Three days in London

Marion and I went to London on Wednesday and stayed till Friday. During that time I managed to squeeze in quite a few research-related activities.

On Wednesday I went exploring in Clerkenwell, trying to retrace one of my favourite walks in twentieth-century literature, the stroll of Henry Earlforward and Mrs Arb on a Sunday morning  in Arnold Bennett’s Riceyman Steps. I took some photos, and will post them on the blog soon, as I did for my Mrs Dalloway walk eighteen months ago. I doubt that they will be so popular, though. In the battle for literary popularity, Virginia Woolf best Bennett many years ago. Mrs Dalloway is on the reading list for most modernism courses, while that wonderful novel Riceyman Steps is almost forgotten. Ah well…

I’ve already posted my review of Her Naked Skin, the disappointing suffragette play at the National Theatre. Much better was the play we saw on Wednesday evening, On the Rocks by Amy Rosenthal at the Hampstead Theatre.  This is  set in Cornwall during the Great War, when D. H. Lawrence and Frieda  invited their friends, Jack Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield to stay with  them.

The play is gloriously funny, as the egotism of the Lawrences overcomes the more conventional Murry. It is not entirely fair – we see more of Lawrence’s absurdity than we do of his genius, and Murry’s interesting ideas are never explored. Perhaps I liked it because its view of Lawrence is rather like my own. So much of his philosophising is impossible, and so many of his attitudes are tiresome. He wants to form a sacred bond of brotherhood with the more timid Murry, and there is a gloriously funny scene where he challenges the other man to a bout of nude wrestling, as in Women in Love.

I also visited the BFI archive again, to see a couple of films. The Leopard’s Spots is the propaganda short I mentioned a while ago as Once a Hun, always a Hun. I’ll write a detailed report of the whole two minutes of it sometime.  the other film was Adrian Brunel’s Blighty (1927). I chose this rather at random, and it turned out to be  a very good film The scriptwriters included Charles McEvoy (of The Likes of Her) and Elliot Stannard, one of Hitchcock’s early collaborators.  Several of the scenes were very neatly turned, and rather suggested the truth of the point made by Charles Barr in his English Hitchcock, that the director owed a great deal to his early collaborators.

The film told the story of Robin (played by Godfrey Winn!) a young man who went to war. In France he met a young refugee and married her. The only person who knew about this was the family chauffeur, Marshall, who enlisted at the same time, and eventually was commissioned. After Robin’s death, Marshall reconciles Robin’s family and the wife. He proposes to Robin’s sister. When the paterfamilias is told about this, he is on the verge of being indignant, but then the great silence of the first Remembrance Day begins. The meaning of the war comes home to him, and he accepts Marshall. It’s an ending that you might have found in a book five years earlier; the cinema was very conservative, and lagged behind other art forms in its interpretation of the war.

I also got in some time at the British Library, looking at the script of Hutchinson’s play version of If Winter Comes – even more tedious than the novel; the characters do an awful lot of explaining to each other. But then I looked at a play that I’d seen mentioned in books about censorship – Khaki of 1924. I knew nothing about this play, apart from the fact that it had not pleased the Lord Chamberlain. My delight was therefore huge when I turned to the first page and found that it was by T. S. Eliot’s favourite comedian, Ernie Lotinga. It’s pure comic gold. maybe I’ll write that up, too when I’ve sorted my papers.

When I got home, I found A.M. Burrage’s death certificate waiting for mein the post. I’ve discovered that he died at Edgware General Hospital, from a horrible combination of diseases, and that the person who informed the registrar was “H.A. Burrage, widow of deceased.” That’s the first mention of a wife that I’ve come across so far in my Burrage researches. There is clearly much more to discover. I’ve added the new information to my Burrage biography page.

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