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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.
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Monday, 5 October 2015
I read the last 200 pages of Gaboriau's "L'Affaire Lerouge" this afternoon. I must have read it first as a boy, in English. My previous last perusal of the original French was in 1916. Now I have finished it again. I read it in order to compare some new detective novels with an admitted masterpiece in that kind. There never was such a rage for detective novels as today. Our chief truly literary monthly, written mainly by highbrows for highbrows,. gives many pages each month to the appraisal of the latest detective fiction. "L'Affaire Lerouge" is out of sight better than the British favourites of the hour. I should like to think otherwise but I can't. It is better because it has a firmer grasp of plot and much more creative imagination.
The first 200 pages - the opening, the discovery of the crime, and the preliminary detective work - are simply brilliant. No flaw in them. But the novel as a whole is by no means perfect. Gaboriau even in his best novels has two faults. His use of coincidence amounts to impudence. There are two terrific coincidences in "L'Affaire Lerouge". One is that Tabaret the amateur detective happens to live in the same house as a group of people intimately and vitally connected with the crime! The other coincidence is that Daburon, the examining magistrate, happens also to be connected with the same above-mentioned small group of people.
These enormities would ruin any fairly good detective novel. But Gaboriau by his immense force of creative imagination, carries them triumphantly off. He compels you to say to yourself - "Well, it was extremely odd that things fell out so, and extremely convenient for the author, but they did fall out so. And that's all there is to it!"
I have been in Hampshire for the weekend enjoying the last fling of this Indian Summer. Stayed at Fordingbridge which is a pleasant small town on the edge of the New Forest with an impressive bridge over the Avon. An enjoyable walk in the Forest last Thursday for about 3 hours - easy walking, varied scenery and lots to look at. Then on Friday down to the coast near Keyhaven for a stroll by the marshes which were alive with all manner of birds. I was particularly taken with the Lapwings, showing themselves to great effect in the sunshine. Whilst away I re-read Haggard's "Heart of the World", a typical tale of wonder and derring-do set in Central America. Haggard only really has one plot which he sets in various exotic locations, but good for a light read away from business.
Monday, 21 September 2015
Contentment has very little to do with prosperity. I mention this only because I feel rather contented at present, though I am far from being prosperous yet. I have hopes! I would like to go over to England for a week to introduce Marguerite to my sister and family but have neither the time nor the money.
I have just recovered from a mysterious malady which resembled influenza of the intestines. I have noticed that one tends to feel better having recovered from an illness than one would have done having not been ill in the first place, because feelings are relative. The malady did not prevent me from working each day. Today I finished the construction of the first part of "The Old Wives' Tale". I also conducted a sort of preliminary treaty with the Leberts and their architect for getting this house altered and taking on the lease.
My contentment has most to do with being married. The only worm gnawing at the root of my mind is that this business of being married cannot possibly last as it is. It can last perfectly well on my footing; but it cannot last on her footing. I am about a century older than my wife, though she is 32 and has been through pretty considerable things in the way of misfortune. It seems to me that she has steadily been getting younger during the last three months. I think that the establishment of regular sexual relations has been beneficial for us both. It is quite unnatural for human animals in the full vigour of life to abstain from sexual activity, and I feel sure that the suppression of the sexual instinct has an adverse effect on human nature and consequently on society.
Tuesday, 8 September 2015
At Les Sablons, in France.
Marguerite and I have been on a cycling tour, and today we rode home from St. Julien. It was very hot and once we were misdirected. Also the first part of the journey was very heavy. We arrived at 5.30 after 70 kilometres. I drank two glasses of soda and milk, then four cups of tea, then two more glasses of soda and milk. Then nearly a bottle of white wine and half a siphon; then two cups of hot camomile. By this time it was 9 o'clock and I had got the better of my thirst. I think I may have been dehydrated.
We did a little over 300 kilometres in our six days, and would have done more but Marguerite was held back by rheumatism in her knees. The total expenses were 119 fr. 70 centimes. Deduct from this a minimum of 65 francs which we should have spent had we remained at home, and the total cost of the holiday comes out at 54 francs for two people. Not bad.
Monday, 7 September 2015
At 75 Cadogan Square, London.
Eight years ago I bought a portrait of a woman by Modigliani - certainly one of the greatest painters of this century - for £50. So that when I received an invitation to a private view of Modiglianis in a West End gallery, I accepted it at once. There were no £50 items in this show. I halted before the picture which pleased me most and asked the price of it. The manager replied: "A Paris dealer offered me £6000 but I refused it." This news delighted me. He did not say what his own price actually was and I did not inquire further. I never paid more than £100 for a picture in my life and I never will.
At this private view a professional photographer came up to me and asked permission to photograph me in the act of gazing at the masterpieces of Modigliani! I forbade. He then went up to a well-known collecting peer and made the same request, and was again rebuffed. These people must necessarily have very thick skins. I suppose that in truth it is not much different than the stoic attitude we authors must maintain in the face of our critics. Recently at Copenhagen I was interviewed three times, photographed four times and caricatured once, in a day. And simply couldn't help it. Such is the mixed blessing of being some sort of celebrity.
I have recently returned from a glance at Leningrad and Moscow, and my articles on the Soviet regime have commenced in the Daily Express. I started out to be sympathetic, but am now hostile, to the Soviet regime.
Sunday, 6 September 2015
At Villa des Nefliers, in France
Being unable to get rid of influenza-ish inquietudes of the stomach, and having had several bad nights de suite, I have spent a good deal of time in bed, reading and writing.
Today I finished the third or fourth perusal of "A Mummer's Wife" by George Moore. This book really is original and fine and beautiful. The Islington scenes are superb. You have squalor and sordidness turned into poetry. And the painter-like effects of visualisation are splendid throughout. Language a bit clumsy and coarse occasionally. "Booze" and "Boozed" are amazing words! There are others, but what an amazing and powerful work! I think I have given credit elsewhere in these pages to Moore as an important inspiration for my own writing. "A Mummer's Wife" first opened my shut eyes to the extraordinary romantic quality of that sinister district from which I emerged. In fact I came to recognise that the feeling of romance which permeates the district is quite as wonderfully inspiring as any historic memory could be. The great and wholesome influence of George Moore on modern English fiction has not yet been adequately appreciated - hardly even noticed. But it exists.
Here is an example of the wisdom of George Moore:
"Does anyone know, or has everyone forgotten, that genius discovers itself? ... Genius can be likened unto apples. This year you complain that the apples are not as red as they should be; maybe they are too red, or maybe they are too plentiful, but small. But the apples go on just the same. They alone are unconcerned as to what the world says or thinks of them."
Saturday, 5 September 2015
At the Hotel Commercio in Venice.
We hired a gondola this morning and went to church of St. John and St. Paul and then to the small church of Something dei Miracoli, very grand and quiet but not thrilling. Then on to Grand Canal, which we came down, seeing all the flags and carpets exposed to decorate houses for the Regatta this afternoon. It was certainly a most wonderful and lovely scene. What a marvellous experience it is, on arriving at Venice by train, to walk out of the station onto the concourse and to see the whole life of the Grand Canal going forward in front of you. I knew in advance that it would be so and yet was still momentarily taken aback by the sight. Venice is truly a unique city. The gondola are good in their way but for my money the best way to see Venice is just to wander about, almost certainly getting lost in the process. I think I have a good sense of direction but it doesn't seem to work in Venice, which has somewhat damaged my pride.
We also inspected two hotels, the Europa and the Britannia, with a view to moving from the Commercio. We liked both of these hotels, and at the Britannia were offered the apartment where Verdi had composed "Rigoletto" (a bad opera) at 450 lira a day. We could decide on nothing , as nothing (except the Verdi) was free.
I like Venice for a holiday better than any other place I have ever been in - provided it is not raining!
Friday, 4 September 2015
At Cadogan Square, London.
The big new French clock was on the floor in the box room. She said: "I put it away there because it stood out on the mantelpiece, and all the curves of the ornament, leaves and twigs and things, seemed to be the same as the curves of my nausea. So I put it away until the nausea has gone."
She saw two nice looking little boys in the restaurant at Harvey Nichols, and kept on referring to the extraordinary niceness of the face of one of them. At last she said: "I should like my boy to have a face like that." The secret was out.
I have often written about babies and children in my novels and short stories. In fact one of my most successful short stories (I think) is "Baby's Bath" in "the Grim Smile of the Five Towns". Also I think I dealt well with the childhood of Cyril Povey, and sensitively with the relationship between Edwin Clayhanger and George Cannon. Indeed I am not without experience of children. However it is not quite the same as having a child of one's own. Will I show to advantage in this new role that fate has placed in my path? I hope so!
There are other issues, and I am thinking particularly of the relationship between myself and Dorothy. She is an emotionally volatile person, by turns strong-minded and fragile. We have been content together for the last three years but naturally I have, as an older, more experienced and confident man, been the centre of her world; what now when I am displaced by the infant she is carrying and, subsequently, our child? I have already started to inform our family and friends, who have been supportive of our unconventional relationship. I hope and think that they will continue to be so. Nevertheless I cannot close my eyes to the fact that we will be parents to a bastard child, and all my best efforts will not shelter him or her from those who wish to be disapproving. Perhaps Marguerite will reconsider my plea for a divorce, but I doubt it.
To discover that I am to be a father has been a shock to me, though I think I have disguised it pretty well. I know it will change my life tremendously, and that is not an easy thing to contemplate at the age of sixty. But I have a curious feeling of elation, of response to a challenge from destiny.