Dmetri Kakmi has landed himself in hot water with his Age article on the disgraced cricket writer, Peter Roebuck, who committed suicide late last year because of his penchant for spanking African boys. The Pharisees are livid because Dmetri suggested that ‘The act of caning for sexual purposes is a two-way psycho-drama.’ Much more shocking, I thought, was Dmetri’s claim that Montgomery Clift played the murdered homosexual Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer.
Read Henry James’s astonishing early tale ‘A Light Man’. The scene when Maximus Austin conquers, or seduces, the predatory Sloane (the ‘touched, inflamed, inspired’ collector of good-looking young men) surely disproves any notion of HJ’s sexual indifference. I love those early tales, so sprightly, lyric, poetic. He describes a sky of ‘bending blues’. Wallace Stevens would be happy with that.
This led me back to Leon Edel’s biography of James (typically silent on the subject of entertaining Mr Sloane). More interesting to Edel is the vignette that follows, when HJ met, or glimpsed, Dickens at a dinner party, during his reading tour of 1867, when HJ joined 1000 people in the queue for tickets. HJ attended the dinner party briefly and met the great novelist, his hero, in the foyer. Nothing was said; no handshake: but Dickens trained his ‘mercilessly military eye’ on HJ, silencing him. I recalled a similar experience in Sydney, back in 1980. I went in search of Patrick White after checking into my hotel on Hunter Street, only to bump into him on Pitt Street, round the corner, as White emerged from a chemist shop. With those handsome grey critical eyes he looked at me mercilessly, militaristically, before moving on.
I read HJ’s dullish and drably titled Travelling Companions and Hawthorne’s ‘Rappaccini’s Daughter’, which is similarly set in Padua. Then I looked at HJ’s The Painter’s Eye, his collection of writings (much of it early journalism) about ‘the pictorial arts’. He is unerringly funny and often savage. Those who deprecate James as super-civilised, courtly, maidenly have no idea how mordant he could be. Here he is on two ‘elder Academicians’: of their work ‘it is but common humanity not to speak. Their contributions, raggedly and cruelly squaring themselves upon the “line”, must be seen to be believed in.’
He also mentions Millais’ painting The Bride of Lammermoor. Not having read the Scott I hadn’t realised that the Master of Ravenswood rescues poor Lucy Ashton from a wild bull. What a shame Donizetti didn’t set that scene for Sutherland and Pavarotti to enact.
HJ is very amusing about the English passion for ‘goodiness’ in its pictures.
My first day back at work. The people at Adelaide Writers’ Week want to repeat Robert Dessaix’s Seymour Biography Lecture, so I rang Robert early. (‘Pietro’, he began … ‘Roberto’, I said.) He said he was off to have his hair cut. I congratulated him on having this done at nine a.m. on a Monday. He’s off to Launceston tomorrow and said he couldn’t possibly go there unkempt. He found my poem ‘Crimson Crop’ rather gruelling; he is currently on a régime of blood thinners, because of his recent heart attack. Last week they attached a leech to him for six hours. He laughed about the ‘bootful’ of blood spurting over his bed.