Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina,1873-77

Mihailov sold Vronsky his picture, and agreed to paint a portrait of Anna. On the day fixed he came and began the work.

From the fifth sitting the portrait impressed everyone, especially Vronsky, not only by its resemblance, but by its characteristic beauty. It was strange how Mihailov could have discovered just her characteristic beauty. “One needs to know and love her as I have loved her to discover the very sweetest expression of her soul,” Vronsky thought, though it was only from this portrait that he had himself learned this sweetest expression of her soul. But the expression was so true that he, and others too, fancied they had long known it.

“I have been struggling on for ever so long without doing anything,” he said of his own portrait of her, “and he just looked and painted it. That’s where technique comes in.”

“That will come,” was the consoling reassurance given him by Golenishtchev, in whose view Vronsky had both talent, and what was most important, culture, giving him a wider outlook on art. Golenishtchev’s faith in Vronsky’s talent was propped up by his own need of Vronsky’s sympathy and approval for his own articles and ideas, and he felt that the praise and support must be mutual.

In another man’s house, and especially in Vronsky’s palazzo, Mihailov was quite a different man from what he was in his studio. He behaved with hostile courtesy, as though he were afraid of coming closer to people he did not respect. He called Vronsky “your excellency,” and notwithstanding Anna’s and Vronsky’s invitations, he would never stay to dinner, nor come except for the sittings. Anna was even more friendly to him than to other people, and was very grateful for her portrait. Vronsky was more than cordial with him, and was obviously interested to know the artist’s opinion of his picture. Golenishtchev never let slip an opportunity of instilling sound ideas about art into Mihailov. But Mihailov remained equally chilly to all of them. Anna was aware from his eyes that he liked looking at her, but he avoided conversation with her. Vronsky’s talk about his painting he met with stubborn silence, and he was as stubbornly silent when he was shown Vronsky’s picture. He was unmistakably bored by Golenishtchev’s conversation, and he did not attempt to oppose him.

Altogether Mihailov, with his reserved and disagreeable, as it were, hostile attitude, was quite disliked by them as they got to know him better; and they were glad when the sittings were over, and they were left with a magnificent portrait in their possession, and he gave up coming. Golenishtchev was the first to give expression to an idea that had occurred to all of them, which was that Mihailov was simply jealous of Vronsky.

“Not envious, let us say, since he has talent; but it annoys him that a wealthy man of the highest society, and a count, too (you know they all detest a title), can, without any particular trouble, do as well, if not better, than he who has devoted all his life to it. And more than all, it’s a question of culture, which he is without.”

Vronsky defended Mihailov, but at the bottom of his heart he believed it, because in his view a man of a different, lower world would be sure to be envious.

Anna’s portrait–the same subject painted from nature both by him and by Mihailov–ought to have shown Vronsky the difference between him and Mihailov; but he did not see it. Only after Mihailov’s portrait was painted he left off painting his portrait of Anna, deciding that it was now not needed. His picture of medieval life he went on with. And he himself, and Golenishtchev, and still more Anna, thought it very good, because it was far more like the celebrated pictures they knew than Mihailov’s picture.

Mihailov meanwhile, although Anna’s portrait greatly fascinated him, was even more glad than they were when the sittings were over, and he had no longer to listen to Golenishtchev’s disquisitions upon art, and could forget about Vronsky’s painting. He knew that Vronsky could not be prevented from amusing himself with painting; he knew that he and all dilettanti had a perfect right to paint what they liked, but it was distasteful to him. A man could not be prevented from making himself a big wax doll, and kissing it. But if the man were to come with the doll and sit before a man in love, and begin caressing his doll as the lover caressed the woman he loved, it would be distasteful to the lover. Just such a distasteful sensation was what Mihailov felt at the sight of Vronsky’s painting: he felt it both ludicrous and irritating, both pitiable and offensive.

Vronsky’s interest in painting and the Middle Ages did not last long. He had enough taste for painting to be unable to finish his picture. The picture came to a standstill. He was vaguely aware that its defects, inconspicuous at first, would be glaring if he were to go on with it. The same experience befell him as Golenishtchev, who felt that he had nothing to say, and continually deceived himself with the theory that his idea was not yet mature, that he was working it out and collecting materials. This exasperated and tortured Golenishtchev, but Vronsky was incapable of deceiving and torturing himself, and even more incapable of exasperation. With his characteristic decision, without explanation or apology, he simply ceased working at painting.

But without this occupation, the life of Vronsky and of Anna, who wondered at his loss of interest in it, struck them as intolerably tedious in an Italian town. The palazzo suddenly seemed so obtrusively old and dirty, the spots on the curtains, the cracks in the floors, the broken plaster on the cornices became so disagreeably obvious, and the everlasting sameness of Golenishtchev, and the Italian professor and the German traveler became so wearisome, that they had to make some change. They resolved to go to Russia, to the country. In Petersburg Vronsky intended to arrange a partition of the land with his brother, while Anna meant to see her son. The summer they intended to spend on Vronsky’s great family estate.

Leo Tolstoy 1828 – 1910.   Anna Karenina, 1873-77  (Part 5. Chapter 13)

Image: Ivan Kramskoi. Portrait of an Unknown Woman, 1883, oil on canvas. 75.5x99cm. Tretyakov Gallery, Russia

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L P Hartley – The Go-Between, 1953

 

At that moment Mr Maudsley came in. Lord Trimingham rose, and I, after a moment’s hesitation, followed suit.
‘Sit down, Hugh, please sit down,’ Mr Maudsley said, in his dry, level voice. ‘You’ve got a new recruit to the smoking-room. I see. Have you been telling him some smoking-room stories?’
Lord Trimingham laughed?
‘Or showing him the pictures?’
He indicated a row of small dark canvases, set deep in heavy frames. I looked at the one nearest to me, and saw men wearing broad-brimmed hats, smoking long pipes, sitting on tubs with tankards in their hands, or playing cards. Drinking with the men or serving them were women. They wore no hats; their hair was pulled back from high bare foreheads and kept in place by plain white handkerchiefs. One woman was leaning on the back of a man’s chair, watching the card players with avid eyes: the chair-back pressed against her breasts, which bulged over its rim and were of a dirty colour between pink and grey. This made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t like the look of the picture or its feeling; pictures, I thought, should be of something pretty, should record a moment chosen for its beauty. These people hadn’t even troubled to look their best; they were ugly and quite content to be so. They got something out of being their naked selves, their faces told me that; but this self-glory, depending on nobody’s approval but their own, struck me as rather shocking—more shocking than their occupations, unseemly as those were. They had forgotten themselves, that was it; and you should never forget yourself.
No wonder the pictures were not shown to the public, for who would want to look at them? And they couldn’t be very valuable, being so small.
‘He doesn’t like them,’ said Mr Maudsley, flatly.
I wriggled.
’I thought they might be above his head,’ Lord Trimington said. ‘Teniers is an acquired taste, in my opinion.’

L P Hartley, 1895-1972. The Go-Between, 1953, Ch. XVIII.

Image: David Teniers the Younger. Two Men playing Cards in the Kitchen of an Inn. National Gallery, London
probably 1635-40

Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca, 1938

 

 

She paused, her hand still resting on my arm.

“Everyone was angry with her when she cut her hair,” she said, “but she did not
care. ‘It’s nothing to do with anyone but myself,’ she would say. And of course short hair was much easier for riding and sailing. She was painted on horseback, you know. A famous artist did it. The picture hung in the Academy. Did you ever see it?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “No.”

“I understood it was the picture of the year,” she went on, “but Mr. de Winter did not care for it, and would not have it at Manderley. I don’t think he considered it did her justice. You would like to see her clothes, wouldn’t you?” She did not wait for my answer. She led me to the little ante-room and opened the wardrobes, one by one.

Chapter 16

In the evening, when I was changing for dinner, there was a knock at my bedroom
door. I called “Come in,” thinking it was Clarice. The door opened and it was not Clarice. It was Mrs. Danvers. She held a piece of paper in her hand. “I hope you will forgive me disturbing you,” she said, “but I was not sure whether you meant to throw these drawings away. All the waste-paper baskets are always brought to me to check, at the end of the day, in case of mislaying anything of value. Robert told me this was thrown into the library basket.”

I had turned quite cold all over at the sight of her, and at first I could not find my voice. She held out the paper for me to see. It was the rough drawing I had done during the morning.

“No, Mrs. Danvers,” I said, after a moment, “it doesn’t matter throwing that away. It was only a rough sketch. I don’t want it”

“Very good,” she said, “I thought it better to enquire from you personally to save any misunderstanding.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, of course.” I thought she would turn and go, but she went on
standing there by the door.

“So you have not decided yet what you will wear?” she said. There was a hint of derision in her voice, a trace of odd satisfaction. I supposed she had heard of my
efforts through Clarice in some way.

“No,” I said. “No, I haven’t decided.”

She continued watching me, her hand on the doorknob.

“I wonder you don’t copy one of the pictures in the gallery,” she said.

I pretended to file my nails. They were too short and too brittle, but the action gave me something to do and I did not have to look at her.

“Yes, I might think about that,” I said. I wondered privately why such an idea had never come to me before. It was an obvious and very good solution to my difficulty. I did not want her to know this though. I went on filing my nails.

“All the pictures in the gallery would make good costumes,” said Mrs. Danvers, “especially that one of the young lady in white, with her hat in her hand. I wonder Mr. de Winter does not make it a period ball, everyone dressed more or less the same, to be in keeping. I never think it looks right to see a clown dancing with a lady in powder and patches.”

“Some people enjoy the variety,” I said. “They think it makes it all the more amusing.”

“I don’t like it myself,” said Mrs. Danvers. Her voice was surprisingly normal and friendly, and I wondered why it was she had taken the trouble to come up with my discarded sketch herself. Did she want to be friends with me at last? Or did she realise that it had not been me at all who had told Maxim about Favell, and this was her way of thanking me for my silence?

“Has not Mr. de Winter suggested a costume for you?” she said.

“No,” I said, after a moment’s hesitation. “No, I want to surprise him and Mr. Crawley. I don’t want them to know anything about it”

“It’s not for me to make a suggestion, I know,” she said, “but when you do decide, I should advise you to have your dress made in London. There is no one down here
can do that sort of thing well. Voce, in Bond Street is a good place, I know.”

“I must remember that” I said.

“Yes,” she said, and then, as she opened the door, “I should study the pictures in the gallery, Madam, if I were you, especially the one I mentioned. And you need not think I will give you away. I won’t say a word to anyone.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Danvers,” I said. She shut the door very gently behind her. I went
on with my dressing, puzzled at her attitude, so different from our last encounter, and wondering whether I had the unpleasant Favell to thank for it.

. . . . .

When I had finished I went upstairs to the minstrels’ gallery to have a look at the pictures. I knew them well of course by now, but had never studied them with a view to reproducing one of them as a fancy dress. Mrs. Danvers was right of course. What an idiot I had been not to think of it before. I always loved the girl in white, with a hat in her hand. It was a Raeburn, and the portrait was of Caroline de Winter, a sister of Maxim’s great-great-grandfather. She married a great Whig politician, and was a famous London beauty for many years, but this portrait was painted before that, when she was still unmarried. The white dress should be easy to copy. Those puffed sleeves, the flounce, and the little bodice. The hat might be rather difficult, and I should have to wear a wig. My straight hair would never curl in that way. Perhaps that Voce place in London that Mrs. Danvers had told me about would do the whole thing. I would send them a sketch of the portrait and tell them to copy it faithfully, sending my measurements.

What a relief it was to have decided at last! Quite a weight off my mind. I began almost to look forward to the ball. Perhaps I should enjoy it after all, almost as much as little Clarice.

I wrote to the shop in the morning, enclosing a sketch of the portrait, and I had a very favourable reply, full of honour at my esteemed order, and saying the work would be put in hand right away, and they would manage the wig as well.

. . . . .

I did not recognise the face that stared at me in the glass. The eyes were larger surely, the mouth narrower, the skin white and clear? The curls stood away from the head in a little cloud. I watched this self that was not me at all and then smiled; a new, slow smile.

“Oh, Clarice!” I said. “Oh, Clarice!” I took the skirt of my dress in my hands and curtseyed to her, the flounces sweeping the ground. She giggled excitedly, rather embarrassed, flushed though, very pleased. I paraded up and down in front of my glass watching my reflection.

“Unlock the door,” I said. “I’m going down. Run ahead and see if they are there.” She obeyed me, still giggling, and I lifted my skirts off the ground and followed her along the corridor.

She looked back at me and beckoned. “They’ve gone down,” she whispered, “Mr. de Winter, and Major and Mrs. Lacy. Mr. Crawley has just come. They are all standing in the hall.” I peered through the archway at the head of the big staircase, and looked down on the hall below.

Yes, mere they were. Giles, in his white Arab dress, laughing loudly, showing the knife at his side, Beatrice swathed in an extraordinary green garment and hung about the neck with trailing beads, poor Frank self-conscious and slightly foolish in his striped jersey and sea-boots, Maxim, the only normal one of the party, in his evening clothes.

“I don’t know what she’s doing,” he said, “she’s been up in her bedroom for hours. What’s the time, Frank? The dinner crowd will be upon us before we know where we are.”

The band were changed, and in the gallery already. One of the men was tuning his fiddle. He played a scale softly, and then plucked at a string. The light shone on the picture of Caroline de Winter.

Yes, the dress had been copied exactly from my sketch of the portrait. The puffed sleeve, the sash and the ribbon, the wide floppy hat I held in my hand. And my curls were her curls, they stood out from my face as hers did in the picture. I don’t think I have ever felt so excited before, so happy and so proud. I waved my hand at the man with the fiddle, and then put my finger to my lips for silence. He smiled and bowed. He came across the gallery to the archway where I stood.

“Make the drummer announce me,” I whispered, “make him beat the drum, you know how they do, and then call out Miss Caroline de Winter. I want to surprise them below.” He nodded his head, he understood. My heart fluttered absurdly, and my cheeks were burning. What fun it was, what mad ridiculous childish fun! I smiled at Clarice still crouching in the corridor. I picked up my skirt in my hands. Then the sound of the drum echoed in the great hall, startling me for a moment, who had waited for it, who knew that it would come. I saw them look up surprised and bewildered from the hall below.

“Miss Caroline de Winter,” shouted the drummer.

I came forward to the head of the stairs and stood there, smiling, my hat in my hand, like the girl in the picture. I waited for the clapping and the laughter that would follow as I walked slowly down the stairs. Nobody clapped, nobody moved.

They all stared at me like dumb things. Beatrice uttered a little cry and put her hand to her mouth. I went on smiling, I put one hand on the banister.

“How do you do, Mr. de Winter,” I said.

Maxim had not moved. He stared up at me, his glass in his hand. There was no colour in his face. It was ashen white. I saw Frank go to him as though he would speak, but Maxim shook him off. I hesitated, one foot already on the stairs. Something was wrong, they had not understood. Why was Maxim looking like that? Why did they all stand like dummies, like people in a trance?

Then Maxim moved forward to the stairs, his eyes never leaving my face.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” he said. His eyes blazed in anger. His face was still ashen white.

I could not move, I went on standing there, my hand on the banister.

“It’s the picture,” I said, terrified at his eyes, at his voice. “It’s the picture, the one in the gallery.”

There was a long silence. We went on staring at each other. Nobody moved in the hall. I swallowed, my hand moved to my throat “What is it?” I said. “What have I
done?”

If only they would not stare at me like that with dull blank faces. If only somebody would say something. When Maxim spoke again I did not recognise his voice. It was still and quiet, icy cold, not a voice I knew.

“Go and change,” he said, “it does not matter what you put on. Find an ordinary evening frock, anything will do. Go now, before anybody comes.”

I could not speak, I went on staring at him. His eyes were the only living things in the white mask of his face.

“What are you standing there for?” he said, his voice harsh and queer. “Didn’t you hear what I said?”

I turned and ran blindly through the archway to the corridors beyond. I caught a glimpse of the astonished face of the drummer who had announced me. I brushed past him, stumbling, not looking where I went. Tears blinded my eyes. I did not know what was happening. Clarice had gone. The corridor was deserted. I looked about me stunned and stupid like a hunted thing. Then I saw that the door leading to the west wing was open wide, and that someone was standing there.

It was Mrs. Danvers. I shall never forget the expression on her face, loathsome, triumphant. The face of an exulting devil. She stood there, smiling at me.

And then I ran from her, down the long narrow passage to my own room, tripping, stumbling over the flounces of my dress.

Daphne du Maurier, 1907-1989              Rebecca, 1938.   (Chapter 15) 

Images:

Madame Yevonde, 1893-1975    Eileen Hunter (Mrs Ward-Jackson) as Dido, from, The Goddesses, 1935

Madame Yevonde, 1893-1975     Lady Dorothy Warrender as Cerces, from, The Goddesses, 1935

D H Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928

Duncan, when approached, also insisted on seeing the delinquent game-keeper, so there was a dinner, this time in his flat: the four of them. Duncan was a rather short, broad, dark-skinned, taciturn Hamlet of a fellow with straight black hair and a weird Celtic conceit of himself. His art was all tubes and valves and spirals and strange colours, ultra-modern, yet with a certain power, even a certain purity of form and tone: only Mellors thought it cruel and repellent. He did not venture to say so, for Duncan was almost insane on the point of his art: it was a personal cult, a personal religion with him.

They were looking at the pictures in the studio, and Duncan kept his smallish brown eyes on the other man. He wanted to hear what the game-keeper would say. He knew already Connie’s and Hilda’s opinions.

“It is like a pure bit of murder,” said Mellors at last; a speech Duncan by no means expected from a game-keeper.

“And who is murdered?” asked Hilda, rather coldly and sneeringly.

“Me! It murders all the bowels of compassion in a man.”

A wave of pure hate came out of the artist. He heard the note of dislike in the other man’s voice, and the note of contempt. And he himself loathed the mention of bowels of compassion. Sickly sentiment!

Mellors stood rather tall and thin, worn-looking, gazing with flickering detachment that was something like the dancing of a moth on the wing, at the pictures.

“Perhaps stupidity is murdered; sentimental stupidity,” sneered the artist.

“Do you think so? I think all these tubes and corrugated vibrations are stupid enough for anything, and pretty sentimental. They show a lot of self-pity and an awful lot of nervous self-opinion, seems to me.”

In another wave of hate the artist’s face looked yellow. But with a sort of silent hauteur he turned the pictures to the wall.

“I think we may go to the dining-room,” he said. And they trailed off, dismally.

After coffee, Duncan said:

“I don’t at all mind posing as the father of Connie’s child. But only on the condition that she’ll come and pose as a model for me. I’ve wanted her for years, and she’s always refused.” He uttered it with the dark finality of an inquisitor announcing an auto da fe.

“Ah!” said Mellors. “You only do it on condition, then?”

“Quite! I only do it on that condition.” The artist tried to put the utmost contempt of the other person into his speech. He put a little too much.

“Better have me as a model at the same time,” said Mellors. “Better do us in a group, Vulcan and Venus under the net of art. I used to be a blacksmith, before I was a game-keeper.”

“Thank you,” said the artist. “I don’t think Vulcan has a figure that interests me.”

“Not even if it was tubified and titivated up?”

There was no answer. The artist was too haughty for further words.

It was a dismal party, in which the artist henceforth steadily ignored the presence of the other man, and talked only briefly, as if the words were wrung out of the depths of his gloomy portentousness, to the women.

“You didn’t like him, but he’s better than that, really. He’s really kind,” Connie explained as they left.

“He’s a little black pup with a corrugated distemper,” said Mellors.

“No, he wasn’t nice today.”

“And will you go and be a model to him?”

“Oh, I don’t really mind any more. He won’t touch me. And I don’t mind anything, if it paves the way to a life together for you and me.”

“But he’ll only shit on you on canvas.”

“I don’t care. He’ll only be painting his own feelings for me, and I don’t mind if he does that. I wouldn’t have him touch me, not for anything. But if he thinks he can do anything with his owlish arty staring, let him stare. He can make as many empty tubes and corrugations out of me as he likes. It’s his funeral. He hated you for what you said: that his tubified art is sentimental and self-important. But of course it’s true.”

D H Lawrence, 1885-1930.  Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928.  (Chapter 18)

Image: Duncan Grant., 1885-1978. Abstract Kinetic Painting with Sound, 1914.   The estate of Duncan Grant

Arnold Bennett – The Death of Simon Fuge, 1907

 

The second thing that I saw in the Gazette (the first was of course the ‘Entremets’ column of wit, humour, and parody, very uneven in its excellence) was the death of Simon Fuge. There was nearly a column about it, signed with initials, and the subheading of the article ran, ‘Sudden death of a great painter’. That was characteristic of the Gazette. That Simon Fuge was indeed a great painter is now admitted by most dilettantes, though denied by a few. But to the great public he was not one of the few great names. To the great public he was just a medium name. Ten to one that in speaking of him to a plain person you would feel compelled to add: ‘The painter, you know,’ and the plain person would respond: ‘Oh yes,’ falsely pretending that he was perfectly familiar with the name. Simon Fuge had many friends on the press, and it was solely owing to the loyalty of these friends in the matter of obituary notices that the great public heard more of Simon Fuge in the week after his death than it had heard of him during the thirty-five years of his life. It may be asked: Why, if he had so many and such loyal friends on the press, these friends did not take measures to establish his reputation before he died? The answer is that editors will not allow journalists to praise a living artist much in excess of the esteem in which the public holds him; they are timid. But when a misunderstood artist is dead the editors will put no limit on laudation. I am not on the press, but it happens that I know the world. Of all the obituary notices of Simon Fuge, the Gazette’s was the first. Somehow the Gazette had obtained exclusive news of the little event, and some one high up on the Gazette’s staff had a very exalted notion indeed of Fuge, and must have known him personally. Fuge received his deserts as a painter in that column of print. He was compared to Sorolla y Bastida for vitality; the morbidezza of his flesh-tints was stated to be unrivalled even by –I forget the name, painting is not my speciality. The writer blandly inquired why examples of Fuge’s work were to be seen in the Luxembourg, at Vienna, at Florence, at Dresden; and not, for instance, at the Tate Gallery, or in the Chantrey collection. The writer also inquired, with equal blandness, why a painter who had been on the hanging committee of the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts at Paris should not have been found worthy to be even an A.R.A. in London. In brief, old England ‘caught it’, as occurred somewhere or other most nights in the columns of the Gazette. Fuge also received his deserts as a man. And the Gazette did not conceal that he had not been a man after the heart of the British public. He had been too romantically and intensely alive for that. The writer gave a little penportrait of him. It was very good, recalling his tricks of manner, his unforgettable eyes, and his amazing skill in talking about himself and really interesting everybody in himself. There was a special reference to one of Fuge’s most dramatic recitals–a narration of a night spent in a boat on Ham Lake with two beautiful girls, sisters, natives of the Five Towns, where Fuge was born. Said the obituarist: ‘Those two wonderful creatures who played so large a part in Simon Fuge’s life.’

This death was a shock to me. It took away my ennui for the rest of the journey. I too had known Simon Fuge. That is to say, I had met him once, at a soiree, and on that single occasion, as luck had it, he had favoured the company with the very narration to which the Gazette contributor referred. I remembered well the burning brilliance of his blue-black eyes, his touching assurance that all of us were necessarily interested in his adventures, and the extremely graphic and convincing way in which he reconstituted for us the nocturnal scene on Ham Lake–the two sisters, the boat, the rustle of trees, the lights on shore, and his own difficulty in managing the oars, one of which he lost for half-an-hour and found again. It was by such details as that about the oar that, with a tint of humour, he added realism to the romantic quality of his tales. He seemed to have no reticences concerning himself. Decidedly he allowed things to be understood…! Yes, his was a romantic figure, the figure of one to whom every day, and every hour of the day, was coloured by the violence of his passion for existence. His pictures had often an unearthly beauty, but for him they were nothing but faithful renderings of what he saw. My mind dwelt on those two beautiful sisters. Those two beautiful sisters appealed to me more than anything else in the Gazette’s obituary. Surely–Simon Fuge had obviously been a man whose emotional susceptibility and virile impulsiveness must have opened the door for him to multifarious amours–but surely he had not made himself indispensable to both sisters simultaneously. Surely even he had not so far forgotten that Ham Lake was in the middle of a country called England, and not the ornamental water in the Bois de Boulogne! And yet…. The delicious possibility of ineffable indiscretions on the part of Simon Fuge monopolized my mind till the train stopped at Knype, and I descended. Nevertheless, I think I am a serious and fairly insular Englishman. It is truly astonishing how a serious person can be obsessed by trifles that, to speak mildly, do not merit sustained attention.

I wondered where Ham Lake was. I knew merely that it lay somewhere in the environs of the Five Towns. What put fuel on the fire of my interest in the private affairs of the dead painter was the slightly curious coincidence that on the evening of the news of his death I should be travelling to the Five Towns–and for the first time in my life. Here I was at Knype, which, as I had gathered from Bradshaw, and from my acquaintance Brindley, was the traffic centre of the Five Towns.

Chapter V

‘Here we are!’ ejaculated Mr Brindley.
And he was out of the car almost before I had risen.
We strolled along a quiet street, and came to a large building with many large lighted windows, evidently some result of public effort.

‘What’s that place?’ I demanded.

‘That’s the Wedgwood Institution.’

‘Oh! So that’s the Wedgwood Institution, is it?’

‘Yes. Commonly called the Wedgwood. Museum, reading-room, public library–dirtiest books in the world, I mean physically–art school, science school. I’ve never explained to you why I’m chairman of the Management Committee, have I? Well, it’s because the Institution is meant to foster the arts, and I happen to know nothing about ’em. I needn’t tell you that architecture, literature, and music are not arts within the meaning of the act. Not much! Like to come in and see the museum for a minute? You’ll have to see it in your official capacity tomorrow.’

. . . . .

Who can tell what was passing in the breast of Mr Brindley? I could not. At least I could not tell with any precision. I could only gather, vaguely, that what he considered the wrong- headedness, the blindness, the lack of true perception, of his public was beginning to produce in his individuality a faint trace of permanent soreness. I regretted it. And I showed my sympathy with him by asking questions about the design and construction of the museum (a late addition to the Institution), of which I happened to know that he had been the architect.

He at once became interested and interesting. Although he perhaps insisted a little too much on the difficulties which occur when original talent encounters stupidity, he did, as he walked me up and down, contrive to convey to me a notion of the creative processes of the architect in a way that was in my experience entirely novel. He was impressing me anew, and I was wondering whether he was unique of his kind or whether there existed regiments of him in this strange parcel of England.

‘Now, you see this girder,’ he said, looking upwards.

That’s surely something of Fuge’s, isn’t it?’ I asked, indicating a small picture in a corner, after he had finished his explanation of the functions of the girder.

As on the walls of the staircase and corridors, so on the walls here, there were many paintings, drawings, and engravings. And of course the best were here in the museum. The least uninteresting items of the collection were, speaking generally, reproductions in monotint of celebrated works, and a few second–or third-rate loan pictures from South Kensington. Aside from such matters I had noticed nothing but the usual local trivialities, gifts from one citizen or another, travel-jottings of some art-master, careful daubs of art students without a sense of humour. The aspect of the place was exactly the customary aspect of the small provincial museum, as I have seen it in half-a-hundred towns that are not among ‘the great towns’. It had the terrible trite ‘museum’ aspect, the aspect that brings woe and desolation to the heart of the stoutest visitor, and which seems to form part of the purgatorio of Bank-holidays, wide mouths, and stiff clothes. The movement for opening museums on Sundays is the most natural movement that could be conceived. For if ever a resort was invented and fore-ordained to chime with the true spirit of the British sabbath, that resort is the average museum. I ought to know. I do know.

But there was the incomparable Wedgwood ware, and there was the little picture by Simon Fuge. I am not going to lose my sense of perspective concerning Simon Fuge. He was not the greatest painter that ever lived, or even of his time. He had, I am ready to believe, very grave limitations. But he was a painter by himself, as all fine painters are. He had his own vision. He was unique. He was exclusively preoccupied with the beauty and the romance of the authentic. The little picture showed all this. It was a painting, unfinished, of a girl standing at a door and evidently hesitating whether to open the door or not: a very young girl, very thin, with long legs in black stockings, and short, white, untidy frock; thin bare arms; the head thrown on one side, and the hands raised, and one foot raised, in a wonderful childish gesture–the gesture of an undecided fox-terrier. The face was an infant’s face, utterly innocent; and yet Simon Fuge had somehow caught in that face a glimpse of all the future of the woman that the girl was to be, he had displayed with exquisite insolence the essential naughtiness of his vision of things. The thing was not much more than a sketch; it was a happy accident, perhaps, in some day’s work of Simon Fuge’s. But it was genius. When once you had yielded to it, there was no other picture in the room. It killed everything else. But, wherever it had found itself, nothing could have killed IT. Its success was undeniable, indestructible. And it glowed sombrely there on the wall, a few splashes of colour on a morsel of canvas, and it was Simon Fuge’s unconscious, proud challenge to the Five Towns. It WAS Simon Fuge, at any rate all of Simon Fuge that was worth having, masterful, imperishable. And not merely was it his challenge, it was his scorn, his aristocratic disdain, his positive assurance that in the battle between them he had annihilated the Five Towns. It hung there in the very midst thereof, calmly and contemptuously waiting for the acknowledgement of his victory.

‘Which?’ said Mr Brindley.

That one.’

‘Yes, I fancy it is,’ he negligently agreed. ‘Yes, it is.’

‘It’s not signed,’ I remarked.

‘It ought to be,’ said Mr Brindley; then laughed, ‘Too late now!’

‘How did it get here?’

‘Don’t know. Oh! I think Mr Perkins won it in a raffle at a bazaar, and then hung it here. He did as he liked here, you know.’

I was just going to become vocal in its praise, when Mr Brindley said–

‘That thing under it is a photograph of a drinking-cup for which one of our pupils won a national scholarship last year!’

Mr Aked appeared in the distance.

‘I fancy the old boy wants to be off to bed,’ Mr Brindley whispered kindly.

So we left the Wedgwood Institution. I began to talk to Mr Brindley about music. The barbaric attitude of the Five Towns towards great music was the theme of some very lively animadversions on his part.

. . . . .

Chapter IX

He flew off to escape my thanks, and Mr Brindley and I went into the station. Owing to the celerity of the automobile we had half-an-hour to wait. We spent it chiefly at the bookstall. While we were there the extra-special edition of the STAFFORDSHIRE SIGNAL, affectionately termed ‘the local rag’ by its readers, arrived, and we watched a newsboy affix its poster to a board. The poster ran thus–

HANBRIDGE RATES LIVELY MEETING

KNYPE F.C. NEW CENTRE–FORWARD

ALL–WINNERS AND S.P.

Now, close by this poster was the poster of the DAILY TELEGRAPH, and among the items offered by the DAILY TELEGRAPH was: ‘Death of Simon Fuge’. I could not forbear pointing out to Mr Brindley the difference between the two posters. A conversation ensued; and amid the rumbling of trains and the rough stir of the platform we got back again to Simon Fuge, and Mr Brindley’s tone gradually grew, if not acrid, a little impatient.

‘After all,’ he said, ‘rates are rates, especially in Hanbridge.

And let me tell you that last season Knype Football Club jolly nearly got thrown out of the First League. The constitution of the team for this next season–why, damn it, it’s a question of national importance! You don’t understand these things. If Knype Football Club was put into the League Second Division, ten thousand homes would go into mourning. Who the devil was Simon Fuge?’

They joke with such extraordinary seriousness in the Five Towns that one is somehow bound to pretend that they are not joking. So I replied–

‘He was a great artist. And this is his native district. Surely you ought to be proud of him!’

‘He may have been a great artist,’ said Mr Brindley, ‘or he may not. But for us he was simply a man who came of a family that had a bad reputation for talking too much and acting the goat!’

‘Well,’ I said, We shall see–in fifty years.’

‘That’s just what we shan’t,’ said he. ‘We shall be where Simon Fuge is–dead! However, perhaps we are proud of him. But you don’t expect us to show it, do you? That’s not our style.’

He performed the quasi-winking phenomenon with his eyes. It was his final exhibition of it to me.

‘A strange place!’ I reflected, as I ate my dinner in the dining- car, with the pressure of Mr Brindley’s steely clasp still affecting my right hand, and the rich, honest cordiality of his au revoir in my heart. ‘A place that is passing strange!’

And I thought further: He may have been a boaster, and a chatterer, and a man who suffered from cold feet at the wrong moments! And the Five Towns may have got the better of him, now. But that portrait of the little girl in the Wedgwood Institution is waiting there, right in the middle of the Five Towns. And one day the Five Towns will have to ‘give it best’. They can say what they like! … What eyes the fellow had, when he was in the right company!

Arnold Bennett, 1867-1931. The Death of Simon Fuge (Chapter 1), from – The Grim Smile of the Five Towns, 1907. (

Image: Garnet Wolseley, 1884 – 1967. Cottage Girl 

Edna St.Vincent Millay: Aria del Capo, A Play in one Act, 1919

 

Pierrot, Columbine, Cothurnus, Masque of Tragedy, Thyrsis -
 Shepherds
 – Corydon

Scene: A Stage – The curtain rises on a stage set for a Harlequinade, a merry
  black and white interior. Directly behind the footlights, and
  running parallel with them, is a long table, covered with a gay
  black and white cloth, on which is spread a banquet. At the
  opposite ends of this table, seated on delicate thin-legged
  chairs with high backs, are Pierrot and Columbine, dressed
  according to the tradition, excepting that Pierrot is in lilac,
 and Columbine in pink. They are dining.

COLUMBINE: Pierrot, a macaroon! I cannot _live_ without a macaroon!

PIERROT: My only love,
 you are _so_ intense! . . . Is it Tuesday, Columbine? — 
I’ll kiss you if it’s Tuesday.

COLUMBINE: It is Wednesday, iIf you must know . . . . Is this my artichoke,
 or yours?

PIERROT: Ah, Columbine, — as if it mattered!
 Wednesday . . . . Will it be Tuesday, then, to-morrow, by any chance?

COLUMBINE: To-morrow will be — Pierrot,
 that isn’t funny!

PIERROT: I thought it rather nice.
 Well, let us drink some wine and lose our heads 
and love each other.

COLUMBINE: Pierrot, don’t you love
 me now?

PIERROT: La, what a woman!–how should I know? 
Pour me some wine: I’ll tell you presently.

COLUMBINE: Pierrot, do you know, I think you drink too much.

PIERROT: Yes, I dare say I do. . . . or else too little. 
It’s hard to tell. You see, I am always wanting
 a little more than what I have, — or else 
a little less. There’s something wrong. My dear,
 how many fingers have you?

COLUMBINE: La, indeed, how should I know? — It always takes me one hand
 to count the other with. It’s too confusing.
 Why?

PIERROT: Why? — I am a student, Columbine;
 and search into all matters.

COLUMBINE: La, indeed?  –
 Count them yourself, then!

PIERROT: No. Or, rather, nay.
 ‘Tis of no consequence. . . . I am become
 a painter, suddenly, — and you impress me — 
Ah, yes! — six orange bull’s-eyes, four green pin-wheels, and one magenta jelly-roll, — the title 
as follows: Woman Taking in Cheese from Fire-Escape.

COLUMBINE: Well, I like that! So that is all I’ve meant
 to you!

PIERROT: Hush! All at once I am become
 a pianist. I will image you in sound. . . .
On a new scale. . . , Without tonality. . .
 Vivace senza tempo senza tutto. . . .
 Title: Uptown Express at Six O’Clock. 
Pour me a drink.Thomas

Edna St.Vincent Millay, 1892-1950

Title: Aria del Capo, A Play in one Act, 1919

Image:  Giovanni Domenico Ferretti, 1692-1768.  Arlecchino und Colombina

Evelyn Waugh: Put out More Flags, 1942

“Well,” Poppet was saying crossly, from the gas stove. “When do the army step in and shoot Hitler?”

She was a remarkably silly girl, and, as such, had commanded Basil’s immediate attention when they met, three weeks earlier, with Ambrose Silk. With her Basil had spent the time he had promised to Angela at Cannes; on her he had spent the twenty pounds Angela had sent him for the journey. Even now when her fatuous face pouted in derision, she found a soft place in Basil’s heart.

Evidence of her silliness abounded in the canvases, finished and unfinished, which crowded the studio. Eighty years ago her subjects would have been knights in armour; ladies in whimples and distress; fifty years ago ‘nocturnes’; twenty years ago pierrots and willow trees; now, in 1939, they were bodiless heads, green horses and violet grass, seaweed, shells and fungi, neatly executed, conventionally arranged in the manner of Dali. Her work in progress on the easel was an overlarge, accurate but buttercup-coloured head of the Aphrodite of Melos, poised against a background of bulls’-eyes and barley sugar.

“My dear.” Ambrose had said, “you can positively hear her imagination creaking, as she does them, like a pair of old, old corsets, my dear, on a harridan.”

“They’ll destroy London. What shall I do?” asked Poppet plaintively. “Where can I go? It’s the end of my painting. I’ve a good mind to follow Parsnip and Pimpernel” (two great poets of her acquaintance who had recently fled to New York).

“You’ll be in more danger crossing the Atlantic than staying in London,” said Basil. “There won’t be any air raids in London.”

“For God’s sake don’t say that.” Even as she spoke the sirens wailed. Poppet stood paralysed with horror. “Oh God,” she said. “You’ve done it. They’ve come.”

“Faultless timing.” Said Basil cheerfully. “That’s always been Hitler’s strong point.”

Poppet began to dress in an ineffectual fever of reproach.  “You said there wouldn’t be a war. You said the bombers would never come. Now we shall all be killed and you just sit there talking and talking.”

“You know I should have thought an air raid was just the thing for a surréaliste; it ought to give you plenty of compositions – limbs and things lying about in odd places, you know.”

I wish I’d never met you. I wish I’d been to church. I was brought up in a convent. I wanted to be a nun once. I wish I was a nun. I’m going to be killed. Oh. I wish I was a nun. I’m going to be killed. Oh, I wish I was a nun. Where’s my gas-mask? I shall go mad if I don’t find my gas-mask.”

Basil lay back on the divan and watched her with fascination. This was how he liked to see women behave in moments of alarm. He rejoiced, always, in the spectacle of women at a disadvantage: thus he would watch, in the asparagus season, a dribble of melted butter on a woman’s chin, while she would still talk and smile and turn her head, not knowing how she appeared to him.

“Now do make up your mind what you’re frightened of.” He urged. “If you’re going to be bombed with high explosive run down to the shelter; if you’re going to be gassed, shut the skylight and stay up here. In any case I should’nt bother about that respirator. If they use anything it’ll be arsenical smoke and it’s no use against that. You’ll find arsenical smoke quite painless at first. You won’t know you’ve been gassed for a couple of days; then it’ll be too late. In fact for all we know we’re being gassed at this moment. If they fly high enough and let the wind carry the stuff they may be twenty miles away. The symptoms, when they do appear, are rather revolting . . .”

But Poppet was gone, helter-skelter downstairs making little moaning noises as she went.

Basil dressed and, only pausing to paint in a ginger moustache across Poppet’s head of Aphrodite, strolled out into the streets.

. . . . .

After the All Clear various friends of Poppet’s came together in her studio.

“I wasn’t the least frightened. I was so surprised at my own courage I felt quite giddy.”

“I wasn’t frightened I just felt glum.”

I felt positively glad. After all we’ve all said for years that the present order of things was doomed, haven’t we?” I mean it’s always been the choice for us between concentration camp and being blown up, hasn’t it?” I just sat thinking how much I preferred being blown up to being beaten with rubber truncheons.”

I was frightened,” said Poppet.

“Dear Poppet, you always have the healthiest reactions. Erchman really did wonders for you.”

“Well, I’m not sure they were so healthy this time. D’you know, I found myself actually praying.”

“I say, did you? That’s bad.”

“Better see Erchman again.”

“Unless he’s in a concentration camp.”

“We shall all be in concentration camps.”

“If anyone so much as mentions concentration camps again,” said Ambrose Silk, “I shall go frankly hay wire.” (“He had an unhappy love affair in Munich,” one of Poppet’s friends explained to another, “then they found he was half Jewish and the Brown Shirt was shut away.”) “Let’s look at Poppet’s pictures and forget the war. Now that,” he said pausing before the Aphrodite, “that I consider good, I consider it good, Poppet. The moustache . . . it shows you have crossed one of the artistic rubicons and feel strong enough to be facetious. Like those wonderfully dramatic old chestnuts in Parsnip’s Guernica Revisted. You’re growing up Poppet, my dear.”

. . . . .

Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art. Nature in the raw is seldom mild; red in tooth and claw; matelots in Toulon smelling of wine and garlic, with tough brown necks, cigarettes stuck to the lower lip, lapsing into unintelligible, contemptuous argot.

Art: this was where Art had brought him, to this studio, to these coarse and tedious youngsters, to that preposterous yellow face among the boiled sweets.

Evelyn  Waugh, 1903-1966. Put out More Flags, 1942.  (Chapter. 1. Autumn. 4)

Image: Ithell Colquhoun, 1906-1988