Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I did the right thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


[. . .]

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Malcolm X uninterrupted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dreadful depravity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Diary Junction

Diary briefs

Doris Lessing’s sealed diaries - The Guardian

Exhibition of artists’ diaries - Archives of American Art

Diary evidence in Prince Andrew allegations - Radar, The Independent

Long winter march for POWs in 1945 - The Gazette

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

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

Guantanamo Diary (memoir) finally published - The Guardian

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

Diary evidence in TV weatherman case - Manchester Evening News

Diary of WWI Kansas City pilot - Kansas City Star

Friday, February 6, 2015

Virtues and imperfections

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus concluded this sad and not joyful day.

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

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

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

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

The Diary Junction - Pepys
The Diary Junction - Evelyn

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My guiding darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 2, 2015

The champion of reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Befriending the Dalai Lama

Today marks the centenary of the birth of Thomas Merton, a monk, a mystic and a prolific writer on religious and spiritual issues. Indeed, he is considered by some to be one of the most important and influential American writers on Catholicism in the 20th century. He also published books of poetry, and he documented his own life in journals and through autobiographies such as The Seven Storey Mountain.

Merton was born in Prades, France, on 31 January 1915, though his father came from New Zealand and his mother from the US, the two having met at art school in Paris. After the family moved to the US, Thomas’s mother bore a second son, but then she died when Thomas was only six. Thereafter, he was moved around a lot during his childhood (the US, France and the UK), and was often separated from his father. 
He did some travelling in his late teens before entering Clare College, Cambridge, but left after only one year. He then moved to the US, to study at Columbia University, where he converted to Roman Catholicism. In 1941, he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, a community of Trappists monks, and remained part of the community for the rest of his life.

Abbot Frederic Dunne encouraged the young Frater Louis, as he was known in the monastery, to translate works from the Cistercian tradition and to write historical biographies to make the order better known. He also urged him to write his autobiography, published in 1948 as The Seven Storey Mountain. This became a best-seller and remains a classic of the genre.

In the 1960s, Merton became increasingly political and a strong supporter of the civil rights movement. His writings on the subject triggered frequent criticism, especially from other Catholics. He also became interested in Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. This led to him being praised by the Dalai Lama, and then to meeting him on a tour to Asia in 1968. Tragically, Merton died during that journey - as a result of an accidental electrocution. Further information can be found from Wikipedia, the Abbey of Gethsemani, The Thomas Merton Center, New Directions, or Catholic Answers.

Merton kept a diary for much of his life, especially after entering the Abbey of Gethsemani. However, he did not publish a first selection of diary entries until 1953, when Harcourt, Brace and Co. brought out The Sign of Jonas. The diary extracts were written between 1946 and 1952, and the book’s purpose was to introduce readers to the daily life of a monk. A further selection from Merton’s diary - pre-Gethsemani and before he was a Catholic or a monk - followed in 1959, published by Dell Publishing, entitled The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton. No further diaries were published in his lifetime (although Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander in 1966 was composed from notebook jottings), and it would not be until the 1990s that all his diaries were put into a print, in a seven volume series. This started with Run to the Mountain - The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume One 1939-1941, and concluded with The Other Side of the Mountain, The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Seven 1967-1968. Both books can be previewed at Amazon (one and seven).

However, the very last diary Merton kept, during his fatal trip to Asia, was published by New Directions, as a stand alone volume, much earlier, in 1973 - 
The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton. And, in 1988, New Directions also brought out Thomas Merton in Alaska, which included a selection of his journals from a trip he made to Alaska on his way to Asia.

The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton was edited by Naomi Burton, Brother Patrick Hart and James Laughlin, from three separate notebooks kept by Merton. Much of the book can be read online at Googlebooks, and a detailed review can be found at The Healing Project. In his ‘Editor’s Notes’, Laughlin explains how Merton kept a ‘public’ journal which he intended for publication, a ‘private’ journal, largely duplicating the first but with occasional intimate notes and spiritual self-analyses, and a small ‘pocket notebook’ in which he jotted quick and immediate notes. According to instructions left behind by Merton, only the first - the public journal - was to be published, and no one other than his authorised biographer was to have access to the private journal.

The editors also explain how editing Merton’s diary was a complicated business, since he wrote quickly, guessing at spelling, using other languages, and missing out many verbs and connecting words. Taking as their guide the journals published in his own lifetime, however, they polished and edited the text into sentences: ‘Readers will judge for themselves our degree of success or failure in this effort to identify and produce a known style by comparison with such earlier journals as The Sign of Jonas or Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.’ The book concludes with a generous spread of appendices - lectures and letters to friends - and a long glossary, a detailed bibliography and an index.

24 September 1968
‘At the far end of a long blue arm of water, full of islands. The bush pilot flies low over the post office thinking it to be the Catholic Church - to alert the priest we are arriving.

The old town of Valdez, wrecked by earthquake, tidal wave. Still some buildings leaning into shallow salt water. Others, with windows smashed by a local drunkard. I think I have lost the roll of film I took in Valdez & the mountains (from the place).

Most impressive mountains I have seen in Alaska: Drum & Wrangell & the third great massive one whose name I forget, rising out of the vast birchy plain of Copper Valley. They are sacred & majestic mountains, ominous, enormous, noble, stirring. You want to attend to them. I could not keep my eyes off them. Beauty & terror of the Chugach. Dangerous valleys. Points. Saws. Snowy nails.

19 October 1968
‘The situation of the tourist becomes ludicrous and impossible in a place like Calcutta. How does one take pictures of these streets with the faces, the eyes, of such people, and the cows roaming among them on the sidewalks and buzzards by the score circling over the main streets in the “best” section? Yet the people are beautiful. But the routine of the beggars is heart-rending. The little girl who suddenly appeared at the window of my taxi, the utterly lovely smile with which she stretched out her hand, and then the extinguishing of the light when she drew it back empty. I had no Indian money yet. She fell away from the taxi as if she were sinking in water and drowning, and I wanted to die. I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Yet when you give money to one, a dozen half kill themselves running after your cab. This morning one little kid hung on to the door and ran whining beside the cab in traffic while the driver turned around and made gestures as if to beat him away. [. . .] Calcutta is shocking because it is all of a sudden a totally different kind of madness, the reverse of that other madness, the mad rationality of affluence and overpopulation. America seems to make sense, and is hung up in its madness, now really exploding. Calcutta has the lucidity of despair, of absolute confusion, of vitality helpless to cope with itself. Yet undefeatable, expanding without and beyond reason but with nowhere to go. [. . .]

A sign in Calcutta: “Are you worried? Refresh yourself with cigars.” ’

24 October 1968
‘A visit to the Narendrapur-Ramakrishna Mission Ashram. College, agricultural school, poultry farm, school for the blind, and orphanage. Ponds, palms, a water tower in a curious style, a monastic building, and guesthouse. Small tomato and cucumber sandwiches, flowers, tea. We drove around in a a dark green Scout. Villages. Three big, blue buffaloes lying in a patch of purple, eating the flowers. Communists arguing under a shelter. Bengali inscriptions on every wall; they have an extraordinary visual quality. Large and small cows. Goats, calves, millions of children.

The Temple of Understanding Conference has been well organised considering the problems which developed. It could not be held in Darjeeling, as planned, because of the floods. Instead it has been put on at the Birla Academy in South Calcutta. It is more than half finished now. I spoke yesterday morning, but did not actually follow my prepared text. There were good papers by two rabbis, one from New York and one from Jerusalem, and by Dr. Wei Tat, on the I Ching. Also by Sufis, Jains and others.’

8 November 1968, Dharamsala
‘My third interview with the Dalai Lama was in some ways the best. He asked a lot of questions about Western monastic life, particularly the vows, the rule of silence, the ascetic way, etc. But what concerned him most was: 1) Did the “vows” have any connection with a spiritual transmission or initiation? 2) Having made vows, did the monks continue to progress along a spiritual way, toward and eventual illumination, and what were the degrees of that progress? And supposing a monk died without having attained to perfect illumination? What ascetic methods were used to help purify the mind of passions? He was interested in the “mystical life,” rather than in external observance. [. . .]

I asked him about the question of Marxism and monasticism, which is to be the topic of my Bangkok lecture. He said that from a certain point of view it was impossible for monks and Communists to get along, but that perhaps it should not be entirely impossible if Marxism meant only the establishment of an equitable economic and social structure. Also there was perhaps some truth in Marx’s critique of religion in view of the fact that religious leaders had so consistently been hand in glove with secular power. Still, on the other hand, militant atheism did in fact strive to suppress all forms of religion, good or bad.

Finally, we got into a rather technical discussion of mind, whether as consciousness, prajna and dhyana, and the relation of prajna to sunyata. [. . .]

It was a very warm and cordial discussion and at the end I felt we had become very good friends and were somehow quite close to one another.’

1 December 1968, Kandy
‘It is hardly like any December or Advent I have ever known! A clear, hot sky. Flowering trees. A day coming. I woke at the sound of many crows fighting in the air. Then the booming drum at the Temple of Buddha’s Tooth. Now, the traffic of buses and a cool breeze sways the curtains. The jungle is very near, it comes right to the top of the city and is visible a bare hundred yards from this window. Yet I am on a very noisy corner as far as traffic is concerned!’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lodge’s diary playback

David Lodge - happy 80th birthday! A British author of modern-day classics such as Small World and Nice Work, and their TV adaptations, Lodge is also well known for his literary criticism and for books on the subject of writing itself. I have no idea whether or not he keeps a personal diary, but, inspired by Simon Gray’s diaries, he did keep a journal while involved with the production of his first stage play, and this was published in one of his books on the writing process.

Lodge was born in southeast London on 28 January 1935. His father was a musician, playing with a cinema orchestra. During the war, he and his mother were evacuated to Surrey and Cornwall. Lodge was schooled at St Joseph’s Academy, Blackheath, and, in 1952, he entered University College, London. After a two-year stint in the Royal Armored Corps, and two years teaching for the British Council, he was appointed a lecturer at the University of Birmingham. In 1959, he married Mary Frances Jacob, whom he had met while at University College, and they had three children.

Lodge published his first novels - The Picturegoers and Ginger You’re Barmy - in the early 1960s, and his first volume of academic criticism, Language of Fiction, in 1966. He spent some time, with his family, in the US, thanks to a Harkness scholarship (like J. G. Farrell - see Catch some of my life below), but, from 1967, and for two decades, he continued an academic career at Birmingham university (from the mid-1970s he was Professor of English Literature). During this time, he continued to publish novels, roughly one every five years, including Changing Places in 1975 and Small World in 1984. He retired from academia in 1987, to become a full-time writer. Nice Work appeared a year later, with a television adaptation soon after.

Since 1987, Lodge has published half a dozen more novels and a similar number of books about writing, as well as three stage plays. Presumably to coincide with his 80th birthday, he has brought out an autobiography, Quite a Good Time To Be Born: a Memoir, 1935-75 (Harvill Secker, 2015). Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, the British Council, or The Cadbury Research Library website. There are also plenty of online reviews of the new autobiography, for example, at The Telegraph (‘less wit than his novels’), The Guardian (‘a sociologist’s paradise’) or The Independent (‘lacks [. . .] fireworks’).

There’s no obvious signs that Lodge has ever kept a personal diary. However, apparently inspired by Simon Gray’s diaries (see Smoking, heroin and opium), he has tried out the form once, while producing his first play, The Writing Game. Subsequently, he included extracts in one of his books The Practice of Writing, (Martin Secker & Warburg, 1996; reprinted by Vintage Books, 2011).

The Practice of Writing (which can be previewed online at Googlebooks) is a collection of occasional prose pieces about literary fiction, drama and television adaptation - mostly written after 1987. The last piece in the book, dated to February 1996, is entitled Playback: Extracts from a Writer’s Diary, and concerns the play Lodge wrote in 1985, originally called The Pressure Cooker but which became The Writing Game. In Playback, Lodge starts with a brief summary of the plot, and then recounts the somewhat tortuous route by which the play came to be produced, for the first time, by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1990.

The diary starts on 21 March 1990, and finds Lodge bemoaning the fact that, although rehearsals are due to start in two or three weeks, not a single part has been cast. I am told, he writes, that this is by no means unusual in provincial theatre, ‘but I find it rather nerve-racking’.

The first diary entry continues thus: ‘I have decided to keep an occasional diary as the play is cast and goes into rehearsal. Since time is limited, I will dictate the narrative into a tape recorder, have it transcribed, and polish it later on the word processor. This project, I must acknowledge, was suggested by Simon Gray’s highly entertaining and instructive books about the trials and tribulations of mounting productions of his play, The Common Pursuit, in England and America, entitled An Unnatural Pursuit and How’s That for Telling ‘Em, Fat Lady? respectively. Although I cannot hope to emulate the wonderfully comic paranoia of Gray’s authorial persona, I shall try to be as candid as he seems to have been. If this narrative proves to have a more than private interest and value, it will be as the history of a play’s gestation, development and performance, seen from the point of view of an author to whom the whole process is largely unfamiliar.’

The entries continue until 26 June 1990, some of them are quite long, running to four or five pages. Here’s a few cut-down extracts.

17 April
’Today we met for the first read-through, arranged for 2 p.m. to allow the actors time to travel up from London this morning. We assembled in the Boardroom at the top of the Repertory Theatre, with most of the heads of the various departments present. First, the General Manager, Bill Hughes, welcomed the cast, introduced the various people present, and gave out practical information to do with pay, Green Room facilities, concessions, etc. Then all departed except for the cast, John [Adams], myself, designer Robin Butlin and the ASM, Philippa Smith. John then gave a little chat designed to make the cast feel relaxed and at home, sketching out how he proposed to proceed, and indicating what the schedule of rehearsals was likely to be. The actors sat on each side of the Boardroom table. John sat at one end near them. I sat with Roger Butlin at the other end. This, although not pre-arranged, proved a rather useful seating plan, since John and I were able to look directly along the table and silently indicate whether we were happy or unhappy with something in the actors’ delivery, though we did not actually begin to exploit this mode of communication until later on in the day. [. . .]

We broke for tea and the actors went down to the Green Room. John came over to me and said: “Sometimes with a read-through you think immediately, well, we’ve got the right cast and they’ve got hold of the play and all we need to do really is to refine and polish this reading; and with other read-throughs you think, Hmmm.” And, he said, this is one where you think, Hmmm. In other words, there is quite a bit of work to be done. Both Roger and I agreed with this assessment.’

23 April
‘This week I have agreed to stay away from rehearsals, as the actors will be mainly concerned with trying to learn their lines. I called the Rep this morning to arrange for a taxi to collect the rewrites that I’d done over the weekend, and Wiff told me that Timothy West has agreed to do the voice of Henry. That’s good news.’

10 May
‘I’ve been so busy over the last few days that I haven’t had time to record any notes until now. On Monday, the British May Day holiday, I flew to Frankfurt to appear with Malcolm Bradbury in a kind of festival of contemporary British writing organised by the British Council. We have done this double act so often that we are in danger of becoming the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore of modern English letters. It was a long and tiring day and evening - an almost continuous sequence of interviews, meetings and socialising. [. . .] The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast and a short stroll around Frankfurt with Malcolm, I flew back to Birmingham, arriving at 1 p.m. I drove home, changed and went out immediately to the rehearsal rooms for the run-through. This went quite well and Lou [Hirsch] got through all his major speeches except one without a fluff. He and Sue [Penhaligon] still however tend to make small, but to me troubling, verbal errors.’

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Catch some of my life

James Gordon Farrell, who might have reached eighty today had he not died young in a storm accident, would have become one of the really great novelists writing in the English language today - according to a claim by Salman Rushdie widely quoted on internet sites. The editor of a collection of Farrell’s letters and ‘diary fragments’, published a few years ago by Cork University Press, argues that her book reveals Farrell’s ‘lost autobiographical voice.’ In a first entry, Farrell writes of using the diary to ‘catch some of my life’, and in another he catches a moment of inspiration, one that will lead to his best book.

Farrell was born in Liverpool on 25 January 1935 into an Anglo-Irish family. Although his family moved to County Dublin after the war, he was enrolled at Rossall boarding school in Lancashire from the age of 12, spending holidays in Ireland. After Rossall, he taught in Dublin, and also worked at a radar station in the Canadian Arctic. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1956, but contracted polio which left him partially crippled. On leaving Oxford with a low class degree, he went to live and teach in France, the setting for his first novel A Man from Elsewhere.

Thereafter, Farrell led a peripatetic life, variously in Paris, Morocco, Dublin and London. In 1966, he won a Harkness Fellowship to visit the US, and although this did not lead him, as he hoped, to study at Yale Drama School, it did provide him with the stimulus to write Troubles (about Ireland’s struggle for independence), the book that would bring him literary fame. It won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and with the proceeds he went to India, the setting for his next novel on colonial power, The Siege of Krishnapur. This won the UK’s Booker Prize in 1973. A third, thematically similar, novel followed - The Singapore Grip.


In 1979, Farrell decided to move from London (where he had been based since around 1970) to the southwest of Ireland. A few months later, he was found dead, after being swept from rocks in a storm while fishing (see a Sunday Times report of his death). He never married, though he had affairs, and a wide circle of literary friends. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, which quotes Salmon Rushdie as saying, in 2008, that had Farrell not died so young,‘he would today be one of the really major novelists of the English language.’ There are various other articles online about Farrell, some reporting on how Troubles won, in 2010, the Lost Booker Prize for 1970 - at The GuardianThe Daily Telegraph, and BBC(‘Lost’ because books published in that year missed out on being considered thanks to a rule change.) A chapter on Farrell in Writing Liverpool: Essays and Interviews can be read at Googlebooks.

Farrell does not appear to have been a committed diarist, but, in 2009, Cork University Press published J. G. Farrell in his Own Words - Selected Letters and Diaries, as edited by Lavinia Greacen. Most of the book is taken up with letters, and Graecen, herself, refers to the rest as ‘diary fragments’. Reviews can be found online at The Spectator and Estudios Irlandeses websites.

Although the name J. G. Farrell tends to come with an austerely confident ring to it, Greacen says the ‘lost autobiographical voice’ in this book reveals him to be warm and sometimes full of self doubt. In a very short foreword, John Banville explains that he met Farrell once, a few days before he won the Booker Prize for The Siege of Krishnapur. He notes, however, that Farrell himself thought Troubles was a better book.

Here are two extracts from
J. G. Farrell in his Own Words - Selected Letters and Diaries. I’ve chosen the first because it explains Farrell’s motivations for starting a diary; and the second for it records a pivotal moment in the genesis of Troubles. However, I have also chosen the second because of a link with my own life: the very same Surf Hotel on Block Island, mentioned by Farrell, was where I was taken having been expelled from my father’s island house - I never saw or spoke to him again (see my diaries).

22 December 1966
‘This is addressed to an absent third party . . . in all respects like me, but not me. Alright then, the idea of this diary is to help me to get control of my talent for writing. I hope that it will help me in the following ways:
1) That I shall bring myself face to face with things that I normally discard through sheer mental laziness.
2) That I shall be able to remember things people say that make an impression on me as well as things I read.
3) Get in the habit of discussing problems with myself.
4) Catch some of my life before I forget it. I’m appalled to think how little I can remember of my first trip to America, even though it was only ten years ago. However, avoid being garrulous or it will become a chore. Avoid self-pity and sentimentality. Avoid haranguing myself uselessly like this.

On Monday I had lunch with Mike Roemer. He was busy and somewhat harassed; I noticed for the first time how he tends to talk too loud, as if afraid that he won’t be able to assert himself if he doesn’t. He had been to see Polanski’s Cul de Sac and hadn’t liked it. I was unable to understand his reasons for not liking it. He said he thought it was badly written; that it hadn’t gone far enough if it was supposed to be black humour etc. Well, perhaps I do partly see what he means. For all that, he couldn’t convince me (he didn’t try) that it was a bad film. I still find parts of it sublime: the kitchen scene at the beginning and the visit of friends [. . .] Roemer told me had once dined with E. M. Forster and been very impressed with his modesty and simplicity. F. had only wanted to talk about films. In the course of lunch R. repeated his theory that writers use up their experience when young, then go through a middle period of hard work before they can learn to invent their own material. In return I talked to him of intuitive writers, citing Edna O’Brien as one who had gone off the rails once she had begun to think about it. [. . .] I don’t think either of us were particularly convinced by this. Nothing, anyway, will convince R. that writing is not a field in which one only succeeds by hard and ruthless work. With deep misgivings I gave him a copy of The Lung.

Reading Virginia Woolf’s diary in the train to N. Caroline to spend Christmas with Bob. Odd and curious flashes of contempt for the lower classes appear every now and then that seem sadly out of date (these are the only things that seem unusual for a person like V. W. by today’s standards).’

11 May 1967
‘Over a month since my last entry - an interval in which things went downhill at a fairly brisk pace, with the roaches multiplying in my room at the Belvedere faster than I could control them . . . In this time I took out Anita Gross a couple of times. She’s attractive, sure. But there’s something slightly wrong somewhere [. . .]

A week ago I came to Block Island to stay at the Surf Hotel under the aegis of Mr and Mrs Sears. He is a fat, genial chap and she is somewhat severe with elegantly rolled white hair that makes her look like an immigrant from Versailles. [. . .] At first I found myself eating with an English couple called Porter: she is a psychiatrist, he described himself as a ‘poet’ but I didn’t question him about this and he didn’t volunteer any further information. [. . .]

I’ve covered most of the island on foot in the past week and feel much healthier for it. The weather has been a mixture of terrible storms and sunny, windy days. Last weekend the ferry was unable to make the return trip because of a storm. Now the rain has returned I think I shall return to NY tomorrow.

While here I have made yet another ‘fresh start’ on my book - partly inspired by the charred remains of the Ocean View Hotel which stands, or stood, on a cliff overlooking the old harbour where the ferry comes in. It burned down a year or so ago. “A place with a thousand rooms,” Mr Porter (the poet) said. “200 to 300” said his wife. This morning I went up to look at the remains while the sun was still shining. Old bedsprings twisted with heat; puddles of molten glass; washbowls that had fallen through to the foundations; a flight of stone steps leading up to thin air; twisted pipes; lots of nails lying everywhere and a few charred beams. I think the way the glass had collected like candlegreas under the windows impressed me most. When you picked it up it was inclined to flake away into smaller pieces in your hand. I must remember to ask someone how many storeys it had. Anyway this gave me an idea, which seems to me a good one, for the dwelling place of the family.’ [Ocean View Hotel did, in fact, provide the catalyst for the Majestic Hotel in Troubles, and give him the structure for the novel.]