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Monday, 14 March 2016

The old days

March 14th., 1929
75 Cadogan Square, London

A woman, an experienced and abandoned reader, lamented to me the other day that the domestic novel was disappearing. I could not agree and told her so. At any rate I, who do indeed glance at novels now and then in my spare time, have observed no sign of it. The great majority of novels have been and will be essentially domestic in matter. Even Tolstoy in "War and Peace" had to come down to the bedrock of domesticity in the end. To my mind the last 100 pages of that perhaps supreme work, dealing in the main with very narrow domesticity, are the most poignant in it - and the most effective. It is certainly not essential for the action of a novel to be confined to a traditional home, with the characters engaging in conversation across the kitchen table, for it to be regarded as domestic. Of course I am well aware what the lamenting lady meant. She meant that the old-fashioned domestic novel was disappearing. Naturally it is. The old-fashioned everything is disappearing, and has been disappearing steadily for thousands of years.

Yesterday I met an American, clearly a man of taste and discernment, who asked me for the name and address of the artist who had created the suit in which I happened to be clad. He said that in the old days he used to order all his clothes in London, but he had given up London tailors because they demanded so many tryings-on. However he was now inclined to return to them. I then told him my most famous experience: how I had spent three months, and given at least twelve tryings-on, and exhausted two tailoring firms, in the attempt, ultimately successful, to obtain three evening waistcoats that would fit without crease. Not that I am hard to please!

Wherever I go it seems that people of a certain age are complaining to me about things 'not being as they were in our day'. And they seem to take for granted that I will agree with them. Only today a neighbour, rather older than myself, was bemoaning modern food, the difficulty of getting 'real' meat and 'proper' vegetables such as were, apparently, in abundance when he was a boy. Is this a sort of resentment that life has been so unaccountably unfair as to make us old? For myself, if I were offered the opportunity to relive my youth I would politely decline - once has been sufficient for me.

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