Summer Blog Post Sixteen
Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley; World Cup in Brazil, trip to Paris in July 2014
Summer Blog Post Sixteen
Summer Blog Post Sixteen
Dear readers of my blog,
“writing to the moment” is a sentence made famous by the essayist of partly Irish descent William Hazlitt, and it still makes sense – either for a diarist or a blogger. I have been keeping diaries since 1987, most of which lying in drawers or kept in chests and hardly ever looked at, let alone exploited systematically. At the moment, they are still only an arm's length away and could help solve some questions where memories either fail to exist or keep cropping up in an inconclusive manner. For the year 1994, however, the calendar I used only allowed for noting appointments and perhaps some cryptic remarks. So I rely on other sources. And memories of all shades start to accumulate once they had been triggered by one or two key-words.
Having browsed for the first time and for some minutes in the review copy of Aldous Huxley, a biography by Uwe Rasch and Gerhard Wagner (Theiss, 2019), the first comprehensive book of its kind to appear in German, I was immediately struck by the remark that – as opposed to most of his contemporaries – Huxley lost the largest part of his personal library as well as the MSS and TS of his works in a fire in California in 1961. This certainly is a serious impediment for any literary biographer. When working for the centenary Symposium held at Münster in 1994, I was of course aware of this but having moved on I must admit that I had completely forgotten about this tragic event in Huxley's life, though I later recalled that I also studied the typescript of Island a lot, the only novel that was still unpublished in 1961.
Unlike the “bonfires” of manuscript letters and compromising material, which are quite common in literary circles in order to keep a writer's reputation “clean”, this bush fire in California must have hit the people concerned in quite an unprecedented way. While I was still aware of the split reception of Huxley in Europe and the US, since it had been a major part of the Münster Symposium, as well as of his earlier career as a satirical novelist and his later life as an essayist, philosopher, and lecturer, I am curious to find out more from this biography about the writer who is both instructive and amusing, rooted in the 19th century and a topical thinker for the 21st century.
To me, some passages in the introduction of the biography read like another description of Oscar Wilde whose essay The Soul of Man under Socialism might have provided Huxley with some inspiration, too. Neither the index, nor the bibliography of the Huxley biography, however, refer to Wilde. And I do not own another. In fact, Wilde is mentioned once in relation to Walter Pater, one of his Oxford dons, to describe Huxley as an “aesthete” (p. 30) who like to study these writers, whereas “English literature” was not part of the canon then taught at Eton (p. 30). Stylistically and in terms of breadth of interests as well as in terms of their education at an Oxford college, Wilde and Huxley perhaps share more than most other writers, not least in terms of their personal life which was that of an exile in more senses than one.
At the moment, I must say I feel intrigued by the way this biography is presented to delve into Huxley once again, not least since the authors make clear in the introduction that many of the ideas the “Fridays for Future” movement propagates world-wide have been around since Huxley's lifetime. Besides, I also think young students should be made aware of where their own ideas come from.
Personally, I find it easy now to explain my affinity for Huxley since he was born in the same year as my two grandfathers and shared, though from quite different perspectives, their experience of two world wars. To me, as perhaps to others, his way of articulating himself may serve as a guide that my own family was unable to provide, since he spelled out what they kept silent about. I remember clearly having read a novel like Eyeless in Gaza almost breathlessly. Today I know why: it did turn a family history into a proper narrative, something my own family seemed to be lacking, although, like the Huxley/Arnold family they worked in the teaching profession.
Writing in a diary or in a blog allows you to state all this in public while still keeping private things to oneself. A biographer is also, this is what we learn from Wilde the critic and the novelist, his own autobiographer. While the two authors of this biography are briefly portrayed on the back flap, the text itself reveals very little about their particular interest in Huxley and how their involvement started.
Leer, Wednesday, 26th June 2019
Rather than watching a late late night show on TV or the nth replay of all the goals scored at the Women's World Cup in France, I continue this blog post given that late last night I discovered a single reference to Oscar Wilde in the first volume of the complete edition of his essays, a book I bought in a Cambridge antiquarian bookshop in December 2001, immediately realizing that this edition had probably materialized owing to the centenary conference held at Münster in June 1994. Interestingly, Wilde crops up in an essay entitled “Art and Life”, a topic the Irishman had dealt with at length both in fiction and non-fiction before addressing it in The Picture of Dorian Gray as well. Studying individual words and their usage by men of letters has been my passion ever since writing on “James Joyce's Own Image”, so some of the terms used by Huxley in this essay reminded me of Wilde even before he is mentioned.
It is in the context of how much influence a writer wields that Wilde is first called “a special artist, insisting on one side of life and having particular ‘principles,’ [and that he] had a profound effect on the social life of his age. With Beardsley, he invented decadence as a social stunt. Society during the last years of Victoria's reign would have been different if Wilde and Beardsley had never lived. Shakespeare on the contrary inaugurated no stunt, and Elizabethan life would have gone on just the same if he had never existed. The social effects of Marlowe and of Donne were very much greater than were those of Shakespeare.” (Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays, Volume I: 1920-1925, ed. with Commentary by Robert S. Baker and James Sexton, Ivan Dee, 2000, pp. 163/164)
In the first chapter of The Picture of Dorian Gray, to Lord Henry Wotton principles are second only to people. All the same, Huxley is right in drawing attention to the discrepancy between a writer's public persona and his standing if he is not interested in moving his audience other than by means of his works.
Leer, Thursday, 27th June 2019
Writing this blog post precisely 25 years after the symposium was held in Münster, I cannot but recall moments I have always kept in my mind such as a brief interview the late David Bradshaw gave a TV company outside the English Department when he took out a photograph showing Aldous Huxley with his then mistress in Germany, in Munich, if my memory is correct. At the time, Bradshaw was “preparing a major critical biography of Aldous Huxley” (information on the inside of the dust jacket of The Hidden Huxley. Contempt and Compassion for the Masses, ed. David Bradshaw, London: Faber and Faber, 1994). When invited by Bradshaw to spend a night at Worcester College in February, we talked about the biography, and even then he said that his many tutorial and administrative obligations as well as other interests in various writers often prevented him from progressing.
Rereading his introduction to the essay collection that has still not been translated into German, I recognize immediately the difference between the approach chosen by the two German authors and Bradshaw's own. He sought to take advantage of his being placed in Oxford to consult as many archival sources as he could find, exploiting primarily the lacunae left by “a standard bibliography of [Huxley's] writings which is as incomplete as it is unreliable” (ibid., p. vii). Many of the texts Bradshaw perhaps was not the only one to have discovered have now found their way into print, mainly owing to the work done by the International Aldous Huxley Society, founded on 25th June 1998 and their Aldous Huxley Annual.
Oscar Wilde also re-emerges in Bradshaw's introduction when he refers to Huxley's part-time membership “as a Full Member of the Balliol Fabian Group” (ibid., p. ix). Describing Huxley “‘scrutinising most precisely, with the aid of a magnifying glass he used to aid his eyesight, the small print of the Basis’”, the constitution, that is, Rajany Palme Dutt (1896-1974) recounts a remark Huxley had made after signing the document, saying “‘that he did not want to be “an economic type of Socialist”, since he hated economics, and supported socialism for the same reasons as Oscar Wilde had done.’” (ibid., p. ix) In the biography, Huxley's membership of the Oxford University Socialist Club is mentioned as part of his extracurricular activities such as serving as secretary to the Essay Society run by Walter Raleigh and accompanying soldiers recovering from wartime injuries on strolls through Oxford, while preventing them from entering pubs (p. 43).
As editor and translator of Wilde's essay “The Soul of Man under Socialism”, I'd like to know much more about Huxley's affiliation with both the ideas of socialism and Wilde's version of them. Perhaps Bradshaw himself wrote about it in his “‘A Blind Stay-at-Home Mole’: Huxley at Oxford 1913-1916” (Aldous Huxley Annual 2012/2013, pp. 195-222). This article is mentioned once in the current biography with reference to Raleigh as one of Huxley's Oxford professors.
I have not yet read Bradshaw's piece nor do I own that volume of the annual, so I cannot say why neither the anecdote about Huxley scrutinizing the constitution of the Fabians of his college, which certainly shows him as a kind of “blind man”, nor any sustained reference to Wilde has entered the biography. Perhaps it just was not important. And, of course, as a critic I pick and choose, a biographer needs to tell the story as completely as possible. Writing different biographical essays on certain periods in a writer's life, as did Bradshaw, is also very different from trying to conceive of the grand narrative of his life.
Thursday, 27th & Friday 28th June 2019
Back at the “Colosseum”, an ice-cream parlour in Hanover Central Station for the fourth time since October 2013, I noticed in walking past towards the media store that the TV sets had already disappeared. The 20th World Cup has already become a memory as Jorge Valdano, author of the two nil for Argentina in their first Final vs. Germany in 1986, would put it in writing years later. For him, winning the title had been a dream that, come true, in his case would be recalled, while others, like Maradona, went on playing for a second chance in 1990 when it was Germany’s turn to see a dream become reality.
Lionel Messi’s dream of winning this cup has already been destroyed twice – each time by a German side. Now neither the Swiss nor the Belgians nor the Dutch proved tough enough to stop the Albiceleste, let alone score against Romero. Germany are their fourth Germanic foe, whereas la Mannschaft are playing the fourth Latin country in this competition, against three of which plus Algeria and despite a win this time their record had been and will remain negative.
All these are night- or afterthoughts since the scenes of the Final, while watching it, are so engrossing that the very idea of another shoot-out overshadows any but the most urgent reactions to the action on the pitch. Before watching the extra-time once more on Monday, I had no idea of how long the break was between its two halves, nor did I recall the quick succession of goalmouth scenes at both ends within the first minute or so.
Incidentally, while the Argentinians were mostly only pursued and subsequently separated from the ball by the German defender(s), Schürrle was also fouled before he got up quickly to finish the move just saved by Romero. Similarly, in the second half of extra-time, Schweinsteiger, fouled and even viciously punched in the face three times – all three attacks remaining without sanction – after treatment outside returned to be no. 2 after Captain Lahm in a movement allowing Schürrle to make a run past three Argentinians down the left. Almost arrived at the goal-line, he passes a twisted ball into the area which finds Götze who in a single movement kills the ball with his breast, sending it home past Romero with his left foot.
He is further away from the defender than I had thought in the first place, and the ball flies almost parallel to the goal-line before reaching the net. All this could not be recognized from afar when we watched it live. I only saw the ball bouncing the net – le petit filet as the French call it. Our shouts in the room are visceral, hardly to overhear, I think, even by those who tell me they had been woken up by victorious noises – just like those of relief after Müller’s third goal in the first match. And I’m sure now they will win, and I don’t have to ride home as I had thought I would during the shoot-out – recalling that terrible night in May 2012 when Bayern Munich lost their final at home against Chelsea and when Schweinsteiger hit the post with his penalty.
Hanover, Tuesday, 15th July 2014, 9.30 p.m.
On arrival in Paris, suspense was at its height until I had safely “hidden” my group of nine students behind a book-store in the Gare de l’Est before walking to the Métro station accompanied by a volunteer who would later acquire a carnet of ten tickets for the day’s first trip on her own. As I had not safely seen a group through Paris before, I remained nervous until we had all found our separate bedrooms in this vast apartment in a house dating from 1895, the year of Oscar Wilde’s trial.
As opposed to March, that July morning the Métro was full of people with luggage but a little less crammed on the whole, so that we could always enter the carriage when the first train arrived. There’s no paranoia in closely observing one’s surroundings, it’s only natural in a city with so many people. In effect, my students had taken my warnings seriously, not a single mobile phone flash could be seen and luckily for some with heavy suitcases I had miscalculated the distance from the Métro station to the apartment I had visited only once when it was night. From the landline I would tell my wife via the answer phone that all had gone well and that the taxi at Leer had presumably been held up by a monstrous traffic jam, so that taking my own car to the station had been the only sensible solution.
Now sitting at our dinner table in the room with a view to the tour Eiffel, where some brown curtains prevent the salon from being totally overheated by the morning sun, I hear the Italian student in the class first describing the apartment in all possible detail to her Mamma and then chanting or humming some Italian songs before kitchen noises take over.
Paris, XVIè, Wednesday, 16th July 2014
The first day in Paris over, having culminated in a boat cruise at night on the river Seine, the second starts with the sun showing me where the tour Eiffel is – to the East of our apartment block. Both windows and stair well which I walked up yesterday evening reveal the age of the building, while the apartment itself breathes the atmosphere of a family’s history. It reminds me of an Italian film in six parts by Ettore Scola I once watched in the late 1980s, La famiglia (1987), all the action of which set in 1906, 1916, 1926, 1936, 1976, and 1986 took place in the labyrinthine apartment the family lived in with several generations.1
On Wednesday afternoon we first did our shopping near-by, finding a supermarket where neither vegetables nor fruits could be bought which you needed to acquire next door. Then we went on foot to the Maison de Balzac, 47 Rue de Raynouard, where the writer had lived for seven years in the 1840s, hidden from his creditors both by a building now demolished and by using one of his many pen-names. He rented the top floor with five rooms, sharing the house with 15 people living beneath who entered their abode at Rue Berton below.
Then lying outside the city of Paris, as the guide tells us, the house only became part of the capital as of 1860 when the great changes planned and brought about by Baron Haussmann aimed at doing away with most mediæval streets, alleys, and houses. Rue Berton is one of the relics with cobbled stones and also a whiff of country air once one walks past the perimeter wall of the Turkish Embassy.
The French Institute at Vienna, which I had visited a month ago, though, occupies more stately even majestic grounds. In what proves an exhaustive as well as exhausting tour, the guide tells us in beautiful French which I mostly render in German, about this workaholic, a maniac of literature, who still inspires both translators, artists, and readers alike though his descriptive vein has put off many a young reader since with the availability of ever more images there seems no longer to be any necessity for either descriptions or character portraits abounding in Balzac’s novels for which he is said to have invented about 2,500 characters with 800 becoming recurrent ones in what he termed the Comédie humaine. I also learned to appreciate his over-all scientific approach, making him a complementary figure to the biologists of his day, called naturalistes in French, who sought to draw a map of the animal world, whereas Balzac wanted to map mankind with all its multiple variations.
Paris, XVIè, Thursday, 17th July 2014
Walking the streets and lanes of both posh and popular Paris on a day when certain regional fast trains as well as Métro lines work slowly or not at all owing to the heat wave which starts flooding the salon of our apartment after 7.45 a.m. we visited samples of the French capital dating from the 6th to the 21st century. In the early afternoon, we spent some minutes sitting in the central nave of St. Germain-des-Prés where, as I told the students, Oscar Wilde’s Requiem mass had been held on 3rd December 1900 with just 56 people present.
This is not a big number for a funeral in the countryside where most of my students were born and bred. On entering the nave, one or two had asked me about what was going on there. It was, in fact, a burial with many people turning up in black, while others wore dark or lighter blues or old-age beige. We left before proceedings began, only to notice the undertaker’s van parked outside as well as other chauffeured limos whose drivers stood around chatting and sharing a drink of mineral water.
We didn’t, however, partake of any refreshments at either Les Deux Magots or Le Bonaparte. Instead, we took a group photograph in front of Les Deux Magots where Driss and Philippe had sat in “Intouchables”, a film we had dealt with at length in our French class. Asked for the meaning of the word “magot”, I cannot explain it: it’s either a species of monkey or a kind of grotesque figurine. Both might have a meaning in the context of “Intouchables”.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, both patrons of that famous café, also featured on our programme, while Oscar Wilde will enter it through the back door, so it was quite in order to take a look at L’Hôtel d’Alsace, today a five-star residence where we wouldn’t venture either. Off-putting as the price-list was, the size of the building when we stood before it wasn’t since today’s vehicles parked on both sides of the narrow street made it seem diminished, like an aged parent. Also, the two commemorative plaques to Wilde and Jose Luiz Borges looked a lot less impressive, a bit derelict, too, to say the truth, without having been enlarged and embellished by a camera lens.
For our most urgent needs, we then repaired to a near-by supermarket, buying both cosmetics and soft drinks before boarding the Métro for Montmartre where you can find inexpensive postcards as well as France shirts or Union Jack sunglasses, while it is not improbable to get lost in the waves upon waves of photographing tourists welling up and down the hill, in and out of the funicular of Montmartre. We did have a look, too, at le Moulin Rouge, standing for the time being in the hot draught of the Métro fumes from which a man of a certain age also profited who lay low reclining his straw-hatted head on his bag and smoking his fag slowly.
Everyone was exhausted on our return but we did our shopping for the next day, so that we wouldn’t lose much time in the morning.
Paris, XVIè, Friday, the 18th July 2014
Some things were easier to manage, other snags, however, arose. Breakfasting and preparing the sandwiches at the large table in the salon as if for a pique-nique, as the waitress in the Rue de la Main d’Or would phrase it when I paid the soft drinks we had taken there, was certainly a nice step forward. The individual time management within the group of ten as a whole, for instance, worked out so badly that we were ten minutes late simply because one or two failed to note when the only bathroom was free. This had consequences in that they breakfasted and cleared the table later, while those with an innate or trained sense of responsibility were already preparing tonight’s birthday dessert.
To begin with, today’s programme needed to be cut since the heat promising to become prodigious and to show on everyone’s face seemed to rule out any prolonged museum visits. We did take in, though, the great East-West line from the Louvre via the Obelisk on the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe and the Arche de la Défense beyond that. I would have liked us to enjoy the view from the top of the triumphant arch but the Madame at the cash till proved too formidable for either my students or for myself, since she insisted on them returning with their parents (they are under 18) or to pay a group fee of 30 €, if, gracious as she tried to appear, there was room upstairs. Obviously, it was not her job to find an inexpensive solution for us. In fact, she was both right and not right about the regulations which had been revised as could be seen when we reached the ground floor of the arch. She was not right about all students. Those between 18 and 25 and citizens of the EU ought to have been free anyway and all the others, including me, ought to have profited from a reduction owing to our ticket for the Métro. But all this needs to be negotiated and neither Madame nor me were in the mood for such negotiations. It was a confrontation, nobody won, and both lost.
Tant pis, as the French would say, and we moved on to the Place de la Concorde, led by one of the boys whose birthdays we were going to celebrate over the weekend. It had been of no avail having read out a poem by Jean Tardieu on the Place de la Concorde when two boys were cleaning the salon after breakfast. One of them said he couldn’t concentrate on anything else while working. Although I had brought my folder I didn’t think it suitable to do it once again in the blazing sun, for what interested everyone most on the Place were the various vehicles you can hire for an hour, a Ferrari, for example, to have you run around Paris at 89 €. Consumer society is omnipresent, and the chance to take a close look at such legendary vehicles was probably too tempting for them not to yield to. Unwittingly, they followed the idea pronounced by Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray always to yield to a temptation.
Paris, XVIè, Friday, 18th July 2014
Socialites and social outsiders whose part as profiteers they try to stare away or down are easily found or found out in such a close-knit circle as a group of only ten where leave of absence from the “family hearth” is asked for as at home because in a subtle way it is home just as a hostel isn’t. Visiting the Square Trousseau at last, where we had our lunch-time picnic and the Rue Trousseau with the Collège Anne Frank, both of which figure in our school’s French textbook, we paid homage to a lively multicultural quarter in the 11th arrondissement bordering on the 12th. In the Rue Trousseau, there is also a Youth Hostel where the waitress of the Bistrot near-by presumed we were staying. Located in the Rue de la Main d’or, the Bistrot seemed a place to share some drinks in. At first, she didn’t want us to come in then she placed us in the back room below a TV set where the World Cup plan was still seen pasted on the wall on our left, any entries ending with France vs. Allemagne. We knew the result but those fans wouldn’t have wanted it spelled out in so many figures. So they stopped there – being too depressed, as the waitress explained to me later on, smiling brightly.
I don’t quite fathom her. Is she not interested in football at all, or can she simply not be bothered by a defeat, given that that was just a game and that life as such isn’t? At any rate, she would not agree to that correspondent to France Football who in the post-World Cup issue published on 15th July complained about les Bleus having had to play at high noon. In fact, they did so twice, in the round of the last 16 and in the quarter-finals, while Germany had already done so twice in the group stage, having had to face the North Brazilian heat as well where France never played. All these questions seemed to be as nothing to the waitress. Be that as it may, her attitude had completely changed, becoming friendlier each time she returned to apologize for not having any of the drinks we had ordered left.
Students today need to spend online minutes or bytes or telephone minutes allotted to them for free and on a daily basis as others need to look at the news, for example the post-World Cup resignation of German Captain Philipp Lahm. Winning this Cup medal was the ultimate apex and climax of his career. Now or never is the time for a farewell to all the talents who otherwise wouldn’t need the winning coach’s expertise to go on. Löw had already lost two finals on club and nation level by a goal to nil each before finally winning the most important cup with players he’d started coaching ten years ago, Klose, Lahm, Podolski, and Schweinsteiger, all of them having won more than a hundred caps.
Friday, 18th July, 6.30 p.m.
Revised, Sunday, 30th June 2019
1 Cinema e teatro: LA FAMIGLIA (The family) - Ettore Scola http://cinetramando.blogspot.com/2016/03/la-famiglia-ettore-scola.html (Accessed: 18th July 2018).