Short Cuts

Thomas Jones

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.’