Monday, August 28, 2006

Ambushed by Stein, Wells, and Proust

Thankfully my Monday didn't get any worse than the stolen bike. I even ventured to look at the website of the bike shop where I hope to find my new wheels. And maybe, just maybe, I got a little excited. I don't want to be disappointed if I get there and they no longer have any of the bikes I imagined myself riding though so I am trying to keep it low key. So let's switch gears and talk about authors and books, shall we? I was reading happily along in volume three of Virginia Woolf's Diary the other night before bed, when I came upon an entry in which Woolf goes to a party at Edith Sitwell's and meets Gertrude Stein there. Woolf writes of that Stein is

a lady much like Joan Fry but more massive; in blue-sprinkled brocade, rather formidable.
I had no idea that Stein and Woolf had ever met. My mind reeled and then I read the footnote which explained that Stein was there because she had been invited to lecture at the literary societies at Cambridge and Oxford. The address she gave, Composition as Explanation was published a few months later by the Hogarth Press, owned and operated by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. How cool is that? As if that weren't enough, at the end of that June, 1926 entry, Woolf mentions that Leonard was out dining with Wells. It did not dawn on me until the next day's entry that the Wells Leonard dined with was none other than H.G. Wells! Woolf wrote:
Leonard back from Wells who chattered till 1/4 to 4: likes to walk through the streets; has a house in France kept for him by a very intelligent Brazilian lady. Called me "too intelligent--a bad thing": can't criticise; brings in social theories, because he says in an age when society is dissolving, the social state is part of the character.
Then a few days later, Virginia gets to meet Wells:
Wells remarkable only for a combination of stockishness with acuity: he has a sharp nose, & the cheeks & jowl of a butcher. He likes, I judge, rambling & romancing about the lives of other people [...] I could see from the plaintive watery look on Mrs. Wells' face 9she has widely spaced teeth & in repose looks very worried, at the same time vacant) that he is arrogant lustful & bullying in private life. The virtues he likes are courage & vitality. I sad how ghastly! [...] No: nothing is ghastly where there is courage he said.
And if that isn't enough, several days later Woolf and Wells are together again, this time talking about literature. He starts off by telling a story about Henry James:
Henry James was a formalist. He always thought of clothes. He was never intimate with anyone--not with his brother even: he had never been in love. Once his brother wanted to see Chesterton, & climbed a ladder & looked over a wall. This angered Henry; who called in Wells & asked him for an opinion--as I had one!
Then comes the whammy:
Wells has learnt nothing from Proust--his book is like the British Museum. One knows there are delightful interesting things in it, but one does not go there. One day it may be wet--I shall say God, what am I to do this afternoon? & I shall read Proust as I might go to the British Museum.
Says quite a bit about Wells, eh? I've been to the British Museum and now I am reading Proust. I can honestly say they are nothing alike. Unless one considers Proust to be a sort of Rosetta Stone. But being a Rosetta Stone is much different than being a museum.