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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Nijinsky going mad

One of the most famous dancers that ever lived, Vaslav Nijinsky, died 70 years ago today, three weeks after his 60th birthday. But the dance in him had died 30 years before that, leaving him to spend half his lifetime in and out of mental institutions. Astonishingly, at the very point in his life that he was going mad, when, in fact, the dance was leaving him, he started to write a diary, and kept on writing for six weeks. A sanitised version was first published between the wars, but the full and unbowdlerised text only emerged in the 1990s.

Wacław Niżyński, or Vaslav Nijinsky, was born in 1890 to Polish parents, both dancers, in Kiev, Ukraine. Aged nine, he was entered into the Imperial Ballet School, and by 1907 began to star as a soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre. In 1908, he embarked on a relationship with Sergei Diaghilev - although sexual at first, it was their partnership in dance that would lead them both to fame. In 1909, Diaghilev took a company of Russian opera and ballet stars - including Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova - to Paris for a highly successful season; and thereafter he formed Les Ballets Russes which would become an artistic and social sensation, setting trends in art, dance, music and fashion for the next decade.

Within a couple of years, Nijinsky himself was choreographing the troupe’s ballets, notably those based on Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. The Diaghilev-Nijinsky relationship took a turn for the worse in 1912, when Les Ballets Russes toured South America without Diaghilev. Romola Pulszky, a Hungarian countess who had been pursuing Nijinsky, finally won him over onboard the ship to South America and they were married in Buenos Aires. But on returning to Europe, Diaghilev - angered by the turn of events - dismissed Nijinsky, who then tried, unsuccessfully, to set up his own company.

During the First World War, Nijinsky was interned in Hungary but Diaghilev succeeded in getting him released for a North American tour in 1916. Thereafter, though, the dancer succumbed increasingly to mental illness, and was taken by Romola for treatment to Switzerland. There he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1919, and spent the rest of his life in and out of psychiatric institutions. He died on 8 April 1950. For further biographical information see Wikipedia or the American Ballet Theatre website.

In 1919, in Switzerland and on the edge of his breakdown, Nijinsky began writing a diary and he continued to do so for six weeks, filling four notebooks (although one is just letters). A version of this diary was first edited by Romola and published in English in 1936. In 1953, Editions Gallimard came out with another heavily edited version, this time in French. Even after Romola died in 1978, her daughters, Kyra and Tamara, refused to release the full text, and it was not until 1995 that a full unexpurgated text was first published in France (by Editions Actes Sud).

In a review of the French edition, The New York Times said: ‘Much of the text reads like a stream of consciousness dominated by a series of fixations, including Nijinsky’s identification with God and Jesus Christ, his love of humanity, his concern for feelings, his distaste for eating meat, his disdain for money, his wife’s curiosity about his writing and his need to confess his sexual habits.’

Four years on, in 1999, an English version translated by Kyril Fitzlyon and edited by the American dance critic, Joan Acocella, was published in New York (by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) and London (by Allen Lane).  The publishers say The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky is ‘the only sustained, on-the-spot written account we have by a major artist of the experience of entering psychosis’. The full text can be borrowed online freely from Internet Archive (though log-in is required).

In Acocella’s introduction, she explains with precision how extensively Romola bowdlerised her husband’s diary for the 1936 edition. But Acocella also acknowledges that ‘a large part’ of Nijinsky’s reputation actually rests on the diary as it was first published - an edition which is still in print today (as part of the Penguin Modern Classics collection).

Various reviews of the unexpurgated diary can be found on the internet. Peter Kurth at Salon is not very impressed: ‘Unfortunately, the diary provides no special insight into the qualities that made Nijinsky one of the greatest dancers of all time. Dance is impossible to recapture on paper. And Nijinsky’s case is doubly problematic, since his total output was small, and only one of the dances that he choreographed for himself, L’Apres-midi d’un faune, still survives in performance. Acocella thinks it entirely possible that in writing the diary Nijinsky hoped to create a work of literature, but she offers it, wisely, for what it is: a footnote to genius, the last, sad record of a legend.’

The New York Times (again, this time about the English edition) concludes with this thought: ‘The diary’s final lines are not, as the old edition had it, ‘God seeks me and therefore we will find each other,’ but a mundane thought that never gets finished. How ironic that in erasing the real ugliness of his insanity, the old version silenced not only Nijinsky’s true voice but the magnificently gifted body from which it came. And how fortunate we are to have them both restored.’ A few pages of the book and other reviews can be read at Amazon.

It is worth noting that although this text of Nijinsky’s is referred to by everyone as a ‘diary’, it does not look like a diary, for there are no dates at all, and nor, with some exceptions such as when he writes about his meals, does it read much like a diary. Also worth noting is the fact that the Australia-based film director Paul Cox made a film, released in 2001, called The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky - see IMDB.

Finally, here are some extracts from The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky - unexpurgated edition: 1) the first in the book; 2) one about Diaghilev; 3) and the diary’s very last entry.

1)
‘I have had a good lunch, for I ate two soft-boiled eggs and fried potatoes and beans. I like beans, only they are dry. I do not like dry beans, because there is no life in them. Switzerland is sick because it is full of mountains. In Switzerland people are dry because there is no life in them. I have a dry maid because she does not feel. She thinks a lot because she has been dried out in another job that she had for a long time. I do not like Zurich, because it is a dry town. It has a lot of factories and many business people. I do not like dry people, and therefore I do not like business people.

The maid was serving lunch to my wife, to my first cousin (this, if I am not mistaken, is how someone related to me by being my wife’s sister is called), and to Kyra, together with the Red Cross nurse. She wears crosses, but she does not realize their significance. A cross is something that Christ bore. Christ bore a large cross, but the nurse wears a small cross on a little ribbon that is attached to her headdress, and the headdress has been moved back so as to show the hair. Red Cross nurses think that it is prettier this way and have therefore abandoned the practice that doctors wanted to in-still in them. The nurses do not obey doctors, because they do not understand the instructions they have to carry out. The nurse does not understand the purpose she is here for, because when the little one was eating, she wanted to tear her away from her food, thinking that the little one wanted dessert. I told her that “she would get dessert when she had eaten what was on the plate.” The little one was not offended, because she knew I loved her, but the nurse felt otherwise. She thought that I was correcting her. She is not getting any better, because she likes eating meat. I have said many times that it is bad to eat meat. They don’t understand me. They think that meat is an essential thing. They want a lot of meat. After eating lunch they laugh. I am heavy and stale after eating, because I feel my stomach. They do not feel their stomachs, but feel blood playing up. They get excited after eating. Children also get excited. They are put to bed because people think they are weak creatures. Children are strong and do not need help. I cannot write, my wife disturbs me. She is always thinking about the things I have to do. I am not bothering about them. She is afraid I will not be ready. I am ready, only my digestion is still working. I do not want to dance on a full stomach and therefore will not go and dance while my stomach is full. I will dance when it all calms down and when everything has dropped out of my bowels. I am not afraid of ridicule, and therefore I write frankly. I want to dance because I feel and not because people are waiting for me. I do not like people waiting for me and will therefore go and get dressed. I will put on a city suit because the audience will be composed of city folk. I do not want to quarrel and will therefore do whatever I am ordered to do. I will now go upstairs to my dressing room, for I have many suits and expensive underwear. I will go and dress in expensive clothes so that everyone will think I am rich. I will not let people wait for me and will therefore go upstairs now.’

2)
‘I know the tricks of impresarios. Diaghilev is also an impresario, because he has a troupe. Diaghilev has learned to cheat from other impresarios. He does not like being told that he is an impresario. He understands what being an impresario means. All impresarios are considered thieves. Diaghilev does not want to be a thief and therefore does not want to be called an impresario. Diaghilev wants to be called a Maecenas. Diaghilev wants to become part of history. Diaghilev cheats people, thinking that no one knows what he is aiming at. Diaghilev dyes his hair so as not to be old. Diaghilev’s hair is gray. Diaghilev buys black hair creams and rubs them in. I noticed this cream on Diaghilev’s pillows, which have black pillowcases. I do not like dirty pillowcases and therefore felt disgusted when I saw them. Diaghilev has two false front teeth. I noticed this because when he is nervous he touches them with his tongue. They move, and I can see them. Diaghilev reminds me of a wicked old woman when he moves his two front teeth. Diaghilev has a lock of hair dyed white at the front of his head. Diaghilev wants to be noticed. His lock of hair has become yellow because he bought a bad white dye. In Russia his lock was better, because I never noticed it. I noticed it much later, for I did not like paying attention to people’s hairstyles. My own hairstyle bothered me. I constantly changed it. People said to me, “What are you doing with your hair? You always change your hairstyle,” and then I said that I liked changing my hairstyle because I did not want to be always the same. Diaghilev liked to be talked about and therefore wore a monocle in one eye. I asked him why he wore a monocle, for I noticed that he saw well without a monocle. Then Diaghilev told me that one of his eyes saw badly. I realized then that Diaghilev had told me a lie. I felt deeply hurt. I realized that Diaghilev was deceiving me. I trusted him in nothing and began to develop by myself, pretending that I was his pupil. Diaghilev felt my pretense and did not like me, but he knew that he too was pretending, and therefore he left me alone. I began to hate him quite openly, and once I pushed him on a street in Paris. I pushed him because I wanted to show him that I was not afraid of him. Diaghilev hit me with his cane because I wanted to leave him. He felt that I wanted to go away, and therefore he ran after me. I half ran, half walked. I was afraid of being noticed. I noticed that people were looking. I felt a pain in my leg and pushed Diaghilev. I pushed him only slightly because I felt not anger against Diaghilev but tears. I wept. Diaghilev scolded me. Diaghilev was gnashing his teeth, and I felt sad and dejected. I could no longer control myself and began to walk slowly. Diaghilev too began to walk slowly. We both walked slowly. I do not remember where we were going. I was walking. He was walking. We went, and we arrived. We lived together for a long time. I had a dull life. I grieved alone. I wept alone. I loved my mother and wrote letters to her every day. I wept in those letters. I spoke of my future life. I did not know what to do. I cannot remember what I wrote, but I have a feeling that I wept bitterly. My mother felt this because she wrote me letters in reply. She could not reply to me about my aspirations, because they were my aspirations. She was waiting for my intentions. I was afraid of life because I was very young. I have been married for over five years. I lived with Diaghilev also for five years. I cannot count. I am now twenty-nine years old. I know that I was nineteen when I met Diaghilev. I loved him sincerely, and when he used to tell me that love for women was a terrible thing, I believed him. If I had not believed him, I would not have been able to do what I did. Massine does not know life, because his parents were rich. They lacked for nothing. We did not have bread. My mother did not know what to give us to live on. My mother joined the Ciniselli Circus in order to earn a little money. My mother was ashamed of such work because she was a well-known artiste in Russia. I understood it all, even though I was a child. I wept in my heart. My mother also wept. One day I could bear it no longer and ran to Bourman, a friend of mine, he was called Anatole. He is now married to Klementovich.’

3) ‘I had a good dinner, but I felt that I should not eat soup. It was canned soup . . . I wanted to run and get some money, for I thought it was necessary, but God proved to me that I should not. I took a checkbook. I want to take a checkbook and not money, because I want to show on the Stock Exchange that I have credit. The stockbrokers will believe me and will lend me money. I will win without money. I know that everyone will be frightened, and therefore I will go to the Stock Exchange by myself. I will put on a bad suit because I want to see the whole life on the Stock Exchange. I will deceive the stockbrokers. I will take my good suit and pretend to be a rich foreigner, and I will visit the Stock Exchange. I am afraid of the Stock Exchange because I do not know it. I went there once with Diaghilev, who knew a man who was a stockbroker. Diaghilev gambled for low stakes and therefore won. I will gamble for low stakes because I too want to win. I know that little people lose because they get very nervous and do silly things. I will observe everyone with complete detachment, and I will understand everything. I do not like knowing everything in advance, but God wants to show me the way people live and therefore is warning me. I will go to the railway station on foot and not in a cab. If everyone is going in a cab, I will too. God wants to show people that I am the same kind of person as they are ...................
I will go now..............
I am waiting..............
I do not want.............
I will go to my wife’s mother and talk to her because I do not want her to think that I like Oscar more than her. I am checking her feelings. She is not dead yet, because she is envious.................’


This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 8 April 2010.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Only you, my diary

‘Only you, my diary, know that it is here I show my fears, weaknesses, my complaints, my disillusions. I feel I cannot be weak outside because others depend on me. I rest my head here and weep. Henry asked me to help him with his work. Gonzalo asks me to join political revolutions. I live in a period of dissolution and disentegration. Even art today is not considered a vocation, a profession, a religion, but a neurosis, a disease, an “escape”. I titled this diary “drifting”. I thought I too would dissolve for a little while, but ultimately I become whole again.’

This is Anaїs Nin writing in August 1936. The same year she would begin to edit her earlier diaries with a view to publishing them. However, it would be another three decades before a first volume reached print, and when it did, Karl Shapiro, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, would write: ‘For a generation the literary world on both sides of the Atlantic has lived with the rumour of an extraordinary diary. Earlier readers of the manuscript dicussed it with breathtaking superlatives as a work that would take its place with the great revelations of literature. A significant section of this diary is at last in print and it appears that the great claims made for it are justified.’ Today - the 110th anniversary of her birth - seems a good day to remember Nin, one of the great literary diarists.

Anaїs Nin was born in France on 21 February 1903. Her parents, of mixed and partly Cuban heritage, were both music professionals. When they separated, their mother took Anaїs and her two brothers to New York City. At 20, she married a banker, Hugh Guiler, who later illustrated some of her books and went on to become a film maker. The couple moved to Paris in 1924, where Nin began writing fiction and where she fell in with the Villa Seurat group, which included the writers Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell (‘Larry’ in the diary). She had many love affairs, often with well known literary figures, but her relationship with Miller was more constant than most.

In 1932, Nin’s D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study was published with a limited print run. Also, in the mid-1930s, she began therapy with Otto Rank, a one-time pupil of Sigmund Freud. Despite Rank being 20 years older, she had an affair with him lasting several years (for more see The Diary Review article Nothing but the eyes). Thereafter, Nin published several novellas and collections of short stories, such as House of Incest (1936). Winter of Artifice (1939) and Under a Glass Bell (1944). Also in the 1940s, she began to write short erotic stories, though these were not published until the 1970s (Delta of Venus and Little Birds).

In 1939, Nin and Guiler relocated to New York. In 1946, Nin met the actor Rupert Pole, 16 years her junior; and in 1955 she married him in Arizona. The couple went to live in California, though Pole was unaware that Nin was already married; and Guiler, to whom Nin returned to in New York often, remained ignorant of the marriage to Pole. Nin, eventually, had her marriage to Pole annulled because of the legal complications of both husbands claiming her as a dependent on their tax returns. Nin continued to live with Pole, though, until her death in 1977, and Pole became her literary executor.


Throughout her life, starting aged 14, Nin was a committed, almost obsessed, diary writer. According to Wikipedia’s entry on The Diary of Anaïs Nin, the diary became ‘her best friend and confidante’. And, ‘despite the attempts of her mother, therapists Rene Allendy and Otto Rank, and writer Henry Miller, to break [her] of her dependence on the diary, she would continue to keep a diary up until her death in 1977’.

Already in the early 1930s, encouraged by her friends, especially Lawrence Durrell (see, also, A book out of these scraps), Nin began editing her diaries with a view to publication. However, it was not until 1966 that a first volume (covering the years 1931-1934) appeared, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Over the next decade or so, six more volumes in the same series would be published, each one edited by Nin herself; and these would later be referred to as the ‘expurgated’ version of Nin’s diary. (In the UK, they were published by Peter Owen and titled The Journals of Anaïs Nin.)


After her death, several volumes of Nin’s earlier diaries, i.e. from 1914 to 1931, were published, and then after Guiler’s death, in 1985, Pole commissioned unexpurgated versions of the journals. There have been several of these: Henry and June; Incest; Fire; and Nearer The Moon, all subtitled From a Journal of Love.

Further information on Nin is readily available across the web, at Wikipedia, The Official Anaïs Nin Blog, one fan site, another fan site, and Sky Blue Press. Excerpts from her diaries are also readily available, at Googlebooks for example, and on the fan sites.

The following extracts about diary writing itself are taken from The Journals of Anaïs Nin - Volume Two, i.e. the second published edition of the expurgated diaries. (See The Diary Review for more on Nijinsky’s diary.)

August 1936
‘Conflict with diary-writing. While I write in the diary I cannot write a book. I try to flow in a dual manner, to keep recording and to invent at the same time, to transform. The two activities are antithetical. If I were a real diarist, like Pepys or Amiel, I would be satisfied to record, but I am not, I want to fill in, transform, project, expand, deepen, I want this ultimate flowering that comes of creation. As I read the diary I was aware of all that I have left unsaid which can only be said with creative work, by lingering, expanding, developing. [. . .]

After I wrote here the other day on art versus diary, I felt the danger of putting art into the diary. It might kill its greatest quality, its naturalness. I must split up and do something apart - it is a need. No consciousness of perfection must enter the diary. Good-bye completeness. My plan of writing up a Day and a Night until I reach perfection.’

Fall 1937
‘Larry began to look over the volumes I took out of the tin box. But I began to feel uneasy, agitated, and we talked first. His first remark was: “Why, that is as terrifying as Nijinsky.” We had all been reading Nijinsky’s diary. Larry went away with an armful of volumes after saying: “You are a strange person, sitting there, surrounded by your black notebooks.”

I feel right about the diary. I will not stop. It is a necessity. But why does Henry attack it? He says I give good justifications for it each time but that he does not believe them.

Nijinsky, writing just before all connections broke with human beings. . .

Larry with his keen eyes, saying: “I have only smelled the diary writing, just read a page here and there. You have done it, the real female writing. It is a tragic work. You restore tragedy which the world has lost. Go on. Don’t stop. I’m sick of hearing about art. What you have done nobody has done. It is amazing. It is new.” ’

November 1937
‘Because of Henry’s description of the whalelike diary, Larry calls me “the Whale”. And signs himself: “your ever-admiring limpet.” [. . .]

Have gone to work on abridged edition of the diary. [. . .]

Henry has been collecting subscriptions to publish the first volume of the diary, and the first one he received was from André Maurois, who added that, however, he did not want all of the fifty-four volumes, his house was too full of books. In between these visits I arranged all the diaries I want to edit in one box so I can plunge into them easily.’

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Diary Review’s fifth birthday

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of The Diary Review. During its five years, the column has included extracts from the diaries of over 450 diarists. The Diary Review and The Diary Junction together can claim to provide the internet’s most extensive and comprehensive online resource for information about, and links to, diary texts. Here listed are all the diarists that have been written about in The Diary Review. Copy any name into the Blogger search box (above) to access the article(s). All the articles are also tagged with keywords (below right) by century, country, and subject matter.

The Diary Review diarists: May 2008 - April 2013 (most recent first)

John Addington Symonds; Henry James; Edwina Currie; Alan Clark; Tony Benn; Idris Davies; William Henry Jackson; Adam Winthrop; Noël Coward; Richard Hurrell Froude; Deborah Bull; Joseph Warren Stilwell; King Edward VII; William Cobbett; John Evelyn Denison; William Macready; Michel de Montaigne; Joseph Goebbels; George Barker; Anais Nin; Thomas Crosfield; Alec Guinness; Amrita Sher-Gil; Gordon of Khartoum; Hugh Gaitskell; Swami Vivekananda; Albert Jacka; Joe Orton; William Bray; Anthony Wood; William Cole; Henry Greville; Louisa Alcott; Dang Thuy Tram; John Rabe; John Manningham; Mary Berry; Edmund Franklin Ely; Sergei Prokofiev; Guy Liddell; Richard Burton; Marina Tsvetaeva; Rutherford B Hayes; John Thomlinson; Elizabeth Simcoe; August Gottlieb Spangenberg; George Croghan; William Booth; Iris Origo; George H Johnston; Dawn Powell; Arthur Hamilton Baynes; Roger Twysden; William Cory; William Grant Stairs; Celia Fiennes; Edmond de Goncourt; August Strindberg; Edward Lear; Charles Abbot; May Sarton; Ralph Waldo Emerson; A C Benson; George Cockburn; George William Frederick Howard; Frederick Hamilton; Clifford Crease; Father Patrick McKenna; Robert Musil; Michael Spicer; Chris Parry; Rick Jolly; Tony Groom; Neil Randall; Peter Green; Samuel Sewall; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Isabella Augusta Persse Gregory; Mochtar Lubis; Alice James; John Byrom; Lawrence Durrell; Thomas Moore; Beatrice Webb; Alexander Hamilton Stephens; William Charles Macready; Charles Dickens; John Baker; William Swabey; Derek Jarman; Edith Wharton; Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen; William Tayler; Robert Boyle; Roald Amundsen; Henry L Stimson; Victor Andrew Bourasaw; Robert W Brockway; Louis P. Davis; Robert Hailey; Sydney Moseley; Rodney Foster; Xu Zhimo; Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov ; David Livingstone; Christopher Columbus; George Whitwell Parsons; Arthur Schnitzler; Thomas Edison; Nathaniel Dance Holland; Frederic Remington; Lady Mary Coke; Henri-Frédéric Amiel; Engelbert Kaempfer; Henry Melchior Muhlenberg; Walter Scott; Alan Lascelles; Lord Longford; Thomas Isham; Hiram Bingham; Earl of Shaftesbury; Hannah Senesh; Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville; Allan Cunningham; Thomas Asline Ward; Robert Lindsay Mackay; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Queen Mary; King George V; John Reith; Philip Toynbee; Robert Wyse; Tappan Adney; Brigham Young; Gideon Mantell; Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz; Alfred Domett; Alfred Kazin; Joseph Hunter; George Jackson; Prince Albert; 7th Earl of Shaftesbury; William Dyott; Ford Madox Brown; William Brereton; Adam Eyre ; Aubrey Herbert; Anne Chalmers; Walter Powell; Ron Hubbard; Taras Shevchenko; Xu Xiake; Cecil Harmsworth King; Henry Martyn; Countess of Ranfurly; Anne Morrow Lindbergh; Charles Crowe; Mary Shelley; Hester Thrale; Queen Victoria; Eliza Frances Andrews; Ananda Ranga Pillai; Abraham de la Pryme; Henry Fynes Clinton; Jane Carlyle; Jacob Bee; Paul Bowles; José Lezama Lima; Stendhal; Ludwig van Beethoven; Benjamin Constant; Charlotte Bury; Hugh Prather; Leo Tolstoy; Eric Gill; Ernst Jünger; Thomas Cairns Livingstone; George Bernard Shaw; King Chulalongkorn; Julia Ward Howe; Richard Boyle; Charles Ash Windham; Elizabeth Gaskell; Étienne Jacques Joseph Macdonald; Leonard J Arrington; Takehiko Fukunaga; Porfirio Díaz; William Holman Hunt; John Hutton Bisdee; Mother Teresa; Graham Young; Wilfrid Scawen Blunt; Florence Nightingale; Elizabeth Percy; Luca Landucci; Timothy Burrell; William Lyon Mackenzie King; William Byrd; Marius Petipa; Conrad Weiser; Lester Frank Ward ; Minnie Vautrin; Tsen Shui-Fang; Katherine Mansfied; Peter Pears; Richard Pococke; Axel von Fersen; Gonzalo Torrente Ballester; Li Peng; Robert Schumann; Chantal Akerman; William Windham; Anne Lister; Alan Brooke; Guy Liddell; Hugh Casson; Jules Renard; Alastair Campbell; Fridtjof Nansen; Ricci the sinologist; Matteo Ricci; John Carrington; Gustave Flaubert; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Anne Frank; Virginia Woolf; Marie Louise of Austria; Dorothy Wordsworth; Antera Duke; Edward Hodge; Jeffrey Archer; Vaslav Nijinsky ; John Poindexter ; Cosima Liszt Wagner; Lady Cynthia Asquith; Thomas Clarkson; William Marjouram; Roland Barthes; Franklin Pierce Adams; Murasaki Shikibu; Caroline Herschel; Mikhail Bulgakov; Han Feng; William Griffith; Casanova; Victor Klemperer; Nelson Mandela; Josef Mengele; Ted Koppel; Henriette Desaulles; Ole Bull; Anton Chekhov; Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen; Cecil Beaton; Douglas Hyde; Donald Friend; Barbara Pym; Antonia Fraser; Fanny Burney; Jack Lovelock; Richard Newdigate; Albert Camus; William Gladstone; Thomas Babington Macaulay; Chet Baker; Paul Klee; Henry Edward Fox; Peter Scott; David Hamilton; Chiang Kai-shek; Washington Irving; Fanny Kemble; André Gide; Edwin Hubble; Tomaž Humar; William Howard Russell; Pehr Kalm; Gareth Jones; Anatoly Chernyaev; Leon Trotsky; Bernard Berenson; Benjamin Britten; Jacob Abbott; Otto Rank; Gurdjieff; Itō Hirobumi; George B McClellan; Jack Kerouac; Benjamin Roth; Lee Harvey Oswald; Roger Boyle; Meriwether Lewis; Abel Janszoon Tasman; Alfred Dreyfus; Alfred Deakin; John Narbrough; Gandhi; Arnold Bennett; Jim Carroll; Mahmoud Darwish; George Rose; Maria Nugent; James Fenimore Cooper; Henry Hudson; Kim Dae-jung; Georges Simenon; Henry Peerless; Drew Pearson; Earl Mountbatten of Burma; William Wilberforce; Alfred A Cunningham; Rosa Bonheur; Hana Pravda; Isaac Albéniz; Marie Curie; Dr Alessandro Ricci; John Skinner; General Patrick Gordon; Alexander von Humboldt; Charlotte Grimké; Christian Gottlieb Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter; General Hilmi Özkök; George Eliot; Aurora Quezon; Ludwig Wittgenstein; Stafford Cripps; Edward Bates; Alexis de Tocqueville; Elizabeth Lee; John Steinbeck; Harvey Cushing; Robert E Peary; John Rae; Dwight Eisenhower; Thomas Mann; A E Housman; Joseph Liouville; Lady Anne Clifford; Harold Nicolson; Neville Chamberlain; Edward Abbey; John Lennon; Georg Wilhelm Steller; Derk Bodde; Joe DiMaggio; Raoul Wallenberg; Leonard Woolf; Howard Carter; Stephen Spender; Chris Mullin; August Derleth; Olave Baden-Powell; William H. Seward; Charles Darwin; John Ruskin; Felix Mendelssohn; Alexander Selkirk; Ken Wilber; Jacob Roggeveen; Christopher Hibbert; Breckinridge Long; Sir George Rooke; Jeremiah Dixon; David Garrick; Sir John Moore; Abraham Plotkin; Steve Carano; William Keeling; Naomi Mitchison; Susan Sontag; Hanazono; Emily Brontë; Mary Leadbeater; Pope John XXIII; Robert Coverte; George Monck; Johann August Sutter; Sir George Hubert Wilkins; Christopher Isherwood; Charles Everett Ellis; Edmund Harrold; Selma Lagerlöf; Elizabeth George Speare; Georgy Feodosevich Voronoy; Edith Roller; Henry Machyn; Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin; Piseth Pilika; Marie Bashkirtseff; Jacques Piccard; Herculine Barbin; Catherine Deneuve; George Washington; Hélène Berr; Humphrey Lyttelton; Ted Hughes; Sylvia Plath; Charles XIII; Arthur Jephson; Harry Allen; Yves Bertrand; Sean Lester; Douglas Mawson; Thomas Turner; Henry Chips Channon; John Blow; Robert Louis Stevenson; Abel J Herzberg; Elizabeth Fremantle; August Möbius; John Churton Collins; Krste Misirkov; Mika Waltari; Bernard Donoughue; William Bray; Cesare Pavese; John Home; Samuel Pepys; Edward Walter Hamilton; Bernard Leach; Max Brod; Che Guevara; Lorenzo Whiting Blood; Harriet Stewart Judd; Angelina Jolie; Robert Dickinson; John Longe; George H W Bush; Jikaku Daishi; Choe Bu; Arthur Munby; Hanna Cullwick; Mary Blathwayt; Alexander MacCallum Scott; Walt Whitman; Helena Morley; Carolina Maria de Jesus; Alice Dayrell Caldeira Brant; Rachel Corrie; Lady Nijo; Paul Coelho; Sir Henry Slingsby; Edgar Vernon Christian; Dorothy Day; Mary Boykin Chesnut; Lord Hailsham; Nia Wyn; Rutka Laskier; Tom Bradley; Richard Pearson; Barbellion; Pekka-Eric Auvinen; Chester Gillette; James Giordonello; Simon Gray; Harry Telford; Özden Örnek; Anna Politkovskaya; Serge Prokofiev; Rasputin

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Dined with the Einsteins

‘Dined with the Einsteins. A quiet, attractive apartment in Berlin West (Haberlandstrasse). Rather too much food in a grand style to which this really lovable, almost still childlike couple lent an air of naivety. [. . .] I had not seen Einstein and his wife since their major excursion abroad. They admitted quite unaffectedly that their reception in the United States and Britain were veritable triumphs. Einstein gave a slightly ironic, sceptical twist to their description by claiming that he cannot make out why people are so interested in his theories. His wife told me how he kept on saying to her that he felt like a cheat, a confidence trickster who was failing to give them whatever they hoped for.’ This is from the diary of the colourful German Count, Harry Kessler, who died 80 years ago today. He was a man of many talents, a diplomat, writer and connoisseur, and he was extremely well connected in political, artistic, literary, and social worlds. Mostly, he is remembered today for the detailed diaries he kept throughout his life.

Kessler was born in Paris in 1868. His father, a banker, was ennobled by Kaiser Wilhelm I, and his mother was considered an Irish beauty. He was educated in England and Germany, and trained for a career in the foreign service. However, he became more interested in the arts, and was involved, during the mid-1890s, in developing an elitist magazine called Pan. He was particularly concerned with trying to develop the arts in Weimar, and held various appointments, including director of the ducal art museum and the art school. In 1904, he went to London to seek advice on the design of books for Insel Verlag, the innovative Leipzig publishing house.

When war broke out, Kessler led troops into Belgium and on the eastern front, but he became traumatised, apparently because his loyalties were so divided between three of the nations at war. Thereafter, he was briefly an ambassador in Poland, and became involved in peace negotiations. In the 1920s, he continued travelling and supporting the arts and producing superb editions of classical masterpieces published by his own Cranach Press. He turned to pacifism later in life, and this led to him being exiled from Nazi Germany. He died on 30 November 1937. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia or The Irish Times.

Kessler was a committed diarist from the age of 12 and, indeed, he is mostly remembered today for his diaries. Some of these were first published in German in 1961 as Harry Graf Kessler, Tagebücher 1918-1937. This was then translated into English and edited by Charles Kessler for publication by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1971 as The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1937. Kessler’s earlier diaries were thought to be lost, but then they were found in a safe in Mallorca in 1983. A definitive edition of the full diaries (nine volumes) was published in Germany in 2004, and a first edition of the early diaries, edited and translated by Laird M. Easton, was published in English in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf as Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler 1880-1918 (also in a Vintage Books edition, 2013). Reviews of Journey to the Abyss can be found online at The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The New York Times.

In promoting his most recent book, on the early diaries, Laird stated: ‘Harry Kessler was a born diary writer, with an extraordinarily sharp gift for depicting personalities, landscapes, and tableaus. He also was extremely well connected in political, artistic, literary, and social worlds within Europe. Browsing through the book, the reader will find whatever she or he likes: rollicking accounts of a trip around the world; encounters with artists and writers such as Monet, Renoir, Rodin, Munch, Shaw, Nijinsky, Rilke, Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse, Degas, Hofmannsthal, and Duncan; accounts of murders; adultery in high places; and political intrigue. There are first-hand accounts of many of the famous literary and political scandals of the day, including the famous premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris in May 1913.’

The following diary extracts - including meetings with the Einsteins and the Pope - have been taken from a reprint
 of The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1937 by Phoenix Press in 2000.

8 March 1919
‘This morning we had newspapers once more. The last two days have seen more bloodshed in Berlin than any since the start of the revolution. According to the Lokal-Anzeiger there have been five to six hundred dead. Ernst has had his ‘blood-letting’. For the moment the strike has been suspended. The workers have put forward fresh conditions: removal of the volunteer regiments from Berlin and repeal of the state of siege.

Kestenberg says that at the Chancellery they are drunk with victory. As far as the Majority Socialists are concerned, every angel in heaven is busy twanging his harp. They imagine that all difficulties have been overcome because, with Reinhardt’s assistance, they have mown down the uprising in Berlin. So Kestenberg thinks it unlikely that they will be prepared to enter into any compromise with the Independents or allot them any ministerial posts. In the northern parts of the city, seething hatred of the ‘West’ is said to be the preponderant mood. Reinhardt soldiers who go through the streets alone there are torn to pieces by the mob. Soon, it is thought, no one wearing a stiff collar will be safe in those quarters.

About a quarter to five I was passing down the Wilhelmstrasse when a lorry stationed in the courtyard of the Chancellery was being loaded with prisoners, both civilians and soldiers. The guards outside the building hustled passers-by along. I produced my identity papers, stopped and watched what was happening. Suddenly a soldier with a whip jumped on the lorry and several times struck one of the prisoners just before the lorry drove out into the street. The prisoners, mainly soldiers, stood with their arms raised and hands crossed behind their heads. Shameful, to see men wearing German uniform in that position.

I went inside the Chancellery and asked for the Commanding Officer. In his absence I saw the Adjutant. (These were Reinhardt troops.) I reported to him the incident of the prisoner being struck, demanded an inquiry, and had my testimony recorded. The lieutenant expressed his regret at the incident, but explained in exculpation that the prisoner was found to have on him the papers of three officers who have disappeared. There was, he added, a completely reliable escort on the lorry. Otherwise there would be grave danger of the prisoner not reaching Moabit alive at all. The bitterness of the Reinhardt troops is boundless. Last night a sergeant was stopped in the street by Spartacists and shot out of hand. Two soldiers have been thrown into the canal by Spartacists and others have had their throats cut.

All the abominations of a merciless civil war are being perpetrated on both sides. The hatred and bitterness being sown now will bear harvest. The innocent will expiate these horrors. It is the beginning of Bolshevism.
The electricity is on again. Business as usual in the cabarets, bars, theatre, and dance halls.

For some weeks, dating approximately from Liebknecht’s murder, a new factor has crept into the German revolution and during the last two days has grown uncannily, the blood-feud element which in all great revolutions becomes ultimately the driving force and, when all others are extinguished or have been appeased, is the last ember to remain burning.’

25 June 1921
‘At half past twelve a private audience with the Pope. There were just the two of us and so I had the chance briefly to ventilate the questions which interest me. In these circumstances an even sharper edge was given to his deliberate diversion from the subject of the League, evading it with the words, ‘Ce n’est pas ici’ (meaning the Vatican) ‘que nous pouvons traiter cette question.’ The main thing, he emphasized, is ‘qu'il fallait mettre fin à la guerre’. He asked me, perhaps out of politeness, whether and what I had written on the subject of the League and, at the end, accorded me his Apostolic blessing on behalf of my efforts.’

20 March 1922
‘At one o’clock to Rathenau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our conversation began with a detailed catalogue of complaints on his part about the onerousness of his duties and the difficulties with which he has to contend. Nobody, in his view, can cope with this appointment for more than six months. It is a cranking up the Ministry’s entire machinery, and that is superhuman labour. For eight years German foreign policy has lain fallow. Now it has to be reactivated, every day a fresh iron has to be put into the fire, a helping hand has to be given to every part of the Ministry. To enable him to do that, he should see everything. If he omits anything, then that sector slips out of his grasp. He cannot in fact see everything, and so he will perhaps have to divide things up in such a way as more or less to delegate certain sectors to department heads while he himself exercises active control over these minor fields only every few weeks. Even then the burden will remain almost insuperable.

On top of this come the affronts which he must constantly pass over in silence, the answers to the Entente communications, the visits he has to receive and make, the Cabinet meetings and the Reichstag sessions, and the paradox which requires that German foreign policy shall now not merely be sensible but accord with the popular mood. All that is an impossible strain to carry indefinitely. Worst of all, though, is his own countrymen’s vindictive hostility. In addition to threatening letters he receives every day, there are police reports which cannot be ignored. As he said this, he drew a Browning from his pocket. His most cordial relations are with the British, followed by the French, Italians, Japanese, and so on; his worst, with the Germans.

We discussed my trip to Paris. He is of the opinion that the phrase ‘désarmement morale’ presents at this stage the greatest possible danger to us, now that physical disarmament has been effectively implemented, because it can serve the French with an excuse for maintaining their military control.

Finally the talk turned to Genoa. I said that I propose to go there and that I am informing him of this because I do not want to act without his knowledge or against his wishes. He replied that he is very willing for me to go, but it should remain a private matter between us. I am to tell no one that he has encouraged the idea, else far too many others will seek his blessing also.

I am going, I commented, because I believe I shall be able to make myself useful to him and our common objectives and interests. He agreed that my innumerable connections in France, Britain and Italy may render my presence valuable and, if occasion arises, he will be pleased to avail himself of my services. He is very glad that I am going.

My own impression is that he is not as gratified as all that. Perhaps he fears that I shall produce too pacifist an effect and thereby inconvenience the efforts of his own people. The military undoubtedly exercise some influence on his trains of thought. Before I left, he added that we cannot promise the French ‘désarmement morale’ when our entire youth is moving in precisely the opposite direction towards the worst, most obdurately reactionary, outlook. Were we to offer the prospect of such a disarmament, then they would be justified in subsequently accusing us of dishonesty.

Dined with the Einsteins. A quiet, attractive apartment in Berlin West (Haberlandstrasse). Rather too much food in a grand style to which this really lovable, almost still childlike couple lent an air of naivety. Guests included the immensely rich Koppel, the Mendelssohns, Warburg, Bernhard Dernburg (as shabbily dressed as ever), and so on. An emanation of goodness and simplicity on the part of host and hostess saved even such a typical Berlin dinner-party from being conventional and transfigured it with an almost patriarchal and fairy-tale quality.

I had not seen Einstein and his wife since their major excursion abroad. They admitted quite unaffectedly that their reception in the United States and Britain were veritable triumphs. Einstein gave a slightly ironic, sceptical twist to their description by claiming that he cannot make out why people are so interested in his theories. His wife told me how he kept on saying to her that he felt like a cheat, a confidence trickster who was failing to give them whatever they hoped for.

He wanted to know precisely, and made me repeat several times, what message Painlevé gave me for him and what he said about his Paris trip. He is starting on this in the next few days and will stay there a week. He expects university circles here to take it amiss, but they are a terrible lot and he feels quite sick when he thinks of them. In Paris he hopes to be able to do something towards resumption of relations between German and French scholars. He brushed aside his differences with Painlevé as a detail, appearing to attach no importance to them. In autumn he intends to comply with invitations to visit China and Japan, giving lectures at Peking and Tokyo. He must see the Far East, he has confided to his wife, while the big drum is still being banged on his account; that much he insists on obtaining from the hullabaloo.

He and his wife kept me back when the other guests left. We sat in a comer and chatted. When I confessed to sensing the significance of his theories more than I can properly grasp them, Einstein smiled. They are really quite easy, he retorted, and he would explain them to me in a few words which would immediately render them intelligible. I must imagine a glass ball with a light at its summit resting on a table. Flat (two-dimensional) rings or ‘beetles’ move about the surface of the ball. So far a perfectly straightforward notion. The surface of the ball, regarded two-dimensionally, is a limitless but finite surface. Consequently the beetles move (two-dimensionally) over a limitless but finite surface. Now I must consider the shadows thrown by the beetles on the table, due to the light in the ball. The surface covered by these shadows on the table and its extension in all directions is also, like the surface of the ball, limitless but finite. That is, the number of conic shadows or conic sections caused by the theoretically extended table never exceeds the number of beetles on the ball; and, since this number is finite, so the number of shadows is necessarily finite. Here we have the concept of limitless but finite surface.

Now I must substitute three-dimensional concentric glass balls for the two-dimensional beetle shadows. By going through the same imaginative process as before, I shall attain the image of limitless yet finite space (a three-dimensional quality). But, he added, the significance of his theory lies by no means in these thought processes and concepts. That is derived from the connection between matter, space, and time, proving that none of these exists by itself, but that each is always conditioned by the other two.

It is the inextricable connection between matter, space, and time that is new in the theory of relativity. What he does not understand is why people have become so excited about it. When Copernicus dethroned the earth from its position as the focal point of creation, the excitement was understandable because a revolution in all man’s ideas really did occur. But what change does his own theory produce in humanity’s view of things? It is a theory which harmonizes with every reasonable outlook or philosophy and does not interfere with anybody being an idealist or materialist, pragmatist or whatever else he likes.’

16 April 1932
‘General demobilization and disarmament of the various civil war armies. It is a radical liquidation of the situation which, on my return to Germany, so surprised and disquieted me. At that time, a month ago, we really stood on the edge of a civil war between perfectly drilled, organized, armed, and fully equipped armies of several hundred thousand men on each side, simply waiting for the signal to attack one another. That this situation has been resolved by a stroke of the pen, that the SA and the SS (reputedly four hundred thousand men) allowed themselves with such lamblike patience to be disarmed and broken up (nowhere did they put up any resistance worth mentioning) seems almost suspicious.

If the operation has indeed been carried out seriously and thoroughly, it signifies the greatest change in public affairs since the defeat of the Spartacus uprising in March 1919. The behaviour of Hitler and his followers seems pretty chicken-hearted in comparison, but may well be consistent with the infirm, strongly feminine character of Hitler and his entourage. Therein too they resemble William II, loud-mouthed and nothing behind it when it comes to the point. A fully equipped army of four hundred thousand men (so Hitler maintains, and he probably believes it) and then, without the slightest resistance, unconditional surrender! One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Is this the ‘German desire for military preparedness’ which Hitler ostensibly wants to re-awaken and invigorate? Pitiable!’

30 January 1933
‘At two o’clock Max came to lunch and brought with him the news of Hiltler’s appointment as Chancellor. I was astounded. I did not anticipate this turn of events, and so quickly at that. Downstairs our Nazi concierge inaugurated exuberant celebrations.

In the evening dinner at the Kaiserhof followed by Coudenhove’s lecture on ‘Germany’s European Mission’, which he of course interprets as fulfilment of his Pan-European idea. What I dislike is that he wants to see it established as a preventive against Soviet Russia and thereby plays into the hands of those imperialists and propagandists who want a war of annihilation against the Bolsheviks. He expressly quoted Churchill and Amery as supporting his Pan-European concept.

In the discussion which followed, Hoetzsch very properly told him that the notion of playing off western Europe against Russia is one to appeal only to the generation aged over fifty: European youth as a whole (including right-wingers) is already far too imbued with collectivist and socialist theories to go along with him. Coudenhove’s trains of thought are logically cogent but remain unconvincing because they derive from far too narrow and biased a selection of facts. All the same, he speaks clearly and has a humanely appealing approach; un homme de coeur.

I sat at a small table between Coudenhove and the celebrated Herr von Strauss, formerly of the Deutsche Bank, who talked very big about his intimate association with Hitler. The latter, he claimed, has promised to fulfil whatever wish he may acquaint him with. I permitted myself to chaff him wickedly by saying that a few days ago I was pleased to learn, from someone who ought to know, that Otto Wolff has paid Hitler’s debts for him. Strauss, very red in the face, was extremely cross and growlingly denied my story. Simons, the former Supreme Court president, was at our table. So was Seeckt, who invited me to attend one of his wife’s regular Monday afternoon at-homes. Gossip included the titbit that the first Cabinet meeting this morning already saw a row between Hugenberg and Hitler.

Tonight Berlin is in a really festive mood. SA and SS troops as well as uniformed Stahlhelm units are marching through the streets while spectators crowd the pavements. In and around the Kaiserhof there was a proper to-do,with SS drawn up in double line outside the main door and inside the hall. When we left after Coudenhove’s address, some secondary celebrities (Hitler himself was in the Chancellery) were taking the salute, Fascist style, at an endless SA goose-stepping parade.

I drove with S. to the Furstenberg beer hall. SA troops were also marching back and forth across the Potsdamer Platz, but the peak of the festive mood was reached inside the hall. Five of us were sitting with S. at a table when a couple of blonde tarts appeared on the scene. They promptly accepted his invitation to sit down and we spent the rest of the evening, until two o’clock in the morning, in their company. At first I was under the impression that the pair were old acquaintances of S. This turned out to be a mistake. He became more and more embarrassed as time moved on but they did not. They swallowed down with hearty appetite whatever was offered them, suggested that he tutoyer them, and called him ‘grandad’. It was a worthy ending to, and appropriate to the general temper of, this ‘historic’ day.’

The Diary Junction

Monday, January 2, 2017

My knees felt like macaroni

‘Sat around again and filmed the ending of Juliet, where I had to execute sixteen fouettés six times from different angles - that makes ninety-six fouettés. Afterward my knees felt like macaroni.’ This is Zorina Gray, a forgotten Broadway and Hollywood legend born exactly a century ago today, writing in a diary she kept when only 20 years old but already a star.

Eva Brigitta Hartwig was born in Berlin on 2 January 1917 to a German father and Norwegian mother, both professional singers. Brought up in Kristiansund, 100km or so west of Trondheim in Norway, she debuted as a dancer at the Festiviteten, Norway’s oldest opera house in Haugesund. She moved to Berlin where she was trained to dance by Olga Preobrajenska and Nicholas Legat. At age 12, she was spotted by Max Reinhardt, who cast her in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tales of Hoffman, and then took her to London. A performance at the Gaiety Theatre won her an invitation to join the  Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1933; soon after, she adopted the stage name of Vera Zorina.

Léonide Massine, the company’s main choreographer, cast Zorina in lead roles, for ballets such as La Boutique Fantasque, Le Beau Danube and Les Presages. Despite being only 18, she also became involved intimately with Massine and his wife in a ménage à trois. She left the company in 1936 to star in a London production of On Your Toes. She came under the influence of the choreographer George Balanchine, who was beginning to write all her roles, and married him in 1938. By this time she was dividing her time between Broadway (I Married An Angel, Louisiana Purchase) and Hollywood (The Goldwyn Follies, On Your Toes).

Zorina divorced Balanchine in 1946, and married Goddard Lieberson, president of Columbia Records. They had two sons. She tried to return to ballet but with limited success. In 1948, she took the lead role in the first American performance of Arthur Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and went on to repeat the same role many times. In 1954, she played in a Broadway revival of On Your Toes. She and Lieberson had an apartment in Manhattan, and a ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was, for some years, director of operatic productions in Santa Fe, and, in the 1970s, was also director of the Norwegian Opera. 
Lieberson died in 1977, and in 1991 Zorina married the harpsichordist Paul Wolfe. She died in 2003. A little further information is available from Wikipedia, or from various newspaper obituaries, such as The Guardian, The Independent, or The New York Times.

In 1986, the American publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux brought out Vera Zorina’s only book, her autobiography, simply titled Zorina. I don’t believe it has ever been reprinted, but second-hand copies are readily available at Abebooks, some even signed. In it, Zorina refers to a diary: ‘If I had not found the proverbial trunk, which had been stored in dusty cellars and somehow survived nearly fifty years, I would not have believed what I read in the diaries I kept from 1934. First of all, they were all in German, which I thought I had ceased to speak and write long before 1938 - the last year I kept a detailed daily diary. Perhaps I used my Kindersprache as a form of code - after all, it was a language no one else spoke in the Ballet Russe. I wrote not only in my Kindersprache but very often in typical Berlin slang, which like all slang is untranslatable. I have left the entries in their simplistic, teenage form because it would be false to translate them otherwise.’ She then quotes liberally from those diaries - here are some extracts.

12 October 1936
‘In the evening at Positano I looked over to the Isola dei Galli, where I had spent my vacation the year before with Massine. It lay far in the distance - like a part of my life - such a beautiful place, like a rough, craggy diamond in the sea. It could have been - I tried not to think about it.

Our leisurely Italian sojourn was at times troubled, because I was anxiously awaiting news about On Your Toes.’

13 October 1936
‘Called London because I hadn’t heard a word from [my agent], which drove me to despair - but understood very little. Afternoon tea with Mrs. Frost, sister of Lord Grimstorp, who owns the Villa Cimbrone. She herself has a perilously situated villa, which is built against a cliff. When you stand on the balcony to admire the magnificent view, it is best to keep your eyes on the distance because below you is an absolute chasm!’

1 November 1936
‘Made the acquaintance of Igor Markevitch, who is slightly mad, and who reminds me of Kyra Nijinsky in temperament. What is even stranger is that he knows her and said that Kyra has long, blond curls, which I find crazy, and that she expects a child!’

15 January 1937
‘Rehearsal at 11. Read through the play again. Then Jack Donahue and I rehearsed, because he will play Morosine, my temperamental partner. Tried out the Zenobia ballet - not bad - he is very strong.’

17 January 1937
‘Rehearsal also today (Sunday) and buttermilkday. Love rehearsing the ballet. I very much hope Donahue will be good. Afterward went through the whole play - it’s beginning to get some shape.’

19 January 1937
‘First rehearsal on the stage of the Palace Theatre. All the chorus people sat in the audience - got my first “laughs” from the dialogue - it’s such fun. In the evening, saw the second act of Gisèle at Sadler’s Wells with Margot Fonteyn - very good, but not as good as Markova. Nijinska was there with Pat [Dolin]. Very sweet to me - also lots of fans from Covent Garden.’

20 January 1937
‘At 10, practiced the pas de deux for an hour with Donahue - went very well - then in the Gaiety Theatre all day. Everything goes so well I’m almost afraid, I have so much fun - tried on costumes.’

22 January 1937
‘Rehearsal at 11 - before that, looked at costumes - now tired but happy at home. I find Jack Whiting very, very nice and sympathetic. I know I always have to have something “romantic” in the theater and he is exactly right for the role. Jack Donahue is nice - but too nice - also right for Morosine, so I can play my scenes better. Today the blue foxes for my costume were chosen.’

24 January 1937
‘Buttermilkday - rehearsals only in the afternoon - everybody was wonderful to me. Mrs. Whiting and Wiman -  I would say almost too much praise. In the evening, Abarbanell came for dinner and we worked afterward together - then played Halma for hours.’

31 January 1937
‘Buttermilkday - slept badly. Had nightmares [English] before I went to sleep because of the show. Everybody expects and predicts such a success for me that it scares me. Otherwise, rehearsals at the Gaiety - Jack Donahue’s waistband broke in the middle of the adagio so that he stood there nearly naked among the howling chorus girls.’

1 February 1937
‘Raced around the whole day - in the morning, in the Gaiety right through the show. Then to Annello [ballet shoes] - then Vega [shoes] - then more dress costumes - then Scala Theatre - then Nathan’s [costumes], and then Palace rehearsals - have a very beautiful star dressing room next to the stage - my own dresser, telephone, etc. All my “dresses” are wonderful - especially the Schiaparelli evening dress and the costume with the blue fox! The ballet costumes absolutely sweet and the striptease girl with hair like Garbo - but still very choruslike à la “burlesque girl”! It was so exciting to be again in full makeup! Dear God, if I’m not a success - what then? Because I have everything, beautiful costumes, a role just made for me - and, in spite of all the running around, I’m not even tired!’

2 February 1937
‘First dress rehearsal. Went quite well - I personally was very dissatisfied - didn't act as well as I have - danced dreadfully badly - and anyhow it was so peculiar in the bedroom scene - had to kiss Jack Whiting, which I found so embarrassing - have no idea after all how to kiss on the stage.’

3 February 1937
‘It was very exciting this afternoon - the public was present and liked it a lot. They died of laughter over Olive Blackney, who is such a marvelous comedienne. All my scenes went very well until the change from the striptease girl into the ballet costume, but Zenobia went without a hitch, which gives me a lot of confidence. Wiman and Henson were so sweet to me - one can’t imagine it - Henson: “I am so happy to have worked with you - and always keep your head as small as it is now.” Received long, long letter from Louis Shurr with big prospects for Hollywood.’

4 February 1937
‘Again dress rehearsal - but went for myself only, so la-la - Douglas Fairbanks was there and Pat Dolin came later - but that didn’t help, either. I’m glad that the premiere is finally tomorrow - this tension is unbearable.’

5 February 1937
‘What a day - but first things first. Slept late - then played all the rumba records [apparently that was soothing!]. Mama and I went nearly mad from nerves. Then I went to church - truly, God was with me yesterday. Then to the doctor and hairdresser, then into the blue Schiap cape and to the theater. My dressing room was filled with flowers, telegrams, costumes, and a thousand things - Doris [my dresser] found everything so glamorous, which pleased me the most - then Toi-Toi’s for good luck, and suddenly I was on stage singing “Ochi chornye.” Everything went the way I hoped - every little thing. The success was enormous - people poured into my dressing room. I simply couldn’t speak - everything trembled in me. Violet Tree said she had seen Bernhardt, and even against that she thought I was wonderful - oh my! People whom I didn’t know congratulated me. In the Savoy Grill, big applause - then to Leslie Henson’s, more people. The most beautiful day of my life. My mamile and I sat holding each other by the hand like two children. Everything was really like a dream - so beautiful - (and more), My God, what an evening - flowers - people - congratulations - Wiman - Henson - Fairbanks - Cochran - Asher - hundreds of people, and I was honored at the Savoy Grill!!!’

6 February 1937
‘Today Saturday. The reviews are fabulous. All kinds of people call to congratulate - my bathtub is an ocean of flowers. Very good performance. A man came from Fox films and wants to make a test.’

7 February 1937
‘Sunday. Slept and slept. Wrote letters - read reviews - all good. Someone rang and asked me for an interview. “It doesn’t suit me very well today, but maybe tomorrow?” - that’s Zorina! Then I went to church, where I felt overwhelmed by happiness, joy, gratitude for all that God has given me.’

9 February 1937
‘Took photos the whole day in the theater until 4:30. In the evening, big party in the Café de Paris for Wiman and Lina - so sad that they had to leave already - but the party was divine. Wiman absolutely wants me to come to New York for him and a new show.’

16 August 1937
‘Mama has bought a horse! You would think we are rich as Croesus. She is in seventh heaven. The horse is a thoroughbred and sweet - rode him in the afternoon and Balanchine watched. In the evening George and I went to the recording session of Alfred Newman, and I became angry because George whispered in my car, “What awful music,” and then said to Newman, “Very good.” Saw the test for Romeo and Juliet - adagio was beautiful, but the costume for jazz section awful.’

28 August 1937
‘The whole day on the set - tried on clothes, shoes, sandals, ballet shoes, stockings, tights, etc. - then all we did was the balcony scene and the kiss between Romeo and Juliet. We were both so nervous that our lips trembled. Dinner with George. He showed me his techni-film - excellent. [Balanchine had his own camera and made his own film during our actual filming on the set.] Then we talked and talked - he is so dear.’

29 August 1937
‘Sunday. George fetched me at three to go to Goldwyn for one of those Sundays. In the evening Goldwyn screened Broadway Melody with Eleanor Powell, and I was so surprised when he got up at the end and said, “It has no warmth, no charm, and, Balanchine, I want you to do for Zorina one or two minutes real ballet because I believe in it now after seeing this” - finally, finally, after weeks Goldwyn has come around.’

31 August 1937
‘Sat around again and filmed the ending of Juliet, where I had to execute sixteen fouettés six times from different angles - that makes ninety-six fouettés. Afterward my knees felt like macaroni.’

1 September 1937
‘Shooting had to stop today because Bill Dollar has a rash and they are afraid I might catch it - no rehearsal. Had dinner with George in the Café Lamaze. Then we went to his place and somehow we had a quarrel because he told me about his girlfriends. Of course it was my fault, because I wanted to know; then everything became very dramatic and I never wanted to see him again. My rimmel [mascara] began to run and it burned terribly, and I went home, ate ice cream, and felt fat as a barrel.’

2 September 1937
‘George called as if nothing had happened - we should go and try on wigs. He came and was very sweet - I was still “dramatic.” But he told me a funny Goldwyn anecdote: Goldwyn was absolutely thrilled by Traviata. He kept congratulating our conductor, Al Newman, over and over again, and after endless explosions of joy he said to Newman, “Do me a favor, congratulate Eddie Powell on the orchestration!” Mr. Verdi would be so pleased.’