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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Mrs. Elinor Glyn Post by :robrudd Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1922

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Mrs. Elinor Glyn

_10 Nov. '10_

After all, the world does move. I never thought to be able to congratulate the Circulating Libraries on their attitude towards a work of art; and here in common fairness I, who have so often animadverted upon their cowardice, am obliged to laud their courage. The instant cause of this is Mrs. Elinor Glyn's new novel, "His Hour" (Duckworth, 6s.) Everybody who cares for literature knows, or should know, Mrs. Glyn's fine carelessness of popular opinion (either here or in the States), and the singleness of her regard for the art which she practises and which she honours. Troubling herself about naught but splendour of subject and elevation of style, she goes on her career indifferent alike to the praise and to the blame of the mob. (I use the word "mob" in Fielding's sense--as meaning persons, in no matter what rank of life, capable of "low" feelings.) Perhaps Mrs. Glyn's latest book is the supreme example of her genius and of her conscientiousness. In essence it is a short story, handled with a fullness and a completeness which justify her in calling it a novel. There are two principal characters, a young half-Cossack Russian prince and an English widow of good family. The pet name of the former is "Gritzko." The latter is generally called Tamara. Gritzko is one of those heroic heroes who can spend their nights in the company of prostitutes, and their days in the solution of deep military problems. He is very wealthy; he has every attribute of a hero, including audacity. During their very first dance together Gritzko kissed Tamara. "They were up in a corner; every one's back was turned to them happily, for in one second he had bent and kissed her neck. It was done with such incredible swiftness...." etc. "But the kiss burnt into Tamara's flesh." ... "'How dare you? How dare you?' she hissed."

* * * * *

Later, "... 'I hate you!' almost hissed poor Tamara." (Note the realistic exactitude of that "almost.") "Then his eyes blazed.... He moved nearer to her, and spoke in a low concentrated voice: 'It is a challenge; good. Now listen to what I say: In a little short time you shall love me. That haughty little head shall be here on my breast without a struggle, and I shall kiss your lips until you cannot breathe.' For the second time in her life Tamara went dead white...." Then follow scenes revelry, in which Mrs. Glyn, with a courage as astonishing as her power, exposes all that is fatuous and vicious in the loftiest regions of Russian fashionable society. Later, Gritzko did kiss Tamara on the lips, but she objected. Still later he got the English widow in a lonely hut in a snowstorm, and this was "his hour." But she had a revolver. "'Touch me and I will shoot,' she gasped.... He made a step forward, but she lifted the pistol again to her head ... and thus they glared at one another, the hunter and the hunted.... He flung himself on the couch and lit a cigarette, and all that was savage and cruel in him flamed from his eyes. 'My God!... and still I loved you--madly loved you ... and last night when you defied me, then I determined you should belong to me by force. No power in heaven or earth can save you! Ah! If you had been different, how happy we might have been! But it is too late; the devil has won, and soon I will do what I please.'... For a long time there was silence.... Then the day-light faded quite, and the Prince got up and lit a small oil lamp. There was a deadly silence.... Ah! She must fight against this horrible lethargy.... Her arm had grown numb.... Strange lights seemed to flash before her eyes--yes--surely--that was Gritzko coming towards her! She gave a gasping cry and tried to pull the trigger, but it was stiff.... The pistol dropped from her nerveless grasp.... She gave one moan.... With a bound Gritzko leaped up...."

* * * * *

"The light was grey when Tamara awoke. Where was she? What had happened? Something ghastly, but where? Then she perceived her torn blouse, and with a terrible pang remembrance came back to her. She started up, and as she did so realized that she was in her stockinged feet. The awful certainty.... Gritzko had won--she was utterly disgraced.... She hurriedly drew off the blouse, then she saw her torn underthings.... She knew that however she might make even the blouse look to the casual eyes of her godmother, she could never deceive her maid."... "She was an outcast. She was no better than Mary Gibson, whom Aunt Clara had with harshness turned out of the house. She--a lady!--a grand English lady!... She crouched down in a corner like a cowed dog...." Then he wrote to her formally demanding her hand. And she replied: "To Prince Milaslavski. Monsieur,--I have no choice; I consent.--Yours truly, Tamara Loraine." Thus they were married. Her mood changed. "Oh! What did anything else matter in the world since after all he loved her! This beautiful fierce lover! Visions of enchantment presented themselves.... She buried her face in his scarlet coat...." I must add that Gritzko had not really violated Tamara. He had only ripped open her corsage to facilitate respiration, and kissed her "little feet." She honestly thought herself the victim of a satyr; but, though she was a widow, with several years of marriage behind her, she had been quite mistaken on this point. You see, she was English.

* * * * *

"His Hour" is a sexual novel. It is magnificently sexual. My quotations, of course, do less than justice to it, but I think I have made clear the simple and highly courageous plot. Gritzko desired Tamara with the extreme of amorous passion, and in order to win her entirely he allowed her to believe that he had raped her. She, being an English widow, moving in the most refined circles, naturally regarded the outrage as an imperious reason for accepting his hand. That is a summary of Mrs. Glyn's novel, of which, by the way, I must quote the dedication: "With grateful homage and devotion I dedicate this book to Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia. In memory of the happy evenings spent in her gracious presence when reading to her these pages, which her sympathetic aid in facilitating my opportunities for studying the Russian character enabled me to write. Her kind appreciation of the finished work is a source of the deepest gratification to me."

* * * * *

The source of the deepest gratification to me is the fact that the Censorship Committee of the United Circulating Libraries should have allowed this noble, daring, and masterly work to pass freely over their counters. What a change from January of this year, when Mary Gaunt's "The Uncounted Cost," which didn't show the ghost of a rape, could not even be advertised in the organ of The _Times Book Club! After this, who can complain against a Library Censorship? It is true that while passing "His Hour," the same censorship puts its ban absolute upon Mr. John Trevena's new novel "Bracken." It is true that quite a number of people had considered Mr. Trevena to be a serious and dignified artist of rather considerable talent. It is true that "Bracken" probably contains nothing that for sheer brave sexuality can be compared with a score of passages in "His Hour." What then? The Censorship Committee must justify its existence somehow. Mr. Trevena ought to have dedicated his wretched provincial novel to the Queen of Montenegro. He painfully lacks _savoir-vivre_. In the early part of this year certain mysterious meetings took place, apropos of the Censorship, between a sub-committee of the Society of Authors and a sub-committee of the Publishers' Association. But nothing was done. I am told that the Authors' Society is now about to take the matter up again. But why?

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_3 Nov. '10_I learn that Mr. Elkin Mathews is about to publish a collected uniform edition of the works (poems and criticism) and correspondence of the late Lionel Johnson. I presume that this edition will comprise his study of Thomas Hardy. The enterprise proves that Lionel Johnson has admirers capable of an excellent piety; and it also argues a certain continuance of the demand for his books. I was never deeply impressed by Lionel Johnson's criticisms, and still less by his verse, but in the days of his activity I was young and difficult and hasty. Perhaps my net was too