Sunday, July 15, 2012

How to Suffer Successfully the Artist's Lot

In Alain de Botton's excellent book How Proust can change Your Life there are a few lines to which I can sadly relate.

It is the Incomprehension of Friends. 

A characteristic problem for geniuses. When Swann's Way was ready Proust sent copies to his friends, many of whom had difficulty opening the envelope.
'Well my dear Louis, have you read my book?' Proust recalled asking the aristocratic playboy, Louis d'Albufera.
'Read your book? You've written a book?' answered his surprised friend.
'Yes of course Louis, and I even sent you a copy.''
'Ah my little Marcel, if you sent me a copy, I've certainly read it. Only I wasn't sure I had received it.'

Another recipient a Madame Gaston de Caillavet was more grateful. She wrote and thanked the author for his gift and in the warmest tones praised the  passages pertaining to First Communion. She reread them often, she said, as it reminded her of her own experiences. If she had read the book she would have noticed that there was no such religious ceremony in it.

Although I am no genius it appears that I have a similar problem. For years I have been writing a novel. It is about the world that I know intimately,  the  world of Benjamin Britten and the Aldeburgh set. Although I was young and a girl and never included as part of the scene nevertheless I was an observer of what went on and in fact I got to know Britten very well. I was 18 and he was 40. He liked me and I liked him. I was intelligent and sharp intellectually. I must have been different. I was no little boy, quite the oposite. His relationship with his partner  Peter Pears intrigued me and his attitude to me surprised me.

I often wondered what would have happened if Britten had been allowed to meet girls of his age when he was 18.  When he was alone with me which was very rarely but enough to get to know him, he behaved as if he were 18. Sadly now I think I was the only 18 year old girl he ever drove home alone. Ah if he had been 18 and not 40 with a partner in tow things might have been different.

So I have written a what if? I am no Jane Austin or Charlotte Bronte or even Agatha Christie but I wanted to know if my effort was readable so I sent a pdf of what I consider an interesting chapter to my friends. Although the book is complete fiction this chapter told of my audition for the greatest living British composer of the age. It was quite an audition. I was 15, a girl and a ballet dancer!

It was only four pages. I sat back and waited. I heard nothing! I eventually bucked up courage and asked one. She was dismissive. 'I am just not interested in that kind of thing' was all I got. Another said that my sentences were too long! It would have been a good criticism if I had actually written a Proustian sentence but I my style is economic with words. I couldn't write a long sentence if I tried.

Another dear friend said he just hadn't found the time. A great disappointment as being in the profession I should have valued his opinion. I thought all would appreciate the comedy of my situation as it is such an insight to a great man.  I was mistaken. Proust and I have much in common.

It seems it is impossible to get one's friends to read one's work.

Perhaps I should put this chapter up on my blog to see if I get any interest. I should warn you the subject matter is delicate but this chapter other than the incongruity of the tale is perfectly innocent.

Tomorrow perhaps?

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