Sunday, September 21, 2014

Scenery fantastic - like home

A few days ago, it was Reinhold Messner’s 70th birthday (see below), and today it is the 90th anniversary of the birth of Messner’s hero, Hermann Buhl - both climbers marked, in particular, by their experiences on Nanba Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world. Some of the content of Buhl’s expedition diaries - including entries written in the days prior to his famous ascent of Nanba Parbart - has been made public thanks to a book co-authored by Messner.

Buhl was born in Innsbruck, the youngest of four children, on 21 September 1924. After the death of his mother, he spent years in an orphanage. He appears to have been a sensitive and sickly teenager, but took up climbing, and, in 1939, joined the Innsbruck chapter of the Deutscher Alpenverein (the German Alpine association). He was soon mastering the most difficult climbs, and became a member of the local mountain rescue team. World War II interrupted his studies, and he did service with the Alpine troops, seeing action in Italy before being taken prisoner by US troops. After the war, he returned to Innsbruck where he trained as a mountain guide, and made many spectacular climbs in the Alps, often solo.

In 1951, Buhl married Eugenie Högerle and they would have three daughters. In late 1952, he was invited to participate in the Austro-German “Willy Merkl Memorial” Expedition to Nanga Parbat (Merkl had led a fatal expedition to the mountain in 1934). Up to this time, no one had yet reached the peak, and 31 people had died trying. The expedition was organised by Merkl’s half-brother, Karl Herrligkoffer from Munich, but the expedition leader was Peter Aschenbrenner, from Innsbruck. Buhl made mountaineering history when, on 3 July, having seen his companions turn back, he reached the summit, solo, and without oxygen. It was 40 hours before he managed to return to camp, having bivouacked during darkness, standing upright on a narrow ledge.

In 1957, Buhl became the first man to be the first to the top of two eight-thousander peaks, when he reached the summit of Broad Peak with an Austrian team led by Marcus Schmuck. This was accomplished in the so-called Alpine style, without the aid of supplemental oxygen, high altitude porters or even base camp support. Two weeks later, Buhl fell to his death when he and another of the team attempted to climb nearby Chogolisa Peak.

Buhl’s book, Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage, published in English by Hodder and Stoughton in 1981, has become a classic of the genre. It is not freely available online (as far as I know), but a more staid book - Nanga Parbat, incorporating the Official Report of the Expedition of 1953 by Herrligkoffer - can be found at Internet Archive, and includes Buhl’s own account of his ascent. There is not very much biographical information about Buhl freely available online and in English, but try Adventure Journal, or the Alpinist (complete with a graphic biography). More complete information is available in German at Helmut Schmidt’s website dedicated to Buhl; and the Italian Wikipedia biography has some photographs.

Buhl kept expedition diaries during most of his climbs, including the famous Nanga Parbat ascent. Although these have not been published separately, they have been used, and quoted from extensively, in Hermann Buhl - Climbing without Compromise by Reinhold Messner and Horst Hofler, published by The Mountaineers in 2000. (See also the recent Diary Review article, Death on Nanga Parbat, for more on Messner who was much influenced by Buhl.)

The book, Climbing without Compromise, starts with various essays about Buhl, including homages by Messner and Hofler, but the substance of the book consists of original texts written by Buhl himself, essays and reports on his climbs, and some diaries: three early ones (1941, 1942-43 and 1944-50) and two expedition diaries from the 1953 ascent of Nanga Parbat. The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs, and includes an appendix of Buhl’s route climbs.

Part of the authors’ commentary with regard to the 1953 Austro-German expedition to Nanga Parbat is as follows: ‘Although Buhl is superior by far to all the members of the expedition team, he must first fit into the group. If anyone is capable of conquering Nanga Parbat, it is he. Buhl’s diary entries, written in the tent at the high camps and down at base camp, contain the true essence of the man and give us an insight like no other document into the daily expedition routine - at times very wearing - and even into the subsequent division of the team. We discover quite a lot about the lack of organization on the part of the leadership, and about the bigotry of the few dilettantes, who first try to stop the brilliant Buhl at base camp and who then want to monopolize him after his success. The narrow-minded way in which they try to force Buhl into the yoke of their group mentality is material for psychologists. It is a good thing that Buhl is not a man who would let himself be forced into anything.’

Here are a few extracts from Buhl’s expedition diary as quoted in the Messner/Hofler book.

12 May 1953
‘Wonderful path through pine woods, completely, wildly romantic, reminds me of Karwendel. First view of Nanga. Fairy-tale meadows, really fantastically beautiful. Temporary camp in a moraine hollow at the edge of the woods.

At 12 o’clock the dispatching of the coolies begins. Wild chaos, wild shouting. A large tent and two normal tents are pitched. Approximate height 3700 meters. Scenery fantastic, just like home.’

31 May 1953
‘Base camp.
. . . Peter, who is out hunting, comes back in the afternoon, asks about Kuno and then lays into me because everyone is doing exactly as he pleases. If we don’t want to obey the orders we should go on our own . . .

As Peter says nothing to me about going up, I ask him again. As my altimeter is broken and we only have one between four, as opposed to Base Camp where there are four altimeters, I would like to swap mine, also on the wishes of the others. After asking several times and being told we could manage with one, I eventually get Albert’s. I don’t even want to mention the map - although there are five of those at Base Camp.

As I set off Peter tells me not to be such an egoist. I don’t really understand and ask why. He finally says it’s because of the altimeter. It’s all too much for me so I give it back to him and leave. Peter calls me and then comes after me. Gives me the altimeter back and tells me not to be so childish, he had put himself out for me, and after all they were not dependent on me, and could manage without me, whereupon I leave. It takes me 50 minutes to get to Camp 1, it is snowing heavily again. Walter is waiting for me up there.’

21 June 1953
‘Camp 4
High winds during the night. Entrance under a meter of windblown snow, tent no longer visible at all. Set off at 8:30 with a 100 m rope up the Rakhiot ice wall. Stretched it out with other bits of gear at the bottom, but still 30 m short of the bergschrund. Traverse behind the Rakhiot Shoulder prepared: smooth ice . . . Cut many steps, weather good but windy.

Then a diagonal traverse up brittle snow to Rakhiot Peak. Strong wind and cold. Climbed the last needle, IV, without gloves; just like being at home. First seven thousander, 7070 m. Otto stayed down below.

Over the summit, down the other side without rope. Wonderful view to Silbersattel and Nanga, particularly the South Face above the fog.

Climbed down to Moor’s Head, left snow shovel behind. Mist whipping up the ridge. Traverse back to Rakhiot Face. Send Otto back to cook something while I cut a ladder of steps down the Face. Three porters, Hermann and Kuno are at the Camp. I arrive at 7 o’clock but no food is ready yet. There are two tents in the hollow.

Tomorrow we are supposed to go to Camp 5. I’m already looking forward to it.’

1 July 1953
‘Camp 4
Set off for Camp 4 at 6 a.m., Walter, Hans and I with three porters. Otto stays at Camp 3 for another day. He does not feel very well and wants to rest up for another day and follow on with Madi the next day. Wonderful weather, no clouds as far as you can see, haze in the valley, best indication of a lasting period of good weather. Minus 20 degrees in the morning, deep snow, difficult to break trail.

Three walkie-talkie calls with Base Camp. Order to retreat; we should rest and then follow new orders for attack. Do not say what those orders are. We don’t even consider climbing down, we’ve never been in such good shape.

Aschenbrenner still at Base Camp. He’s still officially the mountaineering leader, although he handed the task over to Walter days ago. Conversations with a very agitated Ertl end with the message “kiss my arse,” and we continue. Ertl makes us aware that they will have cause to thank us one day . . . Midday at Camp 4. Totally snowed up, first have to dig everything out, very arduous. Then Hans and I each take a 100 m rope and climb up the Rakhiot Face with them, fix them on the traverse to the Moor’s Head and climb down again, while Walter busies himself with the porters, fitting crampons, etc. Back at Camp 4 again at 7 p.m. Slept well all night.’

There is a further entry quoted, for 2 July, and then Messner/Hofler say: ‘Hermann Buhl recorded the summit approach in his diary as far as the Bazhin Gap. The entries end abruptly with the words “Enormous cornice, really hard, steep rock ridge.” ’ They then include one (of several) essays written subsequently by Buhl about his ascent on 3 July.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The fifth Beatle

Brian Epstein, legendary manager of the Beatles who died in his early 30s from a drug overdose, would have been 80 today. He lived a hectic business schedule and a complicated private life, being an active gay when homosexuality was still illegal. He left some early diaries/notebooks with his then-bodyguard and chauffeur Bryan Barrett, who sold them at auction in 2000. A good description of these notebooks and their content can be found online thanks to the auctioneers, Christie’s, and to a Beatles fan blog, A moral to this song.

Epstein was born in Liverpool into a small Jewish family on 19 September 1934. His father, Harry, was the son of an East European immigrant who had started a furniture store in the city. Brian’s mother, who everyone called Queenie, came from the successful Hyman furniture family. Brian was moved around from one boarding school to another, being expelled from some. He spent two years at Wrekin College, but then was apprenticed at 16 before joining the family firm.

After a brief spell of national service, three terms at the RADA theatre school, and some department store experience in London, Epstein returned to the family business. Harry put him in charge of the ground floor, in the family’s newly opened store (NEMS) on Great Charlotte Street, where he sold musical instruments, among other things, and gramophone records. This must have suited him because the shop soon become one of the largest music outlets in the North of England. Epstein then opened a second store in Whitechapel, not far, in fact, from the Cavern Club.

Epstein first came into contact with the Beatles (John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Pete Best) in late 1961, at the Cavern Club. By early December, he had proposed to manage them; and a first contract was signed a few weeks later in January 1962 (which sold at auction in 2008 for £240,000), and another in October. He formed a management company NEMS Enterprises before signing Lennon and McCartney to a three year NEMS publishing contract, and, within days of that, the Beatles had released their first single Love Me Do.

Despite having no previous experience of managing performers, Epstein did much to mould the Beatles dress and stage presence, and to win them a record contract. After being rejected by many record companies, he persuaded EMI to give the Beatles a deal with its Parlophone label, paying (initially) just 1p per record sold. A first recording session at EMI’s Abbey Road studios took place in June 1962. Pete Best was dismissed by Epstein soon after, and replaced by Ringo Starr, who was already well known to the others. Epstein also organised a hectic shedule of performance tours, as well as appearances for television and film. Epstein’s role in ‘making’ the Beatles has been widely acknowledged in recent years, with McCartney, for example, stating in 1998, ‘If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian’. But, in the 1960s, when MBEs were awarded to the four Beatles he was not so honoured.

Epstein seemed to flourish in the new world of pop stars, and as busy as he was with the Beatles, he also successfully managed other groups, like Gerry and the Pacemakers, and singers such as Cilla Black. He did not settle in London until 1965, after when he bought the lease to the Saville Theatre and promoted new plays by young writers, including Arnold Wesker. His personal life, however, was one of unfettered and growing attachments to drugs, gambling, and a promiscuous homosexual life. Although it was not public knowledge until after his death in 1967, Epstein’s homosexuality was an open secret among his friends. Lennon is said to have quipped that Epstein’s autobiography (2004, and ghostwritten by his assistant), A Cellarful of Noise, should have been titled A Cellarful of Boys. Epstein died from a drugs overdose in August 1967, he was only 32 years old. Further information is readily available online at the official Brian Epstein website, Wikipedia, or The Beatles Bible.

Epstein left behind 13 notebooks written between 1949 and 1963, according to amoralto (a Beatles fan blog). Three of these (along with other memorabilia) were put up for auction, at Christie’s London, in 2000 by Bryan Barrett. Barrett (who had also made the notebooks available for a 1998 TV documentary on Epstein) was quoted as saying: ‘It is now well over 30 years since his death and I no longer feel that anyone who was close to him could be hurt by the revelations.’ The diaries fetched £3,290. The auction notes (still freely available online) included information about, and extracts from, all three diaries. Amoralto has republished these notes, and found a few extra quotes (from other notebooks) in archived newspaper articles. Here, though, is the substance of the notes provided by Christie’s in 2000.

Lot notes: ‘The insight these highly personal and tortured notes give us into Epstein’s formative years cannot be overestimated. The mental anguish his sexual orientation caused him, combined with his interest in style as evidenced by his dress and furniture designs, executed in his late teens, give fuel to the thought that Epstein was a talented man who had the misfortune to be born at the wrong time.’

First notebook (59 pages)
‘The earliest of the three notebooks begins with an entry dated October 18th, 1950 Thoughts on Things, the following six pages written in the same month give a poignant insight into sixteen-year-old Epstein’s unhappy school life at Wrekin College in Shropshire, entries include:
 - “To be a success at school one must above all be either distinctly original or good at games (all of them). Intellects of a quiet nature are at school invariably a failure. . .”
- “ ‘Playing Soldiers’ . . . in what is presumed to be an intellectual establishment is . . . futile and childish . . . and a waste of anybody’s time. . .”
- “Depression is the route of all great and important thought”
- “The majority of school boys are lyers . . . Public schools as such encourage lying however they fail to realise it.”

Epstein’s schoolboy thoughts also reflect his interest in modern art, architecture and jazz; the second half of this notebook is filled with Epstein’s pencil and ink designs for furniture, dresses, evening and day outfits and a wedding dress, on several pages Epstein also practises his flamboyant signature in blue ink.’

Second notebook (19 pages)
‘In the second notebook, written in ink in 1957 at the age of twenty-three, Epstein gives a brutally honest account of his life to date, tracing the development of his homosexuality culminating in his arrest for soliciting in 1957, in the first half entitled “Background and History” Epstein outlines the misery of his unsettled school life, moving between nine different schools, the combination of frequent poor reports and entrance exam failures generating his low self-esteem

“The matter of always attaining low marks, being bottom of the class and receiving poor reports and other factors contributed in my thinking of myself even then as a failure, dullard and inferior person . . .”

He was briefly happy in his penultimate school [Claysmore School in Somerset]: “The first half of that third term was I think perhaps the only entirely happy and contented period in my life . . .”

He discusses arguments he had with his parents regarding his artistic leanings and his desire to go to acting school rather than the family business, the personal agony he experienced whilst serving in the army during his National Service in 1952: “I venomously hated nearly everything about the army and suffered at the merciless hands of the R.S.M.”

The development of his awareness of his own latent homosexuality and the misery and mental anguish the suppression of his feelings brought him, writing that in 1954 whilst working in the family business: “My life became a succession of mental illnesses and sordid unhappy events bringing great sorrow to my family . . .”

In the final eleven pages of the notebook Epstein gives a harrowing account of how he was set-up by the police and arrested for Persistently Importuning. After the horror of this experience Epstein wrote philosophically: “I do not think I am an abnormally weak-willed person - the effort and determination with which I have rebuilt my life these last few months have, I assure you, been no mean effort. I believed that my own will-power was the best thing with which to overcome my homosexuality. And I believe my life may have become contented and I may even have attained a public success . . .”

His bitterness at the injustice of his treatment is expressed in his closing comments: “I am not sorry for myself. My worst times and punishments are over. Now, through the wreckage of my life by society, my being will stain and bring the deepest distress to all my devoted family and few friends. the damage, the lying criminal methods of the police in importuning me and consequently capturing me leaves me cold, stunned and finished . . .”

This autobiographical account, clearly written before Epstein had received a verdict, ends with instructions he would like to be followed should he be remanded or given a prison sentence, the feelings of sympathy this frank account provokes are enhanced by the dignity of his closing comment: “I must apologise for my writing which I realise is difficult to read. I was unable to procure a typewriter and my hand is nervous.” ’

Third notebook (five pages)
‘The third notebook comprises four handwritten accounts of Epstein’s visits to various cities and restaurants in 1960; in the first entry apparently written after consuming five whiskies, Epstein expresses a desire: to rid himself “of hum drum, dreary god-forsaken surburbia”; [and] for the joys of Rome and his aspirations to join “that very attractive utterly ridiculous little group that call themselves . . . the International set”. In his final entry, Epstein confesses to being robbed in Barcelona adding rather poignantly: “But, I ask, is this my fault? Yes I think because I behaved foolishly and irresponsibly.” ’

See also Lennon and Linda McCartney

Thursday, September 18, 2014

York Factory lady

Letitia Hargrave, firstborn daughter of a Scottish lawyer, married a Hudson Bay Company trader and left behind her privileged life to travel to Canada and live as a pioneer in York Factory, a settlement and fur trade post on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay. Although Letitia died young - 160 years ago today - she left behind letters, published a century later, which have become historically important as a primary source of information about that period of Canadian history. The published book of her letters also includes a brief diary, written during her journey across the Atlantic.

Letitia was born in Edinburgh, in 1813, the eldest of nine children in a wealthy family. Her father, Dugald Mactavish, was a lawyer, and a sherriff of Argyllshire; and the Mactavish family was well-established in the North American fur trade. One of Letitia’s brothers, William, was posted to York Factory, on Hudson Bay, Manitoba, where he became friends with the chief trader, James Hargrave. When Hargrave travelled to Scotland in 1837, he was warmly received by the Mactavish family, and formed a relationship with Letitia. The two were married in 1840, and Letitia travelled to York Factory with her new husband in June/July that year.

Letitia and James had several children, although a second son died soon after being born. In 1851-1852, the family moved to Sault Ste, but, on 18 September 1854, Letitia died of cholera. Further information is available from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and Wikipedia.

Most of what is known about Letitia, however, comes from a collection of her letters - The Letters of Letitia Hargrave - edited by Margaret Arnett Macleod, and published in 1947 by The Champlain Society (whose mission is ‘to increase public awareness of, and accessibility to, Canada’s rich store of historical records’). Letitia’s letters, written to her family in Britain, are considered historically important as a primary source of information about the life of pioneer women in Canada in the mid-19th century.

The Letters of Letitia Hargrave is freely available to read online at The Champlain Society digital collection hosted by the University of Toronto. Although almost all the book consists of Letitia’s letters, a few pages are devoted to a diary she kept on board the Prince Rupert when travelling from Britain to North American in June and July 1840. Here are a few extracts.

25 June 1840
‘In bed all day yesterday and great part of today. Ship pitching so that we could not dress. The most provoking part is that we have been beating about waiting till the Prince of Wales came out of Stornaway. Mr Hargrave and the Captain went on board of her lest any letters might have been forwarded there from Stromness, but only got a parcel of shortbread from Captain Royal for the ladies here. Nice food for 4 sea sick women. Never knew what sailing was before.’

2 July 1840
‘Shoals of bottle nosed whales playing about the ship. Wind has been westerly ever since we left Orkney.’

7 July 1840
‘On Thursday the wind began and we have had a constant gale since. No sail almost and at night close reefed. The captain says he never saw such a sea, but the waves are whole like large broad hills, lost our jib - sea getting better.’

11 July 1840
‘Second pig killed today. Fresh pork and fowls tho’ the latter old and tough. We have only had salt beef once on board.’

12 July 1840
‘All the ducks and geese are allowed to walk about deck on Sunday. Miserable objects, their bills white and whole appearance wasted. When they got out they picked their feathers and ducked down on the deck thinking themselves in the water. Mr Bolton likened the procession to Bells Sunday School - I shall note down a week’s bill of fare as we have a diet for every day. Breakfast ham and egg potatoes, tea and coffee biscuit and treacle which we always have morning and evening. Dinner. Fowl soup boiled hens, roast ducks, salt pork, plum pudding, always mashed potatoes, cheese wine almonds raisins and figs. Crossing the American line.’

22 July 1840
‘Went on deck before 8am to see a large ice berg. Miss Allan describes it as being like a hay stack. It was about 160 feet above water and an oblong square plenty of ice all round.’

26 July 1840
‘Resolution Island seen from top the entrance to the straits.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Death on Nanga Parbat

Happy birthday Reinhold Messner, 70 years old today. An Italian mountaineer, dubbed by some as the greatest climber in history, he was the first to make a solo ascent of Mount Everest without additional oxygen, and he was the first to climb all 14 peaks in the world over 8,000 metres. The first of these was Nanga Parbat, in the western Himalayas, in 1970. During that expedition, his brother, Günther, died. Messner has published many books, but none, as far as I know, could be classed diaries. Nevertheless, a diary, and the evidence therein, has been at the centre of a controversy blighting his fame since the early 2000s, when several colleagues on the Nanga Parbat climb broke a long silence to claim that, contrary to Messner’s account, he had, in fact, been responsible for his brother’s death.

Messner was born in Brixen, in the very north of Italy, on 17 September 1944, and grew up, fluent in Italian and German, in nearby Villnöß. He was part of a large family, with many brothers; and his father was a teacher. From the age of 13, he began climbing with his younger brother Günther, and by their early 20s, it is said, they were already among the best climbers in Europe. Inspired by the Austrian mountaineer, Hermann Buhl (the first man to climb Nanga Parbat), Messner embraced the so-called alpine style of climbing, with light equipment and a minimum of external help.

In 1970, Messner undertook his first major climb, an ascent of Nanga Parbat. Alhough he and Günther succeeded in ascending the unclimbed Rupal face, Günther lost his life on the descent. (Messner himself lost several toes to frostbite, which meant he could not climb on rock as well, so, thereafter, he focused on higher mountains where the climbing was mostly on ice.) At the time, he was attacked by others for having persisted on the climb even though his brother was less experienced, and these accusations led to various disputes and lawsuits. In 1971, he returned to the mountain to look for his brother.

In the next few years, Messner succeeded in climber two further eight-thousanders, before ascending Everest in 1978 without supplemental oxygen. Two years later, he made a second Everest ascent, this time solo and without oxygen. He continued climbing the eight-thousanders through to 1986 by when he had become the first man to climb all fourteen of them without supplemental oxygen. After that, Messner eschewed climbing high mountains, preferring to undertake more unusual expeditions, such as skiing across the Antartic (1989-1990), and, more recently (2004), walking across the Gobi Desert.

Messner has written over 60 books, many translated into other languages, including English, with titles such as Free Spirit: A Climber’s Life; The Crystal Horizon: Everest - The First Solo Ascent; All Fourteen 8,000ers; My Quest for the Yeti: Confronting the Himalayas’ Deepest Mystery; and The Big Walls: From the North Face of the Eiger to the South Face of Dhaulagiri. He served as an MEP for the Italian Green Party between 1999 and 2004; he helped found the international NGO, Mountain Wilderness; and he now devotes most of his time to the Messner Mountain Museum, which is located at five different sites in Northern Italy.

There is some biographical material about Messner available in English on the internet, at Wikipedia, for example, at Badass of the Week, and at Youtube (interview in English), but there are also plenty of published books about his life, not least one being published by Mountaineer Books in two weeks time, Reinhold Messner: My Life at the Limit.

Although Messner has written many books about his climbing life, none, as far as I can tell, contain actual diary material. However, 30 years after his successful but tragic climb on Nanga Parbat, the controversy over his role in Günther’s death resurfaced. In 2002, Messner published The Naked Mountain, a retelling of the 1970 Nanga Parbat expedition. Even before its publication, though, several of the team’s members had publicly announced they disputed many of the details in Messner’s account. Two of his fellow team members (including Max von Kienlin) published their own books, in Germany, claiming that Messner held far more responsibility for his brother’s death than he had admitted. Messner reacted furiously, and the charges and counter-charges were played out in the European press.

Good summaries of the dispute can be found in 2004 articles in National Geographic and The Guardian, a 2005 article in Men’s Journal, and a 2006 article in Outside. The details are fairly intricate, 
but in summary are as National Geographic explains: ‘While Messner claims he led his flagging brother down the Diamir Face as a last resort, some teammates charge that he had planned a solo ascent and traverse of the mountain from early on in the expedition. He had even talked openly about it to his teammates (though not, of course, to expedition leader Herrligkoffer). Americans Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein had become instant legends with their traverse of Everest in 1963. To complete a comparable traverse of Nanga Parbat - solo - would make Messner a mountaineering celebrity on a par with his hero Hermann Buhl. Messner’s critics believe he was so focused on that goal that he placed it ahead of caring for his flagging brother.’

The evidence against Messner depends largely on von Kienlin’s diary, which he reproduces at length in his book, The Traverse: Günther Messner’s Death on Nanga ParbatMessner, though, claims von Kienen faked the diary pages and added them at a later stage. Messner has also made much play of the locations at which gruesome remains of his brother (first a leg bone, then a boot, then a headless corpse) were found to bolster his own account. Here is a good explanation of the role von Kienlin’s diary has played in the controversy, again from the 2004 National Geographic article.

‘Messner says he’s convinced that two crucial pages of von Kienlin’s diary are fake - written in 2002 or 2003 on “old paper” and stitched into the journal as if penned in 1970. Charlie Buffet, one of Europe’s leading mountaineering journalists, asked Messner about the diary during an interview for Le Monde in late January 2004. (Buffet also assisted in reporting this article.) Messner’s response was blistering: “Yesterday, I was on television in Berlin, and I said publicly that this liar has falsified his journal. If that’s not true, he can sue me. And show his journal, so that I can prove he falsified it and he will go to prison.”

The most devastating charge in von Kienlin’s book, however, concerns the conversations he says he had with Messner himself. The diary describes an anguished talk the two friends had, soon after being reunited in Gilgit, in which the distraught Messner says: “ ‘I’ve lost Günther! I called for him. I don’t know why he couldn’t hear me. Maybe he was in bad shape. Maybe he didn’t manage [to climb down]. Maybe he even fell. My God, I didn’t want that!’ ”

The diary depicts Messner as having been overcome with doubts and regret, wailing, “ ‘Perhaps I should have gone with him, because alone, he wasn’t capable of it. Why did he follow me? Why?’ He hides his face in his hands.”

Then von Kienlin’s account adds a stunning twist: Since the tortured Messner is almost incapable of talking, von Kienlin writes, “I feel obligated to guide him.” Messner doesn’t know what to say to their leader, Karl Herrligkoffer, so von Kienlin proposes a face-saving fabrication: “ ‘You must not tell K that you intended to make the traverse.’ ”

According to von Kienlin, he himself proffered the fiction that Günther was lost in an avalanche low on the Diamir Face - and understood that he must keep an eternal silence about the ruse.

Messner’s response, as recorded in the diary: “R pulls himself together. ‘You’re right.’ He looks at me with clear eyes.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Diary briefs


Inside the Hawke-Keating Government: A Cabinet Diary - Random House, Amazon, The Australian

Diary detailing Khmer Rouge reign of terror - South China Morning Post, The Phnom Penh Post

The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams - University of Tennessee PressThe Leaf-ChronicleThe New York Times

Life (and football) in the trenches - The Mirror

WWI diary of Woodman Leonard - Toronto Sun

Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles - Frances Lincoln, Daily Mail

Tennessee Williams diary - Morgan Library and Museum, Huffington Post

The diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck - Dorset History Centre

Church collection box thief snared by his own diary - BBC, Coventry Telegraph

Civil War diary kept by a onetime mayor - The Sacramento Bee

Diary of a World War I ace - Air & Space

Free black woman in Philadelphia during the Civil War - Philly.com

Squire vs reverend

John Peter Boileau, a squire of Ketteringham and a well-connected man in Norfolk and London society, was born 220 years ago today. Both he and the local reverend in Ketteringham left behind detailed diaries which were exploited, a century later, by Cambridge professor, Owen Chadwick, to reveal - in the book Victorian Miniature - a fascinating slice of local history, in particular an acrimonious relationship between squire and reverend.

Boileau was born on 2 September 1794, in London, the eldest son in a family that claimed to be descended from Charles Boileau, baron of Castelnau and St Croix, a Languedoc Huguenot immigrant to England in 1691, and from Étienne Boileau, the first known provost of Paris in the 13th century. He was educated at Eton, Oxford and Edinburgh, and then commissioned into the rifle brigade.

In 1825, Boileau married Lady Catherine Sarah Elliot, daughter of the first earl of Minto, and they had nine children. He acquired Thursford Hall, near Fakenham, and the Ketteringham estate, where he built a Gothic hall, and where he came into a conflict with the local vicar, William Andrew.

In 1838, Boileau was created a baronet. He served as a county magistrate and a deputy lieutenant; and he was appointed high sheriff of Norfolk in 1844. Apart from holding various offices in London and being a Fellow of the Royal Society, he was also a founding member of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, and its president from 1849. His wife died in 1862, and he died in 1869. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia and The Peerage. (Thanks to the National Portrait Gallery for the image.)

In 1960, a history professor at Cambridge University, Owen Chadwick, published Victorian Miniature (Hodder and Stoughton) which relied heavily on diaries kept by Boileau and by Reverend William Andrew, and told the story of an astonishing feud between the two Ketteringham characters. Here’s the publisher’s blurb: ‘Owen Chadwick’s Victorian Miniature paints a detailed cameo of nineteenth-century English rural life, in the extraordinary battle of wills between squire and parson in a Norfolk village. Both the evangelical clergyman and the squire, proudly conscious of his Huguenot ancestry, were passionate diarists, and their two journals open up a fascinating double perspective on the events which exposed their clash of personalities. The result is a narrative that is at once deeply informative about Victorian class distinctions, rural customs and festivities, and richly entertaining in a manner worthy of Trollope.’

The book was reprinted in 1991 by Cambridge University Press. Some pages can be browsed at Amazon; and there is further information on the Literary Norfolk website.

Boileau’s diary is deposited with the Norfolk Record Society in the Norwich public library. It begins in 1839, when he left England for a continental tour, and ends in February 1869, a month before his death. Some sections - notably 1846-1850 - remain in private hands, and a couple of short sections were probably destroyed for personal reasons, says Owen Chadwick. William Andrew’s diary is in private hands (or was at the time of the book’s publication). It is in two big volumes, the first from his ordination to 1855, and the second from 1855 to his last illness. Unlike Boileau, he didn’t write in his journal very often or regularly. Here are a couple of extracts from Chadwick’s book (which uses the diaries of both men extensively, but does not, in fact, provide many dated verbatim quotes from them).

Boileau’s diary
January 1841
‘Dined early, and in the evening servants had a ball in the hall, lighted up. There were our ten maids - four indoor and three outdoor, and Cowper - Easton and three gardeners there, besides John Cannell and wife, [ . . .] It went off well as they had supper also, and all over by two o’clock, which was somewhat too late. I took Mrs. Beale to dance in the New Year but she was puffy and obliged to sit down.’

Chadwick comments: ‘Andrew disapproved of these proceedings, and hoped that some of the participants also disapproved. He found villagers like Jonas Horstead, the fiddler, who professed uneasy conscience but nevertheless had attended the ball. He was grieved when he found that Sarah Cooper was among them. When he expressed his grief, Sarah said, “I was miserable all the while and always wished from the first not to have anything to do with the school under Sir John. But he came to me saying, “I know Mr. Andrew does not agree with me that balls are not wrong. I see no wrong and I myself join in the dance. Besides, remember you are now my schoolmistress, not his.” ” This at least was Sarah’s account of her fall, and Andrew found it impossible to be cross with one so penitent and unhappy. He bore his testimony against the pomps and vanities of the world, and took his leave.’

Andrew’s diary
5 January 1842 [while Boileau was away]
‘Drew tooth for old Mrs. Roberts. It was singular that I went round to Ketteringham for the purpose of extracting it and I found her in great pain, upon which I drew from my pocket a pair of pincers which caused the poor old woman to shake and she begged I would use a piece of thread, I at last broke it off which perhaps was better than extracting the fangs.’

16 July 1843
‘Preached from Joshua ii and Jeremiah ii 37 latter part. Good congregation. Boileaus returned, very courteous. But before Mrs. Andrew reached the church they had ordered the first and second classes of girls into their pew, when my dear Ellen properly countermanded the order saying she was manager of the Sabbath School. How much they strive for mastery, but not lawfully. They aim at supremacy.’


The Diary Junction

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our civilization’s survival

It is 40 years today since the death of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, an extraordinary American who made his name as an aviation pioneer. However, he became even more of a celebrity when his toddler son was kidnapped and then murdered (the so-called ‘crime-of-the-century’). Subsequently, he inadvertently courted further publicity with his views on Germany, which led some to perceive him as a Nazi sympathiser - a view not dispelled, many years later, by the posthumous publication of a diary he kept during the war years. Long after his death, it was also discovered that apart from having a large family with his wife Anne Morrow, he had kept secret long-term relationships with at least three women, in Germany and Switzerland, each of whom had borne him children.

Lindbergh was born in 1902, the son of Swedish immigrants, his father being a lawyer and congressman, and his mother a chemistry teacher. He began to study engineering at the University of Wisconsin but left after two years to fly daredevil stunts at fairs. In 1924, he enlisted in the army, was trained to fly, and then joined the Robertson Aircraft Corporation as a pilot. In 1927, he took up a $25,000 challenge, that had stood since 1919, to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. Several St Louis businessmen helped finance the cost of a plane, with Lindbergh involved in the design. On 20 May he made the famous flight of around 5,600km in under 34 hours. Thereafter, he became a celebrity, and an active campaigner, partly backed by Harry Guggenheim, for the further development of aeronautics.

While in Mexico on a promotion trip, Lindbergh met Anne Spencer Morrow, daughter of the American ambassador. They married in 1929, he taught her to fly, and they made many foreign trips. In 1932, their toddler son, Charles, was kidnapped - causing a media frenzy - and ten weeks later the body was found. It took more than two years for the so-called ‘crime-of-the-century’ to be resolved when, in 1934, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was found responsible for the murder. He was executed in 1936. Since then, though, Hauptmann’s guilt has been much debated, with many books being written on the case, some asserting his innocence, others backing the original judgement.

To escape the press and media attention during these years, the Lindberghs and a second son (four other children were to follow) moved to England. Subsequently, Lindbergh attracted more public attention when he accepted a German medal of honour from Hermann Goering. After returning to the US in 1939, Lindbergh campaigned against US involvement in the European war, and was accused of being a Nazi sympathiser. After Pearl Harbor, though, he sought involvement in the war, and ended up flying about 50 combat missions even though he was a civilian. He also helped develop aviation techniques.

After the War, Lindbergh worked as an adviser for government and industry. His book The Spirit of St Louis, an expanded account of the 1927 flight, won a Pulitzer Prize. In the 1960s, he campaigned on environmental issues. From 1957 until his death on 26 August 1974, Lindbergh maintained a secret affair with Brigitte Hesshaimer, a German hatmaker, who had three children by him, as well as affairs with two other women (one German, one Swiss) who each bore him two children. It would be nearly 30 years after his death before these affairs became public. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Minnesota Historical Society, the Lindbergh Foundation, or the Spirit of St. Louis 2 Project.

In 1937, two years before the war in Europe began, Lindbergh began to write a diary, which he kept up until the war was over in 1945. However, this was not published until 1970 when Harcourt Brace Jovanovich brought out The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh. William Jovanovich, himself, provided a short introduction to the book:

‘The quarter century that has passed since the ending of World War II has dimmed our recollection, which is reason enough for us to be interested in reading a unique record of that terrible time. But the years have also lessened our sense of certitude. The past is always compromised by the present: many of the assurances of long ago, on re-examination, turn into questions and speculations. Both the exercise of memory and the writing of history tend to make it so, however different they are in resource. The historian will attempt to read the whole record of the past so far as he is able, but since he cannot write the whole record, he will select those events and circumstances that accommodate his thesis or his bias or his style or whatever. Those selected items of occurrence become, as Max Weber concluded, the facts of history.

So, too, in writing of the moment, as in a diary or journal, an act of selection takes place. One must decide what was significant in the course of a day before he can keep a reasonably short record of its passing. Yet the journal becomes, in the hands of a serious and candid person, an exceptional means by which events can be depicted literally, which is to say depicted with both accuracy of account and a consistency of view. This one recognises, casting back, in the journals of John Wesley, of Thoreau, and of General Charles (“Chinese”) Gordon, among a few other. It may be seen, now, in the wartime journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, which are here published twenty-five years after the last of the entries was written.’

Jovanovich also included a letter he received from Lindbergh. 
Jovanovich asked what Lindbergh had concluded on rereading the diaries, and Lindbergh replied: ‘We won the war in a military sense; but in a broader sense it seems to me we lost it, for our Western civilization is less respected and secure than it was before.’  In the letter, Lindbergh also summarised his reasons for writing the journal in the first place, and his reasons for agreeing to publishing it:

‘More than a generation after the war’s end, our occupying armies still must occupy, and the world has not been made safe for democracy and freedom. On the contrary, our own system of democratic government is being challenged by that greatest of dangers to any government: internal dissatisfaction and unrest. It is alarmingly possible that World War II marks the beginning of our Western civilization’s breakdown, as it already marks the breakdown of the greatest empire ever built by man. Certainly our civilization’s survival depends on meeting the challenges that tower before us with unprecedented magnitude in almost every field of modern life. Most of these challenges were, at least, intensified through the waging of World War II. Are we now headed toward a third and still more disastrous war between world nations? Or can we improve human relationships sufficiently to avoid such a holocaust? Since it is inherent in the way of life that issues will continue between men, I believe human relationships can best be improved through clarifying the issues and conditions surrounding them. I hope my journals relating to World War II will help clarify issues and conditions of the past and thereby contribute to understanding issues and conditions of the present and the future.’

The New York Times found Lindbergh’s diary fascinating. Eric Goldman, in his review, wrote: ‘Except in the limited instances where the entries concern highly technical matters, the “Wartime Journals” are fascinating, almost hypnotically so. The prose is always lean, often pungent; on occasions when Lindbergh’s mind or emotions were deeply engaged, it rises to a compelling eloquence.’ However, Goldman also finds much to question about Lindbergh’s beliefs:

‘If readers will surely be held by the volume, many will read on with decidedly mixed feelings. The integrity with which the journals have been published presents again the Charles Lindbergh who outraged millions of Americans in 1939-41. The basic issue involved in World War II, the diary repeatedly stresses, was the preservation of “civilization,” defined as the comforts and attitudes of the “Nordic,” middle-class West, against the forces of “disorder” and “leveling” threatening from within and without. The democracies were losing “character”; the “virility” of Nazi Germany was the barrier against the greatest menace, the Communism of “Asiatic” Russia. Franklin Roosevelt is pictured as a relentless schemer, distrusted by “friend or enemy,” who was quite capable of taking the nation to war out of sheer politics and vainglory. The diary show that Lindbergh had considerable compassion for the German Jews. But much more than his public charge, it attacks the “Jewish influence” in bringing war to the United States, particularly as a result of Jewish “control” of “huge part” of the mass media. A good deal of space is given to describing brutalities by U.S. troops against Japanese soldiers; the atrocities of individual Americans are equated with the official policy of the Third Reich. Not a sentence excoriates Nazism as a general credo or poses it as a menace to civilization in any tenable definition of the word, including Lindbergh’s own. Entry after entry bespeaks a preoccupation, almost an obsession, with the “race problem,” those “northern peoples” versus all others.’

Some extracts form Lindbergh’s diary can be found online at Wikiquote. Also pages from The Boyhood Diary of Charles Lindbergh 1913-1916, published by Capstone Press in 2001, can be read online at Googlebooks. Here, though, are two extracts taken from the The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh.

26 August 1938
‘Left embassy at 10:30 after usual problem of tipping the servants. More difficult here because of exchange problem and the fact that American Embassy help are mostly Italian. [. . .]

Arrived at aerodrome shortly before 11:00. Many Russians and Americans there to see us off. Impossible to keep them from doing this, although it makes extra work for them and delays us in getting started. Took off Moscow 11:15. [. . .]

We flew first to Tula, then to Orel, then to Kharkov, making our first landing at the latter place. After a half hour’s stop at Kharkov, we flew practically direct to Rostov on Don. Our routes are laid out for us by the Russian officials, and we attempt to follow them exactly. I miss the unrestricted routes of the United States. Immediately after taking off from the Moscow aerodrome, we passed over the aircraft factory I visited several days ago. A few minutes later we passed several training fields. [. . .]

We are having high oil temperatures in this hot weather. Sometimes above 90°C. Everything else is all right, except both voltmeter and ammeter are fluctuating excessively. The English mechanics don’t understand this equipment, even though Phillips & Powis are the agents for our Menasco engine. In consequence it is never properly serviced. The English regulations load you down with logbooks, licenses, and other papers, but one good American mechanic is worth all of them, ten times over, including the Air Ministry inspections. I keep up the logs only enough to get by the regulations. They are no value whatsoever from my standpoint, but if I should crash the plane I am sure the authorities would blame it on some omitted entry or a bit of overload, regardless of the actual cause.

The readiness to blame a dead pilot for an accident is nauseating, but it has been the tendency ever since I can remember. What pilot has not been in positions where he was in danger and where perfect judgment would have advised against going? But when a man is caught in such a position he is judged only by his error and seldom given credit for the times he has extricated himself from worse situations. Worst of all, blame is heaped upon him by other pilots, all of whom have been in parallel situations themselves, but without being caught in them. If one took no chances, one would not fly at all. Safety lies in the judgment of the chances one takes. That judgment, in turn, must rest upon one’s outlook on life. Any coward can sit in his home and criticize a pilot for flying into a mountain in fog. But I would rather, by far, die on a mountainside than in bed. Why should we look for his errors when a brave man dies? Unless we can learn from his experience, there is no need to look for weakness. Rather, we should admire the courage and spirit in his life. What kind of man would live where there is no daring? And is life so dear that we should blame men for dying in adventure? Is there a better way to die?

We had a good opportunity to see the collective farms and coal mines of the Ukraine. The collective farms are unlike anything I have seen elsewhere. They consist of a row of twenty or so houses, strung out along a road, with garden patches of an acre or so behind them, and large fields outside.

Landed Rostov 7:01. There was a group of people to meet us, including the mayor and the head of the local Intourist. Also the head of the flying school we came to see. Colonel Slepnev was there, having flown from Moscow ahead of us. The Russians are doing everything possible for us. I feel embarrassed because it so much. Dislike to cause so much trouble. Colonel Slepnev had only one hour’s sleep last night. We have never seen anything to exceed Russian hospitality. Also, they have been unusually considerate in not crowding our days with too many engagements.’

21 July 1944
‘The Japanese stronghold on the cliffs of Biak is to be attacked again in the morning. Several hundred Japs are still holding out in caves and crevices in an area about 300 yards wide and 1,000 yards long. So far, they have thrown back all of our attacks, and inflicted nearly one hundred casualties on our infantrymen. They have as perfect a natural defensive position as could be devised - sharp coral ridges overlooking and paralleling the coast, filled with deep and interlocking caves and screened from our artillery fire by coral ledges. This area is clearly visible from the top of the coral cliff, ten feet from the back door of the officers quarters where I am staying - a brown ridge surrounded by green jungle on the coast of Biak about three miles across the water from Owi Island.

The intense artillery fire has stripped the trees of leaves and branches so that the outline of the coral ridge itself can be seen silhouetted against the sky. Since I have been on Owi Island, at irregular intervals through the night and day, the sound of our artillery bombarding this Japanese stronghold has floated in across the water. This afternoon, I stood on the cliff outside our quarters (not daring to sit on the ground because of the danger of typhus) and watched the shells bursting on the ridge. For weeks that handful of Japanese soldiers, variously estimated at between 250 and 700 men, has been holding out against overwhelming odds and the heaviest bombardment our well-supplied guns can give them.

If positions were reversed and our troops held out so courageously and well, their defense would be recorded as one of the most glorious examples of tenacity, bravery, and sacrifice in the history of our nation. But, sitting in the security and relative luxury of our quarters, I listen to American Army officers refer to these Japanese soldiers as “yellow sons of bitches.” Their desire is to exterminate the Jap ruthlessly, even cruelly. I have not heard a word of respect or compassion spoken of our enemy since I came here.

It is not the willingness to kill on the part of our soldiers which most concerns me. That is an inherent part of war. It is our lack of respect for even the admirable characteristics of our enemy - for courage, for suffering, for death, for his willingness to die for his beliefs, for his companies and squadrons which go forth, one after another, to annihilation against our superior training and equipment. What is courage for us is fanaticism for him. We hold his examples of atrocity screamingly to the heavens while we cover up our own and condone them as just retribution for his acts. [. . .]

We must bomb them out, those Jap soldiers, because this is war, and if we do not kill them, they will kill us now that we have removed the possibility of surrender. But I would have more respect for the character of our people if we could give them a decent burial instead of kicking in the teeth of corpses, and pushing their bodies into hollows in the ground, scooped out and covered up by bulldozers. After that, we will leave their graves unmarked and say, “That’s the only way to handle the yellow sons of bitches.”

Over to the 35th Fighter Squadron in the evening to give a half hour’s talk to the pilots on fuel economy and the P-38.’

The Diary Junction (see also Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

Friday, August 22, 2014

He was my diary

‘My diary again. It’s sad to be going back to old habits I gave up since I got married. I used to write when I felt depressed - now I suppose it’s for the same reason. Relations with my husband have been so simple these past two weeks and I felt so happy with him; he was my diary and I had nothing to hide from him.’ This is Sophia Tolstoy, born 170 years ago today, writing in her diary during the first weeks of her marriage to the famous Russian writer. She would go on to keep a diary for the rest of her life, often using it to vent her frustrations towards L. or Lev. Nik.

Sophia Behrs was born on 22 August 1844, one of a large family. Her father was a physician at the Russian court; her mother was nearly 20 years his junior. Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, already a well-known author in his 30s, became a regular visitor to the Behrs’ household, and, in September 1862 when Sofia was just 18, the couple married. They lived prosperously, on a large estate, at Yasnaya Polyana (200km from Moscow) with many serfs, and had 13 children, eight of whom survived childhood.

Sophia (Sofia, Sophie) was largely a devoted wife, managing her busy household and helping her husband with his manuscripts. The marriage lasted nearly 50 years, but a few days before his death, Tolstoy left the family home after an argument over a desire to give away his property. Sophia continued living on the estate, survived the Russian revolution in relative peace, and died in 1919. Further biographical information can be found at Internet Archive in The Autobiography of Sophie Tolstoi as published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at The Hogarth Press, Paradise Road, Richmond in 1922. Otherwise, see Wikipedia, or Alexandra Popoff’s Sophia Tolstoy: a biography (Free Press in 2010) on Googlebooks, or reviews of the same book (see The New York Times, for example, or The Huffington Post).

Sophia kept a diary all her life - writing half a million words. For long periods, however, she only made intermittent entries: the most complete, but edited, version in English contains no entry, or just one entry, for 16 of the 48 calendar years. The fact that Tolstoy gave his teenage fiancée his diaries to read so as to conceal nothing from her - even his liaisons with servant girls, and his child by a woman who lived on his estate - is one of the most well known of literary diary stories. He bid her to keep a diary, and, thereafter, they wrote their diaries in order that the other should read them. Sophia, indeed, would try and communicate her anger and anxieties about their relationship to him through her diary; when happy, though, she would often fail to record anything.

Extracts from Sophia’s diary were first published in English in 1928 by Gollancz as The Diary of Tolstoy’s wife, 1860-1891 (translated by A. Werth), with a sequel - The Countess Tolstoy’s Later Diary 1891-1897 - the following year. In 1936, Allen & Unwin, published The Final Struggle, being Countess Tolstoy’s diary for 1910: With extracts from Leo Tolstoy’s diary of the same period (translated by A. Maude). More recently, in 1985, Cape published The Diaries of Sofia Tolstaya, as translated by Cathy Porter and edited by O. A. Golinenko. It was re-published in 1989 by Alma Books with a foreword by Doris Lessing (an informative review can be read on The Guardian website, and a few extracts can be found on the National Public Radio website).

The publisher’s advertising blurb for this latter edition states: ‘Sofia’s life was not an easy one: she idealized her husband, but was tormented by him; even her many children were not an unmitigated blessing. In the background of her life was one of the most turbulent periods of Russian history: the transition from old feudal Russia to the three revolutions and three major international wars. Yet it is as Sofia Tolstoy’s own life story, the study of one woman’s private experience, that the diaries are most valuable and moving. They are a testament to a woman of tremendous vital energy and poetic sensibility who, in the face of provocation and suffering, continued to strive for the higher things in life and to remain indomitable. From the state of the great writer’s stomach and the progress of his work, to the fierce and painful arguments that would eventually divide the couple for ever, Sofia’s Diaries are both compelling and extraordinarily revealing.’

The following extracts are taken from the Alma Books edition. (NB: the dates correspond to the old (Julian) calendar, i.e. 12 days behind the Western (Gregorian) calendar in the 19th century, and 13 days behind it in the 20th century.)

8 October 1862
‘My diary again. It’s sad to be going back to old habits I gave up since I got married. I used to write when I felt depressed - now I suppose it’s for the same reason.

Relations with my husband have been so simple these past two weeks and I felt so happy with him; he was my diary and I had nothing to hide from him.

But ever since yesterday, when he told me he didn’t trust my love, I have been feeling terrible. I know why he doesn’t trust me, but I don’t think I shall ever be able to say or write what I really think. I always dreamt of the man I would love as a completely whole, new, pure person. In these childish dreams, which I find hard to give up, I imagined that this man would always be with me, that I would know his slightest thought and feeling, that he would love nobody but me as long as he lived, and that he, like me and unlike others, would not have to sow his wild oats before becoming a respectable person.

Since I married I have had to recognize how foolish these dreams were, yet I cannot renounce them. The whole of my husband’s past is so ghastly that I don’t think I shall ever be able to accept it.’ [Before their marriage, Tolstoy had given Sophia all his old diaries to read because he did not want to conceal anything of his past. The diaries, apparently, made a terrible impression on the 18 year old.]

31 July 1868 [this is the only entry for 1868 in the published diaries]
‘It makes me laugh to read my diary. What a lot of contradictions - as though I were the unhappiest of women!. But who could be happier? Could any marriage be more happy and harmonious than ours? When I am alone in my room I sometimes laugh for joy and cross myself and pray to God for many, many more years of happiness. I always write my diary when we quarrel. There are still days when we quarrel, but this is because of various subtle emotional reasons, and we wouldn’t quarrel if we didn’t love each other. I have been married six years now, but I love him more and more. He often says it isn’t really love, but we have grown so used to each other we cannot be separated. But I still love him with the same poetic, fevered, jealous love, and his composure occasionally irritates me.’

4 June 1910
‘Too many visitors. Lev Nikolaevich is distraught because the Circassian guard has brought Prokofy in for stealing a beam, and he is an old man who once worked for him. Oh, I’ve had enough of the estate!’

28 October 1910
‘Lev Nik. has left! My God! He left a letter telling me not to look for him as he had gone for good, to live out his old age in peace. The moment I read those words I rushed outside in a frenzy of despair and jumped into the pond, where I swallowed a lot of water, Sasha and Bulgakov dragged me out with the help of Vanya Shuraev. Utter despair. Why did they save me?’

29 October 1910
‘All the children have come, apart from Lyova, who is abroad. They are so kind and attentive, but they can’t help or comfort me. Mitasha Obolensky has come. Seryozha, Ilya and Misha have left. Vanya discovered that L. Nik. had gone to Belev - maybe to see his sister Maria Nikolaevna.’

30 October 1910
‘I cry day and night and suffer dreadfully. It’s more painful and terrible than anything I could have imagined. Lev Nik. did visit his sister in Shamordino, then travelled beyond Gorbachevo - who knows where. What unspeakable cruelty.’

31 October 1910
‘I haven’t eaten or drunk anything for four days, I ache all over, my heart is bad. Why? What is happening? Nothing to write about - nothing but groans and tears. Berkenheim came with some stupid doctor called Rastorguev, and a young lady fresh from medical school. These outsiders make it much more difficult, but the children don’t want to take responsibility. What for? My life? I want to leave the dreadful agony of this life . . . I can see no hope, even if L. N. does at some point return. Things will never be as they were, after all he has made me suffer. We can never be straightforward with each other again, we can never love each other, we shall always fear each other. And I fear for his health and strength too.’

4 November 1910
‘Lev Nik. is worse. I wait in agony outside the little house where he is lying. We are sleeping in the train.’

5 November 1910
‘There is evidently little hope. I am tormented by remorse, the painful anticipation of his end, and the impossibility of seeing my beloved husband.’

7 November 1910
‘At 6 o’clock in the morning Lev Nikol. died. I was allowed in only as he drew his last breath. They wouldn’t let me take leave of my husband. Cruel people.’

22 August 1914
‘My sister Tanya arrived this morning, and her husband came for dinner. Today is my birthday; I am 70.’

7 September 1914
‘I wandered about aimlessly; I can’t do anything with this frightful war on, and my grief and worry for Tanya, my sons and Dora, who is due to give birth any day. I raked up piles of leaves for cattle bedding, gave the day-labourers their receipts and spent the evening doing accounts with Nina.’

27 September 1914
‘My sister is distraught because he son Mitya has also volunteered for the war, as an orderly. Incomprehensible hypnotism! We read aloud Matovitsky’s memoirs.’

30 September 1914
‘I did some typing for my sister. This evening Bulgakov read us his article protesting against the war. It is very good.’

2 October 1914
‘My sister Tanya has left. A beautiful still bright day. I went out and wandered around the estate. People have planted apple trees, gathered up brushwood, raked the dead leaves and swept them into four piles. We read papers. There were six visitors today - some officers and army doctors and two women. They looked round the drawing room and Lev Nik.’s rooms.’

18 October 1914
‘The American consulate has informed me that my grandson Misha has been taken prisoner in Milevic, in Bohemia.’


The Diary Junction (see also I have been indolent)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The cost of stockings

Here is a final selection from the yet-to-be-published London in Diaries (see below for other chapters), this one about Marielle Bennett, a would-be actress, and a Mass Observation respondent during the Second World War. Her diary remains unpublished, and unnoticed within the Mass Observation archive, but it provides a fascinating record of what one unremarkable Londoner was experiencing day-by-day during the war years.

Marielle Bennett and Mass-Observation

Only two decades after the end of the First World War, which had caused so much devastation and death, German aggression again drew Britain into a major military conflict. The Second World War, though, would go on to involve nations across the globe, and be considered as the deadliest conflict in human history. Despite the global nature of the war, Britain with its political centre as ever in London, was very much a dominant and central force, as well as a major military target - just as it had been in the earlier war.

It is no wonder that so many individuals uprooted from normal life and turned into active participants of war, living in adversity and close to killing and destruction, should have chosen to try and record the extraordinary things happening to and around them. There are, thus, many published diaries specifically about the Second World War, and even today, more than 65 years later, newly found or edited war diaries are popular publishing ventures. Only a relatively small number, though, were written in London - but, unlike diaries set in the city during peaceful years, all or most of the Second World War diaries do have much to say about the city itself.

Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat now largely remembered for his diaries, was in London during the war, and his diary - The Siren Years - is witty and readable. Anthony Weymouth, a physician who also worked for the BBC, gives a detailed but far dryer account in his Journal of the War Years. Frances Partridge, one of the Bloomsbury Set, published her diary under the title A Pacifist’s War. Colin Perry was just a lad, but his Boy in the Blitz, first published in 2000, is a lively, youthful take on London during 1940.

One of the most well-known of Second World Diaries, although not published until the 1980s, is that by Nella Last, a housewife in Barrow-in-Furness. Last was one of 500 or so individuals who responded to a call by the social research organisation Mass-Observation to write about their lives. It had been launched in 1937 to record life in Britain, ‘an anthropology of ourselves’, according to the founders. With little funding, it relied on volunteers to keep diaries or reply to open-ended questionnaires. Researchers also recorded, anonymously, people’s conversations and behaviour at work, in public places, and at sports and religious events.

Mass-Observation worked throughout the war producing thousands of reports and a series of published books. After the war, its emphasis shifted away from social issues towards consumer behaviour, and, in 1949, Mass Observation was registered as a limited company, and eventually incorporated into an advertising firm. The Mass Observation Archive is now held at the University of Sussex, and holds all the material generated between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions, from the 1950s and 1960s. The project was re-launched in 1981, and today continues to collect information aimed at providing a structured programme through which ‘ordinary’ people can write directly about their lives, and at creating ‘a resource of qualitative longitudinal social data’.

Nella Last’s diary written for Mass-Observation was exceptional because of the quality of her writing, its editors said at the time of publication, but also for the length and regularity of Last’s writing. In fact, many of the diaries delivered to Mass-Observation were bitty and intermittent in character, and only very few have been published. While Last’s is not set in London, there is at least one published Mass-Observation diary that is: Love & War in London by Olivia Crockett, billed as London’s answer to Nella Last.

Another London diary in the Mass Observation Archive - but unpublished - was written by Marielle Bennett. As with Crockett’s diary, Bennett’s is also a blend of private feelings mixed with her reactions to the war and its effect on people and places. It opens in August 1939 with sporadic entries until October, and restarts in the summer of 1940 for a couple of months. The following year, she writes to Mass-Observation: ‘I have been very slack. . . however I will make a fresh attempt starting from this month.’ She restarts in May 1941 for a few weeks. There are also a few entries in 1942, 1946 and 1947.

Not much is known of Bennett, other than that revealed in her Mass-Observation diary. The start of the war finds her living with her parents at 53 Upper Park Road, NW3; but, by the middle of 1941 she is staying out of London near Barnet. She was separated from her husband in the mid-1930s, and in 1940 reverts to her maiden name (Vaughan). She calls herself an actress, though there is a little evidence in the diary of her working, at least until after the war, though she does visit, and write about, the theatre often. In the spring of 1941, Bennett’s grandmother dies, and thereafter many pages of the diary relate to her efforts to sell or trade her grandmother’s jewellery and clothes/furs.

From the start of the diary, Bennett shows an interest in psychology. She attends some ‘brilliant lectures’, but then, having decided to try and train as a psychiatric social worker becomes very depressed when trying to analysis herself. She abandons her training for a while, but returns to studying books at home, and making weekly visits to a therapist. She makes the acquaintance of various people who have known Jung or Freud, and in June 1941 becomes much more serious about her therapy, taking a more intensive series of sessions with her analyst, often thinking about her dreams, and doing ‘psychic paintings’.

There is a persistent sense in Bennett’s diary that she is writing for an audience (i.e. Mass-Observation, to whom she sends what she calls ‘reports’) not only because of the occasional comment such as ‘Sorry this report is so trivial but nothing of importance has happened to me,’ but also because of a vague sense, here and there, of her making an effort to provide information and observations. Nevertheless, on reading the diary, one feels very close to her, as though one is there with her, making curtains out of black satin, having trouble finding suitable clothes to wear in the air-raid shelter, and being frustrated that she no longer wants to go to the cinema because all the films are ‘only slightly covered propaganda’.

Mother bought many yards of black satin
1 September 1939
Walked over the heath and saw the balloon barrage etc. Help my parents to put up rolls of brown paper and tape for the black out. Does not prove to be very successful.

2 September 1939
Mother bought many yards of black satin, which we made into curtains all the after noon, which proved to be more satisfactory, but really hate all the preparation and found it very wearisome. Not that quite a number of acquaintances seem to be enjoying themselves, the sense of responsibility and having something to do seems to make them feel more important. [. . .] Went to the cinema, difficult to get home in the dark.

3 September 1939
Hear the Chamberlain speech out of my window from a neighbouring wireless. Do not listen after I hear we are at war. The air-raid warning came as rather a surprise. Did the proscribed things, closing windows etc. Mother worried because my father is driving some greyhounds to the country and she did not know where he was. However all is over.

Gas masks; the cost of stockings
30 September 1939
I met my friend, who is at present touring in a comedy, we did some shopping. I discovered that stockings are up 1/-, my usual 3/11 cost 4/11. The colours were not good either and little selection. The assistant told me that their usual 1/6½ ones will soon be sold at 2/11 and are not fashioned (fully). [. . .]

After tea I went with my family to the pictures. I carried a gas mask for the first time as I did not know whether I could get in the films and I knew my father would not want me to have a long argument, which I should have done had I been alone. The films were “Hound of the Baskervilles” and another with Jackie Cooper and Freddie Bartholomew. Very patriotic and upholding of the military tradition in American. Very obvious and silly film, I thought.

1 October 1939
At six I went over to a friend’s flat in Westminster. The bus was slow. Noticed an ARP warden on duty outside the flats. Walked over to Chelsea via the embankment to see an acquaintance. She said she was hoping to go to Rumania for the Quakers to help with the refugee problem. Had dinner. Was told of a young man who has decided to join up because he cannot bear the thought of carrying a civilian gas mask down Oxford Street! Had a bottle of claret and went to bed.

How little meat one gets at Maison Lyons
3 October 1939
Noticed what little meat one gets nowadays in the 1/6 luncheon at Maison Lyons. Was telephoned by a pacifist friend who invited me to a meeting.

4 October 1939
Went to the hair dresser. The shop was so quiet, I was there four hours and only saw two other customers. The head man has been called up for the Territorials. The second who did my hair said “I was going to join the navy, but my girl doesn’t want me to, she says let the others go first.” Then he said his parents want him to return to S. Africa where he can get a job. He said “supposing the U Boats get me?” and remarked that he would hate to leave all his friends as he has been here many year.

7 October 1939
I stayed in most of the day and refused to go to the cinema with my parents. I have decided not to go to this form of entertainment while it continues to be only slightly covered propaganda. I’d prefer to keep my money and see a theatrical show. For the most part thank God the theatre is still fairly free.

Not all shows are musicals or comedies YET
13 October 1939
Went to “Music at Night”. The Westminster was fairly full. In the programme the management appealed for support and good attendances otherwise they will be “One of the war’s first casualties.” Excellent show, do not think they will have to worry. But getting home was awful, pouring with rain and so few buses. However it was worth it to me. I noticed a good many uniforms in the audiences, women as well as men. I do not know whether this is the type of play appreciated during war time, but it was certainly gratifying to know that all shows are not musicals or comedies YET.

14 October 1939
Noticed a local shelter has been pulled down and is being rebuilt. Spoke to a tobacconist who said the heath is ruined now owing to the trenches and guns etc.

Air-raid suits going out of fashion
26 August 1940
Start out with the intention of buying an air-raid suit for me. First we went to Bournes but they had nothing I liked. Then to Dickens and Jones who had the very thing at 41/2 guineas but we could not afford more than 2. Then to Swan and Edgars where they were horrible, trying to be very feminine instead of tailored, bits of fur and coloured scalves hanging about. Then to Weiss in Shaftesbury Avenue. The sales girl said they had gone out of fashion and most women prefer trousers and a sweater now. They had nothing suitable either. Some terrible things like striped pantaloons at 16/11. Eventually, rather hot and cross, I made up my mind to give up the idea and buy something else with the money.

28 August 1940
Called for Mother and we went together to Victoria and picked up tickets for the matinee of “Cornelius” Had lunch at Zeeta’s, service very slow, think the girls are inexperienced and overworked. The theatre was a superb show. Beautifully produced and the type casting excellent. In fact I have not enjoyed anything so much for ages. The audience was pathetically small and had to applaud like mad.

Bombs in Kentish Town, Kilburn and Fitzjohns Avenue
29 August 1940
Heard from the charwoman that Kentish Town got a bomb. That accounted for the noise being so near. Also heard that Smiths factory at Cricklewood had got some. Charwoman said that everyone “turned as white as a sheet.” Her husband will watch from the doorway but when she goes near he has “a fit”.

30 August 1940
After a quiet night I went up to Hampstead in the morning to order a new book that Priestly recommended on the wireless “The End of Economic Man”. [. . .] Father rang up [. . .] he had heard that our district had been bombed. However he said Fitz Johns Avenue had shattered windows, we did not verify this.

31 August 1940
Hear that Kilburn has been bombed. Stay in for first warning. I set off to meet a friend, but first took some old silver to a place where they buy metal for Spitfires, at first the man only offered me 2/3, I protested as it was 4 pieces. [. . .] Eventually we compromised and I took 9/-. I believe he would have gone to 10/- but I did not persuade him. He said he would lose over the deal. I bet he does!! He said he was going to close the shop next week as he does not like the raids and he thinks they are going on indefinitely. He was a lively old man and I liked him. he told me to get out of Hampstead on account of the Jewish refugees as Hitler would be after them. [. . .]

‘Dirty swine, everyone ought to be killed’
Met my best friend - an actress is who now married and just about to give birth. I am to be the godmother. We intended to go to coffee and then a doctor in Queen Anne’s Street, but we had just met when the warning went, as were in Evans, we sheltered there. Very comfortable. The first shelter I’ve been in. My friend varnished her nails most of the time [. . .]

Went to the Hollyrood and had two lagers. Telephoned another friend and then the sirens sounded again. We could not get back into the pub so we chased along Oxford Street to the Horseshoe where we went down the dive and had another and waited for the all clear. I went to the lavatory then, to find the attendant, a woman about 50, in an uproar. “Dirty swine, everyone ought to be killed, they are not fit to live. We ought to have killed them after the last war. Inhuman devils.”

4 September 1940
The pub was in uproar, because a very familiar figure - a man of about 40 - who I have often seen there came in in battle uniform of a private. Everyone teased him saying “Nice bit of stuff” and things like that. He seemed to think that nothing fitted him at all, and said his boots must have been worn in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The whole of our street cordoned off
5 September 1940
Our char woman came today. She was very amused because a whole lot of children were shut in an air-raid shelter whether yesterday or the day before. “You could ‘ear the kids screaming fit to bust theirselves.” At last they were rescued by the warden, who must have inadvertently shut them in.

9 September 1940
The whole of [our] street was cordoned off [after a bomb in the night] and people from outlying districts came and peered over the ropes at us as though we were exhibits. We ourselves had to either tell the police when we left home that we should be returning in a few minutes, or else we had to produce our identity cards. We had huge squads of demolition workers to pull down the remains of the house [no 54], and the occupants who seemed to have either been away at the time or to have escaped with slight injuries stood outside and collected all the things that were still “collectable”, clothes were tied up in bundles and taken off. Of course nothing was much good from 54, but the house next door 56 was not quite so badly damaged. A baby and its parents usually live in that house but luckily had spent the night on the opposite side of the street and had not been injured. Some children had cuts and I saw several people walking round with cuts and bandages. I went up the street to post a letter and the demolition men must have taken a dislike to me in my trousers and one called out “Pleased with yourself aren’t you?” Which rather upset me, as altho’ I am terribly pleased to have escaped so narrowly, I am awfully sorry for the other people. Still perhaps I do look pleased with self. I hope not!

Mum nearly caught in trial gas attack
8 May 1941
We are now sleeping out of London and returning every day. We started to do that from April 17th after the heavy raid on London.

21 May 1941
Went into west end. Had an appointment with a psychologist with whom I am studying analytical psychology.

24 May 1941
I came home for lunch and then Mother went to Kentish Town to buy some things. She could not get any emerald green sating ribbon for a new night gown I am making. On her way back she was nearly caught by a trial gas attack the ARP had organised at the end of this road. She had no gas mask and they were laying out the people who had gone out without gas masks on the pavement as though they were casualties.

News full of aeroplanes and guns and ships
30 May 1941
Won at darts. Have done so for several evenings. My father’s greyhound came in second in the rerun for the Wembley Gold cup. It came in first in the first run. Very disappointing. One of the last dogs turned round and ran in the wrong direction causing the judges to ask for a rerun. The race was broadcast and naturally we were very excited when it won [on the first run]. Still second wasn’t bad, but hard luck on my father.

2 July 1941
Went to the films with my people and saw “Kipps” which I thought very good, and thank god not about the war. I got so fed up with all the propaganda we had to sit thro’ first. MOI film about WAAFs and another about Merchant ships and the news just full of aeroplanes and guns and ships.

Giving the boys something to look at
5 July 1941
A WAAF friend of mine telephoned that she was in Paddington waiting to go through to another depot. [. . .] I was in my bath when I got the message, but I dressed and hurried to Paddington in very quick time and we had a drink or two at The Norfolk Hotel, and she told me what terrible head aches she has had since she went on the gas course a fortnight ago. We went up to the services cloak room in Paddington Station and I was amused to find the room literally covered in photographs cut from Magazines like “Lilliput” of nude women. The cloak room attendant said it “gave the boys something to look at.”

21 July 1941
Had several conversations with people who expressed the opinion that “life isn’t worth living now”. Complaints about money, food queues, lack of cigarettes, and rationing of clothes seemed to abound.

23 July 1941
Then we went to see ‘Blythe Spirit’ which is one of the best productions I have ever seen. Margaret Rutherford as the medium was superb. I do not know when I have seen a more amusing and yet realistic characterisation. I could go over and over again and not get bored with that show. My friend saw a man come into one of the boxes towards the end of the play and look around at the audience intently and then make a great show of lighting a cigarette. She said it must have been Noel Coward as no one else would do it quite like that but I was too interested in the play to worry about the author! After that we went to get tea at The Prompt Corner only to find it closed. I was not surprised at that as all the places I hope to find seem closed. Eventually we got some at a nasty little cafe in Charing Cross.