Thursday 29 March 2018

Family and Friends: Closing Remarks

Her fiction is noted for its subtlety and technical skill but this can be deceptive, and has indeed deceived an odd ghetto of English critics who greet her novels with delighted misunderstanding. Elsewhere it is recognised that in ambush behind her classically beautiful prose, rooted in the territory of small lives, is a devilry that works on her stories like lemon zest. Family and Friends, in Alfred's final revenge,* provides a finale so delicate and precise that you can almost see the keen eye of the author slowly blinking at you.
Callil and Toibin, The Modern Library ['the 200 best novels since 1950'] (1999)

*I'm not sure I really noted this ending on earlier readings. It concerns Alfred and Nettie and occurs in the last few lines. Brookner does love her last-minute reversals, reveals and surprises.


The Brooknerian will now be taking a break of a few weeks. Back soon. Thanks for reading!

Family and Friends: A True Chronicle

Brookner spoke at length about Family and Friends to Olga Kenyon in Women Writers Talk (1989).

'It's my family,' she said. 'Of course they're rendered into fiction because I didn't know them till I was about seventeen - when I began to see them as separate people.'

It was indeed a family photo that sparked the novel: a cousin showed her a wedding picture with her grandmother dominating the group. 'I gave the photograph back, but the following day I began to write Family and Friends. I had always avoided writing about my family. They had given me a good deal of trouble in real life.'

Although, largely from lack of knowledge, she fictionalised the early lives of the uncles and aunts in the novel, 'somewhere in the course of this invention, I discovered I was writing what amounted to a true chronicle. Whether this was an obscure form of unconscious memory, whether it was intuition, or whether it was the exhilaration of disposing of these characters whom I had always seen as immensely powerful, I have no idea.'

She felt 'freed' by the writing - she wrote 'without qualms'.
As I neared the end I was too frightened that I might lose the conclusion - which I did not know yet - and so I merely sat in the garden and wrote in a notebook. I felt an enormous tension; but my ending, when it came, surprised me into laughter. I felt like a spectator at my own game.
The novel 'laid many ghosts for me. I hope I've given those ghosts something new to talk about'. It was 'the only one of my books I truly like'.

Being in control was a motive in writing the novel. 'Maybe as in psychoanalysis you abreact the whole thing and it comes out right.'

The main characters in Family and Friends had their analogues in life. Mimi was Brookner's mother; there was an Alfred, and there were two who broke free, as in the novel.
And free will is a heavy burden to lay on anyone, particularly if they are not too bright.
Brookner's characters, Kenyon suggested, 'don't always seem in touch with the twentieth century'.

Brookner's reply:
Yes. They are nineteenth-century families, without the nineteenth century to give support.

Family and Friends: The Years of Danger

'I never thought he would marry, like the others,' thinks Sofka of her son Alfred in chapter 9 of Family and Friends. 'I thought he had passed the age of danger.'

It's a markedly literary novel, in the sense of its allusiveness to other works. The set-piece scene in Wren House with Dolly (a soon-to-be self-allusive choice of name for Anita Brookner) and the scrambled eggs suggests several such rural house-parties in English literature. Howards End, perhaps? L. P. Hartley? There is, additionally, specifically a reference to Dickens.

Brookner disdained comparisons with Jane Austen. But doesn't the quote above recall a line from the opening of Persuasion - Elizabeth Elliot hoping to be propositioned by a baronet within a twelvemonth, recognising as she does her approach to 'the years of danger'?

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Family and Friends: Private Meanings

I don't altogether shy from making links between an author's life and her fiction, though perhaps I ought to. Brookner's media critics, especially the hostile ones, never down the years showed any reluctance. But Family and Friends must have seemed resistant to such analysis. The four novels she'd written up till then had been of the classic Brookner 'lonely heroine' type. But here we have a family portrait, even a family saga. And yet I keep finding parallels and analogues. Brookner, like Dickens, seems not to have been able to avoid investing her work with private meanings.

Take Mimi and her hospital work in chapter 8. We know from an early interview (here) that Brookner did voluntary work at a local hospital, even on Christmas Day. Or Alfred and his purchase of Wren House in the same chapter. Perhaps readers wouldn't, on publication of Family and Friends, yet have recognised the significance. But gradually over the course of Brookner's writing career we would come to appreciate the dangers and horrors to be expected in the English countryside, provinces and even suburbs.

We have a vignette of Brookner herself outside her habitual London milieu, when she visited Rosamond Lehmann in Suffolk (here). Carmen Callil recalls 'Anita sternly going for walks and drinking tea'. The 'sternly' is telling.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

Family and Friends: Lili and Ursie

Lili and Ursie come to the Dorns' as maids - 'harsh' and 'hectic', given to weeping when certain pieces of music are being played. The girls are 'foreign', but Brookner will go no further. Something similar is in the air when an impoverished woman arrives on Sofka's doorstep, selling small items, and Sofka recognises her as one Irma Beck, whom she knew 'in the past, in another country'.

We're in chapter 8 by now, more than halfway through the novel, and Brookner cannot any longer step around the realities of her story. But the stories of Lili and Ursula, of Frau Beck, are told with great subtlety: restraint, Brookner suggests, is the only correct response to such horror.

We know the episodes have an autobiographical origin. Here she is talking to the Independent in 1994:
There was the added complication that in the 1930s the house filled up with Jewish refugees, who could come if they found a sponsor, I think, and if they went into domestic service. In the war, again, there were refugees living in the house, until such time as the police turned up to take them off to the Isle of Man and they went to be interned and were never seen again: history does not relate what happened to them. There was a tragic element in childhood. My parents weren't religious, but you couldn't help but be conscious of being Jewish at that time. I knew terrible things were going on, and were coming close, and I suppose that couldn't help but seem menacing.

Monday 26 March 2018

Family and Friends: The Finished Product

The finished product is attired in a cunning little violet wool dress with a peplum, shiny high-heeled shoes, and a great deal of Schiaparelli's Shocking dabbed behind her ears and on her wrists.
Anita Brookner, Family and Friends, ch. 7

By all accounts elegant in real life, if not dressy, Brookner in her writing always goes to town with her clusters of clothes-modifying adjectives, but here I want to point to the specificity of her references to scents and perfumes. Even Brookner's men get their smells. Think of George Bland and his Eau Sauvage. The precise significations of such aromas is beyond me, but might be worthy of study.

Brookner herself, we know, was always fragrant:
The fact that there was one woman there – called Anita Brookner – who you used to go up for private, individual tutorials with her and she was in the top of the building of number nineteen next door. And she was always feeding the pigeons, had an open window and feeding the pigeons, and I remember her I’d knock on the door and she said ‘Come in’ and her back was turned to me feeding the pigeons. And she said ‘You know one day Flavia I’m going to be a novelist.’ And of course she was. Hotel du Lac which I think is the second book but the one that first really made her name in 1984 and how many did she publish since then? Fifteen? But she did write beautifully I mean she was a very good art historian too. So in a sense I suppose she was a bit of a role model. She was very beautiful. Well she’s still alive actually, in her eighties. Very beautiful very elegant French, French dressed. And people didn’t wear scent – scent was very expensive in those days – but she always had the latest or the most exclusive scents from Paris. I mean you couldn’t go into Boots in those days and buy you know, Channel [sic] or Armani or whatever you just couldn’t and it was far too expensive but you could always tell where she was and I if I couldn’t find her I’d just walk round the Courtauld [sniffs] using my nose and I’d always find her, because she'd wear this beautiful scent.
Transcript of interview with Flavia Swann, Association of Art Historians, Oral Histories Project, 2010 (Link)

Sunday 25 March 2018

Family and Friends: A European Family

Brookner, like James, is reluctant to show her hand. Just what exactly, for example, in Family and Friends, does the Dorns' firm manufacture?  And when are the early scenes of the novel set? Things are looking up for the Dorns, the 'unpromising debris of a European family'; the factory is beginning to thrive again. But when, historically, is all this taking place? The wedding scene in chapter 1 suggests the 1920s*, or even earlier. The songs being sung in the house in chapter 2 - Massenet, Delibes - hardly indicate the prevalence of modern popular culture. And yet we could well be post-1945.** Time passes so unchartably, so elastically in Brookner, and in this book more dizzyingly than most. Much of this is owing to the narrative method, where everything is viewed by a cool, urbane, magisterial eye, as if from Olympian heights.

*The novel's first chapter was published in Granta (here), with an accompanying photo of a plainly interwar wedding.

** Not till quite a bit later in the book (in chapter 6) does Brookner allow herself (or give in to) the exophoric reference we've been looking for:
Evie's papa has warned her privately of conditions in Europe and what they mean for families such as theirs. Wars, and rumours of war.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Family and Friends: Ambassadors

Brookner is the poet of Paris de nos jours, and chapter 5 of Family and Friends is a true tour de force. Alfred and Mimi are in the French capital to rescue their sister Betty from a life of sin. The situation is of course profoundly literary: we can't but think of Lambert Strether. Staid Alfred is horrified by the place, but Mimi is more susceptible, and for a moment it seems she will, like her Jamesian counterpart, be seduced. By which I mean culturally and emotionally seduced - though Mimi has for the moment a more basic seduction in mind. But the chapter ends in failure and horror, a horror akin to those moments in several other early Brookners, the closing chapters of Look at Me in particular.

But the charm of the great city remains, and though Mimi will never return, Brookner herself will go back to it time and again in her fiction over the years. The pearl-grey Parisian morning. Brushing the whitish dust from one's shoes after a walk in the Tuileries. The iron chairs.

Thursday 22 March 2018

Family and Friends: The Westminster Bridge Road

Brookner, as I've said before, doesn't always like too much detail, or not in a narrative as finely spun as Family and Friends. I'm on chapter 4, and still we don't know what the Dorns' factory manufactures. But we do now know its location: the Westminster Bridge Road. Nearly a decade later, in 1994, in interview (here), Brookner would reveal perhaps this detail's autobiographical origin.
She was, she says, 'born into the purple of trade' in Herne Hill, a suburb near Dulwich, on 16 July 1928. Her maternal grandfather had come to England as a young man from Warsaw, and had set up as a tobacco importer, with a factory on Westminster Bridge Road. 'I didn't know him: he'd already died when I was born. My mother said that in his last illness he raised a Corona cigar to his lips, and drew on it. He supplied Edward VII with his cigarettes. There was an engraved cigarette case from the King, which vanished with one of the maids.'

These things are always intriguing. In some novels, maybe even here, Brookner can be very specific in her references. Chapter 4 moves towards events in Paris - and the 'ineffable blue Parisian evening' is memorably conjured. Her characters find themselves at the Hôtel Bedford et West End. It's some time since I read Family and Friends, but I register great personal nostalgia as I encounter these scenes again, remembering as I do my own youthful Parisian afternoons and evenings, walking up and down the rue de Rivoli in search of that hotel, and not finding it.

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Family and Friends: Everybody Marries

Will the boys marry? Well, of course they will, in so far as everybody marries.
Anita Brookner, Family and Friends, ch. 1

Perhaps a little more than loneliness - too awkward a subject? - marriage is a recurring theme in Brookner's interviews. Everyone should marry several times, Brookner tells Boyd Tonkin in 2002. Or consider the interview with Blake Morrison from 1994:
…a recurrent dilemma of her novels is: Should I marry? This has also been the dilemma of much great (not merely romantic) fiction of the past. But Brookner's characters often receive the wrong kind of proposal, or bolt from the impending ceremony, or marry in haste and repent at leisure. The choice between lonely self-possession and companionable self-immolation - this is her theme. How much has this to do with her own life?
'What can I say? I have had offers of marriage but I didn't accept them. I possibly never met anyone to whom I could really entrust my life. I suppose it stems from early childhood.'
In what way?
'Well, I was always wary of my parents' plans for me. And I never really wanted to be taken over, or to have to give up anything else. It would have meant giving up work.'
But did she never think: working as an art historian need not rule out marriage - I could have both?
'No, I never thought that. From the outset the work absorbed me and I felt passionately about it. Of course I fell in and out of love like anybody does, but I think I knew that I was always going to live on my own.'
Yet she was attracted by the idea of marriage? 'I thought when I was young I would give everything up to be happily married. But you grow out of that, I think. By 30 a sort of wariness had crept in - I began to recognise men and what they were doing it for. These are people with their own agenda, who think you might be fitted in if they lop off certain parts. You can see them coming a mile off.'
In this sense she's like her heroines, then, who tend to receive unsuitable proposals, unsuitable because they have nothing to do with love? 'Yes. Or even sex.'

Sunday 18 March 2018

Middlemarch: Book One: Miss Brooke

[First in an occasional series on Middlemarch - Book by Book:]

'I doubt whether any young person can read with pleasure either Felix Holt, Middlemarch, or Daniel Deronda,' wrote Anthony Trollope in his Autobiography. Well, I'm not a young person any more, and when I first read Middlemarch, twenty-five years ago, I possibly wasn't the young person Trollope had in mind. In any case he probably had a minor axe to grid against the clever Mrs Lewes. Middlemarch is, after all, a Trollope novel deconstructed; it is The Last Chronicle of Barset with an advanced degree from Heidelberg; it's Barsetshire on acid (or laudanum at the very least).

But it isn't, as Trollope goes on to say, an easy read. It is Eliot's style he criticises her for. It is affected, it lacks ease, he says. Style is the great Trollope thing: that sly tolerant tone keeping the reader company through the inevitable longueurs of a classic three-decker. Eliot's voice is altogether more bracing. She does not compromise. There are indeed passages in Book One where the reader is on his or her mettle. Take the first half of chapter 10, which proceeds from a challenging epigraph to a supersubtle comparison between Casaubon and Ladislaw, and their differing approaches to artistic endeavour. But midway through the chapter the novel sharply shifts gear and we find ourselves enjoying the banter of a group of Middlemarch worthies at dinner. This serves to introduce Dr Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy, and in the next chapter we're treated to a fast-talking breakfast scene between Rosamond and her brother Fred. This veering between high and low, or perhaps high and middle, between seriousness and comedy, is a feature of the book, and the contrasts aren't assimilated in, say, the Trollopian fashion. But George Eliot probably doesn't want it that way.

Middlemarch is a political book, and not just in its depiction of the passing of the Reform Bill. I like, as a sort of parlour game, to track the political sympathies of the Victorian novelists. I like to imagine them in the political world of Britain today. Would Dickens have voted New Labour? Would George Eliot be a Corbynista? We know Trollope stood for Parliament as a Liberal, but nowadays we'd probably call him a liberal conservative. I sense Henry James too would be a centrist Tory - just centrist enough for the tastes of some modern readers. Whereas some of poor Thackeray's current neglect is possibly owing to the jaundiced Right-leaning tone of his novels. Not that George Eliot doesn't send up from time to time the earnest Miss Brooke, who is disappointed to discover the tenants of her betrothed aren't disgracefully poor and therefore in need of her social work:
The small boys wore excellent corduroy, the girls went out as tidy servants, or did a little straw-plaiting at home: no looms here, no Dissent... (Ch. 9)
But the irony is also at the expense of those comfortable folk who might think straw-plaiting a suitable occupation for anyone.

'Fred's studies are not very deep,' says Rosamond of her brother in the final chapter of Book One; 'he is only reading a novel.' George Eliot might have been more comfortable prosing away in some Whiggish paper, but we should be grateful she chose instead the novel, even if her handling of the form feels at times a little schizophrenic.

Family and Friends: Cover Stories

Brookner's Family and Friends (1985) British editions in approximate order. A veritable history of art - proof if ever it were needed that no one has yet quite worked out what to put on the cover of an Anita Brookner novel.

Friday 16 March 2018

Burlington Brookner

I owe my start in life as a writer to Benedict Nicolson, who was editor of the Burlington Magazine from the end of the War until his death in 1978.
Anita Brookner, 'Benedict Nicolson', Independent Magazine, 10 September 1994

Hearing that Anita Brookner, an all but unknown graduate student, was to be living in Paris, Nicolson 'mentioned that [she] might like to send him reviews of the major exhibitions'. It was, Brookner recalls, an amazing act of generosity. She looked forward to her monthly assignment, making herself known to dealers and collectors, tackling the 'dreadful Salon d'Automne with something like enthusiasm'. Her biggest cheque was for £19.

My copy of the Burlington Magazine dates from May 1962 and finds Brookner, then in her thirties, in London. (She seems to have migrated regularly between the Two Cities, rather like Emma in Leaving Home.)

At the Hazlitt Gallery she is predictably delighted and beguiled by an exhibition called 'Baroque and Rococo'. Immediately she gets to work critiquing a painting by Berchem, Allegory of the Seasons. The tone is learned, amused, ironic, the language a clever mix of the mandarin and the slightly demotic. Things are 'faintly adumbrated' and 'surprisingly overt', a lion is 'rather tame'. Do we hear the authentic Brookner voice, a little in embryo? Take this, of a Vernet View of Marseilles in another exhibition:
In the way that an imitation sometimes does better than the real thing, I found the steady margarine of this sunset more poignant than the careful golden ripples of the archetypal Claude that lies behind it.
The steady margarine... But what we probably also hear is the voice of the kind of patrician art critic into whose heady company a spell at the Burlington surely propelled the young Brookner.

And Miss Brookner reveals her alliances most strongly when viewing a show called 'British Painting and Sculpture Today and Yesterday'. She advises the visitor to seek instruction beforehand in a recent 'B.B.C.' (how antique, those full stops) television programme Monitor a few weeks back, 'Pop goes the Easel', which showed 'young painters having themselves a wonderful time round the rifle ranges, pin-tables, and sex magazines of their native Shepherds Bush': one might as well congratulate a child on its first piece of knitting, she adds. One Peter Phillips 'simply copies in paint the kind of crude device one occasionally sees bobbing between the shoulder blades of a bogus leather jacket'. Plainly this won't do; plainly this doesn't pass Brooknerian muster. But fortunately Miss Brookner is on hand to suggest other places one might 'like to take the young people'.

She was only thirty-four. But this was, we must remember, 1962.

Sunday 11 March 2018

Indistinguishable from the Real Thing

Henry James rated highly the work of John Singer Sargent, and towards the end of his life was depicted by him in the famous, appropriately magisterial painting (above) that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Some decades previously in an 1887 essay, republished in 1893 in the collection Picture and Text, James had written a substantial appreciation of the artist. Words such as 'splendid', 'brilliant' and 'masterpiece' abound. Of the 'superb' Dr Pozzi at Home (below), for example, James writes:
This gentleman stands up in his brilliant red dressing-gown with the prestance of a princely Vandyck.

Brian Sewell once complained of how a reference of Anita Brookner's to the 'threadbare' religious imagery of Caspar David Friedrich had forever ruined for him the work of the painter. Likewise we might look differently at Dr Pozzi after reading John Updike's assessment of the painting, quoted by Brookner in her review of his art essays collection Just Looking (Observer, 29 October 1989): Updike speaks of Sargent's 'shameless romantic flattery' of the 'bright-eyed subject', the 'cozy crimson aura of satanic drag'.

But it is probably Brookner's own devastating line on Sargent that comes closest to challenging my own appreciation of the artist. I'm pleased she liked his Henry James ('an authentic masterpiece') but more generally, she says, Sargent 'painted perhaps a handful of masterpieces and many more which he thought would be indistinguishable from the real thing'.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Fundamentally Alarming: The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark, a 'fundamentally alarming' author, was, Anita Brookner goes on to say, greatly admiring of Ivy Compton-Burnett, to whom her novels 'owe something' (Observer, 19 July 1992).

One thinks of those schools in Compton-Burnett, in Two Worlds and Their Ways and others, establishments that bear next to no resemblance to any in reality and yet which somehow get at the strange, often extreme microclimatic atmosphere of all educational institutions.

The school in Spark's last novel The Finishing School (2004) is odder than most. Sited on the banks of Lake Geneva,* the place is run on the most liberal of lines by a young man Rowland Mahler and his wife. There are a handful of pupils, including an aspirant novelist called Chris. Rowland, who is himself, as Spark puts it, one of those people who can't get by without writing a novel, is deeply envious of Chris. Chris, he believes, shows great talent, whereas Rowland, only a decade older, seems at the outset to be more or less washed up - 'finished', we might say.

Spark was never much interested in realism, and at this stage in her career anything goes. As always she's in the driver's seat, casually revealing facts about characters' past and and future lives, delivering weird set-piece scenes as the whim takes her, and riffing on the life of Mary Queen of Scots, the less than promising topic of Chris's novel-in-progress.

The 'ruthlessness of art' is probably the novel's theme, if it has one. Rowland is jealous of Chris, and gradually as the story progresses Chris becomes obsessed with Rowland: they hate and fear but also need and perhaps desire each other. All this culminates in an act of violence, as so often in Spark, and there's a surprising ending. But nothing and no one in the novel is as anarchic or as ruthless as Spark herself, ever sharp and wicked and laughing behind her hand.

Is The Finishing School, as my copy's blurb suggests, the 'perfect partner' to Muriel Spark's more famous school novel? Possibly. But it's a dark and riotous twin, and in some ways a truly preposterous book. But presented with such carelessness, such freedom, we should rather, I think, marvel and be in awe.

* The novel opens with a creative writing class, with Rowland Mahler discussing the best way of setting a scene. The scene in question is the view from the window, of the lake and the far French shore. Is Muriel Spark having a bit of a laugh here? For of course what famous and Booker-winning (Spark missed out on that award) novel begins with just such a description of that very view?!

There's very possibly a further Brookner-related jest to be found later in the novel, when we meet a middle-aged woman who, Spark tells us, would have been and would be 'forty-five for many years'.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Second Act

I greatly enjoyed this week Rumaan Alam's appreciation of Brookner in the New York Times (here) and the Mookse and the Gripes' relaunched podcast, which focuses on Brookner's first four novels (here). Both make insightful reference to what Alam calls Brookner's life's 'remarkable second act', that period from 1981 when, in her fifties, she suddenly began writing fiction: the floodgates, as she said, were open. It gives hope to us all.

Sunday 4 March 2018

The Faint Thrill of Horror

Brookner on James is always fascinating and often provoking, not least in her 1987 review of Leon Edel's classic biography of the writer (Spectator, 1 August 1987 here). Henry James crops up more than once in Brookner's novels. In Falling Slowly (1998), for example:
She marvelled that Henry James knew so much about women and children, yet remained a bachelor, and by all accounts a man of the greatest integrity. She liked that about him, that and his reputation for modesty. He had deferred to worldly friends, as if he were not more worldly than any of them. (Ch. 16)
I agree with the last bit, but take issue with the rest. Integrity, yes - but modesty is perhaps a step too far. Similarly in her Edel review her reading goes askew. Henry James: 'essentially timid, prudent, virginal, secret and pure'?! She seems at pains to absolve him of any accusation of impropriety; she seems to want to limit What Henry Knew:
[E]ven when using libidinal language, as he does in the truly awful novel called Watch and Ward, an early work, he does not appear to know what he is doing, and his late ardent friendships with young men are not so much homoerotic as pre-sexual.
I think we all, when reading the writers of the past, especially those we revere, construct them afresh for our own purposes and sometimes in our own image. Brookner, like Edel, sees a particular James, but such is James's inexhaustibility we might just as equally posit another: supremely the very opposite of timid, prudent, virginal, secret and pure.

But what interests me about her Leon Edel piece is the following passage, in which I seem to hear a more personal note, as if Brookner were writing about herself and her own devotion to art and to work. (But of course I may myself be guilty here of constructing an author for my own purposes.)
He was fully in charge of his life, yet saw, when he was two thirds of the way through it, that he had used it up, and that there was to be no second chance. This is the message of the story called The Middle Years, and is condensed in the phrase that might be his epitaph: the madness of art. For despite Henry James's essential sobriety, his industry, and his blamelessness, one is left with the impression that his is a supreme case of misdirection. And the faint thrill of horror that this life inspires, a horror that deepens to anguish as one reads on in this meticulous and loving biography, condensed from its original five volumes to a seamless new version, must surely spring from the dawning realisation that there is no second chance, a realisation with which James lived even as a famous and venerated public figure, surrounded by the love of friends and with the evidence of a lifetime's work in print.

Thursday 1 March 2018

Brookner Goes to the Movies

Once, I saw an announcement of an evening at the National Film Theatre that seemed made for Anita: an assemblage of the very earliest film footage shot in and around Paris. I rang her, and was a quarter of the way into my excited proposal when she cut in with, 'No, I think not…' I felt clumsy, blundering, as if I had crossed some social line. I had; and never made such a suggestion again. 

She wasn't someone you could ever really imagine at the cinema. None of her novels, as far as I can recall, contain visits to picture houses. But we know in her youth she accompanied her Paris landlady:
One of my duties, whenever I took up momentary residence in the rue des Marronniers, was to escort Mme de Blazac to the cinema in the rue de Passy. For these occasions Mme de Blazac wore a thin thread of lipstick and a dab of violet scent, but she rarely appreciated the film, preferring to hark back to films she had once enjoyed with her husband. Maria Chapdelaine: had I seen that? The question was always the same, as was the answer. By way of compensation I would indicate a table at a nearby café, and Mme de Blazac, greatly daring, would order a Dubonnet. This brought a little colour to her pallid cheeks, and I would imagine I could see the pretty and fatally innocent girl who had attracted the lounge lizard husband.
London Review of Books, 19 June 1997

And we have her slightly pained account of a visit to a screening of Abel Gance's epic silent film Napoleon, which she found disorienting and migraine-inducing. Getting outside was evidently a relief, but also a let-down:
Trapped in an auditorium as crowded as the National Convention, sustained only by an in-house sandwich which left one almost as starving as the Paris mob, one rose to cheer to the echo, prepared, if necessary, to sit it out to the end of time, and restored unwillingly to the smallest of lives, among the sex shops and pizza parlours of Leicester Square.
 LRB, 16 April 1981