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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Contrasts

 The hypnotized audience, crowded tier above tier of the dark theatre, held itself strained and intent in its anxiety not to miss one gyration, one least movement, of the great dancer [Adeline Genée] – that dancer who had enslaved not only New York and St Petersburg but Paris itself. Swaying incorporeal, as it were within a fluent dazzling envelope of endless drapery, she revealed to them new and disturbing visions of beauty in the union of colour and motion. She hid herself in a labyrinth  of curves which was also a tremor of strange tints, a tantalising veil, a mist of iridescent light. Gradually her form emerged from this riddle, triumphant, provocative, and for an instant she rested like an incredible living jewel in the deep gloom of the stage. Then she was blotted out, and the defeated eye sought in vain to penetrate the blackness where but now she had been . . .
It was a marvellous and enchanting performance. Even the glare of the electric clusters and the gross plush of the descending curtain could not rob us all at once of far-off immaterial things which it had evoked in our hearts. We applauded with fury, with frenzy; we besieged the floor with sticks and heels, and clapped till our arms ached. . . . At length she came before the footlights and bowed and smiled and kissed her hand. We could see she was a woman of 30 or more, rather short, not  beautiful. But what dominion in the face, what assurance of supreme power! It was the face of one surfeited with adoration, cloyed with praise.
   While she was humouring us  with her fatigued imperial smiles, I happened to look at a glazed door separating the auditorium from the corridor. There, pressed against the glass, was another face, the face of a barmaid, who, drawn from her counter by the rumour of this wonderful novelty, had crept down to get a glimpse of the star’s triumph.
   Of course I was struck by the obvious contrast between these two creatures. In a moment the barmaid had departed, but the wistfulness of her gaze remained to me as I listened to legends of the dancer -  her whims, her diamonds, her extravagances, her tyrannies, her wealth. I could not withhold from it my sentimental pity.
   Later I went up into the immense gold refectory. Entrenched behind a magnificent counter of carved cedar flanked on either side by mirrors and the neat apparatus of bottles and bonbons, the barmaid stood negligently at ease, her cheek resting in the palm of one small hand as she leaned on the counter. I noticed that she had the feeble prettiness, the voluptuous figure, the tight black bodice inexorably demanded of barmaids. In front of her were three rakish youths whom I guessed to be of the fringe of journalism and the stage. They talked low to her as they sipped their liqueurs, frankly admiring, frankly enjoying this brief intimacy. As for her, confident of her charms, she was distantly gracious; she offered a smile with a full sense of its value; she permitted; she endured. These youths were to understand that such adulation was too her an everyday affair.

   In the accustomed exercise of assured power her fare had lost its wistfulness, it was the satiated face of the dancer over again, and so I ventured quietly to withdraw my sentimental pity.
                                                                                 Arnold Bennett's Journal: 19 February 1899

Monday, October 30, 2017

The 'lower middle class'

How rarely does one find people unaffectedly content with themselves and their social status; keeping well within that status; not deigning in any way to ape the attire of a superior class, or to attempt any other similar deception of manner, and yet attaining to dignity! On the bus I met two of these scarce creatures: a rather ugly but pleasant-featured young man of 30, dressed, with a suspicion of carelessness, in roughly-cut clothes of good material; a girl of 24 or 25, with high cheek-bones and a face which, while indicating firmness of character, was eager to smile; she wore a neat green-and-yellow dress, with a low hat to match, plain and well made, but clearing inexpensive. Both belonged to what is called the lower middle class, and both were well-to-do, in what their means were obviously more than sufficient for their needs. They talked with a Northern accent, quietly, confidentially, about domestic affairs, and were certainly in love with each other – probably engaged to be married.

   On neither side was there any affectation of conventional manners, not a trace of that low instinct to pose which one encounters so frequently in public vehicles. They got off without stopping the bus; the man jumped down first, and running along gave his hand to the girl, who sprang lightly forward into the air, and smiled victoriously  to find herself safe on the ground . . . I very nearly said to the conductor, ‘Isn’t that pretty?’
                                                                                  Arnold Bennett's Journal - Friday, Juy 4th, 1896

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Jane Austen and Others

I dipped into Adam Bede, and my impression that George Eliot will never be among the classical writers  was made a certainty. Her style, though not without shrewdness, is too rank to have any enduring vitality. People call it ‘masculine’. Quite wrong! It is downright, aggressive, sometimes rude, but genuinely masculine, never. On the contrary it is transparently feminine – feminine in its lack of restraint, its wordiness, and the utter lack of feeling for form which  characterises it. The average woman italicises freely. George Eliot of course had trained herself too well to do that, at least formally; yet her constant undue insistence springs from the same essential weakness, and amounts practically to the same expedient Emily and Charlotte Brontë  are not guiltless on this count, but they both have a genuine, natural appreciation of the value of words, which George Eliot never had.
   Jane Austen, now, is different. By no chance does she commit the artistic folly of insisting too much. Her style has the beauty and the strength of masculinity and femininity combined and, very nearly, the weakness of neither.

   In May Chapman’s there is a story by Henry James. His mere ingenuity, not only in construction but in expression is becoming tedious, though one  cannot but admire. Also his colossal cautiousness instatement is very trying. If he would only now and then contrive to write a sentence without a qualifying clause!
                                                                                   - Journal of Arnold Bennett, May 13, 1896

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Good Intentions


In the course of conversation today, a man said to me apropos of the question whether he or I was the most energetic: ‘I get up at 6, go out for a walk; breakfast at 8; then an hour’s work, and afterwards to the office; half an hour for lunch . . .’ The detailed programme, made up of alternated work and exercise, stretched out to 11 p.m.
   ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s very good indeed. How long have you been doing that?’
   ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘I’m going to start in the morning!’

   Alcock [a friend] maintained to me at tea that to practice a musical instrument as it should be practised was a fatiguing as creative composition. I deny it.

                                                                                       Journal of Arnold Bennett, May 1, 1896

Friday, October 27, 2017

Portraits and Pictures

This morning (it being the second day of the press view) I spent an hour at the [Royal] Academy. The number of portraits seems to increase year by year. For a man who is engrossed in a single art, this comprehensive selection of portraits of celebrities cannot fail to have a moral value. They remind him that there are several other arts and several hundred other occupations besides his own in which men to genius and men of talent can actually and deeply interest themselves: a fact he is in danger of forgetting. And they do this quite independently of their artistic worth, which in the majority of cases is nearly nil. To study these faces of men and women brings one in contact with activities, ideals, ambitions, of which otherwise one would know little besides the mere names. The attitude of the general public towards a picture – by which they apparently regard it as a story first and a work of art afterwards – is not so indefensible as it seems, or at least not so inexcusable. In the attitude of the perfectly cultured artist himself, there is something of the same feeling – it must be so. Graphic art cannot be totally separated from literary art, nor vice versa. They encroach on each other.

- Journ                                                                                         als of Arnold Bennett, April 30, 1896

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sex in fiction

Talking to Webster about sex in fiction tonight I convinced  him and myself that no serious attempt had yet been made by a man to present essential femininity; also that the chasm between male and female was infinitely wider and deeper than we commonly realized – in fact an absolutely unpracticable chasm.
A woman might draw, and probably has drawn, a woman with justice ad accuracy for her own sex. Buy a woman’s portrait of a woman is not of much  use to a man. Either it is meaningless to him – a hieroglyphic – or it tells him only things which he knew. A woman is too close to woman to observe her with aloofness and yet with perfect insight – as we should do if we had the insight. Observation can only be conducted from the outside. A woman cannot possibly be aware of the things in herself which puzzle us; and our expectations of our difficulties would simply worry her. The two sexes must for ever remain distant, antagonistic, and mutually inexplicable.
                                                                                          Arnold Bennett: Journals - June 9, 1898