Writing On Literature

  • The Last Word is the final chapter of Conseils a un Jeune Francais Partant Pour L'Angleterre by Andre Maurois, Editions Bernard Grasset, 1938.  If you want to read this short book from the beginning, scroll down to the first post and read upwards.  It's the modern way.   Above all, be joyful about the way England looks.  You will love the countryside that seems to have been drawn by Constable or Gainsborough.  You will love the hills, the valleys and the dunes.  You will love the amiably wild gardens and the mown and ordered lawns.  You will love London, which in its grey and gold fog, with the red stains of buses and the black stains of policemen, looks like an immense Turner. 

    Aug 10,
  • Since the war, at the Saint-Cyr Military College, there has been an English teacher who also prepares our young Frenchmen for their journeys to England.  He takes them to one side and explains certain infinitely detailed little mores.  These may seem minor, but to know them is to avoid distressing new English friends.  I’ll give a brief example of the kind of thing he teaches:  ‘Never forget that it’s a delicate compliment to your host not to smoke while you’re drinking his Port; it shows that you wouldn’t want to risk masking the flavours of such a rare wine with veils of smoke… Be polite by preparing to smoke a cigar by first smoking a cigarette … An English private soldier

    Aug 09,
  • You’ll find that the English are more sentimental and more capricious than us French.  The films and plays liked by the general public here are swimming in sentimentality.  Clearly we’re no longer in the era when Dickens, at the end of his novels, had to satisfy his public by reassuring them that all his characters ended happily.  But among the English there are many who hang on to the need to believe that England is Paradise on earth.  They know the weaknesses in human nature, but would be made unhappy if they had to admit to them publicly.  This is the source on one hand of their sentimentality and on the other their need for a moral mask.  The

    Jul 14,
  • Don’t work too hard.  Above all don’t be what they call ‘fussy’.  Wait until someone asks you to do something.  Don’t rush to do what needs doing in advance, or not with any excessive ardour.  You ask me:  ‘Are they lazy?’ Not exactly.  They think it betrays pride to want to do too much.  Look at how they walk.  Quite slowly, very long strides.  That’s how they get on in life.  They don’t like to jostle destiny.  In the army, they used to say to me: ‘Never refuse a mission.  Never ask for one either.’ They’re ambitious like people everywhere, but they hide it pretty well.

    Jul 12,
  • Victorian modesty is dying.  Finally, the scientific reasoning of Freud and his disciples has licensed the Anglo-Saxons to express their passions.  In the London theatres you will see plays that are so bold no-one would dare stage them in Paris.  You will read American and English novels that are astonishingly cynical.  Don’t get carried away.  Their extreme cynicism is itself a sign that there remains a large portion of Puritanism.  This makes for a unique and explosive combination which a foreigner is advised to handle with care.   Especially as the British masses are less convinced by these new mores.  Julian Huxley tells a representative story.  At the London Zoo, a lady approaches the keeper at the hippopotamus pit. ‘Excuse me,’

    Jul 11,