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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.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Keeping to time

Saturday, January 16th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

London today to see the work of the Queen's Fund. I took my niece Mary and my nephew Richard with me and Tertia met us at Liverpool Street. They all went off to do their own things and we met later for the return trip. Needless to say the 10.7 was late. I have never known it not to be late. I mentioned it to the ticket inspector and he said: "It's because of the war." Unbelievable! I was so surprised by the sheer effrontery of that reply that I failed to make a rejoinder.

36 Smith Square, Westminster, London, seen from the entrance of St John's Church
36 Smith Square
Lunch at Mrs. McKenna's, wife of Reginald. Largeish house in Smith Square, designed by Lutyens. Very bare and lacking in furniture. I don't think they have been there long. What furniture there was was good though. Oresent: Masterman, full of good humour; Brock, Secretary of National Relief Fund; and Mary Mc Arthur, stoutish matron with a marked Scotch accent. I met her on doorstep and introduced myself. I liked her.

Mrs. McArthur had prepared a timed programme of our pilgrimage, with times in it for leaving like 2.48. Definitely a woman after my own heart. And we kept to it fairly well.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Journalistically speaking

Saturday, January 15th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

I went to London Wednesday and returned Friday and was ill nearly all the time with dyspepsia. Edward Garnett lunched with me on Wednesday.  He said he had an important matter to discuss. It was a project for a weekly 1d. political paper to tell the truth about politics. He wanted me to give up everything and edit it; also to start it and organise it. He had the title and a plan of contents, including chiefly a series of "Fables for Liberals". He had written the first fable himself. When I asked him what he would do, he said he only meant to contribute himself. He was quite sincere, and had not begun to suspect that the scheme originated in his idea for a fable about Liberals who had lost their trousers. 

From the Reform I went to the Statesman to discuss with Sharp the notion of some plainer writing about political facts. I had previously seen McKenna's brother, who told me that Reginald was still quite determined to leave the Cabinet if it tried to outrun the constable. He indicated that the financial situation was exceedingly grave.  

At night I dined with Atkins who told us he had met an old friend that day, an American journalist named Marshall whom he had known in the Cuban war, and who had been shot in the spine in a very interesting way, so much so that it ought ot have been impossible for him to live, and two medical books had been written about him. He walks with a stick or sticks. This man was coming to Europe journalistically, and Bernsdorff had him in at the Waldorf-Astoria, and said to him: "You can have £50,000, not dollars, before you leave this hotel if you will go to Europe in German interests." Marshall refused. Bernsdorff then went further and told him that he could have the biggest journalistic scoop that any journalist had ever had. Namely that he should be taken from Belgium to Berlin in a Zeppelin and there have an interview with the Kaiser, and be brought back. Marshall refused. Atkins said he knew Marshall very well and vouched for his honesty. The Zeppelin excursion was afterwards accepted by another American journalist, whose name I forget, but he died in the Zeppelin on the way. Atkins seemed to genuinely believe all this twaddle.

He then told us that Lord Cromer had told him that an English officer out in Russia on military contracts business found himself absolutely unable to do the business without backsheesh to officials, which he refused to give. He then managed to see the Tsar, who affected great surprise and went over the heads of the officials - but how long the Tsar's arrangement 'worked' Atkins couldn't say. Atkins is certainly an entertaining dinner companion; I wonder what he will do for stories after the war?

Monday, 14 January 2019

Squinting about

Saturday, January 14th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

Vintage postcard London, Roman Catholic Cathedral ...Wednesday evening I went into Westminster Cathedral, and saw how to use it again in my novel. Very cold day. Nice warm cathedral. Ugly chapels, detail invisible. A non-RC parson or two squinting about. Noise of a charwoman washing floor. Exceedingly few people. The at 10.10 either Prime or Tierce, don't know which. A few performers came in after a bell had been rung; took their seats and then the intoning begins; scarcely audible for a second or less. It 'steals' out. Words utterly incomprehensible. Outside, front of shop devoted to rosaries, crucifixes etc.

By yesterday Walpole's scheme for me to republish Jacob Tonson articles in volume had taken shape. I read through a lot of the stuff and found it enormously vivacious. I wish I could write with such life and vigour now. In fact I hated to leave it last night in order to dress to go to a ball given by 2nd First London R.G.A. at Weeley - "The Fields".

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Listless

Wednesday, January 13th., Rue de Calais, Paris.

Horrible muddy weather yesterday and the same again today. A sort of thick mist filled the air, not substantial enough to be called rain but effective at wetting one's person, and depressing one's soul. I long for some warmth and some sunshine. I did nothing all day but prepare to depart for Menton. 

Of course I had a list. I am one of those people who cannot proceed in the absence of a list. Whenever I have some scheme in prospect the first thing I do is to make a list. I like to have it handy, by me, so as to be able to add or subtract as my inclinations develop. To be honest I cannot understand how others manage without lists. I have come across people (men and women) who assert that they would rather die than waste time making lists. Needless to say they generally turn out to be the same people who find themselves missing some essential item. And who do they then turn to? In the face of repeated experience they are generally incorrigible.

I bought two Stevensons recently and have read a lot of "Island Nights". Good sound work, but, strictly judged, decidedly mediocre - though marked by the most charming justice of 'values' as they say in painting. I am in need of a really 'good' book to read and have failed to find one, not for want of trying. Of course I could re-read something I know to be first-rate, but I have a desire for something new and exciting. This is symptomatic I think of a general staleness which I hope this working holiday will dissipate.



Saturday, 12 January 2019

Change afoot

Saturday, January 12th., Cadogan Square, London.

I went yesterday morning to a smallish second-hand furniture shop (authentic antiques) in Basil Street. A tall gentleman in charge and alone there. He apologised for a certain untidiness, and said that his partner was even more untidy than he was himself. I didn't see the partner but I guessed that there was no love lost between them. A tall man, conventionally dressed, tail coat, striped trousers. Perfect manners. Evidently a gentleman, insofar as I understand that term.

He gave a twinge and apologised in moving some furniture. We had a short discussion comparing the varieties of back pain; mine is rather 'tender' at the moment. Said his was rheumatism, caught in Bolshevist Russia. Rather implied that he held the Bolsheviks to blame. Man probably about 45 -48. Biggish nose. In moving some more furniture he let a cut-glass jug slip off a table, but I caught it as it fell. Excellent reactions for a man nearing 60.



When, eventually, I said that I should have to think over a proposed purchase as I wasn't sure if I liked it, he said eagerly: "Certainly, I should not care for you to buy anything and regret it afterwards." Just before I left a very tall young man and a biggish boy came in, and he told them to go into his office. Both stylish. "My sons," he said to me, concealing his pride. This place was a good illustration of the invasion of trade by the educated and well-bred classes.



Another instance I had the other day at Gereth's in Beauchamp Place, where the middle-aged lady boss was a most charming woman. Another is the "Cottars Market", run by Mrs. Pitt Chatham and Mrs. Playfair. All these three close together. I suppose all this tells us something about societal changes since the war. It is of a kind with the shortage of servants, and the noticeable decline in deference, and the fall-off in church attendance. All of which I believe intellectually to be good things, but I can't help feeling that the world was a better place when I was young. I suppose that is part and parcel of getting old.

Friday, 11 January 2019

A hard read

Wednesday, January 11th., Cadogan Square, London.

Ivor Nicholson came for tea at 5.15, and wanted six more articles for Hearsts: but only the English rights thereof. So I refused. I said I would write for 2s. a word and return to Hearsts all I received by selling the articles on my own in the U.S.A. It wasn't what he was expecting!

The Daily News rang up to say that Hardy was dead, and would I say something. I wouldn't. But I decided that I must get up early tomorrow morning, and write a Standard article on Hardy to take the place of the one on Gilbert Murray. This news has affected me. I liked Hardy and he was really the last link with a former generation of writers.

The Disgraced Irish Catholic Church, Through the Eyes of a ...Last evening in bed I finished an interesting book titled "The History of Loneliness", by John Boyne, a writer not previously known to me. The subject is corruption in the Catholic Church in Ireland, and specifically the covering-up of child sexual abuse by priests. It takes the form of a first person narrative by one Odran Yates, himself a priest in his sixties. Giving an account of incidents in his life he exposes religious hypocricy, abuse of power, cultural inertia and much more. All culminating in admission of his own culpability as a man who did nothing. And we as readers realise, as Yates does himself, that his life has been a waste and a sham. Depressing. Boyne is excellent at dialogue, conveying a real sense of the tensions and evasions that litter discourse. I particularly enjoyed his account of a radio interview of an Irish Cardinal. He mistakenly, in my view, inserts an episode where Yates goes to Rome and works for the Pope which does nothing to take the story forward. I suppose the intention was to say that corruption in the Catholic Church is widespread and systemic. Overall this is a powerful  piece of writing which should probably be required reading in theological colleges everywhere. The good news seems to be that Irish society has moved on from its subservience to the Church. I would thank God for that if I believed in Him!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Well of loneliness

Thursday, January 10th., Chiltern Court, London.

The Well of Loneliness - WikipediaI was attracted to Radclyffe Hall's "The Well of Loneliness" by a line in the publisher's advertisement: "With a commentary by Havelock Ellis", Havelock Ellis being a name which means much to me. I knew nothing of the author's previous work, nor of the subject of this one. I ought to have guessed its subject. It is Havelock Ellis the essayist to whom I am indebted for the enlargement of my outlook; he is, in addition to being a very valuable philosophical essayist, among the greatest European authorities upon the vagaries or aberrations of nature in the matter of sexual characteristics. He is also, notoriously, married to and living apart from a confirmed lesbian. A fascinating character who I should like to meet.

"The Well of Loneliness" is the story of one of the victims of Nature's caprices. Havelock Ellis stands by it. He praises it for its fictional quality, its notable psychological and sociological significance, and its complete absence of offence. I cannot disagree with him. At present there is a campaign getting underway by one of our major newspapers to have the book banned. I can only assume that they have not read it. The newspaper is the Sunday Express and its editor, Mr. James Douglas, has called for an immediate ban on "The Well of Loneliness" stating that "I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel. Poison kills the body but moral poison kills the soul." This was an act of stunt journalism, typical of the Sunday Express, which appalled many notable figures in the literary world, myself includud.

Uncertain in touch at first, this novel is in the main fine. Disfigured by loose writing and marred by loose construction, it nevertheless does hold you. It is honest, convincing, and extremely courageous. What it amounts to is a cry for unprejudiced social recognition of the victim. The cry attains genuine tragic poignancy. The future may hide highly strange things, and therefore conservative prophecy is dangerous, but I must say that I do not think the cry will be effectively heard, at least not for a long time. At present, and I think for some time to come, the forces of church and establishment are too powerfully barricaded to hear any cry from those less fortunate than themselves. Nature has no prejudices, but human nature is less broad-minded and has a deep instinct for the protection of 'society'. It puts up a powerful defence of its own limitations. "The Well of Loneliness" is not a novel for those who prefer not to see life steadily and see it whole.