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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Novel sensations and ideas

Monday, September 15th., Cadogan Square, London.

Yesterday Dorothy and I drove up to Jack Straw's Castle, via Golders Green, in a taxi and had a good view of the garden cities or suburbs N. of London. Enormous 12.30 crowds on road-terrace in front of Jack Straw's Castle. I very much doubt if I had ever been up there before. Fine views of London, and Primrose Hill (?) in between. A very clear and rather windy day, and yet some mist over London, showing, comparatively, what sort of a hole we live in. I was afraid of Jack Straw's Castle at first. But upstairs the Dining Room was all right. Nice cornice. Nice old, broken overmantel, and not a bad wall-paper. Two or three waiters with perhaps third-hand dress coats. "The beef's English, sir" etc., with assurance. Curious clientele. A fat man and his fat wife. The man wore his hat all the time, and had his napkin under his chin. A big grey moustache. Evidently a powerful character. They both silently gave all their attention and energy to the business of eating. After lunch the terrace-road practically empty. We went and sat in the sun below. Day full of colour. It ought to have rained but it didn't.

Jack Straw (probably the same person as John Rakestraw or Rackstraw) was one of the three leaders (together with John Ball and Wat Tyler) of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, a major event in the history of England. Straw was commemorated in the name of a pub on the edge of Hampstead Heath, London, which closed in the 1990s. The Jack Straw's Castle, reputed to be the highest pub in London, took its name from a story that Straw addressed groups of rebels on the Heath from a hay wagon which became known as "Jack Straw's Castle".

At night. Lanchester & Scott's "select evenings". Opening of season. About 50 people there; mostly young; mostly in morning dress. A beautiful Canadian girl whose pink dress I nearly set on fire with a dropped cigarette and to whom I gave a card of introduction to Basil Dean. Of course she wanted only "the tiniest part" in any of my plays. Room too dark for my taste and floor too dark - too darkly stained. The play performed was Tristran Bernard's "Sylvie" one act. Full of soliloquies and old-fashioned dodges but it was full of life still. Translated and produced by Dorothy. "Stage" much too dark. No farcical comedy could get its effect in such a gloom. That is certain. Still it went well.

More about novel writing and character drawing. You couldn't fill in a whole character except in a book of enormous length. The young ones don't seem to me to 'select'. They shove in pell-mell whatever happens to strike them. They don't construct even a character. Then they think they are truer to life: but they aren't. Description of faces is futile. Waste of time. Give the reader something to hold on to, and then let him fill in for himself.

As for the right length for a novel ... The other day I was talking to one of the 'omnivorous', a reader who has had vast experience in reading fiction, a fisherwoman whose net would catch whales and sharks, without letting whitebait slip through. She said that she preferred long novels to short. In this I think that she was with the majority of readers, but that is not the point. I replied that you could not classify novels according to their length. You can only classify them according to their length in relation to their material. A long novel can be too short, though more often it is too long. And a short novel may be either too long or too short. Only masterpieces, and not always masterpieces, are of the right length. A novel is of the right length when, a certain 'scale' of treatment having been established, that scale is maintained throughout, and at the end the material is exhausted, the problem solved, the reader's legitimate curiosity satisfied.

Additionally for September 15th., see 'More Zeppelins' - http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/more-zeppelins.html

Zeppelin excitements nightly. It was said in the village that a Zeppelin hung over the village church for an hour on Monday night, but I did not believe this

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