly sentimental, and if that was what happened on birthdays then he was best off without one, or at least best off without one to which anybody paid any attention.
On the first of May in question, von Igelfeld was in the Institute coffee room before anybody else. They normally all arrived at the same time, with a degree of punctuality which would have been admired by Immanuel Kant himself, but on that particular morning von Igelfeld would treat himself to an extra ten minutes' break. Besides, if he arrived early, he could sit in the chair which Unterholzer normally contrived to occupy, and which von Igelfeld believed was more comfortable than any other in the room. As the best chair in the room it should by rights have gone to him, as he was, after all, the senior scholar, but these things were difficult to articulate in a formal way and he had been obliged to tolerate Unterholzer's occupation of the chair. It would have been different, of course, if Professor Dr Florianus Prinzel had taken that chair; von Igelfeld would have been delighted to let Prinzel have it, as he undoubtedly deserved it. He and Prinzel had been friends together at Heidelberg, in their youth, and he still thought of Prinzel as the scholar-athlete, the noble youth, deserving of every consideration. Yes, there was little he would not have done for Prinzel, and it was a matter of secret regret to von Igelfeld that he had never actually been called upon to save Prinzel's life. That would have secured Prinzel's undying admiration and indebtedness, which von Igelfeld would have worn lightly. 'It was nothing,' he imagined himself saying. 'One's own personal safety is irrelevant in such circumstances. Believe me, I know that you would have done the same for me.'