Paris Nights and Other Impressions of Places and People

Enoch Arnold Bennett (27 May 1867 - 27 March 1931) was an English writer. He is best known as a novelist, but he also worked in other fields such as the theatre, journalism, propaganda and films. Bennett was born in a modest house in Hanley in the Potteries district of Staffordshire. Hanley was one of the Six Towns that were joined together at the beginning of the 20th century as Stoke-on-Trent and are depicted as "the Five Towns" in some of Bennett's novels. Enoch Bennett, his father, qualified as a solicitor in 1876, and the family moved to a larger house between Hanley and Burslem.

Genre: Novel
Year:
1913
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I--ARTISTIC EVENING The first invitation I ever received into a purely Parisian interior might have been copied out of a novel by Paul Bourget. Its lure was thus phrased: “_Un peu de musique et d’agréables femmes_.” It answered to my inward vision of Paris. My experiences in London, which fifteen years earlier I had entered with my mouth open as I might have entered some city of Oriental romance, had, of course, done little to destroy my illusions about Paris, for the ingenuousness of the artist is happily indestructible. Hence, my inward vision of Paris was romantic, based on the belief that Paris was essentially “different.” Nothing more banal in London than a “little music,” or even “some agreeable women”! But what a difference between a little music and _un peu de musique!_ What an exciting difference between agreeable women and _agréables femmes!_ After all, this difference remains nearly intact to this day. Nobody who has not lived intimately in and with Paris can appreciate the unique savour of that word _femmes_. “Women” is a fine word, a word which, breathed in a certain tone, will make all men--even bishops, misogynists, and political propagandists--fall to dreaming! But _femmes_ is yet more potent. There cling to it the associations of a thousand years of dalliance in a land where dalliance is passionately understood. The usual Paris flat, high up, like the top drawer of a chest of drawers! No passages, but multitudinous doors. In order to arrive at any given room it is necessary to pass through all the others. I passed through the dining-room, where a servant with a marked geometrical gift had arranged a number of very small plates round the rim of a vast circular table. In the drawing-room my host was seated at a grand piano with a couple of candles in front of him and a couple of women behind him. See the light glinting on bits of the ebon piano, and on his face, and on their chins and jewels, and on the corner of a distant picture frame; and all the rest of the room obscure! He wore a jacket, negligently; the interest of his attire was dramatically centred in his large, limp necktie; necktie such as none hut a hero could unfurl in London. A man with a very intelligent face, eager, melancholy (with a sadness acquired in the Divorce Court), wistful, appealing. An idealist! He called himself a publicist. One of the women, a musical composer, had a black skirt and a white blouse; she was ugly but provocative. The other, all in white, was pretty and sprightly, but her charm lacked the perverseness which is expected and usually found in Paris; she painted, she versified, she recited. With the eye of a man who had sat for years in the editorial chair of a ladies’ paper, I looked instinctively at the hang of the skirts. It was not good. Those vague frocks were such as had previously been something else, and would soon he transformed by discreet modifications into something still else. Candlelight was best for them. But what grace of demeanour, what naturalness, what candid ease and appositeness of greeting, what absence of self-consciousness! Paris is the self-unconscious. I was presented as _le romancier anglais_. It sounded romantic. I thought: “What a false impression they are getting, as of some vocation exotic and delightful! If only they knew the prose of it!” I thought of their conception of England, a mysterious isle. When Balzac desired to make a woman exquisitely strange, he caused her to be born in Lancashire. My host begged permission to go on playing. In the intervals of being a publicist, he composed music, and he was now deciphering a manuscript freshly written. I bent over between the two women, and read the title: “_Ygdrasil: reverie._” ***** When there were a dozen or fifteen people in the room, and as many candles irregularly disposed like lighthouses over a complex archipelago, I formed one of, a group consisting of those two women and another, a young dramatist who concealed his expressive hands in a pair of bright yellow gloves, and a middle-aged man whose constitution was obviously ruined. This last was librarian of some public library--I forget which--and was stated to be monstrously erudite in all literatures. I asked him whether he had of late encountered anything new and good in English. “I have read nothing later than Swinburne,” he replied in a thin, pinched voice--like his features, like his wary and suffering eyes. Speaking with an icy, glittering pessimism, he quoted Stendhal to the effect that a man does not change after twenty-five. He supported the theory bitterly and joyously, and seemed to taste the notion of his own intellectual rigidity, of his perfect inability to receive new ideas and sensations, as one tastes an olive. The young dramatist, in a beautifully curved phrase, began to argue that certain emotional and purely intellectual experiences did not come under the axiom, but the librarian would have none of such a reservation. Then the women joined in, and it was just as if they had all five learnt off by heart one of Landor’s lighter imaginary conversations, and were performing it. Well convinced that they were all five absurdly wrong, fanciful, and sentimental either in optimism or pessimism, I nevertheless stood silent and barbaric. Could I cut across that lacework of shapely elegant sentences and apposite gestures with the jagged edge of what in England passes for a remark? The librarian was serious in his eternal frost. The dramatist had the air of being genuinely concerned about the matter; he spoke with deference to the librarian, with chivalrous respect to the women, and to me with glances of appeal for help; possibly the reason was that he was himself approaching the dreadful limit of twenty-five. But the women’s eyes were always contradicting the polite seriousness of their tones. Their eyes seemed to be always mysteriously talking about something else; to be always saying: “All this that you are discussing is trivial, but I am brooding for ever on what alone is important.”
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Arnold Bennett

Enoch Arnold Bennett (27 May 1867 – 27 March 1931) was an English writer. He is best known as a novelist, but he also worked in other fields such as the theatre, journalism, propaganda and films. more…

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