The past few days I’ve been scouring my bookshelves looking for great literary romances to share with you. Of course there are hundreds, thousands, millions that I could have used, but I kept coming back to Theo and Pippa over and over again. Theo’s love for Pippa is one of the most devastating, most complicated loves I’ve ever read, it’s certainly not the kind of love you generally talk about on Valentine’s Day. Theo becomes fixated on Pippa the moment he sees her at the museum on the fateful day, and his obsession with her follows him throughout the rest of his life. Because of what happens at the museum the day he first sees her, Theo’s love for Pippa is bound up in his love for and loss of his mother, which is probably why the moments that he talks about Pippa are some of the rawest and most heart-stabbingly beautiful in the entire novel. I’ve compiled some of my favorites for you here, and yes, one of them does involve blueberry biscuits, which I highly recommend you make for anyone you love (including yourself).
“I wasn’t quite even sure what was so interesting about her, since she was younger than me and little strange-looking—nothing at all like the girls I usually got crushes on, cool serious beauties who cast disdainful looks around the hallway and went out with big guys. This girl had bright red hair; her movements were swift, her face sharp and mischievous and strange, and her eyes were an odd color, a golden honeybee brown. And though she was too thin, all elbows, and in a way almost plain, yet there was something about her too that made my stomach go watery….She moved with more assurance than most of the girls I knew; and the sly, composed glance that she slid over me as she brushed past drove me crazy…Her face was like someone had turned a light into it. Beautiful skin: milky white, arms like carved marble. Definitely she looked athletic, though too pale to be a tennis player; maybe she was a ballerina or a gymnast or even a high diver, practicing late in the shadowy indoor pools, echoes and refractions, dark tile. Plunging with arched chest and pointed toes to the bottom of the pool, a silent pow, shiny black swimsuit, bubbles foaming and streaming off her small, tense frame. Why did I obsess over people like this? Was it normal to fixate on stranger in this particular vivid, fevered way? I didn’t think so.” (The Goldfinch, Page 28)
And what about Pippa, where was she? in the back of a taxicab, out at dinner, drinking with people I didn’t know, asleep in a bed I’d never seen? I desperately wanted to see photos of her flat, in order to add some much-needed detail to my fantasies, but was too embarrassed to ask. With a pang I thought of her bedsheets, what they must be like, a dark dorm-room color as I imagined them, tumbled, unwashed, a student’s dark nest, her freckled cheek pale against a maroon or purple pillowcase, English rain tapping against her window. Her photographs, lining the hall outside my bedroom—many different Pippas, at many different ages—were a daily torment, always unexpected, always new; but though I tried to keep my eyes away always it seemed I was glancing by mistake and there she was, laughing at somebody else’s joke or smiling at someone who wasn’t me, always a fresh pain, a blow straight to the heart. (Page 462)
And the strange thing was: I knew that most people didn’t see her as I did—if anything, found her a bit odd-looking with her off-kilter walk and her spooky redhead pallor. For whatever dumb reason I had always flattered myself that I was the only person in the world who really appreciated her—that she would be shocked and touched and maybe even come to view herself in a whole knew light if she just knew how beautiful I found her. But this never happened. Angrily, I concentrated on her flaws, willfully studying the photographs that caught her at awkward ages and less flattering angles—long nose, thin cheeks, her eyes (despite their heartbreaking color) naked-looking with their pale lashes—Huck-Finn plain. Yet all these aspects were—to me—so tender and particular they moved me to despair. With a beautiful girl I could have consoled myself that she was out of my league; that I was so haunted and stirred even by her plainness suggested—ominously—a love more binding than physical affection, some tar-pit of the soul where I might flop around and malinger for years.
For in the deepest, most unshakable part of myself reason was useless. She was the missing kingdom, the unbruised part of myself I’d lost with my mother. (Page 468)
It felt like a lifetime had come and gone since my night with Pippa and I thought how happy I’d been, rushing to meet her in the sharp-edged winter darkness, my elation at spotting her under a streetlamp out in front of Film Fourm and how I’d stood on the corner to savor it—the joy of watching her watch me. Her expectant watching-the-crowd face. Me she was watching for: me. And the heart-shock of believing, for only a moment, that you might just have what could never be yours. (Page 721)
She was still wearing the things she’d slept in, candy striped pajama bottoms and a long sleeved T-shirt with an old sweater of Hobie’s over it, and she smelled like tossed bedsheets and bed: oh God, I thought, closing my eyes and pressing my face into her shoulder with a rush of happiness and fear, swift draft from Heaven, oh God… There she was. Her hair–her eyes. Her. Bitten-down nails like Boris’s and a pout to her lower lip like a child who’d sucked her thumb too much, red tousled head like a dahlia…
“Where’s Hobie?” I said. I wasn’t asking because I cared, but because it was a little too good to be true to be alone in the house with her, and a little frightening too.
“Oh—“ she rolled her eyes—“he insisted on going to the bakery. I told him not to bother but you know how he gets. He likes to get me those blueberry biscuits that Mama and Welty used to buy me when I was little. Can’t believe they even make them any more—they don’t have them every day, he says. Sure you don’t want some coffee?” (Page 604)
Pippa’s Blueberry Biscuits:
Makes 10-12 3″ Biscuits
1 cup pastry flour
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1/2 inch cubes
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 cups fresh blueberries (or frozen and thawed)
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 egg + a splash of cream or milk
-In a large bowl, whisk together pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar and toss in your cubed butter. Put this mixture in the freezer for about twenty minutes, or until the butter is solid.
-Once your butter is frozen, throw the butter/flour mixture into the bowl of a food-processor and pulse until the butter is in pea-sized chunks. Throw this mixture back into the large bowl it was formerly in and sift in your 3 cups of all purpose flour, tossing the mixture gently until the butter is uniformly spread throughout the flour. Add buttermilk and mix with your hands until the dough just comes together, then gently knead the blueberries in.
-Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and roll to about 1″ thick. Cut with a 3″ circle-cutter and place on 2 parchment-lined sheet-trays, making sure there is space between each biscuit. Put the biscuits in the freezer for 20 minutes while you pre-heat your oven to 400F and make the topping.
-While your biscuits are getting nice and chilled, pre-heat your oven to 400F.
To make the topping: Whisk the egg and milk together and set aside. In a small bowl, rub lemon zest and sugar together with your fingertips to release the oil, then mix the zest to evenly distribute it throughout.
-After about twenty minutes, take your biscuits out of the freezer, brush them with the egg-wash, and sprinkle the lemon-sugar on top (you may have extra left over). Bake for about 25 minutes, or until they are deeply golden-brown. I ate mine with butter and jam, and also some good ricotta.
Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! <3