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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Beginning a novel

Tuesday, September 29th., Victoria Grove, Chelsea.

Tonight I am to begin my new novel "Sir Marigold", a study of paternal authority. All the old timidities, banished for a time by the prompt acceptance of my first book, have returned, have crept back again imperceptibly, until misgivings intensified perhaps by experimental knowledge of the difficulties to be overcome, seem to hem me in on every side. My one chance of security lies in fixing attention solely on the first chapter and ignoring all else. Enthusiasm, after a week of suppressed expectant anxiety and wakeful nights, has stealthily withdrawn itself, or fallen away and left me naked. I have no desire to write, and at intervals an impulse arises to put off beginning till another day. And yet through it all, I know that I shall somehow accomplish a sketch, more or less unsatisfactory, of the first chapter tonight - delve it up from somewhere. And then the rest will be easier for a time.

The main outline of the book is well settled, and appears to me to be safe and good. But not a vestige of material useful for incident presents itself. I have hold of nothing but the bare leading facts. I suddenly realise that I know none of the five principal characters - neither by face nor by voice. I have forgotten all the maxims and rules of technique carefully evolved during the last few months. Moreover, I have unwisely been reading books by George Meredith and Mrs. Humphry Ward, and at first my work will certainly reflect their methods - methods which - the one splendidly fantastic, the other realistic by dint of laborious and carefully ordered detail - are both at variance with my natural instincts towards a synthetic impressionism. I ought during the past month to have read nothing but de Goncourt.

10.30 p.m. After an hour of miserable hesitation, quite fruitless, I began to read bits of the manuscript of my first novel, and found it not unimpressive. This heartened me. I searched for an old sketch which I thought might be useful for my opening chapter; found it and was not disappointed. Then at last I began to write. When I had done only 200 words my spirits suddenly rose to positive vocal gaiety. Incidents began to present themselves in fitting order. I knew I was going on well. When I had sketched out 900 words, Kennerley called, and though I was ready to continue writing, I was glad enough to be interrupted. I had done enough (2 hours) to reassure myself.

Afterwards, alone, I read "The Death of Jules" in the "Journal des Goncourts" and the spirit of the brothers took hold of me; Meredith and Mrs. Humphry Ward were effectually forgotten. I have commenced work again: what joy!

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