Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Kollwitz’s weavers

‘Went to the theater with Karl; saw The Weavers [. . .] I was overcome by something of the same feeling I had when I saw The Weavers for the first few times. Of the feeling that animates the weavers, the desire for eye for eye, tooth for tooth, the feeling I had when I did the weavers. My weavers. In the meantime I have been through a revolution, and I am convinced that I am no revolutionist.’ This is from the diaries of Käthe Kollwitz, a famous German artist and sculptress who died 75 years ago today. She is largely remembered for her depictions of the effects of poverty, hunger and war on the working class.

Kollwitz was born in 1867 in Königsberg, Prussia, the fifth child of a housebuilder and his religious wife. From the age of 12, she was instructed in drawing and copying plaster casts; and by 16, much influenced by her grandfather’s socialist politics, she was drawing working people, the ones she saw coming to her father’s office. With no colleges open to her nearby, she studied in Berlin and Munich art schools for women. Initially trained as a painter, she was influenced by the work and writings of fellow artist Max Klinger and began to focus on the graphic arts. After 1890, she was mostly etching and working with sculpture (later also turning to lithography and woodcuts). She became engaged to Karl Kollwitz, a medical student, while in Munich, and by 1891 they had married, and were living in a large apartment in Berlin, and he was practising as a qualified doctor. They had two sons, Hans and Peter.

Kollwitz’s series of etchings The Weavers (1898) - inspired by seeing a performance of Gerhart Hauptmann’s The Weavers, which dramatized the oppression of the Silesian weavers in Langenbielau and their failed revolt in 1844 - first brought her critical attention. She joined the Berlin Secession artistic movement from 1901, and in the years through to 1908 - during which she made several trips to Paris - she produced her second major cycle of works - Peasant War. She was awarded the Villa Romana prize for the etching Outbreak, and the prize allowed her to study in Florence during 1907. On returning to Germany, biographers says, she became inspired by the Expressionists and Bauhaus artists to simplify her modes of expression. Her son, Peter, died in combat in 1914, leading her into a deep depression. She worked for years on a monument to him, destroying one and not completing a second until 1932.

In 1922–23, Kollwitz produced the cycle War in woodcut form. Much of her art in this period was taking pro-war propaganda and turning it round to create anti-war works, critical of the growing nationalism she was witnessing. In 1924, she finished her three most famous posters: Germany’s Children Starving, Bread, and Never Again War. By the mid-1930s, she had completed her last major cycle of lithographs, Death, and was facing persecution by the Nazi regime. She died on 22 April 1945. Four museums - in Berlin, Cologne and Moritzburg, and the Käthe Kollwitz Museum in Koekelare - are dedicated solely to her work. The Käthe Kollwitz Prize, established in 1960, is named for her. Further information can be found online at Wikipedia, the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, The Art Story or Spartacus

Kollwitz kept a diary intermittently throughout the latter part of her life, from 1909. Extracts from these diaries were first edited by her son, Hans Kollwitz, translated by Richard and Clara Winston, and published in 1955 as Diaries and Letters of Kaethe Kollwitz by Henery Regnery Company. It was subsequently reissued by Northwestern University Press in 1988 as 
The Diary and Letters of Kaethe Kollwitz - a digital copy of this can be borrowed freely from Internet Archive (with log-in). Hans Kollwitz says in his introduction: ‘The diaries give us a valuable insight into Mother’s methods of work and her tempo. She constantly swung between long periods of depression and inability to work and the much shorter periods when she felt that she was making progress in her work and mastering her task. She suffered terribly during these spells of emptiness.’

Here are several extracts from the diaries, including one in which Kollwitz reflects on her past entries, observing that she wrote mostly about obstacles and trouble and seldom about being happy.

1 December 1914
‘Conceived the plan for a memorial for Peter tonight, but abandoned it again because it seemed to me impossible of execution. In the morning I suddenly thought of having Reike ask the city to give me a place for the memorial. There would have to be a collection taken for it. It must stand on the heights of Schildhorn, looking out over the Havel. To be finished and dedicated on a glorious summer day. Schoolchildren of the community singing, “On the way to pray.” The monument would have Peter’s form, lying stretched out, the father at the head, the mother at the feet. It would be to commemorate the sacrifice of all the young volunteers.

It is a wonderful goal, and no one has more right than I to make this memorial.’

22 August 1916
‘Stagnation in my work.

When I feel so parched, I almost long for the sorrow again. And then when it comes back I feel it stripping me physically of all the strength I need for work.

Made a drawing: the mother letting her dead son slide into her arms. I might make a hundred such drawings and yet I do not get any closer to him. I am seeking him. As if I had to find him in the work. And yet everything I can do is so childishly feeble and inadequate. I feel obscurely that I could throw off this inadequacy, that Peter is somewhere in the work and I might find him. And at the same time I have the feeling that I can no longer do it. I am too shattered, weakened, drained by tears. I am like the writer in Thomas Mann: he can only write, but he has not sufficient strength to live what is written. It is the other way round with me. I no longer have the strength to form what has been lived. A genius and a Mann could do it. I probably cannot.

For work, one must be hard and thrust outside oneself what one has lived through. As soon as I begin to do that, I again feel myself a mother who will not give up her sorrow. Sometimes it all becomes so terribly difficult.

Hoyer has answered my letter. His reply is very kind. He too calls me Mother. But that doesn’t bother me. Now all three of them call me that, Hans Koch, Noll and Hoyer. At first I felt alarm, then happiness, and now diffidence -wondering what I can give them. I can really be a mother only to my own.

I suppose it is conceivable to broaden out so that one can feel great love for other children than one’s own, but again it is the same as in my work: I feel that I cannot. I am not broad enough for that. My strength is insufficient.’

28 June 1921
‘Went to the theater with Karl; saw The Weavers at the Grosse Schauspielhaus. The inflammatory effect of the mass scenes. “Let Jaeger come out, let Jaeger come out! Let Hoelz come out!”

I was overcome by something of the same feeling I had when I saw The Weavers for the first few times. Of the feeling that animates the weavers, the desire for eye for eye, tooth for tooth, the feeling I had when I did the weavers. My weavers.

In the meantime I have been through a revolution, and I am convinced that I am no revolutionist. My childhood dream of dying on the barricades will hardly be fulfilled, because I should hardly mount a barricade now that I know what they are like in reality. And so I know now what an illusion I lived in for so many years. I thought I was a revolutionary - and was only an evolutionary. Yes, sometimes I do not know whether I am a socialist at all, whether I am not rather a democrat instead. How good it is when reality tests you to the guts and pins you relentlessly to the very position you always thought, so long as you clung to your illusion, was unspeakably wrong. I think something of the sort has happened to Konrad. Yes, he - and I too - would probably have been capable of acting in a revolutionary manner if the real revolution had had the aspect we expected. But since its reality was highly un-ideal and full of earthly dross - as probably every revolution must be - we have had enough of it. But when an artist like Hauptmann comes along and shows us revolution transfigured by art, we again feel ourselves revolutionaries, again fall for the old deception.’

31 December 1925
‘Recently I began reading my old diaries. Back to before the war. Gradually I became very depressed. The reason for that is probably that I wrote only when there were obstacles and halts to the flow of life, seldom when everything was smooth and even. So there were at most brief notes when things went well with Hans, but long pages when he lost his balance. And I wrote nothing when Karl and I felt that we belonged intimately to one another and made each other happy; but long pages when we did not harmonize. As I read I distinctly felt what a half-truth a diary presents. Certainly there was truth behind what I wrote; but I set down only one side of life, its hitches and harassments. I put the diaries away with a feeling of relief that I am safely out of those times. Yet they were times which I always think of as the best in my life, the decade from my mid-thirties to my mid-forties. A great many things were very confused in those days. Then came the war and turned everything topsy-turvy. Knocked one down flat on the ground. Half alive and half dead, one crawled in silence, living a humble life drenched with suffering. One rose to one’s feet very slowly indeed. New happiness came with Hans, Ottilie, the babies. Karl was always at my side. And that is a happiness that I have fully realized only in these last years - that he and I are together. Now we are wonderfully fond of one another. He is no longer the same man he once was, as I am no longer the same woman. He has left many things behind him, has grown out of and above them. What has remained is his “innocence,” as Sophie Wolff calls it. He has a really innocent heart, and from that comes his wonderful inward joyousness.’

May 1943 [The last diary entry.]
‘Hans has reached the age of 51. Air-raid alarm the night of May 14. It was the loveliest of May nights. Hans and Ottilie did not go to sleep until very late. They sat in the garden and listened to a nightingale.

After work Hans came, then Ottilie and finally Lise. The four of us sat together. On his birthday table, below the grave relief, I had placed the lithograph Death Calls, the print of which I worked over. Then there was a drawing I had made of Karl one time when he was reading aloud to me. We were sitting around the living room table at the time. This drawing is a favorite of Hans’. And there was also the small etching. Greeting, which is closely connected with his birthday.

We lit Josef Faasen’s large candle.

Early next morning, Hans came again and brought a great bouquet of lilies from the garden. What happiness it is for me that I still have my boy whom I love so deeply and who is so fond of me.

Goethe to Lavater, 1779: “But let us stop worrying our particular religions like a dog its bone. I have gone beyond purely sensual truth.” ’

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Diary briefs

Turkish diary of a genocide - Rudaw

Newly uncovered Holocaust diary - The Jerusalem Post

WW2 PoW diaries published - Express & Star, Amazon

Diaries of 20th century Irish diplomat - The Journal

Pepys and the plague - The Spectator

C19th attitudes to homosexuality - The Conversation, Pink News, BBC

The Dalai Lama’s escape to India - Penguin, The Free Press Journal

Diary from ill-fated colonists’ ship - New Zealand Herald

Somme diary fetches £2,600 - Hansons, Metro, BBC

Margaret Thatcher’s clothing diary! - Sky News

Happy birthday, Jeffrey

Happy birthday Jeffrey Archer, 80 today! It’s been an eventful, colourful 70 years for the best-selling author and occasional politician, with many ups and downs. Being sent to prison was certainly one of the downs, but he made the best of it, one might gather, by producing three volumes of diaries from the experience. The first volume shows that within a week he was already worrying about his future as a free man and not being able to explain to everyone who recognises him as a perjuror that he hadn’t had a fair trial.

Archer was born in London, on 15 April 1940, but he spent most of his childhood in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. After short spells with the army and police, he worked as a PE teacher, before entering Brasenose College, Oxford, to study education. While there he was successful in athletics, sprinting 100 yards in 9.6 seconds for Great Britain in 1966, and becoming president of the university’s athletics club. During this period, he also earned a reputation for raising money for charity, and met his future wife, Mary, who was studying chemistry.

On leaving Oxford, Archer’s own website explains, he was elected to the Greater London Council, and three years later at the age of 29, he became Member of Parliament for Louth. After five years in the Commons and ‘a promising political career ahead of him’, he invested heavily in a Canadian company called Aquablast, on the advice of the Bank of Boston. The company went into liquidation, and three directors were later sent to jail for fraud. Left with debts of nearly half a million pounds, and on the brink of bankruptcy, he resigned from the House of Commons - and started his writing career.

In 1976, his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was published, first in the US, but then very quickly in more than a dozen countries. His third novel, Kane and Abel, was a number one best-seller in hardcover and paperback all over the world and, according to Archer’s website, sold over 3.5 million in the UK paperback edition alone. With his fame as a writer and his financial situation much improved he fell into favour with the Conservative Party again, and was appointed deputy chairman by Margaret Thatcher in 1985. Gaffes and a scandal involving a call girl led to his resignation a year later. In 1992, though, he was made a life peer as Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare thanks to prime minister John Major.

The call girl scandal led to a libel case which Archer won, donating the settlement to charity. More than a decade later, though, he was prosecuted for having committed perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in that libel case. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment, and was released in July 2003, having served two years.

Before being charged with libel, Archer had been selected by the Conservative Party as candidate for the London mayoral election of 2000; expulsion from the party followed his stepping down from the mayoral race. Wikipedia notes that during the 1990s and early 2000s, Archer was investigated (but not charged) in connection with allegations of insider trading at Anglia Television, where his wife was a director, and the disappearance of money from Simple Truth, a fundraising campaign run by Archer.

For three months while in prison, Archer kept a diary and this was published by Macmillan in three volumes between 2002 and 2004. Wikipedia has an entry dedicated to these diaries, and Archer’s own website offers a few pages of extracts from each volume, as well as images of his diary manuscripts. The first volume - A Prison Diary by FF8282 - covers the three weeks he spent at HMP Belmarsh, a double A category high-security prison in south London, said to hold some of Britain’s most violent criminals. Here are parts of Archer’s first diary entry (as found on his website).

19 July 2001
12.07 pm
‘You are sentenced to four years.’ Mr Justice Potts stares down from the bench, unable to hide his delight. He orders me to be taken down.

A Securicor man who was sitting beside me while the verdict was read out points towards a door on my left which has not been opened during the seven-week trial. I turn and glance at my wife Mary seated at the back of the court, head bowed, ashen-faced, a son on either side to comfort her.

I’m led downstairs to be met by a court official, and thus I begin an endless process of form-filling. Name? Archer. Age? 61. Weight? 178lbs, I tell him. [. . .]

I am ushered into a room only slightly larger than the cell to find my silk, Nicholas Purnell QC, and his junior, Alex Cameron, awaiting me.

Nick explains that four years means two, and Mr Justice Potts chose a custodial sentence aware that I would be unable to appeal to the Parole Board for early release. Of course they will appeal on my behalf, as they feel Potts has gone way over the top. Gilly Gray QC, an old friend, had warned me the previous evening that as the jury had been out for five days and I had not entered the witness box to defend myself, an appeal might not be received too favourably. Nick adds that in any case, my appeal will not be considered before Christmas, as only short sentences are dealt with quickly.

Nick goes on to tell me that Belmarsh Prison, in Woolwich, will be my first destination.

‘At least it’s a modern jail,’ he comments, although he warns me that his abiding memory of the place was the constant noise, so he feared I wouldn’t sleep for the first few nights. After a couple of weeks, he feels confident I will be transferred to a Category D prison – an open prison – probably Ford or the Isle of Sheppey.

Nick explains that he has to leave me and return to Court No. 7 to make an application for compassionate leave, so that I can attend my mother’s funeral on Saturday. She died on the day the jury retired to consider their verdict, and I am only thankful that she never heard me sentenced.

I thank Nick and Alex for all they have done, and am then escorted back to my cell. The vast iron door is slammed shut. The prison officers don’t have to lock it, only unlock it, as there is no handle on the inside. I sit on the wooden bench, to be reminded that Jim Dexter is inocent, OK! My mind is curiously blank as I try to take in what has happened and what will happen next.

The door is unlocked again - about fifteen minutes later as far as I can judge - and I’m taken to a signing-out room to fill in yet another set of forms. A large burly officer who only grunts takes away my money clip, £120 in cash, my credit card and a fountain pen. He places them in a plastic bag. They are sealed before he asks, ‘Where would you like them sent?’ I give the officer Mary’s name and our home address. After I’ve signed two more forms in triplicate, I’m handcuffed to an overweight woman of around five foot three, a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth. They are obviously not anticipating any trouble. She is wearing the official uniform of the prison service: a white shirt, black tie, black trousers, black shoes and black socks.

She accompanies me out of the building and on to an elongated white van, not unlike a single-decker bus, except that the windows are blacked out. I am placed in what I could only describe as a cubicle – known to the recidivists as a sweatbox – and although I can see outside, the waiting press cannot see me; in any case, they have no idea which cubicle I’m in. Cameras flash pointlessly in front of each window as we wait to move off. Another long wait, before I hear a prisoner shout, ‘I think Archer’s in this van.’ Eventually the vehicle jerks forward and moves slowly out of the Old Bailey courtyard on the first leg of a long circuitous journey to HMP Belmarsh.

As we travel slowly through the streets of the City, I spot an Evening Standard billboard already in place: ARCHER SENT TO JAIL. It looks as if it was printed some time before the verdict.

I am well acquainted with the journey the van is taking through London, as Mary and I follow the same route home to Cambridge on Friday evenings. Except on this occasion we suddenly turn right off the main road and into a little backstreet, to be greeted by another bevy of pressmen. But like their colleagues at the Old Bailey, all they can get is a photograph of a large white van with ten small black windows. As we draw up to the entrance gate, I see a sign declaring BELMARSH PRISON. Some wag has put a line through the B and replaced it with an H. Not the most propitious of welcomes.

We drive through two high-barred gates that are electronically operated before the van comes to a halt in a courtyard surrounded by a thirty-foot red-brick wall, with razor wire looped along the top. I once read that this is the only top-security prison in Britain from which no one has ever escaped. I look up at the wall and recall that the world record for the pole vault is 20ft 2in. [. . .]

I’m not, as I thought I might be, placed in a hospital ward but in another cell. When the door slams behind me I begin to understand why one might contemplate suicide. The cell measures five paces by three, and this time the brick walls are painted a depressing mauve. In one corner is a single bed with a rock-hard mattress that could well be an army reject. Against the side wall, opposite the bed, is a small square steel table and a steel chair. On the far wall next to the inch-thick iron door is a steel washbasin and an open lavatory that has no lid and no flush. I am determined not to use it. On the wall behind the bed is a window encased with four thick iron bars, painted black, and caked in dirt. No curtains, no curtain rail. Stark, cold and unwelcoming would be a generous description of my temporary residence on the medical wing. No wonder the doctor didn’t return my smile. I am left alone in this bleak abode for over an hour, by which time I’m beginning to experience a profound depression. [. . .]

There is a rap on the cell door, and a steel grille that resembles a large letter box is pulled up to reveal the grinning West Indian.

‘I’m Lester,’ he declares as he pushes through a pillow - rock hard; one pillow case - mauve; followed by one sheet - green; and one blanket - brown. I thank Lester and then take some considerable time making the bed. After all, there’s nothing else to do.

When I’ve completed the task, I sit on the bed and start trying to read The Moon’s a Balloon, but my mind continually wanders. I manage about fifty pages, often stopping to consider the jury’s verdict, and although I feel tired, even exhausted, I can’t begin to think about sleep. The promised phone call has not materialized, so I finally turn off the fluorescent light that shines above the bed, place my head on the rock-hard pillow and despite the agonizing cries of the patients from the cells on either side of me, I eventually fall asleep. An hour later I’m woken again when the fluorescent light is switched back on, the letter box reopens and two different eyes peer in at me – a procedure that is repeated every hour, on the hour - to make sure I haven’t tried to take my own life. The suicide watch.

I eventually fall asleep again, and when I wake just after 4 am, I lie on my back in a straight line, because both my ears are aching after hours on the rock-hard pillow. I think about the verdict, and the fact that it had never crossed my mind even for a moment that the jury could find Francis innocent and me guilty of the same charge. How could we have conspired if one of us didn’t realize a conspiracy was taking place? They also appeared to accept the word of my former secretary, Angie Peppiatt, a woman who stole thousands of pounds from me, while deceiving me and my family for years.

Eventually I turn my mind to the future. Determined not to waste an hour, I decide to write a daily diary of everything I experience while incarcerated.

At 6 am, I rise from my mean bed and rummage around in my plastic bag. Yes, what I need is there, and this time the authorities have not determined that it should be returned to sender. Thank God for a son who had the foresight to include, amongst other necessities, an A4 pad and six felt-tip pens.

Two hours later I have completed the first draft of everything that has happened to me since I was sent to jail.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 15 April 2010.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Atomic Bomb Dome

Following the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the Second World War, the city was left in ruins. Among those ruins close to the hypocentre only one structure was left standing - a domed exhibition hall designed by a Czech architect, Jan Letzel, born 140 years ago today. Following the end of the war, there was much debate over what to do with the ruined building, and it remained neglected for many years, until the early 1960s. Only then did the local authorities accept that it should be preserved as a peace monument. Decades later, it gained acknowledgement by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. But where is the diary connection? According to the Hiroshima Peace Media Center, the movement to preserve the ruined dome was inspired by a diary kept by a young student - a 15 year old girl who died of leukaemia having been exposed to the nuclear bomb fall when only one year old.

Letzel was born on 9 April 1880 in Náchod (Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic) to a couple who ran a hotel. After being trained in civil engineering, he won a scholarship to study architecture, under Jan Kotěra (one of the founders of modern Czech architecture), at the School of Applied Arts in Prague. He undertook various study tours in 1902-1903, and was then employed by an architectural firm in Prague. He designed and built a sanatorium and a pavilion in the Art Nouveau style in Mšené-lázně. Further travels in Europe followed, and a stay in Cairo where he also worked for a while. 

By mid-1908, though, Letzel had landed in Tokyo, where he joined a firm of French architects. In 1910, Letzel and his friend Karel Hora founded their own architectural firm. Over the next few years, he designed some 40 buildings, many of them significant, including the Jesuit College, the German embassy, and a domed exhibition hall in Hiroshima. The start of World War I interrupted his practice, but, in 1919, after Czechoslovakia had become an independent country, he was appointed its commercial attaché to Japan. Many of his buildings were destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Deeply disappointed, he returned to Prague in 1923 and died in 1925 still only 45. Some further information about Letzel can be found at Wikipedia, at Radio Prague International, and at this website.

Letzel is best remembered today for the Hiroshima exhibition hall, with its distinctive dome at the highest part of the building. The building underwent several name changes, before being known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall from 1933. It became famous after surviving the atomic attack of 6 August 1945 - indeed it was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocentre. It was scheduled to be demolished with the rest of the ruins, but because the majority of the building was intact some wanted to preserve it. Thus, it remained neglected for many years. 

According to the Hiroshima Peace Centre, one factor that led to the structure’s preservation was a diary kept by a high school student, Hiroko Kajiyama. Having being exposed at the age of one, she died some 15 years later, from leukaemia. Significantly, she had noted in her diary: ‘Only the tragic Industrial Promotion Hall will forever continue to tell future generations of the catastrophic atomic bombing.’ This inspired other students to launch a campaign which, eventually led to the Hiroshima City Council passing a resolution requiring the dome to be preserved. In 1996, Unesco acknowledged the building as a World Heritage Site under the name Hiroshima Peace Memorial - though it is more generally known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. See also the Commemorative Exhibition for the 50th Anniversary of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and HuffPost.

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.

‘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.’

‘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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Poindexter, Reagan and Bush

Thirty years ago today, John Poindexter, a US national security adviser, was convicted of conspiracy and other charges pertaining to the infamous Iran-Contra Affair. Though the convictions were overturned the following year, Poindexter’s defence might have been assisted had access to the diaries of President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H W Bush not been quashed under the guise of ‘executive privilege’.

The National Security Archive, located at The George Washington University, gives this summary of the Iran-Contra affair: ‘On November 25, 1986, the biggest political and constitutional scandal since Watergate exploded in Washington when President Ronald Reagan told a packed White House news conference that funds derived from covert arms deals with the Islamic Republic of Iran had been diverted to buy weapons for the US-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua. In the weeks leading up to this shocking admission, news reports had exposed the US role in both the Iran deals and the secret support for the Contras, but Reagan’s announcement, in which he named two subordinates - National Security Advisor John M Poindexter and NSC staffer Oliver L North - as the responsible parties, was the first to link the two operations.’

More than three years later, on 7 April 1990, Poindexter was convicted for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, defrauding the government, and the alteration and destruction of evidence pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair. On appeal, these convictions were reversed in 1991. (North had been convicted on lesser charges the previous year, and his convictions were reversed in 1990.)

Poindexter, born in 1936, studied at the United States Naval Academy and the California Institute of Technology. He had a distinguished career in the navy (battleship command and high-ranking Pentagon posts) before serving in the Reagan administration, first as a military assistant then, from 1983 to 1985, as Deputy National Security Advisor. In 1985-1986, he was National Security Advisor providing recommendations to the President on national security, foreign policy and defense policy. He reached the navy rank of Vice Admiral, but was retired, because of the Iran-Contra Affair, as a Rear Admiral in 1987. After that and until retirement he worked in the hi-tech private sector, apart from a few months as Director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office - see Wikipedia for more biographical information.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website has the text of the Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, and Chapter Three deals with United States v. John M Poindexter. It provides a full background to his indictment in March 1988, and gives a run down of the trial and outcomes. More specifically it also mentions how, in September 1989, Poindexter’s attorneys informed the court that ‘the defendant is willing to seek access to the personal diaries and notes of former President Reagan and former Vice President Bush pursuant to a . . . subpoena.’

The judge in the case subsequently ordered President Reagan to make diary entries available for the court’s in-camera review; and, after the review, it ordered him to produce the relevant diary entries for Poindexter - in the absence of a claim of executive privilege. This was headline news at the time - see the Google archived Associated Press report. But then, the Report explains, President Reagan, joined by the Bush Administration, claimed executive privilege and this was granted by the court, thus allowing the Reagan-Bush motions to quash the subpoena for the diary entries.

Executive privilege, according to Wikipedia, is the power claimed by the President of the United States and other members of the executive branch to resist certain subpoenas and other interventions by the legislative and judicial branches of government. The Supreme Court has confirmed the legitimacy of this doctrine but only to the extent of confirming that there is a qualified privilege: ‘Once invoked, a presumption of privilege is established, requiring the Prosecutor to make a ‘sufficient showing’ that the ‘Presidential material’ is ‘essential to the justice of the case’.

Here is more from the National Security Archive on Reagan and Bush.

On Reagan: ‘The scandal was almost the undoing of the Teflon President. Of all the revelations that emerged, the most galling for the American public was the president’s abandonment of the long-standing policy against dealing with terrorists, which Reagan repeatedly denied doing in spite of overwhelming evidence that made it appear he was simply lying to cover up the story. Despite the damage to his image, the president arguably got off easy, escaping the ultimate political sanction of impeachment. From what is now known from documents and testimony - but perhaps not widely appreciated - while Reagan may not have known about the diversion or certain other details of the operations being carried out in his name, he directed that both support for the Contras (whom he ordered to be kept together ‘body and soul’) and the arms-for-hostages deals go forward, and was at least privy to other actions that were no less significant.’

On Bush: ‘Then-Vice President George H W Bush became entangled in controversy over his knowledge of Iran-Contra. Although he asserted publicly that he was ‘out of the loop - no operational role,’ he was well informed of events, particularly the Iran deals, as evidenced in part by this diary excerpt just after the Iran operation was exposed: ‘I’m one of the few people that know fully the details . . .’ [see below also]. The problem for Bush was greatly magnified because he was preparing to run for president just as the scandal burst. He managed to escape significant blame - ultimately winning the 1988 election - but he came under fire later for repeatedly failing to disclose the existence of his diary to investigators and then for pardoning several Iran-Contra figures, including former Defense Secretary Weinberger just days before his trial was set to begin. As a result of the pardons, the independent counsel’s final report pointedly noted: ‘The criminal investigation of Bush was regrettably incomplete.’

The Project for the Old American Century is one of the websites that has several pertinent extracts from George Bush’s diary made available in 1993:

5 November 1986
‘On the news at this time is the question of the hostages . . . I’m one of the few people that know fully the details . . . it is not a subject we can talk about . . .’

13 November 1986
‘I remember Watergate. I remember the way things oozed out. It is important to be level, to be honest, to be direct. We are not saying anything.’

25 November 1986
‘The administration in disarray - foreign policy in disarray - cover-up - who knew what when?’

1 January 1987
‘These so-called findings on Iran - I'll be honest - I don’t remember any of them, and I don’t believe that they were even signed by the president, frankly. But sometimes there are meetings over in the White House with Shultz, NSC guy, Casey and Weinberger, and they make some decisions that the president signs off on. . . And the facts are that the Vice President is not in the decision making loop.’

And here is one excerpt from Reagan’s diary, taken from a Vanity Fair preview of The Reagan Diaries edited by Douglas Brinkley and published in 2007.

24 November 1986
‘Big thing of the day was 2 hour meeting in the situation room on the Iran affair. George S. is still stubborn that we shouldn't have sold the arms to Iran - I gave him an argument. All in all we got everything out on the table. After meeting Ed [Meese, attorney general] & Don [Regan] told me of a smoking gun. On one of the arms shipments the Iranians pd. Israel a higher purchase price than we were getting. The Israelis put the difference in a secret bank acct. Then our Col. [Oliver] North (NSC) gave the money to the ‘Contras’. This was a violation of the law against giving the Contras money without an authorization by Congress. North didn't tell me about this. Worst of all John [Poindexter] found out about it & didn’t tell me. This may call for resignations.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 7 April 2010.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The father of black history

‘Now about Woodson himself. He is the most arrogant, scornful, and depressing person I have ever been associated with. He has a virulent temper, but does not like to see the same manifested by another. He is puffed up with his own importance and deprecates that of everyone associated closely with him. He possesses a humor which rankles, instead of warms, a wit which makes me wish to strangle him at times.’ This is the damning assessment of Carter G. Woodson, a hero of the early 20th century US black movement, by one of his assistants, Lorenzo Greene. Woodson, who died 70 years ago today, was one of the first scholars to study the history of the African diaspora; he was also the founder of The Journal of Negro History and Black History Week. Greene, a significant scholar in his own right, worked for Woodson in the 1920s/1930s, and kept a detailed diary. This was published posthumously in two volumes, Working with Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History and Selling Black History for Carter G. Woodson.

Woodson was born in New Canton, Virginia, in 1875, the son of former slaves. Both of his parents were illiterate although, after being freed, his father worked as a carpenter and farmer. Aged 17, Woodson followed his brother to Huntington, to attend a new secondary school for blacks, Douglass High School. But, being obliged to work (as a coal miner) he was unable to attend full time, at least until he was 20. He finally received his diploma in 1897, and went to teach in Winona. In 1900, he was selected as the principal of Douglass High School. By studying part-time, he earned a degree in literature from Berea College in Kentucky in 1903. From that year until 1907, he worked for the US government as a school supervisor in the Philippines. On returning to the US he achieved a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and, in 1912, a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University.

In 1915, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to encourage scholars to engage in the intensive study of the black past (previously the field had been largely neglected or distorted). The following year, Woodson edited the first issue of the association’s principal scholarly publication, The Journal of Negro History, which, under his direction, remained an important historical periodical for more than 30 years.

Woodson became dean of the College of Liberal Arts and head of the graduate faculty at Howard University (1919-1920), and dean at West Virginia State College (1920-1922). While there, he founded and became president of Associated Publishers focusing on books about black life and culture. He, himself, wrote several important books: The Negro in Our History (1922), The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (1915); and A Century of Negro Migration (1918). In 1926, he proposed and launched the annual February observance of Negro History Week, which later. from 1976, became Black History Month. His most ambitious project - a six-volume Encyclopedia Africana - was incomplete at the time of his sudden death on 3 April 1950. Further information is available at Wikipedia, African American Museum, NAACP, Time or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Although there is no evidence that Woodson kept diaries, one of his associates, Lorenzo Greene, did - these are held in an archive of Greene’s papers at the Library of Congress. Greene was born in 1899 in Ansonia, Connecticut, receiving his BA from Howard University in 1924 and his MA in history from Columbia University in 1926.  From 1928 to 1933, he served as a book agent for, and research assistant to, Woodson, then the director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He went on to serve as instructor and professor of history at Lincoln University in Jefferson City from 1933 to 1972. He married Thomasina Tally in 1942. The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776 is considered his most important work. He died in 1988. Further information is available at BlackPast.

Towards the end of his life, Greene began editing his diaries. A first selection of extracts was 
edited by Arvarh E. Strickland and published posthumously in 1989 by the Louisiana State University Press as: Working with Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, a Diary, 1928-30. Wikipedia notes that Robert L. Harris of Cornell University described the book as ‘one of the few documents that provide insight into the early growth of the field of Afro-American history and the life of Woodson’.

A second selection, also edited by Strickland, was published in 1996 by the University of Missouri Press as Selling Black History for Carter G. Woodson: A Diary, 1930-1933. Some pages of this can be previewed at Googlebooks. ‘Greene describes in the diary,’ the publisher states, ‘often in lyrical terms, the places and people he visited. He provides poignant descriptions of what was happening to black professional and business people, plus working-class people, along with details of high school facilities, churches, black business enterprises, housing, and general conditions in communities. Greene also gives revealing accounts of how the black colleges were faring in 1930.’

The publisher claims that the diary ‘provides a unique firsthand account of conditions in African American communities during the Great Depression [and] provides invaluable insights into the personality of Carter Woodson that are not otherwise available.’ Indeed, a less than flattering view of Woodson emerges from many of the diary entries. Here are several of those entries.

6 December 1930, Wilmington, Delaware
‘This morning I received six sets of books from Woodson’s office. He stated in his covering letter that I had failed to send certain monies for books to the office; that such was our agreement. I became so wrought up that I was of a mind to return at once to Washington, [and] tell Woodson to take the car and “go to hell.” But there was Poe, whom I had persuaded to come along with me. I could not leave him in the lurch; therefore, I said nothing. Together we sent Woodson $35; I remitted $13.98; Poe almost twice as much. Only in case the subscriber paid the entire amount in cash or check to the agent would we handle any funds belonging to the office. Yet his letter stated that Wilkey had sold twice as many books as I. Further that I must change my procedure and not keep the money belonging to the office “as I had done this summer.” He had, in fact, virtually branded me as a thief. God only knows what would have happened had he told me that to my face, for whatever my shortcomings and they are legion - I at least strive to be honest. I would not barter my honor and reputation for a few pennies. I wondered whether Woodson was trying to so anger me that I would give up the work; for, in the closing paragraph, he intimated that if I continued to attack the church, I would have to do so as a freelance. That would be evident to anyone. He probably was “quaking in his boots” because Rev. R. R. Wright, Jr., of Philadelphia replied to a statement I had made concerning the church, which Woodson believed might cause Negro ministers to withdraw their “support” from the Association. I believe John R. Hawkins, who is president of the Association, is behind this. He is also financial secretary of the A.M.E. Church and a political leader. My temper quickly subsided, for I knew that I had forwarded to the office whatever monies were due. [. . .]

As for the church, I did not give a “hang” whether it kept on mulcting the people or not. It could only do so until Negroes opened their eyes and refused to be “milked” any longer.

Now about Woodson himself. He is the most arrogant, scornful, and depressing person I have ever been associated with. He has a virulent temper, but does not like to see the same manifested by another. He is puffed up with his own importance and deprecates that of everyone associated closely with him. He possesses a humor which rankles, instead of warms, a wit which makes me wish to strangle him at times. Then, too, he reminds me of a politician. He has no honor. Like a reptile, he is sly [and] mole-like; he works underground, undermining his victim, until the latter is ready to step upon the hollow earth to his downfall. The case of Dr. [Charles H.] Wesley is still fresh in my memory. His word is like thin ice - easily broken. I refer here to his promises to me concerning the Negro Wage Earner. He will make mistakes and then place the blame on his subordinates. He has absolutely no regard for the feelings of others, but seems to believe that he has a God-given right to vent his spleen upon anyone. He can brook no subordinate position. He must be the ruler; he cannot share power; enemies he makes in profusion, who either abstain from supporting or else hinder the work. He doesn’t seem to care. His whole nature has been warped, bent, [and] blasted, I believe, by an unfortunate love affair. Since that time, he seems to revel in ascertaining the extent to which he can irritate others.

I do not believe he has one true friend in the entire world. He has countless acquaintances, thousands of admirers, but like Bismarck and others, he is not loved. He belongs to that group of mortals who, unloving and unloved, are prized because they possess some unique attribute that the world desires. What a shame! That Woodson is of this temperament renders it impossible for him to inspire younger black scholars to perfect themselves in Negro History with a view toward taking his place when death or infirmity shall cause him to relinquish the helm.’

16 December 1930
‘Another cold day. Late getting breakfast, for this work keeps me going so, night and day, that unless I rise late in the morning I find it difficult to receive adequate rest.

Cold as usual. Called upon several persons in North Philadelphia. Were not in, however. Called at the branch Y on North 43rd Street. Would telephone me regarding order. Don’t expect to hear from them.

Could not find Mr. Williams at home. Dr. Manley not in, either.

Received letter from Woodson. Came down off high horse. Asked what matter did it make whether or not 80c was sent in. Of course, none. Yet if such were the case why did he assume such a tone in reference to it so as to cause me to send him a threat of giving up the campaign? This leads me to believe that he can be smoked out of his blustering attitude if met with equal bluster and firmness. Mother wants me to come home for Christmas. Anxious to do so but hate to go empty-handed. My wish has been to visit home laden with presents for everyone. Can’t do so this year, however.’

18 December 1930
‘While shaving this morning, Poe brought me two copies of The Negro Wage Earner, my book, which Woodson has practically appropriated for his own. The cover is beautiful, jade green, with the authors’ names in gold. The jacket, however, is a vile bungling of incongruities. In the background is a factory; in the foreground a Negro wearing a collar and a tie and arrayed in a business suit. Woodson’s idea, no doubt, and perfectly correct because it is his.

Now for the most infamous of assumptions and fabrications; so wholly has Woodson taken to himself the credit for the book, that all he waives responsibility for is the collecting of the information - and not even all of that. All the correcting, supplementing, and reduction of the data to literary form are, he states, his. This is an infamous lie. I myself not only collected the data, but also put it in virtually the exact form, with the exception of a few expurgations, in which the book now stands. When I left on the bookselling campaign, the page proof read: Lorenzo J. Greene, The Negro Wage Earner. Whatever corrections were made, moreover, were carried out by me under his supervision. And as for his supplementary data, there is not an idea of Woodson’s in the entire book, save the inconsequential statement that some Negro farmers worked for white planters during weekdays and labored on their own farms on Sunday and holidays in order to make ends meet. This practice was to show one means of the increase in Negro farms during the transition period, from tenant farmer to farm owner.

When I left in July, the book was ready for its final printing. All corrections had been made on the page proof. To think that he would offer such a monstrous misrepresentation to the world is amazing. But as I remarked in a letter to him in September, little more can be expected from a person devoid of a sense of honor. Woodson never held a high place in my estimation, but now my regard for him in every respect, save scholarship, has sunk to its nadir.

As to the book, it contains some mighty errors, chiefly because Woodson did not know its contents. In his fine art of expurgating, he has made a laughing stock of himself. Where I stated that 90-95 percent of the Negro steel laborers in Pittsburgh were unskilled in 1917, Woodson cut out the remainder of the paragraph, left the above dangling in midair, then two or three pages later the statement is made and proved by Census figures that about one-third of all Negro laborers in factories were doing work “requiring greater or less skill’’. Then, too, his monumental ignorance of how space was to be allocated in respect to the different topics is evident when he stated in the catalogue announcement that, since most Negroes worked in domestic service and on farms, more space would be devoted to these occupations. That is just what I did not do, for I purposely devoted more space to the other occupations.’

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Dedekam, songwriter and diarist

Sophie Dedekam, considered one of the most significant Norwegian women composers of the 19th century, was born 200 years ago. Hardly known outside of Scandinavia, she is principally remembered for a hymn that is included in the current Church of Norway Hymn Book, and for a diary she kept while visiting France for several months in 1845. The diary was first published some 35 years after her death, but was recently re-published.

Dedekam was born on 1 April 1820 in the Norwegian coastal town of Arendal. Her father was a merchant and local politician, becoming the town’s first mayor. He also helped found and run a local museum, and was active in the theatre. As a child, Sophie was given music lessons by her mother - an accomplished pianist.  Aged 25, she travelled to France, where she gave a number of concerts in Paris and elsewhere. 

Back in Arendal, Dedekam continued with her domestic, social and musical life, as a singer and collaborative pianist. From an early age, she also composed songs. In 1854, her mother died, and thereafter she became more spiritual, embracing Pietism (a branch of Lutheranism). When her father died in 1861, she was unmarried, which left here dependent on friend and relations. Her main home was with her sister Cathrine and her husband, though she stayed with her life-long friend, the folklorist, bishop and poet Jørgen Moe and his wife, as well as with other relatives in Christiania (now Oslo). She died in 1894. Wikipedia seems to be the only online source of biographical information in English (and, oddly, Wikipedia’s bio in English is far more detailed than the Norwegian-language version).

Although Dedekam rarely received recognition for her songs, nor did she seek any, forty of her musical pieces were eventually published by Wilhelm Hansen Music Publishers (known today as Edition Wilhelm Hansen) in Copenhagen. A number of her songs, in fact, became quite well known. Two of her songs were also published by Theodora Cormontan, the first woman professional music publisher in Norway. According to Wikipedia, her most enduring set of songs is 6 Sange: udsatte for to syngestemmer og pianoforte (6 Songs for two voices and piano), originally published by Wilhelm Hansen and reissued by Recital Publications in 2009. The melody for which she is best remembered is associated with an evening prayer song that appears in the current Church of Norway Hymn Book (as well as in the current Swedish equivalent).

Dedekam is also listed (by Wikipedia) as a diarist - though I can only trace one diary that she kept and which was published. This dates from her sojourn in France in 1845. Her grandnephew Henrik Harboe edited the diary (and her letters from the same period) and published them in 1929 under the title Dagbok og brev fra en reise til Paris i 1845. The work was republished by Solum Forlag in 2000. Here are three extracts, scanned from the original Norwegian, and (very crudely) translated via GoogleTranslate.

9 April 1945
‘Today we have a fresh gale, after having the headwind yesterday and so it will be so some days we are in France. Here are many ships around us, several steamers have passed, and yesterday a vessel sailed so close to us that we could talk to the people. It was a Swede who came from Antwerp and was to speak Gothenborg. We envied him the good wind, today he can envy us. Thus things are going up and down in this world!

Now we have nothing more than a coarse loaf, so we must take our refuge to the ship’s bread. We still have some butter left, but surely we got the last jar; what is on board is almost inedible. We still have fresh meat for a roast and some fish cakes, so our stock is over. We have cooked delicious bird soup, fresh meat soup, juice soup, roast, today we had porridge and stew. The milk is long ago over, we use wine and water. We are glad to have some more time. Last Sunday we had Eggedram. We also made chocolate. The Captain is fishing for fresh fish, cod.

Here is very good, but there is also much that you have to turn on board. I have often thought of you, dear Cath. How it should have gone here with your chicken main. We lie so low and we can’t get any higher, as the ship often pours in one side, not to mention all the dunk we get when we were going out and into the bunk. We smoke here so that we are almost mad; then the door must open, . . . but we are very well, are not cold. Last night I was troubled by a visit, which I have the dreadful idea was a bed bug, but I have yet to know, Guess it was a flea, though it is far nobler animals, of which I speak a lot, but here must unfortunately be found by the former.

It blows hard, rains and is thick. We’ve only been on the deck for a little while, I dread the night if this is to increase. The Captain has dreamed of his Wife. God help us!’

27 July 1845
‘Here is a good Veir, and it is sad that we cannot use the last day we are probably in France. Thiis and Tellefsen have been here in Visit and invited us to tomorrow evening. Volkmar has eaten here. We did a little tour of la Jeée, but were chased in by the rain.’

28 July 1845
‘It is a precarious world in which we live; one has only the present moment that one can reasonably possess. Today, Aalholm has received a letter from Andersen in Fecamp, which will be completed on Thursday. Tomorrow we travel to Havre, and from there to Fecamp and from there to Norway. So it's the last day we're in Honfleur. We've been to Visit at Thiis, Mad. Pottier, St. Martin, Satis and Huberts. Last time we were at the Côte de Grace, which showed its beauty. There is no other place on earth that has made the impression on me, I sat long at the foot of the image of Christ and, with my inner heart, once again decided in this life to see the view from there. Tonight it is raining. We have been walking the streets of Honfleur for the last time, but I do not want to think about the sadness of “for the last time.” I have been given a very beautiful gold ring of food. Ullern. One thing makes me almost happy to be traveling, since Tellefsen has asked me to sing at his concert this Thursday, and I couldn’t say no, although it has cost me tears. One time to trade off could go ahead, but 2 times was multiplied. It is shown that he is a rare talent. He played for us a bit at Thiis and it was astonishing.’