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Vol. 22 No. 13 · 6 July 2000
Short Cuts

Bad Manners

Thomas Jones

972 words

Wicked Etiquette: Over Seven Hundred Faux pas to Avoid – in Bed and out (Collins and Brown, 192 pp., £9.99, 22 June, 1 85585 795 2) is an anthology of mainly Victorian advice collected by Sarah Kortum from such books as the anonymous Gems of Deportment (1880) and Things that Are Not Done by Edgar and Diana Woods (1937). In 1860, The Perfect Gentleman, the work of ‘a Gentleman’, suggested: ‘Do not praise bad wine, for it will persuade those who are judges that you are an ignoramus or a flatterer.’ The similarly anonymous 19th-century author of The American Code of Manners (would it have been bad manners for these people to sign their pronouncements?) advised its readers not to ‘say of anything which you enjoy at table: “I love it,” “I love melons,” “I love peaches,” “I adore grapes” – these are schoolgirl utterances ... Love is an emotion of the heart, but not one of the palate.’ Whoever s/he was can’t have read Fielding, In Tom Jones (1749), ‘what is commonly called love’ is defined as ‘the desire of satisfying a voracious appetite with a certain quantity of delicate white human flesh’. Not all of the ‘gems’ concern table manners; that’s just one of eleven chapters. Other subjects covered include letter-writing: ‘use as few parentheses as possible,’ Emily Thorwell wrote (in The Lady’s Guide to Complete Etiquette, published in 1886). ‘It is a clumsy way of disposing of a sentence, and often embarrasses the reader.’ The best and the worst nuggets are both reprinted on the back cover. The best is ‘never start an argument unless you are well-dressed,’ the worst: ‘to invariably commence a conversation by remarks on the weather shows a poverty of ideas that is truly pitiable.’ The weather’s fine by me, just so long as you don’t talk like that. The anthology, illustrated by Ronald Searle, has a charming dedication ‘to the Unknown Man whose photograph was found hidden in a copy of the Bazar Book of Decorum (1870)’.

I don’t know if there’s a book of etiquette that deals with metropolitan literary life, but there ought at least to be a guide to subtlety. Rumour has it that Sheila Rowbotham’s Promise of a Dream: A Memoir of the 1960s (see Jenny Diski’s piece on page 9 of this issue) is to be reviewed in the Financial Times by Tariq Ali. It has been noticed at the LRB that in her lengthy acknowledgments, Tariq Ali is singled out for thanks twice. Rowbotham also thanks Robin Blackburn, who, we understand, is to review Richard Gott’s new book, In the Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo Chávez and the Transformation of Venezuela (Verso, 246 pp., £16, 1 July, 1 85984 775 7) for the New Statesman. Again, it has not gone unnoticed at the LRB that ‘Robin Blackburn at Verso’ (together, by some coincidence, with Tariq Ali) tops Gott’s list of acknowledgments – higher, even, than Comandante Chávez himself. All power to Comandante Blackburn. (Just for the record, the editor of the LRB rates a mention, too, and Gott’s first report on the situation in Venezuela was printed in this journal. So no one can accuse us of anything more base than indiscretion for pointing these things out.) Still, as somebody advised in 1890, ‘never turn the spoon over and look at yourself in the bowl; it is the action of a clown.’

The Diary of Eva Braun, with a commentary by Alan Bartlett, is appearing shortly (Spectrum, 155 pp., £12.95, 27 July, 1 873779 03 8). It’s one of those messy documents which claims to be real but you know just has to be fake. Bartlett, ‘an industrialist and an academic’ whose expertise runs from aircraft manufacture to cutlery, is the author of at least six previous volumes, on industry and international espionage. We are told, confusingly, that ‘all his books are factual. Fiction is only a means of preserving necessary anonymity. It has been his experience that the impact of coincidence makes fact far more incredible than imagination.’ Better things on this subject are said by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen in his letter about Freud in this issue of the LRB, and by John Lanchester in his piece about Martin Amis. The note about Bartlett (who is identified as the ‘author’ of the book and owns the copyright) seems intended merely to spread a murky film over the question of whether or not this is really the work of Eva Braun. Bartlett claims that the Diary was brought to England by the film-maker Luis Trenker, and first published in the UK in 1949 by Aldus publications. Both Trenker and his publisher are, conveniently, dead. The book itself reads like feeble pornography: lots of stuff in bad taste (in every sense) about chamois leather knickers and reprimands from the Führer when she didn’t wear them. So it comes as some surprise to discover from a cursory Internet search that The Private Life of Adolf Hitler: The Intimate Notes and Diary of Eva Braun really was published in 1949, and that there’s a copy in the British Library. There is a further twist, however: that edition was ‘edited’ by the writer and translator Pál Tábori, who isn’t mentioned by Bartlett; and Tábori later wrote a book called The Six Loves of Casanova: From the Diary He Did Not Keep (1971), the existence of which, I’d say, raises more than reasonable doubt about the authenticity of the Eva Braun volume. So is Bartlett familiar with Tábori’s work? Does he omit to mention him through ignorance or cunning? Is he joker or dupe? Or is neither term appropriate in this context? Perhaps it’s bad manners to probe too deeply. As Volume V of the Standard Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge informed its readers in 1896 (with slightly more than tangential relevance), ‘to listen at door cracks and peep through keyholes is vulgar and contemptible.’

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Vol. 22 No. 17 · 7 September 2000

Thomas Jones expresses understandable doubts about the authenticity of The Diary of Eva Braun (LRB, 6 July). I bought a paperback edition of Hitler et les Femmes: Le Journal intime d’Eva Braun in a local second-hand bookshop last year. The book was published in 1948, under the ‘authorship’ of Douglas Lawrence Hewlett, who prefaces the diary with a lengthy history of Hitler’s love life. The copyright of the diary allegedly belongs to the publishers, La Société Française des Editions du Cheval Ailé. I have yet to see the Spectrum edition, which Jones wrote about, and would be interested to read Alan Bartlett’s commentary. In the 1948 edition, the question of authenticity is investigated. Hewlett claims that Eva Braun’s family confirmed she met the film-maker Louis Trenker in the course of the winter of 1944-45 in Berlin and later at Kitzbühel, and that she gave a sealed envelope containing her private diary into his safe-keeping. The envelope, marked with her initials, was opened in the autumn of 1945 at Bolzano, in the presence of a notary, Max Fioresi, who apparently kept a record of the event. The manuscript (without the envelope) was subsequently inspected by someone in the American War Department, who is said to have declared that the diary ‘avait toutes les apparences d’un document authentique’. Perhaps Douglas Hewlett was one of the Americans who inspected the diary. He admits that it is impossible, in the absence of a signed affidavit from Eva Braun herself, to prove the authenticity of the document. He adds that the style and ‘esprit’ of the contents sound like Eva Braun’s voice, but admits that the lively details, though ‘criants de vérité’, could be the work of a forger.

It would be unfair to the edition I have to dismiss the diary as mere pornography (of the ‘feeble’ kind Jones describes). There is a great deal of interest in its pages, though the lack of consistent dating is irritating, and there are huge gaps in time when nothing seems to have been recorded. The episodic and gossipy nature of the writing seems perfectly in keeping with the character of the alleged diarist, who confesses herself more interested in the affairs of the Italian Ambassador Alfieri and his farcical escape from an enraged husband in his pyjamas than in the planning of the Russian Campaign. The faux diary is a recognised literary form, and many of the famous modern ones have assumed an authenticity which has deceived the critics. As a schoolgirl I bought The Household of Sir Thomas More from a barrow outside a bookshop in Edinburgh. It purports to be the diary of Margaret Roper, More’s favourite daughter. (The book is written in English, which should have alerted me to its fictional origin: the More household were unlikely to have written in the vernacular when Latin and Greek were their preferred literary languages.) It was years later that I discovered the book was written in the 1860s by a lady novelist.

In the case of the Eva Braun diary, there seems to be a lack of the persuasive detail that characterises other ‘diaries’ of doubtful authenticity. Indeed, the diary’s lack of corroborative detail may be its greatest claim to an authenticity that can’t be proved. It doesn’t appear to have been written either for posterity or for publication: it contains the preoccupations of a woman who would clearly have been happier partying and having affairs with handsome officers of the Reich than being caressed by their Führer, whose psychological and physical problems caused her frustration and misery. The consequences of the one affair she describes outside of her relationship with Hitler are the subject of one of the book’s most chilling episodes.

Eleanor Cooke
Market Drayton
Shropshire

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