Welcome to our blog!

It's better than a bat in the eye with a burnt stick!

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.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Identity and disguise

Tuesday, April 7th., Cadogan Square, London.

Max Beerbohm, with others, dined here last night. I hadn't seen him for ten years (at the Reform Club). He was more delightful than ever. His mind is sound right through; and he is often witty. Some people have told me that he would dine out and say nothing but the most ordinary things. Last night he said scarcely anything ordinary. He was unaffected, modest, and thoroughly wise, and made a great impression on everybody. After the Maughams and the Parsonses had gone he expanded even more to Kathleen Long, Dorothy and me.

Kathleen Long (1896-1968) was a concert pianist and piano teacher. In her repertoire was Ravel's 'Ondine', and she told an interviewer in 1950 that Ondine had been taught her by the composer himself, ‘a dried up little man’ to whom she was introduced one afternoon by the novelist Arnold Bennett, an erstwhile London neighbour with whom she used to enjoy playing duets.

I asked him what kind of cigarette he preferred, Eastern or Western. He said it didn't matter. He just took whatever came. He didn't care about many things, and as soon as he owned something that he had wanted it ceased to please him.

Sir Henry Maximilian "Max" Beerbohm (1872 – 1956) was an English essayist, parodist, and caricaturist best known today for his 1911 novel Zuleika Dobson. In 1910 he married and went to live the rest of his life in the Villino Chiaro, a small house on the coast road overlooking the Mediterranean at Rapallo, Italy. Max and his wife seem to have had a thoroughly happy life together. There has been speculation that he was a non-active homosexual, that his marriage was never consummated, that he was a natural celibate. The fact is, not much is known of Max's private life. Beerbohm defined caricatures as "the delicious art of exaggerating, without fear or favour, the peculiarities of this or that human body, for the mere sake of exaggeration... The whole man must be melted down, as in a crucible, and then, as from the solution, be fashioned anew. He must emerge with not one particle of himself lost, yet with not a particle of himself as it was before."

His age proved to be 52, whereas mine was 58 in May next. He said he wanted to be 58 - every year was a conquest. He did not envy young people; in fact he felt sorry for them. Their lives also were precarious. They might die any day, and if they did die - what a suck-in for them! How much they would have missed without knowing it. He said he had no feeling for London. He liked to visit it but only on condition that he could leave it and return to Rapallo. He said that he couldn't possibly have the romantic feeling for London that I have, because he was born in it. "The smuts fell on his bassinette." Whereas I could never lose the feeling of the romanticalness of London.

Beerbohm wrote to me once (nearly 20 years ago now) as follows:
"... When I had finished 'The Old Wives Tale' (having gone slow in the later parts of it, being so loth to have no more to read of it), I felt a real void in my life; and this void I instinctively tried to fill a little of by writing a letter to the man who had laid so large an aesthetic debt on me. I wrote the letter and meant to send it, but I said 'Why?' I am always saying 'Why?' That is the curse of the twentieth century (and metropolitan and non-Bursley) nature ..."

Last evening he told me that I was in his new series of "Old celebrities meeting their younger selves", shortly to be seen at the Leicester Galleries. The legend under the drawing of me was:
Old A.B.       Everything worked out according to plan.
Young A.B.  My plan.
What a depth and width of criticism of me in this!

Since the war I have naturally become a target for satire, and I know it. It is partly the price of fame and partly because I have deliberately courted publicity and made myself into a 'character'. I have become a popular cartoon subject, turning up in various guises - at first nights, in the barber's and in the cartoon above. All publicity is essentially good publicity and I have given the press and cartoonists things to seize on - very fine lace shirts, the quiff of my hair, and my fob. I consider these to be both an identity and a disguise.

No comments:

Post a Comment