Saturday 7 January 2017

No Secret Notebooks

Kenyon: Why is it that you didn't begin writing till middle age, like Edith Wharton? Had you been writing in secret?
Brookner: No, there were no secret notebooks, not a scrap, not a sentence.
Olga Kenyon, Women Writers Talk, 1989

What, then, is one to make of the following startling piece, published along with the obituaries last year? Piles of exercise books? In bed? In French?

Anthony Blunt liked to invent new ‘special subjects’ for third-year undergraduates. One of them was ‘19th-century art criticism in England and France’. Anita Brookner taught our students about Baudelaire while I was deputed to introduce them to Ruskin and Pater. This was in 1966. 
Thus we formed an unlikely friendship. Anita would never enter a pub, but we sometimes had a drink in a little cafe opposite the Archives Nationales in Paris, and she liked lunching in the restaurant at Fenwick’s in Bond Street. A quarter of a trout would fill her. 
She was smartly dressed, but in those days often wore ornate dark glasses, used bright red lipstick and chain-smoked tipped Woodbines. Anita often spent the cocktail hour in Blunt’s flat on the top floor of the Courtauld building. As soon as she got home to South Kensington, she told me, she went to bed with piles of empty exercise books in which she wrote novels, in French. So her later public career as a novelist had been given some very personal preparation.
Tim Hilton, Guardian, 15 March 2016

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