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

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Sunday, 23 October 2016

On edge

Sunday, October 23rd., Rue de Calais, Paris

I could not work today. I think I find my nerves more sensitive every day really. I wish letters came just before dinner instead of just after breakfast; then they could not interfere with and disarrange the general 'lay' of one's thoughts for the day's work. On the other hand they might disturb the digestion, and also one's sleep.

One of those days in consequence when my thoughts have turned to suicide; not that I am thinking of committing suicide, but have a desire to be prepared should something happen to seriously disable me. I think I would feel more content if I had a powder of some sort on hand to take should I feel that the time has come. The problem is what powder, and how to get hold of it, and will it work when needed? Of course there are lots of potential ways to end one's life, but most seem unnecessarily painful, undignified,and inconvenient to others. I would like to find some method which involves taking a powder, falling quietly to sleep, and never waking up. That doesn't seem so much to ask, but I have learned from experience that many people are horrified by the mere suggestion. Why has suicide acquired this evil reputation? In Roman times it was regarded as a noble act, and still is I think in Japan. But here in our supposedly civilised European society it is beyond the pale to make sensible preparations. Still, I am not without hope that a way will be found.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A Full Day

Friday, October 19th., Cadogan Square, London.

I wrote 1,000 words of a short story before noon. I then walked two miles and then drove to the Garrick Club. where du Maurier lunched with me. He practically wanted me to re-write Acts 2 and 3 of "The Return Journey". I told him I couldn't but gave him leave to fool around with the play.

Image result for du maurier theatre gerald
Sir Gerald Hubert Edward Busson du Maurier (26 March 1873 – 11 April 1934) was an English actor and manager. He was the son of the writer George du Maurier and brother of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. In 1902, he married the actress Muriel Beaumont with whom he had three daughters: writers Angela du Maurier (1904–2002) and Daphne du Maurier (1907–1989), and painter Jeanne du Maurier (1911–1996). His popularity lay in his subtle and naturalistic acting: a "delicately realistic style of acting that sought to suggest rather than to state the deeper emotions". His Times obituary said of his career: "His parentage assured him of engagements in the best of company to begin with; but it was his own talent that took advantage of them."

We reached the Ravel concert at the Aeolian Hall 20 minutes late and Ravel himself came into the vestibule. We talked a bit. I hadn't seen him since he came to visit us at Comarques in December 1913, so, of course, it was his first meeting with Dorothy. I wonder what he thinks about my change of circumstances? The concert was extremely satisfactory. It seemed to me to be all good music.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Saturday, October 18th., Cadogan Square, London

Image result for riceyman stepsLast night I had a letter from a solicitor and notary at Ayr telling me that Professor Grierson of Edinburgh University had awarded me the Tait Black Novel Prize for 1923 for "Riceyman Steps". Money: £141, and asking me if I would accept it! I replied that I would. This is the first prize for a book I ever had. I have a rather strange feeling somewhere in the vicinity of my heart - odd, after 40 years of writing, plenty of critical acclaim, and being in possession of a substantial ego. They said my creative peak was past, and they were right, but there is some life left in the old dog.

The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes are literary prizes awarded for literature written in the English language. They, along with the Hawthornden Prize, are Britain's oldest literary awards. Based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the prizes were founded in 1919 by Mrs Janet Coats Black in memory of her late husband, James Tait Black, a partner in the publishing house of A & C Black Ltd. Prizes are awarded in three categories: Fiction, Biography and Drama.

Monday, 17 October 2016


Monday, October 17th., 6, Victoria Grove, London.

Slept in late this morning but thankfully felt well on rising having been just a little under the weather yesterday. Of course it is the darker mornings which encourage the prolongation of sleep. I decided on a good long walk having nothing else particularly in prospect and set out at about 10.30. Lovely autumnal morning. High clouds; quite warm when the sun came through. I felt as if I could walk forever! All went well until I was just a couple of miles from home. I had in fact been sitting on a convenient bench enjoying the sunshine and congratulating myself on being so satisfactorily at leisure whilst the rest of the world was working when I noticed dark clouds building in the south. I was already aware that the wind was from the south and felt the first tinge of anxiety. By the time I got to the top of the hill, and could see the countryside around I realised that a heavy band of rain was approaching, and a soaking was in prospect. Of course I had no raincoat as it had been a lovely day. Ah well, nothing to do but walk on stoically and accept my fate. Completely drenched within minutes of being overtaken by the rain, which only lasted for about 5 minutes before it passed; then the sun shone again. Never mind - I've been wetter!

Earlier I happened to be standing about waiting for a bus when I became aware of a man nearby engrossed in a newspaper and smoking a pipe. He was oblivious to me and to the rest of the world and I was able to study him closely without his notice. I found myself trying to imagine what was going on in his head and realised more clearly than I perhaps have before that it is impossible to imaginatively enter into another person's mind state. Was he thinking about what was happening in the world as revealed by his newspaper? Was he in fact reading, or simply looking in the direction of the paper whilst mentally occupied elsewhere? No way to know, and how isolating it is to confront this unbridgeable gap.

Sunday, 16 October 2016


Sunday, October 16th., Cadogan Square, London.

Image result for sulka bond streetI suppose that in my own way I am a bit of a dandy. By which I mean that I dress with care and appear to others to dress to create an effect. I once insisted on having no fewer than eleven fittings to correct the faults I perceived in a new white evening waistcoat. Some of my shirts, made by Sulka of Bond Street, are astonishingly soft and have even caught the attention of the Prince of Wales (so I am told). I have my boots made by Lobb of St. James' Street and continue to favour them even though the fashionable world have taken to shoes. But of course being distinctive in apparel is really the opposite of being fashionable. 

Image result for arnold bennett caricatureCertainly my way of dressing is a gift to the caricaturists. They seize on my well-barbered quiff, and the glittering gold fobs in my waistcoat pockets. H.G. once referred to the fobs as "Arnold's gastric jewellery"! Am I vain? I suppose I am if I am honest, but there is an element of calculation as well. Some say that I am the best known writer in the English speaking world and it may be that some of that notoriety is down to the attention I attract as well as to what I write. I am a celebrity in a world which, shrinking as it is due to advances in communication, is increasingly interested in celebrities. Where will it all end? Possibly the time may come when suitably attention-seeking persons may achieve celebrity without actually having done anything of significance in the world - at least my celebrity is based on a solid foundation of achievement through hard work.

"The most beautiful shop in the world . . ." - that is how Esquire magazine described the wood-paneled splendour of the London premises of John Lobb, Bootmaker. LastmakerIn the shadow of the great gate-tower of St. James's Palace, built by Henry VIII, and echoing to the stamping feet of bear-skinned guardsmen, St. James's Street has been traditionally the home of coffee houses, gentlemen's clubs and elegant outfitters; a mecca for the noble and the fashionable for centuries.
Here, where once aristocrats won and lost fortunes on the turn of a card; where Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron scandalized London; and where Beau Brummell turned dress into haute couture, it is still possible to find a firm where boots and shoes are made by hand to the exacting standards of the ancient craft. The current Lobb premises at number 9 is on the very spot once occupied by Lord Byron's bachelor establishment.

The original John Lobb was a lame Cornish farmboy whose mastery of the Gentle Craft of last and awl brought him golden awards in the Great International Exhibitions of Victorian times. He became the proud holder of a Royal Warrant as Bootmaker to Edward, Prince of Wales. The Prince, as King Edward VII, was to give his name to a whirling Edwardian era of opulence and splendour; an era in which Lobb shoes became a synonym for quality and elegance.

Friday, 14 October 2016


Thursday, October 14th., Cadogan Square, London.

I agreed about 10days ago with Wardour Films to write the English titles for the English production of the German 'Ufa' film "Faust". I offered to do the work for £300. They said they could not pay more than £200. I would not budge. They gave in. I immediately began the work. The film is not as good as they think it is but I can make it better.

So today at 3.30 I was in the film world at Wardour Street, and I saw my titles for Part I of "Faust" roughly on the screen. T. told me that the Censor would not pass the word 'damned', and when in another place I altered a phrase to "Show me woman in the flesh", he said the Censor would not pass that either. It is a great and fearful world the film-world. I drove home in a taxi. This is the first time I have taken a taxi either to or from the film-world. I am getting fonder and fonder of motor-bus riding.

When I was at Wardour Street a few days ago the London representative of 'Ufa' came in and heard what I had to say. He at once said that, in addition to communicating with Berlin to get the necessary work done, he would inform America as the suggestion would be even more valuable there (where the story of Faust is not so well known as it is in England). 

Ufa, in full Universum Film-Aktien Gesellschaft, German motion-picture production company that made artistically outstanding and technically competent films during the silent era. Located in Berlin, its studios were the best equipped and most modern in the world. It encouraged experimentation and imaginative camera work and employed such directors as Ernst Lubitsch, famous for directing sophisticated comedies, and G.W. Pabst, a pioneer in the expressive use of camera position and editing techniques.

Image result for Ufa films GermanUFA was established in 1917 when the German government consolidated most of the nation’s leading studios. Its purpose was to promote German culture and, in the years following World War I, to enhance Germany’s international image. At first, UFA produced mostly historical and costume dramas, including Die Augen der Mumie Ma (1918; The Eyes of the Mummy) and Carmen (1918), both directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Pola Negri. The company soon acquired several theatres throughout Germany and inaugurated Berlin’s lavish Film Palast am Zoo with the premiere of Lubitsch’s Madame Dubarry (1919; also released as Passion), an international hit that did much to open the door for German films in countries where they had been banned since the war.

In 1923 the studio acquired one of the world’s largest production facilities, at Neubabelsberg, as a result of its merger with the film company Decla Bioscop. This move, however, coincided with the increasing popularity in Germany of Hollywood films, and UFA’s resulting financial crises compelled the studio to produce mostly inexpensive documentary films for the next few years. Distribution deals with the American studios Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ultimately proved disastrous, but UFA rallied long enough to produce such classics as F.W. Murnau’s Der letzte Mann (1924; The Last Laugh), Edwald André Dupont’s Variété (1925; Variety), and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A few ideas about religion

Thursday, October 13th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

I was thinking about the distinction, if there is one, between beliefs and religions. Some of the belief systems I have been reading about seem to be accepted as religions, but where lies the difference. Clearly there are belief systems which have nothing to do with religion eg. science, evolution, communism. On the other hand, religions must, it seems to me, incorporate a belief system, but that is not in itself sufficient. So, what else. Presumably part of the belief system must include at least one deity. Additionally must there be some ritual component which attempts to communicate with or influence the deity/deities? If there is a belief system with a deity and rituals is that sufficient to constitute a religion? Or maybe there is an issue to do with people involved - would a belief system held by one person who had formulated his/her own rituals to propitiate an imagined deity be a religion? Must there be more than one person and, if so, how many are necessary? Must there be some persistence over time? My inclination is to try to get a clear definition of things but perhaps it is going to be difficult in this case.

I have no religious conviction myself. When I came to London as a young man I felt liberated from the oppressive formality of religious practise in the Potteries; not to mention its hypocrisy. I very soon became indifferent to all the forms and rites of dogmatic religion; and religion, in the accepted sense of the word, ceased entirely to enter into my life. I still shared of course the widespread objection to dying but felt that the maintenance of a healthy mind and body was more likely to delay this unpleasant but unavoidable outcome than was going to church. If anything, experience has convinced me that the material world is all we are heir to and we should make the best of it.
I am wondering what to read next. I have a couple of non-fiction books on the go and am reading about Oriental belief in a general way, but I do like to have some fiction to carry me away - was that an echo of Emily Dickinson? "There is no frigate like a novel to carry you away" Maybe I haven't got that quite right but the sense is there. I am wondering about a return to Conrad, perhaps some of his short stories?