Sunday, April 24, 2011

Diary, 1928-1957 

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


parrish lantern said...

This was a name, I was aware of, but for some reason had completely slipped my radar, I've just Wiki'd him and he certainly had an active life. He appears to be more honoured in France than his place of birth, but that doesn't explain his disappearance from the literary rollcall might need to re evaluate.

parrish lantern said...

I done some more research & it appears although American, he was born in France (Paris) & wrote primarily in French, which is probably where I know his name ( thru Gide) so I more than likely came upon it during my flirt with all things French & Literate & as Julien Green possibly. Still doesn't explain why he fell of my radar.

James said...

I do not remember when I first encountered Julien (Julian) Green. But it was his novels, published in the Quartet Encounters paperback series, that first attracted my attention. Novels like Each Man in His Darkness, Moira and Midnight (Minuit) had a Southern Gothic aura (which is not surprising now that I know more about Green's biography). It was later that I moved to his memoirs and Diary. The last is perhaps the best of his writing and having discovered it I would recommend that anyone start there.

Green may be difficult to find because his first name is spelled Julien for the novels (Quartet Encounters) and Julian for the Diary and his Autobiography (Marion Boyars). I have not found an explanation for the different spellings of his first name.
In 1995 the translator of his Autobiography, Euan Cameron, quoted an American librarian (in the introduction to that work) as saying that "The French may consider him an American who, they are proud to boast, has chosen to write in French, but in America, at least, Julian Green is seen as a French writer, and we like our French writers to be French! Had he returned to America, we should have been very proud of him, but to us he has always been regarded as an expatriate".

I hope these comments help you with your understandable confusion.

parrish lantern said...

He was offered & turned down the chance of French nationality, although he received several French honours, if my understanding's right he preferred the French spelling, although that doesn't explain why both, unless it was a publishers way of reclaiming him as American?

James said...

Ah, publishers. They have a habit of going their own way. Aside from that this 'American in France' life of Green's reminds me of Marguerite Yourcenar (nee Crayencour) who did the opposite. She was born in Belgium and lived in France until moving to Maine in 1939 where she lived with her lover/translator Grace Frick. She lived the rest of her life in the US but continued to write in French and was the first woman admitted to the Academie Francaise. She is also much better known in literary circles with Memoirs of Hadrian and other notable novels, essays and her own memoirs.