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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, 30 June 2013

Prize fighting

Thursday, June 30th., Cadogan Square, London.

We left in the car for Easton Glebe at 10.47, 17 minutes late, and got there at 12.40. Jane Wells was in an easy chair and then walking about and she ate lunch with us. Said to be better. But when I asked H.G. privately: "Is she better?" he said "No". We sat in a summer house after lunch, and had tea there at 3.20 and left at 4.5.
See also, 'Thinking of H.G.' - September 25th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/sunday-september-25th.html

Harry Preston gave a dinner at the Green Park Hotel for the Walker-Milligan prize fight. About 22 covers. I had one end of a long table. Grant Morden was very interesting about James White's suicide. He said that James lost his head in the end. The matter of finding money to take up the shares had been arranged; it then fell through; but it was picked up again, and X.Y. undertook to 'find the difference'. X.Y.'s secretary sat up all night waiting for White to come, but White had gone down to his house at Swindon and fixed everything up for his suicide.

James White (17 May 1877 – 29 June 1927) was an English financier, property developer and speculator. From a working-class family in Lancashire, he worked at a number of jobs before becoming well known in the years before the First World War as a boxing promoter. From that, he moved into property and other transactions, making large sums of money in major deals. He became a racehorse owner and theatre proprietor. White finally overreached himself financially, and being unable to meet his huge liabilities, committed suicide at the age of 50.

Desolate sight at Olympia. Thousands of empty seats. The world-championship fight - Walker v. Milligan - was the most exciting I ever saw. Milligan was soon done in. Walker won tremendously. And yet he got scarcely a hand (being American) whereas Milligan, smashed to bits and tottering (with stitches in his lip), was terrifically cheered. This because of Milligan's mad pluck. Walker crossed himself before fighting.

Mickey Walker, aka the Toy Bulldog, had a very aggressive style. He liked to swarm all over his opponents, always boring in, never letting up. He had heavy hands, and given the opportunity could flatten his opponents at any time.The Toy Bulldog fought five times in 1927, defending his belt just once against European middleweight champion Tommy Milligan in London on June 30th.
The Associated Press followed the action. “Walker floored Milligan in the seventh round, the European champion was down for a count of seven the first time and needed nine after the second knockdown before he was able to regain his feet. He managed to get by the round, however…Milligan came back strong enough in the eighth to hold Walker off and make a contest of it…A right to the jaw was the deciding blow… Milligan went down for the fifth and last time.”

Michael Arlen drove me home and came in for a drink. He said his new book had been a great frost.

Michael Arlen (1895 – 1956), original name Dikran Kouyoumdjian, was an Armenian essayist, short story writer, novelist, playwright, and scriptwriter, who had his greatest successes in the 1920s while living and writing in England. Although Arlen is most famous for his satirical romances set in English smart society, he also wrote gothic horror and psychological thrillers. Very much a 1920s society figure resembling the characters he portrayed in his novels, and a man who might be referred to as a dandy, Arlen invariably impressed everyone with his immaculate manners. He was always impeccably dressed and groomed and was seen driving around London in a fashionable yellow Rolls Royce and engaging in all kinds of luxurious activities. 

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Acute pleasure and problem

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

I wonder if women realise the acute pleasure which men derive from the sight of them in their fresh, cool, clean, summer toilettes - openwork stockings, diaphanous sleeves, and general impression of musliness.

I must admit in myself a tendency to idealise women, particularly young women, and I would like to be more natural and at ease in their company. Of course my stammer is a problem, but I am not naturally one of these men who 'charm'. How easy some of them make it seem. I am put in mind of an incident which still burns in the memory from when I was a solicitor's clerk, not long arrived in London. A zestful colleague, one of the 'charmers', inflamed my imagination with stories of the allurements of a young woman he knew in lodgings at Camberwell Green. We arranged to visit her on Saturday afternoon, but the adventure had a Restoration comedy anti-climax with jeering profanity from her at my expense; the details of the incident are too painful to recount. Inevitably incidents like this undermine ones confidence.

More pleasant to recall, but troubling in its own way, was an incident last year when Brown and I rowed up the river from Richmond to Kingston with two little girls, Daisy and Georgie, whom Brown in a moment of inspiration had invited to complete the party. Tall little girls for their twelve or thirteen years, with wide straw hats, white blouses and long foal-like legs showing below their short blue skirts; shy at first but gradually expanding and unfolding before our efforts to be utterly, absurdly foolish, and laughing loyally at far-fetched allusive jokes which they could not possibly have understood; always in doubt whether or not to believe what we said and in any case accepting or rejecting it with cautious reservations. Georgie, the eldest, was a spoilt girl, and both spoke with an alarming cockney accent, yet the unique charm characteristic of just their age made their worst sins of behaviour delightful. They rowed till they were tired, labouring hard and willingly, anxious to do their best, and when questioned admitted without shame that they were tired - 'a bit'. We camped and brewed tea on an island and Georgie ate so many sardines and strawberries that she was sick on the way home and had to lie quiet in the bows till the colour came back to her cheeks. In the evening at the corner of the street Brown kissed them and I shook hands with a profound bow, before they made off sedately to their home a few yards away. A quite new and tickling sensation, this intimate companionship with very young girls.

What a mystery is the female sex!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Instruments of war

Monday, June 28th., Chateau Thierry, Picardy, France.

Arrived here last night at 7.20. We took drinks at Headquarters of a Commandant of whom I didn't catch the name. This drink (lemon and water and sugar) restored me more than any drink I ever had. We did a great deal of rough walking yesterday. Much marching up and down hills and among woods, gazing at horses and hot-water douches, baths and barbers shops, and deep dugouts called 'Tipperary', and guns of various calibre.  Estimated 20 miles. I put it at 12.

We inspected hills of coils of the most formidable barbed wire, far surpassing that of farmers, well contrived to tear to pieces any human being who, having got into its entanglement, should try to get out again. Also the four-pointed contraptions called chevaux de frise which, however you throw them, will always stick a fatal point upwards, to impale the horse or man who cannot or will not look where he is going. Everything in this parc du genie (engineers park) in unimagined quantities.



Close by, a few German prisoners performing sanitary duties under a guard. They were men in God's image, and they went about on the assumption that all the rest of the war lay before them and that there was a lot of it. A General told us that he had mentioned to them the possibility of an exchange of prisoners, whereupon they had gloomily and pathetically protested. They very sincerely did not want to go back whence they had come, preferring captivity, humiliation, and the basest tasks to a share in the great glory of German arms. To me they had a brutalised air, no doubt one minor consequence of military ambition in high places.

Not many minutes away was a hospital, what the French call an ambulance de premiere ligne, contrived out of a factory. This was the hospital nearest the trenches in that region, and the wounded came to it directly from the dressing stations which lie immediately behind the trenches. There were few patients when we were there, yet the worn face of the doctor in charge showed that vast labours must have been accomplished in those sombre chambers. In the very large courtyard a tent operating-hospital was established. Ether smell. Some cases operated on here in an hour after wound.

Another short ride and we were in an aviation park, likewise tented, in the midst of an immense wheatfield on the lofty side of a hill. There were six hangars of canvas, each containing an aeroplane. A young non-commissioned officer with a marked Southern accent explained to us the secret nature of things. He was wearing both the Military Cross and the Legion of Honour, for he had done wondrous feats in the way of shooting the occupants of Taube in mid-air. Naturally after this we visited some auto-cannons expressly constructed for bringing down aeroplanes. In front of these marvels it was suggested to us that we should neither take photographs nor write down exact descriptions. The high-priest of these guns was a middle-aged artillery Captain who explained their operation in an esoteric yet quite comprehensible language. The demoniac ingenuity of these guns was impressive to a high degree.

We inspected a "seventy-five", a very sympathetic creature, in blue-grey with metallic hints. We beheld the working of the gun by two men, and we beheld the different sorts of shells in their delved compartments. But this was not enough for us. We ventured to suggest that it would be proper to try to kill a few Germans for our amusement. The request was instantly granted. It was done. It was done with disconcerting rapidity. The shell was put in its place. A soldier pulled a string. Bang! A neat, clean, not too loud bang! The messenger had gone instantly forth. The "seventy-five" was enthusiastically praised by every officer present. He is beloved like a favourite sporting dog, and with cause.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Gloomy in Paris

Monday, June 27th., Rue de Calais.

Hind, returned from his European tour, dined with me last night at the Hippodrome. He said that he had not talked to anyone since he saw me last, and that when the tour was about two-thirds through he felt very stale. He had stopped in eighteen towns, and was very much struck with Buda Pesth, as I expected.

Afterwards we went to the Moulin de la Galette (see also, 'Parisian views' - October 4th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/parisian-views.html), and made observations to each other about Youth, Desire and so on. Nearly all  Hind's ideas are sentimental and wrong, and his judgements on literature are quite impossible nearly every time; but he has charm. Perhaps it is his naivete - a rare enough quality.

Another instance of the sans-gene of Montmartre. On Thursday last, at the Restaurant Boulant, a young cocotte came in with two young men and her 'bonne a tout faire'. The bonne was not neat or clean and was in her working dress. They dined all together and laughed and talked much. Perhaps it was because the domestic cuisine had gone wrong. But more probably the cocotte had only just arrived at the dignity of a bonne and wanted to show her off.

I had a letter from M. Berquand asking me to go and see him at the Hotel Terminus. His room was No. 465. I found it with the aid of a boy. M. Berquand is getting old. He struck me as a man of sincere character, and trustworthy. He said he had been mute till the age of 8, and then to the age of 26 had stammered so badly that he was practically incapable of speech, and entirely incapable of earning a living. He had to be kept by his family. He then studied all the systems, maintained a strict silence for 6 months and cured himself in a year. He has travelled all over Europe on tours of curing and has 'orders' from most European sovereigns. I arranged to go to Aberdeen on 1st of August. He asked me a lot of questions, and said he was quite certain of success in a month or five weeks. In spite of the interview with him I felt rather depressed than otherwise. This is my second concerted attempt to tackle my stammer. See also, 'Triumph of hope over reason' - March 12th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/triumph-of-hope-over-reason.html


For some time past Professor Berquand, in the employ of the French Government, has been conducting a free class in Edinburgh for the cure of stammering. A large and representative public committee, who have been watching the progress of the class, have just expressed their unanimous opinion through the Very Rev. Dr. Mairthat that the cure of the ten pupils under treatment had been marvellously and entirely successful. Their cases had all seemed to the committee very grave, but now every member of the class could read, aloud, re-cite, and converse with perfect ease. In a perfectly, delivered little speech the other night a member of the class moved a heartfelt vote of "thanks to Professor Berquand",which was enthusiastically awarded and applauded. 
Adelaide Advertiser, 16 Jan. 1904


Corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse
by G.F. Kelly
I went to Kelly's studio, a very large one, and he showed me a lot of his work which interested me very much. He made some good remarks about the present condition of painting. He said painters were afraid of making mistakes, afraid of being vulgar, and that they never used their eyes in search of material. They all painted the same things. He said some artist had said to him: "We paint like governesses". I certainly thought Kelly was doing good and original work, both in landscape and in portraiture. Afterwards he took me to dine at the Chat Blanc.





Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879-1972) Painter in oil of portraits and landscapes. Born in London, he was educated at Cambridge University, later living and studying art in Paris. Whistler was an early influence. Kelly was an enthusiastic traveler, visiting among other countries Spain, America, South Africa and Burma, where he painted some of his most characteristic and charming figure studies. He became known as a sound academic painter of attractive children and elegant women. His sitters included Somerset Maugham, whom he painted several times. He was elected RA in 1930, was the Academy's keeper 1943-45 and President, 1949-54, and was knighted in 1945. Between 1909 and 1970 Kelly exhibited over 300 works at the RA. During his lifetime his work became well known through popular prints. Since his death however - and in spite of his technical brilliance and colourful, wide-ranging subject matter - his reputation has stagnated.

Stanlaws, the "creator" of the 'Stanlaws girl', was there, a terrible American, and also a girl I had previously seen at Kelly's. The girl and Stanlaws, and the man who was the girl's host, threw bread at each other, and sang American songs very loudly. It was terrible at times. I could not stand such manners and customs for long. It is these things which spoil Montparnasse. We finished up at the Cafe de Versailles.


Penrhyn Stanlaws (1877-1957) was born in Dundee Scotland as Stanley Adamson. Stanlaws' art could be found on several magazine covers throughout the 1910's and 20's, including the Saturday Evening Post , The American Magazine, Collier's , Life, Judge, The Metropolitan Magazine and Hearst's International. He was best known for cover-art depicting beautiful women. His "Stanlaws Girl" rivalled the "Gibson Girl" and was modelled on silent star Anna Q. Nilsson . In Hollywood Penrhyn Stanlaws directed seven films including "Pink Gods" (1922), which also featured the "Stanlaws Girl. 
Penrhyn Stanlaws died in Los Angeles in a fire said to have started when he fell asleep in a chair while smoking.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

In sight of the front

Saturday, June 26th., Rheims.

Mair and I dined at Meaux last evening. Lord Esher came in, wearing a fancy military costume - perhaps that of Constable of Windsor Castle. A star was depending from his neck. As soon as he saw my eye on it he tucked it inside his double-breasted khaki coat.

Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher GCVO, KCB, PC, DL (1852 – 1930) was a historian and Liberal politician in the United Kingdom, although his greatest influence over military and foreign affairs was as a courtier, member of public committees and behind-the-scenes "fixer". During the First World War Esher was, in one writer’s description, de facto head of British Intelligence in France, reporting on the French domestic and political situation. He reportedly told his son he preferred not to have a formal position where he would have to take orders.


Chateau Pommery
Today we were met at a poste de commandement by the officers in charge, who were waiting for us. After the rites of greeting, we walked up to the high terrace of Chateau Pommary, a considerable chateau close by. France lay before us in a shimmering vast semicircle. In the distance a low range of hills, irregularly wooded; then a river; then woods and spinneys; then vineyards - boundless vineyards which climbed in varying slopes out of the valley almost to our feet. The champagne proprietor didn't want me to drink water! Far to the left was a town with lofty factory chimneys, smokeless. Peasant women were stooping in the vineyards; the whole of the earth seemed to be cultivated and to be yielding bounteously. It was a magnificent summer afternoon. The sun was high and a few huge purple shadows moved with august deliberation across the brilliant greens. An impression of peace, majesty, grandeur; and of the mild, splendid richness of the soil of France.

"You see that white line on the hills opposite," said an officer, opening a large scale map. I guessed it was a level road. "That is the German trenches," said he. "They are five miles away. Their gun positions are in the woods. Our own trenches are invisible from here."

It constituted a great moment, this first vision of the German trenches. With the thrill came the lancinating thought: "All of France that lies beyond that line, land just like the land on which I am standing, inhabited by people just like the people who are talking to me, is under the insulting tyranny of the invader." And I also thought, as the sense of distance quickened my imagination to realise that these trenches stretched from Ostend to Switzerland, and that the creators of them were prosecuting similar enterprises as far north-east as Riga, and as far south-east as the confines of Roumania: "The brigands are mad, but they are mad in the grand manner."

We were at the front. We had driven for twenty miles along a very busy road which was closed to civilians. The civil life of the district was in abeyance, proceeding precariously from meal to meal. Aeroplanes woke the sleep. No letter could leave a post office without a precautionary delay of three days. Telegrams were suspect. To get into a railway station was almost as difficult as to get into paradise. And yet nowhere did I see a frown or hear a complaint. Everybody comprehended that the exigencies of the terrific military machine were necessary exigencies. Everybody waited, waited, in confidence and with tranquil smiles.
We were veritably at the front. There was however not a whisper of war, nor anything visible except the thin pale line like a striation on the distant hills. Then a far-off sound of thunder is heard. It is a gun. A faint puff of smoke is pointed out to us. Neither the rumble nor the transient cloudlet makes any apparent impression on the placid and wide dignity of the scene. nevertheless, this is war. And war seems a very vague, casual, and negligible thing. We are led about fifty feet to the left, where in a previous phase a shell has indented a huge hole in the earth. The sight of the hole renders war rather less vague and rather less negligible.

"There are 80,000 men in front of us," says an officer, indicating the benign shimmering, empty landscape.
"But where?"
"Interred - in the trenches."
It is incredible.
"And the other interred - the dead?" I ask.
"We never speak of them. But we think of them a good deal."

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Another First Night

Tuesday, June 25th., Cadogan Square, London.

Another oath broken. After some fantastic experiences at my own first nights, I had sworn never to attend another. But when I told the authorities of Covent Garden that I should not be present at the first performance of the Goossens-Me opera "Judith", there was such horrified, outraged protest that I accepted a box on the spot.

EUGENE GOOSSENS (1893 -1962) was born into a family of musicians, in Camden Town but studied in Bruges before attending the Royal College of Music in London, where his teachers were Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Wood. Earning his living as a violinist at first, he became a protégé of Beecham, going on to conduct the British premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1921, then moving to the US and subsequently Australia. Although his first compositions were small-scale – piano pieces, songs, chamber music – he was writing confidently for orchestra from early on. His First Symphony was completed in 1940, in Cincincatti, and the Second Symphony was premiered in 1946. Goossens composed two operas, Judith (1925) and Don Juan de Mañara (1934), a massive oratorio, Apocalypse (1951), and a generous quantity of other works, orchestral, chamber, instrumental. His music was lost from sight for some years after his death but began to re-emerge from the mid-1990s with recordings from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

And there I sat on the first night, hiding behind a curtain and surveying the crowded house. My highly nervous state was mitigated by the realisation of the unquestionable fact that I was not Eugene Goossens, exposed defenceless to the public and conducting the orchestra. I kept carefully in the box, but well-intentioned friends and quidnuncs would insist on visiting me both before and after the performance. I had not the courage to tell them that, with the important exception of loud and prolonged applause, all an author wants on a first night is to be left alone.


‘It is said at Holywood [sic] that a successful film invariably makes use of these ingredients: religious uplift, snobbery, and sex appeal; and the shortest scenario which has ever been written to this formula was, "My God," said the Duchess, "what legs!" Mr. Arnold Bennett has reduced the story of Judith to the same formula, with the addition of a murder to amplify it, and has handed it to Mr. Eugene Goossens to make into an opera. The conflict between the God of Israel and His pagan enemy is the main theme; instead of the Duchess we have the Oriental Court of Holofernes ; the legs of the Russian Ballet are there, and we have the seduction of Holofernes by Judith to lend further sex interest, while his murder by the same lady gives a good strong dramatic situation. So far, admirable; for we can have a soprano heroine whose varying passions give scope for coloratura, a contralto attendant to enunciate the obvious at the right places, a love duet, a ballet, an Oriental potentate who can rant and play the he-man, and a nice, modest baritone to be his victim. The only trouble about this perfect opera book is that it needs not merely music but the right kind of music. The right kind of music will be good, honest Italian stuff a la Tosca. Mr. Eugene Goossens is not Puccini, nor would he be if he could; he is not a nationalist composer at all, but one of the cosmopolitans who are at all costs dry. It is sad to have to write an obituary notice of yet another gallant attempt at creating a British opera. But facts are facts; the opera was still-born, and there is not likely to be any attempt at reviving that which never had any real operatic life in it.' Musical Times review, August 1929.


I paid what I was afraid would be a state visit to the prima donna, Gota Ljungberg. But it was not in the least stately. After I had kissed her hand we forgot ceremony and were realistic with one another about all manner of things, and laughed like girl and boy.



Göta Ljungberg (1898 - 1955) was a major Swedish Wagnerian soprano of the 1920s who sang throughout American and Europe and left an important recorded legacy. At Covent Garden in 1929 she created the title role ofJudith, an opera by Eugene Goossens which lasted for but two performances

Monday, 24 June 2013

First battlefield

Thursday, June 24th., Paris.


Never was Paris so disconcertingly odd. And yet never was it more profoundly itself. Between the slow realisation of a monstrous peril escaped and the equally slow realisation of its power to punish, the French spirit, angered and cold, knows at last what the French spirit is. And to watch and share its mood is positively ennobling to the stranger. Paris is revealed under an enchantment. On the surface of the enchantment the pettinesses of daily existence persist queerly.



Dinner last night at Madame Edwards'. An astounding flat. Philippe Bertholot, Gide, Mair, the Godebskis and Legrix (young novelist). Berthelot, clad in pale alpaca and yellow boots, was as mysterious as ever. When I flattered him about "Le Livre Jaune", he told me he had to leave documents out. One an absolute prophecy of the course of the outbreak of the war, from a Pole, received a month in advance. It was too true for anyone to believe that it wasn't a fake. The other a quite authentic statement of the war plans of the Germans, as to aeroplanes, shells, trenches, strategy etc. This was received a year before the war. It couldn't be published because the French War Office had taken no action on the strength of it, though they knew it was authentic. It was a tremendous accusation of the French War Office. Only a summary was given in "Le Livre Jaune".

Philippe Berthelot (1866 – 1934) was an important French diplomat, son of Marcellin Berthelot. He was a republican (as opposed to monarchists at that time). He entered the French diplomatic service in 1889 and joined the foreign office in 1904. In 1920, he became secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the rank of ambassador. He was forced to step aside from 1922-1925 because of his involvement in the scandal of the Banque Industrielle de Chine, controlled by his brother. The "Livre Jaune" was a collection of dispatches allegedly received by foreign ministries in advance of the outbreak of war. Promulgated in December 1914 by Philippe Berthelot, then Secretary General of the Quai d'Orsay, it was named because the documents were contained within yellow covers.

Negotiations for a private visit to the Front languished. The thing was arranged right enough, but it seemed impossible to fix a day for actually starting. So I came to Meaux. Meaux had stuck in my ears. Meaux was in history and in romances; it is in Dumas. The dilatory train took seventy minutes, dawdling along the banks of the notorious Marne. Here we obtained a respectable carriage, with a melancholy, resigned old driver, who said: "For fifteen francs, plus always the pourboire, I will take you to Barcy, which was bombarded and burnt. I will show you all the battlefield." With those few words he thrilled me.

House by roadside, roof damaged, contents taken away by Germans. Why? What they couldn't take they destroyed.
Trenches. Character of country: rolling upwards. Farms. Wheat, oats, poppies. Heavily wooded in places. High horizon of tree-lined roads. Tombs here and there.


Thence to Chambry. Many tombs in wheat, and hidden by wheat. Barbed wire on four stout posts (a bird on post), white wooden cross. Always a small white flag. Not always a name. On every side in these fields, the gleam of cross or flag as far as you can see. Scores and scores. Dark green-purple of distant wooded hills against high green of fields.

Cemetery used for firing from. Holes in wall.
Wheat absolutely growing out of a German. The Battlefield is between Barcy and Chambry. Barcy is high; Chambry is low, like Meaux. Round through battlefield German army was going south-east, and chiefly east.
General impression. How little is left. How cultivation and civilisation have covered the disaster over.
http://iansumner.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/around-first-battle-of-marne-1-battle.html

In half an hour we were back at an utterly matter-of-fact railway station, in whose cafe an utterly matter-of-fact and capable Frenchwoman gave us tea. And when we reached Paris we had news that a Staff Captain of the French Army had been detailed to escort us to the front and to show us all that could safely be seen. Nevertheless, whatever I may experience, I shall not experience again the thrill which I had when a weak and melancholy old driver pointed out the first tomb. That which we had just seen was the front once.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Finishing Clayhanger

Thursday, June 23rd., Villa des Nefliers, Fontainebleau.

I have just (3 p.m.) finished "Clayhanger" one week in advance of time. 160,800 words. For the last few days it has monopolised me. But quite contrary to my general practice towards the end of a novel I have kept in magnificent health.

I was thinking about William Morris, and, looking back in this journal to October 3rd., 1896, I see that I wrote "William Morris died". That is all!
Water House, Walthamstow
I wish I had made the opportunity when I lived in London to make his acquaintance, or at least to attend one of the socialist meetings at which he was a speaker. I have visited Water House in Walthamstow, where he lived from 1848 to 1856, and Red House in Bexleyheath which he had built, and where he went to live when he married Jane Burden. Remarkable to me, as I think now, is the scope of his activity: a talented artist and designer; no mean poet; bibliophile; businessman; author; public speaker .... The time he spent in Iceland seems to have been particularly significant for him.

As for socialism, I can't help but wonder how the 'figures' of socialism like Morris, the Webbs, Shaw and Wells, reconcile their beliefs with their lifestyle. Obviously if they gave away all their wealth it would be the merest drop in the ocean and would make no practical difference to the generality of class inequality; but still?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Home from the sea

Monday, June 22nd., Cadogan Square, London.

Marie Marguerite dressed for a birthday
On Saturday I returned from 17 days yachting on the "Marie Marguerite". Not two minutes rain in the whole time. I have a specially fitted desk on the yacht which I use for writing in bad weather, but this time its use has not been necessary. I enjoy every minute of yachting, even when lying sleepless at night. Still, I was thinking about the sociological side of dressing the ship. This job takes the captain and the mate, two highly skilled men, one and a half hours. I don't see how it could be justified economically. It can't. But all important yachting would be similarly unjustifiable. Yet what a real calamity it would be if these magnificent objects called yachts were put out of action! It would be a retrogression of civilisation. Still, I often ask why I allow myself to keep eight men, and very good men, solely to extend my personality and serve my pleasure.

Tonight "The Cherry Orchard" is transferred from the Lyric, Hammersmith, to the Royalty. This I think marks a definite turn in public taste towards true plays. I have been remarking this turn for some years, but managers seem quite blind.

When Fagan produced "The Cherry Orchard" for us at the Lyric, we thought it ought to be done but did not believe in it. On the Thursday after the first performance (Monday) none of us believed in it, and Fagan met the directors and agreed without argument that the thing was a failure. But a few days later he was believing in it (by reason of the enthusiasm of small audiences), but the returns were still awful, and the loss heavy. Then the returns enormously improved. Loss became a profit, and tonight this most disconcerting and original play has come in a sort of triumph to the West End, where no manager would have looked at it a month ago. All this is owing to Nigel Playfair having seen it done at Oxford, and being firmly backed by me in his desire to have it done at the Lyric.

So, it played at the Royalty this evening to a by no means full and rather apathetic and not at all first-night audience. But I was struck still more than ever by the power and beauty of the play.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Over there

Monday, June 21st., Paris.

After much waiting I am finally on my way to the French Front. As late as last Wednesday the telegram  granting permission had still not arrived. And on Friday I paid three visits to Godfrey, Mair's secretary, to get my passport for France and police pass. In the end the police pass was wrongly filled up. And the passport had been marked 'Havre' instead of 'Boulogne', although no passengers are allowed to land at Havre.


Victoria Station 7.45. Given a form to fill up. Couldn't get a big bag through without registering. People coming off train. Shabby, respectable girls etc. Hot summer's morning. Soldiers. Officers. Staff officers on train.
A general: crossed sword and baton with star: "What I should really like to know is, how they relieve those trenches at night."





Fine voyage.

My police pass saved me a great deal of trouble of waiting at Folkestone, more at Boulogne. Channel covered with shipping. Boom for several miles outside Folkestone, buoyed at about every hundred yards.
Stationary Hospital 13 at Boulogne

Impression at Boulogne of men of military age not engaged, similar to that at Folkestone.
Arrival of bevy of nurses, white starched muslin blue- and red- edged in car at 'Stationary Hospital'. Arrival of Army Postal Van, with legends about Y.M.C.A. and Kaiser written in finger in the white dust on the sides.



Etaples. Hospitals and Camp. As English as England. Hay in some places made and laid in cocks. Arrived Abbeville 4.15, having taken three hours to do 80 or 90 kil. The whole line, station and scene, make an impression like perpetual Sunday, except for soldiers and camps.


Amiens. Very old man in a new long blue blouse and swagger check trousers showing beneath. Probably had retired and been brought back again.

Paris. I had at first a rather false impression about streets; in big streets over half the shops were closed. Then I recollected that the hour was after 7. A peculiar feeling certainly all over Paris. No autobuses, but trams. Few taxis. I saw the horse bus Madeleine-Bastille, with a woman in charge, bareheaded and with a great black bag over her abdomen. About 40; on easy terms with the passengers.
Mair and I went to Godebski's after dinner. Godebski would not believe that 33 submarines sunk. Very harsh on Italy.
See also, 'Parisian Culture' - May 29th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/parisian-culture.html
Paris even darker than London. Same impression in Paris as in London of young men not in uniform.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Pickwick's Inn

Sunday, June 20th., Great White Horse Hotel, Ipswich.

With what reluctance one leaves the sea! Perhaps only a person born and raised in the middle of England can fully appreciate the pull which the sea can exert on an active imagination.


Ipswich is a closely-knit town, reminding one in its contours and large masses of the eighteenth-century parts of Bruges. Many of the streets were crudely decorated with the primary colours of flags, and the continual clashing of church bells indicated that this was the Day of Thanksgiving for the Queen's long reign.




Tonight we "lie" at the Great White Horse, Pickwick's inn, and by good fortune have been allotted the Pickwick bedroom, No. 36, an immense apartment, accommodating three, and labelled outside "Pickwick". On the walls an extremely bad oil painting of a Pickwick banquet. "A facsimile of this hotel was erected at the World's Fair, Chicago, as one of the celebrated old inns of this country." In many ways it has been modernised, but still keeps the air of the ancient hostelry.

‘… In the main street of Ipswich, on the left-hand side of the way, a short distance after you have passed through the open space fronting the Town Hall, stands an inn known far and wide by the appellation of the Great White Horse, rendered the more conspicuous by a stone statue of some rampacious animal with flowing mane and tail, distantly resembling an insane cart-horse, which is elevated above the principal door. The Great White Horse is famous in the neighbourhood, in the same degree as a prize ox, or a county-paper-chronicled turnip, or unwieldy pig-for its enormous size. Never was such labyrinths of uncarpeted passages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such huge numbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, beneath any one roof, as are collected together between the four walls of the Great White Horse at Ipswich. 


It was at the door of this overgrown tavern that the London coach stopped, at the same hour every evening; and it was from this same London coach that Mr. Pickwick, Sam Weller, and Mr. Peter Magnus dismounted, on the particular evening to which this chapter of our history bears reference… ‘Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 22.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Dark thoughts

Sunday, June 19th., Rue de Calais, Paris.

I was thinking the other day, while reading a very sensual love scene in "Le Lys Rouge", that a novelist never describes the deshabille of the male in such scenes; I can't remember an instance where he even hints at it. This shows how incomplete 'realism' is. I see no reason why the appearance of the male should not be described in a manner to assist the charm of the scene. But tradition is decidedly against the practice.




At first glance, Anatole France's Le Lys Rouge (1894) is a straightforward love story capitalizing on a fin-de-siecle vogue for medieval Italian art. Closer study, however, reveals a mordant satire of contemporaries' aesthetic pronouncements. A regular guest on the salon circuit, France was a privileged witness to contemporary taste and a powerful arbiter of aesthetic trends. Although Le Lys Rouge is a work of fiction, his careful descriptions of fin-de-siecle taste and his sly references to real-life writers, artists, and collectors influenced his readers, while providing twenty-first century scholars with a valuable appreciation of late nineteenth-century French attitudes to art.


I drafted the 7th instalment of "Hugo" yesterday.

The Ullmans and Rickards dined with me; Rickards three quarters of an hour late. Ullman brought out a theory that Wagner, though a great man, was essentially vulgar. He characterised as vulgar all the stage settings on which Wagner set so much store. I would agree as to the "Ring", but not as to the other operas. "Tannhauser" may be, and is, lovely. So is "Tristan". He said that with the same talent Wagner would have been a much finer artist had he been English or French; he was influenced by the fundamental German vulgarity. I could see what Ullman meant, but I thought he was chiefly wrong. However, he argued very well.
See also, 'Parisian Life', April 9th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/parisian-life.html

Later Rickards and I went to the Moulin de la Galette, and saw some good dancing. He leaves this afternoon for London.
See also, 'Parisian Views', October 4th.,  http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/parisian-views.html

Reading "Le Lys Rouge" tonight. The love scene (Chap. 23) in which Therese tries to rid Decharte of his ideees noires concerning her absolute fidelity to him, is extremely fine in its sensual way. It is just the sort of thing that A. France can do, and it atones for much of the invertebrate quality of the book. If I can accomplish anything as good in "Carlotta" I ought to be satisfied.

I had idees noires myself tonight. There are certainly times when the fact that existence is a choice of evils presents itself too clearly.
Scene from "Cyrano"

I worked from 10 to 6.30 and then dined on the boulevard, and went to see "Cyrano" with Moreno as Roxane. It is a highly elaborate exercise in the obvious, but the verbal and structural adroitness of the whole thing is tremendous. It amused me; I must say that for Rostand. Moreno was coldly distinguished. her diction and her gestures were exquisite. And she had a sore throat and a cough.



See also, 'Parisian Life', September 28th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/parisian-life.html
and 'Parisian evenings', April 15th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/parisian-evenings.html

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Nightmare journey

Friday, June 18th., Felixstowe.

We rode out of Ipswich at dusk, with rain coming on, a high wind whistling behind us in the telegraph wires, and every sign of a stormy night. We had scarcely climbed the hill from the town, when an incoming cyclist warned us of bad roads; and indeed the roads proved worse than his account of them. Nevertheless we rode every foot of the twelve miles to this place. Soon after 9.30 it was quite dark, the rain was coming down steadily, the wind (fortunately at our backs) had increased, and we were riding warily across a wild naked country on a road of which the narrow cart-ruts formed the only rideable surface; all else was loose sand, sticky and dangerous with rain.

For miles we rode on hardened strips of road scarcely a foot wide, the wheels of the bicycles continually grating among sand and pebbles as we groped our way forward. The rain gradually penetrated our clothing and settled in our shoes, till my feet at least were stone cold. At every few yards we started a rabbit or a stoat or some unrecognizable creature of the night. There were no houses or cultivated ground till we passed through a village only two miles from Felixstowe. After this we lost our way, having Felixstowe on our right. My lamp went out, and on dismounting I found that my invalid right arm was useless, and so we walked the last mile to a hotel in the pouring rain.

Marriott vowed he enjoyed the ride thoroughly. I was anxious, uncomfortable in my saddle, and nervous. Clearly my nerves had not yet recovered from the accident in March when I dislocated my elbow and had to have a chloroform operation. My arm was in splints for a month, and in a sling for six weeks. I imagined every possible sort of accident, in each case following out a train of circumstances to the direst possible climax. In particular, I dreaded a puncture, and that I might take a cold, to be followed by rheumatic fever. Yet underneath this surface discontent, discomfort, and sick imagination, there was a sense of deep satisfaction, the satisfaction of facing and overcoming difficulties, of slowly achieving a desired end, in spite of obstacles.

I have a great passion for this new sport of bicycling, in spite of occasional accidents. Arguably the bicycle has liberated a whole generation of youths, done a great deal (indirectly through the bloomers) for the emancipation of women, and changed the kinship structure of British village life, possibly saving many a pocket of rural England from genetic decline. It is a convenient democratic pastime which suits my nature particularly well; riding a bicycle is not unlike writing a novel in that both are good for exercising the will.

We did the twelve miles, and a detour of a mile or so caused by losing our way, in a little less than two hours.
See also, 'Bicycling in France' - August 26th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/monday-august-26th.html


With four key aspects (steering, safety, comfort and speed) improved over the penny-farthing, 'safety bicycles' became very popular among elites and the middle classes in Europe and North America in the middle and late 1890s. It was the first bicycle that was suitable for women, and as such the "freedom machine" (as American feminist Susan B. Anthony called it) was taken up by women in large numbers. 
Bicycle historians often call this period the "golden age" or "bicycle craze." By the start of the 20th Century, cycling had become an important means of transportation, and in the United States an increasingly popular form of recreation. Bicycling clubs for men and women spread across the U.S. and across European countries. 


Since women could not cycle in the then-current fashions for voluminous and restrictive dress, the bicycle craze fed into a movement for so-called rational dress, which helped liberate women from corsets and ankle-length skirts and other encumbering garments, substituting the then-shocking bloomers.The impact of the bicycle on female emancipation should not be underestimated. The safety bicycle gave women unprecedented mobility, contributing to their larger participation in the lives of Western nations. As bicycles became safer and cheaper, more women had access to the personal freedom they embodied, and so the bicycle came to symbolise the New Woman of the late nineteenth century, especially in Britain and the United States. Feminists and suffragists recognised its transformative power. The backlash against the New (bicycling) Woman was demonstrated when the male undergraduates of Cambridge University chose to show their opposition to the admission of women as full members of the university by hanging a woman in effigy in the main town square—tellingly, a woman on a bicycle—as late as 1897. Since women could not cycle in the then-current fashions for voluminous and restrictive dress, the bicycle craze fed into a movement for so-called rational dress, which helped liberate women from corsets and ankle-length skirts and other encumbering garments, substituting the then-shocking bloomers.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Youthful visitors

Tuesday, June 17th., Cadogan Square, London.

Elsa Lanchester and Harold Scott came to lunch yesterday. She had a most charming dress, home-made. She said she had made it out of dusters, and I believe she had. Very young. A lovely complexion, wonderful shock of copper hair; a rather queerly blunted nose. Harold staggered her and Dorothy by arriving in a hat. He never wears hats, but had apparently decided to learn to dress. Both deeply interested in their cabaret schemes. Discussing it among themselves and with Dorothy. Largely ignoring me, though no conscious rudeness. Youthful severity on other, older, people. I offered to pay for some chairs and tables for their cabaret, but they were not at all keen on them, apparently preferring the audience to sit on the floor (so, I am unlikely to be in one of their audiences!). However, they took them. I should say that these people are bound to do something good. They are full of original inventiveness and of distinction.

Elsa by Doris Claire Zinkeisen dated 1925
Elsa Sullivan Lanchester (1902-1986) was born into an unconventional a family in Lewisham, London.
She had a great desire to become a classical dancer and to that end at age 10 her mother enrolled her at the famed Isadora Duncan's Bellevue School in Paris in 1912. But the uncertainties of WW1 brought her home after only two years. Next to dance, she loved the music halls of the period, so in 1920 she debuted in a music hall act as an Egyptian dancer. About the same time she founded the Children's Theater in Soho, London and taught there for several years. She made her stage debut in 1922 in the West End play "Thirty Minutes in a Street". In 1924 she and her partner, Harold Scott, opened a London nightclub called the Cave of Harmony. They performed one-act plays by Pirandello and Chekhov and sang cabaret songs. The spot was frequented by literati like Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells and also James Whale, working in London theatre and soon to be directing on Broadway. She closed her nightclub in 1928 as her film career began in earnest. Perhaps not beautiful in the more conventional sense, Lanchester was certainly pretty as a young woman with a turned-up nose that gave her a pert, impish expression, all the more striking with her large, expressive dark eyes and full lips. She had a lithe figure that she carried with the assuredness of her dancing background. Her voice was bright and distinctive, and had a delightful rush and trill that had an almost Scottish burr quality.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Jubilee atmosphere

Tuesday, June 16th., Victoria Grove, Chelsea.

Never since first I came to London has the West End been so crowded with sightseers, so congested by the business of pleasure: lines of women, gay and perspiring in the hot sun, recklessly ruffling their light thin frocks in scrambles for seats on the tops of buses; straw-hatted and waistcoatless men continually discussing the price of seats to view the procession, and the fortunes made and lost thereby; the thoroughfares packed with vehicles six and eight deep, and the drivers in their grey felt hats as imperturbable as ever, save for a stronger tendency to quarrel cynically among themselves for right of way. On all sides the sound of hammers on wood, and the sight of aproned carpenters working with the leisurely content of men earning eighteen pence an hour. In all the gutters poles springing up, decorated with muslins and streamers and gilt apexes, and here and there patches, daily growing bigger, of red and blue draperies covering the yellow wood of jubilee stands. Everything, taken separately, ugly and crude, yet in combination, by sheer immensity and bold crudity, certain in the end to produce a great spectacular effect.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 was both a more restrained and a far grander celebration of her reign than the Golden Jubilee of the previous decade. The Queen’s own involvement was greatly diminished on account of her increasing frailty. The scope of the celebrations, however, expanded considerably for the Diamond Jubilee, with a celebration of empire becoming arguably the central theme. Unlike the Golden Jubilee, which had placed Victoria and her family at the centre of the festivities, the Diamond Jubilee focussed almost exclusively on a celebration of the British Empire. Joseph Chamberlain is generally credited for this shift in focus. 
The Jubilee was not however universally acclaimed.

Imagine, for instance, the view of that part of Fleet Street which includes St. Clement Dane's Church, upon whose walls, right to the summit, are hung pendant stands for hundreds of people, the highest seemingly half way to heaven.

No one has talked of anything but Jubilee till this morning, when the suicide of Barney Barnato brought about a diversion which a bad railway accident, a treacherous mutiny in India, and an earthquake in Calcutta, had all failed to accomplish.

Barney Barnato (1851 – 1897), was a British entrepreneurs who gained control of diamond mining, and later gold mining, in South Africa from the 1870s. He died in 1897 in mysterious circumstances; records state that he was lost overboard near the island of Madeira, whilst on a passage home to England. His family vigorously rejected the theory that he had committed suicide, saying that it was totally out of character for a man who had been a pioneer in the rough-and-ready days of emerging Southern Africa. His body was recovered from the sea and is buried at Willesden Jewish Cemetery.
The Welshampton rail crash was a fatal railway accident in the Welsh borders village of Welshampton on 11 June 1897. It resulted in the deaths of 12 people.
In 1897 the North West Frontier of India erupted in warfare, the tribes along the border attacking British garrisons and Indian villages. The reaction to this was a series of incursions by the British into tribal territory in 1897 and 1898. The first incident in the series of uprisings was the action at Maizar in the Tochi Valley where on 10th June 1897 the inhabitants of a group of Madda Khel villages attacked a small British force. 22 officers and men were killed.
The Assam earthquake of 1897 occurred on June 12, 1897 in Assam, British Raj, and had an estimated magnitude of 8.1. Thought to have happened 20 miles (32 km) underground, it left 150,000 square miles of masonry buildings in ruins and was felt over 250,000 square miles from Burma to New Delhi. Numerous buildings in the neighboring country of Bhutan were heavily damaged. There were very many aftershocks. Considering the size of the earthquake, the mortality rate was not that high, with about 1500 casualties, but property damage was very heavy.

This afternoon I had closed my office windows and drawn the blinds in order to review books in quiet and cool, when someone came in to say that a man who was fixing an electric wire had fallen out of the second floor window (next below me) on his head on the pavement. I was so busy that I scarcely noticed what was said. Then another came to say that the man had been carried away on an ambulance to the hospital, with a hole in his forehead into which one could put three fingers. And then later came the report that he was slowly sinking, and in a very short while would certainly be dead. The thing had happened within a few feet of me, and I had not troubled even to open my window and look out into the street. Only the catch in Miss Evors's voice as she spoke to me gave warning that not everyone was unmoved.

I had finished my work, and I ran out into Fleet Street to get a bus home. The crowds were still increasing; there was a pleasant thrill and rumour of excited expectancy in the air. Soon I forgot the man in the hospital, who a couple of hours before had been full of skilled strength and had had his own private hopes and expectations. The streets this evening were full of dowdy matrons, wives of toil, both of London and the country, going about with the naive child-like look of surprise which the housewife cooped up in kitchen and parlour for months together always exhibits on her infrequent outings. This inspection of the mere preliminaries of a great festival was their high holiday; they enjoyed the same sensations as the man free to roam will enjoy in witnessing all the splendid magnificence of Jubilee Day itself.



Stands seem to have been flung round some of the churches like a scarf, swathing them from tower to lowest buttress with almost the curves of drapery, clinging to the stonework like drapery pressed against it by a strong wind.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Back to Riceyman Steps

Sunday, June 15th., Cadogan Square, London.

Riceyman Steps 1924
Coming down from the Pentonville region into Clerkenwell recently I was reflecting in the back-parlour of my mind on 'convention' and 'revolt' in literature. Convention was on the slopes. He that knoweth not Percy Circus (distant view of the romantic towers of St Pancras) should know it. It is a hundred times more conventional than Piccadilly Circus. Also Great Percy Street should be known. Also the Norman arches of Baker Street (W.C.1 not W.1). Also Helena Street, with its antique woodwork all painted verdant green and its ruined chapel. Also Lloyd Square, the most withdrawn square in London. Also Riceymen Steps, formerly Plum Pudding Steps, where was performed a feat of transport surpassing anything ever done in that line in USA, namely the moving of an entire bookseller's shop with all its books and dust from a south coast port to the foot of the Steps. So I descended to King's Cross Road and the new factories and warehouses. It is the latter which represent Revolt. The latest industrial perpendicular style of architecture contrasts uncompromisingly with the conventional blocks of dark "dwellings" which it hems in. And so into Farringdon Road where the book-barrows are.

The object of my excursion was to visit and ransack the book-barrows. With a vengeance do they represent Convention. I have known them for over forty years, and instead of advancing they have receded. To begin with, the majority of them were shut-up and sheeted down in their black tarpaulins. This at four o'clock on Saturday afternoon! Influence no doubt of the sinister weekend habit invented by the book-reading classes! And those that were still "open" might be divided into two classes: barrows stocked with too-excited literature, arcane publications and works by obscure authors; barrows heaped pell-mell with books in a disorder so acute that you could not possibly examine more than ten percent of them without employing a housebreaking and demolition firm. I did, in fact, detect one or two pleasing items but to prove the sincerity of my remarks to the barrow-man I refused to buy any of them - he didn't care! The book-barrow trade ought to look to itself, and if I do my duty I shall write to the Secretary of the National Union of associations of Book-barrow Dealers. Half an hour in Farringdon Road has served to raise my opinion of shop-based booksellers!

I have had the opportunity to see the film "Piccadilly", for which I wrote the screenplay last year, and was pleased with it. Dupont has done an excellent job in bringing the story to life on the screen.
See also, 'Life and Death' - June 4th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/life-and-death.html
The quality of the acting was, I thought, good. There was considerable use of close-up shots of the actors' faces and they were generally successful in conveying their emotions with subtle changes of expression. This surprised me. A surprisingly large amount of the dialogue is discoverable by lip-reading the actors. Dupont seems to have managed to locate and use a large number of characterful extras which added to the authenticity of the film, as did the use of scenes shot in the streets of London.  The contrast between the privileged world of the wealthy and that of the working-classes was brought out excellently: the audience in the Piccadilly Club seemed bland, homogeneous and uninteresting in comparison with the denizens of the Limehouse public house who were diverse, colourful and full of life, with a barely veiled edge of violence and sexuality. Anna May Wong was excellent in the role of Shosho, though her Chinese dance didn't seem likely to have excited male appetites to the extent implied by the story-line. Jameson Thomas as Valentine Wilmot was suitably sinister. I was pleased that all the characters I created retained their flaws in transition from paper to the silver screen. The film is no great work of art, but it is decidedly watchable.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzpcgLPIBFI

Jameson Thomas and Anna May Wong
A film noir before the term was in use, Piccadilly is one of the true greats of British silent films, on a par with the best work of Anthony Asquith or Alfred Hitchcock in the period. In essence a simple tale of ambition, desire and jealousy, what marks Piccadilly out is the astonishing confidence of its direction. Dupont was a recent arrival from Germany, who had made just one previous film in Britain, the elegant Moulin Rouge (1928), and Piccadilly is notable for qualities not typically associated with British silent films: opulence, passion and a surprisingly direct approach to issues of race - one remarkable scene has a white woman expelled from a bar for dancing with a black man, mirroring the social taboo of the film's central relationship. Dupont was subsequently associated with the shortlived vogue for multi-language films, and Piccadilly has a similarly international bent - its lead actresses are Chinese-American and Polish-American; its leading men are British and Chinese; its cinematographer and designer are, like its director, German. For all its style and grace, the film's strongest suit is Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong. Wong appeared in four other British films, but she was arguably never better used than here. As Shosho, the scullery maid who becomes a dance sensation and an object of desire for impresario Valentine (Jameson Thomas), she displays the cold ambition and manipulative sexuality of the classic femme fatale, while revealing - just occasionally - the vulnerability of a young girl. Shosho's exoticism gives her an alarming sexual power over the men who watch her dance - "I danced once before in Limehouse but there was trouble, men, knives...", she tells the transfixed Valentine, in a title which prefigures the narrative's tragic end. To Wong's frustration, Shosho and Valentine's kiss was cut to appease the US censor.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Dramatic events

Thursday, June 14th., Yacht Club, London.

I came to London Tuesday, unwell. Lunch at Webbs. I spent the afternoon in writing "Observations". Dined at The Reform with Clutton-Brock, who said that Wells was very rude to him about his very polite review of "God the Invisible King" in the Times Literary Supplement.

Then I went slowly to Drury Lane to "Tristan" and arrived before the end of the 1st Act. I went to meet Turner, the New Statesman critic.

Walter James Redfern Turner (1884-1946), poet and critic, a native of Melbourne, recalled his  boyhood in his fictional autobiography, Blow for Balloons (1935). In 1907 he went to London to become a writer. Spending ten months in Germany and Austria in 1913-14, he wrote satirical sketches for the New Age and concert reviews for the Musical Standard. He returned to England before the outbreak of World War I and, although he served in the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1916-18, his literary career flourished. In 1916 he published the first of sixteen volumes of poetry. His work gained prominence when it appeared in Georgian Poetry in 1917 and 1919. As music critic, Turner distinguished himself by the independence, originality and outspokenness of his views.

Too much light on the stage at the crises, and horrible competition between the band and the singers; ugly costumes and scenery. A terrible sight. The second Act was better, darker and quieter. When King Mark began his monologue I departed. I thought the music was surviving pretty well.

On getting to the Yacht Club from Richmond at 1.30 I had a telephone message from Marguerite to say that she and Anna were in the air raid at Liverpool Street and unhurt. Today I found out that though the end of their train (11.38) was bombed, Marguerite knew nothing of it, and Anna was only sure that she saw smoke 'by the side of the train' behind her. Neither heard cries of wounded, or broken glass or anything. Marguerite heard 4 bombs, or 5. Anna said she heard a noise and thought it was guns; then she saw a girl porter running and heard her cry "Oh", and thought it was an accident. When she realised it was bombs she remembered nothing more till she 'found herself' near underground lavatory, where people were taking refuge, with Marguerite. They were in different carriages and had lost each other. She saw people 'crouching down' (near base of girders apparently).

This morning I saw remains of a German aeroplane being motored up Piccadilly.

The WWI German High Command had great confidence in the effectiveness of air raids on civilian targets: not only would they damage morale, but they would disrupt production. Initially Zeppelins were used in a somewhat sporadic fashion, but they were soon easily dealt with by the British, so at the end of 1916 a new campaign was planned: Operation Turkenkreuz (Turkish Cross). Gotha heavy bombers were deployed in numbers, flying from occupied Belgium. Their first sortie to London on May 23 1917 hit bad weather, diverting them to attack Folkestone instead: 95 died there. On June 13th 18 Gothas hit the capital in daylight: 162 were killed and more than 400 injured. Tragically 46 of the dead were children in an infants’ school in Poplar. The raids were deadly because few precautions were taken by civilians – many ran to the streets to observe events – plus the Gotha G.IV could fly too high for the few British fighters kept for home defence to engage them in time.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

La vie parisien

Monday, June 13th., Rue de Calais, Paris.

Lunched with Rickards chez Chichi. She had taken pains to have a lunch more than usually nice. If anyone had told her that she was nervous before this young man whom she regards as an absolute infant in all really interesting matters, she would have laughed. But she was. She had bought a large new hat, and it was nothing but nervousness that made her suddenly try it on me as I sat balanced on the edge of a couch. After discussing the really interesting matters for two hours, Rickards left to get shaved, or to get a second shave or something.

I was introduced to Chichi, a young woman of the theatre, by a newspaper friend and she is often here. What a name she has! It is redolent of the very spirit of la vie de Boheme. She is wise in aspects of  Parisian life (really interesting matters!) about which I have been both imaginatively and practically ignorant. She has recounted to me several of her experiences of 'sexual perversions'. Apparently they always wept afterwards! Yet she said to me: 'Mais tous est naturel.' The force of this observation struck me. She tells me that she and her colleagues of the theatre smoke cigarettes in the dressing room though there is now a decree against it. This follows the disaster in the Rue Jean Goujon when a hundred aristocratic dead were left in the flames started by the overturning of a cinematographic projector lamp. "Everyone does it," she says, "but there is an official search of all dressing rooms, etc., once a month by the firemen, and before that an attendant comes round and says to the artists: 'Kindly hide your matches, etc., as the pompiers will be here directly.' " The extraordinary humour of this does not seem to occur to her. I said: "C'est bien Parisien, ca!" She cynically and bitterly agreed that it was.

We went down to Miss Thomasson's for tea, and sundry most interesting persons came in. However, in about an hour Rickards had arranged to spend the following day with Miss Thomasson in a river excursion. I find myself somewhat perturbed by this, though I can think of no sound reason why I should be. We were late for dinner because the dullest of the visitors failed to perceive, until he was told, that he ought to go.


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Is "Clayhanger" any good?

Sunday, June 12th., Villa des Nefliers, Fontainebleau.

There is certainly a rosse pleasure to be got from reading a thoroughly mediocre thing by a writer generally esteemed great but whom you don't happen to admire. I am reading a portion of Tennyson every morning just now, and I have got to the play "The Promise of May". It is a masterpiece of tedious conventionality - of no value whatsoever. I should say it shows every kind of Tennyson at its worst. No realism of any kind. All the old tags and notions; and what notions of philosophy as shown in the hero! I really enjoy reading this exquisitely rotten work.

On the other hand, I began "Le Crime et le Chatiment" yesterday, which I have been wanting to read again for about a fortnight. The scene in the cafe and Marmeladoff's confession, seems even finer than it did when I read it at Hockliffe. It is certainly one of the very greatest things in fiction. Absolutely full of the most perfect detail. It really disgusted and depressed me about my own work, which seemed artificial and forced by the side of it. I expect that in most of my work there is too much forcing of the effect. An inability to do a thing and leave it alone. I wrote nearly 4,000 words of "Clayhanger" on Thursday and Friday.

Forest of Fontainebleau by Henri Joseph Constant Dutilleux

Yesterday, walking in the forest, I thought of all the life in it, humming, flying, crawling, jumping etc., the tiniest insects that you can scarcely see, the ants, all sorts of flies, worms, beetles, bees, snails, lizards, and the gigantic birds. As for the rabbits, squirrels, and deer, they are simply monstrously gigantic compared to the mass of life in the forest.




I didn't seem to be getting near the personality of Hilda in my novel. You scarcely ever do get near a personality. There is a tremendous lot to do in fiction that no one has yet done. When Marguerite comes downstairs from the attic, in the midst of some house arrangement, and asks me if such and such a thing will do and runs up again excited - why? And the mood of the servant as, first thing in the morning, she goes placidly round the house opening the shutters! The fact is, the novelist seldom really penetrates.

Yesterday, wrote complete chapter of "Clayhanger", 2,400 words. But I had to work at the thing practically all day. I finished about 5.30, after twelve hours off and on. I really doubt whether as a whole, this book is good. It assuredly isn't within ten miles of Dostoevsky.

Continuous bad weather.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Originality in fiction

Wednesday, June 11th., Cadogan Square, London.

Robert Bion told me yesterday that he had had considerable difficulty in getting into England. He had no difficulty in getting to Dover, but there he was stopped, and the people in charge told him he must go back, he could not be permitted to enter: - unemployment problem, - law that no foreigner must be allowed to take a job that an Englishman could do. Robert, who is no fool, pointed out that no system of warning people was in force, that he would have all his expenses for nothing, that Wembley was being advertised and pushed abroad, and people were being urged to come and see it, but apparently when they reached England they were turned back. The underling in charge listened, and was decent in manner and attitude, and then said he would ask his chief. The chief came and heard, and then said laconically: "Let him in." And that is how things are done. No official reason for "letting him in".

I have come across an odd book called "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder", by James De Mille. It is a fantasy novel presented as a 'real' account, somewhat in the style of Haggard, or Conan Doyle, or even Wells in playful mood, though not so well written as it would have been by any of these. I assumed it to be derivative, but on investigation found that it was first published in 1888, and that the author, a Canadian, had died in 1880. He may of course have got his idea from Verne's "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" which was written in 1863 and translated to English in the 1870s. In any case it is interesting stylistically as it moves between straightforward narration of the 'discovered' manuscript, and detailed scientific discussions of the content by the finders, including one avowed sceptic who asserts that it is certainly a hoax perpetrated by a fantasy author eager to attract an audience! There is additionally an element of what I take to be satire in that the unfortunate writer of the manuscript finds himself cast away in a society where death is the greatest good, wealth is frowned upon, and love is to be avoided at all cost; The greatest crime is to force others to take ones possessions!


Writing about books in the Evening Standard, having recently attended the presentation of  the Hawthornden Prize, I was reflecting on the ability of literary panels to reward originality. My revolutionary thoughts on this matter run thus. No selection committee of nice-minded authors and bookish persons can choose a really original work. Their intentions are excellent. They have a genuine desire to serve the Lord. But in their humanity and their righteousness they are apt to forget the warning of the writer of Ecclesiasticus: "My son, if thou come to serve the lord, prepare thy soul for temptation."


The Hawthornden Prize is a British literary award. It was established in 1919 by Alice Warrender, a contemporary patron of the letters, and named after William Drummond of Hawthornden. Along with the James Tait Black Award, which was established the same year, the Hawthornden is one of the UK's oldest literary prizes. It has been given annually since 1919, with a few gaps.

There is no set category of literature: the specification is for the "best work of imaginative literature". There is no implied restriction to fiction and poetry. Those, with drama, but also biography, travel writing and other types of non-fiction, have been recognised over the years. The current value of the prize is £10,000; young writers are especially encouraged.


Their temptations are frightful. The temptation to be correct; the temptation to stand well with a pernickety public; the temptation to favour an author whose ideals coincide with their own; the temptation to compromise in order not to have a hades of a row in committee; the general temptation to avoid friction and, above all, shock. The truth is that no book by a young author is or can be really original and strong unless it shocks nine people out of ten, and herein is the reason why no really original book has the least chance of acceptance by any properly constituted committee. Sad it is that this should be so. But it is so, and will be ever. The fault is human nature's and incurable.