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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Marguerite Audoux Post by :goldie22 Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :820

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Marguerite Audoux

(_2 March '11_)

Among the astonishing phenomena of a spring season which promises to be quite as successful, in its way, as the very glorious autumn season (publishers must have spent a happy Christmas!) is the success of a really distinguished book. I mean "Marie Claire." Frankly, I did not anticipate this triumph. For, of course, it is very difficult for an author of experience to believe that a good book will be well received. However, "Marie Claire" has been helped by a series of extraordinary reviews. No novel of recent years has had such favourable reviews, or so many of them, or such long ones. I have seen all of them--all except one have been very laudatory--and I am in a position to state that if placed end to end they would stretch from Miss Corelli's house in Stratford-on-Avon across the main to Mr. Hall Caine's castle in the Isle of Man. This may be called praise. One of the best, if not the best, was signed "J.L.G." in the _Observer_. It is indeed a solemn and terrifying thought that Mr. Garvin, who, by means of thoroughly bad prose persisted in during many years, has at last laid the Tory Party in ruins, should be so excellent a judge of literature. Mr. Garvin made his debut in the London Press, I think, as a literary critic; and it is a pity (from the Tory point of view) that he did not remain a literary critic. I am convinced that Mr. Balfour and Lord Lansdowne would personally subscribe large sums to found a literary paper for him to edit, on condition that he promised never to write another line of advice to their party. The _Telegraph would bleed copiously; the _Observer would expire; the _Fortnightly Review would stagger in its heavy stride, but there would be hope for Tories!... In the meantime, five thousand copies of the English translation of "Marie Claire" were sold within a week of publication. It is improbable that the total English sale will be less than ten thousand. Now translated novels rarely achieve popularity. The last one to be popular here was Fogazzaro's "The Saint"; but the popularity of "The Saint" was not due to artistic causes.

* * * * *

I think I may say that I am thoroughly accustomed to the society of women novelists. Peculiar circumstances in my obscure life have thrown me among women writers of all sorts; and I can boast that I have helped to form more than one woman novelist; so that the prospect of meeting a new one does not agitate me in the slightest degree. I make friends with the new one at once, and in about two minutes we are discussing prices with the most touching familiarity. Nevertheless, I own that I was somewhat disturbed in my Midland phlegm when the author of "Marie Claire" came to see me. The book, read in the light of the circumstances of its composition, had unusually impressed me and stirred my imagination. It was not the woman novelist who was coming to see me, but Marie Claire herself, shepherdess, farm-servant, and sempstress; it was a mysterious creature who had known how to excite enthusiasm in a whole regiment of literary young men.... And literary young men as a rule are extremely harsh, even offensive, in their attitude towards women writers. I stood at the top of the toy stairs of the _pavillon which I was then occupying in Paris, and Madame Marguerite Audoux came up the stairs towards me, preceded by one of her young sponsors, and followed by another. A rather short, plump little lady, very simply dressed, and with the simplest possible manner--just such a comfortable human being as in my part of the world is called a "body"! She had, however, eyes of a softness and depth such as are not seen in my part of the world. With that, a very quiet, timid, and sweet voice. She was a sempstress; she looked like a sempstress; and she was well content to look like a sempstress. Nobody would have guessed in ten thousand guesses that here was the author of the European book of the year. But when she talked the resemblance to the sempstress soon vanished. Sempstresses--of whom I have also known many--do not talk as she talked. Not that she said much! Not that she began to talk at once! Far from it. When I had referred to the goodness of her visit, and she had referred to the goodness of my invitation, and she was ensconced in an arm-chair near the fire, she quite simply left the pioneer work of conversation to her bodyguard. Her bodyguard was very proud, and very nervous, as befitted its age.

* * * * *

It was my reference to Dostoievsky that first started her talking. In all literary conversations Dostoievsky is my King Charles's head. She had previously stated that she had read very little indeed. But at any rate she had read Dostoievsky, and was well minded to share my enthusiasms. Indeed, Dostoievsky drew her out of her arm-chair and right across the room. We were soon discussing methods of work, and I learnt that she worked very slowly indeed, destroying much, and feeling her way inch by inch rather than seeing it clear ahead. She said that her second book, dealing with her life in Paris, might not be ready for years. It was evident that she profoundly understood the nature of work--all sorts of work. Work had, indeed, left its honourable and fine mark upon her. She made some very subtle observations about the psychology of it, but unfortunately I cannot adequately report them here.... From work to prices, naturally! It was pleasing to find that she had a very sane and proper curiosity as to prices and conditions in England. After I had somewhat satisfied this curiosity she showed an equally sane and proper annoyance at the fact that the English and American rights of "Marie Claire" had been sold outright for a ridiculous sum. She told me the exact sum. It was either L16 or L20--I forget which.

* * * * *

When Madame Audoux had gone I reviewed my notions of her visit, and I came to the conclusion that she was very like her book. She had said little, and nothing that was striking, but she had mysteriously emanated an atmosphere of artistic distinction. She was a true sensitive. She had had immense and deep experience of life, but her adventures, often difficult, had not disturbed the nice balance of her judgment, nor impaired the delicacy of her impressions. She was an amateur of life. She was awake to all aspects of it. And a calm common sense presided over her magnanimous verdicts. She was far too wary, sagacious, and well acquainted with real values to allow herself to be spoilt, even the least bit, by a perilous success, however brilliant. Such were my notions. But it is not in a single interview that one can arrive at a due estimate of a mind so reserved, dreamy, and complex as hers. The next day she left Paris, and I have not seen her since.

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(_16 Feb. '11_)It is notorious that in London--happily so different from other capitals--there is no connexion between the advertisement and the editorial departments of the daily papers. It is positively known, for instance, that the exuberant editorial praise poured out upon the new "Encyclopaedia Britannica" has no connexion whatever with the tremendous sums paid by the Cambridge University Press for advertising the said work of reference. The almost simultaneous appearance, of the advertisements and of the superlative reviews is a pure coincidence. Now, in Paris it would not be a coincidence, and nobody would have the courage to pretend that it