Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Sheltering Sky

Today is the centenary of the birth of Paul Bowles, author of The Sheltering Sky, and lover of Morocco where he lived most of his life. He was not a natural diarist, far from it in fact, but towards the end of his life he was persuaded to keep a journal for a year or so by a publisher friend. At the time, Bowles made no pretence that his life or the diary was of the slightest interest - ‘Very little to write about’ he reports to his journal regularly - nevertheless he was a literary figure, and in demand, not least by the Italian film director, Bernardo Bertolucci, who was making a film of The Sheltering Sky.

Bowles was born in New York City on 30 December 1910. He began writing short stories and composing music as a child. Although he enrolled at the University of Virginia he did not stay, preferring to travel to Paris where he met Gertrude Stein. He returned to Virginia in 1930 but, before long, had opted to go back to Europe, first to Berlin to study music with Aaron Copland, and then to Paris again.

For a decade or so, from 1937, Bowles settled in New York where he became a well-known composer writing music for plays (such as South Pacific) and ballets (such as Yankee Clipper). He also wrote a large variety of travel books, worked as a music critic for the New York Herald Tribune, and prepared translations from French and Spanish. In 1938, he married Jane Auer, another writer, though their relationship was unconventional since they both pursued intimate friendships with members of their own sex.

In 1947, Bowles moved to live permanently in Tangier (Auer joined him in 1948) where he wrote his first novel, The Sheltering Sky. This proved to be a best-seller, and remains a classic today. Several other novels and short story collections followed, and, although he focused on writing, he did also continue some composing. In the 1950s, Bowles began translating Moroccan literature into English. In 1970, he founded the Tangier literary magazine Antaeus with Daniel Halpern (who was also forming the independent publishing company Ecco Press). Later Antaeus was based in New York, and it lasted until 1994.

After the death of his wife in Spain in 1973, Bowles spent the rest of his life in Tangier, something of a celebrity writer, regularly receiving visitors, and giving interviews. In 1990, he made a cameo appearance at the beginning and end of the movie made by Bernardo Bertolucci of The Sheltering Sky. He died in 1999. Wikipedia has a lot more biographical information as does ‘The Authorised Paul Bowles Web Site’ and various obituaries (The New York Times, The Guardian.)

Bowles was not a diarist, not at all, but in the late 1980s, Halpern, his friend and collaborator on Antaeus, persuaded him to keep a journal for a year or so. It was published by Ecco Press in 1991 as Days - Tangier Journal 1987-1989. Here is part of the preface by Bowles explaining why he decided to keep a diary.

‘Three years ago Daniel Halpern wrote me asking if I kept a diary. I replied that I did not and never had, not seeing any reason for engaging in such an activity. He wrote again, suggesting that I start one immediately, since he would like to include whatever resulted in an issue of Antaeus to be devoted to diaries, journals, and notebooks. I told him that I thought the result would be devoid of interest, since I would have nothing to report. All he wanted, he responded, was a record of daily life in today’s Tangier. I agreed to try and did what I could with the project, although I was not very faithful, often allowing two weeks or more to elapse without writing anything. What went on during the periods of silence I have no idea, but doubtless the unrecorded days were even more humdrum than the others. I suppose the point of publishing such a document is to demonstrate the way in which the hours of a day can as satisfactorily be filled with trivia as with important events.’

And here are three extracts from the slim book.

20 June 1988
‘Very little to write about. I’ve been receiving clippings in various languages, all of them announcing Bertolucci’s intention of filming The Sheltering Sky. But in the cinema world any statement can be construed as propaganda, so I still have no idea as to whether or not he’ll make the movie. People find it hard to believe that Helen Strauss included no time-limit clause in the contract when she sold the film rights back in the fifties. So if Bertolucci has acquired them, I don’t know from whom.’

24 June 1989
‘Last night Bertolucci sent a car for me, to take me to the Minzah for dinner. At the beginning of the meal he said: “At last, it’s happening.” “Yes. For two years I’ve been wondering whether it would,” I told him. Everyone connected with the making of the film was there, including the producer, whom I’d met a few years ago. . . A very noisy floor show was going on for the benefit of a huge group of shrieking tourists. Bertolucci brought up the subject of music . . . I suspect he’d like electronic material rather than symphonic. Much easier, much cheaper . . . Scarfiotti had mentioned that he’d like to use Agadez as the setting for the final city in the south. I hope this can be managed, and that they don’t try to shoot everything in Morocco. I can appreciate their not wanting to get involved with the Algerians, but Morocco is no substitute for Algeria or Niger.’

27 August 1989
‘Bertolucci now thinks I should appear in certain scenes of the film. I don’t understand exactly why, and therefore suspect this to be a whim which he’ll possibly be thinking better of sooner or later.’

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Inescapable metaphysic

José Lezama Lima, one of Cuba’s most celebrated literary figures of the 20th century, was born one hundred years ago today. To mark the centenary, a new edition of his diaries, first published in 1994, have been issued. A review on the Cuba Now website claims that Lezama’s inescapable metaphysic sprouts in every line of the diaries.

Lezama was born on 19 December 1910 in a military encampment, near Havana, where his father was a colonel. He studied law, and practised for a while, but was mostly interested in writing. His first significant poem Muerte de Narciso (Death of Narcissus) was published in 1937, and stunned the literary establishment in Havana because of its erudition on mythology and its linguistic exuberance.

Firmly settled in the Cuban capital (he only made two short trips abroad in his lifetime) Lezama led a new generation of avante garde writers. He published several collections of poetry and essays, and launched and ran various literary journals. It was not until 1966, though, that he published the novel, Paradiso, which brought him international fame and acclaim.

The glbtq website says this of the book: ‘Paradiso - a vast creative space that combines autobiography, fiction, and poetry in an endless proliferation of language - does not examine the specificity of homosexual desire, but rather homosexuality as part of an aesthetic view of existence. Lezama’s novel is a work of pure aestheticism in which the richness of language is the true protagonist.’

At home, however, the book encountered numerous obstacles before being published in a limited edition. This was partly because of its failure to back the Cuban revolution, and partly because of the homosexual content. It is a measure of Lezama’s literary importance, glbtq says, that Castro’s regime, relatively new at the time and opposed to homosexuality, ever allowed Paradiso to be published at all. Lezama died in 1976. There is a little more biographical information available at the glbtq website, and at Wikipedia. Cuba Literaria, though, has a comprehensive website, all in Spanish, with lots of information and many pictures (photos and cartoons).

A first edition of Lezama’s brief diaries - Diarios: José Lezama Lima - was compiled and edited by Lezama’s friend, the journalist Ciro Bianchi, and published in 1994 by Ediciones Era. A second edition has now been published by Ediciones Union to commemorate Lezama’s centenary year. To present the new edition, a ceremony was held earlier this year at the Pabellón Cuba, one of Havana’s main exhibition centres, with Bianchi, the poet César López, and Abel Prieto, the minister of Culture. See Diario de la Juventud Cubana or Agencia Cubana de Noticias for brief articles on the event.

There is very little information - at least in English - about Lezama’s diaries on the internet. The Cuba Now website notes that the diary manuscripts cover only a period from October 1939 to July 1949, with a few extra jottings from 1957-1958. It says: ‘Lezama’s ineludible metaphysic, a result of his encyclopedic knowledge and deep Cuban roots, sprouts in every line’ of the diaries. (By ‘ineludible’, which is a Spanish word, I presume the writer meant to say in English ‘inescapable’.)

Those who take a look at the journals hoping to drink from the intimacy of the writer, the review goes on to say (also rather confusingly), ‘might not have all of their expectations met since the diaries are only open to personal confessions’. However, the diaries ‘treasure thoughts that could have become poems, chronicles or seeds of an essay’. One writer has said the diaries ‘are not actually less of a fiction than his fictions.’ The review concludes: ‘[The diaries] are a tool for those looking to decode the magnitude of this disdainful, ironic, passionate man who handled indifference with total dignity and fame with total indifference.’

Postcript: Another towering figure in Cuban literature, José Martí, kept a diary only in the last year of his life - the so-called War Diaries - which was published in English in José Martí: selected writings (Penguin 2002). Much of this book can be viewed on Googlebooks. Jose Lezamo Lima considered Martí’s War Diaries as ‘the greatest poem ever written by a Cuban’.

Diary briefs

Feud over Chiang Kai-shek diaries - The China Post, Taiwan Today

Excerpts from the diaries of a Mormon apostle - Signature Books

Diaries are a rare occurrence in Sri Lanka - Thuppahi’s Blog

Raja’s diaries uncovered in Indian telecoms corruption case - IBNLIve.com

The diary of Mary Swasey Evans - The Argus Observer

The diary of Betty Herndon Maury - Fredericksburg.com, The House of Caroline Street

Online exhibition of William Steinway’s diary - National Museum of American History

Chinese official who kept sex diary jailed (see . . . and 50,000 yuan) - The Telegraph, China Daily

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pinch their thighs

‘My faith, it it’s coquetry, I’m caught, if you can call it being caught to experience keen pleasure.’ This is the great womaniser and early French realist writer Stendhal confiding to his diary exactly 200 years ago today. According to Robert Sage, the editor and translator of his journals, Stendhal was an egotist with ‘a positive mania’ for recording his life and thoughts, for ‘putting black on white’.

Marie-Henri Beyle was born in Grenoble in 1783 but his mother died when he was only seven, and he disliked his father and his home life. He left at 16 for Paris where, in 1800, through the influence of a relative, he travelled to Italy and signed up with Napoleon’s army, and took part in the Italian Campaign. Within a couple of years, though, he was back in Paris determined to become a writer, and a playwright in particular. In 1806, when his father had stopped his allowance and a love affair with an actress had failed, he was again helped, by his influential relative, to a position in Napoleon’s administration. During the next few years, he travelled extensively in Germany, and was part of Napoleon’s 1812 campaign into Russia.

After Napoleon’s defeat, Beyle went to Milan where he met Byron among others, and published books on travel and painting, using the pen-name Stendhal, as well as biographies of Napoleon and Rossini. He was an inveterate womaniser, anxious to make sexual conquests and falling in love regularly; he was also considered something of a dandy. In 1820-1821, with prominent liberals being arrested, and suspicions that he was a French spy, Stendhal returned to Paris. The following year, he published his innovative psychological analysis of love, De L’Amour (On Love); but in 1827, critics panned his first novel Armance.

After the accession of King Louis-Philippe, Stendhal was appointed a consul in Trieste, but the Austrians refused to accept him, and he went to a lesser post at Cività Vecchia in the Papal States. In 1830 he published Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black), and then, after a sojourn in Paris and some travelling in France, La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma). Both novels are considered among the earliest and foremost works of literary realism. He died in 1842. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, Kirjasto, the International Napoleonic Society, and J J Haldane’s website Stendhal Forever.

Stendhal kept a private journal for much of his life. A selection of diary entries first appeared in French in 1888 as Journal de Stendhal, with further entries emerging in 1911. The full texts, edited and annotated by Henry Debraye and Louis Royer, were published in five volumes between 1923 and 1934. Then, in 1937, Henri Martineau published a further five volume edition of the complete text - taking up nearly two thousand pages. The diaries first appeared in English in 1954, thanks to Doubleday in New York - The Private Diaries of Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle) - edited and translated by Robert Sage. A Victor Gollancz edition came out in London the following year.

In his introduction, Sage says: ‘[Beyle] had a positive mania for “putting black on white”: thinking and writing were almost synonymous. Immediately a thought came to his mind, the impulse was to jot it down somewhere, anywhere, on the margin of a book or manuscript if one were within reach, in the dust on the furniture if it were not; there were even occasions when he scratched notes on his bedroom slippers, his suspenders, or across the crystal of his watch. Throughout his youth the diaries served as the principal recipient for this torrent of egotism. Everything went into them: the most intimate details of his love affairs; his impressions - largely unfavourable - of plays, books, and his fellow men; his own rare triumphs and frequent blunders; his experiences in the army, as a functionary and dandy of the Empire; . . . his medical prescriptions and his amatory theories; his dreams and disgusts; his reflections on the manners and morals of his century; his everlasting pursuit of elusive womanhood; his extravagant ambitions and his humiliating setbacks - all the thousand and one things that held his attention a minute or a decade during the period when his destiny, like that of France, was linked to the fortunes of Napoleon.’

And here are two extracts from The Private Diaries of Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle).

13 December 1810
‘Outside the D of R (whom I sleep with once a week), I’m as chaste as the devil. As the result, I’m getting fatter. It seems to me that since I’ve been an Auditor I’ve forgotten my amorous disposition. Possibly it feeds the fire in my head. I believe I could easily lose the habit of women. I lack almost entirely the talent of possessing common women, otherwise I’d have struck up a conversation a hundred times with Mme Boucher (I believe), of the Buffa, and at the end of six days I’d have had her.

Yesterday, I wrote to the little Bereyter. I had some fun Tuesday with Amélie and Mimi. “You are very agreeable, I take great pleasure in seeing you.” The next thing is to pinch their thighs and be capable of giving myself up to all possible gaiety. I sang aloud a superb song, for I composed the words and music as I went along. . .

I wrote some letters to the terrible Probus, but I never speak to him and hardly ever see him. I haven’t spoken to him about business in his office since the day he railed at me a bit after a three-hour conference with M Six and M Costaz. The latter is a model of self-importance. That’s the only way to hold your own with a man of Probus’s kind, and all the mighty ones are somewhat alike in that respect. It makes me indignant to be obliged to put on the soporific mask of the most kill-joy silliness in order to succeed with the bores in power.’

18 December 1810
‘My faith, it it’s coquetry, I’m caught, if you can call it being caught to experience keen pleasure.

There were fifteen or twenty people present, they were about to start some games; she was beside the fireplace, two women kept me from approaching her. She came over to me with that decision given by a keen desire to which one yields, in order to come over to me she took four or five steps, and stopped to speak to me in the middle of the salon. I’m not very sure what she said to me, I didn’t pay much attention to it; in this salon I was like a prince who is vain and who finds himself among people to whom his ribbons, his orders and all his dignitaries are invisible. I happened to be near the sofa to the right of the door, I was playing with the children to give myself countenance. She suddenly came over, seated herself beside me and said: “Mama told me to ask you if it’s true that the louis is going to be demonetized the first of January etc. . .” (not altogether said in those terms).

I replied, and at once the conversation turned to what interested us. Her face, on which the expression of feeling is extremely rare, had such a look of loving me, and her eyes regarded me with so much happiness that I restrained myself just as I was about to take her hand. We happened to change places a moment later, and, while seated, she spoke to three ladies who were standing up, I at her side. A man was mentioned, and she asked, “Is he young? Is he amiable? Does he look intelligent?” with the liveliest and warmest expression of happy love. She congratulated herself on her choice and took pleasure in praising, in his presence, the lover to whom hasn’t yet confessed her love, and, as she talked, in urging him to be aggressive. Her face was animated and full of passion. Her soul seemed to be stirred. If, during the past year, she’d had a quarter of this expression in one of our languishing tete-a-tete, it would at once have become delightful. I looked at her fondly, and her soul being stirred, she must have read in mine.

Surely it was the fredetto that was beginning to take effect. Every time she told me that she’d be home she added a phrase begging me to come to see her.

In all the time I’ve known her, this was the day when I saw the most ardent expression of love in her. Things had reached a point where all would have been over at once if we’d been alone.’

Friday, December 17, 2010

Live only in your art

Beethoven, possibly the world’s greatest composer, was baptised - his birth date being unknown - 240 years ago today. Although not a diarist of significance, he did leave behind some diary fragments from a Tagebuch or day book he started around 1813. The very first entry refers, enigmatically, to someone called A, possibly his ‘Immortal Beloved’. Otherwise, though, his diary jottings seem mostly religious/metaphysical.

Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, during the last weeks of 1770. Although the exact date of his birth is not known, records do show that he was baptised on 17 December. His father, a musician at the electoral court, taught him at home, but he also received instruction from, and was employed by, Christian Gottlob Neefe, a composer and conductor. For a while after his mother died, when he was 17, Beethoven supported his brothers since his father by this time was an alcoholic. In 1792, he moved to Vienna where he studied with Joseph Haydn and others, and where he established a reputation, first as a piano player, and then as a composer.

Unlike other musicians who relied on the church or the royal court for an income, Beethoven pursued an independent path, making a living through public performances, sales of his music, and grants from patrons. Nevertheless, he often had financial problems. He was also often beset with emotional difficulties - such as when Antoine Brentano, possibly she who Beethoven referred to as ‘Immortal Beloved’ in letters, broke up with him. During the so-called early period, he composed his first and second symphonies, his first two piano concertos, as well as string quarters and piano sonatas, including the famous Pathétique.

During a middle period, when he began to go deaf, Beethoven composed heroic works, not least six symphonies and his last three piano concertos. Beethoven’s ninth symphony and his last string quartets and piano sonatas were written in the so-called later period, which lasted from 1816 to 1826. He died in 1827. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, William Lane’s website Lucare, and the websites of Deutsche Welle and the Raptus Association.

Beethoven was not a committed diarist, and there are only fragments included in Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations first published in English in 1951 by Thames and Hudson (edited and translated by Michael Hamburger). There are very few extracts from these fragments available on the internet (see The Diary Junction for links), but William Kinderman refers to them in his biography, Beethoven, published by Oxford University Press in 1997, and much of this is available to view on Googlebooks. Here are three paragraphs from Kinderman’s book.

‘In 1813 [Beethoven] experienced a creative impasse that was undoubtedly linked to his personal life. He produced virtually nothing of artistic importance during that year. There is evidence, moreover, that his life was in disarray during the aftermath of the ‘Immortal Beloved’ affair. At about this time he began a Tagebuch, or personal diary, that he kept for six years, until 1818. An excerpt from the very first entry reads as follows: You may not be a human being, not for yourself, but only for others, for you there is no more happiness except within yourself, in your art. O God! give me strength to conquer myself, nothing at all must fetter me to life. Thus everything connected with A will to go destruction.

A may refer to Antonie Brentano, from whom Beethoven was presumably attempting to disengage himself. Several other entries in his diary document Beethoven’s intention to embrace art while rejecting ‘life’, reflecting a disposition akin to Arthur Schopenhauer’s ‘negation of the will to life’ . . . Beethoven writes in an 1814 entry in the Tagebuch that ‘Everything that is called life should be sacrificed to the sublime and be a sanctuary of art’. Another, later inscription reads, ‘Live only in your art, for you are so limited by your senses. This is therefore the only existence for you’.

[Some] have suggested that Beethoven visited prostitutes around this time . . . That Beethoven would have felt guilt about such encounters may be surmised from entries in his Tagebuch like the following . . : ‘Sensual gratification without a spiritual union is and remains bestial, afterwards one has no trace of noble feeling but rather remorse.’ ’

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A lover without joy

Benjamin Constant, one of France’s most important Napoleon-era political thinkers, died 180 years ago today. He is mostly remembered today, at least in the English-speaking world, for his novel, Adolphe, considered a French classic. His diaries were not published until more than 50 years after his death and caused a ‘great stir’ among writers of the day. Paul Bourget, for example, wrote of Constant revealing himself in his diary as a ‘passionate being with no hope’, a ‘lover without joy’.

Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1767, to descendants of Huguenots who had fled France in the early 16th century. His father was a Swiss officer in the Dutch service. Constant was educated by private tutors and then studied at universities in Erlangen, Oxford and Edinburgh. He was chamberlain to the Duke of Brunswick for several years, and married Baroness Chramm, a lady of the court, in 1787. But five years later, he abandoned his office and his wife in favour of the French Revolution and Anne Louise Germaine de Staël with whom he had an extraordinary relationship, both intellectual and passionate, for over a decade.

After the coup in 1799 that effectively made Napoleon ruler of France, Constant was nominated a member of the tribunate, but was expelled in 1802 and went into exile, mostly in Weimar and Geneva, where he continued to consort with de Staël, though the two split in 1806. Two years later, he secretly married Charlotte von Hardenberg. In the mid-1810s, Constant published an important work criticising the Napoleonic regime, De l’esprit de conquête et l’usurpation (On the spirit of conquest and on usurpation).

In 1816, shortly after his return to Paris, Constant published his only novel, Adolphe, now considered a French classic. It tells the story of an illicit relationship, one in which the lovers are isolated from friends and society. The novel is considered a barely disguised account of his relationship and break-up with de Staël - although this was denied by Constant. Thereafter, Constant was active in French politics, sitting in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower legislative house of the Restoration-era government. Said to have been one of its most eloquent orators, he was also a leader of a liberal group. In the 1820s, he published De la religion, a five-volume history of ancient religion. He died in Paris on 8 December 1830. There is a paucity of biographical information about Constant on the internet in English, but try a Google-translated version of Wikipedia’s French page, or of some pages at the Institut Benjamin Constant.

Constant certainly kept a diary, a part of which was first published in 1895 as Journal Intime. Renee Winegarten, a literary critic and author, who recently brought out Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant: A Dual Biography (published by Yale University Press) says of her sources: ‘Particularly invaluable is Benjamin’s private diary, which caused a great stir among leading writers when it was first published toward the end of the nineteenth century, for this is one of the most penetrating documents ever penned by a man who was fascinated by himself and his innermost being, and who noted down every passing thought and feeling, no matter how fleeting or contradictory it might be.’ Indeed, she refers to Constant’s diary throughout her book - a few pages of which can be viewed at Amazon.

There are few other references to Constant’s diary, unfortunately, anywhere on the internet. One short extract can be found here: ‘Goethe: Difficulty of all conversation with him. What a pity that he has been caught up in the mystic philosophy of Germany. He confessed to me that the basis of this philosophy was Spinozism. Great idea that the mystic followers of Schelling have of Spinoza, but why try to bring in religious ideas and what is worse, Catholicism? They say that Catholicism is more poetical. “I would rather have Catholicism do evil,” says Goethe, “than be prevented from using it to make my plays more interesting.” ’

And thanks to the New England Review one can read online an analysis by the French novelist and critic, Paul Bourget, of Adolphe and Journal Intime written in 1899.

‘Since the publication of Benjamin Constant’s Journal Intime and his Lettres à sa famille we have known that the magic of the novel resides first and foremost in its being the most unusual and the most courageous of self-portraits. He is at one and the same time so sensitive that he cannot bear his mistress’s suffering, so anxious that he cannot trust her love, so selfish that he cannot conceal from her his most transient moods, so lucid that he cannot overlook a single one of his personal failings. This simultaneously superior and maimed creature, in whom the most appalling indecisiveness combines with the most mature self-knowledge, and who seems to have retained of sensitivity all that tortures while losing everything that is appealing, this arrogant young man with no illusions, this passionate being with no hope, this lover without joy, is Constant himself, as his diary and letters reveal him. There is not a sentence in his book that does not reveal a secret wound in his soul, one of the most tormented of our time. He pushed the candor of his confession so far as to deny his Adolphe every excuse that circumstances afford our worst failings, and sought the explanation for his sorry hero’s actions solely in a character that is none other than his own.’

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sat the old Duchess

‘We were ushered into the dirtiest room I ever beheld, empty, and devoid of comfort. A few filthy lamps, stood on a sideboard - common chairs were placed around very dingy walls - and in the middle of this empty space, sat the old Duchess, a melancholy specimen of decayed royalty.’ So wrote Lady Charlotte Campbell (later Bury) exactly 200 years ago in the very first entry of a private diary which would become famous some 30 years later. Charlotte had just begun working for the Princess of Wales, also known as the Duchess of Brunswick, and the diary is full of intimate - and not always flattering details - about her and royal society.

Charlotte, born in 1775, was the daughter of Elizabeth Gunning Campbell, Duchess of Hamilton, and the 5th Duke of Argyll. As a young lady in society, she was considered both beautiful and charming. In 1796, she married her distant cousin Colonel John Campbell with whom she had nine children - although only two survived her. On becoming a widow (Campbell died in 1809), she was made lady-in-waiting in the household of George IV’s wife, otherwise known as the Princess of Wales, Duchess of Brunswick, and afterwards Queen Caroline.

Subsequently, Charlotte married Rev Edward Bury, and wrote a number of novels - such as Flirtation and The Divorced. She died in Chelsea in 1861. A little further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, and some links can be found at The Diary Junction.

Lady Bury is remembered today largely because of a diary she kept while working for the Princess of Wales, and which first appeared in two volumes in 1838 as Diary Illustrative of the Times of George IV. It was published anonymously by Henry Colburn in London, and Charlotte herself never admitted she was the author. Various magazines of the day, though, argued that given the intimate details depicted, the author could only be Lady Charlotte. The book proved very popular, and further editions followed. The full texts of the 1838 and other versions are available at Internet Archive.

The book begins with no other introduction or preface than a first paragraph entitled ‘Advertisement’: The authenticity of the following Diary and Letters is too apparent to be questioned. The reader, however, cannot fail to notice certain discrepancies which occur in the work, and more particularly in the earlier portions of it, by which it would appear to have been the intention of the editor who first undertook to prepare it for the press, to disguise - by assuming the masculine style in the Journal, and substituting the feigned for the real sex of the personage addressed in the Letters - the evident fact of the former having been written by a female, and of the latter being communications to one of the same sex. The reader, by being made aware of this circumstance, will be the less surprised at the other discrepancies which occur, with regard to dates; some of the Letters being brought i at periods quite at variance with the dates of the Journal.’

The author herself begins: ‘Courts are strange, mysterious places; those who pretend most to despise them covet being within their precincts - those who once obtain an entrance there generally lament their fate, and yet, somehow or other, they cannot break their chains. I believe, nevertheless, that it is all one whether these circles of society, which stand apart from the rest of the world, exist under one form of government, or under another; whether under Emperors, Kings, Protectors or Consuls; they may vary as to modes and designations, but courts are courts still, from the earliest times even to these days. Intrigues, jealousies, heart-burnings, lies, dissimulation, thrive in them as mushrooms in a hot-bed. Notwithstanding, they are necessary evils, and they afford a great school both for the heart and head. It is utterly impossible, so long as the world exists, that similar societies should not exist also; and one may as well declaim against every other defect attendant upon humanity, and endeavour to extirpate crime from the world, as pretend to put down courts and their concomitant evils.’

December 1810
‘Lady M_ C_ called upon me by appointment; we went together to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of B_k. She thought more of me than she had ever done before, because I was on the road to royal favour, she herself being in her own estimation an engrafted sprig of royalty. We rumbled in her old tub all the way to New-street, Spring Gardens, much to the discomfiture of my bones; for if ever the vehicle had springs, time had stiffened their joints as completely as it has done those of its soi-disant royal mistress. Lady M_ C_ was grandly gracious, and gave me dissertations on etiquette, such as it existed in her young days, till we reached our destination. We were ushered into the dirtiest room I ever beheld, empty, and devoid of comfort. A few filthy lamps, stood on a sideboard - common chairs were placed around very dingy walls - and in the middle of this empty space, sat the old Duchess, a melancholy specimen of decayed royalty. There is much goodness in her countenance, and a candour and sincerity in her manner, and even in her abrupt and rough conversation, which is invaluable in a person of her rank, whose life must necessarily have been passed in the society of those whose very essence is deceit. Her former friendship, for friends very dear to me, of whom she spoke in terms of respect and love, gave an interest to the visit which it could not otherwise have had. I sat, therefore, patiently listening to Lady M_ C_ and Her Royal Highness, who talked of lords and ladies of the last century, and wondered at those of the present, and passed trippingly over the peccadillos of their own contemporaries, to vent all their moral indignation upon those of mine.

Old Mr L_ne was announced: poor man, what did he get by his attendance on royalty? the ill will of all parties. He knows many things which, if told, would set London on fire. Soon after his entrance, Lady M_ C_ arose, and, kicking her train behind her, backed out of the room in capital style. How the heart dilates or closes in the presence of different persons! It must surely be very unwholesome to be with those in whose society the latter is the case.

Went to Kensington - a great ball - every body of the highest fashion - Dukes of Portland and Beaufort, Earl Harrowby, &c. &c. As I always wished the royal hostess well, I was glad to observe that the company then frequenting the palace were of the best. I sat down by some old friends, and felt that to be near them was a comfort, surrounded as I was by persons for whom I cared not, and who cared not for me; but the Princess beckoned to me, and taking my arm, leant upon it, parading me around the apartments. The inner room was set out with refreshments, and a profusion of gold plate - which, by the way, in after times I never saw: was it taken away, or was it otherwise disposed of? I know not. Sofas were placed around the tables, and the whole thing was well managed.

Her Royal Highness wished the company to come into this banquetting room; but, either out of respect, and not knowing whether they ought to do so or not, or because they preferred the outer room, no one would come in, except Lady O_d, Lord H Fitzgerald, and Lord G_r, who was forcibly seized upon by Lady _d. Altogether, in my quality of looker-on, I could not but think that lady was no honour to society; and it was only surprising to remark in her instance, as well as in that of many others, how well impudence succeeds, even with the mild and the noble, who are often subdued by its arrogant assumption of command.

The Princess complained of the weight of some jewels she wore in her head, and said they gave her the head-ache; then turning to a person who was evidently a favourite, asked, “May I not take them off now that the first parade is over?” He replied in his own doucereux voice, “Your Royal Highness is the best judge; but, now that you have shown off the magnificence of the ornament, I think it would be cruel that you should condemn yourself to suffer by wearing it longer. In my opinion you will be just as handsome wiliiout it.”

I was convinced from the manner in which these words were spoken, that that man loved her. Poor soul! of all those on whom she conferred benefits, I think he was the only man or woman who could be said to have loved her, - and he ought not to have done so.

I dined again at Kensington. There were assembled a company of the very first persons of the realm. I was glad to see that what had been told me of low company, was not true.’

9 December 1810
‘This day, I found Her Royal Highness sitting for her picture. She received me with her usual graciousness of manner, and desired me to “come and sit,” - her phrase for feeling comfortable and at one’s ease. She informed me that Mr S_, the painter, engaged upon the picture, was only altering the costume of a portrait taken many years back, which she said was by no means doing his talent justice. Certainly the picture was frightful, and I have often regretted that I never saw a tolerable likeness painted of her. Although during the last years of her life she was bloated and disfigured by sorrow, and by the life she led, the Princess was in her early youth a pretty woman; fine light hair - very delicately formed features, and a fine complexion - quick, glancing, penetrating eyes, long cut, and rather sunk in the head, which gave them much expression - and a remarkably delicately formed mouth; but her head was always too large for her body, and her neck too short; and latterly, her whole figure was like a ball, and her countenance became hardened, and an expression of defiance and boldness took possession of it, that was very unpleasant. Nevertheless, when she chose to assume it, she had a very noble air, and I have seen her on more than one occasion, put on a dignified carriage, which became her much more than the affectation of girlishness which she generally preferred.’