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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.
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Tuesday, 17 October 2017
I had an unusually vivid dream last night. I don't often remember my dreams, but this one has been in my mind on and off all day.
I appeared to be a soldier of some kind, fighting in a war; more specifically I was a sniper. Apparently I was a particularly good shot and was picking off enemy soldiers to order. The order seemed to be coming from a superior somewhere behind me. I was located on high ground with good vantage over a coastal bay. Large, rolling waves, sunshine on the sand. People making their way out to the sea. I say they were enemy soldiers, but in fact I couldn't really make them out in any detail, too far away. My rifle was an old fashioned one with a wooden stock and I had to sight along the barrel. But every shot seemed to be successful. I aimed at the shape that was pointed out to me, pulled the trigger, and the shape crumpled to the floor. Then I got to thinking about the morality of my actions. Clearly I was following orders and doing my duty, but who were these people? I was turning over in my mind arguments for and against continuing. I thought that if I stopped then I would probably be shot myself. Also that whoever these people were they were not suffering and would all be dead eventually anyway, so in the great scheme of things what did it matter? I never came to any conclusion.
All very strange and disconcerting. I have never fired a gun in my life. What troubled me most was how untroubled I felt. Because I was firing at shapes in the distance they didn't seem like people at all. Is this how a real sniper feels? Is this what happens to soldiers in wars?
Monday, 16 October 2017
In fact I wrote "Lilian" as a sort of answer to a novel by Frank Swinnerton ("Coquette"); I felt the book was incomplete and the aim of "Lilian" was to show him what the end should be. Now I am not prepared to defend "Lilian" as my finest piece of literature, but nor is it negligible. I deeply resent Mais's implication that it is lightweight, of no consequence.
Literary critics seem to have fallen into the habit of describing as a pot boiler any novel which they do not like. They have not the least right to do so, and in doing so they presume upon the indifference of authors. Well I am not indifferent. Such a description is undoubtedly libellous. Not that I should ever dream of bringing a libel action! But some day some critic with more cheek than prudence will find himself in trouble. I have a long memory and am inclined to bear a grudge. I think it is in the Five Towns character to do so, as I have shown in some of my short stories. My opportunity for revenge will arise one day, and I shall not miss it.
If Mais knew the literary world as he should, he would know that the writing of a novel like "Lilian" involves a considerable financial to its author, in the matter of serial rights alone. It would have been easy for me to write a novel twice as remunerative as "Lilian". Only I wanted to write "Lilian".
So, I feel better for having got that off my chest. On with the work of making a living and, hopefully, thereby adding a little something to the total of artistic achievement.
Sunday, 15 October 2017
Last week I wrote the first of a series of short stories for the Cosmopolitan, "The Life of Nash Nicklin", 8000 words. Finished it Saturday. On Sunday the Atkinses, H. Sullivan and Oscar Raphael came for lunch, and we went to Sullivan's for dinner. On Monday we drove to London. I seem to spend such a lot of time in these sorts of social situations, and it usually feels like time wasted. In my way of life I need to cultivate the acquaintance and good opinion of important people, but I sometimes look round the table at a dinner and feel convinced that most of the people there, like myself, would in fact rather be somewhere else.
Last night we drove to Harwich, took G.E.R. steamer Vienna and arrived at Antwerp at 8.15 a.m. today. Grand Hotel. Room and bathroom, both large, 20 francs. Old fashioned and ugly, but seemingly good. Dreadful ride in hotel omnibus over cobbled froads from quay to the hotel. We drove out at 10 a.m. in closed cab round boulevards to Musee Plantin, where I searched for a particular room whose details I thought I had remembered for 16 years, and couldn't find - indeed was about convinced that such a room had never existed. Not the first time that this sort of thing has happened to me, and makes me wonder about the reliability of memory in general. Probably a lot of things we think we remember, if not actually invented, bear little resemblance to their original. I well remember waking up a year or so ago and lying in bed thinking about a situation which was troubling me; only gradually did I realise that it was imaginary, and I had some difficulty convincing myself that the things I thought I had remembered had never happened.
Saturday, 14 October 2017
Headache, began yesterday. The camel's backbreaking straw was probably a Dutch cigar that Godebski gave me. I nearly cured the headache twice today and then brought it on again by working. The trouble is that if I stop work every time I have a headache I won't get much done. My inclination when suffering is to turn inwards, allow myself to be entirely self-absorbed, and to become uncommunicative, or sometimes surly. I know that the best thing is just to get on with things, but easier said than done. My wife copes brilliantly with headaches which she gets infrequently but which last for three days - she seems able just to ignore them.
Godebski's for tea yesterday.
I finished "Ann Veronica" yesterday. Wells sent me a copy with the inscription "The Young Mistresses' Tale, to Arnold B. with love from his nephew H.G." The last 30 pages are the best. But still, a minor work. Seems to me much too short; incidents not described in sufficient detail. But then again I have been accused of too much attention to detail. Mere writing impudently careless of dissonant effects, and full of extreme colloquialisms. Of course it occurs to me that my appreciation of the book may have been affected by my headache. Critics ought to take this into account and declare at the start of each review what the state of their health was when they were reading!
I finished a letter to a cousin of mine who lives on the Isle of Man today. She is a native of the "ancient borough" but has lived on Man for a long time and I asked her if she felt herself to be a manxwoman. I suspect not. You probably have to be born there to be Manx. When people ask me where I am from I say "the Potteries, but I don't live there at the moment". There is a sort of implication in the statement that I would live there if I could, and one day might. In fact I have no intention of doing so. I may well leave here one day, but I won't be going back to the Potteries.
Friday, 13 October 2017
The individual alone in London has a special need for books. It is only the solitary man who really appreciates the full significance of that extraordinary word book. Books he must have, books he must understand, and books he must love - or it will be better for him that he had never been born, or at least that he had stayed in Burslem and married the draper's pale daughter.
Having carefully considered, I take the view that the average young man alone in London, with an income of £120 a year can afford to spend £4 on books. "But", you will say, "what can be done with £4?" A great deal if you go the right way about it.
In the first place it is necessary to enlarge one's notions of the book market. The average man's notion of the book market is a beautiful shop window, with rows of beautiful new books in speckless and variegated bindings. If he enters the shop he is unlikely to find anything with a price less than six shillings - prohibitive; £4 will not last long here. This is the part of the book market which the book buyer of limited means, and the book lover who has a broad view of literature, should leave well alone. Our average young man must not enter a book shop to spend more than half a crown on a book, and not often to spend more than a shilling.
He must also get firmly fixed into his head the indubitable truth that it is advantageous to keep oneself quite a year behind contemporary literature; this rearwardness saves both time and money. And, further, he must continually dwell on the relative unimportance of contemporary literature compared to the whole of literature.
I should point out that the man who seriously takes to book buying, even inexpensive book buying, is seldom content to remain a purchaser of books for the purpose of reading. He develops into a purchaser of books as curiosities, and his library grows into a museum, as well as a storehouse of ideas. In other words he becomes a book collector. I am myself an incorrigible book collector.
Thursday, 12 October 2017
I have noticed before how easy it is to become extremely affectionate towards one's wife when separated from her. And at the moment I am very separated from her. The exhilaration of being a bachelor once more! I was feeling so exhilarated, and affectionate, this morning that I sent my very first marconigram. It cost me 26 shillings - it will never catch on at that rate. I sent Marguerite 26 kisses, which will give her something to think about while I am away. I sent the telegram at noon London time (9 a.m. boat time). No idea when she will get it.
I had a most busy day yesterday. I was writing most of the morning, and at 2.30 the First Officer took Knoblock and me on a tour of the ship, all the navigating part and also into the engine rooms. This occupied nearly two hours. I t was absolutely astounding. I shall write an article about it. Then we came upon the Captain who invited us into his parlour and we smoked cigars and told stories there for another two hours. later I had a tremendous dinner, but suffered for it in the night. Still, I am all right this morning. There is such a strong breeze that, at the front of the boat, you literally cannot stand up against it. It would blow you down. yet the boat is very steady. It is not yet certain whether we shall land tomorrow night or Friday morning. I hope it will be Friday as I should like to experience the arrival in New York.
Wednesday, 11 October 2017
At the Symonds' last evening. I first met them a year ago and try to renew the acquaintance when I can. I think they are the most interesting women I know. As I listened to mother and daughter recounting their deeds and wanderings since I last saw them, I was struck by their faculty for extracting from life pleasure and amusement. They read everything that appears, travel during several months in the year, gamble soberly when gambling is to be had, and generally make it a duty to go through life with as much pleasantness and change as will not fatigue them. Both are witty, and neither is afraid of criticising her friends, or of getting fun out of idols. Emily, the daughter, writes clever novels under the pen-name George Paston, and exhibits a good-humoured, railing tolerance for all 'missions', including her own. She is a few years older than me and rather plain but what an excellent companion for a man of intelligence if she could be got to believe that she had anything to gain from a marriage.
|H G Wells|
A blue haze, half dust, half mist, touched the long valley with mystery. Beyond were Hanley and Etruria grey and dark masses, outlined thinly by the rare golden dots of the street lamps.... Here and there a pallid patch and ghostly stunted beehive shapes showed the position of a pot-bank,, or a wheel, black and sharp against the hot lower sky, marked some colliery where they raise the iridescent coal of the place. Nearer at hand was the broad stretch of railway, and half invisible trains shunted... And to the left, between the railway and the dark mass of the low hill beyond, dominating the whole view, colossal, inky-black, and crowned with smoke and fitful flames, stood the great cylinders of the Jeddah Company Blast Furnaces.... They stood heavy and threatening, full of an incessant turmoil of flames and seething molten iron, and about the feet of them rattled the rolling mills, and the steam hammer beat heavily and splashed the white iron sparks hither and thither.
I am quite sure that there is an aspect of industrial districts which is really grandiose, full of dark splendours and which has been absolutely missed by all novelists to date. Wells seems to be the first man I have come across whom the Potteries has impressed emotionally. There are a number of good men in the Potteries, but I have never yet met one who could be got to see what I have 'seen' there; they were all inclined to scoff. I think Wells will understand me.
Tuesday, 10 October 2017
Yesterday I corrected two articles and a short story, and went for a walk in the morning, and felt that I had had an idle morning. I also read about 50 pages of Osbert Sitwell's first novel, "Before the Bombardment". It is inscribed to "dear, good, uncle Arnold from a nephew". Not an easy read, but then Osbert is not an 'easy' man. Still, nice of him to remember me.
|On Delf Street|
Monday, 9 October 2017
I have been re-reading some of Kipling's short stories. They are good. I particularly enjoyed "The Man Who Would Be King" which was amusing as well as being a good adventure story.
I remember reading a few years ago that whilst taking part in an entertainment on board H.M.S. Majestic he read "Soldier and Sailor Too", and was encored. Then he read "The Flag of England". At the conclusion a body of subalterns swept him off the stage, and chaired him round the quarter deck, while "For he's a Jolly Good Fellow" was played by the massed bands of the Fleet and sung by 200 officers assembled. That's my idea of fame. I was intensely envious of his success. He is only a couple of years older than me but it is as if success has fallen into his lap. How to account for this? Of course he writes well, but so do a lot of others, including myself. It must be his subject matter of India and Empire - the exoticism appeals to those whose lives are humdrum, and plays on primitive emotions such as patriotism. Buchan has a similar appeal. I am still envious!
Out walking this morning. For once I was not trying to get ideas but just walking for pure enjoyment. It is hard for me to turn my mind away from the various projects I have in hand, but essential now and then. It was a dull, rather misty morning. Not much wind. Still quite green everywhere but close inspection shows the leaves turning and grasses dying back. I walked for three hours and hardly saw a soul which suited me perfectly. Sometimes it is good to just let the mind drift. I think it is not dissimilar to being asleep and is almost as relaxing. Couldn't tell you what I was thinking about. Mostly daydreaming. Probably imagining myself as popular as Kipling!
Sunday, 8 October 2017
Mistake yesterday. "The Glimpse" was published today and not on Wednesday. I received today a highly enthusiastic letter from Waugh about it. He does not think it will sell. I have a wild idea that it will.
A wild wet morning, and it was very fine on the hill in the rain at 8.15. I came home and wrote the first of new series of articles for T.P's Weekly on English family life. rather pleased with it.
After lunch I painted. Then had tea here and went down to Godebskis for tea afterwards. Wonderful colours on the Godebskis' house and trees. Showers and wind.
After dinner I finished Harris's Shakespere, amid enthusiasm. I telegraphed him that it surpassed my most sanguine expectations and was glorious. It is. But I wish I hadn't got to write an article on it. The ever-increasing emotion, which I experienced as I read steadily through Harris's book I can only compare with unforgettable sensations that have perturbed me at moments when I stood between earth and sky on some high tor of Dartmoor. . . . I realised that a masterpiece on Shakspere had at length been written. The opening pages of "The Man Shakspere" at once produce certainty that the mind of its author is worldly, non-academic, and powerfully creative. I use "worldly" in a good sense. I mean that the author knows the actual world, moves about in it freely, and is versed in life itself: qualities denied to professors, or to most of them. And he writes as an artist. He does not fit words ingeniously together; he plastically moulds the whole phrase. All English literature is divided into Shakspere and the rest, and in the subconsciousness of the race is a notion that Shakspere's defects are finer than other writers' virtues. Mr. Frank Harris has a very short way with all this. His fist goes through the pane instantly, and the breezes of commonsense blow through the stuffy chambers where the commentators have been mumbling at their priest-like task. By its courage, its originality, its force, its patient ingenuity, its comprehension of art and the artist, its acquaintance with life, and its perfectly astounding acquaintance with Shakspere's plays, the ultimate destiny of the book is assured. It marks an epoch. It has destroyed nearly all previous Shaksperean criticism, and it will be the parent of nearly all the Shaksperean criticism of the future.
Saturday, 7 October 2017
|Mrs. Lewis Harcourt|
Friday, 6 October 2017
Chores and a moderate walk this morning. Got some ideas for my next "Books & Persons" article which will be about autumn books. Everywhere has that autumnal feel now. I was reflecting on how the loss of daylight has its effect on our mood. Somebody should do a study about it.
This afternoon to a remarkable art exhibition of the work of Kathe Kollwitz. I had no idea who she was but had been told that her work was exceptional - and it was. She is the same age as me and East Prussian by birth though she has lived most of her life in a poor working class district of Berlin. Her theme is social justice, for the poor, for workers, and for women. Her work is largely lithographs and woodcuts, suitable for printing. For purposes of propaganda I expect.
About a third of the exhibits are self-portraits, the earliest dating from when she was about thirty to the recent past. She portrays herself as a strong, serious, rather resigned (I think) figure. I was set to wondering about what an artist has in mind when doing a self-portrait. Are they aiming for verisimilitude, or attempting to convey a message? Depends on the artist of course. Certainly for Kollwitz I felt she was searching for a sort of generic womanhood, using her own features merely as a foundation. I only saw one photograph of Kollwitz herself at the exhibition and though she looked serious, I don't think she would have been easily recognisable from the self-portraits.
There were some very powerful images. One entitled "Raped" particularly struck me. Not the sort of thing you expect to come across. It consisted of the obviously dead and violated body of a woman lying on her back in a garden; and in the background (easily missable) a young child looking on. Nothing prurient about it. The figure was just really sketched in. But powerful. I think it was a comment of course on violence towards women, but also about the repression of the sex more generally - this was everywoman, not a particular woman.
Several pieces were about workers/peasants revolting against oppression. Essentially groups of half-crazed, rather demonic figures trying to claw their way out of darkness. There was an inescapable sense, for me, that their struggle was hopeless. I don't know if this relects Kollwitz's views but I sense a definite lack of optimism about the human condition. The final piece that stays in my mind is entitled "The Carmagnole" (which I understand is a French revolutionary song). It is more detailed than the rest and shows a group of people, mainly women, engaged in a frenzied dance. Close inspection shows that they are not dancing round a maypole or any traditional focus, but a guillotine. Is Kollwitz suggesting that this is the outcome when the oppressed masses do in fact escape their bondage? A very dark view of human nature indeed.
Thursday, 5 October 2017
I received a letter last week from George Sturt containing his impressions having read Anna of the Five Towns. I value his friendship and his opinion but felt it necessary to write back in rather harsh terms because his critique was just plain wrong. I have a suspicion that he is just the least bit jealous of the novel's reception.
He described the novel as a 'partial failure' and I had to comment that the partial failure was not in the novel but in himself. he said that the characters did not seem 'real' or 'intimate' to him but this is clearly at odds with the ompression of every other person, expert or inexpert who has taken the trouble to say anything at all to me about the book. The general view is that the characters are intensely real. I have been amazed at the extraordinary enthusiasm of people about the reality, the conviction, and the appeal of the book. What astounded me most was Sturt's remark that I refuse to be emotional and am 'unimpassioned'. The book is emotional and impassioned from beginning to end. I think Sturt is looking for something which will never be found in my fiction, or any first rate modern fiction - the Dickens or Thackeray grossness. I don't feel it necessary to have them weep and shout all over the place to prove my characters' emotional sensibilities.
I concluded by saying that, though it is a singular and surprising thing to become aware of, his taste in imaginative work is crude and unreliable. I don't believe he has any genuine critical standard. It may be that this will be the end of our friendship which would be a pity, but I just could not let things fester in my heart - I needed to defend Anna.
Wednesday, 4 October 2017
I finished the final (2nd.) writing of the 1st Act of "The Dance Club" yesterday at 6.45 p.m. This act seems to me to have more emotion in it than anything dramatic that I have written for a long time. Some of it I rather enjoyed writing, and looked forward to the labour of writing. Who but a professional writer such as myself would describe writing as labour? Most manual labourers would scoff at the idea that writing might be hard work, but it is so nevertheless.
Tavia and Evelyn Forster dined here last night and Arnold Bax and Mr. and Mrs. D.F. came in afterwards. D.F. seems more decent than I had thought. But he is really very simple and provincial. He is a member of the Dail and apt to refer to that and to address you as if you were the Dail. He forms his sentences too elaborately for conversation.
Mrs. D.F. told a good story. About some semi-swell who was at a village party. A girl who had come from a village a mile or two off cottoned on to him and at the end said "Will I lay with you tomight, sir?" "Certainly not" said the visitor. "But I'll walk home with you." Long dark walk. Cold night. The girls hated it. A neighbour said "Sure, and that was what she wanted but she didn't like to ask for it."
Tuesday, 3 October 2017
Well, what a kerfuffle has arisen from my article "What I Believe" published in the Express last month. It was the first in a series of articles by 'eminent persons' stating their beliefs. I confessed myself unable to believe in the divinity of Christ, heaven, hell, the immortality of the soul, or the divine inspiration of the Bible. To be frank I find it hard to understand how any intelligent thinking person can believe in these things. But it appears that I may have touched a nerve!
A relative of mine in Liverpool tells me that on the day of publication at about 6.30 p.m. (after working overtime) he visited a number of newsagents and asked at each for a copy of The Daily Express. Each one replied "Sold out". At the fifth ( W H Smith in Lime Street) he asked "Why is the Express sold out?" He was told in a non-commital way "You won't find an unsold copy in Liverpool. Again he asked "Why?" The reply was "There is an article by Arnold Bennett". Such is fame, or is it notoriety?
|R D Blumenfeld|
Monday, 2 October 2017
Recently I have taken to long walks in the forest. On Wednesday I discovered the Malmontagne, with wide views of the forest. In nature it is large spaces, with simple outlines and little noticeable detail, that appeal to me most strongly. I am more 'sympathetic' to Dartmoor than to any other spot on earth. Next to that, the sea. For example at Llanddwyn Island off the coast of Anglesey. To stand next to the old lighthouse looking out towards the Lleyn peninsula is to feel uplifted from the normal cares of the world. Here what chiefly appeals to me is the forest seen in the mass from a height, and the long smooth stretches of the Seine between St. Mammes and Monterau. With such things I class in my memory the panorama of the Apennines, spotted with hill-towns as seen from the first range behind San Remo.
On Thursday it rained nearly all day and I walked two hours in the rain. The horse chestnuts in the road are dropping their fruit like heavy ammunition, and people are gathering it for cattle food. Of course it is the time of year to harvest apples and pears and we attended a local apple pressing yesterday. Inevitably when people have collected all the fruit they want to eat or store there are still masses on the trees or on the ground. So the idea is to have a communal collection and to press the result for juice which is then distributed to all participants. The procedure is simple - fruit is collected, washed, cut up, crushed and then pressed. The press is a small wooden construction which operates by turning a screw and the juice flows from beneath into waiting jugs. It tastes wonderful! Good turnout of local growers and gardeners marshalled by a couple of women more knowledgable than the rest. People of all ages and both sexes. Quite a festive sort of atmosphere. Felt like participating in a timeless seasonal ritual. Everybody went away happy.