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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Friday, 11 March 2022


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

Sloane Street up from Pond Street to the bottom; a shade under half a mile I suppose. Curious fact; they are laying a pipe, or rather six pipes, earthenware, all in one, and I have never had enough curiosity to ask what the pipe is, and why it should be in six divisions. I think it must be water, as I often see an official 'turncock' whilst strolling about. The street is being repaired very rapidly and very well and very noisily. The noise of about a dozen drills for boring and breaking up the concrete is awful. Men live in it all day, and those who use the drills have their hands vibrated all day. Must damage the nerves in the hands and arms I should think. And hearing as well. What a way to earn a crust. The whole thing is a 'perfect hive' and a wonderful scene. Might be worth an article.

Put me in mind of the painting titled "Work" by Ford Madox Brown which I saw some time ago; I forget where. If I remember rightly that focussed on workmen digging a road. Hampstead? Excellent piece of work in the Pre-Rapaelite manner. Detailed. Beautifully painted but also socially relevant. I remember being genuinely impressed by it at the time. Must find out where it is and have another look. I wouldn't mind having a reproduction to look at if I could get one. As I recall, in the painting Carlyle was depicted watching the work; can't remember what the point was but I smile to think that I could have been observed today in similar pose! Interesting chap by all accounts, Madox Brown. I first got onto his work when I was undertaking a short course on art history; as part of the course I had to choose a painting and write about it; I chose “An English Autumn Afternoon” by Madox Brown which I had seen in the Art Gallery at Birmingham; unusually, it is an oval painting and has, for me, a dreamlike quality. 

 Victorian British Painting: Ford Madox Brown

Part of the street was totally up and repaved about two years ago or less. Why this so soon duplication of work? Another instance of the amateurishness and 'loose-limbedness' of London government.


Friday, 9 April 2021

Summat missing

Thursday, April 9th., Les Sablons.

A great Spring day today. Also yesterday. Sofia, a friend of ours, wrote the other day that "Spring had sprung" and she was right. I walked to Fontainebleau and back yesterday morning and wrote 2,000 words of novel in the afternoon; mainly background detail! This afternoon we had tea in the garden - first reflection of the year outside.

Finished Merrick's "The Actor-Manager" in twenty four hours. This is praise of it. The interest keeps up but the book ends abruptly, and unreasonably, long before the story is finished. I find it remarkable that so few authors really know how to finish a book. It is undoubtedly a good book but rather monotonous in colour and movement, and practically no backgrounds in it at all. As for scenic effects, whether of town or country, scarcely an attempt. It is excellent so far as it goes; but it lacks. It lacks the romantic feeling , or summat! I know that many authors see character as the focus of a novel and regard background detail, what I would call context, as of secondary importance. Not me. Not when I write or when I read. I find a richly described background essential for thorough immersion in a novel. And I don't think a character is separable from their context in a novel, or in life.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Getting on

Friday, April 7th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

The end of winter was very sudden last week. On Tuesday last week was the worst blizzard for fifty years, in which our car got smashed up against a tree that had fallen across the Colchester road. Snow, slush etc. very trying. And then on Saturday the sun was very hot, and the roads full of flying dust. Just like summer even to the East and North-East winds.

I really 'got on to' the first scene of "Carlotta" play on Wednesday.

In the meantime I have been reading Conrad short stories. "Youth" excellent. It evidently comes from the heart and is perfectly convincing. Then "The End of the Tether". Probably the second or third time I have read it and likely to be my last. As I get older so it becomes more and more poignant. I don't think I could bear to see Captain Whalley decline again. It is a tragedy in the real sense of the word. A masterpiece in my view. When I am drawn into a story by a writer of Conrad's genius I realise anew just what a miracle literature is. I hope that somewhere, at some time, someone has felt the same having read a work of mine. If so, my life will not have been wasted.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Almost content

Monday, March 22nd., Villa des Nefliers, Fontainebleau.

I am half way through Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" which, surprisingly, I have not previously read. I don't know what to make of it. Is it to be taken at face value? Is it a subtle critique of social mores, colonialism, class, progress ...? I sense that it is a joke but one to which I either lack the necessary background or am too constrained to appreciate. I do not dislike it, and will finish it, but I am perplexed.

Change of weather last night. Today, first day of Spring, twelve kilometres in the forest. Through too much work I have slept badly for several nights, which upset my digestion. Still my output is enormous. Pleasure in being in the country increases. Yet, a certain dissatisfaction, an expectancy, behind the content. Probably this will always be there, wherever I am and whatever I am doing.

The vernal equinox. Time to set aside this journal of commonplace matters, which musty not becomw a burden, in favour of more time out of doors. Time to walk, and to breathe. To savour the burgeoning forest. No doubt I will make the occasional entry when there is something of consequence to be written. And Autumn will come around soon enough.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

More Cointreau needed

Saturday, March 21st., Cadogan Square, London.

We were at Lady Colefax's supper to meet John Barrymore on Thursday night. There were no Asquith's there which was surprising as Asquiths seemed to occupy all the boxes on the first night of Barrymore's "Hamlet" at the Haymarket. Also they were photographed in their boxes. Barrymore, at the supper where he arrived after 1 a.m., seemed to be partly exhausted. He looked distinguished but didn't talk distinguished. During songs he closed his eyes and seemed to sleep. Then he exclaimed: "Oh, for some Cointreau!" very urgently, and it was brought quickly to him. He is very shrewd and perspicacious. Needless to say he was much admired by the ladies, not excepting Dorothy.

I am inclined to be 'unwell'; some people, I know, think me something of a hypochondriac because I generally look well enough whilst complaining of a variety of symptoms not visible to them. In fact I think that people admit themselves 'unwell' oftener than they used to. This is because they know a little more about the greatest of all physical marvels and mysteries, the human body. I former days an indisposition was looked upon as the act of God and regarded fatalistically. Now it is known to be the act of man and therefore perhaps cuarable if officially proclaimed and treated. The champions of the past in this matter say that we are a generation of mollycoddles.

Still, we live appreciably longer than our ancestors. Some will assert that since life is a nuisance, then longer life is a still greater nuisance. I do not subscribe to this view in spite of my notorious ill health. In some ways we have retained the foolishness of the past. Today, just as in former times, there are certain diseases, especially those affecting physical attractiveness, as to which women will unfailingly become hysterical. And men are as apt as ever to become hysterical if their digestive organs go wrong. I am guilty of this. On the other hand a man will still as of old deny to himself the existence of an obvious  chronic malady, and carry on his existence as if his proper place was not in bed. And then die suddenly, and have the effrontery to be surprised thereat.

And what remarkable faith we can generate, in the face of all good sense, in patent remedies. I am guilty of this as well. Not only will people try all sorts of quack medicines, they will convince themselves they are working, and broadcast their success, until their failure becomes manifest and there is no alternative to a quiet reversion often accompanied by a declaration that they didn't really expect it to work in any case.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

In the country

Saturday, March 20th., Trinity Hall Farm, Hockliffe.

Out early this morning after a decent night. Nearly five hour first sleep. Feeling pretty fit and very glad to be away from towns and cities, though they pull me still. I suppose it is to do with having been raised in an urban setting. Though I feel happy here I shall never feel that I belong. I am tolerated and humoured by the people I meet locally. They are too polite to tell me I am not one of them, but I know it.

Speaking of belonging, I have just finished reading an excellent short novel which has that as one of its themes. "A Month in the Country" by J.L. Carr. I think it spoke more clearly to me living here than it would have done had I been still living in London or, God forbid, Paris. It is a remembrance by a man named Birkin of a golden summer when he was a young man, not long back from the horrors of the War. He is a restorer of wall paintings in old churches and is commissioned to a job in Yorkshire. There he meets another ex-soldier, lives in the belfry of the church, becomes involved in aspects of local life, and falls in love with the vicar's wife. All in the space of a few weeks of summer. Carr draws his characters for us sparely but sufficiently. We can feel Birkin coming alive again before our eyes. It is a portrait of an ideal, imaginary, England such as we would like to believe in, inhabited by decent people, a place of hope and comfort. Hopelessly nostalgic of course but none the worse for that; I was happily absorbed by it. Only a novella really though presented as a novel in the edition I read which was additionally beautifully illustrated (engravings) by Ian Stephens. A pleasure to read and to look at.

Friday, 19 March 2021

Two bibliophiles

Friday, March 24th., Hotel Majestic, Paris.

This is an excellent hotel, but not the one I would have chosen. It is all we could get. Rosenbach and I have a terrific apartment here: Drawing-room, two bedrooms and two bathrooms for £3.10/- a day. You wouldn't get it in London for twice that. But I shall leave it because the Champs Elysee is such a hades of a length.

We had an excellent journey here, no problem with the crossing. Rosenbach is one of those exhaustless persons. He would go to a music-hall last night  because of the row going on here about nude women on the stage. There is danger of them being forbidden so we had to see them before they were. Well, we saw them all right! Some with a frail girdle, some with nothing whatever. Then he wanted to go forth for 'supper', but I dissuaded him and got him back here by 12.30, and this morning he thanked me heartily for that. Who would have thought that a bibliophile would turn out to be such a lively character? We first met in the U.S.A. in 1911 and at that time he seemed to me to be a typical Jewish intellectual, or at least my stereotype of one. He is known in London as "The Terror of the Auction Rooms", and here as "The Napoleon of Books". Knowing this I suppose I should have guessed that his character would be rather larger than life.

What to make of the nude revues now that I have seen one for myself? What they are not is titillating. They aim I think to be artistic, and perhaps they are, but it is indubitably the nudity that is the attraction. They undoubtedly objectify women and that must be a bad thing. Of course that is what men have always done. Many of the great masters of painting, Titian as an example, did the same thing. Where lies the difference? I did feel uncomfortable, as a man, staring at naked women on stage. I won't be going again.

Rosenbach tells me that he is hopeful of purchasing the manuscript of "Ulysses"  from Joyce. He is confident that it will increase in value, and he certainly seems to be reliable in his judgement as far as books are concerned. For him, it seems to me, the two aspects of books are more clearly defined than for anyone else I have met. He is a man who understands and appreciates literature, but he also acknowledges books as objects, unsentimentally. I think it ironic that there is apparently more money to be made trading in books, if you know what you are doing, than in writing them.