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

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Saturday, 24 March 2018

Class distinctions

Friday, March 24th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

London yesterday. Pamela McKenna handed over a book which Birrell had given me in exchange for "The Golden Remains of the Ever Memorable John Hales", which he bought from me about 24 years ago when I was doing a few experiments in book selling - and never paid for.

On Wednesday night a Welsh vet. officer came here to sleep. 60. Very provincial and polite and talkative. All about Lloyd George and North Wales and Stanley Weyman. Just like middle-class provincials in the Potteries, except for the accent. Speaking of billeting in Manningtree, he said that billetees had to cook for soldiers, while not finding the food. "Now, many of them didn't like it," he said with sympathy and conviction, as middle-class speaking of and understanding middle-class. It was absolute Five Towns. No member of upper middle-class would have said it like that. A member of upper middle-class might have laughed, or said it indulgently, or said it comprehendingly, but not with the same unconscious sympathy.

Made me think about what effect this war will have on the class system. As far as I can tell it is still pretty well maintained in the trenches, but surely close proximity and shared hardships and danger must have some effect? And then at home when it is all over. Will the returning 'common' soldiers be content to revert to the situation as before? I doubt it, and in fact hope not. I think we have seen the end of an era.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Purple Cloud

Friday, March 23rd., Cadogan Square, London.

Much kerfuffle about "Punch and Judy". Having written the story, which took some time and for which I was inadequately  recompensed, I am now being asked to provide dialogue for a 'talkie'. Had I known it was to be a 'talkie' I would have approached it differently from the outset. I have asserted, and mean it, that I will not take the task on for less than £2,000. It is in Wicken's hands. I had lunch with Thorpe and Dupont the other day and sensed that they may give way. I hope so. I could do with the money, especially as we are off to Antibes next week for a holiday which is certain to cost a great deal.

THE PURPLE CLOUD | Shiel | First edition, first printingFor light relief yesterday I read a new edition of "The Purple Cloud" by M.P.Shiel. In fact I read the original nearly 30 years ago when it was first published. This new edition has been severely edited which doesn't surprise me. What did surprise me was that the original was allowed to pass - setting aside its general 'blasphemous' character it also included a clear allusion to necrophilia which startled me at the time. How it got past the publisher I don't know! Just to make sure my memory wasn't deceiving me I looked out the original in my library and found the relevant passage: "I have taken a dead girl with wild huggings to my bosom, and I have touched the corrupted lip, and spat upon her face." Seems clear enough to me!

Shiel, M.P. Biography
M P Shiel
What interested me in the original publication was that I had happened to meet Shiel in Paris in 1898. Forget who introduced us. A strongly built, though not tall, man of dark complexion and deep-set eyes. Probably a 'touch of the tarbrush' in his background I should think. An engaging manner. Very talkative and remarkably willing to reveal all sorts of things about himself. To me for example, in the course of conversation, he said that he had been seduced by an older girl at the age of 5 (five!) and had been in the way of regular sexual intercourse with almost any willing young woman or girl ever since. He regarded the sexual act as as natural as breathing and saw no reason to limit his indulgence. I thought he was simply boasting at the time but have since heard that he is a renowned seducer (particularly of girls and young women) and has fathered numerous illegitimate children. A remarkable character! His literary career however has not been a success.

As regards the book, it is the story of the only survivor of a world-catastrophe who travels all over the face of the globe burning cities and generally going insane. Eventually he finds another survivor, of the female sex (a young girl!) and domesticity sets in, not too soon. I read the novel with much admiration 28 years ago and find that it has worn exceedingly well in spite of the editing. The affair is stupendous in conception, and rather more than adequately executed. I call it grandiose, fearsome, and truly distinguished. No doubt Shiel was much influenced by the work of Poe, and I think he may himself have had an influence on the contemporary American 'horror' novelist, H.P.Lovecraft. I don't know that for a fact but the excesses of imagination and wild writing style invite comparison.

Thursday, 22 March 2018


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

Ethel Sands in 1922.jpg
Ethel Sands
At Ethel Sands in Chelsea at tea yesterday - Norman Leslie, brother of Shane, sat next to me on the sofa. The brothers are from a wealthy Anglo-Irish land-owning family, and are first cousins to Winston Churchill. In a sense they are renegade to their class having converted to Roman Catholicism and embraced Irish home rule. Interesting. After a time Leslie said to me, "Are you interested in Russia at all?" After my reply he went on to say that he had been there last autumn, and I must say that he replied very intelligently and carefully to all my questions. But what struck me was the crudity of his gambit. He wanted to talk about Russia. He was full of Russia, and he opened in that way. Not much subtlety for a man with a public school education, Eton at that!

He left and Cynthia Noble took his place. A very fashionable young woman. Apparently she is the great grand-daughter of I.K.Brunel, engineer. She is probably only about 21 or 22, with a perfectly made-up face etc. I almost immediately began with her on my subjects of late hours, drugs (aspirin chiefly), cocktails, liqueurs, and salts; all of which I cursed. I was glad to find that she was prepared to talk about salts. She agreed with me as to cocktails, but not in much else. However what struck me a long time afterwards was that I had opened on my subject just as young Leslie had opened on his. What an old bore I must have seemed to her! I feel embarrassed to think about it.

Speaking of young women, I am trying to get Pauline Smith's short stories published and have written to Jonathan Cape recommending her. I am optimistic, given my personal celebrity, that they will give the go-ahead. Particularly if I offer to write an introduction. Pauline is a gifted writer, and is working on a novel at the moment. Sadly her work is not such as would be likely to catch the attention of publishers in the absence of a sponsor such as myself. She is rather ill at the moment. In fact her health is not good generally. I would like to do something for her.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Trouble and strife

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

Dorothy has had an operation under ether for haemorrhoids and is recovering in bed with a nurse in charge of her. So I had to order meals and struggle with the French cook this morning. I was up early and had a calm pre-prandial two hours, but then a letter from my brother Frank upset me, and by 10.30 I was beginning to get a headache and felt out of sorts. I went out for an idea-finding walk, and got to the South Kensington Museum and sat down in a corner, and immediately four workmen came to disturb me by moving trestles. No sooner had they gone than the ideas came to me in a vague but satisfactory rush; and I walked straight out again and came home. I have been in several times to see Dorothy but didn't stay long.

COACHBUILD.COM - Barker Rolls-Royce 40/50HP Silver Ghost ...I have written 12,000 words in the last twelve days. It seems as if nothing can stop me working at the moment, though I have a lot to think about. Cars for example. To find one we both like and which is suitable for our purpose is very difficult. I liked a Delancey Belleville that we saw, but Dorothy thought it clumsy so we passed it up. We have now settled on a Rolls Royce. It is 6 years old but went through RR works for reconditioning only two months ago and is now in perfect order except the all-weather top which remains to be done. Total price £650. One of the complicating factors is the height of our chauffeur, Atkinson, who is 6 ft. tall. We could have had a nice Fiat cabriolet but there wasn't room for him to drive it!

As for Frank, he has some mad-cap idea of moving to London and taking a practice. It will never work. I shall meet him of course if he comes to look into it, but I won't give him anything which is probably what he hopes for. To be honest I would find it difficult even if I trusted him not to throw the money away. Our household expenses are enormous and yet another source of worry for me. I feel that I have to keep working just to make ends meet. Dorothy is a woman with expensive tastes and very little self-control. Of course I knew that more or less from the beginning of our relationship, but went ahead anyway. What fools we are sometimes! Frank has been deceiving himself, and others for years now. He is alcoholic and no change of location will cure that. The fact is that he will never be able to hold down any sort of responsible job.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

All Russian!

Tuesday, March 20th., Cadogan Square, London.

The twelve finest novels in the world are all Russian!

First, Dostoevsky. Whenever my mind dwells on the greatest achievements in fiction I think, before any other novel, of "The Brothers Karamazov". I implacably affirm that no greater novel has yet been written. It will be written, I doubt not - for I have a dogmatic belief in progress. Further I rate "The Idiot" little lower than "The Brothers". On the same level is "The House of the Dead" which is lovely, and shorter. It is, in my opinion, the most celestial restorative of damaged faith in human nature that any artist ever produced; the most successful and touching demonstration of the truth that man is not altogether vile. Then fourth is "Crime and Punishment" which cannot possibly be omitted from the dozen.

Now Tolstoy. He wrote three terrific novels which must be included: "Anna Karenina", "War and Peace" and "Resurrection". All three took Europe and America by the neck, and they have never in the slightest degree relaxed their hold on the imagination of the Western literary world. You cannot get away from these books! They force themselves instantly into any general discussion of the novel. Everybody who has read them remembers them, and those who haven't read them must pretend to have done so to avoid ignominy.

I have now already mentioned seven books. Exclude any one of them from the twelve and what would you put in its place? Would you dare oust any of them in favour of Dickens, or Austen, or even Hardy?

Then Turgenev. He cannot quite so powerfully move me as Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, but he was certainly a more finished artist than either of them. Everything that he did shows a superb perfection of writing style, even translated into English. What form, what control of the vehicle, what grace, what tenderness! "Virgin Soil", "Fathers and Sons", and "On the Eve" must be included in the dozen. Together they mark an epoch in the sociological development of the novel.

Finally Gogol. He wrote one novel, "Dead Souls". Despite the indignities it has suffered in various translations, and at the hands of misguided individuals who had the impudence to 'finish' it, "Dead Souls" has taken its place in Europe as a comic, ironic masterpiece of the first order. "Dead Souls" is gorgeous reading. It is the greatest lark imaginable, and withal deadly.

That makes twelve.


Monday, 19 March 2018

Military mis-manoeuvres

Sunday, March 19th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

If the standard of military organisation in France is anything like it is here then I don't see how we will ever win this war!

The Ammunition Column received an order to depart on Friday night at 10.30 - to leave on Saturday. The O.C. spent Saturday morning in trying to get the order rescinded, because, he maintained, the Weeley position is too far back for a battery at Frinton, especially with a R.A.M.C. and an A.S.C. in between. He failed. Do senior officers always query their orders I wonder? I'm sure they think they know best, but where does that leave discipline? Anyway, the actual departure, which we witnessed between 5.30 and 6.30 pm., was a striking proof of the vast inferiority of horse and mule traction to motor traction.

One mule wagon had to be unloaded twice as the mules wouldn't or couldn't draw it. General mix-up and dinting of gate posts. Part of confusion may be the fact that the O.C. had lost both his subalterns and had to do everything himself. However he had an excellent sergeant-major, a career soldier of vast experience. Probably, had he been given the whole thing to organise, it would have run like clockwork. On one wagon was perched the O.C.'s servant holding his dog under one arm and a parcel of a large photo under the other. The departure had the air of a circus departure badly managed. Then of course on arrival at Weeley (2 miles) they had to take everything to pieces again.

Meantime new units were coming in, and it was getting dusk, and an officers' mess was being fixed up roughly at Culver House. Obviously a high priority this! The melancholy of evening rain over it all; but at least it was a warm evening. Few drops of rain. Then in darkening village you saw groups of men with piles of kit bags lying in front of them waiting to get, or trying to get, into the Workmen's Club where a lot of them were billeted. I don't imagine they mind any amount of discomfort though when the alternative might be a trench in France.

Lovely night. bright moon. Trot of a horse occasionally 'til late.


Sunday, 18 March 2018

Visiting Brighton

Sunday, March 18th., Cadogan Square, London.

I returned from Brighton yesterday and developed an entirely new kind of neuralgia, the fourth kind since my influenza. I had been down to Brighton to rid myself of the obstinate neuralgic sequelae of a quite mild attack of influenza. Also for the purpose of getting an idea for a short story. Despite entertaining, and being entertained, and free indulgence in the most agreeable and (to me) most pernicious of all alcoholic liquids, champagne, I attained both objectives in three days. At least I thought I had, but the neuralgic 'victory' proved to be more of a 'cease fire'.

Of all the 'circle' in which I move I think I am the only person who likes Brighton, or at least admits to doing so. The sole thing I object to in Brighton is the penny-in-the-slot machines on the piers. Brighton has character, as the man who made its fame had character - but his character was evil. 

Image result for lanes brighton old postcards
The Lanes
I have spent months and months in Brighton and I thought I knew the place, especially the 'Lanes'. But today I found a second-hand bookshop previously unknown to me. I went in there immediately. I have never knowingly walked past a second-hand bookshop! And I discovered some plays of Labiche, an author of whom the bookseller had never heard, so that I got the plays cheap! I bought twelve books for £1 15s. This episode gave me no idea for my short story, but it certainly did something to cure my neuralgia. Doctors still all begin their treatment at the wrong end, dealing first with the body instead of with the mind. It is quite apparent to me that much of my neuralgia, like my speech impediment, has a psychological basis. But that knowledge doesn't make it any less debilitating.

Later I went for a ride along the shore on the Electric Railway. Years ago the proprietor of this railway gave me a season ticket for it because he liked one of my books. An example which might advantageously be followed by the G.W.R., the L.M.S., the L.N.E.R., and other railway systems.

This afternoon a man came by invitation to tea, and brought his niece. I don't know why he brought his niece except for her to have the opportunity to tell her friends that she had met yours truly. I rather object thus to be 'viewed' by strangers. he was witless enough to tell me that I looked tired. I will not be inviting him again.