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

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Thursday, 3 October 2013

Literary prizes

Thursday, October 3rd., Cadogan Square, London.

What is a literary prize? A literary prize is a sum of money - interest on capital donated by some person more earnest than knowledgeable about literature and the wholesomeness, purity, and dignity thereof - to the end that it shall be bestowed annually upon the author of the best book of the year in a particular department of letters. The annual book is chosen by a committee of 'experts' each of whom has different notions of excellence from the others. All of them are as sensitive as toy-dogs. All of them have theories concerning literature. All of them are sentimental and respectable, as the donor was sentimental and respectable. All of them object to the social structure being too rudely shaken. Their delicate susceptibilities have to be seriously considered. Hence no book with a really original anti-tradition bias has the least chance of winning the prize; no 'spiky' book has the least chance; and few such books even get themselves submitted to the solemn seances of the high-minded committee. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the prize goes to a shop-finished conventional work.

Original writers resent the institution of the literary prize - not because they don't like prizes; they do - but because they are well aware that a prize will never come their way. The original writers say that the institution does nothing, or less than nothing, for the advancement of literature, and that on the contrary it encourages the reactionaries of literature and their prim mediocrity. This is true.

But I am not antipathetic to the institution of literary prizes. In fact I once won one myself (perhaps that amazing fact has somewhat influenced my views - you never know!). The business of a literary prize is not in fact to shove literature forward, but to keep it steady. A legitimate business!

Additionally for October 3rd., see 'Anyone for tennis' -

Preparations for tennis with Gardiner and H.G.Wells in Square. Gardiner came shortly after 3 and Wells a little before the appointed time, 3.30. Both middle aged, grave, jocular, voluble. They changed their clothes up in my room. Our ages, A.G.G 63, H.G.W. 62, and me 61.

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