Thursday, February 25, 2010

Diary briefs

Turkish coup diary leads to top officers being charged - BBC, Financial Times

Never before published diaries of Iris Murdoch - Short Books, The Guardian review

The Diary Junction Blog is taking a short break - back the second week of March.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Casanova’s love ‘diary’

According to newspaper headlines this week, the original handwritten diary of Casanova, one of most infamous rakes in history, has just been bought and donated to France’s national library. The Casanova manuscript may be remarkable and worth every Euro of the Eur7m paid, but a diary it isn’t - it’s a memoir written by Casanova in the latter years of his life.

Casanova was born in Venice in 1725. His parents were actors and travelled a lot so he was looked after by his grandmother. At the age of nine, though, he was placed in a boarding house, and then with a priest, Abbé Gozzi, where he stayed through his teenage years. He graduated in law from the University of Padua and was admitted as an abbé (a low level clergyman) himself. However, his dandyish behaviour, and his chasing after women led to various scandals and to him seeking refuge in a seminary, from where he was expelled before long. He made his way to Rome, where he was employed by a cardinal and met the Pope. More scandals followed, though, which led Casanova to try joining a regiment. His military career did not last long, and he returned to Venice and to employment as a violinist.

A lucky encounter, in which he saved the life of a nobleman, led to Casanova enjoying three years of high living under the nobleman’s patronage. More scandals involving women, then led Casanova to flee Venice, and to travel in Europe for several years, engaging in affairs and courting scandals everywhere he went. In Paris, he introduced the idea of a lottery, a scheme he would keep trying to sell in other cities through his travels.

In Venice once again, he was denounced as a magician and sentenced to five years in prison. A spectacular escape led to more years of travelling and amorous adventures in London, Berlin, St Petersburg, Warsaw among other places. Allowed to return to Venetian territory between 1744 and 1782 he acted as a spy for the Venetian inquisitors of state, and he spent his final years, from 1785 to 1798 in Bohemia as a librarian for Count von Waldstein in the chateau of Dux.

According to Wikipedia (which has a detailed biography), the isolation and boredom of Casanova’s last years enabled him to focus on his Histoire de Ma Vie, ‘without which his fame would have been considerably diminished, if not blotted out entirely’. He began to think about writing his memoirs around 1780, it says, and began in earnest by 1789, as ‘the only remedy to keep from going mad or dying of grief’. The first draft was completed by July 1792, and he spent the next six years revising it.

Here are two paragraphs more from Wikipedia: ‘Uncut, the memoirs ran to twelve volumes, and the abridged American translation runs to nearly 1200 pages. Though his chronology is at times confusing and inaccurate, and many of his tales exaggerated, much of his narrative and many details are corroborated by contemporary writings. He has a good ear for dialogue and writes at length about all classes of society. Casanova, for the most part, is candid about his faults, intentions, and motivations, and shares his successes and failures with good humor. The confession is largely devoid of repentance or remorse. He celebrates the senses with his readers, especially regarding music, food, and women. ‘I have always liked highly seasoned food. . . As for women, I have always found that the one I was in love with smelled good, and the more copious her sweat the sweeter I found it.’ He mentions over 120 adventures with women and girls, with several veiled references to male lovers as well. He describes his duels and conflicts with scoundrels and officials, his entrapments and his escapes, his schemes and plots, his anguish and his sighs of pleasure. He demonstrates convincingly ‘I can say vixi (‘I have lived’)’.

The manuscript of Casanova’s memoirs was held by his relatives until it was sold to F A Brockhaus publishers, and first published in heavily abridged versions in German around 1822, then in French. During World War II, the manuscript survived the allied bombing of Leipzig. The memoirs were heavily pirated through the ages and have been translated into some twenty languages. But not until 1960 was the entire text published in its original language of French.’

Casanova’s original handwritten manuscript, amounting to 3,700 pages, has now been bought for Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) by an anonomous donor at a cost of Eur7m. BnF is planning to exhibit the manuscript and to digitalise it for its online library. The sale made headlines round the world, and, as with the recent headlines about Josef Mengele’s memoirs (see Mengele’s vile ‘diary’), they employed the misnoma ‘diary’.

Here are three headlines from newspapers that should know better:
Casanova’s diary finds home in France - Financial Times
Anonymous buyer pays £4 million for Casanova’s uncensored diaries - The Guardian
Library secures Casanova’s love diary - The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)

Thanks to the University of Adelaide Library’s collection of Classic Works the full text of The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt 1725-1798 can be read online. This is ‘the unabridged London edition of 1894 translated by Arthur Machen to which has been added the chapters discovered by Arthur Symons.’

Monday, February 15, 2010

Diary briefs

Diaries reveal anguish of kidnap victim - AFP on Googlenews

Inspiration for Faulkner’s novels - The Guardian, The New York Times

New issue of The Diaries Of Evelyn Waugh by Phoenix - Orion Books

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Klemperer collecting life

It’s half a century since the death of Victor Klemperer, author of one of the most famous diaries to have documented the horrors of the Nazi regime. The London Review of Books said his diaries will never be forgotten, and Der Speigel suggested they eclipse everything that has ever been written on the era of National Socialism.

Born in Poland in 1881, Klemperer was the eighth child of a rabbi, but later converted to Christianity. One of his brothers went on to be a surgeon to Lenin, and a cousin was the famous composer Otto. Klemperer studied at various universities in Germany, Switzerland and France, and also worked as a journalist for a while. Having volunteered during the First World War, he was decorated with the Iron Cross.

After the war, Klemperer was appointed to the Chair of Romance studies at Dresden’s Technical University. In 1935, though, the Nazis took the job away from him, confiscated his house, sent him to a home for Jews, and obliged him to work as a labourer. Because his wife, Eva, was not a Jew, and because she stayed with him, Klemperer avoided deportation for most of the war. In 1945, though, he was due to be deported, but used the confusion created by Allied bombings to escape.

Klemperer went on to become a significant post-war cultural figure in East Germany, lecturing at the universities of Greifswald, Berlin and Halle, and publishing an important analysis of the language used by the Third Reich. He also became a delegate of the Cultural Union in the GDR parliament in 1950. He died on 11 February 1960 - 50 years ago today. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia.

However, it is for his diaries that Klemperer is best remembered today. First published in Germany in 1995, they became something of a literary sensation. English translations by Martin Chalmers were published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson (part of Orion) between 1998 and 2003 in three volumes: I Will Bear Witness (1933-1941), To The Bitter End (1942-1945) and The Lesser Evil (1945-1959).

The German magazine Der Spiegel offers this analysis: ‘Klemperer trusted his thoughts and feelings to his diary. ‘Collecting life’, he called it. Already at the age of 16, Klemperer began keeping a diary, and he wrote till just before his death. His entries began in the days of Kaiser Wilhelm II, continued during the turbulent times of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, and conclude in post-War communist East Germany. During the Third Reich era and perhaps even before, Klemperer’s entries were, in a way, part of a survival strategy. At the time, Klemperer lived between humiliation, terror, and danger and he endured all of it. The reason was quite simple: Klemperer wanted to record his gruesome experiences of everyday life for those after him. In fact, he felt obligated to write. In his diary, Klemperer adopted the view of a distant observer even though the catastrophe affected him directly. The style of his writing was like a game of ping-pong, switching back and forth between inside and outside views on the things going on around him. Klemperer was seen as a Jew, but he didn’t feel like one. He wanted to be German, but the Nazis made him ‘un-German’.

And that makes Klemperer’s records unique.

Decades after his death, Klemperer’s diaries emerged as mainstays on bestseller lists, touching thousands of readers, shocking and gripping them. Author Martin Walser once said: ‘I know of no other means of communication that can make the reality of the Nazi dictatorship more comprehensible than Klemperer’s prose. Nowhere else than in these diaries have I been able to experience and see first-hand what type of criminals the leaders and functionaries of the time were. It’s incredible how this type of crime could legally establish itself.’ In his writing, Klemperer placed expectations on himself as well, aspiring to ‘become a writer of contemporary cultural history’. Commenting on that issue in the weekly Die Zeit newspaper, Volker Ulrich wrote: ‘There’s no doubt: He became just that. The diaries covering 1933 to 1945 - which merge the most detailed observation skills, linguistic mastership, educational scepticism, and human grandeur - eclipse everything that has ever been written on the era of National Socialism.’ ’

The London Review of Books argues that Klemperer’s diary will never be forgotten: ‘This record achieves two things. It tells us what was experienced by German Jews; Klemperer’s experience was typical in every way except its outcome - he survived. His vivid accounts of many others who didn’t, his careful record of what he overheard in the street or was told by others, his account of his own human diminishment as he was progressively stripped of every right and freedom, his gradual awareness of the enormity of what was happening to Europe’s Jews, his refusal to omit any gesture of courage or generosity, his discovery that he was a Jew after all, his care to notice the deprivations of war as food, fuel and clothing were at first rationed and then disappeared altogether: these observations preserve what can so easily be lost - a sense of what happened. For this alone his book will never be forgotten.’

Some extracts from Klemperer’s diaries can be read on the Spartacus website, at Der Spiegel, and at Amazon.

10 March 1933
‘Eight days before the election the clumsy business of the Reichstag fire - cannot imagine that anyone really believes in Communist perpetrators instead of paid Nazi work. Then the wild prohibitions and acts of violence. And on top of that the never-ending propaganda in the street, on the radio etc. On Saturday, the 4th, I heard a part of Hitler’s speech from Koenigsberg. The front of a hotel at the railway station, illuminated, a torchlight procession in front of it, torch-bearers and swastika flag-bearers on the balconies and loudspeakers, I understood only occasional words. But the tone! The unctuous bawling, truly bawling, of a priest. . .

Ever more hopeless. The boycott begins tomorrow. Yellow placards, men on guard. Pressure to pay Christian employees two months salary, to dismiss Jewish ones. No reply to the impressive letter of the Jews to the President of the Reich and to the government.

No one dares make a move. The Dresden student body made a declaration today and the honour of German students forbids them to come into contact with Jews. They are not allowed to enter the Student House. How much Jewish money went towards this Student House only a few years ago!

In Munich Jewish University teachers have already been prevented from setting foot in the University. The proclamation and injunction of the boycott committee decrees ‘Religion is immaterial’, only race matters. If, in the case of the owners of a business, the husband is Jewish, the wife Christian or the other way round, then the business counts as Jewish.’

27 November 1938
On the morning of the 11th November two policemen arrived accompanied by a ‘resident of Doeizschen’. Did I have any weapons? - Certainly my sabre, perhaps even my bayonet as a war memento, but I wouldn’t know where. We have to help you find it. The house was searched for hours. At the beginning Eva made the mistake of quite innocently telling one of the policemen he should not go through the clean linen cupboard without washing his hands. The man, considerably affronted, could hardly be calmed down. A second younger policeman was more friendly, the civilian was the worst. We said we had been without domestic help for months, many things were dusty and still unpacked. They rummaged through everything, chests and wooden constructions Eva had made were broken open with an axe. The sabre was found in a suitcase in the attic, the bayonet was not found. Among the books they found a copy of the Sozialistic Monatshefte (a Socialist monthly magazine) this was also confiscated. At about one o’clock the civilian and the older policeman left the house, the young one remained and took a statement. He was good-natured and courteous, I had the feeling he himself found the thing embarrassing.’

1 September 1939
‘On Friday morning the young butcher’s lad came and told us: There had been a wireless announcement, we already held Danzig and the Corridor, the war with Poland was under way, England and France remained neutral, said to Eva, then a morphine injection or something similar was the best thing for us, our life was over. But then we said to one another, that could not possibly be the way things were, the boy had often reported absurd things (he was a perfect example of the way in which people take in news reports). A little later we heard Hitler’s agitated voice, then the usual roaring, but could not make anything out. We said to ourselves, if the report were even only half true they must be already putting out the flags. Then down in town the dispatch of the outbreak of war.’

22-24 February 1945 (about the Allied attack on Dresden some days earlier)
‘. . . Had there only been this first attack, it would have impressed itself upon me as the most terrible one so far, whereas now, superseded by the later catastrophe, it is already blurring into a vague outline. We very soon heard the ever deeper and louder humming of approaching squadrons, the light went out, an explosion nearby . . . Pause in which we caught our breath, we knelt head down between the chairs, in some groups there was whimpering and weeping - approaching aircraft once again, deadly danger once again, explosion once again. I do not know how often it was repeated.

Suddenly the cellar window on the back wall opposite the entrance burst open, and outside it was bright as day. Someone shouted: ‘Incendiary bomb, we have to put it out!’ Two people even hauled over the stirrup pump and audibly operated it. There were further explosions, but nothing in the courtyard. And then it grew quieter, and then came the all-clear.

I had lost all sense of time. Outside it was bright as day. Fires were blazing at Piranaischer Platz, on Marschallstrasse, and somewhere on or over the Elbe. The ground was covered with broken glass. A terrible strong wind was blowing. Natural or a firestorm? Probably both. In the stairwell of 1 Zeughausstrasse the window frames had been blown in and lay on the steps, partly obstructing them. Broken glass in our rooms upstairs. In the hallway and on the side facing the Elbe, windows blown in, in the bedroom only one; windows also broken in the kitchen, blackout torn in half. Light did not work, no water. We could see big fires on the other side of the Elbe and on Marschallstrasse. Frau Cohn said, in her room furniture had been shifted by the blast.

We placed a candle on the table, drank a little cold coffee, ate a little, groped our way over the broken glass, lay down in bed. It was after midnight -- we had come upstairs at eleven. I thought: Just sleep, we’re alive, tonight we'll have peace and quiet, now just put your mind at rest! As she lay down, Eva said: ‘But there’s glass in my bed!’ - I heard her stand up, clear away the glass, then I was already asleep.

After a while, it must have been after one o’clock, Eva said: ‘Air raid warning.’ - ‘I didn't hear anything.’ - ‘Definitely wasn’t loud, they’re going round with hand sirens, there’s no electricity.’ - We stood up, Frau Stuehler called at our door ‘Air raid warning,’ Eva knocked at Frau Cohn’s door - we have heard nothing more of either - and we hurried downstairs. The street was as bright as day and almost empty, fires were burning, the storm was blowing as before. . .’

Conversations with Myself

Today is the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in South Africa. Having spent 27 years incarcerated it would be less than five more before the country elected him President. The same year that he became President, 1994, his famous autobiography Long Walk to Freedom was published. Now, in connection with the 20th anniversary of his release, Pan Macmillan is to publish a second autobiographical book, this time based on Mandela’s personal archive of diaries and letters.

Nelson Mandela was born in Qunu, a small village in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, in 1918. As a child he was groomed to become chief of his local tribe, however while at University of Fort Hare he became increasingly interested in politics. After being expelled for helping organise a strike, and being unwilling to return to his family, he moved to Johannesburg. There, he worked in a variety of jobs, became very active within the African National Congress (ANC), and completed a degree by correspondence. He then went on to study law, and, with his friend Oliver Tambo, set up the country’s first black law firm providing free or low-cost legal counsel.

In December 1956, Mandela and 150 others were arrested and charged with treason, but after a marathon trial lasting several years all were acquitted. Then came the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, when the police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters and killed 69 of them. Thereafter, Mandela - who had been influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of non-violence - became increasingly militant. In 1961, he took over the ANC’s armed wing, and coordinated sabotage campaigns against military and government targets. But, before very long, in August 1962, he was arrested, and initially sentenced to five years imprisonment. Further charges brought a much longer sentence. For 18 of his 27 years in prison, Mandela was incarcerated on Robben Island.

While in jail, and despite his imprisonment, Mandela’s reputation grew to the point where he became, and then stayed, the most significant black leader in South Africa. With time, too, international pressure against South Africa’s apartheid regime increased to an extraordinary level. Although negotiations aimed at releasing Mandela were started by President P W Botha in 1985, it wasn’t until his replacement by President F W de Klerk that Mandela was finally released on 11 February 1990 - 20 years ago today.

Mandela returned almost immediately to the leadership of the ANC, and then guided it to an election victory in 1994. A year earlier, he and de Klerk had been jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1999, Mandela decided not to stand for a second term as President and retired. Since then, he has been engaged as an advocate for a variety of social and human rights organisations.

Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, published in 1994, is said to have sold over six million copies. (Excerpts can be read at the Open Book Systems archive.) Then, last autumn, on the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Mandela’s literary agent Johny Geller at Curtis Brown sold the rights to a second autobiographical work, one to be based on Mandela’s personal archive of diaries, letters and other manuscripts.

Geller told The Bookseller: ‘What is so amazing is that [Mandela] wrote virtually every day of his life and kept all his notes. The book reveals the personal cost to him of his imprisonment on Robben Island and includes heartbreaking letters about the deaths of two of his children. It shows the personal side of this icon, his amazing humanity and wisdom. It is also a historical document which may bring about different interpretations of various events.’

Pan Macmillan won the auction for the new book and very quickly produced a flyer promising that the new book - to be titled Conversations with Myself - would be published this spring. It lists half-a-dozen source materials for the book, two of which are ‘journals kept while on the run in the early 1960s’, and ‘diaries and draft letters written in Robben Island and other prisons during 27 years of imprisonment’. Macmillan concludes on the flyer: ‘Not since the worldwide publication of his bestselling autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom . . . will there be such an important book.’

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mengele’s vile ‘diary’

The sale of a so-called diary by the notorious Nazi death camp doctor Josef Mengele has been widely reported in the last few weeks. The manuscript appears to have surfaced through a family member, possibly Mengele’s son Rolf, and passed to Alexander Autographs in Connecticut for auction. To promote the sale, the auctioneers made available a substantial collection of translated extracts from the document. These extracts, however, are a collection of opinions - many of them extraordinarily vile - and not a diary by any definition.

Mengele was born in 1911 into a wealthy Bavarian family, and had a strict Catholic upbringing. After studying philosophy at Munich, he joined the Stahlhelm, one of the paramilitary organisations that rose up after the First World War, and then the Sturmtruppen in 1933. He went on to study medicine at Frankfurt, and then, in 1934, he joined the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene where he did research into physical anthropology and genetics.

A committed Nazi, Mengele joined the Waffen SS during World War Two, serving on the Eastern Front until wounded. Thereafter, in 1943, he was appointed a medical officer at Auschwitz, where Jews were selected either for labour, extermination or medical experimentation. During his 21-month stay at (what became known as) the most notorious of all the prison camps, Mengele was in charge of many bizarre and brutal medical experiments - said to have killed more than 400,000 prisoners.

After the war, Mengele famously escaped to South America, where he lived secretly in Argentina. But when, in 1960, Mossad captured Adolf Eichmann, another high-level Nazi that had managed to escape from Europe, Mengele fled to Paraguay, and later to Brazil, where he died in 1979. (His death was not, in fact, certified until some years later when DNA evidence was used to prove the corpse of a man buried as Wolfgang Gerhard was Mengele not Gerhard, a neo-Nazi whose name he’d taken). For more information on Mengele see Wikipedia, or the many websites with information on the Holocaust, such as the Jewish Virtual Library.

A notebook written by Mengele in 1960, while in hiding in Argentina, surfaced recently for the first time ( thanks to Mengele’s son Rolf, according to press reports) when the well-known American firm Alexander Autographs, based in Stamford, Connecticut, put it up for auction. Its website gives many details. The document is ‘a child’s bound 6 1/4” x 8 1/4” composition notebook ironically titled in Spanish print: ‘Illustrated Zoology’, and which occupy fully every one of the 180 pages contained therein. Only the very first page bears a date, that being June 10, 1960.’

Alexander Autographs explains that the notebook is a ‘political and personal manifesto, a stream-of-consciousness ramble offering an incredible view into the mind of an obviously unrepentant and quite insane murderer still on the run fifteen years after escaping his crimes in collapsing Nazi Germany’. Interspersed with his lengthy diatribes on eugenics, political theory and the superiority of the German race, the auction company adds, are routine references to his childhood, the local flora and fauna in the area, and other more mundane subjects.

The Mengele document was put up for sale at an auction on 20-21 January, but, apparently, failed to meet its reserves. Soon after, however, the company confirmed that it had secured a private sale to an anonomous buyer - an ‘East Coast Jewish philanthropist’ whose grandmother had once met Mengele. Many of these news reports - though not all - refer to Mengele’s notebook as a ‘diary’: Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s diary up for sale (The Daily Telegraph); Grandson of Auschwitz survivor buys Mengele's diary (Haaretz); ‘Angel of Death’ Diary Shows No Regrets (Der Spiegel); Family of Auschwitz Survivor Buys Mengele Diary (US News).

However, it is clear that the Mengele notebook is not a diary at all but, as the auctioneers say, more of a manifesto. Here are some extracts as translated and made available by Alexander Autographs.

‘I arrived in this house exactly a year ago. However, this anniversary gave me no reason to celebrate. . . I was solely responsible for my decisions. I hope that people close to me show some patience, and I hope they don’t endanger things.’

‘Beauty is a primary force of selection.’

‘There’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in nature. There’s only ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ . . . The ‘inappropriate’ elements are kept from reproducing.’

‘What is ‘good’ is built out of many different fundamentals, which are all elements of the immortal soul. Maybe these values aren’t limited to our ‘human existence.’ Think about loyalty! It’s a result of breeding, as for example in dogs, man’s oldest companion. But you cannot breed qualities that weren’t there all along!!’

‘The youth movement honored the traditions of our ancestors while remembering our primary cultural values. We had to remember our inner strength, and this was of utmost importance after World War I and the shameful peace that followed. This burden was designed to keep our people in a constant condition of decay. We had to find the deepest sources of German strength to make our restoration possible. We could not expect other people to help us, and we couldn’t rely on religion. . . What has the Catholic Church done to amend or get rid of the absurd Treaty of Versailles? They had a chance to influence the synods of the Protestant Churches, which make up two thirds of the German people. The new strength had to come from the Germans themselves, and this is exactly where it came from. The youth movement laid the spiritual foundation for the national uprising that was to follow World War I. Later on, the youth movement became part of the great political organization, the Hitlerjugend. . . We had to liberate Germanic history from Roman and Catholic influences. . . We were ready for another attempt to change the empire’s shameful history. In the end, this heroic way of life prevailed, and ten years later all of Germany embraced it.’

‘British rule in India wasn’t that bad. . . The casts are gone, and everything turns into a gooey mass. This new society can be ruled easily through Bolshevik doctrine and ideology. . . Brahmans are built nicely; some of them even have blue eyes. . . And this is because Brahmans used the highest cast to preserve their noble blood. They are the descendants of Nordic peoples who once conquered and ruled India . . . They have managed to protect their racial traits through thousands of years . . . This cannot be achieved by mixing the highest with the lowest class. It can only be done by selecting the best. I don’t think I’ll have to explain how incredibly difficult this will be . . . Books and education can foster existing qualities, but they cannot produce them.’

‘We will need an army of chemists, physics, biologists, doctors, mathematicians, engineers and administrators to master this giant energy problem that is coming.’

‘However, there’s no school on this planet that will turn a moron or some other simpleton into a gifted human being. You can promote natural tendencies that are already genetically present, but nobody can create intelligence or higher abilities.’

‘If we don’t want the physically or mentally disabled left to their natural fate, and if we want them to be a burden on society, we should at least be ethical enough to make sure that their inferior genes aren’t passed on . . . The real problem is to define when human life is worth living and when it has to be eradicated. The age of technology has created new conditions. (Idiots can get jobs in factories, and they can now make a living raising a family by moving sheet metal strips around and punching buttons.) They want a higher birthrate and to promote families with many children. They actually make sure that an idiot with many kids gets a continuous pay raise. . . The feeble minded person (‘village idiot’) was separated from farmers because of his social status and low income. This separation is no longer the case in the age of technology. He is now on the same level with the farmer’s son who went into the city.’

‘We have to prevent the rise of the idiot masses. This goal isn’t new at all, and some countries started implementing political measures to reach this goal. They were stopped for political and ideological reasons; even though they showed promising results.’

‘The law to prevent genetically deficient offspring has to be reinstated. However, the law will lose its edge if marriages with only one genetically sufficient partner are legal.’

‘Abandon feminist ideology; biology doesn’t support equal rights . . . Women shouldn’t be working in higher positions. Women’s work has to depend on fulfilling a biological quota.’

‘Birth control can be done by sterilizing those with deficient genes. Those with good genes will be sterilized when the number of 5 children has been reached.’

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Diary briefs

Dentist Jack Liss and the Jewish Legion - Houston & Texas News

Captain Scott’s last diary now viewable online - The Guardian, British Library

Dance based on diaries of transgender activist - San Francisco Chronicle

Devizes Museum raises £900 to buy prisoner of war diary - The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald

Monday, February 8, 2010

Happy griping Ted!

It’s Ted Koppel’s birthday today, his 70th. Congratulations. A good day perhaps - or not - to revisit a diary he wrote throughout 1999. Although not so well known in Europe, Koppel is one of the most highly respected journalists in the US, having fronted ABC’s top news interview show, Nightline, for 25 years. He is the epitome of the formal, well-mannered, objective, and impersonal journalist, says one media watcher, but the diary reveals, in fact, that he’s not only full of gripes in his daily life, but that he’s never really comfortable being ‘off camera’.

Edward James ‘Ted’ Koppel was born in Lancashire, England, on 8 February 1840, the son of Jewish parents who had fled from Hitler’s Germany. In 1953, the family moved again, this time to the US, where Ted studied science at Syracuse University before doing a masters in Mass Communications Research and Political Science at Stanford. In 1963, he became a naturalized US citizen, and he married Grace Anne Dorney, with whom he has four children. That same year he was taken on by ABC Radio News and thus became its youngest ever correspondent.

By 1966, Koppel was working for ABC Television and went to Vietnam as a war correspondent. He returned in 1968 to cover Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign and then was sent to Hong Kong as bureau chief. From 1971 to 1980, he was ABC News’ chief diplomatic correspondent, an assignment that included covering Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State, a tour of duty that took him, ABC says, more than a quarter of a million miles during the days of Kissinger’s ‘shuttle diplomacy’.

In 1980, Koppel was given the role of anchor for Nightline, then television’s first late-night network news programme. He stayed with the show, becoming its managing editor also, until 1985. In its short biography of Koppel, ABC says he has won ‘every major broadcasting award’ and lists a good many of them. Wikipedia notes, however, that Koppel was criticised ‘for being a conduit for the government’s point of view’. After his retirement from Nightline and ABC in 2005, Koppel has worked with National Public Radio, The Discovery Channel, and the BBC among other organisations, and earlier this year he was reportedly in negotiations for a return to ABC (see Politico)

In 2000, Alfred A Knopf (part of Random House) published a diary that Koppel had kept all through 1999, the last year of the century - Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public. Random House says that in this book, Koppel ‘finally lets us know the man behind the face we’ve trusted late at night for almost twenty years’; and that, with ‘riveting insight and lucid prose, [he] chronicles the year of Monica and Y2K, of shootings at Columbine, of the death of JFK, Jr’. It concludes: ‘Witty, provocative, and wise, this book is indispensable.’

Reviewers did not agree. Paul Martin Lester makes this pithy point near the start of his review for the Journal of Mass Media Ethics: ‘For the entire year of 1999, [Koppel] kept a day-by-day diary that ‘contains opinions I would never express on the air’. And after reading his journal, I can objectively say - that’s a good thing.’ He says the book reveals that Koppel ‘is never really comfortable with being ‘off camera’ ’. For the rest of the review, Lester gripes about how much of the book Koppel spends griping. Here is Lester in full flow:

‘[Koppel’s] book is filled with gripes for every day of the year. He complains about the price of Cap’n Crunch cereal at his local market. He calls Valentine’s Day cards, ‘the cold-blooded commercialism of our most tender moments’. He dismisses traveling in the Balkans with this direct quote: ‘The toughest thing about traveling in the Balkans is traveling in the Balkans’. He calls ex-President Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece in The New York Times criticizing ex-President Bill Clinton’s Kosovo strategy ‘tacky’. He doesn’t like the violence portrayed by the World Wrestling Federation. He calls 900 telephone sex operators, ‘verbal prostitutes’. And over several days he tediously describes and unnecessarily complains about his trouble in getting a caller id feature installed on his home telephone. Who would have thought that Ted has the same troubles, as you and me?’ And Lester has nothing better to say about Koppel’s attacks on his own industry: ‘He wails against the media without offering a day’s worth of thinking about possible remedies.’

Lester concludes: ‘This is an ill-conceived, egotistical, colossal waste of time - not because it lets us inside the life and mind of one of the nation’s most respected journalists, but because that life and mind, as presented in this work, is so banal. Having to report his daily events and thoughts in which he admits, ‘there have obviously been days when my only motive has been ‘to get the damned thing done’ ’ leaves him with little time for self-reflection. But perhaps that’s a good thing. I want to like Ted Koppel the interviewer. I really don’t need to know that he threw up behind a haystack after smoking for the first time as a child growing up in England.’

Bruce Fretts at Entertainment Weekly is no less scathing, unfortunately. Many of the entries, he says, deal with such mundane matters as grocery shopping and shoddy airline and phone-company service. Worse, Fretts goes on: ‘He obsessively wrings his hands over Americans’ lack of concern for foreign issues, droning on for days on end about far-flung conflicts (he spends much of April and May overanalyzing the US’ role in Kosovo). After the networks fail to provide live prime-time coverage of an earthquake in Turkey, he grouses that ‘neither Princess Di nor JFK Jr was among the dead or injured, so I suppose the two thousand or more dead Turks are of insufficient interest.’ It’s a fair point but one he runs into the ground. Koppel offers his own most accurate critique when he writes, ‘I'm beginning to sink into old-fartism.’ ’

Saturday, February 6, 2010

As I was skipping past

‘Rosalie, our little seamstress, . . . is always alone in the sewing room and yesterday, . . . as I was skipping past her, she said, ‘You’re looking quite pale, mamzelle Henriette, are you tired?’ ‘I’m more frustrated, Rosalie!’ ‘And with what?’ ‘Oh with myself, I suppose!’ ‘But you’re very fortunate, mamzelle!’ ‘Me fortunate?’ This is Henriette Desaulles, a precocious 15 year old French-Canadian, synthesising for her diary a conversation she had had earlier in the day. The diary is considered to be a ‘valuable testimony of private life in the 19th century’, and today is the 150th anniversary of the writer’s birth.

Henriette was born in Saint-Hyacinthe, a city in Quebec, Canada, on 6 February 1860, into a well-known middle class family. She was educated at a local convent. In 1881, she married Maurice Saint-Jacob and together they had seven children. Maurice died in the mid-1890s while campaigning as a liberal candidate. Subsequently, Henriette wrote a celebrated literary column in Montreal’s Le Devoir under the pseudonym Fadette. There is almost no other information about her freely available on the internet, especially in English. The Diary Junction has links to websites with biographical information in French.

Henriette’s memory, however, has been kept alive because of a diary she kept as a teenager and in the years before her marriage. This was first published in its original language (French) in 1971 in Montreal by Hurtubise as Fadette - Journal d’Henriette Dessaulles, 1874-1880. It was translated and published in English by Hounslow Press as Hopes and Dreams: The Diary of Henriette Dessaulles, 1874-1881. Liedewy Hawke, the translator, won the 1986 Canada Council Prize for Translation as well as the John Glassco Translation Prize. Library and Archives Canada has various editions of the diary listed in its index.

Unfortunately, it seems there are no extracts of Henriette’s diary online except for the one made available by the website of McCord Museum of Canadian History, which also displays a picture of the original pages. The museum says Henriette was ‘a remarkably perceptive adolescent’ and that her diary provides a ‘valuable testimony of private life in the 19th century’. The entry below, it says for example, shows ‘the very different daily realities experienced by people in different social classes’.

23 October 1875
‘Rosalie, our little seamstress, . . . is always alone in the sewing room and yesterday, . . . as I was skipping past her, she said, ‘You’re looking quite pale, mamzelle Henriette, are you tired?’
‘I’m more frustrated, Rosalie!’
‘And with what?’
‘Oh with myself, I suppose!’
‘But you’re very fortunate, mamzelle!’
‘Me fortunate?’
‘But of course! You have good parents, everything you could ever want, you’re rich, you live in a fine house, you have people waiting on you hand and foot, you have a good education! Not many people are as fortunate as you.’ I didn’t reply immediately, for what could I say to her?
‘And you, Rosalie, I asked finally, ‘aren’t you fortunate?’
‘Please excuse me, mamzelle, she replied, ‘I’m quite content with my fate.’
‘You live with you’re family?’
‘No, they’re all dead. I rent a small room where I live all alone, but not for long since I work here every day from seven in the morning til seven at night. When I leave here in the evening I go to the church to pray, and go straight to bed when I get home because I have to be up at five in the morning!’
‘And Sundays?’
‘I spend a lot of time in church and, from time to time, I write to my nephew who is a vicar in the United States.’
‘And you’re content like this?’
‘Yes, I perform my duties as best I can for the Good Lord, and I know that He will do the same for me.’ ’

Friday, February 5, 2010

Music of twelve moons

The rather oddly named Ole Bull was born 200 years ago today. He was not, as his name might promise, a Spanish torero, but a virtuoso Norwegian violinist! Incredibly famous in his day he is sometimes called Norway’s first superstar. He was not a diarist, but there are a few rather lovely quotes about him in other people’s diaries, not least those left by Henry Longfellow and his wife.

Bull was born on 5 February 1810 - two centuries ago today - in Bergen, Norway (then part of a union with Sweden). He was a precocious musician, and it is said that by the age of five he could play all the songs his mother played on the violin, and that by nine he was performing solo for the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. After failing at university, he joined the Musical Lyceum, a musical society, and became its director. He also became director of the Theater Orchestra in 1828.

Thereafter, though, he moved to live in Germany and then Paris where he became acquainted with the style of the Italian virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini, and where he performed with Chopin. His fame soon spread, and over the coming decades he would give thousands of concerts across Europe, and in the United States (where he bought land and started the New Norway community). According to Wikipedia, Robert Schumann called Bull among ‘the greatest of all’, and said he was on a level with Paganini for the speed and clarity of his playing. Bull was particularly famed for his improvisations, and the rich tone of his play, and also for promoting Norwegian folk music and culture.

Bull married Alexandrine Félicie Villeminot in 1836 and they had six children, although only two survived him. His wife died in 1862, and Bull then courted and married Sara Chapman Thorp, 40 years his junior, and they had one child. Bull died in 1880, and was a given a spectacular funeral procession. For more information see Wikipedia or Violinman.com, or better still visit the website set up to celebrate Ole Bull’s 200th anniversary (where Bull is referred to as Norway’s first superstar).

A lot more information about Bull can be obtained online, however, by a visit to Googlebooks and browsing Ole Bull: Norway’s Romantic Musician and Cosmopolitan Patriot written by Einar Ingvald Haugen and Camilla Cai (published by University of Wisconsin Press in 1993). Therein also can be found some diary extracts about Bull.

April 1834 - Count di Rangone writing in his diary about Bull playing in Bologna:
‘There was in his playing a mixture of the bizarre and the poetic, and much of Paganini’s mode of playing. It was astonishing to hear him perform a two-voiced melody in a single stroke of the bow, with pizzicato, trills . . . and harmonics. He distinguished himself in many other ways also. He is an outstanding violinist, and he won spontaneous and ardent applause.’

May 1844 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writing about Bull after a concert at the Melodeon, Boston:
‘a great violinist'.

- Fanny Longfellow in her diary about the same concert:
‘a new Orpheus, with a soul for a violin. When we drove home, I seemed to see twelve moons instead of one.’

- And Margaret Fuller (another member with Longfellow of the Transcendental School) in her diary about the same concert:
The Mountains of Norway, and the Siciliano and Tarentella were the great pieces. - He played . . . Memories of Havana . . . I do not know whether the piece was fine or not. I soon forgot it, and was borne away into the winged life.’

3 November 1855 - Bull was visiting an old townsman and schoolmate of his, Peder Andersen, who had emigrated to the US and settled in Lowell Massachusetts. Peder’s wife Martha writing about Ole Bull in her diary (as commented on by Haugen and Cai in their biography):
‘He entertained us with a fund of anecdotes and grotesque imitations, and after smoking a cigar, played Carnival of Venice and many Norwegian airs.’ In conversation with her Bull had said that ‘the artist must be a compound of burning lava and of ice; his imagination must be on fire, but his reason must be cool and calm, and no passion must be suffered to interrupt the expression of pure feeling.’ She reported that Bull kept his arms rigid as wood while playing, but after playing he suffered from pain and was physically exhausted. ‘The very presence of an unfriendly person is painful and any jar upon his feelings will cause tears.’