I’m for the Hôtel de la Louisiane

“. . . I have a room for 400 francs a month and at last I will be living within my own and other people’s income. I am tired of acquaintances and tired of friends unless they’re intelligent, tired also of extrovert unbookish life. Me for good talk, wet evenings, intimacy, vins rouges en carafe, reading, relative solitude, street worship, exploration of the least known arrondissements, shopgazing, alley sloping, cafe crawling, Seine loafing, and plenty of writing from the table by this my window where I can watch the streets light up… I am for the intricacy of Europe, the discrete and many folded strata of the old world, the past, the North, the world of ideas. I am for the Hôtel de la Louisiane.”

Cyril Connolly, Hôtel de la Louisiane

Hôtel de la Louisiane

There is plenty about Cyril Connolly that I dislike, particularly his crushing Waugh-like snobbery, but he could turn a phrase, not half as exquisitely as he would have wished, but his writing has elegance and soul.

Today, in Paris, Connolly has captured my mood:

…I have a room for 400 francs a month and at last I will be living within my own and other people’s income. I am tired of acquaintances and tired of friends unless they’re intelligent, tired also of extrovert unbookish life. Me for good talk, wet evenings, intimacy, vins rouges en carafe, reading, relative solitude, street worship, exploration of the least known arrondissements, shopgazing, alley sloping, cafe crawling, Seine loafing, and plenty of writing from the table by this my window where I can watch the streets light up… I am for the intricacy of Europe, the discrete and many folded strata of the old world, the past, the North, the world of ideas. I am for the Hôtel de la Louisiane.

Cyril Connolly
The London Journal

Obscure Modernists

Rhys Tranter’s (A Piece of Monologue) response to the recent McCrum piece on Modernism:

All of this begs the question: should we bother with modernism at all? Is it suited to our bedside table, or should it be exiled to obscurity on some distant library shelf? An old cliché condemns it as an experiment that went nowhere, but I suggest that modernism can be more than a discreet title on a top ten list, or the answer to a question at a pub quiz. Reading modernist writers need not be a life’s work, but an enjoyable way to pass the time.

Much as I champion Joyce and Woolf, both favourites, there are other literary modernists worth reading. Cyril Connolly’s 100 Key Books offers many treasures, very few that are boring.

The Unquiet Grave by Cyril Connolly

An odd book, Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave, in many ways unique. Written in the obvious grip of melancholia, Connolly opines on human relationships, art and spirituality. Structured as a series of aphorisms, epigrams, gripes and opinions it is in turn hilarious, brutally truthful and bleak. I read it in two sittings and will undoubtedly dip into it sporadically. I could quote much but a single excerpt will suffice to demonstrate Connolly’s tartly humorous perspective:

A young man who wished to marry consulted his uncle, an old courtier of the days of Edward P. ‘No one will want to marry you as you are,’ said his uncle. ‘You must get polish, your own particular aroma. Take a house, get to know about furniture and painting, buy the new books, listen to music, know whom to entertain and how to serve food and wine. Then you’ll have something to offer, and all the right mothers will snap you up.’ The young man did as he was told and some fifteen years later called again on the ancient week-ender of Fort Belvedere, whose old eyes now were seldom far from tears or alcohol.

‘My house is perfect,’ squeaked the brittle youth, ‘the pictures are just right, the bindings of green morocco catch the light of the evening sun; my Louis Seize commodes belly out in the alcoves, there are Malvern water and biscuits by every bed, and in each lavatory the toilet-paper, loosely arranged in scented sheets, is weighted down by a coloured stone. Nobody who dines with me gets quite drunk or goes home quite sober, nobody who comes to luncheon remembers afterwards anything they have said. I am at last perfectly eligible. What shall I do?’

The old Beau laughed and lit his third cigar, ‘Just carry on,’ he chuckled; ‘I think we’ve got you out of the wood.’

Promise! Fatal Word

A recondite fusion of factors produced a particular crop of English, left-wing, homosexual public-school, Oxbridge boys, which prevailed in literary, artistic and espionage circles in the 1930’s. Cyril Connolly is the quintessential example.This overcast afternoon was spent reading parts 1 and 2 of Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise, and dipping into the memoir of Eton that comprises the third part.

. . . in fact were I to deduce any system from my feeling on leaving Eton, it might be called The Theory of Permanent Adolescence. It is the theory that the experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools, their glories and disappointments, are so intense as to dominate their lives and to arrest their development. From these it results that the greater part of the ruling class remains adolescent, school-minded, self-conscious, cowardly, sentimental and in the last analysis homosexual. Early laurels weigh like lead and of many of the boys whom I knew at Eton, I can say that their lives are over. Those who knew them then knew them at their best and fullest; now, in their early thirties, they are haunted ruins.

The first part offers acerbic and forthright criticism, contrasting overly ornate writing that Connolly terms Mandarin style with its opposite Vernacular style. The second looks at a variety of hazards that stand between writers and posterity: journalism, politics, escape into alcohol or drugs, sloth, sex, success and domesticity.

In general it may be assumed that a writer who is not prepared to be lonely in his youth must if he is to succeed face loneliness in his middle age. The hotel bedroom awaits him. If, as Dr. Johnson said, a man who is not married is only half a man, so a man who is very much married is only half a writer. Marriage can succeed for an artist only where there is enough money to save him from taking uncongenial work and a wife who is intelligent and unselfish enough to understand and respect the working of the unfriendly cycle of the creative imagination. She will know at what point domestic happiness begins to cloy, where love, tidiness, rent, rates, clothes, entertaining and rings at the doorbell should stop and will recognise that there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.

Connolly’s 100 key books of the modernist movement include many of the works praised in Enemies of Promise.If you didn’t follow the link above please read William Boyd’s portrayal of Cyril Connolly. It is very good.

…I have a room for 400 francs a month and at last I will be living within my own and other people’s income. I am tired of acquaintances and tired of friends unless they’re intelligent, tired also of extrovert unbookish life. Me for good talk, wet evenings, intimacy, vins rouges en carafe, reading, relative solitude, street worship, exploration of the least known arrondissements, shopgazing, alley sloping, cafe crawling, Seine loafing, and plenty of writing from the table by this my window where I can watch the streets light up… I am for the intricacy of Europe, the discrete and many folded strata of the old world, the past, the North, the world of ideas. I am for the Hôtel de la Louisiane.

London’s Best Bookshop

It’s a close-run competition but London’s finest bookshop is John Sandoe in Chelsea. Tucked away on a side street to the ghastly blandness that is the Kings Road, this is literary heaven. The stock is impeccable, featuring a fine and serious selection including a spread imported books from the US. The staff are erudite and immensely helpful. The ethos is to recommend and suggest books based upon an acquired knowledge of your literary taste.

The spoils of today’s raid on Sandoes:

Michael Foucault – The Order of Things
Cyril Connolly – Enemies of Promise
Terry Eagleton – Literary Theory
J.M.G. Le Clézio – The Flood
Fernando Pessoa – A Centenary Pessoa
Thomas Pynchon – Against The Day