Monday, January 31, 2022

Tired of the cinema

Derek Jarman, the extraordinarily inventive film-maker, was born 80 years ago today. He was a fervent campaigner for gay rights, but died in his early 50s from an AIDS-related illness. He decamped to a cottage on the shingle flats at Dungeness in the last years of his life, where he found fulfilment in gardening. Here also he kept a diary of autobiographical reflections, often wistful in tone, which illustrate his passion for his garden and the wildlife nearby, and also reveals a jaded relationship with film.

Born near London on 31 January 1942, Jarman spent much his childhood at boarding schools, such as Canford in Dorset, before winning a place at Slade School of Fine Art. However, in deference to the wish of his father, by then a retired RAF officer, he put off his art studies to go to King’s College London, to take a more academic degree, in English, history, and the history of art. Thanks to the influence of Nikolaus Pevsner, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, this left Jarman with an ‘exhaustive and exhausting knowledge of London architecture’. After three years at King’s, he spent four at Slade, where he gravitated towards theatre and film studies.

In the late 1960s, Jarman found himself designing sets for West End operas; but, by 1970, he was working on designs for films, notably Ken Russell’s The Devils. Around this time, though, he acquired a Super-8 camera which allowed him to make his own short films without the restraints of more traditional methods. From the mid-1970s, he found success making full-length, but highly individual films, such as Sebastiane, with its positive take on homosexuality, and Jubilee, sometimes dubbed the first punk film.

In the 1980s, Jarman continued to design for celebrated stage productions, but he also moved into making pop videos for, among others, Marianne Faithfull, Bryan Ferry and the Pet Shop Boys. Through much of the 1980s, Jarman struggled to finance his first conventional 35mm film - Caravaggio. Finally released in 1986, the film brought him his widest audience, partly thanks to the involvement of a television company (Channel 4). That same year, though, he was diagnosed as HIV positive, and, in keeping with his overt homosexuality and his persistent fight for gay rights, he was very open about the condition.

Jarman’s illness led him to move away from London to Prospect Cottage on the shingle flats around Dungeness, in Kent, close by the nuclear power station. Although he continued to work with frequent visits to London, his life at the cottage was dominated by nature more than art, and in particular the development of his garden. One of his last films, Blue, was as alternative or radical as his earliest work - being no more than a single shot of luminous blue with a collaged sound track of original music and Jarman’s thoughts. It was released just months before his death of an AIDS-related illness in 1994. More biographical information about Jarman is available at Senses of Cinema, the British Film Institute, The Independent or The Guardian.

After moving to Prospect Cottage, Jarman began keeping a diary. Extracts from 1989 and 1990 were first published by Century - Modern Nature: The Journals of Derek Jarman - in 1991. A second collection, covering the final years of his life, were edited by Keith Collins and published posthumously in 2000, also by Century, as Smiling in Slow Motion. The Times said the latter was ‘the life-affirming expression of an artist engaged in living to the full’.

The diaries are very readable, full of wistful recollections about his past (his parents and his youthful years in the London arts scene), as well as passion towards the garden he is planting and developing, and the wildlife he finds in the area around his cottage. But here are a couple of extracts in which he shows little enthusiasm for the world that loved him, and also one that is the last entry in Modern Nature.

22 February 1989
‘I’ve grown tired of the cinema, the preserve of ambition and folly in pursuit of illusion, or should I say delusion?

Yesterday I was subjected to a barrage of questions for nearly seven hours without a break, my head spinning like a child’s top. I fled. Back home at the flat at Charing Cross Road another enormous pile of letters blocked the door: Would I write? Judge? Give advice? Approve? Help? The phone rings till I find myself running. What happiness has this cacophony brought? And what have I achieved when Pliny’s miraculous villa can vanish with barely a ripple?’

8 March 1989
‘I have re-discovered my boredom here. The train could carry me to London - the bookshops, tea at Bertaux’, a night in a bar; but I resist.

Film had me by the tail. Once it was naively adventurous - it seemed then there were mountains to climb. So I slogged onwards and upwards, often against a gale, only to arrive exhausted, and find I had climbed a molehill from where I had a view of a few yards, not endless mountain vistas. All around the traps were set. Traps of notoriety and expectation, or collaboration and commerce, of fame and fortune.

But the films unwinding themselves in the dark seemed to bring protection. Then came the media and the intrusion. At first a welcome trickle, something new. Then a raging flood of repetition, endless questions that eroded and submerged my work, and life itself. But now I have re-discovered boredom, where I can fight ‘what next’ with nothing.

You can’t do nothing: accusations of betrayal, no articles or airtime to fill. I had foolishly wished my film to be home, to contain all the intimacies. But in order to do this I had to open to the public. At first a few genuine enthusiasts took up the offer, then coachloads arrived.’

30 March 1989
‘March 30 is my parent’s wedding anniversary, neither of whom were particularly interested in gardening. Though in our family film it might seem otherwise: my mother picking the roses, and dad pushing a large wheelbarrow jauntily along blooming herbaceous borders.

On this day nearly 50 years ago my parents posed for their wedding photo under a daffodil bell hanging in the lych gate of Holy Trinity, Northwood. The photo, with my father in his RAF uniform and my mother holding a bouquet of carnations, her veil caught in the March breeze - captured the imagination of the press. It appeared in national papers - hope at a time of encroaching darkness.

Dungeness has luminous skies: its moods can change like quicksilver. A small cloud here has the effect of a thunderstorm in the city; the days have a drama I could never conjure up on an opera stage.’

17 August 1990
‘Sunlit cool autumnal day. Writing this diary on my way to St Mary’s in a taxi that cruises down Oxford Street alongside a lovely lad on a bike. Today London is a joy.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 31 January 2012.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Obsessed by new poems

‘Working like mad. Obsessed by new poems, writing and rewriting difficult, aware of one’s limitations. To surmount one’s limitations. That’s the great secret.’ This is from the published diaries of Marya Zaturenska, a Russian-born American poet who died 40 years ago today. She won the Pullitzer Prize for poetry when still in her mid-30s, and published, with her husband, a history of American poetry.

Zaturenska was born in Kiev in 1902, though she never knew the exact date. Her parents were Jewish and her father a tailor. The family emigrated to New York when she was eight. Her mother died soon after, and her father remarried. She worked in a clothing factory during the day, but was able to attend school in the evenings.

Zaturenska was an outstanding student with a leaning towards literature. She was encouraged to write poetry by Jeanne Foster who also helped her obtain a scholarship to Valparaiso University in Indiana. Her writing flourished and won her a fellowship to the University of Wisconsin. Before she was even 20, she had published numerous poems in different periodicals and was being recognised as a prodigy. In 1925, she met fellow poet Horace Gregory, a recent Wisconsin graduate; they married within weeks. Two children followed in 1927 and 1932. 

Zaturenska published her first volume of poems - Threshold and Heart - in 1934, and the following year the couple moved to Bronxville, New York, so Horace could be closer to his teaching post. In 1938, her next volume - Cold Morning Sky - won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. That year also saw the couple move again, to New York City in 1938. From 1940 to 1942, they worked together on a collection of essays that would become their History of American Poetry, 1900-1940. She wrote eight volumes of poetry and edited six anthologies, and was published in The New York Times and Poetry Magazine.

My Poetic Side has this assessment: ‘Zaturenska achieved great popularity as a poet despite being regarded, in some quarters, as an “old fashioned writer”. This was mainly due to her stubborn refusal to change her style which borrowed much from the English Decadent movement of poetry which was prevalent during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was, most certainly, a technically skilled writer and her work was often optimistic and full of hope, but sometimes dark and illustrative of a society in decay. At this time America was going through a long period of depression both socially and economically and she belonged to the school of thought that “life must go on” despite the trials and tribulations.’ She died on 19 January 1982. Further information is available online from Wikipedia, Milwaukee Public Library, and Encyclopedia.com

Zaturenska kept diaries throughout most of her adult life. A selection of entries from them was first published by Syracuse University Press in 2002 as The Diaries of Marya Zaturenska 1938-1944 (edited by Mary Beth Hinton). The book includes an introduction by her son Patrick Gregory. He says: ‘The selections published here were drawn from three diary notebooks dated respectively August 1938 to December 1940, December 1940 to May 1942, and May 1942 to October 1944. These volumes were chosen because of what the editors considered their combined interest as biography and history. They were written during a critical period of their author’s personal and literary life, a period when, in spite of illness, acute depression, and near despair, she was beginning the work that was to constitute her most enduring legacy as a poet. They also reflect with a remarkable sense of immediacy the tumultuous historical events of the time. In these pages the connection between poetry and politics is made real, and the focus of literary history shifts, as it were, from the poet’s living room to the battlefield, and back. “The war is too large, too dreadful, too heart-breaking,” she wrote. “I am not fit to touch a theme of such scope and tragedy - only a little of the sadness and terror bit by bit, almost unconsciously, can appear in my poems.” Above all, these notebooks record one woman’s perilous journey, nel mezzo del cammin de nostra vita, through that dark wood where the straight way was all but lost.’

The book can be previewed at Googlebooks and borrowed digitally from Internet Archive. A short review can be read at Publishers Weekly. Here are several extracts including a longish one concerning a visit to the famous American poet, Robert Frost.

22 August 1938, Boulder, Colorado
‘The immensity and inhuman beauty of the mountains and the scraggly Velasquez-like landscape. Austere - half desert, half treeless plain, closed in by mountains.

Illness - the same pain, a continual pressure behind the eyes. Not a day spent without pain. The doctors say nonchalantly that it is not serious - that everything will clear up - but months pass, all is the same, and the world grows terrifying seen with eyes that are strange to me.’

25 September 1838, Bronxville
‘Working like mad. Obsessed by new poems, writing and rewriting difficult, aware of one’s limitations. To surmount one’s limitations. That’s the great secret.

Norman Pearson aristocratic, sensitive. His half-tendency toward fascism, his exquisite courtesy to all who worked for him, his generosity to the poor, his kindness and feeling of responsibility to servants. B. the Communist brutal to his servants, robbing the sick who were dependent on him as a doctor, saying that since we live under a corrupt system one must be corrupt too. His intense racial consciousness - awkwardness, fear, servility and contempt towards gentiles. When he talks of Mary he means Moses. Would really be happier as a Zionist. Wants a world where the Jews can live in a golden unmolested ghetto. N. P.’s attitude of tolerance and sympathy towards the Jewish problem. But he dislikes Jews and wouldn’t have one too close to him. Yet he would die defending them from persecution - on principle. Neither type is representative of the best or worst of their kind, of course.’

27 November 1938
‘Bought such a pretty winter coat with a heavy beaver collar. My old fur coat that I had bought with some of the Shelley Award money (1934) is almost all worn out and Horace insisted that I get a new one. Couldn’t afford a fur coat so I got this one instead. It’s not expensive but I have a fearful sense of guilt and extravagance and dreamed about it last night. Still it’s a good feeling - being able to have nice things exactly when one needs them. It should have happened when I was younger. It would have made another person of me.

The stripped black trees on Riverside Drive leaning into the water, more beautiful than when clothed with leaves. The pure anatomy.’ 

1 December 1838
‘Unable to write, revision so exhausting that I become ill. Read one of those foolish reviews where the reviewer divides all poetry into Personal Poetry, Nature Poetry and Poetry of Social Vision! Angry at the bad journalists-poets who inflict their stupidities on every sensitive, honest poet who can’t follow a formula and has no important political job like Louise Bogan to protect them. Personal Poetry and Nature Poetry is romantic, says the theory. Poetry of S. V. is not (so they say) - but I’ve seen more romantic nonsense, more flagrant unrealities in poetry of S. V. than in the whole romantic movement. For instance the foolish optimism of the Daily Worker, pretending that the Revolution is almost here - when reaction is triumphing almost everywhere. It is silly, dangerous and romantic and based on unrealities.’

4 April 1939
’Returned yesterday from a trip to Boston. I left on April 1, on a beautiful spring morning, very much excited because it was the first trip I had taken by myself for years. I went at the invitation of M. B., a young woman on the Atlantic Monthly who had praised my last book warmly and who seemed anxious to have me visit her. Arrived in Boston and it rained and rained. Felt that I talked too much and too excitedly and that Miss B. was not particularly finding me to her liking. I was modest and humble about my work when I should have been impressive and arrogant. But honestly I can’t put up great claims for my work - yet. Yes it’s good - but it will be better if I can keep on writing and printing. As a great treat (and it was) M. B. took me to visit Robert Frost. We had dinner with him and then we went to his apartment near Louisburg Square where he lives alone. Frost still shows the remains of great physical charm, but he is potbellied now, pale, looks ill and old.

He was charming, warm, and friendly, and in response to his tactful questioning I opened up and talked a great deal. Miss B. sat overcome with awe and reverence, looking horrified when I disagreed with him from time to time. We talked “shop,” which seemed to be annoying M. B., but Frost evidently enjoyed it for he went on and on. Some good malicious stories about E. A. Robinson, his stinginess, his sponging, his drunkenness, the awfulness of his disciples. All this with a deprecating smile and a rather disarming “Of course I was jealous of him. And he of me. But we were good friends.” More stories about Ezra Pound. “The poor devil hasn’t a friend on earth. No one but a group of young disciples whom he changes from year to year and eventually antagonizes. He is so lonely he even ran into Louis Untermeyer’s arms when he met him at Rapallo. He abused him afterwards of course.” Also comments on Kreymborg and J. G. Fletcher. Of the last: “He behaved so badly while in England that all I had to do was to be mild-mannered and quiet and everyone took me to their bosom saying, ‘You see there are Americans who are decent fellows.’ ” Of his beautiful, luxuriously furnished apartment: “Oh friends got it and fixed it up for me. I never bother about such things.”

In speaking of Frost I should emphasize his remarkable and indescribable charm, which made me forget some of the small petty things I knew he had done to people who hadn’t praised him as he felt he had a right to be praised. One forgets his malice; I only felt that air of warmth, naïveté and kindliness which he contradicts by his own words. No intellect but a lot of worldly wisdom and shrewdness. He knows literary politics as no one else does, but the air of naïveté half disguises it. I think I know his faults very well - and yet I could see that one could grow so fond of him that his faults would be forgotten. And he is not incapable of using the love he inspires for his own ends - if it were usable. His literary taste is bad - but he instinctively knows what to do with his own work and is really interested in no one’s work but his own. But no one blames any artist for that. A great critic is as rare as a great poet and he is rarely both. Self-criticism is all we can expect.’

30 April 1944
‘Correcting the final proofs of The Golden Mirror. I have never felt more fatalistic, more troubled about a book though I do feel that it’s the best book I’ve done so far. It certainly leaves me dissatisfied and I feel incapable of judging it dispassionately. It’s completely out of the vogue - the current fashions. And I haven’t the least idea of anyone who might like it. Small as Horace’s public is mine is even smaller. My only hope is in a miracle. It’s as if one is going against the grain so far that I can’t expect a word of praise. And the review sections are full of poets who can’t get books published, and who will wonder why I can publish at all. I know of no critic who will care for what I do - since I’m neither “traditional,” in the sense that the almost fashionable Yvor Winters group speaks of “tradition,” or “esoteric” enough or smart enough and my personality in literary circles has not been a successful one. I’ve been too humble, timid, unpoised to have aroused confidence in myself.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Dined at Lyons

‘London - walked to Evans’ the booksellers - dined at Lyons.’ This from a diary kept by John Nash, born 270 years ago today. He was one of Britain’s foremost architects of the early 19th century, being the designer of Regent Street, Buckingham Palace and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Considering his importance as a historical figure, it comes as a disappointment to find, firstly, that only two of his diaries have survived, and, secondly, that they are filled only with the scantest of entries - entries which are considered to have ‘little value where major biographical issues are concerned’.

Nash was born on 18 January 1752 in London. From the mid-1760s to the mid-1770s, he trained with the architect Robert Taylor. He married Jane Kerr in 1775, and they had two children. Around 1777, he established his own architectural practice, and invested inherited money in building projects. However, these were unsuccessful and left him bankrupt. At the same time, relations with his wayward and adulterous wife were deteriorating, leading, eventually, to legal proceedings and, in 1787, divorce. He moved to live in Carmarthen in 1784, and over the next decade re-established himself as a country house architect. In the late 1790s, he returned to London as an informal partner of the landscape gardener Humphry Repton. He married Mary Anne Bradley (then 25 years old) in 1798.

In the coming years, he designed many now famous country houses, public buildings and groups of houses. From 1813, he served as an official architect to the Office of Works, and as such advised on the building of many new churches. On commission by the Prince Regent, he laid out Regent’s Park and the Regent Street area (from land that had reverted to the Crown) complete with canal, lake, wooded areas, a botanical garden, shopping arcades and residential terraces. He re-landscaped St James’s Park, and transformed the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. He was involved with building two theatres on London’s Haymarket. Other commissions included the remodelling of Buckingham House (Palace) and the building of Marble Arch.

However, when George IV died in 1830, Nash was dismissed before he could complete Buckingham Palace, and he faced an official inquiry into the cost and structural soundness of the project. Because of the controversy, Nash received no further official commissions, nor was he awarded a knighthood. He retired to East Cowes Castle, a mansion he had built for himself earlier. He died in 1835, after which his wife had to sell the castle and much of its contents to clear debts. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica and the BBC.

Nash probably kept a diary or ‘pocket journal’ throughout his adult life, but only two of these have survived, both from the last years of his life. They were published in a small spiral-bound pamphlet by Malcolm Pinhorn in 2000 as The Diaries of John Nash Architect - 1835 and 1835. The British Library has a copy (but, as far as I can tell, there are no secondhand copies available online). A preface in the booklet states: ‘In the 1980’s Mr Peter Laing, a great, great, grandson of Mrs John Nash’s relative Sir James Pennethorne, through whom they had descended, allowed the late Sir John Summerson, former Curator of the Soane Museum in London and Nash’s biographer, the loan of the surviving diaries of the architect John Nash for 1832 and 1835.’ 

And, in his introduction, Summerson says the diaries are of ‘little value where major biographical issues are concerned’. However, he adds, ‘they do give a lively picture of the aged architect (he was eighty-two when he began the first diary) in retirement, surviving comfortably among his friends, his books and flowers, his architectural perspectives and his Turner landscapes at East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight.’

Indeed, Nash’s entries in the diaries are rarely more than a sentence or two, and banal in the extreme. Here are a few examples.

14 May 1832
‘London - went to the exhibition with Mrs Nash & Anne and drove around the parks -’

15 May 1832
‘London - not out - the Vaughans, Lyons, Hopkinsons & Miss Tierney dined with us - Lord Grey & his colleagues sent for by the Kind - teh Duke of Wellington having failed to make a Cabinet -’

18 May 1832
‘London - called upon Lord Wenlock - read the Papers at the Atheneum - went to Evans the bookseller - and in the Evening to the German opera - Lord Grey announced that he & his colleagues had resumed office -’

19 May 1832
‘London - walked down to the office of Woods - went to the Zoological Gardens -’

23 May 1832
‘London - walked to Evans’ the booksellers - dined at Lyons.’

31 October 1832
‘Cowes - Estimated the value of Lady Lucy Foley’s House in London & wrote to her on the subject - dined at Mr Oglanders - took Mr Hewett & Mrs Smith & brought them home at night - ’

So I held my tongue

‘For my part, I should have liked to put a word in now and again, but as soon as it was on the tip of my tongue, I said to myself: “There’s nothing very extraordinary about that. That’s not going to interest them.” So I held my tongue. And they must have thought: “That poor Léautaud isn’t often very bright,” or even: “That poor Léautaud! Is he half-witted?” ’ This is from the diary of the (apparently insecure) French drama critic Paul Léautaud, born 150 years ago today. Though virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, he only achieved celebrity status in France late in life thanks to a series of radio interviews.

Léautaud was born in Paris on 18 January 1872, but was abandoned soon after by his opera singer mother. He was brought up by this father, also working in the theatre, who married again and had another son. After studying at the Courbevoie municipal school, he spent several years doing odd jobs in the city. In 1894, though, he became a legal clerk, and from around this time be began to submit poetry to the Mercure de France. From 1902 to 1907, he worked with a judicial administrator on the liquidation of estates, and from 1908 he joined the staff of Mercure nominally as a secretary. However, he was given freedom to write as he wished, submitting mostly drama reviews under the pseudonym Maurice Boissard

From 1912 onwards, Léautaud lived in the suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses. Although he never married, he had many affairs. But, it seems, his first love was animals. Through his life, he owned hundreds of pets, with sometimes more than 50 in the house. It is said that he even went so far as to sell his correspondence with Paul Valéry, a portrait by Matisse and signed first editions of famous authors for money to feed his animals. In the first half of the 1950s, when already nearly 80, he found a modicum of fame thanks to a series of radio interviews with Robert Mallet. He died in 1956. Further information is available online at Wikipedia (the French page is substantially more informative than the English), in a New York Times profile, or in James Harding’s biography, Lost Illusions: Paul Léautaud and His World (can be previewed at Googlebooks).

Léautaud kept diaries for over 50 years. They have been published in French in many volumes (around 20). Mavis Gallant, writing in The New York Times in 1973, said of them: ‘They are the faithful notes of a misogynist who could not do without women; of a bachelor who trusted only the dependent love of animals; of a drama critic who thought that seeing a play and then describing it was all nonsense; of an instinctive writer who lacked imagination (he could not write about anything except his father, his mother and himself); of a pitiless observer who craved “nothing but tenderness” in return for sarcasm; of a narrow Parisian who never traveled and still knew that “one’s country is one's language,” and that “the only country that matters is life itself.” They are also an account of theatrical and literary Paris between 1893 and 1956, wide in scope and full of sharp, biased detail.’

As far as I can tell only one volume and one edition of Léautaud’s diaries exist in English: Journal of a Man of Letters 1898-1907, as translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury (Chatto & Windus, 1960). According to Sainsbury his translation is also an abridgement; it covers most of the first volume of the French edition and about a quarter of the second. The book also includes a preface by Alan Pryce-Jones. This starts as follows: ‘There are few odder figures in literature than Paul Léautaud. He could have existed nowhere but in Paris, unless possibly in the London of Richard Savage. He wrote very little beyond literary journalism and the diary which comprises this book. He was not particularly easy or agreeable. And until advanced old age he had a reputation for no more than eccentricity. At seventy-eight, a series of broadcast conversations with Robert Mallet turned him into a national celebrity overnight [. . .] and for the last five years of his life Léautaud, with a mixture of reluctance and delight, tasted the fruits of an ever increasing fame.’ Here are several extracts from Sainsbury’s translation of the diaries.

10 September 1898
‘This morning’s papers report Mallarmé’s death yesterday in his little house at Valvins. A master - to me, at any rate. When I came to know his poetry it was a revelation, prodigious, dazzling, a penetrating beam of beauty. But while it showed me verse at its greatest power and perfection, it discouraged me from attempting it, for I understood that no poetry could match his and that to follow along the same road (i.e. to imitate) would be neither dignified nor meritorious.

I think it was really due to Mallarmé that I got to know Valéry. I had seen Valéry often enough at the Mercure’s “Tuesdays”, but I had hardly spoken to him. One Tuesday, when I was on my way to the Mercure, I went into the tobacconist’s in the Rue de Seine, between the Rue Saint-Sulpice and the Rue Lobineau. Valéry was just coming out. He waited for me, and we walked together. I don’t know how he got on to Baudelaire, but I answered that there was a poet I put much higher - Mallarmé. Since then we seem to have been bound by a sort of sympathy, and we have had many talks together. This very winter he was going to take me to the Rue de Rome, but I shan’t have that pleasure now. I had been thinking of writing a Hommage au Poète with Mallarmé as the subject. The work’s still to be done.’

2 December 1902
‘I have been thinking again of my shyness and self-consciousness, of the clumsiness it produces on me, and the way it belittles me in the eyes of others. Passing the Mercure, I went in. It was Tuesday, and several people were there. I stood near the mantelpiece. Coming in, I had shaken hands with Régnier, to whom I had written a few days before to thank him for his book La Cité des Eaux. Presently he got up and came over to the mantelpiece. I was at once uneasy at the thought that he was going to talk to me and I should have to answer. Fargue joined us. We spoke of what a book ought to be when it’s rounded off, finished, and published, if one’s not going to be tempted to correct it afterwards or even to rewrite it. I say: we spoke, but I mean they did. For my part, I should have liked to put a word in now and again, but as soon as it was on the tip of my tongue, I said to myself: “There’s nothing very extraordinary about that. That’s not going to interest them.” So I held my tongue. And they must have thought: “That poor Léautaud isn’t often very bright,” or even: “That poor Léautaud! Is he half-witted?” ’

22 July 1906
‘Dinner with Mme Dehaynin and her daughter. We laughed a lot over the excellent meal which, in the last resort, was to cost so little! What an adventuress! She told me she prided herself on being able to spend a couple of months at the best seaside resort without paying a franc and then get away scot free, so clever was she at twisting people round her little finger. “When I’ve worn this place out,” she said, “I’d like to go to the Ritz.” After dinner we sat in the drawing-room. We were alone, and Mme Dehaynin went to the piano and sang us La Femme à Papa, La Mascotte, Madame Angot - a whole epoch of pleasures and follies, providing a few good minutes for me.’

28 November 1906
‘Spent the day copying out some Stendhal letters for the Pages Choisies. Comforting hours. In that respect I haven’t changed. What tone, what style, what spontaneity in those letters, what wit, what finesse! My ideas, my mental vivaciousness, are awakened, my inner self thaws, comes to life.

Went to the Mercure. Talked to Jean de Gourmont about his literary column in which he hands out bouquets so freely. It’s hopeless. On all sides indifference and laziness. It’s astonishing the fear people have nowadays of speaking their minds. Newspapers and reviews, even the most daring, are as mild as the academicians. Some are prompted by self-interest, some by fear, some by friendship. Everyone is drenched in mutual eulogies, and the lowest of the low are hailed as geniuses. Great mediocrity, great poverty of spirit, great stupidity at the bottom of it all.

I have always loved, I only love, those who go too far, the wild men, the souls that have escaped the rut. A Byron, a Stendhal, a Chateaubriand, a Poe, a Baudelaire. Those âmes en marge, with which my own feels so closely bound, help me to rise above the miserable life of every day, the miserable days so like their predecessors, to rise above them, transcend them, forget them.’

22 November 1907
‘Went this morning to fetch the proofs of my chronique dramatique . . . When I got them I told Morisse I was going to surprise every passage which might lead anyone to think I was tinted with antisemitism. He protested. But Dumur was there, and he sided with me, saying it was quite unlike me to say anything antisemitic.

But at five, when I took the corrected proofs back, Morisse reproached me almost bitterly for my cowardice in suppressing the passages in question, saying he would never have expected it of me, etc. It took me a long time to convince him there was no question of cowardice, and that in any case there was in me something that went beyond all questions of cowardice or courage and that was the pleasure I derived from saying what I had it in my heart to say to all and sundry, whether it be for or against. In this particular case I didn’t want people to think I thought what I didn’t think, and that was all, except that I wasn’t very sure of my facts and didn’t relish having passed remarks on a subjet I was not sufficiently well-informed about.’