Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Dark as soaring pine

Witold Gombrowicz, a Polish born writer famous for his eccentric diaries, died 50 years ago today. His translator believes these diaries can bring you wild, extravagant dreams, and revive your imaginative garden plot. He recommends you ‘let Gombrowicz rise from your garden, dark as soaring pine, translucent as a magnolia blossom.’

Gombrowicz was born in 1904 at Małoszyce near Opatów, 100km or so south of Warsaw, then part of the Russian empire, and was the youngest of four children. In 1911, his family moved to Warsaw, where he was schooled at Saint Stanislaus Kostka’s Gymnasium, before studying law at Warsaw University, earning a master’s degree in 1927. He spent a year in Paris, where he studied at the Institut des Hautes Études Internationales, before returning to Poland. In 1933, Gombrowicz published Pamiętnik z Okresu Dojrzewania (Memoirs of a Time of Immaturity), a collection of humorous stories; four years later came his first novel, Ferdydurke (which brought him some literary fame), and a year after that his first play, Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy.

In 1939, Gombrowicz was working as a journalist on board a new transatlantic passenger vessel, MS Chrobry, heading for South America, when he heard the news about Germany’s invasion of Poland. He decided to remain in Argentina until the war was over, but he stayed until 1963. During this time, he tried to establish himself as a writer in Buenos Aires, but mostly his works - including a Spanish translation of Ferdydurke - failed to bring him any success. He did, however, manage to publish in the Parisian journal Culture, and, in time, he had more books published in Polish, not least Pornografia (1960). From 1947 to 1955, he worked as a bank clerk, thereafter he was able to make a modest living from his literary output.

On his return to Europe, partly thanks to a scholarship from the Ford Foundation, he went first to Berlin - the closest he would get to his native Poland, now Communist, which had run a campaign to discredit him. But he soon moved to Vence, in France, with Rita Labrosse, a Canadian he had met in Paris who acted as his secretary. By this time, he was well known globally, his books having been translated into several languages, and his plays produced internationally. His last book, Cosmos, was published in 1965, and it won him, in 1967, the Prix International. A year later he married Labrosse. He died on 24 July 1969. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Words without Borders, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Porta Polonica

Three volumes of diaries are among the most important of Gombrowicz’s literary output - indeed the Paris Review calls them his masterpiece. Three volumes have been translated by Lillian Vallee and published in English: Diary - Volume One 1953-56, Diary - Volume Two 1957-61, and Diary - Volume Three 1961-66 (Northwestern University Press 1988, 1989, 1993). 
A single volume compendium of the diaries is in print and available from Yale Unversity Press which says: ‘Not a traditional journal, Diary is instead the commentary of a brilliant and restless mind.’ Some pages of this can be previewed at Googlebooks.

These are not ordinary diaries by any stretch of the imagination. Entries are rarely dated, and are often more like notes; daily preoccupations are replaced by metaphysical introspection; and making any sense isn’t always the writer’s main preoccupation! Here is the concluding paragraph of the translator’s Afterword: ‘This is not a book for the pusillanimous or the pedantic. But if you want wild, extravagant dreams, if you want to reclaim every dead plant and neglected corner of your imaginative garden plot, take Diary, read it twice, dance with it in the rain, pass it on to a loony friend. Let Gombrowicz rise from your garden, dark as soaring pine, translucent as a magnolia blossom.’

And here is Pankaj Mishra assessment of the diary in The New York Times: ‘In Witold Gombrowicz’s hands, the journal became an iconoclastic polemic addressed to a small readership of fellow exiles. He began it with a nice bit of self-mockery: “Monday. Me. Tuesday. Me. Wednesday. Me. Thursday. Me.” Certainly humorless self-love, as Anaïs Nin’s diaries reveal, is fundamentally inimical to this quasi-literary form. It works best as a severe tribunal for the self that frequents the world and, dependent on fickle opinion for affirmation, is periodically injured and insulted.’

The following (dated) extracts all come from the original third English volume.


30 October 1966
’30.x.66
I must (because I see that no one will do this for me) finally formulate the main problem of our times, one that completely dominates the entire Western episteme. This is not a problem of History, or a problem of Existence, or a problem of Praxis or Structure or Cogito or Psychology or any other of the problems that have spread across our field of vision. Our main problem is the problem of the smarter, the dumber.

I return to it, although I have brushed up against it on many occasions. . .  The Stupidity that I sense is getting stronger all the time, in a way that is increasingly humiliating, that crushes and weakens me; it has gotten stronger since I moved closer to Paris, the most blunting of cities. I do not assume that I am alone in feeling I am within its reach; it seems to me that all those who participate in the great march of modem consciousness have not been able to muffle in themselves its acompanying step. . . its tearing through the undergrowth right here, right here. . . I wondered and I still wonder how to settle on a Law that would most concisely describe the specific situation of the European spirit. I see nothing except

THE SMARTER, THE DUMBER

Actually I am not talking about a certain contingent of stupidity, not yet overcome, that development will come to terms with sooner or later. This would be a matter of stupidity progressing hand in hand with reason, which grows along with it. Have a look at all the picnics of the intellect: These conceptions! These discoveries! Perspectives! Subtleties! Publications! Congresses! Discussions! Institutes! Universities! Yet: one senses nothing but stupidity.

I must warn you that I am formulating the law the smarter, the dumber without a bit of jesting. No, this is really so. . . And the principle of inverse proportionality seems to get at the very essence of this, for the more noble the quality of reason, the more despicable the category of stupidity; stupidity has become cruder thanks to nothing but its own coarseness, and it eludes the increasingly more subtle instrument of intellectual control . . . our reason, too smart to defend itself against stupidity that is too stupid. In the Western episteme what is stupid is stupid in a gigantic way - and that is why it is elusive.

I will allow myself by way of an example to indicate the stupidity accompanying our, ever more rich, system of communication. Everyone will admit that this system has been splendidly developed of late. Precision, wealth, the profundity of language in not just brilliant expositions but even in peripheral ones, bordering on publicism (like literary criticism), are worthy of the greatest admiration. But the inundation of wealth brings about a flagging in attention, therefore increasing precision is accompanied by increasing disorientation. The result: instead of a growing understanding, you have a growing misunderstanding.

And there are even cruder complications marching onto the scene. Because the critic (let us stick with this example) is, it is true, learned, saturated with readings, oriented, but also overworked, overscheduled, bored, barren; he races to one more premiere, to see one more play, and, after such a onetime look, to hurriedly dash off one more review - which will be thorough and superficial, excellent and slapdash. And, unfortunately, I don’t see that the Western episteme will be capable of solving the contradictions of the communication system, it cannot even register them, as they are beneath its level. . .  The vulnerability of the episteme when faced with the most blatant stupidity is a characteristic feature of our times.

An acquaintance of mine told me a story from before the war. They were drinking a nightcap on the veranda when Uncle Simon showed up. “What?” I asked. “Why, Simon has been resting in the cemetery for the past five years!” “Well, yes.” she replied. “He came from the cemetery in the suit he was buried in, he greeted us, sat down, drank some tea, chatted a bit about the crops, and returned to the cemetery.” 

“What?! And what did you do?! . . .” “What did you want us to do, my dear, in the face of such cheek. . .” And this is why the episteme cannot muster a riposte: it is too shamelessly stupid!

But - what luxuries!

L’ecriture n’est jamais qu’un langage, un système formel (quelque verité qui l’anime); à un certain moment (qui est peut-être celui de nos crises profondes, sans autre rapport avec ce que nous disons que d’en changer le rhythm), ce langage peut toujours être parlé par un autre langage; écrire (tout au long du temps) c’est chercher à découvrir le plus grand langage, celui qui est la forme de tous les autres. (Roland Barthes)

Hm . . . what? . . . One has to admit: they do not lack cheek!

We so-called artists are mountain climbers from birth; this kind of intellectual-verbal hike really agrees with us; if only it did not make us dizzy.’

1 January 1967
‘1.i.67
Rita and I stepped into 1967 yesterday. The two of us, without champagne, looking out our window at the silence, emptiness, our beautiful Place du Grand-Jardin, the steep roofs of old Vence, the cathedral tower, with the stony walls of the mountain far away, which the moon floods with a mystical light.

The moon was so strong that one could see a sheet of water beyond Cap d’Antibes on the other side.

Almost nothing happens to me. The unremarkable state of my health has become something of a cloister for me. I live like a monk. Breakfast at nine, then writing, mail at noon, car excursion into the mountains a stroll, we come back, lunch, newspaper, nap, correspondence, reading. . . . Most often we visit Maria Sperling and J6zefJarema, who have a lovely house and an even more beautiful garden on one of the slopes overlooking at nine, then writing, mail at noon, car excursion into the mountains a stroll, we come back, lunch, newspaper, nap, correspondence, reading. . .  Most often we visit Maria Sperling and Józef Jarema, who have a lovely house and an even more beautiful garden on one of the slopes overlooking Nice.

There is no lack of visits because this is the drawing room of Europe, someone is constantly appearing, from America, Australia, Sweden, Poland, there are scads of kings, financiers, maharajas, admirals, movie stars during the holidays. But nothing ever happens. Sometimes, with an effort bordering on self-torment, I try to unearth in my head some lost detail from years ago. For example, I wondered about this yesterday evening and right before falling asleep last night and this morning: in which courtyard, on what street, did I run for cover from the downpour then, in September 1955, in Buenos Aires, during the revolution, when I fled from my endangered apartment to Russo’s.

In spite of everything, there is a lot of bitter irony in this: that now, after an Argentine fast of many years, I have finally made it to such an elegant country, to such a high civilization, to such landscapes, to such bakery goods, fish, delicacies, such roads, beaches, palaces, cascades, and elegant things that, unfortunately, I with my television, record player, frigidaire, and dog, cat, I in the mountains, in the sun, in the air, at the seaside, that I would have to enter a monastery. But in the depths of my soul I acknowledge that the Force, which has not allowed me to consume my success too greedily, is right. I have known for a long time, from the very beginning - I was warned in advance - that art cannot, should not, bring personal gain. . . that it is a tragic business. Something else seems unjust to me: that my artistic work has furnished me so few of the pure pleasures that are allowed the artist; if writing gives me a certain satisfaction, then it is a cold, stubborn, and even reluctant satisfaction; but how often do I write like a kid at school doing his homework; and more often in terror; or in nagging uncertainty. It is true that there were times when I was on the verge of total obsession, I was in no state to tear myself away, for hours after tearing myself from the paper I would persist in a strange, barren excitement, repeating sentences and phrases just written down (I remember one such maniacal stroll in Buenos Aires, near the river, when my head was buzzing not even with sentences but with loose words from The Marriage). But this had the character of speeding, some sort of gallop, trembling, shaking, and did not have much in common with joy.

Perhaps this is unjust and a little cruel, that my lofty vocation was accompanied by such an awful lack of illusions and pitiless sobriety. The anger that mounts in me when I think about artists like Tuwim, D’Annunzio, or even Gide, would it not be connected to their being able to read someone their text without the desperate suspicion that they were boring him? And I also think that a little of that feeling we call the societal meaning of the artist would be more desirable than my certainty that socially I am a zero, a marginal being. This is quite sad, however: to devote yourself to art but at the same time to be beyond it, beyond its ceremony, hierarchies, values, charms - with a practically peasant distrust - with a peasant’s cunning and reluctant smile.

And if one were to accept that at the heart of this matter is an extremely pleasant and salutory thoughtlessness, then why, I ask, have I never known those plots and games, those artistic pranks and frolics, that the Skamandrites - or the romantics in Victor Hugo’s day - the surrealists, or other frisky young people knew? My time was bloody and raw, agreed. War, revolution, emigration. But why had I chosen this time (when I was being born in 1904 in Małoszyce)?

I am a saint. Yes, I am a saint. . . and an ascetic.

In my life there is a contradiction that knocks the plate out of my hands at the very moment it nears my lips.’

21 August 1967
’21.viii.67
I have been thinking and thinking . . . this is the third week. ... I don’t understand a thing! Nothing! L. finally arrived, looked everything over in great detail, and finally said the same thing, that it was worth at least $150,000. At least! In this dry, pine forest, a crunching underfoot, as if from Poland, with a royal panorama at the top, with princely views onto the processions of castles, St. Paul, Cagnes. Villeneuve, as if rising from the illuminated sea.

A beautiful oak hall on the first floor and three large rooms in the suite. On the first floor two more rooms with a common yet spacious bathroom. Solid verandas and . . .
Why does he want only forty-five thousand (but in cash)? Has he gone crazy? This elusive rich man. . . who is he? Could he be one of my readers? Is this price exclusively for me? The lawyer says: Such are my instructions.

???’

3 September 1967
‘3.ix
I cannot think about anything else. At any rate the twenty thousand will make things much easier. . .’

7 September 1967
‘7.ix
Should I buy it?’

9 September 1967
‘9.ix
I bought it.’

14 September 1967
‘14.ix
Now the measuring - the counting, deliberations - arguments.

I want Jarema’s wall hanging with its deep and juicy juxtapositions of black-green-ruddy texture to stand in the hall with its oak paneling, the counterpart to the goldish red tapisserie of Maria Sperling, saturated with a black net of rhythms . . . and hanging there, at the end of the suite of rooms, on the wall of my study.

An indistinct mulatto at the bottom.

And he is a maniac, maniac, maniac!

It never in my life occurred to me to have a son. And actually it is a matter of real indifference to me whether legitimate or illegitimate. My spiritual development, my entire intellectual development, were of the kind that today I am beyond the orbit of this dilemma. And the fact that some half-mulatto shows up on my doorstep with a tender “daddy” . . . from where, how, why?. . . who cares, I could get used to the idea in the end, get accustomed to it. But as far as blackmail. . .

Who gave him money for the trip from Brazil? And these constant about-faces, tricks, pirouettes with the nomenclature, with the name, what for? To shock? To stun, to weaken? Is he counting on being able to make my head spin with his multiple-name dance of a half-breed, with this dance of a warring Apache, he, the supposed (because even this is not certain) son of an indistinct mulatto, conceived of an accidental night, by way of passing, driving by, of a hotel night, which has dropped into the night of forgetfulness. . . I know nothing. . . I don’t remember.

Out of the empty blackness comes a son!

I bought Louis Philippe armchairs, have to reupholster them, in dark green.’

1 November 67
‘1.xi.67
Rosa, Rosa, Rosa, and Henry, Henry, Henry and Rosa, Rosa, Rosa and Henry, Henry, Henry.

What Henry are you talking about!

In the rotundities of my study.’

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Our Time of Day

The British actor and political activist Corin Redgrave was born 80 years ago today. He kept diaries some of the time, and his second wife Kika Markham has used these, along with her own diaries, to write a memoir - Our Time of Day: My Life with Corin Redgrave. ‘With great empathy and wit,’ the publisher says, ‘Kika records their lives on and off stage - two great actors from two theatrical families.’ As it happens, I have a vague personal connection with Corin and Kika in that they first met while working on a famous 1930s film produced by my grandfather.

Redgrave was born in northwest London on 16 July 1939, to the famous actor Michael Redgrave and his actress wife Rachel Kempson. He had two sisters, Vanessa who was older, and Lynn who was younger. Michael was educated at Westminster School, and King’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a first in English. (Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Trevor Nunn were among his friends there.) He joined the Royal Court Theatre as an assistant director in 1962. That same year he married Deirdre Deline Hamilton-Hill, and they were to have two children.

Redgrave soon turned to acting, and through the 1960s appeared on stage and in films, not least in Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-winning A Man for All Seasons. In the 1970s, acting began to take second place to his involvement in radical politics: encouraged by Vanessa, he joined the Workers’ Revolutionary Party founded by Gerry Healy. He became increasingly involved with the group as a full-time organiser; and when it split, he remained loyal to Healy and his new Marxist Party. Redgrave’s marriage had been dissolved some while earlier, and, in 1985, he married his second wife, Kika Markham, also an actress, and they had two children.

Only with the ending of the Cold War did Redgrave return wholeheartedly to acting, enjoying significant roles such as in In the Name of the Father (1993), about the wrongful imprisonment of the Guildford Four, and in the romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). He also had success in the West End and on Broadway, especially with Tennessee Williams’s Not About Nightingales (receiving a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play in 1999). In the mid-1990s, he wrote an acclaimed memoir of his father (whom he had helped with his autobiography a decade earlier) Michael Redgrave, My Father, which incorporated extracts from Michael’s diaries. Corin Redgrave was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, and in 2005 suffered a heart attack, but, nevertheless, made a triumphant return to the stage in 2007, with the one-man play Tynan, and as the lead in Trumbo in 2009. He died in 2010. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), or IMDB.

Like his father, Corin kept a diary, at least sometimes. I have not been able to establish how regularly he did so, or what diary material he might have left behind. However, Kika Markham in her memoir - Our Time of Day: My Life with Corin Redgrave (Oberon Books, 2014) - includes many extracts from his diary as well as from her own. Some pages can be previewed at Amazon or Googlebooks. and a review can be read at The Guardian. The publisher’s blurb states: ‘Our Time of Day was inspired by Corin’s revelation that after suffering brain damage he could remember little of his marriage - despite the fact that for over thirty happy, passionate and turbulent years he and Kika had shared their love of acting, family and left-wing politics with ceaseless energy and commitment. With great empathy and wit, Kika records their lives on and off stage - two great actors from two theatrical families. She draws upon intimate records of the thoughts and feelings that they had both expressed in personal diaries, writing with often brutal honesty. Finally she charts the poignant trajectory of Corin’s illness, from the moment he suffered a near-fatal heart attack during a speech on behalf of the Dale Farm gypsies, to severe memory loss, cancer and his eventual death from an aneurysm in the brain. Throughout these troubled years both continued acting in plays and films, as well as strenuously pursuing the human rights causes they held so dear.’


I, myself, have a distant connection with Corin and Kika. In the second paragraph of chapter one in Markham’s memoir, she explains how she knew Corin: ‘Michael Redgrave, Corin’s father, and David Markham, my father, had worked together in a film about the struggle of the miners in the 1930s: The Stars Look Down, based on the novel of the same name by A. J. Cronin.’ My grandfather, Igee Goldsmith, was the producer of that film - see my 2011 Diary Review piece on Cronin.

Here are several extracts from Corin Redgrave’s diaries as reproduced in Markham’s memoir.

9 February 1999
‘It’s an age since I wrote this diary. All my good intentions to write it at least every other day have been sabotaged by the unusually heavy workload of writing for the magazine [The Marxist].

It’s the second very long day of technical rehearsal. I have a nice spacious dressing room, with a shower and loo. When I get the chance I’ll get a divan brought in, and a fridge, and put some of our beautiful photos on the wall. They made me cry with joy, and a little bit with pain, because they make you seem so close and yet you’re so far. At night I play your “I’m beginning to miss you”, and I could swear you must be thinking of me, except I know - or I hope - you’re asleep.

My dresser, Dino, has been dressing Uta Hagen. She’s on in a play off-B’way, which will run for another three weeks. Another good reason you should hurry on over if humanly possible, to catch her while she’s still here. Dino says she’s a ‘miracle’ and I’m sure he’s right.’

28 March 2009
‘We took part in a rally in Trafalgar Square.

I read Robert Fisk.

We stood together on the platform - Kika read the diary of Zena el Khalil.

It was an honour to take part in such a dire, dreadful situation. It was important to feel that we could contribute, even in a small way.

We met Harvey and Jodie which was delightful. And Arden was there, dear Arden.’

16 June 2009
‘Lying in bed is not necessarily tiredness, but finding a way to start the day. Arden told us some wonderful news. He got a 2:2 for his degree!! BRAVO ARDEN!!!! It hasn’t been easy for him, with me being ill, and with him changing course in mid-stream. Tony Kushner came to supper. We talked a lot about writing.’

Monday, July 15, 2019

On Magpies, on!

‘Well - that worst part is over. Tomorrow, to pack, & then onto the Road & away. Details, like lorries & portable pianos & car insurance, remain to be settled - but nought shall stay our triumphant flight. On Magpies, on!’ This is from a journal kept by the writer Iris Murdoch, born 100 years ago today, when still a young woman and touring with a group of actors called The Magpie Players. The diary, published posthumously, is said by its editor, Peter Conradi, to show ‘a person vividly alive and fascinated by her world, trying to make sense of it by writing it down, seeking to be in charge of her own destiny.’

Murdoch was born in Dublin on 15 July 1919. However, within weeks, her father took up a job in London, working at the ministry of health. She was educated at the Froebel Demonstration School, at Badminton School as a boarder from 1932 to 1938, and at Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied classics and philosophy. After leaving Oxford, in 1942, she worked for HM Treasury, until mid-1944 when she joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Initially stationed in London, she was transferred in 1945 to Brussels, then to Innsbruck, and finally to Graz, Austria, where she worked in a refugee camp. Subsequently, she took up philosophy as a postgraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge, before, in 1948, becoming a fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, where she taught philosophy until 1963.

Murdoch published her first novel - Under the Net - in 1954. In 1956, she married John Bayley, an English academic and literary critic. Though the relationship lasted the rest of her life, Murdoch is known to have had many affairs. She produced a new novel every one or two years - including The Bell (1958), A Severed Head (1961) and The Black Prince (1973) - some of which won literary prizes. Her greatest success came with The  Sea, The Sea which won the 1978 Booker Prize. In 1987, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 1994, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In 1997, she was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for ‘a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature’. She died in 1999, and later the same year Bayley released Iris: A Memoir (later turned into a film). Further biographical information is available online at Wikipedia, The Guardian (and here), The Irish Times, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The New York Times.

Murdoch kept diaries for much of her life. In Iris Murdoch: A Life (HarperCollins, 2001), the biographer Conradi explains that she left behind edited journals (1939-1996) ‘which constituted an invaluable resource, carrying her unique ‘voice’.’ Indeed, it seems, he was the first to have access to her journals, referring to, and quoting from them, generously throughout his biography. Many pages can be freely read at Amazon and at Googlebooks. In 2010, Conradi also published Iris Murdoch - A Writer at War: Letters & Diaries 1938-46 (Short Books, subsequently Oxford University Press, 2011). The diary extracts take up one third of the book, and cover the period in 1939 when she was on tour with a theatre group, The Magpie Players. A few pages can be previewed at Amazon, and reviews can be read The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent.

One of Conradi’s aims in producing this latter work, he says, is ‘to reclaim the living writer as she begins her adult life’. He explains: ‘Dame Iris in life so august, remote and intensely private, was in death unwittingly reduce to two opposed stereotypes: in vulgar language bonking (younger Iris) or bonkers (elderly Iris). If you’re American: screwing or screwy. Both sensationalisms reduced her to gross physicality, by-passing and demeaning the one thing about her that was truly remarkable - the freedom of her mind.’ He goes on to say: ‘The journal and these letters show her, by contrast, as a person vividly alive and fascinated by her world, trying to make sense of it by writing it down, seeking to be in charge of her own destiny. That she was disturbed by a troubled love-life does not prevent her being a role-model for young women today. Such experiences, which mark the growing-up of most of us, were to feed her strenuous moral philosophy and her fiction alike. And in these writings she walks and talks and lives once more.’

In 2017, Kingston University, London, announced that Audi Bayley, the widow of John Bailey, had gifted Murdoch’s private journals, covering the period from 1939 to 1996, and that consequently it now had ‘the most significant collection of Murdoch-related material in the world’. ‘These journals,’ a university press release said, ‘provide unparalleled insights in to [sic] the remarkable and complex life of a woman whose private and public personas were often at odds with each other. [. . .] A first glance at the journals revealed that some entries had been edited by the late author with phrases having been physically cut out of pages by Murdoch herself, [. . .] The second journal is missing and assumed destroyed as it spans the period during the Second World War when Murdoch was caught up in a controversial love triangle [. . .] The account of the first days of her marriage has also been removed. Among the collection is a journal from the 1980s which is packed with descriptions of domestic incidents and accounts of dreams. Most significantly, there are hundreds of cryptic comments on philosophy, theology, literature and the writing process itself.’

Here’s a selection of Murdoch’s diary entries as chosen/edited by Conradi: the first two long ones (August 1939) are taken from Iris Murdoch - A Writer at War: Letters & Diaries 1938-46, and the remaining short ones are all from page 274 in Iris Murdoch: A Life.

23 August 1939
‘Well, we did put on a show - but only just. We didn’t know our lines (some of us), our costumes weren’t finished, & held together with pins, parts of the scenery were unpainted, & we had to cut out chunks of the programme because it was under-rehearsed. But we put on a show & what’s more they liked it! 'The whole day was a glorious nightmare of sewing on clips & fasteners & buttons & bells, & drawing innumerable magpies on innumerable sheets of paper for innumerable purposes. Hugh & I took half an hour off after lunch & walked up to the meadow where the horses were & talked about the Party. I was amazed when he told me he had been in only a few months & there was I imagining him an Old Bolshevik. Hugh is full of surprises.

He makes a very good dead Cuchulain in the ‘Lay of the Heads’, and even shewed great enthusiasm for the part!

We were supposed to have a ‘Dress & Lighting Rehearsal’ at 3.30, but of course it did not materialise. At 3.30 I was just beginning Joan’s ‘Queen o’ fairies’ dress, & the bulbs for the spotlights hadn’t come! About 5 Joan and Hugh & I went and lay on the grass exhausted & Joan did the Times crossword & moaned about the political situation. The papers seemed scared & I suppose a grave crisis is on but I can’t seem to feel any emotion about it whatsoever. This is such a strange, new, different, existence I'm leading, & so entirely cut off from the world.’

About 6 o/c we rehearsed Tam Lin & it was appalling. Denys, of course, nervous creature, went off the deep end, & said O I wish we weren’t doing this! But I tried to reassure him, privately thinking he was quite right.

Tom almost lost his temper several times during the afternoon - quite unheard of. But Joan was magnificent & sorted all the costumes out, & was sweet to us when we rushed about & said Joan, where is that cloak? Joan, where are my shoes. . .

And at 8 o’clock there we were, Joan & Moira & I singing the theme song & trembling all over. ‘Julius Caesar’ was on first, & Moira told me afterwards it was terrible. Victor had to be prompted every other line, & she sang her song wrong. Alas. Then we did Tam Lim and it went wonderfully, never better. And they liked it!

Denys was exultant. (Joyce said afterwards my arm movements were perfect & reminded her of Peggy Ashcroft! I like that girl Joyce, she says the right things.) ‘Broomfield Hill’ didn’t get across so well, tho’ Joan’s dress was splendid, like a young parachute.

‘Clydewa’er’ was the hit of the evening tho’, with Hugh compering, & doubled the House up in laughter. Joan gave a fine little introductory speech to the ‘Lay of the Heads’ & it went down amazingly well. No one laughed! ‘The Keys’ also went far better than I’d expected. Hugh filled all the sceneshifting intervals with a brilliant & endless stream of songs & patter which the audience loved. First he was American & sang cowboy songs, then he sang in Welsh, then Irish & Scottish songs. The production went moderately smoothly, with only one major blunder, when Joan was left sitting alone in the middle of the stage for 3 minutes in ‘Donna Lombarda’, while Joyce & I desperately jabbed Denys’s costume as full of safety pins as a porcupine is of quills. The ‘Play of the Weather’ went well, tho’ Cecil said it was ‘a shaggy performance, just hanging together, with everyone inventing their lines for themselves.’ I think some of the audience were shocked at the bawdier parts, tho’ the curate in the back row whom we’d fixed on as a test case, laughed heartily thro’out.

Well - that worst part is over. Tomorrow, to pack, & then onto the Road & away. Details, like lorries & portable pianos & car insurance, remain to be settled - but nought shall stay our triumphant flight. On Magpies, on!’

27 August 1939
‘[Water Eaton Manor] A peaceful day. We left Northleach with mingled relief & imprecations, after the men had been well rooked by a charming but villainous robber of a Youth Hostel warden. And, as a grand finale, Joyce had her purse stolen. O Northleach, Northleach we shall pass this way but once! We went to Water Eaton via Shipton-under-Wychwood, & left our big props & the trailers behind there. Water Eaton is a fine Elizabethan manor belonging to Prof. Carr Saunders, the London university population expert. We weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by the professor & his lady. Not exactly. But we found Frances was there with her two harps - so that compensated for a slight aloofness on the part of the family & a noticeable scarcity of basic nourishment. We wandered the gardens, lay on the grass, & Tom talked vaguely of rehearsing this & that. My opinion of everyone in the company is going up by leaps & bounds with 2 exceptions. Tom & Jack. Tom really is maddening. He refuses to make up his mind, and when he does make it up, he won’t tell anyone. He was well served this afternoon, for as a result of his not divulging what ballads we were going to rehearse, half the company went off in a punt & left him fuming. Actually it was mean of them too to wander off without a word, & I ticked Joyce & Moira off about it when they came back. Frances played her harp in the family chapel & I came & sang softly to it, & happily we passed the day. At 6 we gave a show to the Carr Saunders & aristocratic & arty friends. It was beautiful to do Tam Lin out of doors in such a superb setting, & it went well. Tom wrecked Donna Lombarda by too early an entrance, but on the whole all was delightful.

After the show Hugh & I wandered down to the Cherwell which flows thro’ meadows below the house, & sat & watched the moon rise. A group of white swans sailed silently past. It was a most magical evening. Hugh lay down beside me with his head touching my side, & I sat and looked across the river. Then gradually we gave expression to what had been tacit between us for several days. There is something incredibly tender & gentle about Hugh, for his all terrific strength & bluffness.

I went back late to the house to find Moira & Joan had been waiting for me. They then took Joyce & me in the car to the people we were to stay with in Yarnton. Both Joyce & myself, by some unlucky change had lost our cases, & were in great distress. However, we survived the night. We were staying with a hearty old couple, good working class stock, but unintelligent. The star of people who are nice to you when you come canvassing, bu who will not buy a copy of the ‘Daily Worker’ as they ‘already get the Herald, thank you very much.’

13 December 1948.
‘I need a strongbox to keep this damn diary in. Probably I ought to destroy all the entries of the last 3 weeks. Why am I unwilling to? . . . Must root out the weak desire for an audience (the lurking feeling eg that I write this diary for someone - E[lizabeth], P[hilippa], D[onald], or X, l’inconnu, I still believe in l’inconnu -? ). Way to sincerity, a long way.’

30 January 1949.
BS [unidentified] lectured me on politics & the old nostalgia stirred, part conscience, part guilt, part sheer romanticism and part sheer bloody hatred of the present set-up. To no end, but it stirred. It occurs to me that I entertain the idea: ‘One day I shall return to the party’, and the idea ‘One day I shall join the Roman church’ like two escape valves. It is not that I am utterly unserious about them - but they not held close, but part of some far project ... Thought later: what marks one out as a confined person, with no dimension of greatness? Some lack of sweep, some surreptitious idolatry. In my case, I feel there must be some will to please which is on my face like a birthmark. Who lacks this smallness? D[onald], and Pippa [Philippa], unconfined people, and E[lizabeth] too.’

18 May 1952.
‘Looking back in this diary. What an unstable person I seem to be ... I shall be to blame if I don’t build now where I know it is strong, in the centre, through loneliness. (Aloneness) ... I wrote today on the top of my lecture paper: marriage, an idea of reason!’

14 June 1952.
‘There is a lot which I don’t put into this diary, because it would be too discreditable - & maybe even more painful. (At least - no major item omitted but certain angles altered - and painful incidents omitted.)’

27 October 1958.
‘The instinct to keep a diary: to preserve certain moments for ever.’

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Crossed a singular slough

‘Started about sunrise, crossed a singular slough. Crossed a hard bottom covered knee deep with liquid black stagnant marsh mud, through which the men waded.’ This is from a diary kept by Simon Newcomb, an American astronomer, written on the way back to Boston from Manitoba where he had gone to observe a total solar eclipse. Newcomb, who died 110 years ago today, is considered to have been the most honoured American scientist of his day. He seems to have kept some diaries, but only a few extracts have been published - including the one above - and these can be found online in a short paper in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Newcomb was born in the town of Wallace, Nova Scotia, in 1835, the son of a school teacher who moved around teaching in different parts of Canada. Aged 16, he was apprenticed to Dr. Foshay, supposedly a herbalist. But, after serving two of his five years with the quack, he ran away, walking most of the 120 miles to Calais, Maine, from where he worked his passage on a boat to Salem, Massachusetts before reuniting with his father. He taught and tutored for several years in Maryland and near Washington, studying all the while, especially maths and astronomy. In 1857, he was appointed a functionary in charge of calculations at the Nautical Almanac Office in Cambridge, Massachusetts; he also enrolled at the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University, graduating BSc in 1858.

In 1861, Newcomb became professor of mathematics and astronomer at the United States Naval Observatory, Washington D.C., where he set to work on the measurement of the position of the planets as an aid to navigation, becoming increasingly interested in theories of planetary motion. He married Mary Caroline Hassler, daughter of a US Navy surgeon, in 1863, and they had four children.

In 1867, Newcomb published a revised value for the solar parallax (one which remained standard until his own revision in 1895). That same year, he first suggested the importance of determining an accurate velocity of light as a means to obtaining a reliable value for the radius of the earth’s orbit. With this aim, he started experiments in 1878, for a while collaborating with Albert Michelson. In 1877, Newcomb was appointed superintendent of the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac Office. He launched a programme to reform the entire basis of fundamental data involved in the computation of the ephemeris - a monumental task, but one he eventually completed.

Newcomb authored a large number of papers on almost every branch of astronomy. He also published several mathematical textbooks as well as astronomical books for a popular audience, including Popular Astronomy (1878), The Stars (1901), and Astronomy for Everybody (1902). He was a founding member and first president (1899-1905) of the American Astronomical Society. He served as president the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1876-1878), president of the American Mathematical Society (1897-1898), and member (1869) and vice president (1883) of National Academy of Sciences. According to Encyclopedia.com he was ‘the most honoured American scientist of his time’ and ‘his influence on professional astronomers and laymen was unparalleled’. He died on 11 July 1909. Further information is also available from Wikipedia, MacTutor, National Academy of Sciences, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and Newcomb’s own memoir The Reminiscences of an Astronomer.

The Library of Congress holds an archive of Simon Newcomb papers, among which are included ‘Diaries and Commonplace Books, 1852-1918’; but no further information is provided. Arthur L. Norberg says, in his essay on Simon Newcomb’s Early Astronomical Career (Isis, vol. 69, no. 2, 1978) that ‘the Newcomb diaries and correspondence allow us to reconstruct the details of Newcomb’s life from this period;’ and he footnotes the diaries several times. Otherwise, the only other published reference to diaries kept by Newcomb can be found in a paper by Kennedy, J. E. & Hanson, S. D for the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Vol. 90, p.292 - 1996) - available online at the Astrophysics Data System website.

The abstract to that paper reads as follows: ‘In I860 Simon Newcomb journeyed from Boston to Manitoba to observe a total solar eclipse. A microfilm copy of Newcomb’s Diary for the trip, along with a typescript, is held by the University of Saskatchewan Archives. Wherever entries appeared of relevance to astronomy or contained supplementary information about the trip to view the eclipse, they have been included here as excerpts. The scientific data on the Sun, which Newcomb and his party planned to obtain at totality, were summarized in a newspaper account by a reporter who accompanied them on a segment of their travels. Newcomb endured extreme hardships during his hazardous journey and clouds prevented him from viewing to his satisfaction the totally eclipsed Sun.’ And here are several of those excerpts.

11 June 1860
‘Talked with Mr. Inkster of Ft. Garry ... was informed by him that canoes were sometimes delayed on the lake whole days by storms.’

25 June 1860
‘Arrived at Fort Garry at 10 1/2 o’clock a.m. Found Gov[ernor] Mactavish, who said that we should have to get our boat &c. at the “lower Fort,” 22 miles down. Opened our instruments, and took out sextant & spy glass. (Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, had instructed William Mactavish. Governor of Assiniboia and officer-in-charge of Upper Fort Garry, to provide whatever assistance the eclipse party required in carrying out their scientific pursuits. Mactavish arranged for their transportation, albeit in a leaky canoe, as well as provisions, a guide and paddlers for the two crossings of Lake Winnipeg. On their return to Fort Garry, Mactavish then arranged for the party’s return by wagon-train over the plains to St. Paul.]’

27 June 1860
‘Sent Kippling out in the morning to offer £3 10s each for canoe-men. In the afternoon, he returned stating that the middlemen wanted £4 10s each, and the bowman £5 10s. We shall probably have to engage four middlemen & a bow[ma]n at these rates.’

28 June 1860
‘Spent the forenoon in getting our provisions and equipment for the trip. Cost, including wages, [£]260. Started for Cumberland House at 3 1/2 p.m. in Sir George Simpson’s North canoe. Encamped at sunset, near the house of Peguis, Indian chief after whom we named our camp. Canoe still leaking. Comet fainter.’

29 June 1860
‘Started soon after sunrise. Had to stop every 1/2 hour and bale out canoe. Arrived at Lake Winnipeg at 8 3/4 a.m. A meteor in the evening in N.N.W. left a tail behind it which lasted 45 minutes, and moved 15° toward west.’

9 July 1860
‘Opened instruments this morning, and observed altitudes of Sun. Found chronometer to be fast of local time by 1h 48m 13s, and Latitude] to be 52° 4' 9" ±3". Tried to observe Polaris, but could not, owing to the badness of the mercury.’

17 July 1860
‘Men still paddling, but rather sleepy, they make very slow progress owing to the swiftness of the current. In the afternoon clouds and rain, and every appearance of a cloudy morning for the eclipse.’

18 July 1860
‘Eclipse morning. Cloudy till eclipse was 1/4 way through. End of totality at 8h 15m 0s per chronom[eter] of eclipse at 9h 15m 23s.2. Emersion of elongated spot at 9h 1m 34s. Darkness not so great as I had expected. Cirrus clouds luminous in the N.E. during totality. Took observations for time and Latitude with difficulty owing to the unsteadiness of the ground. Went to The Pas in the afternoon.’

24 July 1860
‘Men paddled all last night; arrived at Cedar Lake House between 2 and 3 a.m. Ran down to the portage, arriving there early in the forenoon. Had portage finished by about 10 o’clock. Arrived at the mouth of the Saskatchewan before 2 p.m.’

8 August 1860
‘Awakened after 5 a.m. by the landing of the boat. Found that we were 2 or 3 miles past Willow Is[land]. Arrived at the mouth of the Red River at 10 a.m. Started up the river at 11 1/4 with side wind. Passed many Ind(ian] lodges. Arrived at Stone Fort, (or Lower Fort Garry) at 7 1/2 p.m.’

9 August 1860
‘Slept last night at Fort, in civilized bed. At 8 a.m. started for Fort Garry on foot, arriving at 1 1/2. Roads were very bad the first few miles. Found that steamboat had not arrived, or been heard from, though she was due Saturday last. Wrote an account of our voyage for the Nor’Wester. Stopped at Royal House. Mr. Lilly up to-night.’

28 August 1860
‘Started about sunrise, crossed a singular slough. Crossed a hard bottom covered knee deep with liquid black stagnant marsh mud, through which the men waded. Camped alongside an Indian or other circular mound 30 feet in diam[eter] & 4 high. Place is called Snake Hill, and the river Snake River.’

12 September 1860
‘Arrived at Anoka shortly after 11 a.m. From there walked very slowly, and got into stage about 3 1/2 o’clock, about 3 miles above Manomin. Arrived at St. Paul about dark, went to P.O., and got a letter from Capt. Davis, enclosing draft for $89. Capt. D[avis] had written to Mr. Terry expressing apprehension for our safety. Called on Gov[ernor] Ramsay.’

13 September 1860
‘Went on board the steamboat Alhambra (stem wheel boat) at 8 a.m. Boat aground frequently.’

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

He distorted body parts

Wolverton was a master in caricaturing the human face and body. He distorted body parts while multiplying others. Noses hang on necks, ears stick out of eye sockets, teeth point out in all directions, skins droop to the ground and virtually everyone has blisters or freckles. His characters seem to be made from plasticine rather than bones.’ This how a comic encyclopaedia describes the work of Basil Wolverton, born 110 years ago today. He was one of America’s great mid-20th century comic artists, working for Stan Lee’s (pre-Marvel) Atlas Comics, and for MAD in its early days. But he was also very religious and produced many a biblical illustration. He kept diaries for a year as a child and then regularly during the second half of his life. Although these have not been published, they have been exploited by Greg Sadowski in his recent two-volume and highly illustrated biography of Wolverton.

Wolverton was born on 9 July 1909 in Central Point, Oregon, but his family later moved to Vancouver, Washington. His parents, though religious, divorced when he was a teenager. An older sister died around the same time, which led the young Wolverton to abandon his faith for a decade or more. Aged 11, he drew a weekly cartoon of famous comic characters to sell at the local farmers’ market, and aged 16 he sold his first nationally published work. His comic strip, Marco of Mars, was accepted by the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929 though it was never distributed.

Wolverton made a living as a vaudeville performer for a time, with a special act where he sang in a baritone voice, played ukulele and tap danced. Other income came from his job as a journalist/cartoonist for the Portland News. He was baptized into Herbert W. Armstrong’s Radio Church of God in 1941 and was ordained as an elder in 1943. As a board member of the church, he was one of six people who re-incorporated the church in 1946 when it moved its original headquarters from Oregon to California. Later, he drew many illustrations for Armstrong’s religious publications, and then for The Plain Truth. But, in the comic world, he was building up a portfolio of clients: his first major success came with Powerhouse Pepper, from 1942 to 1948, a humorous boxing series. In 1946, he won a competition in Life Magazine which brought his name to a wider public.

Lambiek Comiclopedia gives this assessment: ‘Wolverton was a master in caricaturing the human face and body. He distorted body parts while multiplying others. Noses hang on necks, ears stick out of eye sockets, teeth point out in all directions, skins droop to the ground and virtually everyone has blisters or freckles. His characters seem to be made from plasticine rather than bones, but Wolverton knew how to draw it all with a sense of fun, elegance and innocence.’ It was only a tiny step, the encyclopaedia adds, for him to go from monstrous faces to drawing actual monsters and extraterrestrial aliens. In the early 1950s, he drew many and varied horror and science fiction stories for Stan Lee’s Atlas Comics (preceding what would become Marvel Comics) as well as for the comic books published by Stanley P. Morse. And, in 1952, he was among the pioneering artists working for Harvey Kurtzman's new satirical magazine MAD. Later in his career, Wolverton illustrated several covers for Joe Orlando’s satirical comic book Plop! (DC Comics, 1973-1975), and in 1974 he turned briefly to self-publishing. He suffered a stroke that same year, and died in 1978. Some further biographical information can also be gleaned from Wikipedia and Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr’s Illustrators.

Recently, in 2014, Fantagraphics released the first volume of an illustrated biography of Wolverton’s life - the most comprehensive biography ever published, it claims: Creeping Death from Neptune - The Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton (Volume 1: 1909-1941). The second volume, Brain Bats of Venus: The Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton (Volume 2: 1942-1952) is due to be published this coming autumn.

Throughout both books - authored by Greg Sadowski - there is a liberal sprinkling of extracts from diaries Wolverton kept at different points in his life. The first volume, for example, draws on a childhood diary. It was given him for Christmas in 1923, and, Sadowski says, ‘sheds light on his time in high school and his advancing interest in Christianity, cartooning, scientific magazines, vaudeville, and movies’. In it, he writes of 'escapades with his friends, which include building tunnels with secret passages, diving oft piers, and spying on wandering drunken men, with public intoxication being particularly scandalous during the Prohibition era.’ Several pages can be read online at Googlebooks, Amazon and Issuu. Wolverton didn’t resume keeping a diary until 1941, but when he did would write down each day’s events, occasionally punctuated with a wry remark. He kept up the habit for the next 30 years. Sadowski notes that from 1941 onwards his biography of Wolverton is ‘anchored’ by the diaries. Further information on the forthcoming second volume can also be found at Googlebooks and Amazon. (Incidently, the original comic Brain Bats of Venus can be viewed online at Internet Archive.)

Here are several extracts from Wolverton’s diaries as found in the two volumes.

24 December 1923
‘Hello folks, my name is Basil Wolverton and the first writing in this book was put here Dec. 24, 1923, the night before Christmas. I live in Vancouver, Washington. I have one sister, one mother, one father and no brothers. Thus only four in the family. I was born in Central Point, Oregon, July 9, 1909. I am now fourteen years old.

I got all my Christmas presents tonight and I sure am happy. I got a necktie, a pair of arm bands, a pair of swell gloves with gauntlets, a Tarzan book, two pounds of plaster paris, a hair brush, this diary book, two dollars, and some candy. I think that’s a good bunch of swell presents.’

1 January 1924
‘I ate a lot of dinner and then went to the show and laughed so much at the comedy that I’d of liked to split the front of my shirt and the seat of my pants and maybe my collar or my stockings. The comedy was so funny that I was behind in my laughs when funny things came along and I didn’t get to laugh enough at everything, but when I got home I made up tor it by laughing a lot.’

6 July 1924
‘Great lapse of time. Pardon me for leaving out so much of my diary but I have forgotten and neglected to write it. Well, it is summer and school has just been out for a month. Therefore only two months left. I went to Sunday School and Church today. I have been working in the cannery. I have earned sixteen dollars in seven days. I guess all the work is over now. I went to the show yesterday that is the second show in 1924.’

29 July 1925
‘Seven months is quite a long time. It is almost August already, and vacation is going fast I was elected president of the Lower Junior Class for the coming semester and will be president of the Upper Juniors during the last semester. I am sixteen years old now. Mom wanted to take her trip back East this summer but there is not enough money. I thought sure we were going to get to take it but I guess now we are not. I worked a little over a month now in the cannery, right after school and earned $96.88, which helps a little bit.

I am now trying to sell my cartoons to some syndicates. I made a few strips and called them Simple Simon and These Modern Inventions, and sent them to the King Features Syndicate at New York. The King Features Syndicate sent them to the International Feature Syndicate, just a block away. They both had no use for the cartoons, so sent them back and I made some more, only they were not in strip form but were just one big picture, and were called Funny Features. I made a four line verse to go with each of them and then sent them off to the N.E.A. Service at Cleveland, Ohio. I haven’t got them back yet, though. I sent them sixteen days ago. This mornings mail hasn’t come yet; they might be coming this morning.

Dad has been gone for about six weeks. He lives in Portland now. I will go out and saw some more wood and then come back and write down whether my pictures came this morning.

My pictures are coming tomorrow, I guess. I got a letter today saying that the syndicate had no use for them. C. N. Landon of the Landon School of Cartooning is the art director of the syndicate, so of course he wants me to take a course in his school, and then I’ll get a job. I won’t do that but I’ll make eight more pictures and send them to another syndicate.’

23 February 1942
‘First enemy shells (from submarine off California coast) landed on U.S. continent in this war. One wonders what will happen a week, a month, or a year from now.’

Early March 1942
‘Phone rang at 3:35 A.M. Was dreaming of air raid. Phone call was from Warden Farrell: alert alarm. I dressed and dashed over to Ben Wells’ place. Couldn’t rouse him. Went to Bettesworth’s place and got him up. Reported to Farrell. He told me to rout out neighbors who might help. I went after Frank Wanamaker and called Sollie. Then all-clear signal came. Went back to bed.’

Monday, July 8, 2019

Understand it, and love me

Havelock Ellis, an early British sexologist who wrote the first medical tract on homosexuality, died 80 years ago today. Given his own lack of experience in sexual matters, it remains a quirk of sociological history that he should have become such a pioneer in opening up discussion of sexuality and sexual problems. Intriguingly, he left behind some personal diaries but they have never been edited or published. In his own autobiography, for example, he says of one diary, ‘perhaps someone some day would read it, and understand it, and love me’.

Ellis was born in Croydon (now part of Greater London) in 1859. His father was a sea captain; and, aged seven, he was taken on one his father’s voyages. He attended the French and German College near Wimbledon, and afterward attended a school in Mitcham. In 1875, Ellis sailed with his father to Australia where, soon after his arrival in Sydney, he obtained a position as a master at a private school. But he was soon fired (for he had no qualifications) and became a tutor for a family for a year before obtaining a position as a master at a grammar school. Subsequently, he undertook training and was given charge of two government schools.


In 1879, however, Ellis returned to England where, having decided to study the subject of sex, he enrolled at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School to become a physician. He funded his studies by editing literary works, and with a small legacy. He joined The Fellowship of the New Life in 1883, through which he met a range of social reformers. And the following year he was part of the group that set up the Fabian Society. It was also in 1884 that he met Olive Schreiner with whom he had a long friendship.

Ellis published his first books - The Criminal and The New Spirit - in 1890. Soon after, he met Edith Lees who had been much impressed by The New Spirit. They married in 1891, though from the first the marriage was unconventional: they lived in separate homes, and Lees was openly lesbian. In 1897, the English translation of Ellis’s book Sexual Inversion, co-authored with John Addington Symonds and originally published in German in 1896, became the first English medical textbook on homosexuality. Many further books about sex followed, although, as many commentators have noted, this was somewhat ironic since he himself was almost totally inexperienced.

Between 1897 and 1928, Ellis published seven volumes of his Psychology of Sex - considered a comprehensive and groundbreaking encyclopaedia of human sexual biology, behaviour, and attitudes. However, publication and dissemination of the first volume, Sexual Inversion, incited opposition in the UK, not least through a court case against a bookseller. As a result of the controversy, the remaining six volumes were published in the US. But, even across the Atlantic, sales were restricted to members of the medical profession (not till a change in the obscenity laws in 1935 were they allowed on general sale). Ellis’s work helped to foster open discussion of sexual problems, and he became known as a champion of women’s rights and of sex education. He was also a supporter of eugenics, and served as vice-president to the Eugenics Education Society. His other notable books include Man and Woman (1894), The Task of Social Hygiene (1912), and The Erotic Rights of Women (1918). He died on 8 July 1939. Further information can be gleaned from Wikipedia, Spartacus Educational, the Embryo Project Encyclopedia, or the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Ellis’s autobiography - 
My Life - was published soon after his death (Houghton Mifflin, 1939, and William Heinemann, 1940). It can be read freely online at Internet Archive. In Chapter Three, Ellis discusses a diary he kept for a while: ‘The Surrey left London on April 19th, 1875. From this date, and during the four years I spent in Australia, I kept a diary in a solid manuscript book purchased to this end, so that for the approaching formation period, when nearly all the seeds of my life’s activities were sown, I could if I please - though I have not done so - check my recollection by the entries in this intimate contemporary record. Except Olive Schreiner, none has ever read this diary, not even my wife, though it contains nothing I had any wish to hide from her; but to Olive, with her large tolerance and her active intellectual receptivity, it seemed in 1884 easy and natural to me to bare my inner self. I sometimes think that with increasing years and ill health she has become less tolerant, less receptive, but we have long been separated by all the waves of the Atlantic.’

And then, 100 pages further on Ellis says this: ‘Though in the published volume of Olive’s Letters so many extracts from those to me are given, I may perhaps now give a few further fragments from letters, early and late, having a more intimately personal reference to myself. Even before the end of 1884 we were living in an atmosphere of familiar nearness, and in November of that year, when ill in bed, she wrote: “I am not sure as to where you begin and I end.” A little later, when she had been reading my Australian diary in which I had put down that perhaps someone some day would read it, and understand it, and love me (Olive is still, more than half a century after it was written, the only person who has read it), she writes: “And then I was living just like you on a lonely farm, and at night when my work was over going out to walk under the willow trees or on the dam walls and I used to think ‘One day I must find him.’ ” ’

But this is not the only diary Ellis kept. Houston Peterson refers to diaries kept by Ellis in his 1928 biography Havelock Ellis: Philosopher of Love. In reviewing this, Margaret Sanger stated: ‘The excerpts from the early notebooks and diaries, which Havelock Ellis began at the age of ten, are especially interesting.’ The State Library of New South Wales holds some of Ellis’s diary material. It refers to ‘Diary 1875-1890’ with the following notes: ‘A few pencil notes by Henry Havelock Ellis in early part of diary appear to have been made some years later, only 1 is dated (page 99). Many entries in later part of diary refer to Olive Schreiner’; and, ‘The diary records mental and spiritual experiences, not day to day occurrences. A condensed account of these experiences, with comments, appears in his My Life, 1940 espec. pages 91-103.’ The Library also makes reference to six volumes of ‘commonplace books’. However - and unfortunately - none of Ellis’s diaries have ever been edited or published.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Purpose into my life

‘She put purpose into my life - the life of a spoiled bachelor congressman who was also a successful trial lawyer and a hero of the last war who tended to be too carefree and frivolous. In 11 years I jumped from congressman to President.’ This is Ferdinand Marcos, the president of the Philippines, writing in a diary about his wife, Imelda. Marcos was soon to introduce martial law, and the couple’s increasingly lavish lifestyle would also lead to them both being reviled. Although Marcos died in exile 30 years ago, Imelda returned to the Philippines eventually, continued a political career, and is celebrating her 90th birthday today.

Imelda Remedios Visitacion Romualdez was born on 2 July 1929 in Manila, Philippines. She was the oldest child of her father, a lawyer, and her mother, a dressmaker, though she had older siblings by her father’s earlier marriage. Her mother died when she was nine, and her father moved the family back to his own home city of Tacloban in the province of Leyte. She attended Holy Infant School from 1938 to 1944. She was crowned a local beauty queen when aged around 18. While studying at the Divine Word University, also in Tacloban, she taught at a local Chinese high school. She also enrolled for a while at a college of music. In the early 1950s, Imelda moved to Manila to live with a cousin who was a politician. She worked as a sales girl before her relatives found her a job at the Central Bank. She also came joint first in a Manila beauty contest, and continued singing lessons.

In 1954, Imelda met Ferdinand Marcos, a member of the House of Representatives, and 11 days later they were married in a small civil ceremony. Over the next decade or so, they had three children, and established themselves as one of the country’s most important political couples. In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected president, and glamorous Imelda was likened to John Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline. However, the couple’s popularity started to wane as Marcos, in his second term, declared martial law, and Imelda’s spending on lavish projects seemed out of control. Chief among their critics was opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr, an old friend of Imelda’s. He was imprisoned, and then exiled to the US. Despite warnings from Imelda, he risked a return to the Philippines in 1983 but was assassinated by government forces at Manila airport.

When an election was called in 1986, opposition to Marcos rallied around Aquino’s widow, Corazon. Although Marcos claimed victory in the elections, the military withdrew its support from him when evidence of massive voting fraud emerged. The Marcos couple fled to Hawaii, and an extraordinary collection of shoes left behind by Imelda came to symbolise the excesses and corruption of the Marcos regime. Marcos died in 1989, and Imelda was subject to various ongoing embezzlement and graft charges (in the US and Philippines). However, she eventually made a return to her home country, where she unsuccessfully campaigned for president. She did win a place in Congress between 1995 and 1998, and was again elected to congress in 2010 and 2013. In 2018, she was convicted of seven counts of graft and sentence to 42 years in prison, though it is considered unlikely she will see any jail time (given her age, and the appeal processes). Further information is available from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia, Biography.com, The New York Times.

Although I can find no evidence that Imelda Marcos kept a diary, her husband certainly did, from the beginning of 1970. His manuscript diaries appear to have been left behind when the Marcos couple went into exile, and were discovered at the Malacañang Palace. They then found their way, mysteriously it seems, into the hands of the American journalist William C. Rempel, who then based a book on them: Delusions of a Dictator: the mind of Marcos as revealed in his secret diaries (Little, Brown, 1993).


In a 2013 article for Rappler, Rempel says this: ‘It was nearly 25 years ago that I got my first look at the diary of Ferdinand Marcos. I was an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times when about 3,000 pages of diary and other presidential papers were delivered to me in instalments - on street corners, at a restaurant, in the lobby of an office building - all very cloak-and-dagger. The documents were a journalist’s gold mine. I found bribery receipts and coded accounting reports recording official corruption. There were poems and love notes to First Lady Imelda and the Marcos children interspersed among Ferdinand’s plans for repression and dictatorship. The diary itself contained the president’s private musings about power and his messianic calling to “save the Philippines” from an exaggerated threat of communist insurgency. Here, too, was compelling evidence of Marcos plots against political rivals, the press, and anyone who dared to criticize his administration. But what caught me most by surprise were the lies - blatant, bald-faced, and occasionally comical. It turns out that while Ferdinand Marcos was lying to the world and to the Philippine people, he was also lying to his own diary.’

Rempel maintains his own website, but there is very little activity on it, nor is there any further information about the diaries. The celebrated Filipino historian Ambeth Raymundo Ocampo is said to be editing the diaries for publication, and he has spoken in public about them on several occasions. A selection of extracts from Marcos’s diary can be found online at the Inquirer.net; and even more can be found at The Philippine Diary Project. The diary extracts provided by The Philippine Diary Project come from ‘xeroxed copies of the diaries’ that were ‘written in longhand, more often than not, on official stationery.’ Indeed, alongside the transcribed diary extracts, it includes images of the diary pages. The following extracts, all mentioning Imelda, come from The Philippine Diary Project, except for those dated 2 and 12 June 1972 which I’ve taken from Inquirer.net.

13 January 1970
‘Imelda has a mass in the right breast and worries us because the doctors say that while there has been no change, an operation to remove it and to find out if it is malignant may be necessary.

I am suffering from pain in the right groin after golf. I hope it is not hernia. I see the doctor tomorrow.

And we were on a project to have another baby, a boy if possible. Massive injections of hormones for Imelda is necessary if we are to have a baby and this is not good for her growth in the breast which might develop into something serious with these hormones.’

19 January 1970
‘Imelda is strong enough to play host to her crowd nightly. We have just eaten Chinese lugao and lumpia brought in by Joe and Betty Campos. I liked most the bajo or powdered beef tapa and the seeweed for the lumpia. It is now 11:00 PM. Last night we went to bed at 11:30 PM. Read De Gaulle’s war memoirs up to 1:30 P.M. after writing my diary.

I must soon write my war memoirs while the events are still fresh in my mind.’

2 June 1972
‘Imelda is suffering from pain and from a deep sense of loss and sorrow for the abortion about which I have told her. She feels inadequate and has been crying her eyes out.

I have shed no tears for my unborn child, but I have vowed that I shall cure this sick society that has brought about the anguish of my wife, which caused the abortion. For the media has been vicious - it has condemned for a crime not charged, foisted gossip as truth and disregarded the rights of fair and impartial trial.

And this sick man who has committed perjury, libel and bribery has done me at least one favor. He has opened my eyes to this illness of our society that may yet destroy it. And my duty and mission is now to cure that illness.’

12 June 1972
‘Imelda and I have been reminiscing in bed - the long tortuous road from Congress to the presidency, the sacrifices, her tears, pain and hard work that went into our struggle for power.

She put purpose into my life - the life of a spoiled bachelor congressman who was also a successful trial lawyer and a hero of the last war who tended to be too carefree and frivolous.

In 11 years I jumped from congressman to President.’

17 September 1972
‘We escaped the loneliness of the palace for this old Antillan house now known as Ang Maharlika, the State Guest House several blocks from the palace. It has been restored beautifully by Imelda and is a symbol of Philippine culture in the last century. Almost all our antique valuables have been transferred here.

The departure of our children has made the palace a ghostly unbearable place.’

21 September 1972
‘Delayed by the hurried visit of Joe Aspiras and Meling Barbero who came from the Northern bloc of congressmen and senators who want to know if there is going to be Martial Law in 48 hours as predicted by Ninoy Aquino.

Of course Imelda and I denied it.’

22 September 1972
‘Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed near Wack-Wack at about 8:00 pm tonight. It was a good thing he was riding in his security car as a protective measure. His first car which he usually uses was the one riddled by bullets from a car parked in ambush.

He is now at his DND office. I have advised him to stay there.

And I have doubled the security of Imelda in the Nayon Pilipino where she is giving dinner to the UPI and AP as well as other wire services.

This makes the martial law proclamation a necessity.

Imelda arrived at 11:35 PM in my Electra bullet proof car to be told that Johnny had been ambushed, it is all over the radio.

Congress is not adjourning tonight as the conference committee on the Tariff and Customs Code could not agree on a common version. They adjourn tomorrow.

I conferred with Speaker Villareal, Roces, Yñiguez and Barbero who are going to Moscow and they are ready to leave on Sunday. So they are decided to finish the session same.

Senate President Gil Puyat insists that the next special session be early January.

And they will not be able to pass the urgent bills like the rehabilitation bill.’

23 September 1972
‘Things have moved according to plan although out of the total 200 target personalities in the plan only 52 have been arrested, including the three senators, Aquino, Diokno and Mitra and Chino Roces and Teddy Locsin.

At 7:15 PM I finally appeared on a nationwide TV and Radio broadcast to announce the proclamation of martial law, the general orders and instructions.

I place them in Envelope XXXV-C

I was supposed to broadcast at 12:00AM but technical difficulties prevented it. We had closed all TV stations. We had to clear KBS which broadcast it live. VOP and PBS broadcast it by radio nationwide.

The broadcast turned out rather well and Mons. Gaviola as well as the [illegible] friends liked it. But my most exacting critic, Imelda, found it impressing. I watched the replay at 9:00 PM.’