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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.


And make sure to visit The Arnold Bennett Society for expert information and comment on all aspects of the life and work of AB.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Rather gloomy

Sunday, January 22nd., Cadogan Square, London.

I read more of "Faust" and spent a lot of time in loose reflection - vaguely on a new play and on my next Evening Standard article.  I went for a walk right down over Chelsea Bridge and along Battersea Park Road, and home by Albert Bridge Road and King's Road. Then I filled up the time in writing to Phillpotts about Hardy's funeral. The more I think of it the more wrong it seems to me that Hardy's wish to be buried in his native Dorset was peremptorily set aside. Surely the disposal of our bodies after death is a matter where our wishes should be respected? I certainly hope mine will be. I want to go into Burslem Cemetery and will make my wish well known before I go! I don't think Hardy even believed in God, though he wouldn't say so directly. I wish now I had asked him when we met. This business of grand funerals is all about the established church attempting to demonstrate that it still has a valuable role to play. I give it another 50 years and it will have withered away.

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Battersea Park Road
Battersea is a different world. I saw on a Sunday Express poster: "Hardy's last novel, by Sir Edmund Gosse". It seemed terribly absurd there. How many people in Battersea Bridge had heard of Hardy, or of Gosse, or could get up any interest whatever in a last novel though it were written by God himself? It is a gloomy, drab area with most repulsive tenements, a big technical institiute, an open gramophone shop (with a machine grinding out a tune and a song) and an open 'Fun Fair' sort of place (a shop with the front taken out) and a few small boys therein amusing themselves with penny-in-the-slot machines. One wonders whether gambling habits acquired at an early age become serious addictions later in life? I'm not going to say that gambling is a sin; I've done a bit myself from time to time. But it certainly blights the life of many in the working classes from what I read and see around me.

We dined this evening at Mrs. Patrick Campbell's across the Square.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Grey day

Sunday, January 20th., Cadogan Square, London.

Worst sort of day weather-wise. Grey, dismal, a steady sleet making any sort of venture into the outer world unpleasant. Regrettably I had to go over to Chessington on a family matter which could not be deferred. It was horrible. But the matter in question is being progressed towards a conclusion. I quite often find that people are overwhelmed by a problem and consequently make no progress with it. The secret is to break it down into parts and tackle one at a time.

I have been reading in a book called "Arnold Bennett of the Five Towns" which was sent to me by its author, one L.G. Johnson. I gather he is a Staffordshire man and claims to have 'grown up' with some of my characters. It is a good book. His appreciations and his animadversions are full of interest, significance - meat! The book is incomparably better than Darton's. Although Darton had evidently been to the Potteries to study the topography he failed to find in Burslem the equivalent of 'Duck Square. Yet this square indisputably exists under the name of Swan Square, just as Duck Bank is really Swan Bank. How he could have missed this passes understanding. He also failed to realise that 'Axe' is in fact Leek. 

Johnson clearly knows his Potteries and makes some insightful observations about, and criticisms of, my books. He considers that "These Twain" 'narrows down' the trilogy. Well he is right about that, but not in the way he thinks. It was intentional and deliberate, and part of the scheme as a whole. Compare the much more drastic narrowing down into domestic life at the end of "War and Peace". I cannot remember whether I read "War and Peace" before or after I planned "Hilda Lessways", which I consider to be quite inferior to "These Twain". I have received the most passionate testimonies to the authenticity and force of "These Twain". It was written from the heart and contains not a little personal experience. Frank Swinnerton calls it a 'tour de force'.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Mikado

Wednesday, January 29th., Victoria Grove, London.

Image result for mikado london 1897At "The Mikado", now nearing the close of its fourth or fifth revival. It has been running at the Savoy since 1895. Rosina Brandram took the part of Katisha and Walter Passmore was Ko-Ko.  Half empty house; band apathetic and playing with eyes anywhere but on the music. Seated near the stage, I could realise what at the theatre one realises so seldom, that the actors are ordinary human beings acting a part for a livelihood. I could see beneath the maks the evolutions of the real person, his lassitudes, excitements, pleasures, wearinesses. Never before have I seen these things so plainly, this under-life. Yet the excellence of "The Mikado" is such that as the evening passed, the piece took hold of the players, and lifting them out of their monotony, did away with the ennui that discloses their humanity.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Friday, January 19th., Royal Thames Yacht Club, London.

Lunch at Reform today. Informed positively that Nivelle was to include all British Army in his command. It was said that he said of Hague: "Il n'est pas assez souple. Il est trop orgueilleux." This statement absolutely contradicted by Press Bureau tonight. 

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Aftermath of the Silvertown explosion
Tonight in Piccadilly an immense red flare in the sky, followed by a great explosion. Piccadilly rather excited. Mair was informed by telephone at 10.30 that chemical works at Blackwall exploded and set fire to South Metropolitan Gasworks. Apparently TNT is one of the things they make there. Seems almighty strange to me to have such a dangerous industrial facility in a heavily populated area. "Thousands of wounded  in hospital". We shall see if this is a fact.

Mair and Willie Weir and George Whale dined with me tonight at the Yacht Club. Very interesting. Mair said there was nothing in the alarm about a German invasion of Switzerland, and that it had been deliberately got up by the French authoroities (who said Foch was at Besancon and actually began to dig trenches) in order to get Swiss securities out of Switzerland and into France for the purpose of helping to regulate exchange.

Mair has promised to take me over London in an airship.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

A most deplorable case

Friday, January 18th., Cadogan Square, London.
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The Garrick Club

Emerging last night with Duff Tayler from Garrick. A very damp and chilly night. A lazy wind - it went right through you, not around. Stopped by a farly well dressed man of fifty or so.. A woman with him walked on. She was very soberly dressed. Too dark to see properly. Verbal exchange something like this (Duff left the talk to me):

Him - Excuse me speaking to you, but are you a member of the Garrick?
Me - I am.
Him - I hope you won't be offended by my speaking to you. Needless to say that if you are a member of the Garrick, then you are a gentleman. You won't be angry? You're looking very serious. 
Me - I'm a serious man.
Him - You're an author or something?
Me - No, I'm just a man.
Him - But all you Garrick fellows are celebrities of some sort ...? Now that lady there (indicating) is my wife. She is my wife. We're ina deauce of a hole. Really in a hole. I'm a gentleman. Public school man. My brother is a general in the army, that is to say he is really a brigadier-general. I must introduce you to my wife ....
Then various prefatory remarks, and me getting colder and colder, and Duff putting in a word or two now and then.
Him - Now if you could oblige me with a little - just until the bank opens tomorrow morning. Give me your name and I will leave the money for you in an envelope. I'm a gentleman. You can trust me ...? Otherwise my wife and I are in for night out.
Me - I'm afraid I can't do that.
He didn't seem to be very disappointed.

Strange how these people can hope for success in cadging, but I suppose it works occasionally or they would give up on it. He probably haunted the entrance to the Garrick all evening. Duff said that his object in wanting to introduce his wife to me was to get hold of my name. The man had a weather-worn face. Spoke quite well and was undoubtedly what is known as a gentleman. It was a hell of a nasty night though not actually raining at the time. The wife was waiting about 100 yards up the street. I could see she was dressed in brown. A most deplorable case

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

I know nothing better

Sunday, January 17th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

Six hours uninterrupted sleep last night. I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at the clock. Oddly, because I am not used to it I suppose, I felt more tired than usual this morning until I had a good wash. But I had more real energy. Barber's yesterday at Frinton. My chauffeur, Read, recommended it to me. He said it was smart and clean, but lacked things. He was half right! 

No antiseptic arrangements as far as I could see. Room cold. Man doing shaving. No greeting from the barber. Dirty apron and coat hanging up on the wall. Array of mugs with sponges. Place looked clean but wasn't. Thick dust on gas shades and many cobwebs. Chair too high, a modern chair which required a footstool. I commented on the height. The barber said, ""It's not high enough for me as it is. I always have to stoop." I asked if business was good? "No, very short season". A nice mild man, tall, badly shaven, baggy worn knees. But decent. No energy. Parted my hair on the wrong side, and badly. Shoved his sleeve in my eye. Didn't show me the back of my head. Doubtful towels. Indiarubber sponge. Price 10d. Apart from that, all went well! Be careful what recommendations you take!

May be potential for an article. I might describe Paris barbers, and insist on the inferiority of English barbers, with general reference to slackness and efficiency. That sort of thing is calculated to cause a bit of a stir.

I finished the third act of "Don Juan"n Friday night after fairly huge labours. I have read a little in John Mitchell's "Jail Journal". It is a good browsing book. Much of the nalysis and self-description is tedious. It could be usefully cut down and made manageable.

Lastly, Conrad's "Chance" came today and I have already read 150 pp. This is a discouraging book for a writer, because he damn well knows he can't write as well as this. The episode of the arrival of the news of de Barral's bankruptcy at his house in Hove, where his daughter and her superb friend of a governess are living is simply sublime. I know nothing better than this, and precious little as good.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Balcony breakfast

Saturday, January 16th., Menton

I wrote 2,500 words of "A Great Man" today, but it's difficult to work hard at a novel and appreciate a new environment at the same time. I am here with Phillpotts collaborating on the writing of a play. Perhaps we should have stayed in England where there would be few external distractions. 

Yesterday I woke up just before dawn, and there was a red streak of light along the horizon, and the sea smoke colour, and the lamps and the riding lights of the vessels just beginning to be ghostly. On either side the hills with their bare rocky tops. Later I took my tea and croissant out on the balcony in the 8.30 am sun, wrapped in my largest overcoat. It was tremendous after the bed breakfasts of a Paris flat.

I breakfasted on the balcony again today, in dressing gown and overcoat, and all day I have had the atmosphere, perfectly wonderful, and the magnificent views from the balcony. Beyond a walk to the centre of town and the bandstand I made no excursion.

Before dinner Eden and I discussed and settled certain outstanding preliminary points in our play. It only took about half an hour. I expect to begin the actual writing on Tuesday, and the actual detailed constructive thinking on Monday.