Writing On Literature

  • 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,
  • In England, don’t kill anybody.  You’ll be hung.  In front of a French jury, if you have a bit of imagination, a good-looking face and a smart lawyer, you can just about save yourself.  But twelve English jurors will have no sympathy for your hurt and heartbreak.  They'll have you strung up by the neck until you’re dead. So be careful, and avoid their courts of law.  The cross-questioning of their lawyers is so unbearably skilful that to escape their hail of questions you'll gladly swear you stole Nelson’s Column. Remember that respect for the law is greater here than elsewhere.  In English, ‘Keep Off the Grass’ does not mean ‘Go On Then, No-one Really Cares.’

    Jul 09,
  • Before you leave, everyone will tell you how poor the food is in England.  This isn’t entirely true.  If you know how to time your hunger, you’ll be able to eat perfectly well.  In England there are two excellent meals: breakfast and tea.  Reserve your appetite for these meals only. Learn to appreciate new pleasures: porridge, kippers, marmelade.  At lunch-time, fill yourself up with a big piece of rare beef or some admirably pink ham.  Refuse desert, in as manly a way as possible.  Say firmly: ‘I don’t like sweet.’ In England, every other shop is a sweet shop, but even so the English have no idea what to do with sugar.  Leave the desserts to the women and children. Adopt

    Jul 07,