Dreaming for Freud

The internal conflicts

On Giving a Perfect Dinner Party

How to give a perfect dinner party

Last night we went to a perfect dinner party. Our hosts, who shall remain nameless, were a famous writer and a well-known professor, yet from the moment we walked into their home we felt at ease, welcomed, and warmly greeted.

They were not over-dressed but it was clear, at the same time, they had made an effort for us. Our hostess, who is a beautiful woman looked particularly lovely, her big eyes which stare out in wonder at the world, welcoming us. Our host looked casual but so clean with his full, white, jolly beard which reminded us of Santa Claus.

We were offered wine which on the summer night was deliciously cold and then stood for a moment to admire the splendid view. All of the city lay before us, and we felt for a giddy moment that we were somehow on top of the world.

The other guests had obviously been carefully chosen. They had similar interests in literature and art. We were in all eight, a perfect number, which enabled our hosts to serve a cold buffet dinner themselves with a modicum of effort and fuss or so they made it seem.

There was cheese for hors d’oeuvres, and everyone helped themselves without any fuss or additional helping hands. The conversation was immediately lively. We talked about books, of course, common acquaintances, but also photography and hair. One of the guests is a wonderful photographer who obviously noticed the details of our appearances and commented kindly and generously on them.

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We helped ourselves to the food which was set out fast and almost invisibly it seemed to me on a sideboard. There was an abundant variety of delicious cold chicken and vegetable salads, pasta dishes, something for everyone. Later a delicious fruit pie was served and cherries for those who were avoiding the calories.

At the table the host and hostess cleverly took end seats but sometime during the meal got up discreetly and changed ends so that we all felt we had been able to talk with both of them. In some mysterious way we all felt special, it seems to me, feted and appreciated. We sincerely liked one another for whom we are and not just for whatever accomplishments we brought in our train. At the end of the dinner we floated out into the hot night air feeling elated and happy.

I thought of Henry James’ somewhat revised: and here I quote him through our gracious hostess: “Three things in life are important. The first is to have sympathy; the second is to have sympathy and the third to have sympathy.” Ultimately it is the ability to put yourself in the place of the other that makes for a perfect dinner party.

 

Sheila Kohler teaches at Princeton. She is the author of many books including Dreaming for Freud, Becoming Jane Eyre, and Cracks, which was made into a film with Eva Green.

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