Woolf on Joyce
Virginia Woolf in her diary for August 1922 noted of the just-published Ulysses by James Joyce:
“I should be reading Ulysses and fabricating my case for & against. I have read 200 pages so far—not a third; and have been amused, stimulated, charmed, interested by the first two or three chapters—to the end of the cemetery scene; & then puzzled, bored, irritated, & disillusioned as by a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples. And Tom, great Tom [TS Eliot], thinks this on a par with War & Peace! An illiterate, underbred book it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man, & we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, & ultimately nauseating. When one can have cooked flesh, why have the raw? But I think if you are anaemic, as Tom is, there is glory in blood. Being fairly normal myself I am soon ready for the classics again. I may revise this later.”
Debaser! Cyril Connolly on Un Chien Andalou
In Paris in February 1929 the critic Cyril Connolly attended the premiere of Un Chien Andalou, the silent surrealist film by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí:
“The lights are lowered and the film begins: ‘Prologue’; ‘Once upon a time’ (I quote from the script), ‘a balcony was in the dark. Indoors a man was whetting his razor. He looked up through the window at the sky and saw a fleecy cloud drawing near to the full moon. Then a young girl’s head with staring eyes. Now the fleecy cloud passes over the moon. And the razor-blade passes through the girl’s eye, slicing it in two—End of Prologue.’ The audience gasp…
The picture was received with shouts and boos, and when a pale young man tried to make a speech, hats and sticks were flung at the screen. In one corner a woman was chanting ‘Salopes, salopes, salopes!’ [sluts] and soon the audience began to join in.
Hitchens on Amis
In 1973 Christopher Hitchens attended the publication party of Martin Amis’s first novel, The Rachel Papers:
“Sobriety and corduroy were supplied… by Amis senior and by his friend Robert Conquest, the great poet and even greater historian of Stalinism. In the International Socialists we made his book The Great Terror required reading, but that didn’t mean I didn’t suspect him—and Kingsley too—of pronounced reactionary tendencies. Then there was Clive James, dressed as usual like someone who had assembled his wardrobe in the pitch dark, but always ‘on’ and always awash in cross-references and apt allusions.
“It suddenly seemed to me that Martin’s sister Sally did not perhaps find me entirely repulsive. As the evening gently evaporated I found myself taking her arm in the street and seeing the looming bulk of the Cadogan Hotel. Perhaps a little flown with wine, I suddenly and confusedly felt that it might be a fine thing to take her to the very place where Oscar Wilde had been arrested. I couldn’t possibly afford it but then, as I thought about it, I couldn’t possibly afford not to do it once I had thought about it. The Wilde suite itself was not available but we did procure a decent room and things proceeded happily enough. Ghost of Oscar or not, I did briefly allow myself to wonder if there was anything remotely subliminal or oblique in what I was doing: Sally had rather the same colouring as the brother I was beginning to adore.”
“The Queen turned up … quite hideous”
In October, 1979, Roy Strong, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, attended the opening of the National Theatre on London’s Southbank:
“This occasion was a washout in every sense of the word. It poured with rain, obliterating a street fair and entertainers for a start…
“At last the Queen actually turned up in floating apricot chiffon, quite hideous and with her hair another colour. Lord Cottesloe, the chairman, looked as though he’d have apoplexy and launched into a disastrous speech which opened with the words: ‘Your Majesty, when I saw you five years ago and asked whether you might honour with your presence on this opening night you replied that you very much doubted whether you would still be Queen by then.’ This clearly totally misfired…
After this the royal party vanished for a seeming eternity into some reception room. Eventually the Queen made her way into the Olivier [Theatre] and the proceedings at last got under way.
They began with a trumpet setting of the national anthem which nearly blasted Her Majesty and most of the audience out of their seats… At last Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers began, a play of utter boredom. Meanwhile, in the Olivier, Goldoni was played. Only the British, I thought, could open their National Theatre with plays by a Czech exile and an Italian.”
Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas
In 1993 Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas opened a shop. Emin recalled:
“[We] were on the hunt for a studio. We decided to look around the East End. Back then, nearly every shop on Brick Lane was boarded up. We looked at each other and said: “It’d be good to have a shop…” We moved in on 2nd January 1993.
“We made as much stuff as we could in the three days before our official opening—anything that came into our heads, out of materials from Brick Lane market. On our opening night, only about six people turned up—but we still sold all our stock. After that, we made loads of badges and t-shirts. Sarah’s slogan for our first batch of t-shirts was “I’m so fucky,” and mine was “Have you wanked over me yet?” It was really puerile…
“The best party we threw was the last one—on our final night, after being open for about six months. It was my 30th birthday, too. The theme was She’s Just About Old Enough to Do Whatever She Wants. We wanted to go out like rock stars, so we left the door open all night, the idea being that everything would get trashed or stolen.”
The curator and critic Carl Freedman wrote: “[I] found myself having a cup of tea with them one Sunday afternoon and ended up spending most of the next three months there having a wonderful time. I think it was probably one of the best pieces of art I have ever seen, or better to say experienced.”