In between novels in A Dance to the Music of Time, I’m reading around in Anthony Powell’s captivating Memoirs. As in the fiction, the portraits here are sharp and indelible, and several are of notable writers. For instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald at the MGM commissary in 1937:
He was smallish, neat, solidly built, wearing a light grey suit, light-coloured tie, all his tones essentially light. Photographs–seen for the most part years later–do not do justice to him. Possibly he was one of those persons who at once become self-conscious when photographed. Even snapshots tend to give him an air of swagger, a kind of cockiness, which, anyway at that moment, he did not at all possess. On the contrary, one was at once aware of an odd sort of unassuming dignity. There was no hint at all of the cantankerous temper that undoubtedly lurked beneath the surface. His air could be thought a trifle sad, not, as sometimes described at this period, in the least brokedown.
…Fitzgerald took a pen from his pocket, and a scrap of paper. On the paper he drew a rough map of North America. Then he added three arrows pointing to the continent. The arrows showed the directions from which culture had flowed into the United States. I am ashamed to say I cannot now remember precisely which these channels were: possibly the New England seabaord; the South (the Old Dominion); up through Latin America; yet I seem to retain some impression of an arrow lancing in from the Pacific. The point of mentioning this diagram is, however, the manner in which a characteristic side of Fitzgerald was revealed. He loved instructing. There was a schoolmasterly streak, a sudden enthusiasm, simplicity of exposition, qualities that might have offered a brilliant career as a teacher or lecturer at school or university.
Not only that, but the day Powell lunched with him, Fitzgerald began his scandalous affair with Sheilah Graham. Next is Ford Madox Ford:
Another Duckworth author, though only intermittently, was Ford Madox Ford. As the work of an old acquaintance, Gerald Duckworth was prepared to publish Ford’s books from time to time, but they were not popular with Balston [a Duckworth director], who did not regard their small sales as redeemed by the author’s undoubted interest in literary experiment. Ford’s novels usually deal with a similar social level to those of Galsworthy, though Ford is far more aware of the paradoxes of human nature, the necessity, at that moment, of exploring new forms of writing. An immense self-pity–in general an almost essential adjunct of the bestseller–infected Ford adversely as a serious novelist, while at the same time for some reason never boosting his sales. His misunderstandings and sentimentalities on the subject of English life (half-German himself, he very nearly opted for German nationality just before 1914) make him always in some degree a foreigner, marvelling at an England that never was.
And, at length, George Orwell:
Orwell was in his way quite ambitious, I think, and had a decided taste for power; but his ambition did not run along conventional lines, and he liked his power to be of the