Sunday, March 29, 2015

Black, dead, inhuman

‘I have been ill now and in bed for over two weeks. That is why I have written nothing. And the new doctor gave me M. & B. tablets which, I suppose, made me feel even worse - black, dead, inhuman as a boulder - telescoped into myself till nothing could come forward.’ This is from the diary of Denton Welch, a British artist and writer born 100 years ago today. He struggled to keep on writing, despite severe health problems, but died tragically young.

Welch was born in Shanghai, China, on 29 March 1915, into a rich privileged family, but his mother (an American by birth) died when he was only 11. In his teens, he was educated at Repton, but he so hated the school he tried running away once. On deciding to become a painter, he enrolled at the Goldsmith School of Art, London. In 1935, when riding his bike, he was involved in a traffic accident. His spine was fractured, and he remained paralysed for several months. During his convalescence, he shook off the Christian Science religion that had been a feature of his childhood; and, eventually, he learned to walk again.

Welch never fully recovered his health, and he suffered repeated infections and headaches, but he continued to paint and draw. In 1941, Leicester Galleries, London, exhibited some of his paintings. Also, some of his poems were well received; and then his autobiographical, Maiden Voyage, for which Dame Edith Sitwell wrote a foreword, sold out. For the next few years, Welch moved home several times, first in south London, then to near Tonbridge, and finally to the village of Crouch near Sevenoaks. In late 1943, he had met Eric Oliver who moved in with Welch, becoming his lover and, increasingly, his carer.

Despite his failing health, these years with Oliver proved fruitful for Welch: most of his published works, such as In Youth Is Pleasure and the autobiographical A Voice Through a Cloud, date from this time. Welch died in December 1948. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, or from James Methuen-Campbell’s biography, Denton Welch: Writer and Artist. Web pages with further details on A Voice Through a Cloud (Wikipedia and The Paris Review) also have more details on Welch. Alan Bennett’s article on Welch for The Guardian is also informative.

Between 1942 and his death, Welch wrote a personal diary, in thin paper-covered school exercise books; he left behind 19 of these. They were first edited by Jocelyn Brooke, and then published by Hamish Hamilton in 1952 as The Denton Welch Journals. In his introduction, Brooke explains that Welch’s handwriting was ‘scrawling and rather school boyish’, that he wrote at great speed with little regard for punctuation, and that his spelling was not very good. The published book contains only about half the original manuscript material, Brooke adds, partly because of concerns at the time about libel, partly because he edited out passages where Welch interrupted his diary to embark on a short story, and partly to avoid repetition.

Here are a few extracts from the Journals.

11 February 1944
‘This evening I bicycled to Penshurst. I climbed up the hill easily because I was with a man who worked at the railway and he talked all the time about the last war.

At the top, he said good-bye and I went on, on, down the hill past a soldier and the old neurotic home, ‘Swaylands’, which is now a military hospital. Two idle loosely hanging soldiers stood at the lodge waiting for something to be brought to them. They looked at me lazily and curiously as I sped past . . .

Nothing can make up for the fact that my very early youth was so clouded with illness and unhappiness. I feel cheated as if I never had that fiercely thrilling time when the fears of childhood have left one and no other thing has swamped one. The cheek is plump and smooth, the eye and the teeth are bright and one feels that one would lie down and die if these first essentials were ever taken away . . .

When I passed the ‘Fleur de Lys’ at Leigh, again I thought of Eric, for he told me that he used often to get tight there.

Curious to think that all this time while Eric worked on the farm, hated it, was utterly lonely, got tight as often as possible just for something to do, I was only a few minutes away in Tonbridge, walking the streets in my restlessness, trying to make myself iller and iller by any foolishness, wanting to die.

And we never met and all the years in between, seven, eight, we knew nothing of each other, they all melted away and wasted.’

21 April 1944
‘This morning I had a book, Planet and Glow-worm, from Edith Sitwell and a letter with her love. Then I went out in the sun and, feeling so much better, I lay on the top of a haystack and sunned myself and ate and actually fell asleep, and I forgot unhappiness and trouble and only felt in a daze with hot sun and cool wind on my face.

Edith mentioned my Horizon story which appeared on Wednesday. Cyril Connolly sent me fourteen guineas and said Hamish Hamilton wanted to know if I had a book of them in mind, because if so he’d like to publish it.

Lately I have a poem in the Spectator and two in Life and Letters and a story in New Writing and one in English Story.

Also I have sold two little pictures to a Mrs. Serocold

It is happiness to have things liked, but when I’m ill as I was on Wednesday and other days lately everything pales to nothing and I want to die more than anything on earth.

I think all I can do is to keep my work going as long as I can. And if I can no longer, then I will die . . .’

8 May 1944
‘When you long with all your heart for someone to love you, a madness grows there that shakes all sense from the trees and the water and the earth. And nothing lives for you, except the long deep bitter want. And this is what everyone feels from birth to death.’

9 April 1945
‘I have said nothing about In Youth is Pleasure, and it has been out since February 22nd (I think). So far everything is so much better than I thought it might be - good reviews, except for Kate O’Brien in the Spectator, and quite long ones and lots. It was all sold out before publication, so now they are bringing it out again.’

30 May 1945
‘When I read about William Blake, I know what I am for. I must never be afraid of my foolishness, or of any pretension. And whatever I have I must use, painting, poetry, prose - not proudly thinking it is not good enough and so lock it inside for fear or laughing, sneering.’

26 August 1945
‘I have been ill now and in bed for over two weeks. That is why I have written nothing. And the new doctor gave me M. & B. tablets which, I suppose, made me feel even worse - black, dead, inhuman as a boulder - telescoped into myself till nothing could come forward. Now I am better, and so the other state seems unbelievable, but it is waiting for me again.’

29 January 1947
‘There were frost flowers thick all over the panes this morning and the milk was frozen. The pipes were frozen too, and the snow thicker than ever. I have not got out of bed, and will not till I hear the pipes thawing. I have been writing here, then eating chocolate as a reward. The panes are all dripping and splashing in the sunshine now. Eric has gone for a walk in the snow, and I wish I could go too. It is the most snow I think I have known in England.’

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cramming preserves into a jar

The intriguing Polish writer Leopold Tyrmand died 30 years ago today. His youthful adult life was marked by the turmoil of the Second World War, after which he struggled, in his early writing career, through the years of Stalinism. Escaping to the US, he found some success, before again falling foul of the prevailing cultural and political climate. For three short months, after Stalin’s death and while still in Warsaw, he kept a very detailed diary. This was not published in English until 2014, but reveals Tyrmand had much to say about his own life - his politics, his relationships - as well about the very process of keeping a diary, which he likened to cramming preserves into a jar.

Tyrmand was born in Warsaw in 1920, the only child of a small-scale leather wholesaler and a mother known for her beauty. After leaving school in 1938, he travelled to Paris to enrol in the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture. He was back in Warsaw, on a break from his studies, when Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939. Tyrmand fled east, like other Jews, ending up in Vilnius, where he joined the staff of a Polish-language newspaper published by the Soviets. His parents, meanwhile, were sent to the Majdanek Concentration Camp, where his father was murdered. His mother survived, and subsequently emigrated to Israel.

During the war, Tyrmand began to cooperate with the Polish resistance, but was arrested in spring 1941 by the NKVD secret police. On being transported to a Gulag corrective labour camp, his transport was bombed by the Nazis, and he managed to escape. With false papers, he returned to Germany where he worked in a series of menial jobs. In 1944, he secured a kitchen job on a German transport ship, intending to escape through a Norwegian port to neutral Sweden. He was captured, and spent the rest of the war in a camp near Oslo. He was back in Warsaw by mid-1946, and, later, made good use of his wartime experiences in his autobiographical novel, Filip, and several short stories. He also took a regular job as a journalist writing for Cut, a current events weekly.

During the years of Stalin’s growing influence in Poland, Tyrmand found his writing stifled, and work opportunities limited. It was not until after Stalin’s death, in fact, that he found some renewed success with Zły (published in English as The Man With White Eyes). He married a young art student, was responsible for organising jazz concerts, moved into a better apartment, and began to travel abroad. But, the relaxed cultural and political atmosphere did not last long, and again Tyrmand found himself at odds with the authorities, his activities repressed and his works censored. He got married again in 1959, to Barbara Hoff, an up-and-coming fashion designer. In the mid-1960s, though, he finally managed to get an export visa, first visiting Israel, and then the US, where he stayed.

Tyrmand struggled at first in the US, but, as a writer from behind the Iron Curtain, he was soon taken up by the New York Intelligentsia, and his writing was in demand from periodicals such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The American Scholar. But once again, with his insistent anti-communist stance and constant criticism of US political and cultural life, he began to find himself drifting out of favour. In 1971, he got married for the third time, to Mary Ellen Fox, and they had twins, a boy and girl. In the mid-1970s, he was invited to work with the Conservative Rockford Institute, editing the Chronicles of Culture magazine, and taking over as the institute’s director from its founder, John Howard. Tyrmand died on 19 March 1985. Further information is available from WikipediaNew Eastern Europe website, or a paper at Academia.edu.

One of Tyrmand’s most significant literary legacies is a diary he kept for just three months at the start of 1954. This was first published in Polish in 1980 by the London-based Polonia Book Fund under the title Dziennik 1954. In keeping a diary at the time, full of political content as it was, Tyrmand was taking a considerable risk - Stalin was dead, but
 the official launch of a de-Stalinization policy was still a year or two away. 

The diary breaks off abruptly - in mid-sentence - on 2 April 1954, because, as Tyrmand explains in an afterword, he was about to sign a contract for a novel. The published diary also includes a preface written by Tyrmand. In this, he explains the genesis and subsequent history of the diary, and, to some extent, analyses its contents. The work was finally translated into English in 2014, by Anita Shelton and A. J. Wrobel, and published by Northwestern University Press as Diary 1954. Some pages can be read freely online at Googlebooks.

From the start of Tyrmand’s preface:

‘The facts are as follows:
- I wrote the diary over the first three months of 1954.
- For twelve years, the handwritten notebooks lay at the bottoms of rarely opened drawers.
- In 1956 (it’s obvious at what moment) the Universal Weekly published an excerpt from the diary - the only one that has appeared in print in Poland.
- In 1965, after years of futile applications for a passport, I was finally going to the West in an oldish Opel. I hadn’t decided to emigrate, but I took the manuscript of the diary with me, hiding it, with the help of a trusted mechanic, near the differential. It was an unnecessary precaution; what the customs officials at the border crossing wanted to know was whether my novel Zły was going to be reprinted. After that, their attention was drawn to an antique candlestick on top in the first suitcase they opened. They kept the candlestick and wished me a good journey.
- A few months later the notebooks were deposited at the editorial offices of the Parisian Culture, in Maisons-Lafitte, where they gathered dust for another four years.
- In 1968, when I chose freedom, the diary crossed the Atlantic and traveled with me from place to place for five years. Having settled down in New Canaan, Connecticut, I typed up the manuscript and prepared it for publication as a book.
- In 1974, the London-based Wiadomości (an émigré weekly) began to publish the diary in instalments; the last one came out in 1978. Around half of the full text saw the light of day in emigration in this way.
- The present book represents the entire diary, unchanged for editorial reasons, moral quandaries, political requirements, or concessions to friends and acquaintances.’

Right at the end of his preface, Tyrmand says this: ‘This diary, written in the prime of manhood, and reread at the twilight of middle age, brings me a feeling of fidelity to my own self - which has always seemed to me something desirable and worthy of sacrifice.’

Finally, here are a couple of extracts from the diary itself. Most of the entries are long, running to several pages of small typescript, but Tyrmand is always interesting, whether writing about his relationships, his city, politics or the act of keeping of diary.

5 January 1954
‘I thought that the notebook in which I am keeping this diary would last me for a few months, but now I doubt I’ll fit in all of January. And it devours energy and time. But it draws me in. [. . .]

I took a tram today across Leszno Street and Iron Street to the East-West Route. There, you can still see a good bit of old Warsaw from before the cataclysm. The ugly tenement houses from the turn of the century, so despised by the prewar aesthetes and social do-gooders dreaming of glass houses, have been burnished with a patina of charm by the passing years, sentiment, and ill fortune. They evoke the shoddiness of yesteryear which nostalgia has already ennobled. Especially since they are neighbours to the socrealism of the new Muranow housing estate, which looks like a group of cakes from a street peddler’s basket: small stucco tympanums stuck on as if by a confectioner over oblong windows straight out of primitive functionalism. Facades like dirty icing on a stale cake.

Supper at the Writers’ Club among the same faces, all reflecting the dullness of the choice they made. That’s what it seems like to me, but I may be wrong. Maybe they have sleepless nights, only I don’t know it. The atmosphere at the Club is like that of a prewar Jewish boarding house in Otwock, except that it’s more expensive here, and the food is worse. Everyone knows and dislikes everyone else.

In the afternoon my liver was aching. What’s that about? Hardly a drop of vodka passes my lips; I drink herbal infusions. Could it be that my health, which until now I have boasted about, and which has carried me so reliably through the war, camps, prisons, and private passions, has now been knocked out by infectious hepatitis? But no matter. I already have thirty-three years clocked. For my generation, that’s a ripe old age.

In the evening Bogna showed up, in a foul mood. I also wasn’t exactly in the pink, so there was tension in the air from the start. Getting undressed, she turned out the light, which she usually doesn’t do, and then in the dark she knocked over the humidifier hanging on the radiator, spilling water all over the freshly waxed parquet floor. Nothing sets me off quite like an attack on the shine of my floor, but we were already kind of down to fundamentals, and a fight about spilled water would have been farcical. Instead, when it was all over I just said, “Listen Bogna, I know that your sixteen years and my loathsome pedantry put together are pure surrealism. Isn’t it better to end it?” To that, Bogna, sated, calmly replied, “Uh-huh. You always talk like that when you’ve gotten off.” ’

8 January 1954
‘ “To thine own self be true. To thine own self be true - this above all!” cries Hamlet, as everyone knows. This is an apt bidding. Today it’s tormenting me more than usual. Because I am not myself. But who, then? The devil knows. I have been so determined to be seen as stifled and bypassed by the revolution, the historical moment, my society, and even my own self that I don’t recognise myself. Now I’ll probably never sort it out.

This diary is a substitute for creativity. It’s my justification of myself to myself, and not an independent construction, in and of itself legitimate and fully formed. And is this at all what I am? I always believed and judged that a man must express himself through action, I looked for the call to action, to do my duty - everything else is masturbation, and sooner or later it disgusts. I have been denied creation and action. By whom? It’s embarrassing to keep repeating it.

A diary somehow cannot accommodate what is to be told, what can be told only through creative work, epitome, and metaphor, which are literary devices. There’s always something in this text that doesn’t make it for me, doesn’t satisfy me. What? The right, or privilege to detach myself from the concrete, to cobble together my own law, in harmony with a wider law one must seek with one’s imagination. To be permitted, unrestrained by anything, my own composition of the detail. When I take the bus across Warsaw, my city, which I know better than most people, I can’t note everything faithfully and adequately or I’d fall into idiotic nominalism that would force me to fill up several dozen pages a day. Yet every morning I read my notes from the preceding days and something is missing, something it seems to me I failed to grasp: here, the period, there, insights, yet elsewhere, myself, and instead of them, there are trivialities and cliches, which I’ve already completely forgotten. What I wrote yesterday about McCarthy strikes me today as awkward and shallow. But is this diary supposed to serve as an outlet for someone whom communism has denied the right to have his say about America, who doesn’t have the right to publish what is of immediate value and should be read from day to day? [. . .]

While eating, conversing, touching Bogna, I think impatiently about what I must not lose, what must be captured and recorded. Cramming preserves into a jar, which may never be consumed. This raises the question: were Pepys, Chłędowski, and Gide also crushed by the elephantiasis of the writer’s imperative, or did they know how to confine their diary writing to the margins of their mental and manual effort, endowing it rather with the charm of an evening spent pleasantly jotting memoirs in one’s bathrobe?’

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The day came at last

‘The day came at last as all days must come if one waits long enough. The day that ended my old & commenced my new life - a change for the better I have not the smallest shadow of a doubt - the day that ends this daily journal, having living tablet to write upon instead.’ This is Barclay Fox, part of a prosperous and important Quaker family in 19th century Cornwall, writing in his diary about his wedding day. Interestingly, he predicts - accurately - that he will no longer be interested in keeping a diary. He died 160 years ago today, leaving five children, not yet 40.

Barclay Fox was born in Cornwall in 1817 into a rich Quaker family that had many business and industrial interests in and around Falmouth. His father, Robert Were Fox, was a well known physicist and geologist, and was very involved with the family’s iron foundries. Barclay Fox married Jane Backhouse in 1844, and they had four sons and a daughter. Although Fox took part in the family business - he was made partner of the shipping brokers, G. C. Fox, and was general manager of the iron foundry at Perranarworthal, he also travelled abroad. Indeed, he was in Egypt when he died, on 10 March 1855, from tuberculosis. There is very little further biographical detail readily available online, but Wikipedia does have an entry for him, as does The Peerage.

Fox appears to have kept a diary for most of his life, starting when he was a teenager, but with far fewer entries after his marriage. Unlike the diary of his sister, Caroline, (see below), it was not published until 1979, when Bell and Hyman brought out Barclay Fox’s Journal as edited by R. L. Brett (including entries from 1832 to 1845). Thirty years later, in 2008, Cornwall Editions brought out a new edition of the 1979 book with a fresh introduction by Charles Fox, a preface by Bert Biscoe, and additional journal entries from 1845 to 1854. Some pages of this latter edition can be browsed at Amazon.

Here are a few extracts, including several from around the time of Barclay’s wedding.

1 January 1832
‘Breakfasted at Grove Hill. A cold day, got a cough, stayed at home from the afternoon Meeting. Papa gave me this book.’

9 January 1832
‘Commenced schooling today by myself in the new schoolroom and made an address to it in 6 Latin verses. I knocked out a pane of glass with my whipping top. A very wet day. I have begun to go to bed at 9 instead of 10.’

10 January 1832
‘2 Aunts came to breakfast, we all read our poems to them. After breakfast, I went with Papa to Perran to try the intensity of the magnet [Barclay’s father experimented with magnetism] with William Henwood, first in the valley and then on the top of the hill. We found the needle varied half a degree. In the evening, we 3 went to the Bank and read our poems again to Grandmamma and Aunts. Rather wet day.’

27 March 1832
‘J Richards, Cavendish & I went on board the Alchymist with Uncle Lewis. Explored the cavern at Pennance with Cavendish in the afternoon. John Wall went back to Bridgenorth this morning to his sister’s marriage. Fine day.’

4 April 1832
‘The marriage-day of Cavendish’s sister - a holiday of course. In the morning rowed with Cavendish to the Aurora frigate. In the afternoon some of the Classical School boys came to a game of cricket & tea, after which Papa showed us some experiments on galvanism etc. Very fine day.’

22 March 1840
‘Had the long anticipated pleasure of meeting John Mill, the exquisite writer in the London & Westminster. His voice, face & manner betoken delicacy of feeling, mildness, clearness and correctness of view, with that entire absence of assumption & affectation which distinguishes the really great from the really little.’

24 March 1840
‘Walked with Mill and Sterling after dinner. Mill sketched simply and beautifully the opposite habit of mind of himself & Carlyle; he being a generalizer, Carlyle an individualizer. His own turn was abstraction, Carlyle’s realization; the former is characteristic of the moral philosopher, the latter of the poet. He had only once or twice actually realized scenes of which he read and from that experience could easily understand the fancied inspiration of poets. For historic events to come home to him with the reality of actual presence would be more than his nerves could bear. When he first saw the great Truth 12 years since, that the earnestness of a writer is the only thing about him worth attempting to imitate, and the inevitable inconsistency of a copied style makes it more than vain, it seemed to him like a Revelation. There is sincerity of depth of assent in his emphatic Yes which is very peculiar. He is the most candid, genuine and clear-reasoning man I ever met with.’

29 November 1841
‘The deluge of 1841. The rain poured down in streams instead of drops, the low lands are inundated, walls & hedges are washed away. The water in some of the houses at Penryn is 4 or 5 feet deep & the inhabitants with their pigs are taking refuge in the top storey according to my father’s report, who went to Carlew this morning. The road about Stewart’s bone mill is converted into a rapid river 3 or 4 feet deep in some places. The like has not been known in this county within the memory of man. It is a happy thing for the old ladies that they can read of the covenant made with our forefathers that the world should never be drowned again, for certainly this looks somewhat suspicious. With Sterling for about an hour in the evening, to my usual edification.’

9 October 1844
‘Wedding-eve! My father & mother arrived at 9; the girls, with my Grandmother & Aunt C, in the afternoon. C has not lost her cough, but both give a clean bill of themselves & bright reports of their northern experiences. We dined at Southend with a large party, including 9 of the bridesmaids. At 7 William appeared seemingly well-strung-up to the occasion. We had much pleasant & interesting chat over the breakfast-room fire till the arrival of Uncle C & the lawyers put an end to it. He & William in conjunction with J Hodgkin & Edmund are our Trustees. This second legal visitation gave me the opportunity of a few last words with Jane who is all herself  - free from frights & fancies, considerate of all, calm & self-possessed. No perturbation at the thought of tomorrow.’

10 Journal 1844
‘The day came at last as all days must come if one waits long enough. The day that ended my old & commenced my new life - a change for the better I have not the smallest shadow of a doubt - the day that ends this daily journal, having living tablet to write upon instead, “The soul’s living home” as Coleridge calls it most truly.’

31 December 1844
‘Here ends the best & most blessed year of my life. It is as tho’ I had reached the goal of my boy-existence & found it but the starting post of a new one. The mountain tops before me show higher then ever & life is becoming a more earnest business with a larger sphere & higher pleasures & deeper responsibilities - no longer alone but blest with the companionship of a noble & pure spirit, with the possession of a deeply-loving heart; how abundantly grateful ought mine to be!’

Barclay’s sister, Caroline, has long been considered a diarist of note. Memories of Old Friends: being extracts from the journals and letters of Caroline Fox, 1835-1871 was first published in two volumes in 1882 by Smith, Elder & Co., and contains many references to her brother. Her diaries are freely available online at Internet Archive.

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I did the right thing

‘Every ten minutes or so a constable enters my cell, looks curiously at my scribblings and asks me what I am writing. I say, “A children’s story” and carry on writing. I prefer not to think about what will happen to me if anyone reads these lines.’ This is Hans Fallada, the highly-regarded German novelist, who famously or infamously chose to remain in Germany under Hitler and during the Second World War. The quote comes from Fallada’s so-called prison diary, newly published in English by Polity, as A Stranger in My Own Country. However, the ‘diary’ is not a record of his daily life but rather an extended memoir about his life under the Nazi regime, written frenetically over the course of just two weeks.

Rudolf Ditzen (later to call himself Hans Fallada) was born in Greifswald, Germany, in 1893, the child of middle-class parents, both of whom shared an enthusiasm for music and literature. They moved to Berlin in 1899, and to Leipzig in 1909 when his father, a judge, was appointed to the Imperial Supreme Court. That same year Fallada was severely injured by a horse-drawn cart, and the following year he contracted typhoid. Biographers suggest that his life-long drug problems and various suicide attempts can be traced back to these traumas. In 1911, a suicide pact with a friend - by way of a duel - went wrong, and led only to the friend dying. Fallada was labelled insane and incarcerated in a sanatorium.

Fallada used his time in sanatoriums to work on translations and poetry; and, when not confined, he took up agricultural work to support himself and to pay for his growing morphine addiction. In 1920, he published his first (autobiographical) novel, Der junge Goedeschal (Young Goedeschal). Over the next few years, though, he was imprisoned twice, serving sentences for stealing to support his drug habit. Having joined a temperance society, he emerged from prison in 1928 free of his drug habit. He soon found regular work as a journalist, married Anna Issel, and moved to Holstein.

Then, after moving back to Berlin, Fallada worked for Rowohlt Verlag, a publishing company, which also published his books: Bauern, Bonzen und Bomben in 1931, and Kleiner Mann, was nun? (Little Man, What Now?) in 1932. The latter - now considered a modern classic - was praised by the likes of Thomas Mann and Graham Greene, and, eventually, filmed twice. Shortly after Hitler seized power in 1933, Fallada was falsely accused of being an anti-Nazi conspirator, and arrested. Subsequently, he moved into the country, to Carwitz, near Feldberg.

While other authors emigrated to escape the Nazi regime, Fallada decided to stay, and for a while turned his attention to children’s books. At times, Hitler’s regime seemed to warm to Fallada, and to embrace his adult writing; but, with the Second World War, his life began to fall apart. He started drinking, having affairs, and, eventually, he became divorced from his wife. He was also in dispute with neighbours, who threatened to tell the authorities about his past psychological troubles. In September 1944, he was committed to a psychiatric institution for having fired a gunshot and threatened to kill his ex-wife. He was released three months later, in December.

The following February, Fallada married a widow, Ulla Losch. She was wealthy but she was also an alcoholic and morphine addict. With the war over, Fallada was appointed mayor of Feldberg. He soon resigned, and together with Ulla moved back to East Berlin. He died of a morphine overdose in 1947. Further information is available from Wikipedia or Kirjasto.

During his three month incarceration in 1944, Fallada wrote prolifically. He asked for pen and paper and was given 92 sheets of lined paper, ostensibly to fulfil a propaganda assignment for Joseph Goebbels. Instead, however, he wrote several short stories and a novel, one that was highly critical of life under the Nazis. This latter was written in diary form, but in such a dense complicated script that it was effectively unreadable until deciphered later. 


When, after a couple of weeks, the contentious content of his writing had remained undetected, he felt emboldened to set down some direct (as opposed to fictionalised) reminiscences of the Nazi period. He wanted to do this, to bear witness, as it were, and to justify the painful compromises and concessions he had made as a writer living under the Third Reich. He wrote frenetically, using the same pieces of paper as for the novel, but turning them upside down and writing in the spaces between lines, using miniscule writing, Latin, and many abbreviations. He was allowed a day release on 8 October 1944 (having begun to write his reminiscences on 23 September) and took the opportunity to smuggle every page out of the prison.

The novel - Der Trinker - was not deciphered and published in German until 1950. This was translated into English by Charlotte and A. L. Lloyd and published by Putnam & Co. in 1952 as The Drinker. Much of the text can be previewed at Amazon. By contrast, Fallada’s secret reminiscences, written interspacially between the lines of The Drinker and other stories, remained forgotten or lost for half a century. In 2009, Aufbau Verlag, once the largest publisher in GDR, finally published the text as edited by Jenny Williams and Sabine Lange under the title In meinem fremden Land: Gefängnistagebuch 1944. Allan Blunden has now translated it into English for Polity, a Cambridge-based publisher specialising in social sciences and humanities, which issued the book as A Stranger in My Own Country - The 1944 Prison Diary. Reviews can be found online at The Independent, the South China Morning Post, and the Morning Star.

However, it is worth pointing out that Fallada’s diary is no such thing. Yes, there are around 15 dated entries, averaging 15 pages per entry. But the whole reads like a continuous memoir of his life under the Nazi regime, starting in 1933, with almost no references to the present or to his daily life in prison - a sentence or two of the following extract being a notable exception. 

24 September 1944
‘ “If I ask myself today whether I did the right thing or the wrong thing by remaining in Germany, then I’d still have to say today: “I did the right thing.” I truthfully did not stay, as some have claimed, because I didn’t want to lose my home and possessions or because I was coward. If I’d gone abroad I could have earned more money, more easily and would have lived a safer life. Here I have suffered all manner of trials and tribulations. I’ve spent many hours in the air-raid shelter in Berlin, watching the windows turn red, and often enough, to put it plainly, I’ve been scared witless. My property had been constantly at risk, for a year now they have refused to allocate paper for my books - and I am writing these lines in the shadow of the hangman’s noose in the asylum at Strelitz, where the chief prosecutor has kindly placed me as a ‘dangerous lunatic’, in September 1944. Every ten minutes or so a constable enters my cell, looks curiously at my scribblings and asks me what I am writing. I say, “A children’s story” and carry on writing. I prefer not to think about what will happen to me if anyone reads these lines. But I have to write them. I sense that the war is coming to an end soon, and I want to write down my experiences before that happens: hundreds of others will be doing the same after the war. Better to do it now - even at the risk of my life. I’m living here with eighty-four men, most of them quite deranged, and nearly all of them convicted murderers, thieves or sex offenders. But even under these conditions I still say: “I was right to stay in Germany. I am a German, and I would rather perish with this unfortunate but blessed nation than enjoy a false happiness in some other country.!”


[. . .]

But if we happened to be in Berlin and came across formations of brownshirts or stormtroopers marching through the streets with their standards, singing their brutish songs - one line of which I still remember clearly: “. . . the blade must run with Jewish blood!” - then my wide and I would start to run and we would turn off at the next corner. An edict had been issued, stating that everyone on the street had to raise their arm and salute the standards when these parades went past. We were by no means the only ones who ran away rather than give a salute under duress. Little did we know at the time that our then four-year-old son would one day be wearing a brown shirt too, and in my own house to boot, and that one day I too would have to buy a Nazi flat and fly it on ‘festive days’. If we had had any notion of the suffering that lay ahead, perhaps we would have changed our minds after all and packed our bags.’

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Malcolm X uninterrupted

Malcolm X, one of the US’s most influential black activists, was assassinated half a century ago today. He was not yet 40. Having come from a deprived background, turned criminal and spent years in prison, he educated himself sufficiently to become a Muslim minister and human rights activist. Indeed, in the year or two before his death, he had become a figure of international importance. For a few months in 1964, while visiting countries in Africa and the Middle East, he kept a detailed diary. This was only edited recently by one of his daughters, Ilyasah Shabazz, and the journalist Herb Boyd, before being published by Third World Press. On publication, Boyd praised the diary for being ‘Malcolm, uninterrupted, without any kind of editorial interference’.

Malcolm Little was born in 1925 in  Omaha, Nebraska, the fourth of seven children. His father was an outspoken Baptist lay speaker who brought his children up to be self-reliant and proud of their race. White racist threats and attacks blighted family life, leading his father to relocate a couple of times. In 1929, their home was burnt down; a year or two later his father died (his mother, Louise, believing he had been murdered). Later, when Louise was committed to hospital, the children were separated and sent to foster homes.

Until his early 20s, Little held a variety of jobs while living with his half-sister in Boston. He moved to Harlem, New York City, in 1943, and became involved with various criminal activities. After committing several robberies back in Boston, and being arrested, he was jailed at Charlestown State Prison in 1946. While inside, he became a voracious reader; and, thanks to his siblings, turned to a newly-formed religious movement, Nation of Islam, that worked to improve the lot of African Americans, and, ultimately, the return of the African diaspora to Africa. He soon was communicating regularly, by letter, with the movement’s leader, Elijah Muhammad. In 1950, he began signing his name Malcolm X (the X, he explained, signified the true African family name that he could never know).

Malcolm X’s rise through Nation of Islam came swiftly after his parole in 1952. He was first made assistant minister of the Temple Number One in Detroit, but then established Boston’s Temple Number 11, and expanded Temple Number 12 in Philadelphia, before being selected to lead Temple Number 7 in Harlem. He continued to launch new temples, and was a powerful presence and recruiter for the organisation. In 1955, he met Better Sanders; they married in 1958, and they had six children.

Malcolm X first became a significant public figure in 1957, when he took control of a crowd of people protesting at police brutality against a National of Islam member, Johnson Hinton. By this time, also, Malcolm X had become a person of interest to both the FBI and the New York City police. The media began reporting on his activities, and, in 1960, several African nations invited him to official functions linked to a meeting of United Nations General Assembly. In particular, Fidel Castro, Cuba’s leader, held one-to-one talks with Malcolm X and invited him to visit Cuba.

After a period of tension with Muhammad, Malcolm X broke from Nation of Islam in 1964. He founded Muslim Mosque, Inc, and Organization of Afro-American Unity. He gave his famous ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ speech, and he converted to Sunni Islam. That same year he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and he met the Saudi Arabian leader, Prince Faisal. While increasingly he was becoming an international figure (with extensive visits in Africa, as well as to France and the UK), tensions at home with the Nation of Islam led to death threats, and, eventually, his murder. He was assassinated on 21 February 1965 in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom where he was preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Three Nation of Islam members were convicted of the murder. Subsequently, various conspiracies were alleged, not least that an FBI infiltrator might have exacerbated tensions between Malcolm X and Muhammad. Also, one of the organisation’s Boston ministers later admitted that he might have helped stoke up the atmosphere which ultimately led to the murder.

Wikipedia’s biography has this to say about Malcolm X’s legacy: ‘[He] has been described as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. He is credited with raising the self-esteem of black Americans and reconnecting them with their African heritage. He is largely responsible for the spread of Islam in the black community in the United States. Many African Americans, especially those who lived in cities in the Northern and Western United States, felt that Malcolm X articulated their complaints concerning inequality better than the mainstream civil rights movement did. [. . .] In the late 1960s, increasingly radical black activists based their movements largely on Malcolm X and his teachings. The Black Power movement, the Black Arts Movement, and the widespread adoption of the slogan “Black is beautiful” can all trace their roots to Malcolm X.’ Further information can also be found at the official Malcolm X website.

In 1964, during two trips to Africa and the Middle East, Malcolm X kept a detailed diary. This did not emerge into the public domain until a few years ago (when found with other archival material). It was edited by Herb Boyd, a journalist and associate of Malcolm X’s, and one of Malcolm’s daughters, Ilyasah Shabazz, and published as The Diary of Malcolm X by Third World Press. However, in 2013, with publication due in November, a corporation representing Malcolm X’s wife and his heirs (other than the daughter Ilyasah, obviously) claimed the book was being published without the family’s permission, and went to court to stop Third World Press. The poet and black activist, Haki R. Madhubuti, who owns the Press, claimed he had a valid legal contract, and that any delay would put the company in financial jeopardy. See Publishers Weekly, The Guardian, or Melville House for more on this.

The foreword and introduction of the book can be read freely online at Amazon. Here are a few paragraphs taken from the introduction.

‘From the middle of April to the end of May and later from July to November of 1964, Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) kept an extensive meticulous diary of his journeys to Africa and the Middle East, including his pilgrimage to Mecca.

While his diary has been discussed and occasionally cited [. . .], it exists mainly in the archives of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, where it is available for scholars and researchers.

The diary came to the Schomburg several years ago after a circuitous route from Florida where it was among Malcolm’s possessions in a storage bin, and then from San Francisco where an auction house was preparing to put the lot up for bids. Fortunately, the family, through its attorney, was able to rescue the valuable memorabilia, and to house a good portion of it at the Schomburg.

Malcolm was a keen collector of keepsakes, documents, books, newspapers, films, and, of course, the record of his life. Volumes I and II of his diary total more than 200 pages in microfilm.’ [See San Francisco Bay View for more on the Malcolm X materials.]

On publication of the diary, Herb Boyd said: ‘The diary humanizes [Malcolm X] in a way that some of these other scholars set out to do . . . This is Malcolm, uninterrupted, without any kind of editorial interference. . . The diary is certainly the most critical thing that he left behind that has not been examined.’ And, Madhubuti said: ‘It’s one of the most important books that we’ve published.’

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director, The Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, was more expansive: ‘The publication of The Diary of Malcolm X is a great historical event in African American intellectual history. Reading these entries has the effect of overhearing a profound thinker’s most private and uncensored thoughts about everything from his split with Elijah Muhammad to the cost of 16mm film in Accra. I found this a riveting and deeply moving experience, one that only made me even sadder at the senselessness of his assassination. Every student of Malcolm X, and the history of black political leadership, should read this compelling book.’

More about Malcolm X’s diary can be read at Black Star News and The Root (which also has one quoted extract from the diary, as follows).

15 July 1964
‘I find all the African delegates at all levels are strongly sympathetic to our cause, [. . .] But American propaganda through the USIS [United States Information Service] has been powerful[,] influencing most of them to think we hate Africa & don’t identify with her in any way. Most of them are shocked by my strongly pro-African sentiments - shocked and elated.’

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dreadful depravity

‘His daily conduct forced a conviction upon my alarmed and tortured mind, that his designs were the most vile.’ This is from an astonishing document, half diary and half memoir, written by Abigail Abbott Bailey, largely about her abusive husband (whom she eventually divorced) and his ‘dreadful depravity’. The couple were colonists in New Hampshire, one of the original 13 American colonies, and became caught up in the religious revival of the time. Today marks the 200th anniversary of Abigail’s death.

One of nine siblings, Abigail was born to Congregationalists Deacon James and Sarah Abbot in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1746. At the end of the French and Indian War, the family moved to Newbury and helped found a Church of Christ. In 1767, Abigail married Asa Bailey, and in time they would have 17 children. Initially, they settled in Haverhill, but in 1772 moved to Bath, then in 1780 to Landaff, both also in New Hampshire. The clergyman Ethan Smith said of Abigail: ‘Relative to her person, she was tall and slender. She had a black, piercing, but pleasant eye. She had very comely, but grave features. Her mind was sedate, and very unusually contemplative. Her heart was tender, affectionate and kind; and her speech grave and impressive. I have no recollection of ever hearing of her piety and goodness being called in question.’

Unfortunately, Asa proved to be an abusive and violent husband. In 1773, he was acquitted of a charge of rape against a female servant. And, in 1788, Abigail discovered his incest with their daughter Phebe. She sent him away from the family home, but endured his return several times. Only after a nefarious land deal, in 1792, did Abigail finally separate from Asa, returning to Haverhill, and securing a divorce in 1793. She lived with Deacon Andrew Crook of Piermont for ten years after, and, in 1803, was one of the founding members of the Church of Christ in Piermont. She died on 11 February 1815.

There is very little further biographical information available online about Abigail other than that contained in the extraordinary diary/memoir she left behind. Although some entries are dated, as in a diary, most are not, and the whole reads more like a memoir than a diary. It was first edited by Ethan Smith, and published by Samuel T. Armstrong in 1815: Memoirs of Mrs. Abigail Bailey who had been the wife of Major Asa Bailey, formerly of Landaff, (N. H.) written by herself. This is freely available online at Internet Archive. Some extracts can be read online at Googlebooks in A Day at a Time: The Diary Literarature of American Women from 1764 to the Present. The diary/memoir has also been reprinted more recently with some analysis by Ann Taves in Religion and Domestic Violence in Early New England: The Memoirs of Abigail Abbot Bailey. Some of this can also be read freely at Googlebooks.

The following four extracts are all taken from the original 1815 publication of Memoirs. The first, however, is not by Abigail herself but is from a section at the beginning called ‘Advertisement’. It explains not only the manuscript’s provenance, but the rationale for publishing such a record, and for showing the ‘dreadful depravity of fallen man’.

‘The manuscripts, containing the following memoirs, were found among the writings of Mrs. Abigail Bailey, who died in Bath, N. H. Feb. 11, 1815. On perusing them, some of her friends had a desire to see them in print. To obtain advice, relative to the expediency of publishing them, the writings were presented to a minister of the Gospel, and to another gentleman of public education. These gentlemen, after perusing the manuscripts, felt a strong desire that the public might be benefited by them. The writings were then, by the joint advice of these gentlemen, and some of the friends of the deceased, transmitted to me, with a request, that, if my opinion coincided with theirs, relative to the expediency of their being published, I would transcribe, and prepare them for the press. On reading the manuscripts, I was of the opinion, that they are richly worthy of being given to the public. They present such a variety of uncommon, and interesting events, in a kind of strange connexion; such singular providences; and such operations of faith and fervent piety, under a series of most pressing trials; that I truly think but few lives of christians, in modern days, have afforded such rare materials for instructive biography.

My personal acquaintance with Mrs. Bailey, during some part of her trials, and for years after, gave me the fullest confidence in her strict veracity, integrity, and singular piety.

In her memoirs, the intelligent reader will find, strikingly exhibited, the dreadful depravity of fallen man; the abomination of intrigue and deceit; the horrid cruelty, of which man is capable; the hardness of the way of transgressors; the simplicity of the christian temper; the safety of confiding in God in the darkest scenes; his protection of the innocent; the supports afforded by the christian faith when outward means fail; and the wisdom of God in turning headlong the devices of the crafty. These things are presented in a detail of events, and unexaggerated facts, which arrest the Attention; and which are singularly calculated to exhibit the detestable nature and consequences of licentiousness and vice. [. . .]

In transcribing these memoirs, I have taken liberty to abridge some pages, to shorten some sentences, and to adopt a better word, where the sense designed would evidently be more perspicuous, and more forcibly expressed. But I have taken care to preserve entire the sentiment of the manuscripts. I have been careful to give no stronger expressions of the wickedness, or cruelties of Major Bailey, than those found in the manuscripts. But in various instances, expressions of his wickedness and cruelty, found in the manuscripts, are here omitted; not from the least apprehension of their incorrectness; but to spare the feelings of the reader.’

July 1773
‘Alas, I must again resume my lonely pen, and write grievous things against the husband of my youth! Another young woman was living with us. And I was grieved and astonished to learn that the conduct of Mr. B. with her was unseemly. After my return home from an absence of several days visiting my friends, I was convinced that all had not been right at home. Mr. B. perceived my trouble upon the subject. In the afternoon (the young woman being then absent) he fell into a passion with me. He was so overcome with anger, that he was unable to set up. He took his bed, and remained there till night. Just before evening he said to me, “I never saw such a woman as you. You can be so calm; while I feel so disturbed.” My mind was not in a state of insensibility. But I was blessed with a sweet composure. I felt a patient resignation to the will of God. I thought I enjoyed a serene peace, which the world can neither give nor take away. I conversed with Mr. B. as I thought was most suitable. At evening I went out to milk. I spent some time in secret prayer for my poor husband. I endeavoured to intercede with God that he would bring him to repentance, and save him from sin and ruin, through the merits of Christ. I think that God at this time gave me a spirit of prayer. And I interceded with God that my husband might not be suffered to add to his other crimes that of murder. For I really feared this was in his heart. But I trusted in the Lord to deliver me. When I came into the house, I found Mr. B. still on the bed. He groaned bitterly. I asked him if he was sick? or what was the matter? He then took hold of my hand, and said, I am not angry with you now; nor had I ever any reason to be angry with you, since you lived with me. He added, I never knew till now what a sinner I have been. I have broken all God’s holy laws, and my life has been one continued course of rebellion against God. I deserve his eternal wrath; and wonder I am out of hell. Mr. B. soon after told me, that as soon as I went out to milk, he rose from his bed, and looked out at a window after me; and thought that he would put an end to my life, before I should come into the house again. But he said that when he thought of committing such a crime, his own thoughts affrighted him, and his soul was filled with terror. Nor did he dare to stand and look out after me; but fell back again upon his bed. Then he said he had a most frightful view of himself. All his sins stared him in the face. All his wickedness, from his childhood to that hour, was presented to his mind, and appeared inexpressibly dreadful. All the terrors of the law, he said, pressed upon his soul. The threatenings and curses denounced against the wicked, in the whole Bible, seemed to thunder against him. And these things, he said, came with such power, that he thought he should immediately sink into eternal woe. In this distress, he said he cried to God for mercy. Upon which, the invitations and promises of the Gospel came wonderfully into his mind; and the way of salvation by Christ appeared plain and beautiful. He was now, he said, overcome with love. His soul was drawn out after Christ. And he hoped he never more should desire any thing, but to glorify God. After this Mr. B pretended to great peace of mind; and to be full of joy. The night following we conversed much upon religion. He confessed some of his sins; particularly his vile conduct while I was gone; that in heart and attempt he was indeed guilty of the sin I had charged upon him. But he gave me to understand that he was unable to accomplish his wicked designs.’

1744
‘In 1774, I again experienced a scene of mortification and trial. The young woman, of whom I last spake, who had lived with us, was induced to go before a grand jury, and to declare under oath that while she lived at our house, and while I was absent, as I before noted, Mr. B. in the night went to her apartment; and after flatteries used in vain, made violent attempts upon her; but was repulsed. All but the violence used, Mr. B. acknowledged. This he denied. So that there was a contradiction between them. Thus my surprise and grief were renewed. But I could do nothing but carry my cause to God, who searches all heart, and knows the truth.’

December 1788
‘Mr. B. began to behave in a very uncommon manner: he would rise in the morning, and after being dressed, would seat himself in his great chair, by the fire, and would scarcely go out all day. He would not speak, unless spoken to; and not always then. He seemed like one in the deepest study. If a child came to him, and asked him to go to breakfast, or dinner, he seemed not to hear: then I would go to him, and must take hold of him, and speak very loudly, before he would attend; and then he would seem like one waking from sleep. Often when he was eating, he would drop his knife and fork, or whatever he had in his hand, and seemed not to know what he was doing. Nor could he be induced to give any explanation of his strange appearance and conduct. He did not appear like one senseless, or as though he could not hear, or speak. His eyes would sparkle with the keen emotions of his mind.

I had a great desire to learn the cause of this strange appearance and conduct. I at first hoped It might be concern for his soul; but I was led to believe this was not the case. He continued thus several days and nights, and seemed to sleep but little.

One night, soon after we had retired to bed; he began to talk very familiarly, and seemed pleasant. He said, now I will tell you what I have been studying upon all this while: I have been planning to sell our farm, and to take our family and interest, and move to the westward, over toward the Ohio country, five or six hundred miles; I think that is a much better country than this; and I have planned out the whole matter. Now I want to learn your mind concerning it; for I am unwilling to do anything contrary to your wishes in things so important as this. He said he wished to gain my consent, and then he would consult the children, and get their consent also. I was troubled at his proposal; I saw many difficulties in the way. But he seemed much engaged, and said he could easily remove all my objections. I told him it would be uncertain what kind of people we should find there; and how we should be situated relative to gospel privileges. He said he had considered all those things; that he well knew what kind of minister, and what people would suit me; and he would make it his care to settle where those things would be agreeable to me, and that in all things he would seek as much to please me, as himself. His manner was now tender and obliging: and though his subject was most disagreeable to me, yet I deemed it not prudent to be hasty in discovering too much opposition to his plans. I believe I remarked, that I must submit the matter to him. If he was confident it would be for the interest of the family, I could not say it would not be thus; but really I could not at present confide in it.

He proceeded to say, that he would take one of our sons, and one daughter, to go first with him on this tour, to wait on him; and that he probably should not return to take the rest of the family under a year from the time he should set out. He said he would put his affairs in order, so that it should be as easy and comfortable for me as possible, during his absence.

Soon after, Mr. B. laid this his pretended plan before the children; and after a while he obtained their consent to move to the westward. They were not pleased with the idea, but wished to be obedient, and to honor their father. Thus we all consented, at last, to follow our head and guide, wherever he should think best; for our family had ever been in the habit of obedience: and perhaps never were more pains taken to please the head of a family, than had ever been taken in our domestic circle.

But alas! words fail to set forth the things which followed! All this pretended plan was but a specious cover to infernal designs. Here I might pause, and wonder, and be silent, humble, and astonished, as long as I live! A family, which God had committed to my head and husband, as well as to me, to protect and train up for God, must now have their peace and honor sacrificed by an inhuman parent, under the most subtle and vile intrigues, to gratify a most contemptible passion! I had before endured sorrowful days and years, on account of the follies, cruelties, and the base incontinency of him who vowed to be my faithful husband. But all past afflictions vanish before those which follow. But how can I relate them? Oh tell it not in Gath! Must I record such grievousness against the husband of my youth? [. . .]

I have already related that Mr. B. said he would lake one of our sons, and one daughter, to wait on him in his distant tour, before he would take all the family. After he had talked of this for a few days, he said he had altered his plan; he would leave his son, and take only his daughter: he could hire what men’s help he needed: his daughter must go and cook for him. He now commenced a new series of conduct in relation to this daughter, whom he selected to go with him, in order (as he pretended) to render himself pleasing and familiar to her; so that she might be willing to go with him, and feel happy: for though, as a father, he had a right to command her to go, yet (he said) he would so conduct toward her, as to make her cheerful and well pleased to go with him. A great part of the time he now spent in the room where she was spinning; and seemed shy of me, and of the rest of the family. He seemed to have forgotten his age, his honor, and all decency, as well as all virtue. He would spend his time with this daughter, in telling idle stories, and foolish riddles, and singing songs to her, and sometimes before the small children, when they were in that room. He thus pursued a course of conduct, which had the most direct tendency to corrupt young and tender minds, and lead them the greatest distance from every serious subject. [. . .]

His daily conduct forced a conviction upon my alarmed and tortured mind, that his designs were the most vile. All his tender affections were withdrawn from the wife of his youth, the mother of his children. My room was deserted, and left lonely. His care for the rest of his family seemed abandoned, as well as all his attention to his large circle of worldly business. Every thing must lie neglected, while this one daughter engrossed all his attention. [. . .]’

The Diary Junction

Diary briefs

Doris Lessing’s sealed diaries - The Guardian

Exhibition of artists’ diaries - Archives of American Art

Diary evidence in Prince Andrew allegations - Radar, The Independent

Long winter march for POWs in 1945 - The Gazette

St Kilda 1906-1909 diaries online - National Trust for Scotland, The Scotsman, BBC

18th century Moravian diaries - Moravian Archives, The Morning Call

Guantanamo Diary (memoir) finally published - The Guardian

Dispute over James Brown’s wife’s diary - The New York Times, The TandD

Diary evidence in TV weatherman case - Manchester Evening News

Diary of WWI Kansas City pilot - Kansas City Star

Friday, February 6, 2015

Virtues and imperfections

Three hundred and thirty years ago today King Charles II died, and his brother, James, was crowned king of England, Scotland and Ireland. John Evelyn, one of the great early diarists, wrote at length in his diary about the death of the one king, and the coronation of the other. For all his buffoonery and vanity, Evelyn had a lot of time for Charles (‘a prince of many virtues, and many great imperfections’), and within a week of his death was noting how ‘the face of the whole Court was exceedingly changed into a more solemn and moral behaviour’.

Charles II’s route to being crowned king of England was no easy one. His father, Charles I, was executed in 1649, during the English Civil War. Although Charles was proclaimed king in Scotland, England was a de facto republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, who went on to defeat Charles at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Charles fled to France, and remained in exile for almost a decade, until invited to return, after Cromwell’s death in 1660. The greatest of all diarists, Samuel Pepys, was with Charles on the voyage back to England, and the two had a conversation on deck which Pepys recorded in his diary. The following year, Pepys was present at the king’s coronation.

Charles II reigned for 25 years, and was popularly known as the Merry Monarch, in reference, it is said, to his hedonism and to a general relief at being rid of Cromwell and the puritans. But he died quite suddenly, on 6 February 1685; his brother, James, immediately succeeded him to the throne. Although Samuel Pepys was alive and well, and a high ranking Admiralty official at the time, he had stopped writing his diary many years earlier. But his contemporary, John Evelyn, whose diary covered 50 years (compared with Pepys’s 10), was also a confidant of Charles II, and he left behind a first hand account of Charles’s death and James’s coronation


The following extracts are taken from The Diary of John Evelyn (the third of three volumes) with an introduction and notes by Austin Dobson, published by Macmillan in 1906. Although the first, long extract below is dated 4 February, some of it must have been written later, on or after 6 February.

4 February 1685
‘I went to London, hearing his Majesty had been the Monday before (2d February) surprised in his bedchamber with an apoplectic fit, so that if, by God’s providence, Dr. King (that excellent chirurgeon as well as physician) had not been accidentally present to let him bleed (having his lancet in his pocket), his Majesty had certainly died that moment; which might have been of direful consequence, there being nobody else present with the King save this Doctor and one more, as I am assured. It was a mark of the extraordinary dexterity, resolution, and presence of mind in the Doctor, to let him bleed in the very paroxysm, without staying the coming of other physicians, which regularly should have been done, and for want of which he must have a regular pardon, as they tell me.

This rescued his Majesty for the instant, but it was only a short reprieve. He still complained, and was relapsing, often fainting, with sometimes epileptic symptoms, till Wednesday, for which he was cupped, let bleed in both jugulars, and both vomit and purges, which so relieved him, that on Thursday hopes of recovery were signified in the public “Gazette,” but that day about noon, the physicians thought him feverish. This they seemed glad of, as being more easily allayed and methodically dealt with than his former fits; so as they prescribed the famous Jesuit’s powder; but it made him worse, and some very able doctors who were present did not think it a fever, but the effect of his frequent bleeding and other sharp operations used by them about his head, so that probably the powder might stop the circulation, and renew his former fits, which now made him very weak.

Thus he passed Thursday night with great difficulty, when complaining of a pain in his side, they drew twelve ounces more of blood from him; this was by six in the morning on Friday, and it gave him relief, but it did not continue, for being now in much pain, and struggling for breath, he lay dozing, and, after some conflicts, the physicians despairing of him, he gave up the ghost at half an hour after eleven in the morning, being the sixth of February, 1685, in the 36th year of his reign, and 54th of his age.

Prayers were solemnly made in all the churches, especially in both the Court Chapels, where the chaplains relieved one another every half quarter of an hour from the time he began to be in danger till he expired, according to the form prescribed in the Church offices. Those who assisted his Majesty’s devotions were, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of London, Durham, and Ely, but more especially Dr. Ken, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. It is said they exceedingly urged the receiving Holy Sacrament, but his Majesty told them he would consider of it, which he did so long till it was too late. Others whispered that the Bishops and Lords, except the Earls of Bath and Feversham, being ordered to withdraw the night before, Huddleston, the priest, had presumed to administer the Popish offices. He gave his breeches and keys to the Duke [James] who was almost continually kneeling by his bedside, and in tears. He also recommended to him the care of his natural children, all except the Duke of Monmouth, now in Holland, and in his displeasure. He entreated the Queen to pardon him (not without cause); who a little before had sent a Bishop to excuse her not more frequently visiting him, in regard of her excessive grief, and withal that his Majesty would forgive it if at any time she had offended him.He spoke to the Duke to be kind to the Duchess of Cleveland, and especially Portsmouth, and that Nelly might not starve.

Thus died King Charles II., of a vigorous and robust constitution, and in all appearance promising a long life. He was a prince of many virtues, and many great imperfections; debonair, easy of access, not bloody nor cruel; his countenance fierce, his voice great, proper of person, every motion became him; a lover of the sea, and skilful in shipping; not affecting other studies, yet he had a laboratory, and knew of many empirical medicines, and the easier mechanical mathematics; he loved planting and building, and brought in a politer way of living, which passed to luxury and intolerable expense. He had a particular talent in telling a story, and facetious passages, of which he had innumerable; this made some buffoons and vicious wretches too presumptuous and familiar, not worthy the favour they abused. He took delight in having a number of little spaniels follow him and lie in his bedchamber, where he often suffered the bitches to puppy and give suck, which rendered it very offensive, and indeed made the whole court nasty and stinking. He would doubtless have been an excellent prince, had he been less addicted to women, who made him uneasy, and always in want to supply their unmeasurable profusion, to the detriment of many indigent persons who had signally served both him and his father. He frequently and easily changed favourites to his great prejudice.

As to other public transactions, and unhappy miscarriages, ‘tis not here I intend to number them; but certainly never had King more glorious opportunities to have made himself, his people, and all Europe happy, and prevented innumerable mischiefs, had not his too easy nature resigned him to be managed by crafty men, and some abandoned and profane wretches who corrupted his otherwise sufficient parts, disciplined as he had been by many afflictions during his banishment, which gave him much experience and knowledge of men and things; but those wicked creatures took him from off all application becoming so great a King. The history of his reign will certainly be the most wonderful for the variety of matter and accidents, above any extant in former ages: the sad tragical death of his father, his banishment and hardships, his miraculous restoration, conspiracies against him, parliaments, wars, plagues, fires, comets, revolutions abroad happening in his time, with a thousand other particulars. He was ever kind to me, and very gracious upon all occasions, and therefore I cannot without ingratitude but deplore his loss, which for many respects, as well as duty, I do with all my soul.

His Majesty being dead, the Duke, now King James II, went immediately to Council, and before entering into any business, passionately declaring his sorrow, told their Lordships, that since the succession had fallen to him, he would endeavour to follow the example of his predecessor in his clemency and tenderness to his people; that, however he had been misrepresented as affecting arbitrary power, they should find the contrary; for that the laws of England had made the King as great a monarch as he could desire; that he would endeavor to maintain the Government both in Church and State, as by law established, its principles being so firm for monarchy, and the members of it showing themselves so good and loyal subjects; and that, as he would never depart from the just rights and prerogatives of the Crown, so he would never invade any man’s property, but as he had often adventured his life in defence of the nation, so he would still proceed, and preserve it in all its lawful rights and liberties

This being the substance of what he said, the Lords desired it might be published, as containing matter of great satisfaction to a jealous people upon this change, which his Majesty consented to. Then were the Council sworn, and a Proclamation ordered to be published that all officers should continue in their stations, that there might be no failure of public justice, till his further pleasure should be known. Then the King rose, the Lords accompanying him to his bedchamber, where, while he reposed himself, tired indeed as he was with grief and watching, they returned again into the Council chamber to take order for the PROCLAIMING his Majesty, which (after some debate) they consented should be in the very form his grandfather, King James I., was, after the death of Queen Elizabeth; as likewise that the Lords, etc., should proceed in their coaches through the city for the more solemnity of it.

Upon this was I, and several other gentlemen waiting in the Privy gallery, admitted into the Council chamber to be witness of what was resolved on. Thence with the Lords, Lord Marshal and Heralds, and other Crown officers being ready, we first went to Whitehall gate, where the Lords stood on foot bareheaded, while the Herald proclaimed his Majesty’s title to the Imperial Crown and succession according to the form, the trumpets and kettledrums having first sounded three times, which ended with the people’s acclamations. Then a herald called the Lords’ coaches according to rank, myself accompanying the solemnity in my Lord Cornwallis’s coach, first to Temple Bar, where the Lord Mayor and his brethren met us on horseback, in all their formalities, and proclaimed the King; hence to the Exchange in Cornhill, and so we returned in the order we set forth. Being come to Whitehall, we all went and kissed the King and Queen’s hands. He had been on the bed, but was now risen and in his undress. The Queen was in bed in her apartment, but put forth her hand, seeming to be much afflicted, as I believe she was, having deported herself so decently upon all occasions since she came into England, which made her universally beloved.

Thus concluded this sad and not joyful day.

I can never forget the inexpressible luxury and profaneness, gaming, and all dissoluteness, and as it were total forgetfulness of God (it being Sunday evening), which this day se’nnight I was witness of, the King sitting and toying with his concubines, Portsmouth, Cleveland, and Mazarin, etc., a French boy singing love songs in that glorious gallery, while about twenty of the great courtiers and other dissolute persons were at Basset round a large table, a bank of at least 2,000 in gold before them; upon which two gentlemen, who were with me, made reflections with astonishment. Six days after, was all in the dust.

It was enjoined that those who put on mourning should wear it as for a father, in the most solemn manner.’

10 February 1685
‘Being sent to by the Sheriff of the County to appear and assist in proclaiming the King, I went the next day to Bromley, where I met the Sheriff and the Commander of the Kentish Troop, with an appearance, I suppose, of about 500 horse, and innumerable people, two of his Majesty’s trumpets, and a Sergeant with other officers, who having drawn up the horse in a large field near the town, marched thence, with swords drawn, to the market place, where, making a ring, after sound of trumpets and silence made, the High Sheriff read the proclaiming titles to his bailiff, who repeated them aloud, and then, after many shouts of the people, his Majesty’s health being drunk in a flint glass of a yard long, by the Sheriff, Commander, Officers, and chief gentlemen, they all dispersed, and I returned.’

14 February 1685
‘The King was this night very obscurely buried in a vault under Henry VII.’s Chapel at Westminster, without any manner of pomp, and soon forgotten after all this vanity, and the face of the whole Court was exceedingly changed into a more solemn and moral behaviour; the new King affecting neither profaneness nor buffoonery. All the great officers broke their staves over the grave, according to form.’

The Diary Junction - Pepys
The Diary Junction - Evelyn

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My guiding darkness

‘Perversion interests me most and is really my guiding darkness . . . I love to write of cruel deeds.’ This is Patricia Highsmith, who died 20 years ago today, confiding in a youthful diary about a preoccupation that would come to dominate her writing, and, indeed, inspire her to produce some of the most popular psychological crime stories of the 20th century. The detailed diaries, meanwhile, have proved a rich resource for biographers of her troubled life, but as yet have not been published.

Mary Patricia Plangman was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1921, the child of artists who divorced before she was born. Her mother soon married Stanley Highsmith, and the family moved to New York. She studied English composition at Barnard College, and found work at a comic publishers. Turning freelance allowed her to earn more money and to write her own short stories. She lived for a while in Mexico.

Highsmith published her first novel - Strangers on a Train - in 1950, to modest success. The famous film maker, Alfred Hitchcock, adapted the story in 1951, and the movie’s success rubbed off on Highsmith. Her second novel, The Price of Salt, a lesbian romance published under a pseudonym, Claire Morgan, came out in 1952. The Talented Mr. Ripley, probably her most famous novel nowadays, emerged soon after, in 1955. Many other psychological thrillers followed, but it was not until 1970 that she returned to Ripley, eventually completing five novels (the Ripliad) about her compelling anti-hero.

Highsmith never settled down for long with a partner, male or female, though she had many affairs. Her private life was constantly troubled, she moved around a lot, living in various parts of Europe. She drank and smoked to excess, and the older she got the more she preferred the company of cats (and snails, apparently!), while colleagues found her misanthropic and even cruel. For the last 14 years of her life she lived in Switzerland. She died there on 4 February 1995. Her archives are stored at Swiss Literary Archives in Bern - see also Swiss Info.

Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia and Kirjasto, or from two biographies, available to preview through Googlebooks: Beautiful Shadow: a Life of Patricia Highsmith by Andrew Wilson (Bloomsbury, 2003) and The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith by Joan Schenkar (St Martin’s Press, 2009). See also reviews of the former at The Guardian, The Telegraph, The New York Times; a review of the latter by Jeannette Winterson also at The New York Times, and an article by Schenkar at The Paris Review.

One of many extraordinary things about Patricia Highsmith was an obsession with documenting her own life. Having decided not to destroy her diaries, she left behind some 8,000 handwritten pages, in 37 work notebooks or cahiers (1938-1992), and 18 personal diaries (1940-1984). Although none of these diaries has yet been published - surely they must be in time - they have been mined thoroughly by the biographers, Wilson and Schenkar.

Wilson’s biography - which is generally rated more highly than Schenkar’s - refers to Highsmith’s diaries constantly, and always provides the exact source (i.e. whether from a cahier or a private journal, and with the exact date). However, he rarely provides any complete or long quotations from the diaries, choosing instead to incorporate phrases within his own text.

Here is part of Wilson’s introduction: ‘Her work explores the motif of the double or splintered self. The changeable nature of identity fascinated her both philosophically and personally. “I had a strong feeling tonight . . . that I was many faceted like a ball of glass, or like the eye of a fly.” [14 February 1942] [. . .]

Her private notebooks can be seen to represent, if not an authentic self, at least an identity that is somehow more substantial than the one she chose to show to the outside world. In addition to keeping incredibly detailed diaries, she recorded her creative ideas, observations and experiences in what she called her “cahiers” or working journals. [ . . .]

Many writers’ diaries are works of self-mythology, often more fantastical than their own fiction, but after checking Highsmith’s documents with other archival sources and information gleaned from my interviews, it is clear that her private journals were written without artifice. Her voice was tormented, self-critical but, significantly, brutally honest. She kept a diary, she said, because she was interested in analysing the motivation of her behaviour. “I cannot do this without dropping dried peas behind me to help me retrace my course, to point a straight line in the darkness.” [21 September 1949] Throughout her life she toyed with the idea of burning these most personal of journals, and although she was given the opportunity to incinerate any incriminating material before her death, she only chose to destroy a few letters from one of her younger lovers.’

Here are three extracts from Highsmith’s diaries taken from Wilson’s biography.

27 August 1942
‘Perversion interests me most and is really my guiding darkness . . . I love to write of cruel deeds. Murder fascinates me . . . Physical cruelty appeals to me mostly. It is visual & dramatic. Mental cruelty is a torture, even for me, to think of. I have known too much of it myself.’

25 October 1942
‘I believe people should be allowed to go the whole hog with their perversions, abnormalities, unhappinesses, [. . .] Mad people are the only active people, they have built the world.’

18 November 1942
‘The Lesbian, the classic Lesbian, never seeks her equal in life. She is . . . the soi-disant male, who does not expect his match in his mate, who would rather use her as the base-on-the-earth which he can never be.’

Finally, it is worth noting that one of Highsmith’s novels is about a diary - Edith’s Diary (1977). Unlike many other novels written in diary style, Edith’s Diary is much more fundamentally about the diary form. As Edith Howland’s life becomes harsh, a promotional blurb explains, her diary entries only become brighter and brighter: ‘She invents a happy life. As she knits for imaginary grandchildren, the real world recedes. Her descent into madness is subtle, appalling, and entirely believable.’

Editor’s note: As usual for Diary Review articles, trailing dots within square brackets, i.e. [. . .], indicates that I have removed some text from within a quoted extract. Trailing dots without square brackets indicates that those trailing dots can be found in the quoted text (and may, or may not, indicate text removed by that text’s editor).

Monday, February 2, 2015

The champion of reason

‘I want to be known as the greatest champion of reason and the greatest enemy of religion.’ This is Ayn Rand, a Russian-American writer and philosopher, born 110 years ago today. Her few novels were extremely popular in their day, and she developed a philosophical system, Objectivism, which also drew many admirers. She kept notebooks for much of her life, jotting thoughts about her novels and philosophy, and these were edited and published in the 1990s as Journals of Ayn Rand.

Alisa Zinovievna Rosenbaum was born on 2 February 1905 in St Petersburg into a wealthy Jewish family. The October Revolution and Bolshevik rule led to the family’s property being confiscated, and to them fleeing as far as the Crimean Peninsula. After graduating from high school there, Alisa returned, with her family, to Petrograd, where she was one of the first women to enrol in the state university, majoring in history. Subsequently, she studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. Around this time, she adopted the surname Rand, and took her first name as Ayn.

In 1926, Rand went to visit relatives in the US, staying a few months in Chicago, before heading for Hollywood. There she did odd jobs, worked as a junior scriptwriter, and met a young actor Fank O’Connor who she married just before her visa ran out. She became an American citizen in 1931; several attempts to bring her family members to the US, though, failed.

In the early 1930s, Rand sold a screenplay to Universal Studios, and had a play produced on Broadway (later turned into a film by Paramount). Her first, partly autobiographical, novel - We the Living - was published in 1936. Although not a success at the time, later, when her other novels sold so well, Rand issued a revised edition which went on to sell over three million copies.

By the 1940s, Rand had become politically active; and she volunteered for the presidential campaign of Republican Wendell Wilkie. She took on speaking appointments, and came into contact with other free market-leaning intellectuals. Her first major success as a writer came with The Fountainhead, published in 1943, a novel of romance and philosophy. Warner Bros hired her to write a screenplay for a film version (which came out in 1949). Subsequently, she was hired by Hal Wallis (who had produced Casablanca for Warner) as a screenwriter and script-doctor for his own, new production company. One of her projects was to write a screenplay about the development of the atomic bomb - although the film never got made. Meanwhile, her political activities led her to become associated with other anti-Communist writers.

In 1951, Rand moved to New York where she established a group of admirers, including Nathan Blumenthal (later Nathaniel Branden) and his wife Barbara, and Barbara’s cousin Leonard Peikoff. By 1954, she and Nathaniel were having an affair with the full knowledge of their spouses. Atlas Shrugged, considered Rand’s most important work, was published in 1957, and became an international bestseller. More than any other of her novels, Atlas Shrugged was rich in her developing ideas on philosophy, a system she called Objectivism.

Thereafter, Rand eschewed fiction in favour of promoting her philosophical ideas, by writing books, giving lectures, and often taking controversial stances on political issues 
(wholeheartedly rejecting religion, for example, and supporting the right to abortion). In 1958, Branden established the Nathaniel Branden Lectures (later Institute) to promote Rand’s philosophy. This expanded considerably, until it was offering courses in 80 cities; but, in 1968, Rand denounced Branden and publicly broke off with him and the Institute.

After an operation for lung cancer in 1974, Rand’s work activities declined. Her husband died in 1979, and she passed away in 1982, leaving her estate to Peikoff. Further biographical information can be found at the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Noble Soul or Wikipedia. Wikipedia also has an extensive article on Rand’s Objectivism

Soon after Rand’s death, Peikoff released extracts from her notebooks for publication in two magazines The Objectivist Forum and The Intellectual Activist. Then, in 1997, Dutton released Journals of Ayn Rand, edited by David Harriman with Peikoff’s approval. The book has its own Wikipedia entry, which states: ‘Some reviewers considered it an interesting source of information for readers with an interest in Rand, but several scholars criticized Harriman’s editing as being too heavy-handed and insufficiently acknowledged in the published text.’

In a foreword, Peikoff explains: ‘Ayn Rand’s Journals - my name for her notes to herself through the decade - is the bulk of her still unpublished work, arranged chronologically. [. . .] The Journals contain most of AR’s notes for her three main novels - along with some early material, some notes made between The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and some notes from her final decades.’

He continues: ‘If the primary value of the Journals to us is the evidence it furnishes of AR’s growth, a second value is the evidence that her growth was a product of thinking - in the art of which the Journals may serve as a textbook. The subtitle of this book really ought to be: How to Answer Your Own Questions.’

In his preface, Harriman says: ‘In a note to herself at the age of twenty-three, AR wrote: “From now on - no thought whatever about yourself, only about your work. You are only a writing engine. Don’t stop, until you really and honestly know that you cannot go on.” Throughout her long career, she remained true to this pledge - she was a “writing engine”. With the publication of her journals, we can now see the “writing behind the writing” and appreciate fully the prodigious effort that went into her published work. AR’s notes, typically handwritten, were spread among numerous boxes of papers she left behind at her death in 1982. My editing of this material has consisted of selection, organization, line editing, and insertion of explanatory comments. Selection. This book presents AR’s working journals - i.e. the notes in which she developed her literary and philosophical ideas. Notes of a personal nature will be included in a forthcoming authorized biography.’

Many if not most of the entries in Journals of Ayn Rand (which can be previewed online at Googlebooks) are not dated, and those that are tend to be more associated with her philosophical musings (as opposed to those about her novels). Here are a few samples (the last concerns her work for Hal Wallis on the atomic bomb screenplay):

9 April 1934
‘The human race has only two unlimited capacities: for suffering and for lying. I want to fight religion as the root of all human lying and the only excuse for suffering.

I believe - and I want to gather all the facts to illustrate this - that the worst curse on mankind is the ability to consider ideals as something quite abstract and detached from one’s everyday life. The ability to live and think quite differently, thus eliminating thinking from your actual life. This applied not to deliberate and conscious hypocrites, but to those more dangerous and hopeless ones who, alone with themselves and to themselves, tolerate a complete break between their convictions and their lives, and still believe that they have convictions. To them, either their ideals or their lives are worthless - and usually both.

I hold religion mainly responsible for this. I want to prove that religion breaks a character before it’s formed, in childhood, by teaching a child lies before he knows what a lie is, by breaking him of the habit of thinking before he has begun to think, by making him a hypocrite before he knows any other possible attitude to life. [. . .]

Why are men so afraid of pure, logical reasoning? Why do they have a profound, ferocious hatred of it? Are instincts and emotions necessarily beyond the control of plain thinking? Or were they trained to be? Why is a complete harmony between mind and emotions impossible? Isn’t it merely a matter of strict mental honesty? And who stands at the very bottom denying such honesty? Isn’t it the church?

I want to be known as the greatest champion of reason and the greatest enemy of religion.’

6 November 1944
‘The art of writing is the art of doing what you think you’re doing. This is not as simple as it sounds. It implies a very difficult undertaking: the necessity to think. And it implies the requirement to think out three separate, very hard problems: What is it you want to say? How are you going to say it? Have you really said it?

It’s a coldly intellectual process. If your emotions do not proceed from your intellect, you will not be able to apply it, even if you know all the rules. The mental ability of a writer determines the literary level of his output. If you grasp only home problems well, you’ll only be a writer of good homey stories. (But what about Tolstoy?)’

25 January 1946
‘Interview with Mrs Oppenheimer: Test was referred to as “Trinity”. Test was on a Monday - the next Saturday Mrs. Oppenheimer gave a party - evening dress. Mood was one of relief. After Hiroshima they did not feel like celebrating. The Oppenheimers were the first family to move to Los Alamos. [The town] had about 30 people then - a big dormitory for scientists in one of the schoolrooms. The Oppenheimers lived in one of the masters’ houses of the old school. Community life was much friendlier and more harmonious than in other cities - higher mental level. Dr Oppenheimer took job only on condition that his essential workers would know the secret. A great part of their work was spent in meetings and conferences. At first, scientists were afraid of possible German atomic research, but later learned there was none. Scientists worked in order to save lives and end the war. Was it in order to beat the Germans to the discovery? “Good God, no!” ’