Invitation to a Beheading

A few words of warning from Arnold Bennett on confusing literature and life:

It has been asserted that unless I had actually been present at a public execution, I could not have written the chapter in which Sophia was at the Auxerre solemnity. I have not been present at a public execution, as the whole of my information about public executions was derived from a series of articles on them which I read in the Paris “Matin.”

Mr. Frank Harris, discussing my book in “Vanity Fair,” said it was clear that I had not seen an execution (or words to that effect), and he proceeded to give his own description of an execution. It was a brief but terribly convincing bit of writing, characteristic and quite worthy of the author of “Montes the Matador” and of a man who had been almost everywhere and seen almost everything. I comprehended how far short I had fallen of the truth!

I wrote to Mr. Frank Harris, regretting that his description had not been printed before I wrote mine, as I should assuredly have utilized it, and, of course, I admitted that I had never witnessed an execution.

He simply replied: ‘Neither have I.”

This detail is worth preserving, for it is a reproof to that large body of readers, who, when a novelist has really carried conviction to them, assert off hand: ‘Oh, that must be autobiography!’


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