Arnold Bennett’s Journal

My 1933 copy of Bennett’s journal is a book I often dip into. Full of forthright opinions and lively insights.

Now I’m wondering whether I’ve missed out on a fuller edition of some sort.

I’ve been reading Agate (1986) by James Harding, an enjoyable life of James Agate, the flamboyant drama critic.

James Agate

Harding quotes an early twenties entry from Bennett’s journal:

J.E. Agate came early for tea in order to get counsel. He is a man of forty or so, rather coarse-looking and therefore rather coarse in some things. Fattish. Has a reputation for sexual perversity… [and so on].

Now those sentences are definitely not in my edition of the Jornal. Unsurprisingly. In 1933 Agate was still alive. To accuse a man of ‘sexual perversity’ was to court a very serious libel action. And whether or not Agate had sued, he could well have found himself in the dock, and then in prison, like Oscar Wilde.

So it was an act of prudence and also of mercy for the thirties editors to leave out this kind of passage. But how much more of this kind of thing is there in the Journals? Does anyone know? The introduction says that they have hardly been cut, but there is little about Bennett’s own sex life in the thirties edition, and not much about other people’s. But it was a subject he was very interested in (as most of us are) and I’d like to read what he has to say about it.

Harding’s book is without footnotes, so his source is unclear. But what about those journals. Has anyone had a look at the manuscript copies recently?

Harding’s book is a good read, and gives a clear idea of Agate, a self-important man who thought he was writing for posterity. His Ego books were hailed as classics in their time, but few are more utterly forgotten (except perhaps by theatre historians.) I’ve looked at some, and they are readable, but I’m not hurrying back for more.

He saw his job as the recording of the effect of great performers for the sake of future generations. Posterity has not shown much interest, as I expect they will not fifty years hence in the great wash of books detailing the lives, performance and significance of rock stars.

Each generation has its own stars, and not many people have much interest in performers of yesterday. Dramatic critics, too, I suppose are among those who perform for the day, and afterwards find oblivion.

On the other hand, Harding gives a clear idea of Agate’s sex life in those unliberated days. Disconcerting at times.

For Agate’s enjoyable war memoir, L of C – see here,

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