March 16, 2006

reading Clive Bell

One of the pleasures of midcoast Maine is odd finds in used bookstores. One recent example: Clive Bell's Old Friends, a collection of sketches published when he was about 75, looking back over a life of having known remarkable people. Three excerpts, chosen for their vivid language:

of Dugardier's model, Irma:

Besides being a beauty, Irma was a wit, and a très brave fille to boot. A passionate cyclist, she was the first woman wearing bloomers with whom I ever sat down to dine; also, she was the first I ever saw pick up her plate and lick it clean. I learned much from Irma. (pg 151)

on Walter Sickert:
'The opinions of Walter Sickert', what were they? They boxed the compass between a first and a third glass of wine. Sickert was a chameleon, and the most I hope to suggest is some plausible explanation of the fact.

Sickert was a poseur: he belonged to an age of poseurs, the age of Wilde and Huysmans and Whistler. If, to be an artist, it was not absolutely necessary to épater les bourgeois, it was necessary to do so in order to be reckoned one in the best circles. And it was in the best artistic and intellectual circles that Sickert was admired. In London, at the beginning of the century, his position was remarkable and, I think, enviable. He was not a popular artist but he was esteemed. English people of intelligence and culture, whose culture was mildly cosmopolitan and more or less up to date, had to have an English painter to admire, and whom could they have but Sickert? (pp 13-14)

In an effort to describe Virginia Woolf's conversation ("the fun and spirit of Virginia's talk") he quotes this passage from The Mark on the Wall:
...To show how very little control of our possessions we have—what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilization—let me just count over a few of the things lost in one lifetime, beginning, for that seems always the most mysterious of losses—what cat would gnaw, what rat would nibble—three pale blue canisters of book-binding tools? Then there were the bird cages, the iron hoops, the steel skates, the Queen Anne coal-scuttle, the bagatelle board, the hand organ—all gone, and jewels, too. Opals and emeralds, they lie about the roots of turnips. What a scraping paring affair it is to be sure! The wonder is that I’ve any clothes on my back, that I sit surrounded by solid furniture at this moment. Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour—landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked! Tumbling head over heels in the asphodel meadows like brown paper parcels pitched down a shoot in the post office! (pp 108-109)

Posted by oook at March 16, 2006 08:28 PM

Great prose is your best entertainment value. Wow.

Posted by: Gardner at March 17, 2006 08:20 AM

Hi Hugh,

This is not a comment relating to Clive Bell but I am trying to contact you and this seems to be the only way I could find. I am putting together a coffee table book about the modern history of Harvard Square and I would like to use a couple of photographs that you took that appeared in the 1965 Harvard Yearbook. From a cursory glance at your website I think this project would interest you. Please contact me when you get the chance. You can also call: 888-541-8877. Thanks!

Posted by: Mo Lotman at March 17, 2006 11:20 AM