mjj (flemmings) wrote,


We had our sunny warm perfumed May day today: sunny after the rain cleared mid-morning and warm until a cold front blew in this afternoon. But I'll take it.

Am relieved that I'm not actually as crippled as I felt all day. Evidently I failed to take my anti-inflams this morning, being engrossed by Postsecret, I guess.

I have a couple of books on the go, inspired by my successful polishing off of The Castle of Otranto yesterday afternoon. Another slim volume to weed from the shelf, Cyril Connolly's The Unquiet Grave. But oh does it drag in comparison to Walpole!

Connolly was one of those between-wars literati who hobnobbed with all the other literati and travelled about with them and stayed at their houses and behaved like Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy: complained constantly, made demands, and left the places he stayed in a mess. All without being able to hold down a job, while sponging off his parents and mentors. Why am I reading him? Because in my naive 20s the literary critics of the time pushed certain English writers at the public and I tried reading them, never understanding what the fuss was about. VS Pritchett, Anthony Powell, Nigel Nicolson, and all the Bloomsburyites. Maybe you had to be English to get the point; or maybe the litcrits were all English males and naturally in tune with that particular zeitgeist. Anyway, Connolly was one of them. and I kept The Unquiet Grave ('a word cycle') thinking I might understand it at some later date. Forty years later I understand it all too well.

The book begins, "The more books we read, the sooner we perceive that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence." Those who cannot do, pontificate. *Especially* if they've been to Eton and Oxford.

Connolly inveighs against women, especially women who have female friends, because women are always trying to break up other women's marriages from spite against men, when they aren't leaving their own marriages from spite against men. I assume some personal grudge at work here: his first wife left him after seven years of marriage, which had to be from spite and not because he was sponging off both her and her mother. In any case, Connolly feels very very sorry for himself and knows the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Marriage invariably ends in hatred or boredom. Friendship is dead. Yahoos are everywhere. The past was so much better than the present- in Rome under Augustus, in Restoration England, in the eighteenth century- and that's where he sees himself belonging. "Civilization is maintained by very few people in a small number of places, and we need only a few bombs and some prisons to blot it out altogether. The civilized are those who get more out of life than the uncivilized, and for this the uncivilized have not forgiven them." Oh, the jeunesse dorée of a hundred years ago: what an unquestioned sense of superiority and entitlement Eton and Balliol can give a man.

OK, this book was written in during the second world war and Connolly was clearly suffering from depression. But the basically selfish and self-centred nature of the man is everywhere, and one can't help suspecting it to be a large contributing factor.

And of course, he was probably right about how he should belong to another time. The other book I'm reading is Huizinga's The Waning of the Middle Ages (coincidentally, also a book from the 70s that I couldn't parse then but can now, after reading both A Distant Mirror and Magnifico.) Connolly would be out of his depth in periods of high reason like both Augustan ages; he's better suited to the calamitous 14th century of Deschamps:
The poetry of Deschamps is full of petty reviling of life and its inevitable troubles. Happy is he who has no children, for then he can write his masterpiece* babies mean nothing but crying and stench; they give only trouble and anxiety; they have to be clothed, shod, fed... Happy are bachelors, for a man who has an evil wife has a bad time of it, and he who has a good one fears to lose her. In other words, happiness is feared together with misfortune. In old age the poet sees only evil and disgust, a lamentable decline of the body and the mind, ridicule and insipidity. It comes soon, at thirty for a woman, at fifty for a man, and neither lives beyond sixty, for the most part.
I shall think of Connolly as sitting out the Black Death, and maybe his witterings will go down better.

*"There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall" says the man who had no children until twenty years after he wrote that line.
Tags: history, reading_19

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