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Thursday, 30 January 2014

A pleasant evening

Saturday, January 30th., Victoria Grove, Chelsea.

Tonight I met the typical respectable Clerk and his wife. The Clerk: a short man with a merry, half-boyish face, and a good moustache; keen in looks and yet every feature disclosing a narrow habit of mind; at first good-naturedly too courteous and deferential, afterwards assuming his natural manner of unaffected pleasantness. His wife: a woman of about 35, apparently older than the clerk, dressed plainly in red and grey; a broad face of peculiar shape, with long censorious lips that came together in a straight line, and remained so; a sensible, sober face, full of what is called character. One felt that while her husband supplied the motive power of their existence, the wife furnished the steadying ballast. She was very restrained till late in the evening when at the sight of some comic drawings she laughed immoderately and long, repeating: "I do think that's funny ... " After this the clerk began to give us his volunteering experiences, and over his quietly vivacious talk I heard a conversation begin between the wife and Gertie Kennerley; "Are you fond of reading?" "Yes," said Gertie. "Read Charlotte Bronte's books? 'Jane Eyre'? 'Villette'? 'Shirley'? - I like 'Shirley' the best. And George Eliot's? And Mrs. Henry wood's? I think ----- is the best of hers." here the clerk broke in to say he hadn't read that: hadn't read anything of Mrs. Henry Wood's. "I don't think you'd care for them," she turned to him. "There isn't much in them you know." So, though clearly the stronger character, she looked up to him, wondering from below to what heights his intellect reached.

Both were skilful, experienced, alive, in the things which lay within their own segment of life's circle, and lost and awed, like babes in the wood, if they happened to stray outside that segment. Example: Though the husband was above Mrs. Henry Wood and read Lamb, and had a distant interest in Stevenson, he asked, "What is this Yellow Book, Mr. Bennett?" as if he were inquiring into the nature of the differential calculus or bimetallism. But both of them know all about latchkeys, burglars, the programmes at the Empire and the Alhambra, and so on. The Clerk was fond of horses. he liked riding because there was "a lot of danger in it - you might get thrown off". Then he explained the difficulties.

The Yellow Book, published in London from 1894 to 1897 by Elkin Mathews and John Lane, later by John Lane alone, was a quarterly literary periodical (priced at 5s.) that lent its name to the "Yellow Nineties". It was a leading journal of the British 1890s; to some degree associated with Aestheticism and Decadence, the magazine contained a wide range of literary and artistic genres, poetry, short stories, essays, book illustrations, portraits, and reproductions of paintings. Aubrey Beardsley was its first art editor, and he has been credited with the idea of the yellow cover, with its association with illicit French fiction of the period. Authors who contributed were: Max Beerbohm, Arnold Bennett, "Baron Corvo", Ernest Dowson, George Gissing, Sir Edmund Gosse, Henry James, Richard Le Gallienne, Charlotte Mew, Arthur Symons, H. G. Wells, William Butler Yeats.

They made several attempts to go, and finally left at 11.5, the clerk with genial smiles and punctilious salutations, the wife rather stiffer, but breaking out into a warm, genuine smile and a "We've had such a pleasant evening," for Mrs. K.

Additionally for January 30th., see 'Courting' -

Several times lately, about 10 p.m., I have noticed a couple that stand under the big tree at the corner next to the pillar box, shielded by the tree-trunk from the lamplight. They stand motionless, with hands nearly meeting around each other's backs, tightly clasped. They were there tonight. The man was holding an umbrella over them. Can't see what sort of people they are. In the first place I don't like to intrude and in the second place the shade is so dark. One day I will include this scene in a novel.

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