The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

March 10, 2017

March 10, 2016

Anita Brookner (July 16, 1928 to March 10, 2016) was an art historian, teaching at Cambridge and then a scholar at the Courtauld Institute. Brookner also wrote fiction and her Hotel du lac (1984) won the Man Booker prize. Therein Edith, the lead character, says she feels

.... excluded from the living world. I become cold, fish-like, immobile. My idea of absolute happiness is to sit in a hot garden all day, reading or writing, utterly safe in the knowledge that the person I love will come home to me in the evening. Every evening.

'You are a romantic Edith,' repeated Mr. Neville, with a smile.

....'I am not a romantic. I am a domestic animal. I do not sigh and yearn for extravagant displays of passion, for the grand affair, the world well lost for love. I know all that and know that it leaves you lonely. No, what I crave is the simplicity of routine. An evening walk, arm in arm,... a game of cards. Time for idle talk....'

'Putting the cat out?' suggested Mr. Neville.

Edith gave him a look of pure dislike.

A Daily Mail obituary, by A. N. Wilson, recalled her saying

'I feel I could get into The Guinness Book Of Records as the world's loneliest, most miserable woman,' she said.


Though she denied they were autobiographical, her novels chronicle the lives of lonely, miserable women who have the unerring knack of falling for unsuitable men.

At the Courtauld Brookner became close to Anthony Blunt, the Keeper of the Queen's Pictures. She never realized during their time together he was a Soviet spy.

Anita Brookner had grown up in a large Victorian villa in South London's Herne Hill, the only child of clever, ill-matched parents. Her mother's father had emigrated from Poland and started a tobacco factory that supplied Edward VII with his cigarettes. 'He had a man- servant who was literally a serf,' Brookner told one interviewer.

'Presumably my grandfather brought him from Poland. He slept on the floor at the factory.' My grandfather would take him out shopping and would point with his stick at what he wanted picked up, and Mok — that was his name — would go and pick it up and carry it home. Completely feudal.'
Her mother Maude had been a concert singer. Anita's father, who also came from Jewish emigrant stock in Poland, had arrived in Britain aged 16, fought in World War I in the British Army and then joined his father-in-law's tobacco firm.

A bookish only child, Anita observed her parents being quietly miserable. Her father, she said, was a 'virtuous, unhappy man'. Why was he unhappy? 'Because my mother was unhappy. She thought she had married the wrong man.' In those days, there was no question of her parents splitting up. On the surface, they were polite to one another, and there was plenty of money.

When Hitler came to power in Germany, they took in refugees; fellow Jews. They expected them to join the domestic staff and to work as cleaners, valets and butlers. The refugees, who had lost everything, including family members, were themselves miserable, and added to the atmosphere of gloom.

'All Jewish we were, and all very unhappy,' she once recalled with a laugh.....
Every year, her father gave her a novel by Charles Dickens and the author remained one of her favourites. Her parents were fiercely opposed to Anita pursuing an academic career, believing it would make it impossible for her to find a man. She defied them and went first to King's College in the Strand, and then to the Sorbonne in Paris to do a doctorate on French art.
In their fury, they cut her off without a penny, but she felt an enormous sense of liberation, going on to make a career for herself, first as a lecturer at Reading University and later, once her talent had been spotted by Anthony Blunt, at the Courtauld Institute.

She had always been an addict of fiction, especially of the short novels of the Belgian writer Georges Simenon. He was famous as the creator of Inspector Maigret — Anita loved detective stories — but the bulk of his work is not about the Paris detective. Most of his stories are beautifully crafted, very dark, psychological novels.

Her own novels could be described in similar terms. They all chronicle, in one way or another, men and women who cannot find happiness in personal relationships, but can't be happy without them. Hotel du Lac, her third novel, which was made into a successful film, was about a woman brave enough to jilt a man on the day of the wedding.

From 1984 onwards, for nearly two decades, she completed a book a year, all written out in longhand....

An artforum obituary looks at Anita Brookner as an art historian:

Specializing in eighteenth-century France, Brookner wrote elegant monographs on Jean-Antoine Watteau,Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and Jacques-Louis David. But her love of nineteenth-century French novels brought her closer to focusing on the relationship between writers and artists, from Denis Diderot to Joris-Karl Huysmans. David, who witnessed the French Revolution and the collapse of the Napoleonic empire, was a pivotal figure for Brookner. After the Congress of Vienna, hope in reason and rationality was abandoned forever—only to be replaced by spleen and nostalgia. The central figure in this modern age was Charles Baudelaire, the “man in the black frock coat.” For Baudelaire, the greatest art critic of his time, imagination was the sovereign faculty, which allowed us to transform the experience of reality into an expression of the Ideal.

Baudelaire was quite aware of the physical and moral evils of mankind. Such a realization had religious undertones; the nineteenth century’s sense of mourning coincided with a taste for what is considered ugly and horrible, as though the creator had abandoned mankind and inflicted moral suffering upon him. As Baudelaire dreamed of finding redemption, art can be seen as a search for (and means of) spiritual perfection.

When Baudelaire wrote his tribute to Eugène Delacroix, he still thought he might be able to free himself from evil through this ideal of universal harmony. But in later years, he saw life as a mere form of exile, one which offered no harmony. Both Brookner’s novels and her art criticism are filled with such a vision. ....

The above analysis excerpts an obituary by Olivier Berggruen, a writer in New York. 

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