Monday, June 29, 2020

The game of literary cryonics

‘It’s a private Journal. No one has ever seen a page of it. And the question remains - why do I write it? I suppose, subconsciously, anyone who keeps a diary or journal expects it to be seen or read by someone else some day, maybe even hoping that it will be read. I suppose, too, such daily records are kept as an effort to achieve mini immortality, extend one’s identity after one’s death. You may be gone, but with luck your Journal will be in the possession of others alive, or in a college and available to living persons, and in that way you continue to live, even for moments, hours, days again. It’s really the game of literary cryonics.’ This is the famous American author, Irving Wallace, who died 30 years ago today, trying to explain to himself why he keeps a journal. He kept diaries irregularly for much of his life, but only a few extracts have ever appeared in print.

Wallace was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1916 to Jewish parents both immigrants from Russia. He grew up in Wisconsin, where he was schooled locally. He is said to have sold his first magazine story when he was 15. On leaving school, aged 18, he traveled with friends to Mexico and parts of Latin America. He studied creative writing at the Williams Institute in Berkeley, and from the mid-30s he worked as a freelance correspondent, sometimes for national magazines. He won an assignment to travel to the Far East, returning with the idea that Japan would go to war. He married Sylvia Kahn, a magazine writer and editor, in 1941, and they later had two children. The following year, he enlisted in the Army Air Force, where he was placed in the First Motion Picture Unit.

After the war, Wallace returned to freelancing for periodicals, with various assignments in Europe, but he found himself increasingly in Hollywood, where he collaborated as a screenwriter on several films, such as The West Point Story and Split Second. By the second half of the 1950s, though, he was focusing on writing books. His big break came with The Chapman Report, a novel influenced by the recently published Kinsey Report. This was translated into a dozen or more languages and earned Wallace a quarter of a million dollars in a little over a year. Many other popular novels followed, such as The Prize (1962), The Word (1952) and The Fan Club (1974) several of which were made into films. One of his editors (at Simon & Schuster) has been quoted as saying Wallace invented a style of novel that is at once a strong story and encyclopedia, with ‘some sex thrown in to keep the reader’s pulse going’. Wallace, Kahn and their two children (both of whom became writers) variously collaborated to produce a series of popular non-fiction publications under the titles The Book of Lists and The People’s Almanac.

Wallace is considered to have been one of the best-read and best-selling 20th-century American authors (yet he doesn’t seem to rate an entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica). He received a number of honours during his lifetime, not least the Supreme Award of Merit and honorary fellowship from George Washington Carver Memorial Institute for writing The Man (1964). He died on 29 June 1990. Further information is available online at Wikipedia, Authors’ Calendar, New York Times.

Wallace kept journals and diaries irregularly through his life, and these have been documented, to some extent, by John Leverence in his Irving Wallace - A Writer’s Profile published in 1974 by The Popular Press. Some pages can be previewed at Googlebooks, and the full work can be digitally borrowed for one hour (!) from Internet Archive. Wallace first kept a journal on his youthful trip to Central America. On his return, he used this to write a first book, My Adventure Trail. However, it was never published, not then, nor later after he had refashioned it from a romantic tale to a more honest and realistic narrative. Leverence has some extracts from the diary

9 September 1934
‘Left Keno at 12:30. [. . .] Left folks at the state line. Both Ma and Pa cried terribly. Our car, Petasus, went well, except for part of the top tearing off.’

21 September 1934
‘Went over to Mexico at night. A new world! Foreign speech, attractive natives, odd food - God! how can I describe it. Went to a 10c a dance joint, ‘The Pullman,’ where we danced with professional harlots!’

26 September 1934
‘At 7 this morning we set out to climb 6,000 foot Saddle Mountain.

We hiked 10 miles to the mountain. There we started up a stoney trail, into brushes, into a million cactus plants, into slabs of stone. We climbed until 1:30 - and just at the summit I told the others to go on - I could never reach the top. (Neither did they.)

So alone, I started down, lost my way, bumped on a rock and passed out, lost my $23 camera. I thought I was going to die. The sun blinded me, the cactus cut, my fingers bled, my legs buckled - I couldn’t stand, kept falling - stumbling - rolling.

I got to a road, I don’t know how. Then I just lay down and slept. I was happy I wasn’t going to die.

I’m sick of mountain climbing.’

According to Leverence, Wallace kept some typed notes of interviews and observations during his Far East trip, but otherwise did not really resume the diary habit until his first trip to Europe with his wife, in 1946-1947: ‘but by the time they reached Spain he was too occupied writing magazine pieces to continue, and it was done by Sylvia. The European Journal was extremely helpful later in recollecting incidents and characters for The Prize and The Writing of One Novel.’

Wallace restarted his journal in late 1956 or early 1957. Leverence has this quote from Wallace’s diary: ‘Once, in Mexico in 1934, I kept a diary, and from time to time, since, I have made notes on events, meetings with well known personages, anecdotes, reflections. But now I have decided - at the somewhat advanced age of 42 years and 9 months - to keep an irregular Journal of doings and thinkings.’

Wallace, Leverence adds, did not write in this Journal every day, but used it as a summary Journal to record his relationship with his wife, the growing up of his children, his changing attitudes, his health, the books he was writing, and the people he had met. This is the final entry (on the day his mother was buried) dated 18 January 1970: ‘Services in chapel of Hillside Memorial Park. From 1 to 1:30. Then, to Court of Devotion, gathering around casket, where kaddish was read at 1:45. Then, after a while we all left.’

However, from December 1961, Wallace had been keeping a more detailed Journal spending several several hours each Friday writing about the week’s events. Over time, he began to write in the journal every day, and, according to Leverence, was still doing so at the time his (Leverence’s) book was published (i.e. 1974). There are twenty-six lines to each dated page, Leverence says, and Wallace never fills more than one page ‘To write more would be burdensome and discourage him from going on with it,’ Leverence says.

Finally, Leverence provides this informative quote from Wallace’s diary.

‘It’s a private Journal. No one has ever seen a page of it. And the question remains - why do I write it? I suppose, subconsciously, anyone who keeps a diary or journal expects it to be seen or read by someone else some day, maybe even hoping that it will be read. I suppose, too, such daily records are kept as an effort to achieve mini immortality, extend one’s identity after one’s death. You may be gone, but with luck your Journal will be in the possession of others alive, or in a college and available to living persons, and in that way you continue to live, even for moments, hours, days again. It’s really the game of literary cryonics.

But all that about motives is guesswork. What is not guesswork is the conscious reason I keep my Journal. The main reason is that I like it as a personal record to refer to years later when I’m writing about events past in fiction or nonfiction. As a reference, it is absolutely invaluable. Even in the most minor ways. When I was writing the chapter called ‘Intrigue Express’ in The Sunday Gentleman, I tried to recollect a certain encounter I had one night on the Orient Express somewhere between Venice and Paris. And lo, I found it in my Journal under an entry made on the train on August 24, 1964. The entry refreshed my memory and i was able to write the tag to my chapter: “Yes, Virginia, there is an Orient Express. You can ignore the obituaries and pallbearers. They are the lie. And one more thing, Virginia. Ignore the debunkers. Listen to me. I was up at three that last morning, in the aisle of the Orient Express as it sped through Switzerland and France - and you know what? There was a lady in distress. True, she was only on her way to the bathroom. But she was swathed in a long mink coat, a mink coat and nothing else, Virginia. When that happens on an airplane, I’ll turn in my Wagons-Lit ticket and fly. But not before. No, never.” ’

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Lunch at Algonquin

Carl Van Vechten, the American writer and photographer, was born 140 years ago today. He is well remembered for his photographs of artists and celebrities, but also for being an enthusiastic patron of the so-called Harlem Renaissance. For nearly a decade he kept a daily record of his social (and often drunken) activities. After having been sealed by Van Vechten himself until 1980, this diary record was finally published in the early 2000s. It’s a good read only if you want to know who he was lunching with at the Algonquin or drunkenly stumbling with ‘from one cocktail party to another on an almost daily and nightly basis’!

Van Vechten was born on 17 June 1880 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His father was a banker, and his mother was a musician and arts benefactor. He was educated locally, and then, in 1899, decided to study various art and music topics at the University of Chicago, where he also contributed to the college newspaper. After graduating, he went to work as a columnist for the Chicago American, developing a gossipy semi-autobiographical style, and occasionally including photographs he’d taken. Eventually, he was fired for, what some described as, ‘lowering the tone of the Hearst papers’. In 1906, he moved to New York City, where he was appointed assistant music critic at The New York Times. The following year, he was granted leave to travel in Europe to research his interest in opera, and while in England married Anna Snyder from Cedar Rapids.

On his return to The New York Times in 1909 he became the first American critic of modern dance - at a time when Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, and Loie Fuller were on stage - while at the same time developing an interest in avant garde art. Around 1913, he became friends with the American author Gertrude Stein, championing her work, and maintaining a lifelong correspondence with her. Indeed, she appointed Van Vechten her literary executor, and, after her death, he brought her unpublished works into print. 

Having divorced Snyder, Van Vechten married the actress Fania Marinoff in 1914 - the marriage lasted 50 years even though he took many male lovers. The couple were known for socialising with black friends and groups; Van Vechten was a pioneering advocate of African-American artists, and became very involved with what is known as the Harlem Renaissance. He gave up his newspaper job in order to write full time, soon publishing several collections of essays relating to music, ballet, and cats. His first novel - Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works - was published in 1922. The Tattooed Countess (1924) and Nigger Heaven (1926) also proved popular.

In the early 1930s, Van Vechten gave up writing, choosing to become a photographer instead, taking portraits of many of his friends and acquaintances. Among his subjects were fledgling artists and established cultural figures of the time such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Bessie Smith, and Stein. During World War Two, he volunteered at the Stage Door Canteen (an entertainment venue on Broadway for servicemen). Saul Mauriber, one of the restaurant staff there, became his photographic assistant (eventually acting as photographic executor for Van Vechten’s estate). Van Vechten’s photographs were widely exhibited and frequently used as illustrations in books and magazines. During his lifetime, he presented various parts of his collection to several university libraries; and, after he died, Mauriber arranged with The Library of Congress for it to acquire some 1,400 photographs. Van Vechten died in 1964. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Library of Congress, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Daily Beast and The New Yorker.

Between 1922 and 1930, Van Vechten kept a daily diary of his activities. An edited version, heavily annotated by Bruce Kellner, was published in 2003 as The Splendid Drunken Twenties: Selections from the Daybooks, 1922-30 (University of Illinois Press). Some pages of this can be previewed at Googlebooks. According to Kellner, Van Vechten left no explanation as to why he started or stopped keeping the diary, but he sealed it until the 100th anniversary of his birth - i.e. 17 June 1980. Kellner further says: ‘During the subsequent twenty-odd years, the small daybooks have proven of inestimable value to a number of writers on various subjects, although the entries are almost entirely free of literary or social observation and commentary. Instead, they record the daily comings and goings - as well as the drinking habits, feuds, and love affairs - of a wide number of significant figures of the period. Taken as a collective accretion over their nine years, they make clear that the twenties passed - for many people, including Van Vechten himself - in an alcoholic haze, cheerfully at first and then desperately, as the decade’s denizens stumbled from one cocktail party to another on an almost daily and nightly basis, until the long bender wound down to the sobering silence that gradually followed the stock market crash in October 1929. At the end of 1930, when Van Vechten stopped keeping his daybooks, the party was over.’

All of Van Vechten’s entries are very brief, matter of fact - usually containing lists of names of people he’s met during the day. More often than not he could be found meeting them at Algonquin, the famous Midtown Manhattan hotel that had opened in 1902. Kellner’s annotations are considerably more substantial than the entries themselves.

Here are several extracts (without the footnoted annotations) from The Splendid Drunken Twenties.

10 September 1922
‘Meade Minnegrode came in afternoon to see my Melvilles for his bibliography. Tom Beer came with him. Joe Hergesheimer turns up & has dinner with me at Leone’s (raided 2 nights ago, but we still have cocktails). Afterwards he came down to the house. Fania, who has been at lack [Marinoff]’s in the country all day, returns & Tom Beer and Ernest Boyd come in. They stay till one o’clock. I work all day on 4th chapter.’

22 October 1922
‘Lunch at Algonquin solo. Afternoon at Mrs. Atherton’s. She tells me that she visited Philadelphia at time of Walt Whitman’s funeral, “Everybody was drunk but Agnes Repplier.” Fania goes to Leo Lane’s for dinner & I dine at Avery [Hopwood]’s. John Floyd there. We visit The lungle, 11 Cornelia Street in the [Greenwich] Village, a tough gangster resort. Avery loses his overcoat. On way to police station to report loss we run into a murder.’

6 November 1922
‘Tea at 5 at Waldorf with Hugh Walpole [English writer] (No tea. We sit in his room and talk.) I give a lunch at the Russian Inn for Boyd & Ettie Stettheimer. Andrew Dasburg & Antonio de Sanchez join us. I give The Blind Bow-Boy to Alfred [Knopf]. Tom Beer at the Yale Club at 7, gives me a bottle of absinthe. Cocktail with Joe Hergesheimer at Algonquin. Dinner at Algonquin with Fania. . .’

27 November 1922
‘Still have bad cold. Sent “On Visiting Fashionable Places Out of Season” to Emily Clark for The Reviewer. Lunch at Algonquin with Marinoff & Claire Schermerhorn. Rita Romilly & Helen Westley came in after lunch. Dinner with Marinoff at Ceylonese Restaurant. We went to the premiere of Gertrude Saunders in Liza at 63 St. Theatre, a negro review. Wonderful!’ 

24 January 1923
‘Lunched at Algonquin with Ralph Van Vechten & Charles Brackett . . . Dinner at 7 with Gertrude Atherton at Madison Square Hotel. She told me the marvelous history of her father & mother, & of her husband George Atherton, who died on a man-o-war &, as a guest, was not buried at sea but was brought home in a keg of rum.’

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Across the Blue Mountains

‘Reached the summit of the Highest land we have yet been, ... and Encamped by a fine stream of water. Here we had a fine view of all our Settlements, our progress was here stoped by an impassable Clift from going either South or West.’ This is from a journal written by the pioneer William Lawson while he and two colleagues were crossing the Blue Mountains for the first time in Australian colonial history. This journal, and others he kept during explorations, are held by the State Library of New South Wales - some have been digitalised and are freely available online. He died 170 years ago today - by which time he had built up one of the country’s most successful cattle and sheep enterprises.

Lawson was born in 1774 at Finchley, Middlesex, England, the son of Scottish parents. He was educated in London and trained as a surveyor, but in 1799 he bought a commission in the New South Wales Corps for £300. After arriving in Sydney he was soon posted to the garrison at Norfolk Island, where he married Sarah Leadbeater, and they had two sons. He returned to Sydney in 1806, was promoted lieutenant and served for a time as commandant at Newcastle, a position he again occupied in 1809. A couple of years earlier he had bought a small property at Concord, and by 1810 had extended it to 370 acres. Subsequently, he was appointed aide-de-camp to Major George Johnston before accepting a commission as lieutenant in the New South Wales Veterans Company. He received a grant of 500 acres at Prospect, where he built a 40 room mansion called Veteran Hall.

In 1813, Lawson accompanied Gregory Blaxland and William Charles Wentworth in the first successful attempt to find a route across the Blue Mountains. From 1819 to 1824 he was commandant of the new settlement at Bathurst, where he also had gained a large grant of land, which he used for sheep. He also made several further journeys of exploration. After 1924, back in Prospect (having left his sons to manage the inland sheep farms), he became a successful breeder of horses. A stock return for the 1828 census revealed he had 10,000 sheep and 1,200 cattle, though biographical sources suggest he (and his sons) may have had as many as 84,000 sheep and 15,000 cattle. Later in life, he entered politics, becoming a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council for County of Cumberland from 1843 to 1848. He died on 16 June 1850. Further information is available from the Australian Dictionary of National Biography, Wikipedia, and The Dictionary of Sydney.

During the first expedition to cross the Blue Mountains, all three of the explorers kept journals - see the State Library of New South Wales - but only Blaxford’s account was ever published, as Journal of a Tour of Discovery Across the Blue Mountains. The State Libary holds Lawson’s unpublished journals of three expeditions (digital copies are available online for the first and last): Journal of an expedition across the Blue Mountains, 11 May - 6 June 1813; journal of a tour into the country north of Bathurst, 8-24 November 1821; and Journal of an expedition from Bathurst to the Liverpool Plains, 9-24 January 1822.

Here are two of the longer extracts from Lawson’s Blue Mountains journal (a full transcript is available here).

22 May 1813
‘Reached the summit of the Highest land we have yet been, ... and Encamped by a fine stream of water. Here we had a fine view of all our Settlements, our progress was here stoped by an impassable Clift from going either South or West- Mr. Blaxland Wentworth and Self left our Camp with a determination to get down some parts of this broken land. But found it impracticable in some places 500 feet perpendicular here we saw the course of the Western River and that broken Country at Natai the back of the Cow pasters. No doubt this is the Remnant of some dreadful Earthquake -Prospect Hill bore E. Groce Head NE Hat Hill S.E. by S. the appearance of Hat Hill from this Situation has Two Heads-’

31 May 1813
‘At nine oclock proceeded S W 3 miles west 2 miles. We are now traveling in a fine grazing Country Crossed two fine streams of water One of them running from the west to other from the NE There is no doubt but these two Streams run into the Western River- Traveled on NW ¼ NNE ¼ SSW ½ Encamped on the side of a fine stream of water it running very fast here is a great Extent of fine Forest land and the best watered Country of any I have seen in the Colony went five miles to the westward- our shoes worn out and provisions nearly Expended Obliged us to Return home the same Course we came this Country will I have no doubt be a great acquisition to this Colony and no difficulty in making a good Road to it, and take it in a Political point of View if in case of our Invasion it will be a safe Retreat for the Inhabitance with their Familys and that for this part of the Country is so formed by Nature that a few men would be able to defend the passes against a large body- and I have every reason to think that the same Ridge of Mountains we traveled on will lead some distance into the Interior of the Country and also that a Communication can be Easily found from this to the Head of the Coal River where to my knowledge is a Large extent of fine grazing Country and it having water carriage from thence to Portjackson which will be a great consideration’

Monday, June 15, 2020

From bomber to writer

‘Another four years to say “less than thirty years old”. Will I be forgiven for being “old” without having yet published ten novels and four essays?’ This is from the diary of a young Jules Roy, friend of Albert Camus (both he and Camus were Algerian born) and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Although he took up a military career, and flew bombers for the Allies in World War Two, he did, in fact, go on to become a prolific writer, putting into print many strident political opinions on France’s colonial activities, though he also wrote some novels and plays. In the last years of his life - he died ten years ago today - his publisher brought out three volumes of journals, none, alas, available in English.

Roy was born in Rovigo, Algeria (then a French colony), in 1907, of an adulterous relationship between Mathilde Roy, the wife of a policeman, and Henri Dematons, a school-teacher. Although, his mother later married Dematons, he kept the surname Roy. He was brought up on his maternal grandparents’ farm, and educated at Roman Catholic schools. Having considered a career in the priesthood (he remained religious throughout his life), he chose instead a military career, joining the French infantry and later its air force. He married Mirande Grimal and they had two children. In 1940, he answered Charles de Gaulle’s call to resist the Nazis and joined a flying squadron based in England, taking part in some 30 bombing missions over Germany. Soon after the war’s end he published La vallée heureuse in which he recalled, critically, his war experiences. The French authorities objected to the book, but, nevertheless, it won the Renaudot Prize. Two years later, he published another controversial volume, Le métier des armes. In 1953, he resigned from the army, at the rank of colonel, in protest at the government’s policies in Indochina.

Subsequently, in Paris, Roy made his living as a writer of political/social books, as well as novels, essays, plays, pamphlets, film and television scripts. He was a life long friend of both Albert Camus and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and an ongoing supporter of Algeria’s independence movement - few of his books have been translated into English, but The War in Algeria is one. He divorced Grimal, and, in 1965, married Tatiana Soukoroukoff. They moved to Vezelay in 1978, where he lived near the town’s Romanesque basilica of Sainte-Madeleine and became a mystical devotee of Mary Magdalene. His friend François Mitterrand raised him to the rank of Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1990. He died on 15 June 2000. A little further biographical information can be gleaned from Wikipedia, or obituaries in The Guardian and New York Times.

Roy’s last books were three volumes of journals published by Albin Michel in 1997-1998: Journal 1, Les années déchirement, 1925-1965; Journal 2, Les années cavalières, 1966-1985; Journal 3, Les années de braise, 1986-1996. All three can be previewed at Googlebooks, alas not in English. The following extracts, from the first volume, have been crudely translated using Googletranslate.

5 October 1932
‘Another four years to say “less than thirty years old”. Will I be forgiven for being “old” without having yet published ten novels and four essays? October. To tell the truth, is it not there that we must seek the key to my sadness with causes which are rather obscure and too frequent? I change my mood twenty times a day, like the sky. Fromentin makes Dominique say: “There is in the minds of some men I do not know what an elegiac mist always ready to spread in rain on their ideas. Too bad for those who were born in the mists of October!” ’

7 October 1932
‘Every evening, late, in the closed night, the planes hum and spin. Their position lights go away, like two shooting stars, red and green, and the lighthouse, then, moves away and gets lost. I am thinking of Vol de nuit de Saint-Éxupéry. I think of Captain André Faucilhon who said to me: “It’s very funny. We start straight on the bisector of the isosceles triangle formed on the ground by the lighthouses, and we go for it.”

Installation troubles. Boring. And the money goes, melts. I wonder if we will get there. And you should have central heating installed in this house without a fireplace. This winter, in harsh weather, we will freeze.’

11 October 1932
‘Versailles, the old city of dead voluptuousness. Golden silence on autumn mornings. Grass grows between the paving stones of the sidewalks. Rue Royale, a neighborhood in a small province, enough to make Huysmans roar, Place Saint-Louis, Rue de la Sainte-Famille, towards the bishopric and the seminary. A tram leaves with difficulty, the crowd on the left bank, the town hall with flower beds, the avenues of glory that lead to the castle. Purity of lines, quickly familiar designs, nobility of horizons! Perhaps these terrible Corinthian pediments ... But one of them does not hide the royal chapel, too worked for prayer, and the other the theater which Valéry would like it to be a French Bayreuth?

The coast, towards Satory, towards the still green woods where the hairy chestnuts will burst.’

15 October 1932 , note found.
‘B. said to me the other evening: “See your story. When you find a solid work there, you will find that it was done without any great principle being at its base. France? Philippe le Bel said to himself: ‘Excommunicated? I’m not going to the crusade? Good deal! Take advantage of the absence of our enemies, our rivals, our friends!’ What about Napoleon? Did little Corsica have all these extraordinary projects in mind? Ambition, yes.”

28 October 1932
‘Doyon will not yet have the Goncourt Prize which will go to the big novel by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit. Doyon has no bitterness. At least apparently. He tells me that the author of this book will even deserve the prize.’

8 November 1932
‘Best day. Tonight Jean Louis is getting better. In Paris this morning. True Paris sky, with its light mist, its pale sun, and the glory of the old black walls of palaces, idealized by the spire of the Sainte-Chapelle.

Doyon is full of praise for my short story, Retour du front, whose manuscript I had passed to him. He just says it’s a bit special and the story, in fact, is thin. Obviously. There is nothing - just a railroad adventure. Sent the news to the N.R.F.’

8 December 1932
‘Prix Goncourt to Mazeline, a work of the last hour. Céline had three votes when he had to win. I don’t care. Doyon doesn’t even have the voice of Rosny Jeune.’


The Polish writer, Leopold Tyrmand (see Cramming preserves into a jar
mentions Roy in his  Diary 1954 (Northwestern University Press, 2014).

19 March 1954
‘I’ve read Jules Roy’s book La Bataille dans les rizières. Roy, a former pilot, a friend of Saint-Exupéry, a right-wing liberal, was sent by Le Figaro to Indochina and Korea to see the wars going on there firsthand. He returned under the impression that the French expeditionary corps in Vietnam were heirs to the crusading knights, children of Godefroy de Bouillon. A beautiful message, but he doesn’t explain why the crusaders, even the French, fought like lions in the Holy Land, whereas their descendants seem most eager to wage war in the Saigon whorehouses. Roy perceives the communist threat and menace correctly, and even writes beautifully about Seoul bombed by the Chinese: “I was crushed by the impression that the Seoul nights would never end, that they foreshadow a great darkness that one evening will fall for good on the world, as if over a cemetery of all hopes ...” But he doesn’t say what the French want and are doing in this regard, how they are confronting, mobilizing, immunizing themselves against the plague, which, after all, is already eating them from the inside. Instead, he himself is already infected with the loathsome French chutzpah, which the French are still selling as spiritual mettle or dash, but behind which stands neither action nor wisdom. Roy writes about the Americans in Korea that they are unfeeling, naive, dull-witted. Yet somehow the Americans won their war, despite their dimness, while the winged superiority of French virtue collapsed utterly.’

Friday, June 12, 2020

Bill Naughton’s closed trunks

Today marks the one hundred and tenth anniversary of the birth of the playwright Bill Naughton, best known for writing Alfie, later turned into an archetypal 60s film with Michael Caine. He was one of the first post-war writers to bring to the page and stage an authenticity in describing working-class life in the north of England. Although he was a committed diarist and left behind five trunkfuls of diaries (now in the archive of the Bolton Library and Museum Service), they have remained closed to public scrutiny and - unfortunately - seem likely to remain so for another decade.

Naughton was born into a poor Irish Catholic family in County Mayo on 12 June 1910, but moved with his family to Bolton, England, in 1914. He attended a local school until the age of 14, and then worked as a weaver and coal-bagger. In 1930, he married Anne Wilcock, a cotton mill worker, with whom he had three children (one of whom died in infancy). During the war, in London, he was a conscientious objector and worked as a civil defence lorry-driver. Having long struggled to get into print, he had his first short story published in the London Evening News in 1943. Two years later, his semi-autobiographical A Roof Over Your Head was successful enough to give him confidence to write full-time. Throughout the 1950s, he produced a steady stream of short stories for magazines and published collections, such as Late Night on Watling Street (1959), and plays for BBC Radio.

In the 1960s, Naughton made a name for himself as a playwright - often developing his radio plays for the stage - with his trilogy about working class life in the the North of England: All in Good Time (1963), Alfie (1963) and Spring and Port Wine (1964). In 1968, he moved to the Isle of Man with his second wife, the Austrian Ernestine (Erna) Pirolt. There he continued to write plays and fiction, as well as an autobiographical trilogy of books: On the Pig’s Back (1987), Saintly Billy (1988) and Neither Use Nor Ornament (1995). Several of his plays were turned into successful films, not least Alfie (1966) with Michael Caine playing the lead part. He was a recipient of the Screenwriters award 1967 and 1968 and the Prix Italia for Radio Play 1974. He died in 1992.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says this: ‘[Naughton’s] overall contribution to the cultural ferment of the 1950s and 1960s has still to be properly assessed. Undoubtedly he was one of the first post-war writers to recreate, for the world, the authenticity of working-class life in the north of England. But his range was wider, as his London work, his contributions to popular television series (such as Nathaniel Titlark, Starr and Company, Yorky), his children's stories, and his more experimental, Pinteresque drama The Mystery show.’ Further (rather scant) information is available online from Wikipedia, Bolton Library and Museum Service, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Naughton was, from the age of 28, a committed diarist. However, none of his diary material has ever surfaced, not as published works or even as source material for biographies - there have been no biographies. (Naughton’s Voices from a Journal published by Lilliput Press in 2000 is described as ‘a writer’s journal, documenting friendships, encounters and observations during the ‘60s and ‘70s’, but it does not contain dated diary extracts and is more accurately described as a memoir.)

Naughton’s ‘huge collection of diaries’ is held by Bolton Library and Museum Services. On its website, it says he wrote the diaries ‘in secret’ and described the ‘labour’ of it as his ‘real work . . . which would one day show itself to be the key to all his other writing.’ It also notes that the diaries are closed to public inspection until 2015. However, Dave Burnham, on his fan site, says Naughton’s ‘hundreds of little black books, literally millions of words’ are closed until 2030.

Diary briefs

1939 Venice diary author sought - Fox13, mystery solved Fox 13

Spanish flu family diaries - NBC News

Pepys and the plague - The Conversation

Diary of early Israeli commander - Haaretz

The war diary of a Highland gunner - East Lothian Courier, Amazon

Diary of the Second Grinnell Expedition - From the Page

1918 pandemic diary found in Eureka - Times Standard

War diary of Staffordshire shopkeeper - Stoke-on-Trent Live

War diaries of George S. Patton - Library of Congress

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A frank and lively diarist

E. M. Forster, the important British writer, died 50 years ago today. He is famous for six novels - including Howard’s End and A Room with View - most of which were made into highly successful films. He also wrote short stories, essays, literary criticism and kept diaries from time to time. These latter were only published as recently as 2011, and the publisher claims they are of ‘immense value to scholars researching this key figure of English literature’.

Forster was born in London in 1879, the only child of a Welsh architect, who died before his son’s second birthday, and his Anglo-Irish wife. In 1883, he and his mother moved to Rooks Nest, near Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where they stayed for ten years. He studied at Tonbridge School in Kent, and King’s College, Cambridge (between 1897 and 1901). At Cambridge he became a member of a secrete society known as the Apostles; other members, like himself, went on to be part of the Bloomsbury Group. Forster was independently well-off, having inherited money from a relative, and was thus able to pursue the life of a writer. After leaving university, he travelled in continental Europe with his mother. They moved to Weybridge, Surrey, where he wrote all six of his novels.

In 1914, Forster visited Egypt, Germany and India. As a conscientious objector in the First World War, he served as a Chief Searcher (for missing servicemen) for the British Red Cross in Alexandria. He spent a second spell in India in the early 1920s as private secretary to Tukojirao III, Maharajah of Dewas. On returning to London, he completed the last novel published in his lifetime - A Passage to India. From 1925 until his mother's death in 1945, they lived together in Abinger Hammer, Surrey, though throughout the 1930s, he also had a London base in Brunswick Square. Forster was a confirmed homosexual (he had a long-term relationship with Bob Buckingham, a married policeman), and was friends with many other homosexuals in the literary and artistic worlds,  J. R. Ackerley and Benjamin Britten, to name but two.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Forster became a regular contributor to the BBC and for newspapers and magazines. As a public figure, he opposed censorship, but advocated individual liberty and penal reform; he was associated with the Union of Ethical Societies. On the eve of the Second World War he published one of his most famous essays, Two cheers for democracy, later called What I believe. During the war, he was commissioned by George Orwell (at the India Section of the BBC) to broadcast weekly book reviews. He was elected an honorary fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, in January 1946, where he lived for much of the time. Though he refused a knighthood in 1949, he accepted a Companion of Honour in 1953, eight honorary degrees, and the Order of Merit on his 90th birthday. He died on 7 June 1970.

Encyclopaedia Britannica has this assessment: ‘Although the later Forster is an important figure in mid-20th-century culture, his emphasis on a kindly, uncommitted, and understated morality being congenial to many of his contemporaries, it is by his novels that he is more likely to be remembered, and these are best seen in the context of the preceding Romantic tradition. The novels sustain the cult of the heart’s affections that was central to that tradition, but they also share with the first Romantics a concern for the status of man in nature and for his imaginative life, a concern that remains important to an age that has turned against other aspects of Romanticism.’ Further information is also available from Wikipedia, The British Library, or from reviews of Wendy Moffat’s A New Life of E. M. Forster (as in The New York Times or Telegraph).

Forster was an uncommitted diarist, keeping many notebooks and journals sporadically throughout his life, but never consistently. It was only in 2011 that these diaries were edited, by Philip Gardner, and published for the first time - in three volumes as The Journals and Diaries of E.M. Forster (Routledge). The publisher (see Scribd) says:

‘This fascinating collection of diaries, travel journals and itineraries [. . .] will be of immense value to scholars researching this key figure of English literature. They will also be a useful resource to those interested in travel during the first half of the twentieth century, as well as the wider literary and social history of the period. A frank and lively diarist, Forster was not a dogged one, and his entries over the years are irregular and eclectic. Despite this, the archival material (held at King’s College, Cambridge), here newly transcribed, is substantial. Friendships with T E Lawrence, Benjamin Britten, Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington, John Maynard Keynes and Leonard and Virginia Woolf are all attested to. Meetings with other writers of the period including A E Housman and Henry James are also documented. Details on Forster’s sexuality, though often veiled, are nonetheless in evidence, particularly with regard to his long relationship with Bob Buckingham.’

See The London Review of Books for a thorough review by Alan Hollinghurst.

The three volumes contain the following texts.
Volume 1: General Introduction; Normandy Journal (1895); Journal (1898); Journal (1899); Journal (1900); Trip to Switzerland and Italy (1901); Journal; (1901); Mediterranean Journal (1903); Notebook Journal (1903-9)
Volume 2: The ‘Locked Diary’ (1909-67)
Volume 3: Stisted (1910); Belfast Journal (1912); ‘Incidents of War’ Memoir, Alexandria (1915-17); Journal (1925); Africa Journal (1929); French Itinerary (1931); America Journal (1947 and 1949); Journal (1950); Journal (1952); Travel Journal, France (1953); Travel Journal, Portugal (1953); Loose Diary Pages (1954 and 1955); Trip to France (1955); Hellenic Cruise (1956); Trip to Australia (1957); Journal (1958); ‘Trip to Italy’ Diary (possibly 1962); Journal (1964); ‘West Hackhurst: A surrey ramble’; Index

Given the lockdown situation, I have not been able to visit the British Library (nor any other libraries), and thus have had no access to the diary volumes. Moreover, I have not been able to find, freely, any extracts from Forster’s diaries online - except for the following few.

From the British Library
3 January 1900
‘Mother & I started together: and parted in wet, she to Douglas’, I to the New Gall: Flemish masters, Rubens, & O. English - a very scrappy collection which I nevertheless enjoyed. More pleased with Mabuse who shows more taste than I expected, and was excellent in portraits. Nice Van Eyck - confounded by visitors with Van Dyck. Had lunch in A.B.C. then went to the theatre. Good seat but nodding plume in front. Sat on my coat and scrunched it a bit. Liked Kiong of France, Arthur, Eleanor, but disappointed in Tree, Constance (who was indeed an understudy) and Hubert: they all ranted. The Bastard was no good. A most depressing play: what is W.S after after - unless ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ and incapacity for ideals. Perhaps patriotism is really the mote: John never sins against England, a Bastard, apparently so unpromising a realistic, delivers the concluding line.’

From Connecting with E. M. Forster: A Memoir by Tim Leggatt (a close friend of Forster’s in the last 15 years of his life).

21 April 1956, King’s Chapel
‘Back little more than a week from Greece I went into the chapel today while the light was fading and the organ playing Bach and felt I had stumbled back into a world which had taken the wrong turning after Christ, and had tried to explain human suffering by the doctrine of suffering, redemption, and atonement, and had identified heavenly happiness with rest. The Greeks did not solve our troubles as was sometimes dreamily hoped, their wars were horrible and endless, they were greedy and unkind. But they did not impose a false solution as Christianity has, and as Bach, burbling and buzzing through endless variations on a chorale, would confirm. The scene was magnificent - brownish light poured through the west window and converted the stone to sandstone, and picked over the niches and emphasised their different altitudes, and from the east a black tunnel advanced and swallowed the fan vaulting. I was in the greatest building of the fifteenth century.’

9 May 1956, Various deaths
‘During the last six or five months, Johnny Simpson has died, Agnes has died, Ivor Ramsay threw himself from the top of the chapel on mother’s birthday, Stephen Glanville (Provost here) died a fortnight back in a twinkling, Sydney Wilkinson has not recovered from her operation, Patrick (she told me yesterday) has injured his hip-socket and will be permanently lame, Kenneth Harrison’s father is going dotty so that K (my best friend in King’s) may have to leave Cambridge to look after him.

None of the above people I dislike, most of them I love, and the cumulative reaction on me is not sadness, but indifference to the young. It has come on me suddenly and might have anyhow. I have lost the quick warmth that used to accompany their approach or the expression of their opinions. I do not find this in Bob, whom I have mummified for my self preservation.’

4 August 1956, Brian Remnant
‘Remnant - will this funny name mean anything to me in two years time when I may next see him again, hardened and smartened by the RAF? I said a little when he went, very little, and that because I could not help it, too little for him to understand. His full-faced freshness, blue eyed, straight-staring courtesy: profile undistinguished. Myself - what a distinguished old man, and what I look like to him a glance at a looking glass must remind me. We were together from 4 to 6, and in incompatible ways happy.

Being a scholar, not a passing plough boy though he resembles one I may meet him again - coarsened, begirled, and lost, unless the feeling in me has struck a spark in him: unless his awe and excitement can be reborn as affection. If he was coming up in Oct. I should be in an odd state. He brought a cake from his mother to placate the oracle.’

From Scribd
6 August 1965
‘Certainly blinder than the overleaf entry, but this may be due to the ointment which dear Narliker squirts twice a day into my eyes. - Rested most of the day, as yesterday I was stumbly and couldn’t give order clearly in the kitchens. Where else could I grow old amid such kindness and competence? “Everyone likes me” which in literature, particularly in the drama, presages disaster. Complacency must be punished”. But life does not always follow literature, and ghouls nosing in my remains may be disappointed. - That I shall be soon swept away and forgotten is another matter and doesn’t count.’

18 August 1965
‘I should like to record - and why not here - that during nearly 70 years I have been interested in lustful thoughts, writing, and sometimes actions, and do not believe that they have done me or anyone else any harm,’

19 November 1965
‘and probably soon for me \death comes/, for the symptoms to day are tiresome, and I can write only a little legibly, am an not yet in bed at soon may be put there as I stumble so. I want to record that so far I feel no fears, pain, or remorse, only annoyance.

Faith should come to morow, Bob, May, sheraraile, Cotier, to morrow. Ben next week. The plan is to stay for the festival. - A Passage is being televised. - Every body have been very kind, including the nurses at Addenbrookes, and I don’t like leaving the err

Now to bed - can hardly leave, a nuisance.’

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Annapurna story - unexpurgated

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first time that man reached the summit of Annapurna, Nepal, and the first time, in fact, that any mountain over 8,000 metres had been ascended to its summit. The summit was achieved by Maurice Herzog, the leader of the French expedition, and Louis Lachenal. Herzog went on to write a best-selling account of the climb and was much feted, while Lachenal died a few years later in a skiing accident. A diary and notes kept by Lachenal on the expedition were published soon after his death, but in a much edited form, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that an unexpurgated publication of Lachenal’s records revealed a number of disturbing aspects about the Annapurna expedition.

In 1950, tor the first time in over a century, the Nepalese government granted permission for a French mountaineering expedition to climb Annapurna, at 8,091 metres (26,545 ft), the highest peak in the Annapurna Massif. On 3 June, Herzog and Lachenal reached the summit, though it was only with much help from their team that they were able to return alive, both suffering severe injuries from frostbite. Wikipedia has a detailed account of the expedition - here is a short extract from its description of the final push to the summit (after the sherpas had decided to descend).

‘Not understanding that being at high altitude without additional oxygen induces apathy, in a severe gale the climbers spent the night without eating anything or sleeping, and in the morning they did not bother lighting their stove to make hot drinks. At 06:00 it was no longer snowing and they ascended farther. Finding that their boots were proving to be inadequately insulated, Lachenal, fearing losing his feet to frostbite, contemplated going down. He asked Herzog what he would do if he did turn back and Herzog replied that he would go on up alone. Lachenal decided to continue on with Herzog. A last couloir let them to the summit which they reached at 14:00 on 3 June 1950. Herzog estimated the height as 8,075 metres (26,493 ft) - his altimeter read 8,500 metres (27,900 ft). They had climbed the highest summit ever reached, the first eight-thousander, on their first attempt on a mountain that had never before been explored. Herzog, writing in his characteristically idealistic way, was ecstatic: “Never have I felt happiness like this, so intense and pure.” On the other hand, Lachenal only felt “a painful sense of emptiness”.

Lachenal was anxious to go down as soon as possible but he obliged Herzog by photographing his leader holding the Tricolour on the summit and then a pennant from Kléber, his sponsoring employer. After about an hour on the summit, not waiting for Herzog in his euphoric state to load another roll of film, Lachenal set off back down at a furious pace. Herzog, swallowing the last of his food - from a nearly empty tube of condensed milk - threw the tube down on the summit as that was the only memorial he could leave and he trailed behind Lachenal into a gathering storm.’

Leaving the mountain proved very difficult with monsoon rains arriving; both climbers lost fingers and or toes to frostbite. The expedition, however, was deemed a great success in France, with the famous magazine Paris Match printing a special edition on the climb. A photograph of Herzog, taken by Lachenal (though mistakenly not credited to him), holding a tricolour flag at the summit, graced the cover - and would become an iconic image. Herzog was kept in hospital for the best part of a year where he dictated his book, Annapurna, premier 8000, which sold over 11 million copies worldwide to become the best selling mountaineering book in history. He became the first international mountaineering celebrity after George Mallory, and went on to be a successful politician.

Lachenal, however, died of a skiing accident in 1955. Before his death, he had been preparing his own book about the expedition, based on a diary and notes he had kept, as well as a commentary which was already in typescript form. These were inherited by Lachenal’s son, Jean-Claude. However, being friendly with Herzog’s family, he allowed his father’s project to be guided by Maurice Herzog’s brother, Gérard. The resulting book - Carnets du Vertige (1956) - had been purged and edited to remove several important and serious criticisms of the expedition and Herzog himself. It would be another 40 years - during Lachenal was largely forgotten - before his diary, notes and commentary were finally published in an unexpurgated form - Carnets du Certige (1996). This, and Herzog’s subsequent attempt to rebuff Lachenal’s version of events, caused a ‘storm of revisionism’ in the French press (according to Wikipedia again). For more details on this extraordinary episode in mountaineering history, see Sue Harper in Alpine Journal, Paul Webster in The Guardian, or True Summit: What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent on Annapurna by David Roberts (Simon and Schuster, 2013 - some pages can be previewed at Googlebooks).

The latter is the source for the following extracts (which include translated examples from Lachenal’s diary).

‘[. . .] On June 10, Lachenal complained to his diary: “I have to ask for everything several times and wait forever before receiving it. Even the food - I must literally yell to get someone to bring me any. Everybody, sahibs and Sherpas alike, out of a natural attraction to the leader, fusses around Momo, who in my opinion knows how to make the most of it. All this might seem bad will on my part, certainly I probably shouldn't write it, but if not, will it be remembered afterward?” ’


‘Lachenal’s diary methodically records the daily tribulations. On June 12, “Momo was awakened by the need to piss, so I had to help him get it done.” The day before, “The descent for me was extremely painful, although a bit numbed by morphine.” On the 12th, Lachenal took the dressings off his feet to look at the damage. “They have a lot of swelling. I have to hold them vertical, exposed to the air, until the swelling almost disappears”

On June 14, Lachenal and Herzog got involved in a “violent polemic,” after disagreeing whether to camp at a notch in the ridge or, as Lachenal and Rébuffat desired, descend farther. Herzog’s wish prevailed. Lachenal's congenital impatience could not drive the stricken party’s retreat any faster than a halting plod. In one moment, he could take pity on the Sherpa carrying him on his back; in the next, he was fed up with everyone around him.

On the dangerous traverse to the pass on the south ridge of the Nilgiris, a laden porter slipped and fell to his death. Annapurna fails to note this tragedy, which only Lachenal’s diary documents.

With time heavy on his hands, Lachenal wrote lengthier entries in his diary than he had earlier, when he had still been caught up in the daily tasks of the expedition. Fully a third of the diary is given over to the retreat, and those passages abound in vivid detail. In 1956, however, Lucien Devies and Gérard Herzog condensed thirty-four days’ worth of entries into a scant two and a half undated pages in the published Carnets du Vertige. Those cobbled-together extracts disproportionately emphasize Lachenal’s occasional happy remarks, as when he notices a beautiful countryside or rejoices at receiving letters from his wife brought by couriers from distant outposts. Virtually all evidence of conflict, disgust, despair - or for that matter, morphine - has been expunged.’


‘Meanwhile, the down-to-earth Lachenal cursed the delay in Lété. All his frustration and suffering are packed into an extraordinary sentence he wrote in his diary on June 20.

“My feet give me a lot of trouble and I have truly had enough of this, of the noise of the Kali [Gandaki, the river the caravan followed], always the same, of listening constantly to people around me talking in a shrill language that I don’t understand, of suffering, of being dirty, of being hot, of being injected by idiots, of not sleeping, of not being able to move around, of being surrounded by no one who is kind to me, of passing whole days alone on my stretcher with at best one Sherpa as companion, with no sahibs, knowing full well that nothing will get done, not even ordinary tasks, without my having to ask many times and then to wait a long, long time.” ’

Life as a guerilla warrior

‘While I was asleep the men cut the trees to make clearance to establish our first camp. They picked up a place adjacent to a clear spring where they established two houses, one long, for themselves, and adjacent to it a special one. smaller, for my residence . For the roofs and walls they used black or green heavy and thick plastic tissues which come very handy, in the old time our fathers had to work several days just to make roofs for their guerilla camps out of cut grass. In two days we have functional houses in the midst of the forests complete with running water! We named this Camp Panton Weng. So I begin my new life as a guerilla warrior - picking up a long family tradition! ’ This is Hasan di Tiro, the self-appointed leader of a movement to bring independence to Aceh (in northern Sumatra), writing in the diary he kept during his active years as a rebel. He lived in exile for much of his later life, but had returned to Aceh not long before his death, 10 years ago today.

Hasan Bin Leube Muhammad (later known as Hasan di Tiro) was born in the village of Tiro, in Aceh (historically also known as Acheh), north of Sumatra (then part of the Dutch East Indies) in 1925. His great grandfather, Tengku Cik di Tiro, was an Indonesian national hero killed fighting the Dutch in 1891. He received a good education, and by the age of 20 was a socialist youth leader, identifying Aceh’s history with the Indonesian national struggle. He continued his studies in Yogyakarta (Java), where he authored two political books, and then in the US. There, he worked part time for the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations. But, while a student in New York in 1953, he declared himself ‘foreign minister’ of the rebellious Darul Islam movement (a group fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia). He was stripped of his Indonesian citizenship, arrested by the US authorities as an illegal alien, and imprisoned on Ellis Island. The Darul Islam rebellion in Aceh ended with a peace deal in 1962, Aceh receiving some nominal autonomy.

Di Tiro re-appeared in Aceh in 1974, where, after some personal disappointments (family and work), he began organising a separatist movement using his old Darul Islam contacts. On 4 December 1976, he launched the Aceh Sumatra National Liberation Front, better known as the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM). Its goal was total independence of Aceh from Indonesia, reflecting its pre-colonial history as an independent state; its principal military activities involved guerrilla attacks against Indonesian soldiers and police. After an attack in 1977 in which an American was killed and two other foreigners injured, di Tiro was hunted down. After being shot in the leg, he fled to Malaysia. From 1980, he lived in Sweden, and gained Swedish citizenship. After the devastating tsunami that hit Aceh in 2004, GAM and the Indonesian government signed a peace treaty giving Aceh expanded autonomy. In 2008, after 30 years of exile, di Tiro returned to Aceh. On 2 June 2010 he regained his Indonesian citizenship - a day later he died. A little further information is available online at Wikipedia.

During the height of his guerrilla activities as leader of GAM, from September 1976 to March 1979, di Tiro kept a diary. It was published by GAM in 1984 as The Price of Freedom: The unfinished diary of Tengku Hasan di Tiro. Here are a few paragraphs from a review of the book, published in late 1984, as found in Crescent International.

‘Hardly any books - sympathetic to the Achehnese cause- exist on the stark realities of this bloody war that has raged at regular intervals. The sacrifice in blood and seat of the declaration of independence of Sumatra on December 4, 1976 by the National Liberation Front (NLF). Members of the Darul Islam movement in Sumatra had regrouped under the leadership of Tengku Hasan di Tiro to fight the neo-colonial Indonesians in order to set up an Islamic State. [ . . .]

The diary of NLF President Hasan di Tiro gives a vivid account of the war fought in the snake and leech infested jungle and mountainous terrain. He moved through the entire region with a small force to declare the independence of Acheh Sumatra as an Islamic State. The date was selected for its symbolic importance. The Dutch had killed the last head of the Independent State on December 4, 1911. [ . . .]

Needless to say that this diary is a unique record as few, if any, Islamic fighters have written down their memoirs for posterity. It is not only inspiring for the Achehnese but also for other Muslims. Those who read it will realize that liberation from secular forces is not needed in Acheh alone but in other Muslim States as well. [ . . .] This intimate record with its profound observations transports the reader into the jungles of Acheh Sumatra and makes Hasan di Tiro’s struggle every Muslim’s struggle.

The full text of the diary is available (in English) at the ICIT Digital Library website for a small charge. However, a generous preview of the book is also freely available. Here are three extracts.

28 October 1976
‘On Thursday, October 28, 1976. at 2 PM. I boarded the boat that will take me to Acheh Sumatra from a mainland port of Asia with a dozen crew and about 15 guards. The boat is a 250 tonner, just a comfortable size to cross the Malacca Straits. The weather has been rough in the Andaman Sea for the last two weeks as the monsoon season is due to begin, but we are lucky to have a break of a fair weather just at the beginning of that day. As we begin sailing Southward we have a spectacular view of the mountain ranges and the green hilly islands emerging from the sea. When the sky is cloudy, the sea water here looked emerald green, and when the sky is blue, the water is also blue. When the nightfall, the dark tropical sky are strewn with countless bright stars, big and small, and as it was the beginning of the lunar month, the crescent has also appeared just above the horizon surrounded by other twinkling stars. The view is breathtakingly dramatic and peaceful. It is the calm before the storm. The purpose of my voyage has nothing to do with my surroundings. It is the antithesis of all appearances.

Many thoughts cross my mind. I think of Ceasar ’s crossing of the Rubicon that led to the civil war in Rome. My Rubicon is vastly larger and my crossing will not result in a civil war but in a national unity and in a war of national liberation to free my people from foreign domination, from the yoke of Javanese colonialism. I thought of Ceasar ’s landing in Spain, in Lerida. where he conquered the country in 40 days. But Ceasar had a legion with him. I have nothing. I come back alone - unarmed. I have no instrument of power. I brought only a message: that of national salvation and survival of the people of Acheh Sumatra as a Nation, and a reputation of a Tiro-man. No one inside the country knew of my coming or the implication of it. I face the Javanese Indonesian colonialist troops, half-a-million men strong, equipped with most modem weapons, experienced in guerilla-warfare, and had just massacred 2-million people who dared to oppose it. Yes. here I come. There is no turning back.

I thought of Napoleon ’s landing from Egypt under a vastly different circumstance. And of his landing at the Gulf of Juan from Elba. This last one must have been the most spectacular feat of personal history. I thought of Fidel Castro ’s landing in Cuba with his two-hundred comrades. I search for precedence, for guidance. I found none. Because I must face the fact that I come alone: without friend, without amis - none of my guards will be landing with me, - and without foreign backing: I do not come home to replace one colonialism with another. And yet my mission is to save my people from oblivion, to free my country from foreign domination which means to wage war of national liberation: in short to redeem the past and to justify the future of the Achehnese as a nation. Obviously the odds against me are overwhelming. But that did not stop me. I must do what I have to do.

I thought of what H. J. Schmidt had written about my family history in his book. Mareahaussee in Atjeh, published long ago that no matter what was the odd against him, a Tengku di Tiro would stand up and fight like a hero. A Tengku di Tiro will not accept defeat: he deems only two things acceptable for him: either victory, or else death. These are men, who in the free choice between life and death, would choose the latter. The last surviving Tengku di Tiro will die in the battlefield, and sooner or later will be followed by another, and another. This is going to be the last scene of every Act of a continuing Achehnese Drama that by now can no longer be played in any other way. The poignancy of this historical precedence and its relevancy to my present situation - I being the latter of the di Tiro, and the next chapter of Achehnese History is self-evident. And yet I did not do what I am doing in order to keep a record, but I did what came naturally to me. what I felt I must do. ’

31 October 1976
‘After about three hours march in the dark, we make a short rest in the village of Langgien, South of the town of Teupin Raya. Although tired, I have a sensational feeling being able to walk again on my own land, the land of my birth, after 25 years unable to set my foot on it, because the Javanese occupiers of my country would not allow me to return. I can never consent to asking foreigners permission for me to come back to my own land. After a rest of one-half hour, we proceed again toward the South, the mountain region. We begin climbing hills and descending them. Because there was rain during the day, the paths are very slippery. I fall flat on my back several times. By the time of day break we still have not reach our destination. After twice crossing the Pante Radja river, we finally reach our destination, the forest of Panton Weng, at about 7 A. M. This is a traditional guerilla hide-out, both during the war against the Dutch and during the last resistance against the Javanese Indonesians. The terrain is so hilly and covered with incredibly thick forests. One cannot see through within 15 meters, and there are many small brooks criss-crossing the forests. Everyone is so exhausted and in need to lie down. But there is no place to lie down unless one makes a clearing on the forest floor first. So the men begin to cut some trees to clear the ground just enough to lay a mat for me to lie down. In no time I fall asleep. For the first time on my own homeland in twenty-five years.

While I was asleep the men cut the trees to make clearance to establish our first camp. They picked up a place adjacent to a clear spring where they established two houses, one long, for themselves, and adjacent to it a special one. smaller, for my residence . For the roofs and walls they used black or green heavy and thick plastic tissues which come very handy, in the old time our fathers had to work several days just to make roofs for their guerilla camps out of cut grass. In two days we have functional houses in the midst of the forests complete with running water! We named this Camp Panton Weng. So I begin my new life as a guerilla warrior - picking up a long family tradition! ’

30 November 1976
‘In the morning of November 30, 1976. we leave the camp of Panton Weng for Tiro, taking Southwestern direction. The order of the march is as follow: first the Pawang party (the guides), then the advanced security guards, then my party, then the rear guards. We march single file. Even then it is difficult to avoid entanglement with forest shrubs and occasional rattan traps. Cutting of any trees, even a leaf is strictly forbidden as that can leave traces for the enemy to follow. We march in silence. This is the first long march through the forest that we have taken since my retum. Even the Pawangs are a bit hesitant in leading the way after they had not been in this part of the forests for so many years. One does not go here for pleasure. It turned out that it takes us four days of exhausting march to arrive to our new place in the mountains of Tiro. For me it was my first taste of what is more to come. It is to be the trial of body and soul.

During the march like that we are forced to sleep on the ground. We would stop marching at about 5 PM in order to be able to use the remaining day light hours to prepare for the night since fire is not to be used at night, for security reason. The men have to clear the ground over which a plastic tissue would be laid to prevent any seepage of water from below. Then a blanket would be laid down over the plastic tissue. If there is no rain, nothing further need to be done for one night stay. If there is rain then a make-shift roof must be contrived. Those who are in charge of cooking are the ones who have to work hardest, especially on rainy days when it is hardest to light the fire. But it is astonishing to see that my men, being mountain people, most of them, know exactly what trees they can light up without having to pick up the dry ones. So they have no problem starting the fire even in the rain. They know how to start the fire with a freshly cut green trees! I have read Dutch military reports during their war against us that when they came to the mountains to engage our guerillas, they had to go hungry for days in the rainy seasons because they did not know how to start the fire without using dry firewoods!

The hardest thing to do during the march when you have to climb high mountains is the carrying of rice and other food supply. You can never carry enough food sufficient for a long time. You have to break the journey for a new supply along the way. Usually our men see to it that everyone help each other and do their equal shares for hard works.

It took us four days to reach Tiro. On the third day we thought we had gotten lost and had arrived in Geumpang instead! In fact we did not get lost but everyone simply had no familiarity with the terrains anymore, even the Pawangs. It was a mistake because we did not take Pawang Baka with us whose territory this is. That every one agreed.

During this trip I had my first unforgettable hardship. It was when we were descending a very steep hill with the path all covered by slippery mud of such depth that it sometime reached up to my knees that I had to take my boots off, only to discover that the mud was infested with rattan thorns, two inches long on the average and the sharpness of which surpassed those of the roses. I had my bare feet plunged into several of these thorns. I thought the enemy must have planted them there. That was when I recalled with great nostalgia my many pleasant walks on Fifth Avenue. I really said to myself What am I doing here? It was at 2 AM and raining and we are all soaking wet, and exhausted. During these descends, Geutjhik Uma had to hold on my shoulders blades from behind in order to prevent me from falling forward down hill. ’