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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsBooks And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Unfinished Perusals
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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Unfinished Perusals Post by :DEncina Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :3364

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Unfinished Perusals

(_25 Aug. '10_)

One of the moral advantages of not being a regular professional, labelled, literary critic is that when one has been unable to read a book to the end, one may admit the same cheerfully. It often happens to the professional critic not to be able to finish a book, but of course he must hide the weakness, for it is his business to get to the end of books whether they weary him or not. It is as much his living to finish reading a book as it is mine to finish writing a book. Twice lately I have got ignominiously "stuck" in novels, and in each case I particularly regretted the sad breakdown. Gabriele d'Annunzio's "Forse che si forse che no" has been my undoing. I began it in the French version by Donatella Cross (Calmann-Levy, 3 fr. 50), and I began it with joy and hope. The translation, by the way, is very good. Whatever mountebank tricks d'Annunzio may play as a human being, he has undoubtedly written some very great works. He is an intensely original artist. You may sometimes think him silly, foppish, extravagant, or even caddish (as in "Il Fuoco"), but you have to admit that the English notions of what constitutes extravagance or caddishness are by no means universally held. And anyhow you have to admit that here is a man who really holds an attitude towards life, who is steeped in the sense of style, and who has a superb passion for beauty. Some of d'Annunzio's novels were a revelation, dazzling. And who that began even "Il Fuoco" could resist it? How adult, how subtle, how (in the proper signification) refined, seems the sexuality of d'Annunzio after the timid, gawky, infantile, barbaric sexuality of our "island story"! People are not far wrong on the Continent when they say, as they do say, that English novelists cannot deal with an Englishwoman--or could not up till a few years ago. They never get into the same room with her. They peep like schoolboys through the crack of the door. D'Annunzio can deal with an Italian woman. He does so in the first part of "Forse che si forse che no." She is only one sort of woman, but she _is one sort--and that's something! He has not done many things better than the long scene in the Mantuan palace. There is nothing to modern British taste positively immoral in this first part, but it is tremendously sexual. It contains a description of a kiss--just a kiss and nothing more--that is magnificent and overwhelming. You may say that you don't want a magnificent and overwhelming description of a kiss in your fiction. To that I reply that I do want it. Unfortunately d'Annunzio leaves the old palace and goes out on to the aviation ground, and, for me, gradually becomes unreadable. The agonies that I suffered night after night fighting against the wild tedium of d'Annunzio's airmanship, and determined that I would find out what he was after or perish, and in the end perishing--in sleep! To this hour I don't know for sure what he was driving at--what is the theme of the book! But if his theme is what I dimly guess it to be, then the less said about it the better in Britain.

* * * * *

The other book which has engaged me in a stand-up fight and floored me is A.F. Wedgwood's "The Shadow of a Titan" (Duckworth, 6s.). For this I am genuinely sorry; I had great hopes of it. I was seriously informed that "The Shadow of a Titan" is a first-class thing, something to make one quote Keats's "On First Reading Chapman's 'Homer.'" A most extraordinary review of it appeared in the _Manchester _Guardian_, a newspaper not given to facile enthusiasms about new writers, and a paper which, on the whole, reviews fiction more capably and conscientiously than any other daily in the kingdom. Well, I wouldn't care to say anything more strongly in favour of "The Shadow of a Titan" than that it is clever. Clever it is, especially in its style. The style has the vulgarly glittering cleverness of, say, Professor Walter Raleigh. It is exhausting, and not a bit beautiful. The author--whoever he may be; the name is quite unfamiliar to me, but this is not the first time he has held a pen--chooses his material without originality. Much of it is the common material of the library novel, seen and handled in the common way. When I was floored I had just got to a part which disclosed the epical influence of Mr. Joseph Conrad. It had all the characteristics of Mr. Conrad save his deep sense of form and his creative genius.... However, I couldn't proceed with it. In brief, for me, it was dull. Probably the latter half was much better, but I couldn't cut my way through to the latter half.

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