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

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Friday, 14 September 2012


Saturday, September 14th.,

Yesterday I could not write and had leisure to think about myself. I saw that even now my life was not fully planned out; that I was not giving even an hour a day to scientific reading, to genuine systematic education; and that the central inspiration for my novel was not fine enough.
I began to rectify this, resuming my Spencer. I bought Taine's "Voyage en Italie", and was once again fired to make fuller notes of  the impressions of the moment, of choses vues. Several good books by him consist of nothing else.

Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (21 April 1828 – 5 March 1893) was a French critic and historian. He was the chief theoretical influence of French naturalism, a major proponent of sociological positivism, and one of the first practitioners of historicist criticism. Literary historicism as a critical movement has been said to originate with him. Taine is particularly remembered for his three-pronged approach to the contextual study of a work of art, based on the aspects of what he called "race, milieu, and moment". Taine had a profound effect on French literature; the 1911 Encyclop√¶dia Britannica asserted that "the tone which pervades the works of Zola, Bourget and Maupassant can be immediately attributed to the influence we call Taine's."

I must surely by this time be a trained philosophic observer - fairly exact and controlled by scientific principles. At the time one can scarcely judge what may be valuable later on. At the present moment I wish for instance, that some school mistress had written down simply her impression of her years of training; I want them for my novel. The whole of life ought to be covered thus by "impressionists", and a vast mass of new material of facts and sensations collected for use by historians, sociologists and novelists. I really must try to do my share of it more completely than I do.

So, today I worked from 6 to 7.45. Then, after breakfast, I read Epictetus and Spencer, did my Italian and my piano. After lunch I read Conrad's new book "The Secret Agent", then went out and collected ideas for my novel.

Joseph Conrad weaves a startling tale of espionage, political unrest, and personal turmoil in his 1907 novel The Secret Agent. Set in 1886, it is the story of a man known as Verloc. Life is a humdrum affair for Verloc, who is a shopkeeper and lives with his wife and in-laws. What Verloc's family doesn't know is that he has befriended a group of revolutionaries who are seeking major political overthrow. One fateful day, Verloc is called to a foreign embassy. There, a mysterious man gives him a task on which his reputation and future as a secret agent will depend: to destroy the town of Greenwich. As Verloc contemplates this grave and terrible mission, he must decide how far he is willing to go for the sake of rebellion. Police begin to trail Verloc's revolutionary circle, hoping to prevent an attack on the city but knowing that the terrorists may strike at any moment. Tension builds towards an unforgettable climax as Verloc's depths of sinister ambition come to light in this painful and astonishing work.

After tea I wrote letters and took a stroll with my wife. After dinner more piano; and French poetry; then this journal. In short a damned virtuous, high-minded day

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