by Julian Green
Reading is a form of laziness in so far as one allows the book to think for the reader. The reader reads and imagines that he thinks; hence a pleasure that flatters vanity with a delicate illusion." (p 285)
Julian Green is one of the great novelists and diarists of the Twentieth Century. But sadly like Gertrude Stein or Marcel Proust, he is talked about, but seldom read. In this diary Julian Green records his reactions to people, places and to the events of his life, both external and internal, with a shattering sincerity.
The literary references, discussions and digressions on his reading are aspects of the diary that, as a reader, I find most interesting. While I do not share his obsession with sin, I can still feel his passions as he describes their hold over his life. His discussions with friends, including Andre Gide and others, are illuminating as is descriptions of the places that he loves -- Paris, the American South.
The diary also chronicles changes in his emotional life as it flows and ebbs. This can be seen in many ways, but I find his views and reactions to music, a passion of his which I share, to be indicative of these changes. Near the eve of the Second World War in 1939 his despair at the thought of the coming "great European upheaval" led him to write the following:
" There comes a time in life when you can't listen to music any longer, particularly if you have known years of great happiness and that the future darkens gradually. . . I don't ever wish to hear Don Juan again, for it reminds me too precisely of the time when I listened to it in the charming Residenz Theater at Munich; or Schumann's Faust, or his Second Symphony, and certainly not a single note of Schubert's. There may come a day when I may recover all this once more, but at present, music can only embitter a sadness I am ashamed of." (p 93)
Another example, later in his life when discussing changes in his life he notes his lost love of Beethoven's music as he writes the following on July 3, 1955:
"Beethoven, whom I no longer care for as much as I did, except his chamber music which is quite obviously the peak of his genius. . . his symphonies I simply cannot listen to, and this holds good for his overtures. Why? Alas, something in me no longer echoes these heroic aspirations. This juvenile enthusiasm wearies me." (p 278)
With all the emotion and passions, vicissitudes abounding this is a sincere chronicle of one writer's life and a fascinating perspective on twentieth century culture. Above all the diary is his confessional, written with deftness and beauty that brings wonder and joy to those who share his journey.
Julian Green: Diary 1928 - 1957. Anne Green, trans. Harcourt, Brace & World, New York. 1964