Friday, January 29, 2010

I fled from the theatre

Anton Chekhov, one of the world’s greatest short story writers and the author of four famous plays, was born 150 years ago today. Unlike his literary contemporary and friend, Leo Tolstoy who was born earlier but died later, Chekhov was not a diarist. However, for a few years, Chekhov did keep a diary, albeit with short and very intermittent entries, and these were published in English with his literary note-books in 1921. Intriguingly, in the diary, Chekhov confesses that he ‘fled’ from the theatre the night The Seagull opened and was panned.

Chekhov was born on 29 January 1860, in Taganrog, southern Russia, where his father ran a grocery store and was director of a choir for Orthodox Christians. Chekhov attended a school for Greek boys, and continued there even after his father and mother moved, in 1876, to Moscow (where Chekhov’s older brothers were at university) to avoid being prosecuted locally for unpaid debts. Chekhov then covered the cost of his own schooling by tutoring, catching and selling goldfinches, and selling short sketches to newspapers. Only in 1879, having gained admission to the medical school at Moscow University, did he rejoin his family.

Chekhov began contributing to humorous magazines in Moscow to help supplement his family’s income, but soon graduated to short stories and more serious literary publications. By 1884, he had qualified as a physician; but he had also contracted TB, which was to blight the rest of his life. In 1887, with guidance from one of the most celebrated Russian writers of the time, Dmitry Grigorovich, Chekhov’s story collection At Dusk won the coveted literary Pushkin Prize. The same year, he turned his pen to plays with Ivanov, which proved a critical success. His four most famous plays - The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard - were not written, however, until the last decade of his life, starting in 1896. As is well known, Chekhov almost gave up writing plays when The Seagull was panned (the audience booed on its first night).

In 1892, Chekhov bought an estate, Melikhovo, about 40 miles south of Moscow, where he lived - enjoying his landlord responsibilities - until ill health obliged him, in 1897, to move further south to Yalta, with its warmer climate. In 1902, he married the actress Olga Knipper, but two years later, in 1904, TB finally got the better of him. Wikipedia has a good online biography, but try also or Andreas Andreas’s site hosted by Brandeis University for more information.

Chekhov was not a diarist, but he did keep notebooks in which he jotted down his literary thoughts, ideas, themes and sketches for work. A collection of these were translated into English by S. S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf and published by B. W. Huebsch, New York, in 1921. In fact, the first section of the book - Note-Book of Anton Chekhov - is a collection of diary entries written by Chekhov over several years, all very short and quite intermittent. The full text is freely available at Internet Archive, but the text of the diary section is also easily accessible at Wikisource. Here are a few entries from the start of the diary section.

‘2 September in Novorissisk. Steamer Alexander 11. On the 3rd I arrived at Feodossia and stopped with Souvorin. I saw I. K. Aivasovsky [famous painter] who said to me: ‘You no longer come to see me, an old man.’ In his opinion I ought to have paid him a visit. On the 16th in Kharkov, I was in the theatre at the performance of ‘The Dangers of Intelligence’. 17th at home: wonderful weather.

Vladimir Sloviov [famous philosopher] told me that he always carried an oak-gall in his trouser pocket, - in his opinion, it is a radical cure for piles.’

17 October 1896
‘Performance of my Seagull at the Alexandrinsky Theatre. It was not a success.’

29 October 1896
‘I was at a meeting of the Zemstvo Council at Sezpukhovo.’

10 November 1896
‘I had a letter from A. F. Koni who says he liked my Seagull very much.’

26 November 1896
‘A fire broke out in our house. Count S. I. Shakhovsky helped to put it out. When it was over, Sh related that once, when a fire broke out in his house at night, he lifted a tank of water weighing four and half cwt and poured the water on the flames.’

4 December 1896
‘For the performance [of The Seagull] on the 17th October see Theatral, No 95, page 75. It is true that I fled from the theatre, but only when the play was over. In L’s dressing room during two or three acts. During the intervals there came to her officials of the State Theatres in uniform, wearing their orders, P_ with a Star; a handsome young official of the Department of the State Police also came to her. If a man takes up work which is alien to him, art for instance, then, since it is impossible for him to become an artist, he becomes an official. What a lot of people thus play the parasite round science, the theatre, the painting, - by putting on a uniform! Likewise the man to whom life is alien, who is incapable of living, nothing else remains for him, but to become an official. The fat actresses, who were in the dressing- room, made themselves pleasant to the officials - respectfully and flatteringly. (L expressed her delight that P, so young, had already got the Star.) They were old, respectable house-keepers, serf-women, whom the masters honored with their presence.’

21 December 1896
‘Levitan suffers from dilation of the aorta. He carries clay on his chest. He has superb studies for pictures, and a passionate thirst for life.’

31 December 1896
‘P. L. Seryogin, the landscape painter, came.’

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ireland’s first president

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ireland’s first president - Douglas Hyde. A linguist and literary academic by vocation, he was the founding father of the influential Gaelic League. The National Library of Ireland holds a series of his diaries, written in Gaelic. Although not published, they have been used extensively in a modern biography, the full text of which is available online thanks to the University of California Press.

Hyde was born on 17 January 1860 - one and a half centuries ago today - at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon, while his mother, Elizabeth, was on a short visit there. His father, Arthur Hyde, was Church of Ireland rector of Kilmactranny, County Sligo, which is where Hyde spent his early years. In 1867, the family moved to Frenchpark, in County Roscommon, when his father was appointed rector of Tibohine. As a youth, Hyde became interested in the Irish language, especially thanks to Seamus Hart, a gamekeeper, and he went on to study languages at Trinity College, Dublin. Later, in 1893, he founded the Gaelic League to promote the Irish language. The same year he married Lucy Cometina Kurtz, a German, and they had two daughters.

The Gaelic League soon became very popular, and helped forge a generation of Irish leaders who would play a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century. Hyde himself, though, became uncomfortable at the growing politicisation of his movement and resigned its presidency in 1915; he also eschewed any association with Sinn Féin and the Independence movement. After a short stint in the upper house of the new Irish Free State’s parliament, he returned to University College Dublin, as Professor of Irish. Throughout his career, Hyde published various works on the Gaelic language, but he also wrote poetry and plays.

Years later, after retirement from the university, Hyde was appointed by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera to the upper house. Before long, though, he was chosen - thanks to a variety of political compromises - as the first President of Ireland. He was inaugurated into the (largely ceremonial) post in June 1938 and proved to be a popular choice. He survived a serious stroke in April 1940, albeit paralysed and in a wheelchair, and remained in office until 1945. He died in 1949, and, as a former President of Ireland, was accorded a state funeral. For more biographical information see Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or RTE.

The National Library of Ireland holds many of Hyde’s papers, including 13 diaries (1873-1912) written in Gaelic and seven business diaries (memos relating to literary activities with entries mainly in English, 1897-1900, 1905-1938). As far as I can tell these have not been published, at least not in English. However, they were used extensively by Janet Egleson Dunleavy and Gareth W. Dunleavy in their biography - Douglas Hyde: A Maker of Modern Ireland - published by the University of California Press in 1991. Much of the book is available to read at Googlebooks, but the whole book has also been put online by the University of California Press.

Although the biography by the Dunleavys does use Hyde’s diaries extensively there are not many extracts of any length. Here, though are three extracts, two from when Hyde was but a teenager, and the last from when he and his wife were visiting the United States.

‘Got new boots from Narry on Feb 1
Had two new lambs on March
Snow on March 9. Heavy on March 10
Pa made a double shot at snipe at the flash on March
I shot a jackdaw Pa shot two snipe on March 10
Pa shot a jackdaw
Snow & frost on March 11
Pa shot a jackdaw on March 12
Thaw on March 12
Began thathing [sic] the cowhouse
Out shooting shot a partridge & field hare on Mar 13
Took a ride on the pony
Pa went to French park fine day 14
Sunday Fine day 15
Wet day 16
Fine day 17
Fine day. Shot a seagull, took a ride
Pa out shooting. Shot 2 snipe 18
Finished thaching [sic ] the cowhouse 18
Hart gave me a black-thorn 18
Connolly began harrowing 18
Rough day. Pa out shooting shot a snipe. Ma's sheep had two lambs 19
Fine day. Ma's sheep had a lamb. 20
Arthur came home from Dublin. Wet day. O went to London on the 21
Sunday 22
Arthur out shooting and shot a snipe, fine day took a ride on the pony 23
Hart gave Arthur a black-thorn on the 23
Very fine day. Pa and Arthur went to Cornwall [the Irish town, not the English
district] Connolly harrowing. I sowed some oats 24
Connolly branded the lambs. Pa shot a couple of rooks for the oats. Fine day.
Connolly bought 2 calves at Ballagh a derreen [sic ] for f 12s 10 25
Connolly harrowing, pretty fine day. Pa went to Slievroe [sic ] & gave cigars to
a man who had astma [sic ] on 26th
Had a third lamb. Very wet day. Harrowed a little 27’

29 December 1875
‘Seamas died yesterday. A man so decent and generous, alas, so true and honest, alas, so friendly, alas, never will I see again. He was sick about a week and today he is gone. Poor Seamas, I learned Irish from you. A man so good with the Irish, never will there be another like you. I can see no one at all from now on whom I would love as well as you. May seven angels be with you and may your blessed soul be in heaven now.’

21 April 1906
‘The white blossoms of the dog trees brightened the woods and forests on both sides of the railway, and the pink patches made by the Judas trees, as they are called, were beyond anything lovely. The Judas tree appears to have no leaves, but is thickly covered with pink blossoms. Judas is said to have hung himself on one of these trees, hence the name. They are numerous all over the South, but apparently not in the North. Toward evening we struck the Allegheny Mountains, a series of lovely ridges with a beautiful river running through them. All night long these ridges were lit up by brilliant flashes of summer lightning which kept playing on the hills and river for hours.’

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friend’s diaries found

Two missing diaries penned by Donald Friend, an Australian artist who led what some call an exotic lifestyle and who had few inhibitions about his homo-erotic interest in boys, have just been found and donated to the National Library of Australia which already owns most of his diaries. In recent years, the Library has deemed them worthy of being published in four volumes - causing some controversy in the process - and has suggested he is Australia’s most important 20th century diarist.

Friend was born in Sydney, and studied at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales as well as in London at the Westminster School of Art. He lived in Nigeria for a short while, but then returned to Australia at the outbreak of the Second World War and joined the army as an artillery gunner. He also served as an official war artist towards the end of the conflict. After the war, and some travels, Friend settled in Sri Lanka for five years and then in Bali for over a decade, living an exotically gay life, in touch with many other artists. Ill-health eventually forced his return to Australia in 1980. He died just over 20 years ago in 1989. Further biographical information can be found at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Friend kept diaries all his life, but only two - Gunner’s Diary (1943) and Painter’s Diary (1946) - based on his wartime experiences were published in his lifetime, both by Ure Smith in Sydney. Several copies of the former are available from secondhand booksellers, but the latter seems more difficult to find. Over 40 of the original diaries are owned by the National Library of Australia. Between 2001 and 2006, it published them in four volumes as The Diaries of Donald Friend, the first edited by Anne Gray, and the other three by Paul Hetherington.

This is what the Library says about Volume 4: ‘Donald Friend’s legendary years in Bali in the 1960s and 70s and his subsequent final decade in Australia, are revealed in detail in this fourth and final volume of The Diaries of Donald Friend. In Bali he lives luxuriously, like a lord - even keeping his own gamelan orchestra - and becomes an international celebrity artist. He welcomes guests such as Mick Jagger and the Duke and Duchess of Beford, entertains numerous other visitors who want to buy his paintings and drawings and socialised freely with friends, including many other artists. He engages in significant building activity and property development while also producing superb illustrated manuscripts and books. And despite increasing ill-health, Friend continues to revel in his life’s drama and creativity, remaining an eloquent, often charming and sometimes irascible companion. Including over 60 drawings from the diaries, many of them in colour, this volume confirms Friend’s quicksilver creative brilliance and extraordinary insight. He is perhaps Australia’s most important twentieth-century diarist.’

Publication of this latter volume, however, caused some controversy. Here is what Wikipedia says: ‘Following the publication of Volume 4, accusations were made that the publishers had not been granted permission to publicly name some of Friend’s sexual partners, who were minors at the time of their encounters with Friend. There were also accusations that Friend’s paedophilia had been whitewashed by Australian art scholars. Reported in The Age in May 2008, Bernadette McMenamin, chief executive of the child protection lobby group Childwise, said of Friend ‘He wrote diaries describing his sexual abuse of children and yet Australia still looks the other way because he produced beautiful art.’ Speaking on ABC Radio in November 2008, filmmaker Kerry Negara said of the publishers ‘instead of embracing those parts of the diaries where he talks about sex with male children and adolescents as young as 9, 10, 12 years old in Bali, instead they decided to go down that route of denying it and even kind of turning Friend into a nice culturally accepted paedophile, at best.’

Earlier this week (12 January), the Library announced that two of Friend’s diaries, missing for more than 60 years, had been found in the United States. Apparently, Friend sold the diaries in 1944 to the owner of Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in southwest Pennsylvania, where they had remained in a storage box. The diaries cover Friend’s time as a soldier in the Australian Army between 1942 and 1945, before he went to Borneo as an official war artist, and the years he spent in Nigeria where he wrote an anthropological study of a tribe. Both of the diaries have been donated to the Library .

Here are a few extracts from Friend’s diary, as quoted by Paul Hetherington in a National Library of Australia staff paper.

Aged 16
‘I am Donald Stuart Leslie Friend, and am 16-years-of-age, being blessed with a genius for art and a talent for writing. My mother, known in this and other writings as Adorable, is a lady of extreme beauty, wit and sophistication, it is from this gracious lady that I inherit all talents - she is the descendant of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, who was reputedly an illegitimate son of Charles I. This explains Adorable’s eyes - so magnetic and brown are they that an aged servant, unknowing of the descent said they were the laughing, lovely eyes of Charles Stuart himself.

I have a sister Gwen, and two brothers, the elder, my senior, called Harley, being monstrous grim of appearance and most unbelievably grown-up for eighteen. Ten is younger, fair-haired and good-looking. I have been told by sages and seers that in June or July I shall leave for England. July is almost over, and I have been disappointed for the last three years. All predict a brilliant artistic career for me.’

2 June 1943
‘You know, sometimes I rather doubt if people reading all this will credit truth to my record. But I assure you it is as true as anyone could expect. After all, one can never do more than translate the facts through the medium of one’s own personal perceptions. Thus many of the stresses may be false or exaggerated. I see things absurdly, because I am absurdly incapable of the state of mind that can seriously indulge in the very activities that I record. Somehow they appear to me as funny, sometimes monstrous, symptoms of wrong-mindedness. They are like the laughable antics of droll animals; diverting to those watchers outside the cage, but really solemn affairs to the denizens within.’

‘It stands to reason, nobody would keep a diary who did not find himself and his world absorbing.

As I do. And in this book I shall attempt to revive something of the spirit of those earlier diaries full of drawings and letters and the excitement of life-diaries which are already a legend, & generally assumed to be a unique personal exposé of our art world from the 1940s on. No more slipshod, neglected journals like those of my past five years or so.

Such is my resolution - or to be more realistic, my good intention. For I am aware that the essential ingredient for a fascinating diary is a fascinating life. And that in my rickety incurable ill-health, bodily feebleness etc, is hardly within my capabilities. A month of fascinating incidents would most certainly kill me. However, there remains the life of the Spirit and that of the Mind: the latter presents no problem at all.’

1 January 1983
‘It was diverting for a while to leaf through it reviving old memories until gradually the full horror dawned: I haven’t developed at all! - what seems quaint and even charming in a precocious adolescent is horrifying to find undisciplined and unimproved in oneself approaching one’s 68th birthday.

Self-centred, conceited, atrociously snobbish, frivolous, obsessed with aristocratic delusions, adept at self-deceit. None of that’s changed. Already I was infatuated with the spectacle of myself as a superior being, a genius destined for fame moving wittily around in a world composed of romantic subject-matter, arranged for my own delectation.’

Monday, January 11, 2010

A small square of ivory

The quintessentially English writer Barbara Pym - whose best novels came out in the 1950s and who has been likened to Jane Austen - died 30 years ago today. The in-vogue author Alexander McCall Smith wrote recently of her enduring appeal and he likened her writing to pictures on a small square of ivory. Her diaries, published posthumously, show tact and wit, according to The New York Times, but are somewhat self-pitying.

Pym was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, in 1913 and studied at Huyton College, and St Hilda’s, Oxford. During the Second World War she worked for the censorship office in Bristol, then served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, in Britain and in Naples. After the war she joined the International African Institute, helping to edit one of its journals, and worked there until the mid-1970s. She never married despite several close relationships with men, including the future Conservative politician Julian Amery.

Pym’s first novel, Some Tame Gazelle, was published in 1950; others followed, such as Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings. In the 1960s, though, her manuscripts were rejected as being out of step with the times; and, in the early 1970s, her health deteriorated significantly. In 1977, 
after more than 15 years in the literary wilderness, she was named in the Times Literary Supplement as one of the most under-rated novelists of the century. Soon after Quartet in Autumn was published, a book which was then shortlisted for the Booker prize. She died on 11 January 1980. Further information can be found at Wikipedia and the Barbara Pym Society.

In a recent review of Excellent Women (republished by Virago in 2008), the novelist Alexander McCall Smith (see The Guardian) considered Pym’s enduring appeal: ‘Like Jane Austen, Pym painted her pictures on a small square of ivory, and covered much the same territory as did her better-known predecessor: the details of smallish lives led to places that could only be in England. Neither used a megaphone; neither said much about the great issues of their time. In Excellent Women the reader is made aware of the fact that, not long before, there had been a war, but what that war was about is not touched upon. With Jane Austen, the fact that a major war was raging hardly impinges upon the consciousness of the characters. And yet although Pym’s novels are about as far away as possible from engagement with the great political and social issues, they are powerful reminders that one of the great and proper concerns of literature is that motley cluster of small concerns that makes up our day-to-day lives. This is what gives her novels their permanent appeal.’

A few years after Pym’s death, in 1984, Macmillan published A Very Private Eye, subtitled on the title page as The Diaries, Letters and Notebooks of Barbara Pym (although bizarrely the front cover title is slightly different: A Very Private Eye - An Autobiography in Letters and Diaries). Pym’s own texts were put together and edited by her sister Hilary Pym and her friend and literary executor Hazel Holt. In her preface, Holt says that Pym started keeping a diary in 1931, and that her diary entries were ‘written - and certainly preserved - to be read’. Although she gave up writing a formal diary after the war, Pym continued jotting in notebooks about the events of her life as well as thoughts and ideas.

I can only find one online review of the book - by Anatole Broyard for The New York Times. He defined Pym’s novels as ‘quintessentially English’ and focuses largely on what the diaries tell the reader about Pym’s love life. Broyard says her novels are ‘quintessentially English’ and describe relations between men and women with ‘gentle ironies’. She tended to fall in love with ‘men who did not admire her enough’, he says, and suggests that she goes on about her first love, Henry Stanley Harvey, ‘with a hopeless persistence that she would never have allowed in her novels’.

A Very Private Eye reveals, Broyard says, that Pym ‘always seemed to love more than she was loved’. He continues: ‘When she fell for a man, she would research him exhaustively, even ‘tail’ him through the streets. It is conceivable that she frightened men away by her enthusiasm. While she is self-pitying in her diaries, she does it with so much wit and tact that we don’t mind. During an unhappy love affair with a writer-broadcaster, she wrote that ‘It is sometimes intolerable to be a woman and have no second bests or spares or anything.’ She also said, ‘What a lot one learns about the technique of misery!’ and ‘Now I can see how people get eccentric.’ ’

Here is one longish extract from A Very Private Eye and one which seems to touch briefly but pertinently on different strands of her life and personality.

20 February 1941
‘This evening I was looking for a notebook in which to keep a record of dreams and I found this diary, this sentimental journal or whatever you (Gentle Reader in the Bodleian) like to call it. Perhaps it is hardly a diary, for I keep a bald record of everyday happenings in a neat little book which has a set space for every day. And I write in this book only when the occasion seems to demand it. In the spring, when I think of past loves like Jay or when something momentous happens, like the invasion of Holland and Belgium (but not when France gave in - perhaps I’d got used to shocks by then. Now all I remember is sitting in deck chairs on the lawn with Hilary, the garden full of sweet williams.

It hasn’t been such a bad winter as last, although there has been all the frightful bombing. We’ve have sirens too and a few bumps in the distance (in August) but nothing worse than long nights at the First Aid Post, smoking, knitting, talking, eating and trying to sleep in the stuffy air, covered with scratchy Army blankets.

I have been doing quite a lot of writing lately which is satisfying and pleases me if nobody else. I have also been improving my mind - I’ve read Jane Austen - Emma most lately, Scott - Redgauntlet, Johnson’s Tour in the Hebrides with Boswell - I’ve had a Scottish craze lately. At the Tented Camp I grew fond of a young soldier who had been a waiter in many of the best Scottish hotels - LMS on the china, stags’ heads and palms. Anyway, because of that, or for some more subtle reason, I took to listening to the news in Gaelic and poring over maps of the West Highlands.

I’ve also read Vanity Fair, after hearing it as a serial on the wireless. That marvellous Waterloo chapter was especially appropriate this summer although I had nobody in France or at Dunkirk. But perhaps one could almost enjoy it for that reason - only enjoy isn’t at all the word.

This very evening on which I’ve written all this I was looking among my books and took out John Piper’s Shell Guide to Oxfordshire. I went all through it, a nostalgic pilgrimage in churches and churchyards - most of which I have never seen at all but shall one day - and lingered over the view of Blenheim’s park and lake by which are quoted some favourite lines of Matthew Arnold from Thyrsis.’

In love with Pinter

‘A very enjoyable dinner party at Rachel and Kevin’s house. I was slightly disappointed not to sit next to the playwright, who looked full of energy, with black curly hair and pointed ears like a satyr. Gradually the guests filtered away and some neighbours offered me a lift. ‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘I must just say goodbye to Harold Pinter and tell him I enjoyed the play; I haven't said hello all evening.’ I went over to where Harold was sitting. ‘Wonderful play, marvellous acting, now I'm off.’ He looked at me with those amazing, extremely bright black eyes. ‘Must you go?’ he said.’

Thanks to The Daily Mail for the above diary extract (dated 8 January 1975), taken from Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser published today by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, part of Orion Books. Classified as a memoir, Orion says the book is ‘a marvellously insightful testimony to modern literature’s most celebrated marriage, between the greatest playwright of the age and a beautiful and famous prize-winning biographer’. Some might argue about calling Pinter the ‘greatest playwright of the age’ but for biographical information on Pinter and Fraser see their Wikipedia entries.

Orion’s promotional blurb explains the connection between the memoir and Fraser’s diaries: ‘Must You Go? is based partly on Antonia Fraser’s own diaries, which she has kept since October 1968 when she suffered from withdrawal symptoms after finishing her first historical biography, Mary Queen of Scots. Antonia Fraser has also used her own recollections, both immediate reactions (she always writes her Diary the next morning, unless otherwise noted) and memories. She has quoted Pinter where he told her things about his past, once again noting the source, and has occasionally quoted his friends talking to her on the same subject. Intriguingly her Diaries always pay special attention to any green shoots where Pinter’s writing is concerned, perhaps a consequence of a biographer living with a creative artist and observing the process first hand.’

Although both Pinter and Fraser were married when they met, their love affair did not take long to blossom - The Daily Mail article has a sequence of diary extracts from the book illustrating this - and it lasted until Pinter’s death over thirty years later in December 2008. To coincide with the book’s publication, Fraser is reading from it for BBC Radio’s Four’s Book of the Week. Here, though, are a couple more extracts taken from The Daily Mail.

26 January 1975
‘Thought of Harold. I suppose I’m in love with him, but there are many other things in my life. . .

9 February 1975
‘Joyous, dangerous and unavoidable - Harold’s three words to Kevin Billington about us, quoted by Harold to me on the telephone. Not bad Pinteresque words.’

11 March 1975
‘Everything is now all right. A knock. He was there. He clutched me and we clutched each other. At first it was almost desperate, he had suffered so much. Finally, he said: ‘I feel like a new man.’ ’

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I let fly with my sprint

‘I took two very cautious peeps at Bill, swung out a fraction, and using the wind as best I could, let fly with my sprint.’ So wrote the great New Zealand middle distance runner Jack Lovelock in his diary about a 1935 ‘Mile of the Century’ race at the Princeton Invitational meeting. A year later he would win an olympic gold medal and Adolf Hitler would present him with an oak tree. Today is the centenary of the great runner’s birth.

John Edward (Jack) Lovelock was born on 5 January 1910 at Crushington, South Island, New Zealand, to an English immigrant in charge of a local goldmine battery. He was educated at Timaru Boys’ High School, where he became the school’s best boxer and cross-country runner, and then at the University of Otago where he studied medicine but also developed into a national level runner. He moved to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar in 1931, where he met various influential athletes.

In 1932, Lovelock set a new British and British Empire record for the mile, thereby becoming the fifth-fastest miler in history. He failed to make a mark at that year’s Olympic Games in Los Angeles, but the following year he broke the world record with a time of 4 minutes 7.6 seconds. In 1935, at the Princeton Invitational meeting, he beat two great American runners (Glenn Cunningham and Bill Bonthron). A year later, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games provided, according to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, the setting for Lovelock’s ‘finest moment’: winning the 1,500 metre gold medal in a stunning race, and setting a new world record time of 3 minutes 47.8 seconds.

In London, Lovelock the doctor specialised in rheumatism, while also doing some freelance journalism and broadcasting. In the Second World War he served in the British Army as a medical officer on the home front, but a fall from a horse while hunting in 1940 left him with severely damaged vision and a propensity to dizziness. He married Cynthia Wells James, an American, in 1945, and they had two children. In 1947 they moved to New York, where Lovelock worked at Manhattan Hospital; but, in December 1949, he fell beneath a New York subway train and died instantly.

According to The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, an oak tree presented to Lovelock by Adolf Hitler in 1936 grows as his memorial in the grounds of Timaru Boys’ High School. Apart from the two online New Zealand dictionaries, further information about Lovelock can be found on the website of the New Zealand Olympic Committee and Wikipedia.

Unusually for an athlete, perhaps, Lovelock kept a diary, recording many details about his races and training schedules. This was published in 2008 by Craig Potton, a small independent New Zealand company. Here is the publisher’s blurb: ‘Throughout his running career, Lovelock kept a remarkable series of journals and diaries, until now unpublished. As If Running on Air: The Journals of Jack Lovelock reproduces his journals from late 1931 to the end of 1935 and extracts from his 1936 training diary in a beautifully presented volume with colour and black & white photographs throughout. There is an entry for every race: some are brief, little more than notes; others are eloquent and reflective. Collectively they constitute a unique record of a sporting life in the 1930s and offer insights into what it took to make a world champion.’

I can find only one review of the book online - in the magazine Running Times [Runner’s World]. It says Lovelock was ‘the best of the 1930s golden era of milers’ and that the Berlin race is ‘still celebrated for the split-second finesse of Lovelock’s tactics and the lyrical perfection of his running’. It’s a favourable review which concludes that the diary gives ‘many inside views of history, as do the amazing photographs’.

‘Best of all,’ Running Times says, ‘we can follow what is in [Lovelock’s] mind almost stride by stride as each race unfolds. In the 1933 World Student Games, shadowing Italy’s Luigi Beccali, the reigning Olympic champion, ‘I clung like a leech . . . and thought I might hold him at the finish, but my big kick was not there.’ Quietly (and prophetically) he adds, ‘Two wins to him, the third is mine.’ In the 1935 ‘Mile of the Century’ at Princeton, ‘Cunningham’s tactics and uneven pacing were disturbing, as Bonthron might catch us both from behind . . . I took two very cautious peeps at Bill, swung out a fraction, and using the wind as best I could, let fly with my sprint.’ After that victory Lovelock was in serious danger of being crushed by the admiring crowd. His journal comments dryly, ‘Such terrific enthusiasm seemed a little misplaced.’

Monday, January 4, 2010

But I spied crabs

It is three hundred years to the day that Richard Newdigate, the Squire of Arbury, a Warwickshire gentleman, and father to 18 children, passed away. He might have been forgotten but for an extraordinary series of news-letters, written for and to him in the country from London, and the remnants of his diary. This latter becomes particularly interesting when Newdigate decides to take a trip to France, where, on his first day, he had trouble finding a decent supper. The news-letters and the diary extracts were collated two centuries after his death, by a relative, and published with the title Cavalier and Puritan.

Born in 1644, Richard Newdigate was the son of an eminent judge, Richard Newdegate, a distant relative of Oliver Cromwell. (The son took the surname spelling used by his grandfather, Sir John Newdigate, rather than his father.) He tried to get into politics, and was elected as MP for the county of Warwick, but Parliament was dissolved a week after the election. He settled down to manage his estates as Squire of Arbury, and had 15 children by his first wife, and three by a second. He died on 4 January 1701 - three centuries ago this very day.

The most comprehensive information about Richard Newdigate available on the internet can be found in the book Cavalier and Puritan, published in 1901 by Smith, Elder and Co in London, which is freely available at Internet Archive. Since then, it has been republished many times.

Cavalier and Puritan was originally compiled by Lady Newdigate-Newdegate from, as the sub-title explains, the private papers and diary of Sir Richard Newdigate, Second Baronet with extracts from MS news-letters addressed to him between 1675 and 1689. Further information on the historically-important Newdigate news-letters is provided by Philip Hines Jr. Also, The Diary Junction has some information and links.

Here is part of Lady Newdigate-Newdegate’s introduction to Cavalier and Puritan: ‘The private diary of Sir Richard Newdigate needs a word of introduction and explanation. It consists, for the most part, of fragments of torn sheets of folio paper containing unconnected and mutilated portions of what must have been a minutely kept record of daily life extending over some thirty years. When the manuscript volumes were doomed to destruction, certain parts were thought worthy of preservation, mainly because they noted matters of estate interest, or were of significance in other ways. Whole sheets were then rent apart from the diary at irregular intervals, interspersed in order of date with rough-edged slips of paper torn from the middle of a page. Some curious entries have been retained which might not have escaped destruction had not the folio sheets been closely written upon on either side. Thus a note on some matter of mere local importance has safeguarded a more interesting entry of candid self-revelation on the reverse side of the paper.

In these remnants of a day-by-day record there is no reference to politics or public life, not even during the period when Sir Richard was a representative of his county in Parliament. The diary is chiefly noteworthy for the naiveté and frankness of the writer, and for the fulness of detail with which he helps us to realise the private life of a country gentleman more than two hundred years ago.’

Among the interesting remnants of the diary are the parts that relate to a journey Newdigate undertook to Paris. Preparations for the trip had been under way for several days, but the trip itself started on 8 July 1699 when he set off from Harefield, about 15 miles northwest of London at the time (now part of Greater London).

8 July 1699
‘Rose at five, got out by seven. Rode to Bagshot. Baited. Took Coach. (Mem - Jack Royl rode away Tempest against my order.) Drove to Farnham, ten miles. Then to Alton, seven miles. Drove to Woodcote, eight miles. Went forty-four miles to-day. Was very weary and dry, and drank too much. Went to bed at twelve.’

9 July 1699
‘Went to church twice. Walked in Woodcot Grove.’

10 July 1699
‘Rose at six and went to Winton. . .Went to Southampton. There found Parker without, my Son Stephens, his brother Hodges, his Cousin Newland and Mr Scot, all waiting for my arrival. . . Embarked my Coach in a Hoy and then myself on the Governor’s yacht. West of Calshot Castle got into the long Boat; was tost, being rowed by four hands six mile and a half. Walked from Cowes, where we landed (having drunk a glass of Canary at Captain Newland’s), half a mile. There we met the welcome Coach. Found at Barton four of my dear Daughters; Moll, Nan that are married and Betty and July. Hasted to bed.’

11 July 1699
‘Took four Quarts of Posset Drink. . . At four afternoon eat boiled loin of Mutton, then drank burnt Wine, yet continued unwell. So discoursing several, spent this day.’

12 July 1699
‘Very hot. Rose pretty early. Agreed with Captain Radzee for his Yacht and with Thos. Harly and Wm. Cook for their Hoy (which is called the Success of Cowes) to carry our horses and Coach. Returned to Dinner and spent the rest of the day with our Company.’

13 July 1699
‘Rose at three. Rode to East Cowes, ferryed over; went thro’ West Cowes to Radzee’s, boarded the yacht, saw how my goods were stowed, went on board the Successe, prevented their spoiling the carriage of my Chariot, which they would have knocked to pieces. Stowed her aboard the Yacht, Slinged my three horses on board. Returned to Barton. Gave my Daughter Mary a Breast Jewel (Diamond) worth £40, and my Daughter Nan a Diamond Locket worth £16. Gave little Wm Stephens a half Jacobus, and little Dick Sedley a quarter Carolus. Yesterday gave the servants half Crowns apiece. Breakfasted, and embarked first on the Hoy, to which Captn Radzee had returned the Carriage of the Coach, which I required him to take aboard his Yacht again. But he said he could not. Then I went and fetched my goods from aboard him, and sending back Nan and July, my son Stephens and Mr Scot, who were on board, we set sail in the Hoy and got against South Sea Castle that night. Lay rough. All were sick but Dick and I. Next day were becalmed. Could not lose sight oth’ Island. Lay rough again. About two ith’ morning a North East gale blew fresh and sent us forward.’

‘After two days and nights,’ writes Lady Newdigate-Newdegate, ‘of much discomfort on a stormy sea, the little company of six arrived within reach of Cherbourg on the French coast. The appearance of the ‘hoy’ with its unknown freight caused no little excitement in the inhabitants of the town. Sir Richard, as usual, is found equal to all emergencies, and nothing seems to escape his ‘roving’ and observant eye.’

Here is Newdigate’s first day in France.

15 July 1699
‘About 4 ith’ afternoon landed at Chirburgh, being a Port where the “Sun”, the great French ship, was fired. The Sea shore had hundreds of people upon it, it being their St James’s Day. When they saw the English colors they drew near our boat, and the third man we met with addressed us in very good English. He was a Merchant of that place, knew our swearing Seaman, Abraham, his name John Baily, but entitled Cobizon, from a Village he possesses of that Name. He led us to Mademoiselle du Val’s house, the Sun, where there were Stone Steps as to our Steeples, no boarded Floors but bricked, two Beds in a Room, no blankets under, but first a Great Mattress of Straw, then a small thin Feather-bed, and then a large Quilt, then a Blanket and Counterpane, round Bolster, no Pillows.

Mr Cobizon advised me to wait upon the Commissary, who is their only Governor, the Sieur Menevill. He was very Civil. Then we went to the Inn, and Mr Cobizon undertook to finish all with the Master of the Vessel, Mr Harly. But I had a mind to go on board our Ship, where I found the Custom house Officers and many people on board, and hundreds on shore to see the Sight.

After two hours spent in shewing all our goods to the Custom house officers, who were very strict but very civil, we slung our Horses and Coach ashore and put it together, and four men carried our Goods in great Handbarrows. The Coach was accompanied by the multitude into town, who had (as Mr Cobizon said) ne’er seen a Coach before, and I was forced to take it off the Wheels and carry it into a Bachelor Merchant (Mr Bousselaer) his Yard, to have it safe. Otherwise it had been torn in pieces and those kept as Relics by the people. This held me till near eleven.

In the meantime I went to bespeak Supper, but could have no flesh; they durst not dress it. ’Twas Saturday, a Fish day, and tho’ to break the seventh Comandment is venial, eating Flesh is a mortal Sin. Nor could we have fish; Mrs Du Vail said ’twas all gone. But I spied Crabs, of which she bought six for three pence, and we got Thornback and made a pretty good Supper. Prayed and went to bed after twelve, I having read myself half asleep and then went to bed. After my first sleep I slept heartily, I thank God, till after eight.’

Nostalgia for lost poverty

‘What I mean is this: that one can, with no romanticism, feel nostalgic for lost poverty.’ So began the diary jottings of Albert Camus, the great Algerian-French writer who died 50 years ago today. He wasn’t a typical diarist, by any means, but he wrote in enough notebooks to produce three published collections (of which the above is the first line), and he kept two rather downbeat journals on trips to North and South America in the 1940s.

Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria, in 1913 into a working class family. When he was still very young, during the First World War, his father was killed, and his mother suffered a stroke on hearing the news. Camus won a scholarship and studied at the lycée in Algiers until 1932. Thereafter, he took various jobs, joined the Communist Party, studied at the University of Algiers, and married Simone Hié. He also contracted tuberculosis.

A first collection of essays was published in 1937. The following year, Camus moved to France, divorced Hié who was a morphine addict, and wrote for several newspapers. During the Second World War he was a member of the French resistance, but he also found time to marry Francine Faure (with whom he had twins, born in 1945), to teach at Oran, Algeria, and to publish his first celebrated novel, The Stranger. With Sartre, in 1943, he founded, and subsequently edited, the left-wing paper Combat. After four years, he resigned from Combat and, at roughly the same time, published The Plague.

Camus continued to write novels and journalism, but also became involved in the theatre as both playwright and producer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957; but, he died tragically in a car accident on 4 January 1960, half a century ago today. There is no shortage of biographical information about Camus on the internet: try the Albert Camus Society, Wikipedia, Nobel Prize website, or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Although not a conventional diarist, Camus did keep notebooks and sometimes journals, and most of them have found their way into print. In 1987, Paragon House, New York, published American Journals (translated by Hugh Levick), which Camus wrote on two lecture tours to North and South America in the 1940s. Much earlier, in 1963, Knopf published a first English edition of Camus’s Notebooks 1935-1942 (translated by Philip Thody) and Notebooks 1942-1951 (translated by Justin O’Brien). It would be another 40 years before a third volume - Notebooks 1951-1959 - was translated by Ryan Bloom and published by Ivan R. Dee in Chicago.

The New York Times was not very enthusiastic about American Journals in 1987. It concluded that the book was ‘a downbeat performance’ and in a translation ‘that does not match the etched prose of the original’. However, it adds that the author’s finely developed sense of moral values is evident throughout. The Millions (a US website offering coverage on books, arts, and culture since 2003) is a bit more upbeat: ‘A slight volume, American Journals nevertheless reveals a fragile man at the height of his fame, who can still, through all of his medical and psychological problems, offer observations which are astute and often amusing, and it offers some personal context to the ideas that would show up in his later works of fiction.’

The Millions review includes a few (undated) extracts:

‘Obliged to admit that for the first time in my life I feel myself in the middle of a psychological collapse.’

‘Sad to still feel so vulnerable. In 25 years I’ll be 57. 25 years then to create a body of work and to find what I’m looking for. After that: old age and death.’

Of Rio: ‘Never have I seen wealth and poverty so insolently intertwined.’ Of a Brazilian poet: ‘Enormous, indolent, folds of flesh around his eyes, his mouth hanging open, the poet arrives. Anxieties, a sudden movement, then he spills himself into an easy chair and stays there a little while, panting. He gets up, does a pirouette and falls back down into the easy chair.’ In Bahia: ‘In bed. Fever. Only the mind works on, obstinately. Hideous thought. Unbearable feeling of advancing step by step toward an unknown catastrophe which will destroy everything around me and in me.’

The first few pages of a recent edition of Notebooks 1935-1951 can be read at Here is the start of the first entry

May 1935
‘What I mean is this: that one can, with no romanticism, feel nostalgic for lost poverty. A certain number of years lived without money are enough to create a whole sensibility. In this particular case, the strange feeling which the son has for his mother constitutes his whole sensibility. The latent material memory which he has of his childhood) a glue that has stuck to the soul) explains why this way of feeling shows itself in the most widely differing fields.

Whoever notices this in himself feels both gratitude and a guilty conscience. If he has moved into a different class, the comparison also gives him the feeling that he has lost great wealth. For rich people, the sky is just an extra, a gift of nature. The poor, on other hand, can see it as it really is: an infinite grace.’

The last collection of Camus’s notebooks (1951-1959) were withheld from publication in France for nearly 30 years after his death, and did not appear in English until 2008. The publisher’s blurb says this: ‘Camus’s final journals give us our rawest and most intimate glimpse yet into one of the most important voices of French letters and twentieth-century literature. The first two volumes of his Notebooks began as simple instruments of his work; this final volume, recorded over the last nine years of his life, take on the characteristics of a more personal diary. Fearing that his memory was beginning to fail him, Camus noted here his reactions to the polemics stirred by The Rebel, his feelings about the Algerian War, his sojourns in Greece and Italy, thinly veiled observations on his wife and lovers, heartaches over his family, and anxiety over the Nobel Prize that he was awarded in 1957.’ Again, provides a few pages for view.

The New York Times says that the most interesting aspect of the book ‘is not politics but its personal substratum’, and that beneath Camus’s ideological quarrels there is ‘a deeper unhappiness with the critical bent of the Paris intelligentsia’. For example he calls the La Nouvelle Revue Française, a ‘curious milieu’ whose function ‘is to create writers’ but where, however, ‘they lose the joy of writing and creating’.