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Thursday, 6 June 2013

French characters

Monday, June 6th., Villa des Nefliers, Fontainebleau.

On being asked by Marguerite today whether she had faite une promenade yesterday afternoon during her Sunday conge, Marthe, our new maid, said, Non, madame, ma mere ne sort jamais. But had she no petites camarades with whom she could have gone out? Vaguely: no. Mais je connais la fille de l'epicier. Alors je suis allee chez elle, et nous avons cause.

This was her holiday. On Sundays, after she has washed up after lunch, she is free until it is time to come in and prepare dinner. At all other times she is at our disposal. She rises at 6 - I hear her - and comes down at 7. She goes to bed about 9. never reads. I doubt if she ever has a bath. She enjoys going out on errands, even to the post. Age 18. Plain. Mal ficelee. Can't get her apron right. very quiet. Doesn't seem to want pleasure. Cow-like and contented to work mildly all the time. When I say she ought to go out more, Marguerite gets excited and says that she has nowhere to go to, and that it would spoil her; that it is against the custom of the country. She is just an ignorant passive slave, earning 35 frs. a month, and her keep and her bed. In two months time she is to have 40 frs. She is not a fool and learns her work pretty quickly, and having learnt it does not forget it. Her mother comes twice a week to do rough work; a horrible-looking creature, very ugly, coarse, and without any remains of charm of any kind. There is a little hunchback brother toscalgique or tuberculeux, who for months could do nothing but sit by the fire and shiver. He has been sent to Bercke and is now a little better. The father is a carman with his own cart and either one or two horses.

Today I finished 7,000 words of the 4th part of "Clayhanger". It is gradually beating aquarelle in the competition for my attention.

Continuous heavy, thunderous weather. Steady temperature at 20 degrees in the house. I ventured into a white waistcoat today. the weather is more like a Turkish bath than anything else. Not that I have ever had a Turkish bath.

At Madame R's. I met Brunet Huart, the painter, aged 84. He wore light striped trousers, a waistcoat of black velvet, a rather large tie, rather large and striking gloves and generally was dandiacal.

He remembered Florence in 1858 and the anecdotes of King Victor Emmanuels's circus-like appearance in the Cascine. He liked Kipling, also Wells; but he thought Wells didn't explain enough. He remembered the fighting in the auditorium of the Theatre des Varieities on account of a play which made fun of shop assistants. The theatre was full of shop assistants and their sympathisers. When the noise grew unbearable, an actor came forward and thumped furiously on a table. Everybody was so staggered by this impudence of an actor to his public that silence ensued and the actor said: "No! Never shall a counter-jumper bring this curtain down". The old gentleman was afraid of motor cars, and in particular of his young cousin's driving. He had just returned from a round of family visits, ending at Bourges. Then he curved off into a long story of an adventure in the Palazzo Orsini in Rome (when paper money as small as 5d. was issued - current in the city only), where he got enormous attention from a concierge by two payments of a franc each. "The concierge would have given me a bed in the palace, I think," he said. He had a curious and unusual knowledge of the relative sizes of things from St. Peter's downwards. He was certain that a revolution would occur within six months, precipitated by losses due to inundations and bad harvests, and consequent labour unrest.

He said that he had painted all his life, but had entered the studio of a celebrated master only at the age of 25. He now got his military friends, colonels and so on, to send him down a soldier with a horse for two or three hours daily. Here he explained in detail how he taught the soldier to lift up the horse's leg so that he could see how the light fell on the legs of a galloping horse. Even recently he had painted in the rain, enjoying the 'pretty colours', 'teints' of barley, oats etc. He kindly offered to criticise my drawings. He was full of various energy, and affirmed that he had not begun to feel old until he was seventy.

His chief subject was undoubtedly the Palais Royal. "And of course," he said. "The Palais Royal was in all its splendour in those days, and the plays given there were really witty." But the samples which he offered of Palais Royal wit in those great days were feeble and flashy. He seemed to be able to remember in detail all the Palais Royal burlesques of popular tragedy, and he quoted miles of tirades in verse. He talked well, if too much.

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