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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Artistic prestige

Saturday, January 29th., Hotel Savoy, Cortina.

On two occasions in my maturer life have I blushed. The first occasion was when, sitting in the stalls of a theatre, someone lightly touched my shoulder from the row behind, and, turning, I heard a remembered voice say: "You don't know me Mr. Bennett, but I know you." This was Ellen Terry. The second was when, in the coffee room of a club to which we both belonged, a stoutish man accosted me and said: "You won't recall me, I'm Henry James. May I join you upstairs later?" Yes, I did fairly blush - I suppose because I was flattered. Such is the mysterious influence of immense artistic prestige on my blood vessels.

Dame Ellen Terry (1847 – 1928) was an English stage actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain. Born into a family of actors, Terry began acting as a child in Shakespeare plays and continued as a teen, in London and on tour. She retired from the stage for six years but returned to acting in 1874 and was immediately acclaimed for her portrayal of roles in Shakespeare and other classics. In 1878 she joined Henry Irving's company as his leading lady, and for more than the next two decades she was considered the leading Shakespearean and comic actress in Britain. In 1903 Terry took over management of London's Imperial Theatre, focusing on the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen. The venture was a financial failure, and Terry turned to touring and lecturing. She continued to find acting success until 1920, while also appearing in films until 1922. Her career lasted nearly seven decades.

Artistic prestige has an influence not only on my blood vessels but on my critical faculty. It took me years to ascertain that Henry James's work was giving me little pleasure. I first had a glimpse of this distressing fact when "What Maisie Knew" began to appear serially - I could not get on with it. My fault of course. But when I was immovably bogged in the middle of "The Golden Bowl" and again in the middle of "The Ambassadors" I grew bolder with myself. I gave them up. Today I have no recollection whatever of any characters or any events in either novel.

I have come to think that James hadn't actually much to say, in a creative sense, that needed saying. I think that he knew a lot about the life of one sort of people, the sort who are what is called cultured, and who do themselves very well both physically and intellectually, and very little about life in general. I think that in the fastidiousness of his taste he rather repudiated life. Of course my eyes may have a blind-spot for the alleged supreme excellencies of Henry James. But, if so, the eyes of a vast number of other people no plainer than myself are similarly afflicted. I can only say that never shall I set out afresh into the arid desert of "The Golden Bowl".
For more on Henry James see 'Literary Lion' -

I have had an idea for writing a series of souvenirs d'enfance. There is nothing about souvenirs d'enfance in Louis Aragon's "Paysans de Paris", but this book is certainly stimulating me into a fresh creativeness. I must say that, though it is uneven, I should like to write a book like that - I mean about London. Only of course England would never tolerate the belle franchise of this French book. 

Alice Hallagarten Franchetti
While Dorothy was dressing I went out for a walk. I wanted to be alone to think about a short story and two articles and my dimly projected souvenirs, but I came across Baroness Franchetti, acquaintance of the Huxleys. She would walk with me. And when I said I must turn she said she also must turn back. Then she took my photograph twice in the middle of the road, blazing sunshine, screwing up eyes, etc. However she did tell me one interesting thing. She knew Ibsen. She said she spent a whole season in the same hotel with him and his family somewhere. She sat at the next table to the Ibsens. They - father, mother, and boy - never spoke a word during the whole time. Ibsen (said Mdme. Franchetti) would talk freely to Madame Franchetti afterwards. He told her that he wrote all his work four times. Also, that he wrote "The Doll's House" in the open air, in tremendous sunshine, at Sorrento. He loved the greatest possible heat to work in.

Additionally for January 29th., see 'Strolling in Paris' -

I do enjoy these slow walks through Paris on fine winter afternoons: crowded pavements, little curiosity shops, and the continual interest of women. I walked back to the Chatelet station of the Metro. and went to the Concorde and thence walked to the Place de l'Opera, stopping at the Trois Quartier shop, where there are some very nice things.

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