Thursday, April 21, 2016

From real to fantastical

Today marks the bicentenary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë. Although she was the most prolific of three sisters, all writers, she is remembered mostly for one novel, a classic of English literature, Jane Eyre. The Brontë Parsonage Museum, which holds the most important Brontë archives, owns a journal Charlotte kept intermittently, and for a short time, while living at Roe Head School. It is interesting, commentators says, since it can be seen to have served ‘as a gateway from the real world into the fantastical’.

Charlotte Brontë was born on 21 April 1816 near Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire. She was the third of six children. In 1820, the family moved to Haworth, also in Yorkshire, where her father was curate. The following year, her mother died, and Charlotte’s aunt joined the household to look after the children. In 1824, the four eldest daughters were sent to a clergy daughters’ school in Lancashire, but soon after both of Charlotte’s older sisters died of tuberculosis. She and her sister Emily returned to live at the Haworth Parsonage with their younger siblings Bramwell and Anne. Brontë biographers note how the children at home encouraged each others imaginative games and creative writing.

Between 1831 and 1832, Charlotte was educated at Roe Head in Mirfield, less than 20 miles southeast of Haworth, where she made friends with Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor who became lifelong correspondents. From 1835 to 1838, she returned to Roe Head as a teacher, and thereafter took positions as governess in various families. In 1842, she moved to Brussels to attend a school, where she taught music in exchange for her tuition. It was not a happy experience and she was back at Haworth in 1844. By this time, she had written a number of stories (posthumously published as her juvenilia), but in 1846 the three sisters paid for the printing of a collection of poems, published under assumed names - though, biographies say, only two copies were ever sold.

The following year, Charlotte Brontë sent her second draft novel to Smith, Elder & Co. (a first novel, called The Professor, not having found a publisher) which published it almost immediately as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography under Charlotte’s pen name Currer Bell. The book was a commercial success, leading to speculation as to the identity of its author, speculation that only increased when Emily published Wuthering Heights under the pen name of Ellis Bell, and Anne published Agnes Grey under the pen name of Acton Bell. Tragically, over the next year or so, all three of Charlotte’s remaining siblings died - from tuberculosis also - Bramwell and Emily in 1948, and Anne in 1949. Although Anne had published her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in 1948, Charlotte, as her heir, refused to allow it to be reprinted (and it was not until 1854 that a new edition, much edited, was published).

Shirley, the second of Charlotte’s novels to emerge, came out in late 1849, and a third, Villette, in 1853. Given the success of Jane Eyre, she was persuaded to visit London now and then, for a few weeks at a time, and, with her true identity now known, was received in literary circles. She became acquainted with Harriet Martineau, William Makepeace Thackeray, for example, and Elizabeth Gaskell. In June 1854, she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate, becoming pregnant soon after. But she, too, was to die tragically young, the following March, with her unborn child. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Brontë Society, Victorian Web, The Poetry Foundation, or Online Literature. Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1857 biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë is freely available at Internet Archive or here.

The Brontës were not diarists by nature, but there are fragments of diary material left by Emily and Anne - see Emily Brontë peels apples - and Charlotte. Charlotte’s diary-like texts, six of them amounting to around 2,000 words, were written during her years at Roe Head school. Most of the entries are quite long, and undated - and some of them can be previewed at Googlebooks in The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal - Selected Writings edited by Christine Alexander (Oxford University Press 2010). The British Library website mentions ‘Charlotte Brontë’s journal’, and gives one extract. However, more information as well as images of the journal itself with transcriptions can be found as part of the online exhibitions The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives at The Morgan Library & Museum. The exhibition notes say: ‘Having begun writing a straightforward diary entry - a real-time description of her life at Roe Head - Brontë had stepped seamlessly into fiction. She allowed her high-flown storytelling to provide an antidote to the dreary everyday, her diary serving as a gateway from the real world into the fantastical.’

The following extracts are taken from The Morgan Library Museum exhibition website, which says the text has been ‘lightly punctuated for readability’.

4 February 1836
‘Well, here I am at Roe-Head. It is seven o’clock at night, the young ladies are all at their lessons, the school-room is quiet, the fire is low, a stormy day is at this moment passing off in a murmuring and bleak night. I now assume my own thoughts; my mind relaxes from the stretch on which it has been for the last twelve hours & falls back onto the rest which no-body in this house knows of but myself. I now, after a day’s weary wandering, return to the ark which for me floats alone on the face of this world’s desolate & boundless deluge. It is strange. I cannot get used to the ongoings that surround me. I fulfil my duties strictly & well, yet, so to speak, if the illustration be not profane, as God was not in the wind, nor the fire, nor the earth-quake, so neither is my heart in the task, the theme or the exercise. It is the still small voice alone that comes to me at eventide, that which like a breeze with a voice in it [comes] over the deeply blue hills & out of the now leafless forests & from the cities on distant river banks of a far & bright continent. It is that which wakes my spirit & engrosses all my living feelings, all my energies which are not merely mechanical, & like Haworth & home, wakes sensations which lie dormant elsewhere.

Last night I did indeed lean upon the thunder-wakening wings of such a stormy blast as I have seldom heard blow, & it whirled me away like heath in the wilderness for five seconds of ecstasy, and as I sat by myself in the dining-room while all the rest were at tea the trance seemed to descend on a sudden, & verily this foot trod the war-shaken shores of the Calabar & these eyes saw the defiled & violated Adrianopolis shedding its lights on the river from lattices whence the invader looked out & was not darkened. I went through a trodden garden whose groves were crushed down. I ascended a great terrace, the marble surface of which shone wet with rain where it was not darkened by the mounds of dead leaves which were now showered on & now swept off by the vast & broken boughs which swung in the wind above them. Up I went to the wall of the palace to the line of latticed arches which shimmered in light, passing along quick as thought, I glanced at what the internal glare revealed through the crystal. 

There was a room lined with mirrors & with lamps on tripods, & very darkened, & splendid couches & carpets & large half lucid vases white as snow, thickly embossed with whiter mouldings, & one large picture in a frame of massive beauty representing a young man whose gorgeous & shining locks seemed as if they would wave on the breath & whose eyes were half hid by the hand carved in ivory that shaded them & supported the awful looking coron[al?] head—a solitary picture, too great to admit of a companion—a likeness to be remembered full of luxuriant beauty, not displayed, for it seemed as if the form had been copied so often in all imposing attitudes, that at length the painter, satiated with its luxuriant perfection, had resolved to conceal half & make the imperial Giant bend & hide under his cloudlike tresses, the radiance he was grown tired of gazing on. 

Often had I seen this room before and felt, as I looked at it, the simple and exceeding magnificence of its single picture, its five colossal cups of sculptured marble, its soft carpets of most deep and brilliant hues, & its mirrors, broad, lofty, & liquidly clear. I had seen it in the stillness of evening when the lamps so quietly & steadily burnt in the tranquil air, & when their rays fell upon but one living figure, a young lady who generally at that time appeared sitting on a low sofa, a book in her hand, her head bent over it as she read, her light brown hair dropping in loose & unwaving curls, her dress falling to the floor as she sat in sweeping folds of silk. All stirless about her except her heart, softly beating under her satin bodice & all silent except her regular and very gentle respiration. The haughty sadness of grandeur beamed out of her intent fixed hazel eye, & though so young, I always felt as if I dared not have spoken to her for my life, how lovely were the lines of her small & rosy mouth, but how very proud her white brow, spacious & wreathed with ringlets, & her neck, which, though so slender, had the superb curve of a queen’s about the snowy throat. I knew why she chose to be alone at that hour, & why she kept that shadow in the golden frame to gaze on her, & why she turned sometimes to her mirrors & looked to see if her loveliness & her adornments were quite perfect. 

However this night she was not visible—no—but neither was her bower void. The red ray of the fire flashed upon a table covered with wine flasks, some drained and some brimming with the crimson juice. The cushions of a voluptuous ottoman which had often supported her slight, fine form were crushed by a dark bulk flung upon them in drunken prostration. Aye, where she had lain imperially robed and decked with pearls, every waft of her garments as she moved diffusing perfume, her beauty slumbering & still glowing as dreams of him for whom she kept herself in such hallowed & shrine-like separation wandered over her soul, on her own silken couch, a swarth & sinewy moor intoxicated to ferocious insensibility had stretched his athletic limbs, weary with wassail and stupefied with drunken sleep. I knew it to be Quashia himself, and well could I guess why he had chosen the queen of Angria’s sanctuary for the scene of his solitary revelling. While he was full before my eyes, lying in his black dress on the disordered couch, his sable hair dishevelled on his forehead, his tusk-like teeth glancing vindictively through his parted lips, his brown complexion flushed with wine, & his broad chest heaving wildly as the breath issued in spurts from his distended nostrils, while I watched the fluttering of his white shirt ruffles starting through the more than half-unbuttoned waistcoat, & beheld the expression of his Arabian countenance savagely exulting even in sleep, Quashia triumphant Lord in the halls of Zamorna! in the bower of Zamorna’s lady! while this apparition was before me, the dining-room door opened and Miss W[ooler] came in with a plate of butter in her hand. “A very stormy night my dear!” said she. 

“It is ma’am,” said I.’

5 February 1836
‘Friday afternoon. Now as I have a little bit of time, there being no French lessons this afternoon, I should like to write something. I can’t enter into any continued narrative—my mind is not settled enough for that—but if I could call up some slight and pleasant sketch, I would amuse myself by jotting it down. 

Let me consider the other day. I appeared to realize a delicious, hot day in the most burning height of summer, a gorgeous afternoon of idleness and enervation descending upon the hills of our Africa, an evening enfolding a sky of profoundly deep blue & fiery gold about the earth. 

Dear me! I keep heaping epithets together and I cannot describe what I mean. I mean a day whose rise, progress & decline seem made of sunshine. As you are travelling you see the wide road before you, the field on each side & the hills far, far off, all smiling, glowing in the same amber light, and you feel such an intense heat, quite incapable of chilling damp or even refreshing breeze. A day when fruits visibly ripen, when orchards appear suddenly change from green to gold.

Such a day I saw flaming over the distant Sydenham Hills in Hawkscliffe Forest. I saw its sublime sunset pouring beams of crimson through magnificent glades. It seemed to me that the war was over, that the trumpet had ceased but a short time since, and that its last tones had been pitched on a triumphant key. It seemed as if exciting events—tidings of battles, of victories, of treaties, of meetings of mighty powers—had diffused an enthusiasm over the land that made its pulses beat with feverish quickness. After months of bloody toil, a time of festal rest was now bestowed on Angria. The noblemen, the generals and the gentlemen were at their country seats, & the Duke, young but war-worn, was Hawkscliffe. 

A still influence stole out of the stupendous forest, whose calm was now more awful than the sea-like rushing that swept through its glades in time of storm. Groups of deer appeared & disappeared silently amongst the prodigious stems, & now and then a single roe glided down the savannah park, drank of the Arno & fleeted back again.

Two gentlemen in earnest conversation were walking along in St Mary’s Grove, & their deep commingling tones, very much subdued, softly broke the silence of the evening. Secret topics seemed to be implied in what they said, for the import of their words was concealed from every chance listener by the accents of a foreign tongue. All the soft vowels of Italian articulation flowed from their lips, as fluently as if they had been natives of the European Eden. “Henrico” was the appellative by which the talker & the younger of the two addressed his companion, & the other replied by the less familiar title of “Monsignore.” That young signore, or lord, often looked up at the Norman towers of Hawkscliffe, which rose even above the lofty elms of St Mary’s Grove. The sun was shining on their battlements, kissing them with its last beam that rivalled in hue the fire-dyed banner hanging motionless above them.

“Henrico,” said he, speaking still in musical Tuscan, “this is the 29th of June.” Neither you nor I ever saw a fairer day. What does it remind you of? All such sunsets have associations.” 

Henrico knitted his stern brow in thought & at the same time fixed his very penetrating black eye on the features of his noble comrade, which, invested by habit and nature with the aspect of command & pride, were at this sweet hour relaxing to the impassioned & fervid expression of romance. “What does it remind you of, my lord,” said he briefly. 

“Ah! Many things, Henrico! Ever since I can remember, the rays of the setting sun have acted on my heart, as they did on Memnon’s wondrous statue. The strings always vibrate, sometimes the tones swell in harmony, sometimes in discord. They play a wild air just now, but, sweet & ominously plaintive Henrico, can you imagine what I feel when I look into the dim & gloomy vistas of this my forest, & at yonder turrets which the might of my own hands has raised, not the halls of my ancestors like hoary morning [illeg.]. Calm diffuses over this wide wood a power to stir & thrill the mind such as words can never express. Look at the red west—the sun is gone & it is fading. Gaze into those mighty groves supernaturally still & full of gathering darkness. Listen how the Arno moans!’

Monday, April 11, 2016

Gouty old gentlemen

‘The hippos were delightful. They seemed so aristocratic, like gouty old gentlemen, puffing and blowing and yawning, as though everything bored them.’ This is from the diary of Richard Harding Davis - the colourful American journalist-adventurer who died a century ago today. He was a prolific writer, turning his experiences and travels - often instigated by his work as a war correspondent - into books of stories, whether fiction or non-fiction. Only a few short diary fragments written by Davis have ever been published - thanks to a biography by his brother - and several of these concern the hunting of hippos!

Davis was born in 1864 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both his parents were journalists, though his mother achieved some fame as a novelist also. He studied at Lehigh University, where his uncle was a professor, and he contributed short stories to the student magazine, The Lehigh Burr, eventually becoming its editor. His first published book was a collection of these stories The Adventures of My Freshman. In 1885, he transferred to Johns Hopkins University. After university, he worked on various Philadelphia newspapers, before moving to New York and The Evening Sun. Increasingly, he became noticed for writing on controversial and high profile subjects, as well as for his Van Bibber stories of city life. In addition, he was writing short stories for other publications. In 1890, he switched jobs, to become managing editor of Harper’s Weekly.

During the 1890s, Davis was publishing two or three books every year, some were collections of his travel and journalistic writing - like The Rulers of the Mediterranean and Three Gringos in Central America and Venezuela - while others were collections of his short fiction. He also turned, increasingly, to war reporting, making a name for himself following the Spanish-American War, with the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the Rough Riders (second in command, one Theodore Roosevelt, later US president). He went on to cover the Second Boer War, becoming one of the world’s best known war correspondents. By then he was writing for the New York Herald, the New York Times and Scribner’s Magazine.

Davis reported on the Russo-Japanese War, and on the Salonika Front in the First World War (being arrested as a spy briefly by the Germans). A large number of his articles can be read at the Historic Journalism website, which, incidentally, says of him, ‘The well-traveled and photogenic Richard Harding Davis represented all that was edgy and glamorous about that new breed of American journalist: foreign correspondent. Fearlessly tramping by rail, road and horseback to the front lines of the “Great War”. He continued writing a great many books - most of these can be found online, freely available, at Internet Archive. His 1897 novel Soldiers of Fortune was turned into a play and, later on in the 1910s, to two films. He also wrote more than a score of plays, Including Ranson’s Folly, The Dictator, and Miss Civilization. In 1899, he had married Cecil Clark, but they divorced in 1912, and he then married Bessie McCoy, an actress, with whom he had one child. Davis died on 11 April 1916. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Spanish American War website, PBS, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Another biographical source is Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis, a book written by his brother Charles Belmont Davis and published originally by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1917. Although there are no details in the biography about any diaries Richard Davis might have kept during his life, Charles does include half a dozen or so extracts from a diary his brother kept in 1907. Here are several of them.

24 January 1907
‘Last day in London. Margaret Frazer offered me gun from a Captain Jenkins of Nigeria. Instead bought Winchester repeating, hoping, if need it, get one coast. Lunched Savoy - Lynch, Mrs. Lynch, her sister-very beautiful girl. In afternoon Sam Sothern and Margaret came in to say “Good bye.” Dined at Anthony Hope’s-Barrie and Mrs. Barrie and Jim Whigham. Mrs. Barrie looking very well, Barrie not so well. As silent as ever, only talked once during dinner when he told us about the first of his series of cricket matches between authors and artists. Did not have eleven authors, so going along road picked up utter strangers one a soldier in front of embracing two girls. Said he would come if girls came too - all put in brake. Mrs. Barrie said the Llewellen Davis’ were the originals for the Darlings and their children in Peter Pan. They played a strange game of billiards suggested by Barrie who won as no one else knew the rules and they claimed he invented them to suit his case. Sat up until three writing and packing. The dinner was best have had this trip in London.’

22 February 1907
‘Spent about the worst night of my life. No mattress, no pillow. Not space enough for my own cot. Every insect in the world ate me. After a bath and coffee felt better. It rained heavily until three P. M. Read Pendennis, and loved it. The picture of life at Clavering and Fairoaks, and Dr. Portman and Foker are wonderful. I do not know when I have enjoyed and admired a work so much. For some reason it is all entirely new again. I will read them all now in turn. After rain cleared took my slaves and went after “supplies.” Met a King. I thought he was a witch doctor, and the boys said he was a dancing man. All his suite, wives and subjects followed, singing a song that made your flesh creep. At Hatton and Cookson’s bought “plenty chop” for “boys” who were much pleased. Also a sparklet bottle, some whiskey and two pints of champagne at 7 francs the pint. Blush to own it was demi Sec. Also bacon, jam, milk, envelopes, a pillow. Saw some ivory State had seized and returned. 15 Kilo’s. Some taken from Gomez across street not returned until he gave up half. No reason given Taylor agent H. & C. why returned Apparently when called will come down on the ivory question. Cuthbert Malet, coffee planter, came call on me. Only Englishman still in Service State. Had much to say which did not want printed until he out of country which will be in month or two. Anstrossi has given me side of cabin where there is room for my cot, so expect to sleep.’

27 February 1907
‘Saw two hippos. Thought Anstrossi said they were buffalo. So was glad when I found out what they were. I did not want to go home without having seen only two dead ones. In a few minutes I saw two more. Anstrossi fired at them but I did not, as thought it not the game when one could not recover them. Before noon saw six in a bunch - and then what I thought was a spit of rock with a hippo lying on the end of it, turned out to be fifteen hippos in a line! Burnham has told he had seen eleven in the Volta in one day. Before one o’clock, I had seen twenty-six, and, later in the day Anstrossi fired at another, and shot a hole in the awning. That made twenty-seven in one day. Also some monkeys. The hippos were delightful. They seemed so aristocratic, like gouty old gentlemen, puffing and blowing and yawning, as though everything bored them.’

28 February 1907
‘When just going up for coffee, saw what was so big, looking at it against horizon, thought it must be an elephant. Was a young hippo. Captain Jensen brought boat within eighty yards of him, and both Anstrossi and I fired, apparently knocking him off his legs, for he rolled on his side as though his back was broken. I missed him the second shot, which struck the water just in front of him. The other three shots caught him in the head, in the mouth and ear. He lay quite still, and the boys rushed out a gang plank and surrounded him singing and shouting and cutting his tail to make him bleed and weaken him. They don’t die for an hour but he seemed dead enough, so I went to my cabin to re-load my gun and my camera. In three minutes I came out, and found the hippo still quiet. Then he began to toss his head and I shot him again, to put him out of pain. In return for which he rolled over into the water and got away. I was mad. Later saw four more. Just at sunset while taking bath another was seen on shore. We got within sixty yards of him and all of us missed him or at least did not hurt him. He then trotted for the river with his head up and again I must have missed, although at one place he was but fifty yards away, when he entered the water, a hundred. I stepped it off later in the sand. I followed him up and hit him or some one of us hit him and he stood up on his hind legs. But he put back to land for the third time. Captain said wait until moon came out. But though we hunted up to our waists saw none. One came quite close at dinner. Seven on the day.’

22 April 1907
‘A blackmailer named H_ called, with photos of atrocities and letters and films. He wanted 30 Pounds for the lot. I gave him 3 Pounds for three photos. One letter he showed me signed Bullinger, an Englishman, said he had put the fear of God in their hearts by sticking up the chiefs head on a pole, and saying, “Now, make rubber, or you will look like that.” Went to lunch with Pearson but it was the wrong day, and so missed getting a free feed. Thinking he would turn up, I ordered a most expensive lunch. I paid for it. Evening went Patience, which liked immensely and then Duchess of Sutherland’s party to Premiers. Saw Churchill and each explained his share of the Real Soldiers row.’

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Waugh’s appalling diaries

Evelyn Waugh, author of such famous novels as Brideshead Revisited, Scoop, and Decline and Fall, died 50 years ago today. He was a committed diarist, throughout his life from the age of seven, and his diaries have become an invaluable source for biographies. However, when they were first published, in the 1970s, the literary world found them rather dull, and one US critic even called them ‘appalling’.

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was born in London in 1903, and educated at Heath Mount, Lancing College and Hertford College, Oxford. After leaving university, he taught at a private school in Wales. He also attempted suicide by swimming out to sea, but turned back when stung by a jellyfish. He then tried carpentry and journalism before, in 1928, finding literary success with Decline and Fall. During the next ten years, he published several more novels, including A Handful of Dust and Scoop.

In 1929, Waugh married Evelyn Gardner (the couple becoming known as He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn among their friends), but the marriage was annulled in 1936. The following year, he married Laura Herbert and they had six children. During the war, he served with the marines and then as a commando in the Mediterranean. In the latter years of the war, he was assigned to Royal Horse Guards and had time to write what became his most important novel, Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945. Thereafter, he settled in the West Country, and wrote several satirical novels based on his war experiences, as well as travel books (based on trips to Africa and the Middle East) and biographies. He died on 10 April 1966. Further information can be found at The Evelyn Waugh Society, Doubting Hall, Wikipedia, The Atlantic, or The Paris Review.

For most of his life, indeed from the age of 7, Waugh kept a diary, though he stopped about a year before his death. However, there are only 340,000 words in the extant diary material, not a great volume for so long a period. The manuscripts - many on loose sheets, some bound - are kept by the University of Texas where they were transferred after Waugh’s death. There is no evidence that he kept the diary with publication in mind, rather that he wrote it, later on any way, as an aide memoire to assist him in his travel journalism and other writings. The decision to publish his diaries was taken in 1973 by his second wife, Laura, in conjunction with their son Auberon.

The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, as edited by Michael Davie, were first published in 1976 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, the book running to over 800 pages. Although portions of Waugh’s early diaries were left out, Davie retained as much of Waugh’s text as he could, apart from twenty or so libellous passages and a similar number of references which could be considered ‘intolerably offensive’.

A short while before publication of the diaries, Collins had published Evelyn Waugh: A Biography written by Christopher Sykes who had had full access to the diary material. Frank Kermode, reviewing the diaries in The New York Times, noted: ‘Sykes, who can hardly have thought it would occur to anybody to publish them almost entire, described the diaries as often tedious and unreliable - tedious because the detailed record of drunken excess must be so, unreliable because of a natural tendency to confer fictive shape and point on facts even at the moment of setting them down in the diary. The general reader might have been better served with a 200-page volume of extracts, leaving the remainder to scholars. Still, here it all is, and readers will have to discover for themselves which parts will shock, amuse or instruct them.’

And Kermode concludes: ‘He constructed for himself a coherent and highly rational world with clear religious, political and esthetic laws. It was a narrow, even a bigoted construction but, like Waugh’s prose, it was a constant and authoritative reproach to the venality and disorder of his contemporaries, or of all but a tiny remnant - his honorable, amusing or wicked friends. The diaries are architect’s notes on the construction and maintenance of this world; that was their value to Waugh. We have the novels, and so need them less.’

John W. Aldridge, the US literary critic, judged Waugh’s diaries even less kindly, titling an essay on them The Appalling Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (this can be found online at Googlebooks in his essay collection Classics & Contemporaries). ‘Waugh,’ Aldridge writes, ‘seems to have been interested solely in keeping a record of his daily experiences and impressions - of public events and private scandals made public, people known and incessantly dined with, parties attended, his own frequently appalling behaviour at them, and monstrous hangovers suffered the morning after. If his portraits of friends and enemies are often harsh, his self-portrait is absolutely uncompromising and presented in strict conformity to his own obnoxious dictum: “Never apologise. Never explain.” ’

3 September 1927
‘How I detest this house and how ill I feel in it. The whole place volleys and thunders with traffic. I can’t sleep or work. I reviewed the books and have begun on a comic novel. Mother is away at Midsomer Norton where Aunt Trissie is dying. The telephone bell is continually ringing, my father scampering up and down stairs, Gaspard barking, the gardener rolling the gravel under the window and all the time the traffic. Another week of this will drive me mad.’

29 November 1927
‘I am getting infinitely tired of London and its incessant fogs. Very little has happened lately. I see Evelyn a lot and a certain amount of Olivia. On Sunday I went to the first night of the Sitwell but was bitterly disappointed and bored. There had been a Sitwell party at Balston’s on the preceding Tuesday. I am getting on with the carpentry - Henry Lamb knows of a place in the country where I might work.’

22 October 1928
‘I had my hair cut and met Martin Wilson. He seems to bear no malice for Decline and Fall. From there to the exhibition of Maillols. The sculpture magnificent but the wood engravings not particularly meritorious. Alathea lunched with me at Taglioni’s, very lovely and vague, with an air of just waking up after an uneasy night. Extraordinarily ingenuous with a fluttery eagerness to skate and go to the theatre and see the latest pictures. After luncheon to my tailor’s to try on a check suit.’

30 June 1955
‘The television people came at 10 and stayed until 6.30. An excruciating day. They did not want a dialogue but a monologue. The whole thing is to be cut to five minutes in New York and shown at breakfast-time. They filmed everything including the poultry. The impresario kept producing notes from his pocket: ‘Mr Waugh, it is said here that you are irascible and reactionary. Will you please say something offensive?’ So I said: ‘The man who has brought this apparatus to my house asks me to be offensive. I am sorry to disappoint him.’ ‘Oh, Mr Waugh, please, that will never do. I have a reputation. You must alter that.’ I said later, not into the machine: ‘You expect rather a lot for $100.’ ‘Oh, I don’t think there is any question of payment.’ ’

18 August 1955
‘The original day’s visit to Birmingham to see the Pre-Raphaelites became extended. With Laura, Teresa, Margaret and £30 we drove off in the afternoon. A letter to propose our stopping at Stanway brought no answer so I presumed Letty Benson to be away. I also wrote to Lady Olivier telling her we shall be in the audience on Friday. We stopped in Evesham while the children had tea. As we approached Birmingham the evening became hotter and heavier. Birmingham was humid and over- powering. We arrived at Queen’s Hotel where I found that our rooms for the night would cost £9. The children had ‘bubble’ baths, the salts for which we had purchased in Cheltenham. Laura and I drank Pimm’s No. 1 Cup in the cocktail bar where there was a cool breeze and an intoxicated dwarf. A ham sandwich and then on foot to the theatre where we sweated through a tedious farce. Back to dinner. The servants very civil in the hotel, the rooms poky, airless and shabby. But the girls in high spirits.’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, April 7, 2016

William Godwin’s diary

The English writer and philosopher William Godwin, an early proponent of idealistic liberalism, died 180 years ago today. He is, perhaps, better remembered for his daughter, Marywho married the poet Percy Shelley and wrote Frankenstein. Godwin kept a diary throughout his life. Although the daily entries are little more than lists of names and places and books read, the diary as a whole is considered of ‘immense importance to researchers of history, politics, literature, and women’s studies’.

Godwin was born in 1756 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, into a large family of religious dissenters. Educated into a strict Calvinism, he finished his schooling at the Hoxton Academy, and served as minister in several places before returning to London. But by then he had shed his religion in favour of an idealistic liberalism based on the sovereignty and competence of reason to determine right choice. In order to further his new ideas, he set out on a writing career, contributing to political journals and associating with radical societies. He also tried setting up a school, and writing novels, though these early ventures did not come to much.

In 1793, Godwin published Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness - now considered his greatest work - setting out his positive vision for an anarchist society of small self-subsidising communities. After the writings of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, it was the most popular written response to the French Revolution. He followed this with a (hugely successful) novel - Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams - which some consider the first ever thriller. In 1795, Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who he had first met some years earlier and who now had a daughter, became intimately involved. She fell pregnant by Godwin, and the two married in London in 1797. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born within a few months, but her mother died ten days later.

That same year, 1797, Godwin published a collection of essays entitled The Enquirer; and he wrote a biography of his wife, published as Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman (though it was not very well received for being too revelatory). After producing a third and final edition of Political Justice, he turned to literature and history, trying his hand at plays, another novel and a life of Chaucer. In 1801, he married his neighbour Mary Jane Clairmont, who brought two children into the household (in addition to Godwin’s daughter and step-daughter). However, she proved an ill-tempered stepmother and was inhospitable to some of Godwin’s friends. This union produced a son for Godwin, David, who went on to become a journalist but died young from cholera.

In 1805, to secure a better financial situation, the Godwins, with help from friends, began running a children’s bookshop. Godwin wrote a variety of books - fables, histories, dictionaries - for the shop, while his wife saw to the business end, and translated books from French. In 1812, Godwin became a kind of mentor to Percy Shelley, who then visited the house often, and who provided much needed funds (borrowed against his future expectations) in support of Godwin and his family. In 1814, however, Shelley eloped with Godwin’s 16-year-old daughter Mary to the Continent. They returned to England and married in 1816 (after the death of Shelley’s first wife). Only a couple of years later, Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein, dedicated to Godwin, would be published.

The most notable publications of Godwin’s later career were Of Population, a belated attempt to refute Thomas Malthus’s 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population - itself a response to Godwin’s ideas (see more on Malthus’s diary at The cost of men and food); History of the Commonwealth of England, from its Commencement to the Restoration of Charles II in four volumes; and Thoughts on Man, his Nature, Productions and Discoveries. Godwin died on 7 April 1836. For more information see Wikipedia, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, The History Guide, The Wordsworth Trust or University of Oxford podcasts.

Godwin kept a diary for most of his life, leaving behind 32 octavo notebooks now held by the Abinger Collection of manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Although each diary entry - 1788-1836 - is no more than a short list of names, places etc., and often no more than a few words, the entire text has been considered important enough to be fully digitalised, analysed and uploaded to a dedicated website hosted by the Bodleian  This was funded, between 2007 and 2010, by the Leverhulme Trust and others under the direction of Oxford’s David O’Shaughnessy and Mark Philp and Victoria Myers from Pepperdine University, California.

According to the project: ‘The diary is a resource of immense importance to researchers of history, politics, literature, and women’s studies. It maps the radical intellectual and political life of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as providing extensive evidence on publishing relations, conversational coteries, artistic circles and theatrical production over the same period.  One can also trace the developing relationships of one of the most important families in British literature, Godwin’s own [. . .]. Many of the most important figures in British cultural history feature in its pages, including Anna Barbauld, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles James Fox, William Hazlitt, Thomas Holcroft, Elizabeth Inchbald, Charles and Mary Lamb, Mary Robinson, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Wordsworth, and many others.’

The website offers - freely - an image of every page and a transcription of the text. Moreover, for every person, place, publication, play, meal etc. mentioned in the diary, there is a link to further detailed notes and collated lists of other mentions in the diary of the same subject. Often times, nearly every word of a diary entry is a highlighted link to further information. An introduction to the website can be found here, a more detailed intro to the complexities of the text can be found here, and an example of how the diary has been used can be seen at the Shelley’s Ghost exhibition website. (See also Write. Read Homer about Mary Shelley’s diaries.)

Although they make little sense divorced of the links and explanations provided by the William Godwin Diary website, here are a few examples of Godwin’s diary entries.

8 March 1790
‘House of Commons: Tobacco act, Capt. Williams’s Petition, Quebec’

13 November 1791
‘Correct. Dyson & Dibbin call; // talk of virtue & disinterest. Dine at Johnson’s, with Paine, Shovet & Wolstencraft; talk of monarchy, Tooke, Johnson, Voltaire, pursuits & religion. Sup at Helcroft’s:’

28 July 1792
‘Write 2 pages, on prosperity. Finish Merchant of Venice: Much Ado, 3 acts. Miss Godwin at tea.’

23 August 1792
‘Walk to Rumford, 3 hours: stage to town, breakfast at miss Godwin’s: dine at Mr Marshal’s. See Cross Partners’

4 February 1795
‘Call on mrs Jennings: tea Johnson’s, Kentish Town.’

9 July 1795
‘Breakfast at Buckingham: dine at Watford: tea Fawcet’s, Hedge Grove, sleep: see Wilson, Smith, &c.’

7 September 1808
‘Church-yard: walk to Thatcham: dine at Woolhampton: tea Theal, sleep. George Dandin.’

10 April 1816
‘Dine at Darlington: pass Durham: sleep at Newcastle—intelligent bailiff, pleasing gentleman, Cumberland farmer.’

27 April 1816
‘Breakfast at Carlisle: coach to Penrith: chaise along Ulswater: dine at Wordsworth’s: call, w. him, on Jackson; adv. Wakefield: circuit of Grasmere. Derwent Coleridge dines: write to M J & Thos Moore.’

1 November 1830
‘Essays, revise. Homer, v. 395. Museum; Du Bartas: theatre, Henry V. 60 / 65’

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nature of the diarist

‘What a diary must preserve - the attitudes and nature of the diarist. Therefore, all excision, amendment, clarification, cleaning; one must think. The language can be cleaned, perhaps; but every change from the written word is a lie.’ This is John Robert Fowles, British author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, born 90 years ago today. In the last years of his life, he revealed himself as one of the 20th century’s most interesting diarists, publishing two volumes of intimate and very revealing journals.

Fowles was born on 31 March 1926 in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, an only child until his sister was born 15 years later. His father ran a tobacco firm in London. Schooled locally, and much interested in nature, he won a scholarship to board at Bedford School, which he didn’t much like at first, though in time he excelled at sports and became Head of School. His parents, meanwhile, had moved to Ipplepen in Devon, where he spent his holidays in a rural idyll, and where he lived during the early war years. After completing his national service in the Royal Marines, at the tail end of the war, he went to New College, Oxford, in 1947 to read modern languages, completing his degree in French. His university years, biographers suggest, led to a flourishing of experiences, social and cultural, that set him on a road far removed from that of the youth that had been a head boy and a marine.

Although receiving an offer of a job from Winchester College, Fowles chose to become English master at a school on the Greek island of Spetses. There, he began an affair with Elizabeth Christy, wife of another teacher. After a couple of years he and other staff were dismissed for trying to bring in reforms, and Fowles ended up in Hampstead, London, teaching English as a foreign language at St. Godric’s College, where he remained for a decade. In 1954, he married Christy; her daughter, Anna, lived with them. His first published book, The Collector (1963), was a literary hit and was quickly adapted into a film (1965), allowing Fowles to forego teaching for full-time writing. The year 1965 saw a move to Dorset and publication of The Magus, a long and complex novel he had written (before The Collector) based on his experiences in Greece. He and his family lived first at Underhill Farm, west of Lyme Regis, but when a section of their land eroded into the sea they moved to the town itself, to Belmont House.

Fowles remained in Lyme for the rest of his life, although occasionally he took long trips to Greece and France. In 1969, he published The French Lieutenant’s Woman (described as a ‘postmodern historical fiction novel’), his most famous book, and critically acclaimed film, which established his international reputation (and, incidentally, did wonders for Lyme Regis tourism). This was followed by a collection of long stories, The Ebony Tower (1974), and then his most autobiographical novel Daniel Martin (1977). From 1979 to 1988, when he had a stroke, Fowles served as curator at the Lyme Regis Museum. During this time, he also published his last two novels, Mantissa and A Maggot. Elizabeth died in 1990, and Fowles married Sarah Smith in 1998. After several years of poor health, he died in 2005. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The Paris Review, or The London Review of Books.

Although Fowles was considered something of a recluse in his later years, intriguingly his last published works were two volumes of private journals, which are among the most intimate and revealing of any literary diaries. John Fowles - The Journals - Volume 1 was published in 2003 by Jonathan Cape (edited and with an introduction by Charles Drazin). A second volume followed posthumously, in 2006. According to Drazin: ‘The diary itself supplanted a future novel by becoming the major literary preoccupation after the death of his first wife Elizabeth in 1990. At this critical stage, it provided the obvious means to look back over his life, to attempt the self-understanding that was an important aim of the novels themselves.’

In his introduction, Drazin explains that he made a conscious effort not to censor the diaries in any way, though ‘it was impossible not to have qualms about many passages that were bound to upset people’. ‘I thought it was important,’ he goes on to say, ‘that John should have the opportunity to consider whether there were any comments that he regretted and wished to remain private. From our resulting conversations it quickly became clear that there were many comments he regretted, but he had made them and, however foolish or wrong or hurtful they might seem now, the vital quality of the journal was to record how he had felt at the time. The decision to leave such comments, even when they tended to be particularly hurtful to his closest friends - who after all were the most readily available victims - stems from his deepest instincts as a writer.’

Extracts from the journals can be read at the John Fowles Books or Penguin Random House websites or at Amazon; and The Guardian website has an interview with Fowles about publishing his diaries. Here, though, are several extracts from the first volume.

3 October 1952
‘To Greece again: at the last moment I packed this diary, unable to cut myself off from such bitter-sweet memories. Here the sun and strange existence is already burning the past away. Never so much difficulty in writing as here; a constant temptation to be idle in lotusland.’

6 October 1955
‘This diary has suffered these last two years. It no longer - it seems to me - adequately reflects either my physical or my mental life. It does all - this period - seem something of a desert, in any case. I lack no confidence that the desert will end. I can think. I can write; I know that. But waiting-rooms are always dull.

Writing: the Greek book has been criticized by the agent’s reader - he calls it ‘shapeless, discursive’; but Paul Scott thinks it worth a trial with the publishers. I have just finished an opuscule - ‘For a Casebook’ - which I intend to try on the London Magazine and Encounter.

Meanwhile, this:; I’ve decided to keep, for a month, a ritual day-to-day account of events; what’s interesting me; what we do.’

28 April 1958
‘What a diary must preserve - the attitudes and nature of the diarist. Therefore, all excision, amendment, clarification, cleaning; one must think. The language can be cleaned, perhaps; but every change from the written word is a lie. In my case, if I ever revised, I should want to hide the self-excusing, the priggishness.’

2 April 1957
‘We got married today; a grey day, a grey day, but mist-grey; and the mist cleared when we went off; E in a pale yellowy-green suit, olive shoes, an egg-custard-yellow hat. We met the Kemps, whom we haven’t seen for months, but they do not change; if we saw them after a thousand years it would be like a week - we met them at Belsize Park, had a drink. I felt nervous; didn’t want to be seen, as no one at the college knows. I’m going back tomorrow; and couldn’t stand the odd looks such unromantic behaviour would bring me. But no one saw us; we slipped in. A sort of boardroom with canvas and steel tube pile-chairs; a large gilt basket of faded flowers; two men, one rather bored and beery, the other suave. The silly little ritual, so short, so empty. Outside a tired little garden, and the chimney of the hospital furnace gently smoking in the pale blue sky. I paid the 11/3, we slipped out, up the road to the nearest pub. Then home to our nice new flat, and a nice good lunch, and Asti Spumante, and the sun in the room, and a feeling that it is good to be married, because it was fundamentally unnecessary - marriage won’t alter our relationship which is outside anthropology; because none the less we are now what the others think, or expect, or hope, we are - legal; and as a sort of symbol, a crowned, sealed look-we-have-come- throughness.

The Kemps gave us a pepper-mill; and a friend of E’s, a Canadian architect, brash, glossy, like a sober American car, bought a nice Persian vase.

So we’re married.’

7 November 1964
The Magus. First complete draft finished.’

15 March 1965
‘Miserable cross-currented days, windless above and seething below, waiting for the first reactions to The Magus. Tom Maschler came the other night and took away a typescript of it. As usual, he was full of himself, of the excitement of publishing - but full less in a natural than an aggressive way. Some strange drive in him forces him to humiliate, to depress the writers he comes in contact with - Edna O’Brien said the same thing the other day. As if you are the writer he mistrusts, has no confidence in. Instead of joining his writers, he isolates them.

Anthony Sheil came to lunch today. He has been reading the typescript in bits all through the week, as he has to fly to the States tomorrow. ‘It’s superbly written and I’m sure it will be a success, but.. .’ and there followed a long list of criticisms. I don’t doubt he means them sincerely, I don’t doubt, even, that quite a lot of them are valid, but no one realizes the ludicrously tender state of the writer at this stage. One is the shorn lamb, and even the warmest breezes cool. And then too, as soon as one enters the literary world, all motives are suspect. Tom M would never say good of the book, because it might prejudice the buying price. A. Sheil has his agent’s prerogative to protect - his right to ‘guide’ and ‘criticize’ - and in our age inability to find fault is almost synonymous with lack of intelligence.

Meanwhile my nerves jangle I don’t lose whatever fundamental confidence I have in John Fowies the novelist, but if lose all confidence in novel-writing as a significant activity, I feel like giving up that side of writing, of concentrating on poetry, think-pieces - even learning to paint. Partly this is because I have a fascinated horror of the showbiz side of writing (rather, a horrified fascination!) The other day we took Edna OB, and Terry Stamp and his girlfriend. Jean Shrimpton the model, out to dinner; and then the next evening we went to a party at Edna’s, where she has a sort of microcosm of All London - all artistic London, anyway. Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard and Mordecai Richler and Wesker and the film directors Clayton and Donner and Desmond Davies. Edna thrives in all this glitter of names; this demi-paradise of celebrity. And at one level I feel envious of her (though I like her as well as any writer I have met). But I distrust intensely that drive to be in the limelight, in the okayest current of the age: where the cinema and the novel meet. Everyone in this world is driven frantically to destroy his or her nemo; all the talk is half vainly of one’s own prospects, or half enviously of other people’s. Who has an option on So-and-so’s book, who will direct this, who will act in that. All this must be inimical to good writing, let alone good living.’

Worse by training

Roger Black, the mid-distance British runner who was internationally successful in the 1980s and 1990s, is 50 years old today. He must keep a diary, or at least have kept a diary during his competitive years, for he quotes from one in an autobiography published in the year he retired from competitive athletics. As one might imagine, health and injuries, trainers and training often dominate the diary entries.

Black was born in Gosport, Hampshire, with a twin sister Julia, on 31 March 1966. He went to Portsmouth Grammar School, becoming head boy, and then to University of Southampton to study medicine (his father being a doctor). However, he left college after a few months to pursue a career in athletics. Aged 19, in 1985, he won the 400m European Junior Championships, and the following year, no longer a junior, he won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships for both the 400m individual race (breaking the British record in the process) and the 4x400m relay. Despite suffering injuries and illness over the next few seasons, he again won gold medals for both races at the 1990 European Championships.

At the 1991 World Championships, Black won silver for the individual 400m, and gold with the 4x400m relay team creating a new British and European record. Five years later, he also won a silver medal at the same distance, coming second only to Michael Johnson, and he won silver with the relay team at the 1997 World Championships (though more than a decade later this silver was upgraded to gold because an athlete in the winning US team admitted to drug use at the time). Subsequently, injuries and illness again hampered his form; and, after not being selected for the 1998 European Championships, he retired from competitive athletics.

Black has a daughter from his marriage, in 1999, to Elsa de Vassoigne, and has twin boys with his second wife Julia Burgess. He is often to be found presenting for the BBC, but also has made a career for himself as a motivational speaker. He says: ‘My standard speech is designed to engage the audience in the lessons learnt throughout my athletics career, which resulted in me achieving my dream of standing on the Olympic rostrum in Atlanta in 1996.’ Further information is available from his own website, Wikipedia or British Athletics.

In 1998, Andre Deutsch published How Long’s the Course? - My Autobiography written by Black with the help of Mike Rowbottom, athletics correspondent at the time for The Independent. In the book, Black refers to, and quotes from, a diary, though there are no more than a score of such references, and most are incorporated into the text.

Here is Black explaining an aspect of his training philosophy followed by a supporting extract from his diary.

‘The balance of training and rest is crucial in athletics, and the careers of too many athletes have been destroyed because they haven’t had the confidence to do nothing when it is necessary. The belief is, ‘I get better by training. No pain, no gain.’ What many people have found out is that you actually get worse by training because your body doesn’t get time to recover, so you never really run to the best of your ability. Jenks [David Jenkins] really believed he didn’t rest enough in his career. Steve Cram too has said the same thing to me. Here’s another diary entry [17 July 1986], ‘Jenks phoned me tonight and thinks I can win the Commonwealth Games if Clark is unable to handle the rounds. He says that I mustn’t train tomorrow, so I won’t. There’s so much he wants to tell me but he is unable to do so over the phone. He says I mustn’t do the opening ceremony.’ ’

And here are several more quotes from Black’s diary as found in his autobiography.

14 April 1989
‘Mike Smith cannot now become as big a part of me as he was before because he hasn’t stood by me. He will still be my coach, but not my controller. I must use the right formula of myself, Kriss, Mike Smith, Mike Whittingham and Joe Picken. I must do what I feel to be best for me, and I can no longer rely entirely on Mike Smith’s judgement - but I do need the group.

I hope Mike will be able to step back a little with me. Remember those who have stood by you, they are the only ones you need to involve. The rest mustn’t have the pleasure of association with your success.’

On 4 August 1989
‘Mike Whittingham has been working with me one-to-one since 18 June. His contribution has been invaluable. We work well together and I know I’m getting it right. Mike Smith could never relate to me like this because of the size of the group . . . A CT scan yesterday showed the bone in my foot has repaired.’

23 February 1994
‘I’ve moved on in leaps and bounds since October. My body still gives me problems but I can run with them. The left foot is much better due to the taping and the orthotics and the exercises.

My hip is still very sore but that’s life. In January I confronted the reality that my hip will never be 100 per cent and I have a choice. It can stop me running or I can run with it. Only the clock can tell me if I can get better.’

Monday, March 28, 2016

Diary briefs

Biteback wins rights to Campbell diaries - Iain Dale

Algerian Diary - West Virginia University Press, Star Tribune

Diary of a company controller - The Virginian Pilot

Top of the Pops girl’s diary - The Mirror

The Private Life of the Diary - Unbound, The Independent

Split WWII refugee tales - Total Croatia News

NZ’s first weather diaries - Voxy

Diary of Germanwings pilot - Deutsche Welle

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lost behind my camera

I face the fact that I find myself really happy only when I am lost behind my camera or locked in my dark-room. So today I became happy for a while: I photographed more of my “juguetes Mexicanos”, this time the “pajaritos” - little birds - in blue, - exquisite things in line.’ This is Edward Weston born 130 years ago today. He was one of the most influential of 20th century photographers, and he was no mean diarist either. His so-called daybooks, covering his Mexico period and several years after, are rightly regarded as unique documents, not only for the detail they provide of his colourful life, but for the way they show how his artistic style, his photographic creativity, developed over time.

Weston was born on 24 March 1886 in Highland Park, Illinois, to a surgeon and his actress wife. His mother died when he was but five years old, and he was looked after, mostly, by his older sister, Mary, though their father did remarry. Aged 16, he was given his first camera, and began spending much of his free time taking photographs. He left school early, and took a job in a department store. A few weeks after his 20th birthday, Camera and Darkroom published Weston’s picture Spring, Chicago - the first known publication of any of his photographs.

That same year Weston left the Chicago area to live near his sister who had moved to Tropico (now Glendale), California, though he returned to Illinois for several months to study at a photography school. In 1909, he married his sister’s best friend, Flora Chandler, a teacher who was several years older than him but who was part of a wealthy family. They would have four sons together. Having worked in photography studios for several years, Weston now began working full-time as a photographer. In 1911, he started his own business in Tropico, The Little Studio, taking commissioned photographic portraits. With very high standards for his own work, he soon made a name for himself, winning prizes, publishing photographs in specialised magazines, and being invited to stage one-man shows.

Weston’s work at this stage was considered to be in the pictorial style, imitating Impressionist painting by suppressing detail in the darkroom, but it would not be long before he moved away from atmospheric effects, towards realism, and a new emphasis on abstract form and sharp resolution of detail. In particular, he developed a technique that concentrated on the image as seen, eschewing any later darkroom manipulation.

In 1913, Weston met the photographer Margrethe Mather, a liberated Bohemian, and began an intense affair. She became his studio assistant, and then some years later, his business partner. She was the first person, apart from his family, that he photographed in the nude, starting around 1920. That year, he met a Los Angeles couple Roubaix de l’Abrie Richey, known as Robo, and the actress, Tina Modotti. With Richey’s knowledge, Weston carried on an affair with Modotti, who also modelled for him in the nude, and became his main model for several years thereafter. Meanwhile, Weston visited New York and photographers there, being much encouraged by the great Alfred Stieglitz.

Soon after Weston’s return form the east coast, Richey moved to Mexico City to set up a batik workshop. He was arranging a joint exhibition for his work and Weston’s when he contracted smallpox. Modotti when to join him but by the time she arrived, Richey had died. She decided to continue with the exhibition. It proved a success, and established Weston’s reputation there, leading him to spend most of the next few years in Mexico, mostly with Modotti, but also sometimes with one or other of his sons, holding exhibitions, travelling round the country taking photographs of many ordinary objects, but also folk craft, and generally strengthening his artistic reputation. When his relationship with Modotti finished, he returned finally to California in 1926.

Now, Weston turned to large scale close-ups of natural objects, such as shells, vegetables (see Pepper No. 30), trees, revelling in the textures, and to a more abstract form in his nudes. He, and his son Brett, moved to a studio in San Francisco but then settled a little further south in Carmel. In 1929, he met the photographer Sonya Noskowiak who became his muse, and stayed with him for five years. The Art of Edward Weston, a first book exclusively devoted to his work, was published in 1932. The same year, he formed, with other photographers, Group f/64, which held a critically successful exhibition at the De Young Museum. In 1934, a new love -  Charis Wilson - replaced Noskowiak, and a nude of Wilson taken in 1936 would become one of Weston’s most famous photographs. Around this time, he and Brett again moved, this time to set up a studio in Santa Monica Canyon.

In 1937, Weston became the first photographer to receive a prestigious Guggenheim grant, which eased his ongoing financial problems, and led to publication, in 1939, of Seeing California with Edward Weston, written by Wilson. The same year, he married Wilson, and the following year they published together California and the West. Subsequently, Weston was invited to illustrate a new edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which led him to travel thousands of miles, and take many hundreds of photographs, of which 49 were selected for the book. From 1945, Weston began to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease. A major retrospective of his work opened at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, by which time he and Wilson had separated. Weston’s last years were spent organising his negatives, and selecting images for exhibition or publication. He died in 1958. Further information is readily available online, at the official Edward Weston site, at Kim Weston’s website (Kim being Edward’s grandson), Wikipedia, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

For many years - until he met Charis Wilson in fact - Weston kept a diary, or, as he called them, daybooks. He is known, however, to have destroyed diaries that he kept prior to going to Mexico, leaving no trace of them. He also burned his Mexico diaries, but not before editing them and having a typescript made. It is this typescript, edited by Nancy Newhall, while Weston was still alive and with his approval, that was published in 1961 by The George Eastman House as The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Volume I - Mexico. George Eastman House announced publication of the first volume in its bulletin, Image, saying: ’Seldom has an artist written about his life and art as vividly, as intimately and as sensitively. We know of nothing comparable in the literature of photography. [. . .] Day after day Edward Weston wrote down his thoughts about life and photography, outlined his hopes, catalogued his despairs, mercilessly criticized his photographs, and recorded every experience which moved him.’

Newhall, in the first volume, gives a firsthand account of how Weston’s daybooks came to be published: ‘The Mexican period exists now only in a typescript badly done sometime in the late 1930s or early 40s: “Yes, the MS was ‘monkeyed with’ by a German girl. It was supposedly just copied... In my original copy, which was longhand, the punctuation was dashes - (‘modern’) - Since the first typewritten copy, each person has punctuated, paragraphed and spelled according to heart’s desire.” Edward burned the original MS; he had already cut from what the various typists received nearly all references to the agony he suffered over Tina Modotti’s other lovers; nothing at all remains of his agony over his eldest son, Chandler, a thirteen-year caught first in the cross-fire between his mother and father, then in the crossfire between Tina and Edward. What remains of the Daybook in this period, battered and twisted as it is by the German girl’s attempts to give it a romantic Goethean style, is still valid. I have cut only redundancies - the parties, the bullfights, the Mexican toys which in the original become monotonous, - and a few vulgarities and sentimentalities of the kind Edward could no longer stand: “Reading, for example, such lines as ‘I drew close to her and kissed her’ shivers me, makes me out a pretentious prig. I can’t take it! Seeing it in a book would turn me into a hermit. Is there much of that stuff?…Otherwise he thought it “not too bad - except when I try to write.” The years in Mexico were only the beginning. “Did I tell you that I have eight years of Day Book, post Mexico? Memory tells me it makes the Mexican period seem pallid.” He was right, and here, though it has suffered heavily from his razor, we have the original MS in his massive scrawl. It is briefer, more incisive; his passion like fire eats at what in him was unessential to his purpose: “to present clearly my feeling for life with photographic beauty... without subterfuge or evasion in spirit or technique.” ’

The second volume - The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Volume II - California - appeared in 1966, and together with the first volume are a remarkable, extraordinary record not only of a great artist’s private life, but of the detailed progress and development of his art, his artistic genius. Here are several extracts from Volume I.

1 November 1924
‘The exhibit is over. The naked balcony walls presented a sad and stripped void as we glanced back to be assured no print was forgotten; but no time for tears, for already a new exhibit is on! Tina and I for the first time are showing together; indeed, it is her first public showing, and I am proud of my dear “apprentice.” We went directly from the “Aztec Land” and under the auspices of the Secretaria de Education Publica hung ten prints each in the Palacio de Mineria. It is a big affair: Rafael, Chariot, Felipe among our friends are also showing.’

2 November 1924
‘El Dia de los Muertos. Like mushrooms magically appearing over night, los puestos - in celebration of the Day of the Dead - once more are with us. More numerous, more varied than ever, they line both sides of two blocks and the street centres as well, I wondered and searched untiringly for my occasional concrete reward; this time I found more “Mexican porcelains” - animales de barro - clay animals - a magenta-colored dog mouthing a green basket, excellent in form, and, at the same booth, a wildcat biting into a green snake . . . [. . .]

Yesterday, with the band’s salute, President Obregon formally opened the exhibit at the Palacio de Mineria. Our photographs are simply and well displayed. Tina’s lose nothing by comparison with mine - they are her own expression.

Sunday Evening. D. H. Lawrence, English author and poet, in with Louis Quintanilla. My first impression was a most agreeable one. He will sit for me Tuesday.’

3 November 1924
‘After experiencing the ever-recurrent condition of being “broke”, I have sold two prints: “Palma Cuernavaca”, and a nude; besides, I have four definite dates for sittings. Such prosperity is overwhelming! Tomorrow I dine at a luncheon in honor of the United States Ambassador to Mexico. God knows his name - I don’t - but duty calls. In preparation I trimmed the fringe from my trousers and borrowed a hat from Rafael. Now to buy a collar and I shall be ready for the fray.’

4 November 1924
‘The sitting of D. H. Lawrence this morning. A tall, slender, rather reserved individual with a brick-red beard. He was amiable enough and we parted in a friendly way, but the contact was too brief for either of us to penetrate more than superficially the other: no way to make a sitting.’

21 November 1924
‘To Fronton - Juego de Pelota - with Pepe, Chandler and Tina. “You may find it more thrilling than ‘los toros’,” said Pepe. I did not, though it was exciting, to be sure - a game to make, by contrast, our tennis and baseball appear quite tame. The Latins evolve sports that are spectacular, sensational, dangerous, and always elegant. Every second of the play was scintillating; one fairly gasped as the pelota shot through the air like a bullet while the players executed most miraculous passes, involving dramatically tense and beautiful postures.

Preceding our departure for Fronton, a surprise was afforded us by the arrival of Chariot, Nahui Olin, Federico, Anita and several bottles of wine. They had come to celebrate! And this is why - at the recent exhibit in the Palacio de Mineria, I was awarded first prize for photographs (one hundred and fifty pesos)! Quite unbelievable. I shall await undue enthusiasm until the money is collected. The honor of winning amounts to nothing: we had no real competition. Diego Rivera was on the jury, who else I know not.’

24 November 1924
‘Sunday in the “Secretaria” patio I made two dozen Graflex negatives of Diego Rivera. As yet they remain undeveloped. Also started an undertaking which I have already given up, that of copying his work for reproduction in a book to be published about him in Germany. It looms as too great a task without ample renumeration, which is uncertain. There are some who feel that Diego’s work is too calculated, too entirely a product of his brain. For me it is emotional as well as intellectual. For a man to paint murals twelve hours a day - sometimes even sixteen hours at a stretch - and day after day working quite as a day-laborer might, not awaiting “mood” or “inspiration”, it is amazing to me how much feeling he attains in his work. Only a man of great physical strength, possessed of a brilliant mind and a big heart as well, could have done what Diego has.

Yesterday I felt, as I have before, the preoccupation of his work. Direct questions were often entirely unheard, his eyes would be utterly oblivious to surroundings - then suddenly he would start out of himself, break into a broad, genial smile, and for a few moments Diego the dreamer was gone.’

25 November 1924
‘I said to Tina, having noted several interesting items in a downtown bookstore, “Let us go on a book-hunting expedition, I am hungry for a new thrill.” We were successful in acquiring a number of additions to our library, mostly books reproducing the work of contemporary painters. Ferat, Grosz, Dérain, and a volume on African sculpture - what splendid things! - and how fine is Derain!

Now my orders are printed and the stage set for more sittings. It will take many orders to pay the expenses of our return trip.’

29 November 1924
‘Diego, refering to my head of Galván, said, “Es un retrato - portrait - de Mexico.”

I cannot work in such feverish haste as I do with my Graflex and register quite the critical definition desired. F/ll is the smallest stop possible to use without undertiming when making portrait heads in the sun, - setting the shutter at 1/10 second and using panchromatic films, - thus when depth is required my difficulties are increased. Diego’s ample belly as he sat on a packing box in the Secretaria patio, swelled forward quite like a woman pregnant, presenting much difficulty.

Jean thinks they are the most interesting set of proofs from a sitting that I have done in Mexico. Well - I do like some of them, yes, a number of them, yet I could wish, especially with Diego, that I had made something to be very enthusiastic over. In each proof I find a fault, granted a minor one, and I had hoped for a quite perfect negative from this sitting, not just because Diego is a big artist, rather because he is especially interested in my work.

Last evening we went to a “studio tea” at Fred Davis’s home: a genial host, delicious food and drink, many beautiful things, mixed to be sure with an overwhelming number of bad ones. But I am impatient, I cannot enjoy social gatherings; the meeting with a few friends, one or two at a time, is the only form of contact that appeals to me.

I face the fact that I find myself really happy only when I am lost behind my camera or locked in my dark-room. So today I became happy for a while: I photographed more of my “juguetes Mexicanos”, this time the “pajaritos” - little birds - in blue, - exquisite things in line. I combined two of them on my ground glass. Perhaps three negatives will be considered worth printing. Martial music, - soldiers pass below, - a bedraggled lot but with brave front: not to be denied, dogs of sorry mien march with the procession somewhat lowering its essayed dignity. Tonight Chapultepec Castle is a blaze of light. - All this is preparation, for tomorrow is Calles inauguration.

Surely here in Mexico we live in another world for Thanksgiving Day was passed quite unremembered! - perhaps it should have been.’

30 November 1924
‘Technically dissatisfied with what should have been my best photograph of “los pajaritos”, I spent another several hours attempting to duplicate it: impossible to place even inanimate objects exactly as seen before. I still think my failure the best seen negative though the actual difference is ever so slight.’

2 December 1924
‘In the same way that I ruined part of my last sitting of Tina done two months ago, I fogged today’s by turning on the white light during the development. It almost seems that fate has decreed against my doing what I wish to do in the way of portraying Tina. But one of the negatives made this morning pleases me: the glare of light on the azotea destroyed all the delicate modulations in Tina’s face. It was flat and uninteresting, - too, the eyes were filled with unpleasant catch lights. I must call the sitting a failure. We shall try again tomorrow.

After ordering prints on our exchange, amounting to 230 pesos, Mr. Fred Davis intimated that he would like at least four or five more prints, so I shall have clothing to the value of some 380 pesos. Good luck indeed!

Tomorrow a big day: in the morning Tina again, in the afternoon Jean Chariot. Diego was pleased with his proofs. They are, I will say, well seen. His choice was one in which his huge bulk was exaggerated, and his face expressed a cynical sadness.’

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Jailed for making soap

‘A lady friend of mine got three weeks in jail for making her own soap, an article monopolized, but not supplied, by the Soviets and much missed by the people who under the old regime had become accustomed to buying it in the open market in any quantity and at a low price.’ This is from the Russian Civil War diary of Alexis Babine, an author and scholar, born in Russia 150 years ago today but who emigrated to the US, and spent much of his working life at the Library of Congress. For a decade or so in his middle years, however, he returned to Russia, and was caught up in the Civil War. The diary - written in English - is now considered a unique historical resource.

Alexis V. Babine was born into a family of provincial merchants in the small Russian town of Elatma (170 or so miles southeast of Moscow), on 22 March 1866. He studied at the prestigious Institute of History and Philology in St. Petersburg, between 1885 and 1887, and then taught at Okhta Trade School. Following a shooting dare, he accidentally killed his best friend. His parents paid ‘blood money’, while Babine worked his way across the country, eventually to Riga. There, in 1899, he was taken on, as a stoker, by a German ship, which carried him to the United Sates.

Once in the US, Babine studied American history and worked in the library at Cornell University, after which he was appointed a librarian at Indiana University. He moved to Stanford where he was given the post of assistant librarian, and where he taught bibliography and Russian. In 1902, Sabine arrived at the Library of Congress, according to its own website, where he took the position of ‘specialist in charge of the Slavic literature’. He is remembered for negotiating the purchase of a large Russian language collection (from a wealthy Siberian merchant, Genadii Yudin), not only making all the necessary arrangements, transferring 80,000 volumes from Russia to the Library of Congress, but also publishing a bilingual description of the collection, and beginning the work on a catalog for the collection.

In 1910, however, Babine returned to Russia, partly to see his mother who was ill, and partly because he wanted to publish a popular history of the United States in Russian. With that project completed, he worked as an inspector of schools in Kharkov province, and then, after the February revolution, he was appointed to teach English at Saratov university. He may well have died from starvation during the civil war years, but for his participation in the activities of the American Relief Administration (ARA), which supplied its employees with food, as well as with packages from friends in the United States.

Babine went back to the US in 1922, as an émigré, and from 1927 served as the assistant head of the Slavic section of the Library of Congress. He died in 1930. The only further information about Sabine available online appears to be at the Library of Congress website. The Library also holds Babine’s papers, including a very detailed journal he kept in Saratov from 1917 to 1922. This documents the deprivation experienced by the city’s population during the civil war years. The journal has been used by Eugene G. Pivovarov, a visiting scholar, to analyse price changes of basic foodstuffs. 
Pivovarov concluded: ‘The increase in prices, together with other factors, resulted in the destruction of the middle class in the entire region. Merchants, teachers, engineers, and craftsmen lived in equal poverty. They sold practically everything they had before the revolution and food became “a great blessing” for most of them’

Otherwise, Babine’s journal has been edited by the historian Donald J. Raleigh, and was published in 1988 by Duke University Press as A Russian Civil War Diary - Alexis Sabine in Saratov, 1917-1922. According to Raleigh: ‘Sabine kept his diary in the expectation that it would be published someday. He also wrote it for an American audience. Disgusted with what he called the “backwardness and barbarity” of his native country, Sabine could be a myopic observer. He expressed longing for a return to the old regime that had become politically and morally bankrupt even in the eyes of Saratov’s (and Russia’s) middle class. [. . .] The diary is a unique historical source because it offers readers a rare glimpse into daily life during the Civil War in the provincial city of Saratov. Sabine not only had an unusual story to tell, but also the ability to do so, and his writing casts fresh, if refracted, light on the Russian Civil Ware from an unfamiliar angle.’

Here are several extracts from the published journal.

19 March 1917.
‘I was waiting for my relay horses to rest before taking me to my next school, when an excited traveler suddenly broke into the dirty station room and gleefully announced the new millennium: Nicholas II has abdicated in favor of his brother Michael. A free constitutional rule, perhaps even a republic, is assured. The man’s accent bespoke a Pole. The stationmaster and his peasant help looked at him sourly. One could read in their eyes: “What joy can there be in a tsar’s abdication - except for an infidel like you?” It was now questionable whether I should hurry home by rail and cut short my school inspection program, or disregard the change of rule and carry out my plans as though nothing had happened. I chose the latter course.’

21 March 1917
‘At Nikolsk the liberals - social revolutionaries - are forcing themselves to the fore in matters of local administration. Old government officials are beginning to feel pressure from the oncoming disorderly tide. Teachers feel their positions threatened by anarchist inroads and do not know where to turn. I calmly ignore the new developments and attend to my work in utter disregard of what has happened in St. Petersburg.’

27 March 1917
‘Meetings have been held in the auditorium of the Totma Manual Training School by revolutionary agitators who would not have even dreamed two weeks ago of entering the school premises without proper - i.e., my - sanction. The master of the relay station tells me that German prisoners living in a house nearby claim that the war will soon be over. “And they know everything.” ’

29 March 1917
‘Straggling, worn out, shabbily clad soldiers are beginning to line the road, trudging wearily along, with half empty knapsacks on their backs, homeward bound.’

7 March 1918
‘3:40 p.m. At about 5 p.m. yesterday I saw on the corner of Nemetskaia and Aleksandrov streets a number of Red Guardsmen rather energetically ordering the crowd assembled there to disperse. I had barely time to return home from Tiedeman’s music store when sharp firing was heard from the same corner, and people rushed up Nemetskaia Street. A few minutes later the howl of what sounded like a wounded boy filled the air. From my window I saw two soldiers driving the crowd and brandishing their muskets on the opposite side of the street. But the street was full of people again in a few minutes.

This morning I was told that a number of people had been killed and wounded on Aleksandrov Street. My informant with his own eyes saw a wounded man.

In front of the post office building a young man came up to the crowd assembled there and without any warning shot a man dead. The crowd made a rush at the murderer and killed him on the spot. Mr. Luchinkin told one of our janitors that on his way to the university library this morning he saw on one of the streets the body of a man killed apparently last night, and by ten o’clock this morning not yet removed.’

22 November 1918
‘At the tea table of a socially humble friend’s, with the samovar hospitably whispering and sizzling, I was introduced to a friend of the family, a Soviet official, pale from rheumatism, but good-looking and well built, apparently a mechanic by profession. When the conversation turned to the treatment of the bourgeoisie by the new regime, my new acquaintance spoke firmly in support of a statement of his: “I by no means regret shooting and killing my fourteen men, not in the least.” My friend, giving him a quiet look, explained: “Of course, you only saw to their being executed,” and nicely shifted the conversation to another topic. My friend is a perfectly respectable man, but his company - sumptuously treated considering the times - was a revelation to me.’

24 November 1918
‘Was fortunate enough to get the address of a peasant woman in Monastyrka that sold me 10 lbs. of onions for only forty rubles. It was a three-mile long jubilation to carry them home on my back in a gunnysack, without risk of confiscation, onions being an article the Soviets have forgotten to nationalize.

25 November 1918
‘The Allied powers are said to have presented an ultimatum to the Bolshevik misrulers in Moscow, demanding unconditional surrender. An order is said to have been received here from Moscow to disarm the Red Army. Some local companies have refused to part with their weapons, though willing to surrender.’

26 November 1918
‘Petrograd is said to have been occupied by the Allies - to everybody’s secret joy.’

28 November 1918
‘A sudden search of guests in one of the new socialist cafes produced an unexpected result. One customer had a large amount of small change that is so scarce nowadays; another had a large sum of money in Astrakhan and Samara local currencies.’

15 August 1919
‘A lady friend of mine got three weeks in jail for making her own soap, an article monopolized, but not supplied, by the Soviets and much missed by the people who under the old regime had become accustomed to buying it in the open market in any quantity and at a low price.’

27 August 1919
‘Not wishing to patronize the dirty Soviet barber-shops and out of respect for the typhus raging all around, I have been clipping my hair myself with a 000 clip. It takes over two hours, and two mirrors, to do the work right. Two years ago I would not have thought the trick possible.’

28 August 1919
‘A couple of bachelors have been poisoning cockroaches in their kitchen with arsenic. They threw the dead insects into the yard, upon which their neighbors’ chickens died one after another. “Don’t worry about our being suspected,” quoth the younger of the two: “I’ve already thrown a quiet hint that our Jewish neighbors must have done it.”

5 September 1919
‘A paroled prisoner of war happened to come in quest of milk. My peasant landlord wanted to know what Denikin’s political platform was. The soldier mentioned among other things “the one and indivisible Russia.” “That is right,” said my landlord, with an air of supreme satisfaction stroking his long gray beard: “What’s mine is mine, and I ain’t got to divide it with no riff-raff as they wants it done under this here Communism.”

21 February 1922
‘Robberies of supplies from our trains are so frequent, the transportation so bad, cooperation on the part of the railroad authorities, employees, and the Soviets in general so luke-warm and inefficient, that both Kinne and Cobb feel very much discouraged and want to leave the country as soon as they can. Our town transport agent (a young German-Russian) has been reported as removing, with the connivance and cooperation of the railroad service, supplies from the care of ARA before making out his statements of shortages. He is being watched by Soviet secret service men - who know too well on which side the bread is buttered.’

22 February 1922
‘Someone told me about Professor Stadnitskii’s statement in his lecture this afternoon to the effect that a country doctor had been eaten up by the starving peasants in one of the outlying districts. Dr. Uroda has corrected the statement: it was a feldsher (a trained male nurse) that had been eaten, at Balakovo. He was a big, portly man, and his patients did not want him to go to waste when he died from some cause or other. A medical friend of Dr. Uroda’s has had an occasion to taste human flesh. Lost in a blizzard in the boundless Novouzensk prairies, he and his companion came across some frozen bodies, probably victims of the same blizzard and, to save themselves, they carved up, cooked, and ate part of them. The doctor stated that the worst part of that experience was the insuperable and uncomfortable craving he and his companion had acquired for human flesh.’ [. . .]

‘A medical inspector of ours, driving through a German village, caught glimpse of a couple of little girls running toward the road. He looked back and saw the girls pick up the fresh, warm horse dung and eat it.’