Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Diary briefs

Storayacious interviews Diary Review editor! - Storyacious

Humboldt’s diaries to stay in Germany (see also Humboldt’s genius) - Deutsche Welle

Diary-based biography of Charles Causley - Cornovia Press, This is Cornwall

Missing diary of JFK lover - Times-Herald Record, Wikipedia, Huffington Post

Diaries of Al-Qaeda’s Abu Zubaydah - Al Jazeera America, CBC News

Records of a historic blizzard in Colorodo - Longmont Museum, Colorado Daily

Hong Kong’s wartime diaries - Gwulo.com

Ariel Castro’s son asks for father’s diary - The Columbus Dispatch

Rosenberg’s diary on display - US Holocaust Memorial Museum, The Jerusalem Post

Diary at issue in dog-torture case - SFGate

Herefordshire in the Great War - The Express

Chinese labour camp diary written on quilt - BBC

A New Hampshire Girl’s Diary - Sentinel Source

Sam Gevirtz’s war journals transcribed - Pritzker Military Museum & Library

Lost Jimi Hendriix diaries - RTE

Extracts from Alan Bennet’s 2013 diary - London Review of Books, Gay Star News

Saturday, December 28, 2013

An anguish of suffering

‘On my way home at night an anguish of suffering in the thought that I can never hope to have an intellectual companion at home.’ This is George Gissing, a British novelist, a purveyor of unrepentant gloom according to some, who died 110 years ago today. As a young man he became disastrously involved with a prostitute, and, later, he married a woman who went mad. His diaries were published in 1978, and are said to shed light on his extraordinary life. However, Gissing’s gloomy novels are very much out of fashion at present, and the diaries have long been out of print.

Gissing was born in Wakefield in 1857, where his father was a chemist. Although apparently destined for a brilliant academic career, he failed to complete his education at Owens College, Manchester, because of a disastrous involvement with a prostitute, for whom he stole money. He was caught and imprisoned for a month. After his release, he went to the US for a year where he undertook some literature and philosophy studies.

On returning to England in 1878, Gissing worked both as a tutor and a journalist while also writing and publishing novels such as Workers in the Dawn, The Unclassed, and Demos, which focused on the degrading effects of poverty. He was married twice, once to the prostitute and once to a servant girl, Edith Alice Underwood, but neither marriage brought him happiness. Edith gave him two children, but she was eventually certified insane.

In total, Gissing wrote over 20 novels (New Grub Street and The Odd Women being among the most well known), some of which, with a writer as the main character, were quite autobiographical. He also also wrote more than a hundred short stories, literary criticism, essays, and many letters. Commentators say there is an unrepentant gloom about much of his writing. He travelled abroad several times; and, on one journey to Italy, was accompanied by H. G. Wells.

In the last decade of his life, Gissing became involved with Clara Collet, who helped take care of him and his two children, but who was then disappointed when Gissing fell in love with Gabrielle Fleury, a French woman. Unable to get a divorce from Edith, he moved to France to live with Gabrielle. He died from emphysema aged only 46 on 28 December 1903 after catching a chill during a winter walk. Further biographical information on Gissing can be found at Wikipedia, The George Rylands Library (University of Manchester), The Victorian Web, Victorian Secrets, or Professor Mitsuharu Matsuoka’s extensive Gissing pages; in a 1948 article by George Orwell; or in reviews of a recent biography, George Gissing: A Life by Paul Delany, in The Telegraph or The Guardian.

More than 70 years after Gissing’s death, in 1978, The Harvester Press Limited (UK) and Bucknell University Press (US) published London and the Life of Literature in Late Victorian England - The Diary of George Gissing as edited by Pierre Coustillas. At the time of publication, the publishers stated: ‘Very few major novelists have left personal diaries. Where these exist they are a record of great interest, to the student of society, of literature and to the psychologist. George Gissing’s diary is probably the only one covering the late-Victorian period that has so far remained unpublished.’

There is also this from the publishers: ‘Professor Pierre Coustillas, perhaps the best known of all Gissing scholars, has edited and introduced the diary and placed it in its general social and literary context while also relating it to Gissing’s life and work. The editorial apparatus, including a ‘Who’s Who’ in the diary throws light on several hundred people contemporary with Gissing, and on many events which played a significant part in the writer’s extraordinary life. Professor Coustillas relates the diary to the themes and spirit of Gissing’s work.’

There is very little information online about Gissing’s diaries, nor indeed are there many extracts to be found, but here are a few: the first from London Fictions; the second and fourth from George Gissing: Voices of the Unclassed at Googlebooks; the third from a site on Clara Collet.

‘Linen she had none; the very covering of the bed had gone save one sheet and one blanket. I found a number of pawn tickets, showing that she had pledged these things during last summer, - when it was warm, poor creature! All the money she received went in drink …

She lay on the bed covered with a sheet. I looked long, long at her face, but could not recognize it. It is more than three years, I think, since I saw her. And she had changed horribly. …

Came home to a bad, wretched night. In nothing am I to blame; I did my utmost; again and again I had her back to me. Fate was too strong. But as I stood beside that bed, I felt that my life henceforth had a firmer purpose. Henceforth I never cease to bear testimony against the accursed social order that brings about things of this kind. I feel that she will help me more in her death than she balked me during her life. Poor, poor thing!’

10 December 1891
‘4:15 am. Have been up all night. A furious gale blowing. E in long miserable pain; the doctor has just given her chloroform, and says that the blackguard business draws to an end.

5:15. Went to the study door, and heard the cry of the child. Nurse, speedily coming down, tells me it is a boy. Wind howling savagely. So, the poor girl’s misery is over, and she has what she earnestly desired.’

24 January 1893
‘On my way home at night an anguish of suffering in the thought that I can never hope to have an intellectual companion at home. Condemned for ever to associate with inferiors - and so crassly unintelligent. Never a word exchanged on anything but the paltry everyday life of the household. Never a word to me, from anyone, of understanding, sympathy or of encouragement.’

‘[Walter] knows there is no harmony between his mother and me, and he begins to play upon the situation - carrying tales from one to the other, etc. The poor child is ill-tempered, untruthful, precociously insolent, surprisingly selfish. I can see that Wakefield [where Gissing’s mother and sisters lived] may have a good influence, but only the merest beginnings show as yet. I should like to know how the really wise and strong father would act in this position. But no wise and strong man could have got into it. Talk of morals! What a terrible lesson is the existence of this child, born of a loveless and utterly unsuitable marriage.’

The Diary Junction

Friday, December 27, 2013

Everything is sunshining

‘At about quarter to five, after nothing but music in its dissected form, I did the only right and inevitable thing to do when the sky is singingly blue and the sun is showing up the nakedness of London and everything is sunshining and smelling of new-forgotten damp earth and crocuses - I went out.’ This is the Canadian Elizabeth Smart - born 100 years ago today - not yet 20, writing in her diary with youthful enthusiasm and literary precociousness.

Smart was born on 27 December 1913 into a privileged family in Ottawa, Canada. She was educated at private schools, and became very keen on poetry, before being sent to King’s College, London, where she studied piano. In her mid-20s, she was taken on as secretary by Margaret Watt, head of Associated Country Women of the World, and travelled extensively with her to conferences. It was during this period that she first became interested in the poet George Barker. She wrote for The Ottawa Journal for some months, and she travelled on her own, mostly in the US.

Eventually, Smart managed to arrange a meeting with Barker, with whom she launched a long-lasting affair. She returned to Canada to give birth to a daughter (by Barker), and then went to work for the British embassy in Washington. She fell pregnant again during the war, and travelled to the UK to join Barker. There she worked for the British Ministry of Defence while caring for her two children. Her best known work, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, a semi-autobiographical novel about her relationship with Barker, was published in 1945. Thanks to the negative influence of her parents, the book was banned in Canada.

Thereafter, Barker visited Smart often in London, and they had two more children, although Barker never left his wife. Smart worked as an advertisement copywriter and as a magazine editor, living in Westbourne Terrace, where her flat is said to have been a magnet for the city’s bohemians. Retiring in the mid-1960s to a cottage in Suffolk, she took up writing poetry and fiction again, and also looked after her daughter’s two children (her daughter, having become involved with drugs, died in 1982). The early 1980s saw her publish - more than three decades since her last book - a few poems and The Assumption of the Rogues & Rascals, a kind of sequel to By Grand Central Station. She died soon after, in London in 1986. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Library and Archives Canada, ABC Bookworld, or Studies in Canadian Literature.

Two volumes of Smart’s diary were published posthumously, one in 1987 and the other in 1994, Necessary Secrets and On the Side of the Angels. Their editor, Alice Van Wart, believes ‘a remarkable personality’ emerges from the journals, ‘passionate, vibrant, extravagant, sensitive, yet subject to lethargy and self-doubt’. She says the entries were rapidly written, usually at night in bed, and ‘are the private record of the heart of a woman, a woman who never overtly rejects the standards and expectations placed upon her but quietly begins to construct her own personal values’.

The brightest, liveliest of Smart’s diary entries, in which one can sense her nascent literary talent and an interest in describing experiences of the world around her, were all written in her early diaries; later on her diaries become consumed by her difficulties, especially those in her relationship with Barker. (See also - O God George, can’t you see.)

7 March 1933
‘At about quarter to five, after nothing but music in its dissected form, I did the only right and inevitable thing to do when the sky is singingly blue and the sun is showing up the nakedness of London and everything is sunshining and smelling of new-forgotten damp earth and crocuses - I went out. [. . .]

The streets were full of tulips and narcissus and daffodils and it was spring - really. I passed by that little pool in Hyde Park by the Serpentine, cut from the bridge by bushes. A heron was standing dark and blue grey by the edge and there were sky and bushes shining in its bottom. The grass was bright green and fresh looking and on all the little hillocks purple and white and yellow crocuses are coming up.

I walked along the Serpentine - not on the bank because there were too many people there. Why do people when they go for a walk look at each other? - but up on the other side of the road - and there was a breezy wind enough to blow your hair and make you feel a little like mascots on motor cars - so I took my loose, loose hat off before the wind did. Before I came to the end, I took a new path across - on my right were two lovers walking away - he bending over and around her with his arm and head. The sparrows were making so much spring noise that I took off my gloves and scarf in spite of the brick red dress showing, and stuffed them in my purse. And then just as I thought I was alone I saw two more lovers on my left who thought they were alone. They were sitting on a seat under a gigantic trunk of a tree. [. . .]

I came out at a gate and crossed the bridge. There were boats on the water - people lazing - or working hard - and gulls flying and ducks in the water - just like summer. The wind blew my hair the right way. I forgave everybody their trespasses. I got into the gardens again and went down to the river past that mass of bushes that makes you so conscious of them and followed the water - watching the ducks and a child or two - until I came almost to Peter Pan. I had to pass a smug jealous woman sitting on a seat with some male. She tittered. Then I stepped over the low rail and walked on the grass which was quite muddy and hard to walk on in ladies’ heels. [. . .] I looked at the statue which turned out to be one by G. F. Watts called ‘Physical Energy’ - about twice life size of a huge horse. He was a god with naturally curly hair and a seductive Greek mouth. I saw that the path went in the same unbroken way - a sort of huge green path edged by huge trees on either side right up to the palace - in front of which sits the ‘Big Penny’ statue of the Good Smug Queen [Victoria]. By the time I got to the Round Pond it was quite dark and there were foreboding clouds over the palace - a shadowy purpleness more than an actual cloud - behind there was a pink light - and everywhere there was an expectancy as if something was about to be revealed - something too wonderful or too intangible.’

9 March 1933
‘On the bus [. . .] there was only one seat on top which a nondescript man was trying to camouflage. However, I was resolute and made him move over - sitting uncomfortably and precariously on the edge. Soon, the seat in front was completely empty and I moved into it - it was the very front seat. In a couple of moments a lady who had been sitting beside someone else came and sat beside me. She was not startling, but if you looked into her face it was queer and uncanny - you could see she lived in a very different world from most people. [. . .] When the conductor came up to collect the tickets she said to him in a very loud voice, “Why don’t you stop there and get some petrol. We might get on a bit quicker.” I smiled at her when she seemed to be muttering her hates to me - but I didn’t speak for fear of bringing down on my head the accusations of an insane person - though I wished I had later when she left. [. . .]

I went to the Tate Gallery on a 2 bus and was inspired and thrilled and imagitated by William Blake’s illustrations - especially the one of Dante and Virgil approaching the angel who guards the gates of Purgatory - there are mystical yellow and red lights and rays upon the water - and you can look into it and into it - and you feel a sacred feeling like the light of twilights and dreams when you were little. Strange, lost beautiful things and imaginings and forgotten inspirations.’

31 March 1933
‘We took a bus from Sloane St to the Ritz and our white gloves began to look faintly grey at the tips. We walked along to Givans and tried on the blue checked blouse which was wrong and didn’t fit. We made an exit there - and London was making an awful noise. Men drilling and buses roaring and things falling - you couldn’t hear or think. [. . .] The noise and confusion was worse and worse - and then what should have been spring sunny air was filled with gas smells and dust and tired heat and hard dirty pavement - horrible dusty gas coming out of the bowels of dirty motors and buses.

O the clashing and jarring. It never seemed so bad. We went to Lilley and Skinners and sat in a fairly comfortable seat and Mummy tried on shoes that looked awful and cost pounds. [. . .] We took a taxi and came home and then Mummy and I had a sherry in the lounge and I was a little tight but I camouflaged it and she went out to lunch. Then I reeled into the dining room and had lunch. Then I took a bus to the Ritz and walked or rather strutted in a clipped sort of way up Dover St - and my hair was unspeakable and looked untouchable in fact - I wore a hanky under my new silk hat. The girl gave me a wash and wanted to pluck my eyebrows which made me mad - why should they want to standardize even me? I am sick of this Mayfair fashionable smart - socialness - Tatler-Spectator - jealousy - boredom - toeing the mark.’

28 February 1937
‘Hampstead still has that air of concealing just around the corner, the house I read about in some old book when I was a child, a different life. I know someday I shall find that family whose smell is in the very Hampstead mists, behind the clipped hedges, under the arched doorways. Keats walking with Leigh Hunt, or the whole Sanger family sitting in the sunshine in an untidy studio making music in the middle of the afternoon.’

The Diary Junction

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Amazing Mr Smith

Most of The Diary Review articles are pegged to an anniversary or publication of a book. This one, though, very sadly, has come about because I happened to be in West Bay, Dorset, on the morning of Sunday 8 December with my family when a body was being recovered from the beach. Later that week, local newspapers reported that a man named Derek Smith had died after falling from the cliff, whether accidentally or deliberately has not yet been reported. Curiosity led me to find out more about Derek Smith - or, as he was better known publicly, The Amazing Mr Smith - and to a book of his diary extracts.

Derek Smith was born in Croydon, south of London, on 1 April 1948 (I think), and, according to his own testimony, lived within 10 miles of the place for 47 years. In the 1960s, he performed in a band called Wild Oats, whose lead singer, Viva, he married in Torquay in 1982. They had one daughter, Rosie. After Wild Oats disbanded, Derek went on to a carve a career as a solo performer, while Viva moved into acting and then sang with a folk trio, Dangerous Curves. Derek was considered a talented guitar player and played in many comedy and folk clubs. He also toured the US five times, and appeared in shows in Holland, Germany, Norway and Jordan.

Smith’s own website quotes this comment: ‘The cardboard tube double bass, the musical shoelaces, the Nutcracker played on the tu-tu xylophone, the Blue Danube on the condom harp and his 3-minute rendition of Riverdance had to be seen to be believed.’ One reviewer said that his combination of mad inventions and brilliant acoustic guitar playing made him one of the funniest and most original entertainers around. In another, he was dubbed Monty Python’s answer to John Williams. Viva died in 2009, and Derek died on 8 December 2013. A service was held at Weymouth Crematorium on 20 December. There is not much information about Smith online, though some can be found in John Fleming’s blog piece, and in a film at Vimeo
There are many tributes to Smith at The Mudcat Cafe; and a little more on Viva and Derek can be found among Joe Stead’s ramblings.

In 2005, Derek Smith self-published a book entitled 25 Year Diary of An Eccentric Musician 1980-2005. It is dedicated to ‘Viva, my long-suffering wife’. Among the acknowledgements is this one: ‘Thanks especially to my friend Steve Black for suggesting I should do something like this. The conversation ran roughly as follows: “I’ve got all these diaries of funny things that have happened to me since 1979, a lot of them at gigs.” - “Why don’t you publish some of them?” - “Because they wouldn’t be of general interest unless I was really famous.” - Maybe not, but people at your gigs might like to read about some of the things that happened at others.” - “Yes, maybe, I suppose I’d better give it a go then.’

Many of the stories, Smith says in his ‘Foreword (not funny)’ are much longer that the bits reproduced in the book, and that one day he might ‘release’ the unabridged versions. ‘Perhaps the funniest part of the whole business,’ he adds, ‘is that I bothered to write any of it down in the first place.’ He estimates that there are 300,000 words in his nine diary notebooks, and that 90% of these are ‘funny things that happened to me’, and half of this 90% is gig related. The books were not intended to be a comprehensive day by day journal, he explains, and whole days or even weeks have nothing written about them, ‘presumably because nothing notably funny happened.’ Here are a few short extracts.

12 March 1981, Shoreditch College
‘Noisy, don’t know whether it was good or bad. Several enjoyed it but ‘Keith’ (black eye, allegedly only one ball) was 21 that day and drinking G&Ts out of a pint glass. He was very pissed and rather upstaged me by stripping except for a saucepan which he and a few others were wearing . . .’

15 December 1981, Half Moon, Putney
‘Bob told me about his trumpet in the boot of his Alvis. He was wearing a fur coat and was pissed when he was stopped by the Bill. They looked at his trumpet and started sniffing it (looking for drugs). Going home, I too was stopped by the Bill, this time for jumping the lights. Sarky remark by copper: ’This is why insurance premiums are so high for musicians if they do things like jump red lights.’

7 August 1987, Colchester Folk Club
‘. . . in the interval I accidentally dropped [my plastic] dog-turd out of my tail’s pocket which resounded when it hit the top of a metallic beer barrel. I reflected how nice this was in the church. I went into the gents’ and put on my tutu behind a screen such that I was able to hear the only other occupant, who was pissing and unaware of my presence, sing in falsetto and in its entirety, ‘I wanna be Bobby’s girl’. My ‘That was nice’ made him jump out of his skin.’

23 June 1989, Jongleurs
‘. . . midnight ‘open spot’. Nasty evening before but not as nasty as the gig - drunken bastards but they enjoyed yelling ‘fuck off’ etc. I was called a brave man by Arthur Smith (compere) who bought me a drink.’

13 July 1990, Deal Folk Club
‘. . . A dog barked outside at the end of the 1st verse of ‘The Seeds of Love’, so I stopped, got out one of my toy (bouncing) dogs and tried some black magic on it by stamping on it, but the dog outside carried on barking . . .’

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Beatrix and Benjamin

Beatrix Potter - author and illustrator of the much-loved Peter Rabbit books - died 70 years ago today. As a teenager and young woman, Potter kept a secret diary written in code. This was not deciphered and published until more than 20 years after her death, but shows how (long before publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit) she was already writing to herself about her rabbit, Mr Benjamin Bunny - very much the star of her diary - in a style similar to that of the books she would publish later on.

Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866, the only daughter in a cultured family with inherited wealth. She was educated at home, and spent much time painting, using specimens from the nearby Natural History Museum. The family regularly spent summer and early autumn in rented houses in the Lake District and Scotland. She kept rabbits and other animals as pets. Her parents entertained many guests, including Hardwicke Rawnsley who was to become one of the founders of the National Trust. He, in particular, encouraged her drawing.

Another friend, Frederick Warne, published, in 1902, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, a book which came about because of the illustrated letters Potter had been sending to a sick child. Other books - now famous around the world - followed, as did her engagement to Warne’s son Norman. However, Norman died tragically in 1905. That same year, Potter bought Hill Top Farm near Sawrey in the English Lake District, though she continued to be based in London. And then, in 1909, she bought Castle Farm over the road from Hill Top Farm (now a Potter museum).

Potter remained single until 1913, when she married William Heelis, a solicitor in Hawkshead. They moved to live at Castle Cottage, the renovated house at Castle Farm, and together, ran the farm; later they enlarged it with the help of an inheritance from Beatrix’s father (see Lancashire Life for more on Castle Cottage). Though all of the Peter Rabbit books had been published by this time, she continued to produce occasional books, some of them Peter Rabbit related, for her publishers, Frederick Warne.

In 1930, Potter purchased half of Monk Coniston, a romantic Gothic-style house, with the National Trust agreeing to purchase the other half. Potter, however, managed the whole estate and its many farms - with an increasing interest in conservation - for seven years, until the Trust was able to buy most of it back. Today, Monk Coniston is leased from the Trust for use as a hotel. When Potter died - on 22 December 1943 - she left several other farms and much land to the National Trust, together with some celebrated flocks of Herdwick sheep.

Further biographical information is readily available online at Wikipedia, the Beatrix Potter Society, Frederick Warne & Co’s Peter Rabbit website, the Visit Cumbria website, or the V&A which holds the extensive Linder (see below) archive of Potter work.

From the age of fifteen until her early 30s, Potter kept a detailed diary of her life written in a secret code. This code remained un-deciphered until the late 1950s, when Leslie Linder, an engineer and collector of Potter drawings, found the key and then worked painstakingly to decipher and transcribe the diaries. The Journal of Beatrix Potter - 1881 to 1897 was finally published by Frederick Warne in 1966.

A chapter towards the front of the book, written by Linder, describes the code in some detail, and how he cracked it. The chapter starts: ‘From about the age of fourteen until she was thirty, Beatrix Potter kept a Journal in her own privately-invented code-writing. It appears that even her closest friends knew nothing of this code-writing. She never spoke of it, and only one instance has come to light where it was mentioned. This was in a letter to her much-loved cousin [. . .] written five weeks before Beatrix Potter died, in which she described it as ‘apparently inspired by a united admiration for Boswell and Pepys’, continuing, ‘when I was young I already had the itch to write, without having any material to write about (the modern young author is not damped by such considerations). I used to write long-winded descriptions, hymns (!) and records of conversations in a kind of cipher shorthand which I am now unable to read even with a magnifying glass.’ ’

From January 1987, Linder explains, Potter put her journal aside, and he concludes the chapter as follows: ‘From now onwards the keeping of a Journal appears to have been put aside as Beatrix Potter became more and more absorbed in the planning of her books. It is of interest to note, however, that in later years she sometimes wrote odd notes and even fragments of stories in code-writing, but it was never used again for the purpose of a Journal.’ Much of The Journal of Beatrix Potter can be read online freely at Googlebooks.

From July to October 1892, Potter stayed at Heath Park, Birnam, Perthshire
20 August 1892
‘Still somewhat disposed. After breakfast taking Mr. Benjamin Bunny to pasture at the edge of the cabbage bed with his leather dog-lead, I heard a rustling, and came a little wild rabbit to talk to him, it crept half across the cabbage bed and then sat up on its hind legs, apparently grunting. I replied, but the stupid Benjamin did nothing but stuff cabbage. The little animal evidently a female, and of a shabby appearance, nibbling, advanced to about three strap lengths on the other side of my rabbit, its face twitching with excitement and admiration for the beautiful Benjamin, who at length caught sight of it round a cabbage, and immediately bolted. He probably took it for Miss Hutton’s cat.’

21 August 1892
‘Went into the garden immediately after breakfast, but saw nothing of the wild rabbit except its tracks. Benjamin’s mind has at last comprehended gooseberries, he stands up and picks them off the bush, but has such a comical little mouth, it is a sort of bob cherry business.’

22 August 1892
‘Very hot. Went to Mrs. McIntosh’s to try and photograph Charlie Lumm’s fox at Calley, but with very little advantage except that I was touched with the kindness of Mrs. McIntosh. She let the pony stand in their stall, gave me a glass of milk, and tramped up the wood with me to the Under-keeper’s cottage.

The wood is very beautiful at the bottom of Craigie-barns, such tall Scotch firs, and the Game keeper’s cottage with its bright old-fashioned flowers and a row of bee hives. The fox proved a tyke, tearing round and round the tree, in the absence of Charlie Lumm, but as things turned out, it did not signify.

Coming down we passed Eel Stew, with high post railings where her Grace’s supply of eels are preserved, having been trapped in the Lochs. Her Grace will have two or three cooked for supper every evening almost, when she is at home, at which information I was much amazed.’

30 October 1892
‘When I was walking out Benjamin I saw Miss Hutton’s black cat jumping on something up the wood. I thought it was too far off to interfere, but as it seemed leisurely I went up in time to rescue a poor little rabbit, fast in a snare. The cat did not hurt it, but I had great difficulty in slackening the noose round its neck. I warmed it at the fire, relieved it from a number of fleas, and it came round. It was such a little poor creature compared to mine. They are regular vermin, but one cannot stand by to see a thing mauled about from one’s friendship for the race. Papa in his indignation pulled up the snare. I fancy our actions were much more illegal than Miss Hutton’s.

After dinner I was half amused, half shocked, to see her little niece Maggie hunting everywhere for the wire. I just had enough sense not to show the stranger to Benjamin Bounce, but the smell of its fur on my dress was quite enough to upset the ill-regulated passions of that excitable buck rabbit. Whether he thought I had a rival in my pocket, or like a Princess in a Fairy Tale was myself metamorphosed into a white rabbit I cannot say, but I had to lock him up.

Rabbits are creatures of warm volatile temperament but shallow and absurdly transparent. It is this naturalness, one touch of nature, that I find so delightful in Mr. Benjamin Bunny, though I frankly admit his vulgarity. At one moment amiably sentimental to the verge of silliness, at the next, the upsetting of a jug or tea-cup which he immediately takes upon himself, will convert him into a demon, throwing himself on his back, scratching and spluttering. If I can lay hold of him without being bitten, within half a minute he is licking my hands as though nothing has happened.

He is an abject coward, but believes in bluster, could stare our old dog out of countenance, chase a cat that has turned tail. Benjamin once fell into an Aquarium head first, and sat in the water which he could not get out of, pretending to eat a piece of string. Nothing like putting a face upon circumstances.’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Consuming concentration

‘I’m wondering if perhaps there isn’t some mean between the consuming concentration I formerly directed to the keeping of the entries and the comparative laxness of attention I have devoted to the diary since the atomic bomb fell upon history.’ This is a 1947 diary entry by Arthur Crew Inman, a rich, eccentric and obsessed diarist who died half a century ago today. His diaries - all 155 of them held by Harvard University - were edited for publication in the 1980s; and, since then, have proved a compulsive inspiration for Lorenzo DeStefano’s plays and films.

Inman was born into a very wealthy family in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1895. He studied at Haverford College, Pennsylvania, but had some kind of serious breakdown at 21. He published several volumes of poetry without any success. In 1923, he married Evelyn Yates. They moved to Boston, where Inman rented several apartments in a residential hotel. He became increasingly obsessed with his health, and had his rooms darkened and soundproofed - his
 inherited wealth allowed him full rein to indulge the hypochondria. He employed individuals to talk to him (‘talkers’), tell him about their lives, and sometimes he seduced them. He attempted suicide on several occasions, and finally succeeded with a revolver on 5 December 1863. Further biographical information is available from the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Harvard Gazette or Wikipedia.

From his mid-20s, Inman began to keep a diary, somewhat obsessively, thinking it would bring him immortality. By the time of his death, he had written 155 volumes, making it one of the longest diaries on record. According to David Herbert Donald, a Pulitzer-prize-winning historian, it is also ‘the most remarkable diary ever published by an American’. An edited version was painstakingly put together by Professor Daniel Aaron, and published in two volumes by Harvard University Press in 1985 as The Inman Diary - A Public and Private Confession. Some pages from the first of these can be browsed online at Googlebooks; as can some pages from an abridged one volume edition in 1996 called From a Darkened Room.

Most publicity about Inman’s diaries in recent years has been focused on, or through, Lorenzo DeStefano, who states this: ‘I first discovered The Inman Diary through a New York Times book review. What began as a fixation has grown into a deep exploration of the American psyche. Through Inman’s obsessive efforts to capture time I have encountered a literary milieu and aspects of American and world history I had no inkling of before. As a result I now hold exclusive dramatic rights to the Inman Diary from Harvard University Press.’ DeStefano’s projects include Camera Obscura, a play about Inman, which has also been turned into a chamber opera; a documentary, From a Darkened Room; and a film, Hypergraphia. DeStefano’s websites contain a lot of information about Inman, reviews of his diary, for example, and taped audio extracts.

The following extracts are taken from The Inman Diary - A Public and Private Confession.

5 September 1944
‘I am forty-nine. There is no hope in my heart that I shall ever recover from a state of limited semi-invalidism.

My day is divided somewhat as follows: The curtains in my bedroom are dropped some fifty minutes before sunrise to keep the room dark so that I may avoid headaches. Breakfast is at 6:30am, after which I wash and go back to bed unto 8:10am, when I get up. I ride at nine or ten for varying amounts, after having scanned the newspapers, listened to the news and waltzes on the radio, perhaps written in here without using my glasses, though I use them when driving. On returning home, I eat something, work, dictate, write in here. Lunch comes shortly after noon. I nap in my darkened room for a few minutes around one o’clock. Then Janice massages the soft tissue in my neck. With myself still in the dark and Evelyn or Janice on the other side of a curtain where the light is, I correct from three until shortly before six. Then I play the talking-book and the radio until 7:15pm, when Fulton Lewis’ talk ends, when I eat my supper. Thereafter, I listen to the radio, the talking-book or am read to or talked to for the evening, which extends until midnight or twelve-thirty.

My principle pleasure consists of writing in here, correcting, studying. I cannot work a tithe of the time I would wish to. I have no faith in God, the reality of progress, the predominance of good. I feel myself born under an unlucky star. I value my friends. I place more value upon money than formerly. I fear many things up to a certain point - always anticipating trouble and usually getting it. People, by and large, are very good to me, and I strive to return as I am able their affection and their efforts in my behalf. I am bitter and disillusioned with existence and wait for it to end but until it does attempt to achieve some measure of normality, to be cheerful and equable.’

24 September 1947
‘I’m wondering if perhaps there isn’t some mean between the consuming concentration I formerly directed to the keeping of the entries and the comparative laxness of attention I have devoted to the diary since the atomic bomb fell upon history. I have often thought about cooks. They plan; they work. In a trice the result of their efforts vanishes down the red lane, and if a remembrance of their culinary art remains in the mind of the one who has eaten, that is generally the apogee of reward any cook can expect. Cooks come and go, and people eat on, and very seldom in history does a name or reputation survive. Yet often the most inconspicuous and unappreciated cooks take real pleasure in their remunerative labour.

So it should be, perhaps, with the keeping of a diary. If the long record of private thoughts, emotions, experiences, observations ends by being annihilated, the mind should not dwell upon that probability but permit itself, as a traveler journeying to no destination yet enjoying the act of traveling, to enjoy the simple daily exercise.’

25 September 1947
‘Could I quite surrender to the idea that some historical and psychological value attaches itself to my efforts and believe accordingly that they were absolutely vain and trifling, I could at least be more at peace with myself, consider each entry a pleasurable venture in idle scribbling only. But I can’t, and for the simple reason that, when I come across a record such as this, I’m enraptured by it. The New York Times Book Section of week before last carries a front-page review of the journals of André Gide. I must read them. “My mind is becoming voluptuously impious and pagan. I must stress this tendency.” Did famous persons march across my pages, their merit might be differently weighed. Well, they don’t. Only nonillustrious persons of no consequence artistically or historically. Myself, I detest reading about the famous in memoirs and journals. Is that sour grapes?’

The Diary Junction

Monday, December 2, 2013

A very provincial lady

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the death of E. M. Delafield, a British writer much loved for The Diary of a Provincial Lady, first published in 1930, and its sequels. Although classed as fiction, the books - a journal of the life of an upper-middle class Englishwoman living in a Devon village - are considered to be thinly-veiled autobiography.

Edmée Elizabeth Monica de la Pasture was born in Steyning, Sussex, in 1890, the elder daughter of a count and a novelist. During the First World War, she worked as a nurse, and she published her first novel Zella Sees Herself. In 1919, she married Major Paul Dashwood, and after two years in Malay States they returned to England and lived in Devon, where Dashwood became a land agent. They had two children, Lionel and Rosamund.

Delafield (Mrs Dashwood’s pen name) became a prolific novelist, writing one or two books a year. But she is best remembered for The Provincial Lady, a series she wrote for
Time and Tide, a political and literary weeklyAlthough ostensibly fiction, the diary is considered to be barely-disguised autobiography.  The sketches were first published in book form under the title Diary of a Provincial Lady by Macmillan, in 1930, with illustrations by Arthur Watts. Several sequels followed, including The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America and The Provincial Lady in Wartime. These books have remained popular and have never been out of print.

During the Second World War, Delafield did some work for the Ministry of Information, and she spent time in France, but she died on 2 December 1943. Further information about her, and/or some extracts from the diaries can be found at Wikipedia, The Guardian, Starcourse, and Amazon. The full text of the first book - Diary of a Provincial Lady - with Watts’s illustrations can be read freely at Project Gutenberg Australia. The following extracts come from The Diary of a Provincial Lady published by Virago Press in 1984 (which is a compilation of three of the original books).

7 November 1929
‘Plant the indoor bulbs. Just as I am in the middle of them, Lady Boxe calls. I say, untruthfully, how nice to see her, and beg her to sit down while I just finish the bulbs. Lady B. makes a determined attempt to sit down in armchair where I have already placed two bulb-bowls and the bag of charcoal, is headed off just in time, and takes the sofa.
Do I know, she asks, how very late it is for indoor bulbs? September really, even October, is the time. Do I know that the only really reliable firm for hyacinths is Somebody of Haarlem? Cannot catch the name of the firm, which is Dutch, but reply Yes I do know, but I think it is my duty to buy Empire products. Feel at the time, and still think, that this is an excellent reply. Unfortunately, Vicky comes into the drawing room later and says: “Oh, Mummie, are those the bulbs we got at Woolworths?”

Lady B stays to tea. (Mem: Bread-and-butter too thick. Speak to Ethel.) We talk some more about bulbs, the Dutch School of Painting, Our Vicar’s Wife, sciatica, and All Quiet on the Western Front.

(Query: Is it possible to cultivate the art of conversation while living in the country all the year round?)

Lady B enquires after the children. Tell her that Robin - whom I refer to in a detached way as “the boy” so that she shan’t think I am foolish about him - is getting on fairly well at school, and that Mademoiselle says Vicky is starting a cold.

Do I realise, says Lady B., that the Cold habit is entirely unnecessary, and can be avoided by giving the child a nasal douche of salt-and-water every morning before breakfast? Think of several rather tart and witty rejoinders to this, but unfortunately not until Lady B.’s Bentley has taken her away.

Finish the bulbs and put them in the cellar. Feel that after all the cellar is probably draughty, change my mind, and take them all up to the attic.

Cook says something is wrong with the range.’

30 June 1930
‘The Sweep comes, and devastates the entire day. Bath water and meals are alike cold, and soot appears quite irrelevantly in portions of the house totally removed from sphere of Soot’s activities. Am called upon in the middle of the day to produce twelve-and-sixpence in cash, which I cannot do. Appeal to everybody in the house, and find that nobody else can, either. Finally, Cook announces that the Joint has just come and can oblige at the back door, if I don’t mind its going down in the book. I do not, and the Sweep is accordingly paid and disappears on a motor-cycle.’

7 October (1931?)
‘Extraordinary behaviour of dear Rose, with whom I am engaged - and have been for days past - to go and have supper tonight. Just as I am trying to decide whether bus to Portland Street or tube to Oxford Circus will be preferable, I am called up on telephone by Rose’s married niece, who lives in Hertfordshire, and is young and modern, to say that speaker for her Women’s Institute to-night has failed, and that Rose, on being appealed to, has at once suggested my name and expressed complete willingness to dispense with my society for the evening. Utter impossibility of pleading previous engagement is obvious; I contemplate for an instant saying that I have influenza, but remember in time that niece, very intelligently, started the conversation by asking how I was, and that I replied Splendid, thanks - and there is nothing for it but to agree.

(Query: Should very much like to know if it was for this that I left Devonshire.) Think out several short, but sharply worded, letters to Rose, but time fails; I can only put brush and comb, slippers, sponge, three books, pyjamas and hot-water bottle into case - discover later that I have forgotten powder-puff, and am very angry, but to no avail - and repair by train to Hertfordshire.

Spend most of journey in remembering all that I know of Rose’s niece, which is that she is well under thirty, pretty, talented, tremendous social success, amazingly good at games, dancing, and - I think - everything else in the world, and married to brilliantly clever young man who is said to have Made Himself a Name, though cannot at the moment recollect how.

Have strong impulse to turn straight round and go home again, sooner than confront so much efficiency, but non-stop train renders this course impracticable.

Niece meets me - clothes immensely superior to anything that I have ever had, or shall have - is charming, expresses gratitude, and asks what I am going to speak about. I reply, Amateur Theatricals. Excellent of course, she says unconvincingly, and adds that the Institute has a large Dramatic Society already, that they are regularly produced by well-known professional actor, husband of Vice-President, and were very well placed in recent village-drama competition, open to all England.

At this I naturally wilt altogether, and say Then perhaps better talk about books or something - which sounds weak, even as I say it, and am convinced that niece feels the same, though she remains imperturbably charming. She drives competently through the night, negotiates awkward entrance to garage equally well, extracts my bag and says that It is Heavy - which is undeniable, and is owing to books, but cannot say so, as it would look as though I thought her house likely to be inadequately supplied - and conducts me into perfectly delightful, entirely modern, house, which I feel certain - rightly, I discover later - has every newest labour-saving device ever invented.

Bathroom especially - (all appears to be solid marble, black-and-white tiles, and dazzling polish) - impresses me immeasurably. Think regretfully, but with undiminished affection, of extremely inferior edition at home - paint peeling in several directions, brass taps turning green at intervals until treated by housemaid, and irregular collection of home-made brackets on walls, bearing terrific accumulation of half-empty bottles, tins of talcum powder and packets of Lux. [. . .]

Evening at Institute reasonably successful - am much impressed by further display of efficiency from niece, as President - I speak about Books, and obtain laughs by introduction of three entirely irrelevant anecdotes, am introduced to felt hat and fur coat, felt hat and blue jumper, felt hat and tweeds, and so on. Names of all alike remain impenetrably mysterious, as mine no doubt to them.

(Flight of fancy here as to whether this deplorable but customary, state of affairs is in reality unavoidable? Theory exists that it has been completely overcome in America, whose introductions always entirely audible and frequently accompanied by short biographical sketch. Should like to go to America.)

Niece asks kindly if I am tired. I say No, not at all, which is a lie, and she presently takes me home and I go to bed. Spare-room admirable in every respect, but no waste-paper basket. This solitary flaw in general perfection a positive relief.’

The Diary Junction