Hangover square, p.1
Hangover Square, p.1Patrick Hamilton
Patrick Hamilton was one of the most gifted and admired writers of his generation. Born in Hassocks, Sussex, in 1904, he and his parents moved a short while later to Hove, where he spent his early years. He published his first novel, Monday Morning, in 1925 and within a few years had established a wide readership for himself. Despite personal setbacks and an increasing problem with drink, he was able to write some of his best work. His plays include the thrillers Rope (1929), on which Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rope was based, and Gas Light (1939), also successfully adapted for the screen (1939), and a historical drama, The Duke in Darkness (1943). Among his novels are Craven House (1926); The Midnight Bell (1929), The Siege of Pleasure (1932) and ThePlains of Cement (1934) which form a trilogy entitled Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky (1935); Hangover Square (1941); and The Slaves of Solitude (1947). The Gorse Trilogy is made up of The West Pier, MrSampson and Mr Gorse and Unknown Assailant, which were first published during the 1950s. J. B. Priestley described Patrick Hamilton as ‘uniquely individual… He is the novelist of innocence, appallingly vulnerable, and of malevolence, coming out of some mysterious darkness of evil.’ Patrick Hamilton died in 1962.
A story of darkest Earl’s Court
with an Introduction by J. B. Priestley
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Constable 1941
Published in Penguin Books 1956
Reprinted with an Introduction 1974
Reprinted in Penguin Classics 2001
Copyright 1941 by Patrick Hamilton
Introduction copyright© J. B. Priestley, 1972
All rights reserved
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
The First Part – CHRISTMAS TRAVEL
The Second Part – PHONING
The Third Part – PERRIER’S
The Fourth Part – JOHN LITTLEJOHN
The Fifth Part – PETER
The Sixth Part – BRIGHTON
The Seventh Part – END OF SUMMER
The Eighth Part – MR BONE
The Ninth Part – ‘FLU
The Tenth Part – BRIGHTON
The Last Part – MAIDENHEAD
The quotations from Roget’s Thesaurus are made by permission of Messrs Longmans, Green & Co., to whom the author and publishers make grateful acknowledgement.
SCHIZOPHRENIA: …a cleavage of the mental functions, associated with assumption by the affected person of a second personality.
Black’s Medical Dictionary
It is now half a lifetime ago that I wrote an Introduction to Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky. (This was a genuine trilogy of London novels, which had been published separately but were then brought out in one volume.) And now here I am, back again. But everything is different. Then, in 1935, Patrick Hamilton (b. 1904) was still a young novelist of immense promise. Now I have to remember that he died ten years ago, and that there must be a whole generation of readers who know nothing about him and his fiction, who have never opened his Hangover Square and The Slaves of Solitude. It is just possible that some of them may have heard of his two successful plays, Rope and Gaslight, but while these are not without theatrical merit – on any level Hamilton was a good craftsman – they are not in the same original and memorable class as novels like Hangover Square and The Slaves of Solitude, which indeed are among the minor masterpieces of English fiction.
The first was written in his later thirties; the second in his earlier forties, being published in 1947. Three more novels were to come, between 1951 and 1955: The West Tier, Mr Stimpsonand Mr Gorse, and Unknown Assailant, three independent stories but linked together because they all describe the mean villainies of one Ernest Ralph Gorse. This was a bad idea anyhow, and Hamilton no longer had the creative energy to bamboozle us into believing it was a good idea. There was a reason for this rapid decline from his best work to his worst. He spent too many of his later years in an alcoholic haze, no longer a social drinker but an unhappy man who needed whisky as a car needs petrol. There may have been some inherited tendency here, but I feel strongly that an increasing desire to blur reality arose from the depths of a profoundly disturbed unconscious. We have to accept this, I believe, fully to understand the man and his work, both the wonderful best of it and the forgivable worst of it. Otherwise I would never have referred to his later alcoholism, for I prefer to remember him as the delightful young writer I first knew well over forty years ago.
Even in 1935, six years before he gave us Hangover Square, I could write in my Introduction: ‘Here is a drama, The London Pub, presented by a tragic comedian, for that, I think, is no bad description of this author. The comedian cannot be missed; and now and again he returns to an early fault and is too determinedly facetious, too lavish with what we might refer to as his Komic Kapitals. But his humour is real, and has a fine Dickensian thrust and flourish. Behind the run is a deepening sense of tragedy…’ Here we can find the clue, the pattern, the secret. Patrick Hamilton began as a very young novelist, barely in his twenties. And there is a sense in which he stayed very young, even though he reached maturity as an artist. The essential self behind the novelist, expressed by him, never came out of that youth, never really matured at all. Patrick Hamilton became one of the most widely admired novelists of his generation; he earned and spent a great deal of money; and in ordinary terms he left his youth behind for many years of middle-age. But while knowing all this – and indeed a lot more than this – I cannot help seeing him from first to last as a gifted youth, living in some boarding-house and breaking out of his solitude every night to sit in a pub, keeping very sharp eyes and ears hard to work. Even the absurd little snobberies of his later life, noted without malice by his brother Bruce, seem to me those of a rather ingenuous youth. Again, though he tried living in many different places (always in England), he never appears to have really settled down anywhere, never became a member of a community, but was always, so to speak, the restless and sceptical outsider, still the gifted but lonely youth.
It is this that gives his fiction its unusual setting, its peculiar characters, its unique style, tone, flavour. He is above all the novelist of the homeless. Instead of a specific society, which most novelists require, he takes us into a kind of No-Man’s-Land of shabby hotels, dingy boarding-houses and all those saloon bars where the homeless can meet. (And no English novelist of my time has had a better ear for the complacent platitudes, th
While he matured as a novelist – and both Hangover Square and The Slaves of Solitude reveal formidable skill – that inner Patrick Hamilton, the lonely youth of the boarding-houses and pubs, remained to brood over the scene. So he is the novelist of innocence, appallingly vulnerable, and of malevolence, coming out of some mysterious darkness of evil. His George Harvey Bone, condemned to live in Hangover Square, is a triumph of compassionate creation. His is an idle and stupid existence, always threatened by schizophrenia, and he is a double murderer before finally committing suicide. Yet it seems to me impossible to deny him our sympathy. His adored Netta, on whom he wastes so much time, attention, deeply-felt longing, is not only a selfish and callous little bitch, but, along with her closer friend, Peter, seems to represent some principle of evil. And all this group, forever aimlessly drifting and pub-crawling, somehow suggest the London of 1939, and far better than most novels of the period, though they may be more broadly-based. We live so closely with the hopelessly infatuated Bone that we can never forget him.
Much the same can be said of a very different character, Miss Roach, with whom we live so closely in The Slaves of Solitude. She is another of Hamilton’s memorable innocents, and the kind of rather vague spinster who would never attract our attention. But by the time she leaves the boarding-house at Thames Lockdon and returns to London, then we have shared with her so many little adventures, as strange to her as episodes in the Arabian Nights, we are among her closest friends. (It is the lack of this growing point of sympathy in so many recent clever novels that makes us shrug them away.) And we have also become acquainted, in typical Hamilton fashion, with Mr Thwaites, at once a comic character and a menacing monster, the sinister Vicki Kugelmann, and the American who is as generous but as unpredictable as an Oriental despot. It is all happening in wartime, with the war itself never forced into the scene but kept growling in the distance; the whole thing being presented with wonderful skill.
It is possible that this new generation of readers, who do not know their Patrick Hamilton, may at first be bewildered or rather bored by his very individual humour, depending as much of it does on emphasizing – by a free use of quotation marks and capital letters – the catch-phrases and banalities of an older and vanishing generation. But I feel sure that a great many younger readers will be caught and held by Patrick Hamilton’s intensely personal vision of life, his enduring sense of homelessness, of the loneliness and solitude so many young men have known, his feeling for the innocence always menaced by stupidity and wickedness, the compassion behind his apparently sardonic detachment The world that he secretly regarded with horror, in the dark outside the lighted saloon bars, is not better than it was when he was writing these novels, it is if anything – worse. So I feel there must be thousands of youngish readers who will not only appreciate his unique talent but will also welcome him as a friend and a brother. And on my part I must add that, returning to these novels after many years, I find his stature has increased. He is no great major novelist, taking all society in his grasp, and he never pretended to be. But among the uniquely individual minor novelists of our age, he is a master.
J. B. PRIESTLEY
The First Part
Why so pale and wan, fond lover,
Prythee, why so pale?
Will, if looking well can’t move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prythee, why so pale?
Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
Prythee, why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can’t win her,
Saying nothing do’t?
Prythee, why so mute?
SIR J. SUCKLING
Click!… Here it was again! He was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton and it had come again… Click!…
Or would the word ‘snap’ or ‘crack’ describe it better?
It was a noise inside his head, and yet it was not a noise. It was the sound which a noise makes when it abruptly ceases: it had a temporarily deafening effect. It was as though one had blown one’s nose too hard and the outer world had suddenly become dim and dead. And yet he was not physically deaf: it was merely that in this physical way alone could he think of what had happened in his head.
It was as though a shutter had fallen. It had fallen noiselessly, but the thing had been so quick that he could only think of it as a crack or a snap. It had come over his brain as a sudden film, induced by a foreign body, might come over the eye. He felt that if only he could ‘blink’ his brain it would at once be dispelled. A film. Yes, it was like the other sort of ‘film, too – a ‘talkie’. It was as though he had been watching a talking film, and all at once the sound-track had failed. The figures on the screen continued to move, to behave more or less logically; but they were figures in a new, silent, indescribably eerie world. Life, in fact, which had been for him a moment ago a ‘talkie’, had all at once become a silent film. And there was no music.
He was not frightened, because by now he was used to it. This had been happening for the last year, the last two years – in fact he could trace it back as far as his early boyhood. Then it had been nothing so sharply defined, but how well he could remember what he called his ‘dead’ moods, in which he could do nothing ordinarily, think of nothing ordinarily, could not attend to his lessons, could not play, could not even listen to his rowdy companions. They used to rag him for it until it at last became an accepted thing. ‘Old Bone’ was said to be in one of his ‘dotty’ moods. Mr Thorne used to be sarcastic. ‘Or is this one of your – ah – delightfully convenient periods of amnesia, my dear Bone?’ But even Mr Thorne came to accept it. ‘Extraordinary boy,’ he once heard Mr Thome say (not knowing that he was overheard), ‘I really believe it’s perfectly genuine.’ And often, instead of making him look a fool in front of the class, he would stop, give him a curious, sympathetic look, and, telling him to sit down, would without any ironic comment ask the next boy to do what he had failed to do.
‘Dead’ moods – yes, all his life he had had ‘dead’ moods, but in those days he had slowly slipped into and out of them – they had not been so frequent, so sudden, so dead, so completely dividing him from his other life. They did not arrive with this extraordinary ‘snap’ – that had only been happening in the last year or so. At first he had been somewhat disturbed about it; had thought at moments of consulting a doctor even. But he had never done so, and now he knew he never would. He was well enough; the thing did not seriously inconvenience him; and there were too many other things to worry about – my God, there were too many other things to worry about!
And now he was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton, on Christmas afternoon, and the thing had happened again. He had had Chri
It was, actually, only in the few moments following the sudden transition – the breaking down of the sound-track, the change from the talkie to the silent film – that he now’ ever thought about, or indeed was conscious of – this extraordinary change which took place in his mind. Soon enough he was watching the silent film – the silent film without music – as though there had never been any talkie – as though what he saw had always been like this.
A silent film without music – he could have found no better way of describing the weird world in which he now moved. He looked at passing objects and people, but they had no colour, vivacity, meaning – he was mentally deaf to them. They moved like automatons, without motive, without volition of their own. He could hear what they said, he could understand their words, he could answer them, even; but he did this automatically, without having to think of what they had said or what he was saying in return. Therefore, though they spoke it was as though they had hot spoken, as though they had moved their lips but remained silent. They had no valid existence; they were not creatures experiencing pleasure or pain. There was, in fact, no sensation, no pleasure or pain at all in this world: there was only himself – his dreary, numbed, dead self.
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