Monday, December 21, 2015

Speaking of The Possessed

‘To London, mainly for another Prime Minister’s dinner party [. . .] I continue to find Mrs Thatcher very attractive physically. Her overhanging eyelids, hooded eyes, are the only suggestion of mystery (a characteristic I like in women). This is Anthony Powell - born 110 years ago today - the British author of A Dance to the Music of Time, making a somewhat surprising confession to his diary. He was not far off 80 at the time, and she was closing in on 60.

Anthony Powell was born in London on 21 December 1905, the son of an army officer. He was was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, and then worked at the publishers Gerald Duckworth and Company for ten years. In 1934, he married Lady Violet Pakenham, sister of Lord Longford. They had two sons, one in 1940 and one in 1946. After leaving Duckworth, Powell did some script writing and some travelling in the US and Mexico. On returning to England in 1937, he lived in London and worked as a full-time writer, producing novels and literary criticism.

During the Second World War, Powell joined the army and rose from the rank of second lieutenant to major, serving first in the Welch Regiment and then in the Intelligence Corps as a liaison officer with Czechs and Poles among others. In 1951, he published A Question of Upbringing. This was the first novel in what would be 12 volumes, written over a quarter of century, making up A Dance to the Music of Time for which Powell is most remembered. In 1952, he moved to Somerset where he spent the rest of his life.

Powell also wrote other novels, two plays, many literary reviews, and autobiographical works. He served as a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery in the 1960s and 1970s, and was also a vice-president of the Society of Genealogists. In 1956 he was awarded a CBE, and, in 1988, was made a Companion of Honour. But, in 1973, he declined a knighthood. He died in 2000. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Anthony Powell Society or The Guardian.

In the early 1980s, when already in his 70s, Powell decided to begin keeping a daily journal, and, in time, these were published by William Heinemann in three volumes, each one spanning 3-5 years. The first to appear in 1995 was Journals 1982-1986, then came Journals 1987-1989 (in 1996), and finally Journals 1990-1992 (in 1997). According to his wife, Violet, who provided an introduction to the first volume: ‘The idea of keeping a journal appealed to Anthony Powell as bridging the gap when a novel was not in immediate production.’ She adds, the five years covered by the volume ‘make an effective sequel to the author’s memoirs, the last volume of which was published in 1982.

Further information about Powell’s diaries is available online in Chapter Six of Understanding Anthony Powell by Nicholas Birns (University of South Carolina Press, 2004) at Googlebooks; or in an article by Christopher Hitchens for The New York Review of Books. Two volumes of the diaries themselves can be previewed freely at Googlebooks (Journals 1982-1986, Journals 1990-1992). Here, though, are several extracts.

28 March 1985
‘To London, mainly for another Prime Minister’s dinner party [. . .] At dinner, to my great surprise, I was put on Mrs Thatcher’s right, with Vidia Naipaul on her left; on my other side was John Vincent. At one time or another I had read a lot of reviews by Vincent, some of them no great shakes, so far as I remembered, others pretty good. He has a notably prognathous jaw, perfectly civil manner. We did not have much talk, as I was fully occupied keeping my end up with the Prime Minister, while Vincent probably thought he had to make some sort of showing with his fellow don, Tony Quentin, on his other side.

I continue to find Mrs Thatcher very attractive physically. Her overhanging eyelids, hooded eyes, are the only suggestion of mystery (a characteristic I like in women, while totally accepting Wilde’s view of them as Sphinxes without a secret). Her general appearance seems to justify Mitterrand’s alleged comment that she has the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe; the latter a film star I never, in fact, though particularly attractive. Mrs Thatcher has a fair skin, hair-do of incredible perfection, rather dumpy figure, the last seeming to add a sense of down-to-earthiness that is appropriate and not unattractive in its way. She was wearing a black dress, the collar rolled up behind her neck, some sort of gold pattern on it. On her right hand was a large Victorian ring, dark red, in an elaborate gold setting. She only likes talking of public affairs, which I never find easy to discuss in a serious manner. In fact I felt myself taken back to age of nineteen, sitting next to a beautiful girl, myself quite unable to think of anything to say. Mrs T. is reputed to have no humour. I suspect she recognizes a joke more than she is credited with, if probably jokes of a limited kind, and confined to those who know her well. [. . .]

The talk at this Downing Street dinner, as before, was introduced at a certain stage by Hugh Thomas. It ranged over East Germany, to the condition of Young People in this country, topics on which I am not outstandingly hot. Mrs T. did, however, please me by saying that everything from which we are now suffering is all discussed in the plainest terms in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (as I prefer, The Devils); a fact I have been preaching for decades. I wonder when, how, she got round to this. Did she read the novel, see its contemporary relevance herself, or was that pointed out to her by someone? I fear probably the latter.’

4 April 1986
‘My agent John Rush rang in the afternoon to say the BBC (i.e. Jonathan Powell) have decided not to do Dance [to the Music of Time] on TV. Rush says he is going to try Granada with the Ken Taylor/Innes Lloyd script as a package. After the last eight or nine years of BBC ineptitudes about Dance nothing surprises me, I feel one of the commercial companies certainly would be no worse to deal with, probably better. Why Dance should now appear unsuitable after ‘passing’ three scripted episodes is beyond comprehension. For that matter, after reading the sequence itself, a quiet beginning leading up to deeper matters is an essential aspect of the construction. Rush rather distraught. He has taken a lot of trouble about Dance over the years, and is understandably disappointed at this.’

7 April 1986
‘Main reviews of The Fisher King are now in; a generally satisfactory press, important thing is to let people know book is out, what it is about. Reviewers mostly approving, tho’ one is always struck by the ingrained philistinism, illiteracy, humourlessness, their fear and hatred of literary references. [. . .]

British reviewers tend to hate writing as such. This also applies to most interviewers. I always say the same thing to interviewers, because they always ask the same banal questions. They subsequently write facetiously, desperately anxious to show they are not in the least impressed by anyone or anything.’

25 November 1990
‘I wrote to Mrs Thatcher expressing regret at her resignation, saying that at one of her dinner parties where I met her she had spoken of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (in Russian The Devils), i.e. those that entered into the swine, which then rushed over the cliff. This seemed a perfect example of what had happened to her, the swine being her betrayers in the Tory Party.’

Monday, December 14, 2015

Modesty, prudence, piety

’I never knew a man of a more universal and generous spirit, with so much modesty, prudence, and piety.’ This is the diarist John Evelyn writing about his friend, Thomas Tenison, who died 300 years ago today. Indeed, Tenison was an industrious cleric, rising rapidly through the church’s hierarchy, bringing order and renewal to his successive parishes. He was particularly active as rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields (now in Trafalgar Square) developing charity schools, a library, and the building of chapels. He won the favour of King William III with his firm stance against the Church of Rome, and served as Archbishop of Canterbury for the last 20 years of his life.

Tenison was born in 1636 into a clerical family in Cottenham, Cambridgeshire. He attended Norwich School, going on to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, as a so-called Parker scholar (Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to 1579 who instituted financial reforms at Corpus Christi and endowed various scholarships). Tenison graduated in 1657, but his prospect in the church looked uncertain so he turned, briefly, to medicine. He was ordained privately (Anglican ordinations being still forbidden) in 1659; and was briefly rector at Bracon Ash. In 1662, he was made fellow of Corpus Christi, while Francis Wilford, the college master and new dean of Ely, presented him to the prestigious parish of St Andrew the Great, Cambridge. There he became highly regarded during the plague for being the only college fellow to remain in residence.

In 1667, Tenison married Anne, daughter of a former dean of Ely, and he was presented to the living of Holywell-cum-Needingworth, Huntingdonshire. Three years later he added the living of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich. By this time, Tenison was starting to make a name for himself as a writer with The Creed of Mr Hobbes examin’d, A Discourse on Idolatry and Baconia. Also, he became chaplain to the king. Further advancement followed when he was recommended for the living at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1680 (the same year, in fact, that he was made Doctorate of Divinity). He became well known as a staunch opponent of the Church of Rome, but also a man of liberal religious views - he preached at the actress Nell Gwyn’s sermon representing her as truly penitent.

While at St Martin-in-the-Fields, during a time of rapid population expansion, Tenison oversaw many parish changes, and the building of new chapels; he pioneered the development of charity schools; and he built the first public library in London. He was recommended to King William III for early preferment, and was appointed archdeacon of London, then to the large see of Lincoln. However, in 1695, having been in constant attendance at the bedside of Queen Mary prior to her death in December 1694, and preaching at her funeral, he was elected archbishop of Canterbury. Subsequently, he attended the King on his deathbed, and crowned William’s successor, Queen Anne. But his influence declined as he fell out of favour with the new queen, who preferred John Sharp, Archbishop of York.

Tenison is considered to have been the first archbishop to take sustained personal interest in the church’s mission overseas, 
especially in the American colonies, encouraging, in 1701, Thomas Bray to found the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Much afflicted by gout in his later years, Tenison was still able to perform the coronation service for George I. He died, not long after, on 14 December 1715. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (requires log-in) quotes James II as calling Tenison ‘that dull man’ with ‘languid oration’, and Jonathan Swift as describing him as ‘the dullest good for nothing man I ever knew.’ Further information is also available at Wikipedia.

There is no evidence that Tenison left behind diaries, but he is mentioned frequently in the diary of his friend, John Evelyn, who had an altogether better opinion of the man. There have been various editions of Evelyn’s diaries, many of which can be found online at Internet Archive. The following entries about Tenison all come from the second volume of a 1901 printing of The Diary of John Evelyn, as edited by William Bray. (See more on Evelyn’s diaries in an earlier Diary Review article - Virtues and imperfections - about the death of Charles II.)

21 March 1683
‘Dr. Tenison preached at Whitehall on 1 Cor., vi. 12; I esteem him to be one of the most profitable preachers in the Church of England, being also of a most holy conversation, very learned and ingenious. The pains he takes and care of his parish will, I fear, wear him out, which would be an inexpressible loss.’

15 February 1684
‘Dr. Tenison communicated to me his intention of erecting a library in St. Martin’s parish, for the public use, and desired my assistance, with Sir Christopher Wren, about the placing and structure thereof, a worthy and laudable design. He told me there were thirty or forty young men in Orders in his parish, either governors to young gentlemen or chaplains to noblemen, who being reproved by him on occasion for frequenting taverns or coffee-houses, told him they would study or employ their time better, if they had books. This put the pious Doctor on this design; and indeed a great reproach it is that so great a City as London should not have a public library becoming it. There ought to be one at St. Paul’s: the west end of that church (if ever finished) would be a convenient place.’

23 February 1684
‘I went to Sir John Chardin [. . .] Afterwards, I went with Sir Christopher Wren to Dr. Tenison, where we made the drawing and estimate of the expense of the library, to be begun this next spring near the Mews.’

7 March 1684
‘Dr. Meggot, Dean of Winchester, preached an incomparable sermon [. . .] Afterwards, I went to visit Dr. Tenison at Kensington, whither he was retired to refresh, after he had been sick of the small-pox.’

30 March 1684
‘Easter day. The Bishop of Rochester preached before the King; [. . .] I had received the sacrament at Whitehall early with the Lords and Household, the Bishop of London officiating. Then went to St. Martin’s, where Dr. Tenison preached (recovered from the small-pox); then went again to Whitehall as above. In the afternoon, went to St. Martin’s again.’

15 February 1685
‘Dr. Tenison preached to the Household. The second sermon should have been before the King; but he, to the great grief of his subjects, did now, for the first time, go to mass publicly in the little Oratory at the Duke’s lodgings, the doors being set wide open.’

17 March 1686
‘In the morning, Dr. Tenison preached an incomparable discourse at Whitehall, on Timothy ii. 3, 4.’

25 March 1687
‘Good Friday. Dr. Tenison preached at St. Martin’s, on 1 Peter ii. 24. During the service, a man came into near the middle of the church, with his sword drawn, with several others in that posture; in this jealous time it put the congregation into great confusion; but it appeared to be one who fled for sanctuary being pursued by bailiffs.’

10 August 1688
‘Dr. Tenison now told me there would suddenly be some great thing discovered. This was the Prince of Orange intending to come over.’

7 October 1688
‘Dr. Tenison preached at St. Martin’s, on 2 Tim. iii. 16, showing the Scriptures to be our only rule of faith, and its perfection above all traditions. After which, near 1,000 devout persons partook of the Communion. This sermon was chiefly occasioned by a Jesuit, who in the Masshouse on the Sunday before had disparaged the Scripture and railed at our translation, which some present contradicting, they pulled him out of the pulpit, and treated him very coarsely, insomuch that it was like to create a great disturbance in the City.’

18 July 1691
‘To London to hear Mr. Stringfellow preach his first sermon in the new-erected church of Trinity, in Conduit Street; to which I did recommend him to Dr. Tenison for the constant preacher and lecturer. This church, formerly built of timber on Hounslow-Heath by King James for the mass-priests, being begged by Dr. Tenison, rector of St. Martin’s, was set up by that public-minded, charitable and pious man near my son’s dwelling in Dover Street, chiefly at the charge of the Doctor. I know him to be an excellent preacher and a fit person. This church, though erected in St. Martin’s, which is the Doctor’s parish, he was not only content, but was the sole industrious mover, that it should be made a separate parish, in regard of the neighbourhood having become so populous. Wherefore to countenance and introduce the new minister, and take possession of a gallery designed for my son’s family, I went to London, where . . .’

19 July 1691
‘. . . in the morning Dr. Tenison preached the first sermon, taking his text from Psalm xxvi. 8. “Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.” In concluding, he gave that this should be made a parish-church so soon as the Parliament sat, and was to be dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in honour of the three undivided Persons in the Deity; and he minded them to attend to that faith of the Church, now especially that Arianism, Socinianism, and Atheism began to spread amongst us.  In the afternoon, Mr. Stringfellow preached on Luke vii. 5, “The centurion who had built a synagogue.” He proceeded to the due praise of persons of such public spirit, and thence to such a character of pious benefactors in the person of the generous centurion, as was comprehensive of all the virtues of an accomplished Christian, in a style so full, eloquent and moving, that I never heard a sermon more apposite to the occasion. He modestly insinuated the obligation they had to that person who should be the author and promoter of such public works for the benefit of mankind, especially to the advantage of religion, such as building and endowing churches, hospitals, libraries, schools, procuring the best editions of useful books, by which he handsomely intimated who it was that had been so exemplary for his benefaction to that place. Indeed, that excellent person. Dr. Tenison, had also erected and furnished a public library [in St. Martin’s]; and set up two or three free-schools at his own charges. Besides this, he was of an exemplary holy life, took great pains in constantly preaching, and incessantly employing himself to promote the service of God both in public and private. I never knew a man of a more universal and generous spirit, with so much modesty, prudence, and piety.’

12 January 1691
‘My grand-daughter was christened by Dr. Tenison, now Bishop of Lincoln, in Trinity Church, being the first that was christened there. She was named Jane.’

27 April 1693
‘My daughter Susanna was married to William Draper, Esq., in the chapel of Ely House, by Dr. Tenison, Bishop of Lincoln.’

9 December 1695
‘I had news that my dear and worthy friend. Dr. Tenison, Bishop of Lincoln, was made Archbishop of Canterbury, for which I thank God and rejoice, he being most worthy of it, for his learning, piety, and prudence.’

The Diary Junction



Saturday, December 12, 2015

Life and fate

‘Stalingrad is burned down. I would have to write too much if I wanted to describe it. Stalingrad is burned down. Stalingrad is in ashes. It is dead.’ This is from the diary notebooks kept by Vasily Grossman, born 110 years ago today, during his 1,000 days with the Red Army during the Second World War. After the war, he fell foul of the Stalinest regime which prohibited publication of his novels, and he died without knowing how famous one of them would become.

Iosif Solomonovich Grossman was born on 12 December 1905 in Berdychiv, Ukraine (then in the Russian Empire) into a Jewish family. A Russian nanny is said to have been responsible for first calling him Vasya (a diminutive of Vasily). His parents separated, and for several years he lived in Switzerland with his mother, before returning to Kiev to stay with his father. He studied physics and mathematics at Moscow State University, and married Anna (Galia) Petrovna Matsuk from a Cossack family in 1929. They had one child, born in 1930, but divorced two years later.

Grossman went to work in Donbass as an engineer-chemist, writing occasional articles for the Literary Donbass. After recuperating from tuberculosis, he returned to Moscow and worked in a pencil factory. However, he was determined to pursue a literary career and, in 1934, published a much-admired short story, In the Town of Berdichev, and a novella, Glyukauf, about the Donbass miners. In 1936, he married Olga Mikhailovna, days after her divorce from a friend of his. During 1937, Grossman was admitted to the Union of Soviet Writers, but also Olga was arrested for not having denounced her former husband, considered an enemy of the state. Grossman first registered himself as guardian of Olga’s two children, and then bravely wrote to the state authorities arguing for, and winning, Olga’s release. Grossman’s first full novel Stepan Kolchugin was published in instalments between 1937 and 1940.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Grossman’s mother was murdered in Berdychiv along with thousands of other Jews, and although exempt from military service he volunteered for the front, becoming a war correspondent for the Red Army newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star). He used his experience - covering many of battles of the war years, not least Stalingrad - for novels such as The People are Immortal and For a Just Cause (not fully published until after Stalin’s death). Also, he is credited with reporting some of the first eyewitness accounts - as early as 1943 - at Treblinka of what later became known as the Holocaust. He worked with other writers on a project known as The Black Book to document the horrors suffered by Soviet Jews at the hands of the Nazis, but became disillusioned with Stalin’s regime when it suppressed the work.

Grossman became critical of other Soviet policies, a dissident, and few of his works, thereafter were published. After submitting, what is now considered his magnum opus, the novel Life and Fate (a semi-autobiographical sequel to For a Just Cause), the KGB raided his flat and confiscated all related manuscripts. He appealed to Nikita Khrushchev, but to no avail; and he died in 1964, not knowing whether Life and Fate would ever see the light of day. In fact, it was finally published in 1980 in Switzerland thanks to dissidents smuggling out photographs of the text, and then in the Soviet Union in 1988. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, New World Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Soviet Writers, and Encyclopedia of Holocaust Literature (page 64, viewable at Googlebooks).

During the war, while embedded with the Red Army, Grossman kept detailed diaries or notebooks. These were edited, translated and weaved into a narrative by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova for
 publication by The Harvill Press in 2005 as A Writer at War - Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945. The authors say: ‘The notebooks reveal a good deal of the raw material which he accumulated for his novels as well as his articles. Grossman, a special correspondent for the Red Army newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, or Red Star, proved to be the most perceptive and honest eyewitness of the Soviet frontlines between 1941 and 1945. He spent more than a thousand days at the front - nearly three out of the four years of war. The sharpness of his observation and the humanity of his understanding offer and invaluable lesson for any writer and historian.’ The book (now in paperback under the Pimlico imprint) can be previewed at Random House or Googlebooks. And a review by Andrey Kurkov can be read in The Guardian.

Much of Grossman’s writing, as translated, in the book does read like a diary. However, as all of his words are woven into the authors’ text, particular entries are rarely given a specific date (whether or not there was one in the originals) - thus all the extracts below are undated.

1941
‘The headquarters has been set up in the Paskevich Palace. There is a wonderful park, and a lake with swans. Lots of slit trenches have been dug everywhere. Chief of the political department of the front, Brigade Commander Kozlov, receives us. He tells us that the Military Council is very alarmed by the news that arrived yesterday. The Germans have taken Roslavl and assembled a great tank force there. Their commander is Guderian, author of the book Achtung-Panzer!.

We leafed through a series of the Front newspaper. I came across the following phrase in a leading article: ‘The much-battered enemy continued his cowardly advance.’

We sleep on the floor in the library of the ‘Komintern’ club, keeping our boots on, and using gas masks and field pouches as pillows. We have dinner at the canteen of the headquarters. It is situated in the park, in an amusing multicolored pavilion. They feed us well, as if we were in a dom otdykha [Soviet house of rest] before the war. There’s sour cream, curds, and even ice-cream as a dessert.’

***

‘We came under fire near a cemetery. We hid beneath a tree. A truck was standing there, and in it was a dead rifleman-signaller, covered with a tarpaulin. Red Army soldiers were digging a grave for him nearby. When there’s a raid of Mssers, the soldiers try to hide in ditches. The lieutenant shouts: ‘Carry on digging, otherwise we won’t finish until the evening.’ Korol hides in the new grave, while everyone runs in different directions. Only the dead signaller is lying full length, and machine guns are chattering above him.’

***

‘Cucumbers. Four men from the fruit and vegetable store load cucumbers at the station, during a bombing raid. They are crying with fear, get drunk, and in the evenings they recount, with Ukrainian humour, how scared they were and laugh at one another, eating honey, salo [pork lard], garlic and tomatoes. One of them imitates wonderfully the howling and explosion of a bomb.

B. Korol is teaching them how to use a hand grenade. He thinks they’ll become partisans under German occupation, while I sense from their conversation that they are ready to work for the Germans. One of them, who wants to be an agronomist for this area, looks at Korol as if he were an imbecile.’

1942

‘Spent the night  in the house of the RAIKOM chairman. He talks about collective farms, and about chairmen of collective farms who take their livestock far into the steppe and live like kings there, slaughtering heifers, drinking milk, buying and selling. (And a cow now costs 40,000 roubles).

Women talking in the kitchen of the RAIKOM canteen: ‘Oh this Hitler, he’s a real Satan! And we used to say that communists were Satans.’

***

‘Stalingrad is burned down. I would have to write too much if I wanted to describe it. Stalingrad is burned down. Stalingrad is in ashes. It is dead. People are in basements. Everything is burned out. The hot walls of the buildings are like the bodies of people who have died in the terrible heat and haven’t gone cold yet.

Huge buildings, memorials, public gardens. Signs: ‘Cross here.’ Heaps of wires, a cat sleeping on a window sill, flowers and grass in flowerpots. A wooden pavilion where they sold fizzy water is standing, miraculously intact among thousands of huge stone buildings burned and half destroyed. It is like Pompeii, seized by disaster on a day when everything was flourishing. Trams and cars with no glass in their windows. Burned-out houses with memorial plaques: ‘I. V Stalin spoke here in 1919’.

Building of a children’s hospital with a gypsum bird on the roof. One wing is broken off, the other stretched out to fly. The Palace of Culture: the building is black, velvety from fire, and two snow-white nude statues stand out against this background.

There are children wandering about, there are many laughing faces. Many people are half insane.

Sunset over a square. A terrifying and strange beauty: the light pink sky is looking through thousands and thousands of empty windows and roofs. A huge poster painted in vulgar colours: ‘The radiant way’.

A feeling of calm. The city has died after much suffering and looks like the face of a dead man who was suffering from a lethal disease and finally has found eternal peace. Bombing again, bombing of the dead city.’


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Carry on carping

The British Library has just bought, for over £200,000, the personal archive of Kenneth Williams, including all his diaries and many letters. Williams was one of Britain’s great 20th century comic personalities - a star of 26 Carry On films and several long-running and very popular radio programmes - his camp character seemingly becoming more and more exaggerated with age. Although a selection of his diaries was first published in the 1990s, and was acclaimed for revealing him as an intimate, gossipy (and often bitchy) diarist,  the British Library says that more than four-fifths of Williams’s diary material, never before seen by researchers, will - from next year - be publicly available for the first time.

Williams was born in 1926 in London, the son of a hairdresser, and educated at Lyulph Stanley School. At 18 he joined the army, and went with the Royal Engineers survey section to Bombay, and then to Sri Lanka, but managed to transfer to Combined Services Entertainment. After the war, he tried to establish himself as a serious actor in the theatre, but gravitated to radio where his voice and style suited programmes such as Hancock’s Half Hour and the Kenneth Horne shows. Indeed, he remained a radio star for the rest of his life, appearing, for example, in Just a Minute for over 20 years.

Having established a comic persona with radio, Williams did win roles in television and films, most notably in the Carry On series of films. Despite all the bawdiness of his comedy, he publicly insisted that he was celibate, and his diaries later revealed unconsummated passions towards various men. Stanley Baxter was a lifelong friend; and Williams was known to take holidays with Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. He died, in 1988, from an overdose of barbiturates. It was never established whether his death was accidental or suicide, but some have argued that he would not have committed suicide without leaving a note for his dearly loved mother. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, from a selection of obituaries at the Kenneth Williams Appreciation Society website, or at Dangerous Minds.

Williams kept diaries all his life, from as young as 14 until his death. The earliest surviving diary is from 1942, but there are no diaries for 1943-1946 when he was touring with the army. His last diary entry was written on 14 April 1988, the day before his death: ’By 6.30 pain in the back was pulsating as it’s never done before . . . so this, plus the stomach trouble combines to torture me - oh - what's the bloody point?’

In 1993, HarperCollins published The Kenneth Williams Diaries as edited by Russell Davies - nowadays it’s called an ‘outrageous bestseller’. Substantial parts of the book can be freely read online at Googlebooks and Amazon. At the time of publication, the book was reviewed with frenzied adjectives, recently echoed by the Daily Mail in describing the diaries as ‘excoriating, furious, bitter, resentful, occasionally self-hating and almost always bitchy on an epic scale’. See also a review in The Independent - Carry on carping with Ken.

Having been kept locked away, Williams’s 43 diaries (along with 2,000 letters) have now been bought by the British Library for £220,000, although copyright remains with the Williams estate, owned by Paul Richardson, his friend and neighbour. According to the British Library press release: ‘It is estimated that 85% of the newly-acquired archive is unpublished material never before seen by researchers, and the archive will be of huge interest to social historians of post war Britain, detailing the experience of a gay man both before and after the Wolfenden Report and the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1968, alongside the mundane details of everyday life in London. The diaries and letters also record the actor’s experience of the dying days of the repertory theatre system and the growth of modern celebrity culture, something he seemed both to love and loathe.’

In announcing the purchase, the British Library has committed itself to making the diaries available in its Reading Rooms from March next year. It has also made available - courtesy of the Kenneth Williams estate - a number of extracts, from the diaries, not published before.

21 August 1950
‘Dreary day spent watching the lousiest production of ‘Seagull’ in rehearsal. It was monumentally boring. Can’t see it EVER being a success. CE [Clifford Evans] in London, R [Richard West, assistant director] rehearsing company. Very dreary for him. Performance in evening bad. Lousy house.’

12 June 1954
‘It seems almost incredible to me now, that I have come through 6 weeks of this kind of purgatory. I am genuinely perplexed as to how I have come through it. A team of people for whom I have practically no affection whatsoever. Plays so wretched that I blush to think I’ve helped to propagate them: and a kind of acting which is so dirty that I mentally vomit. This lesson has been learned. Proximity with such muck is dangerous. It is also futile artistically. One achieves nothing. One is in danger of losing everything. How right everyone was in London! What a fool I was to venture near such crap!’

10 January 1957
‘I’ve had my hair cut short again so it doesn’t blow about in the wind. Eden has resigned. That equally mediocre fossil-Macmillan has taken over! The Tory situation is quite pathetic since that old hypocritical ratbag Churchill left. He excelled so greatly in the oratorical sense - in the corruption of the poetic consciousness.’

4 May 1966
‘We went to see DR ZHIVAGO - the Robert Bolt screenplay - directed by David (dreary) Lean. Starring Omar Sharif. This may be the Great Russian Novel, but it’s a pain in the arse as a film. Then same old faults with Lean:m- pretentious shots that mean NOTHING, and a story that is almost without any really interesting & dramatic momnets. Everyone has LONG PROFOUND looks at each other - they frequently cry on meetings, or seeing people shot or something. But the fact is that no film should be boring, and this one is.

With the exception of ROD STEIGER’s performance. When he was on, it really came to life. I’m astonished on reflection, to find that his scenes are still clear in my mind, tho’ most of the others have vanished entirely. Him pacing up and down in the house during the attempted suicide - him in the restaurant when the workers go by singing - him being shot, and his stoical reaction at the Ball - his asking the girl to leave and falling down the stairs - all the sugar etc. It all stays clearly in the mind. Vivid. V. good actor.’

19 July 1967
‘Sitting in their lounge, in the quiet of the evening. I felt I would love to have a place of my own where there was such peace. I suppose one never really does get it in London. I should think I’ve heard more noise and drilling these last few years than ever before in my life. O! for those old days of quiet when new building was rare, and road mending was once in a blue moon!’

17 February 1969
‘Home by 4.30. Purchased black leather address book & blotting paper on the way. 4.45 JOHN SIMMONDS rang. He talked in v. hushed & mournful tones about KH and said Barry Took said this and that and I said ‘Its Barry Took who should go’ and he said he rather agreed. I said we should bring back the team & re-vamp the show and carry on. Phoned Hugh P. after and he agreed with me. (Rang Gordon [Jackson] and the boys told me he was opening tonight in HAMLET at the Roundhouse! I’d forgotten (if I ever knew) and didn’t send him a wire. This study is so cold - I’ve had to put my jacket on! ) I feel particularly annoyed about the radio series being cancelled, because its another source of revenue gone bust. Thank goodness I started the ‘Just A Minute’ series because that’s a source of income. Peter Eade telephoned to say that Bill Cotton had been on the phone saying that they’d take 6 of the Kenneth Williams (Pilot) series but they couldn’t afford more than £400 each, including the writer’s fee!! (We’re asking 500 an episode and 150 for the writing) so Peter said he’d have to discuss it with me. Then Cotton said they were going to repeat the Int. Cabaret series on BBC2 at the same TIME! This sounds like LUNACY to me.’

15 April 1969
‘At lunch I had the great shouting match with Joan Sims. Her patronage & assumption at times that she should tell me what to do, is intolerable. I shouted ‘You cow cunted mare’ and Hattie intervened and told me to stop it. Afterwards, Joan apologised and then of course, I apologised as well & suddenly I remembered that it has all happened before! The same sequence in ‘Camping’ – ugh! I loathe her standards & her mouldy respectability but not her personally. Oh! I don't know tho. I don’t like her either. Not anything about her really.’

21 April 1969
‘Did SMA at the Paris. Peter B drove me there. Joan S was v buoyant and performed quite brilliantly in the show - her characterizations and singing are quite superb. There’s no doubt, she’s an asset all right.’

22 June 1979
‘On the news they announced that JEREMY THORPE had been acquitted!! So that lying crook Scott has not succeeded in his vindictive quest!! They were cheering Jeremy outside the Old Bailey, and he rather spoiled it by making a sanctimonious speech about JUSTICE etc. Whereas he should have just expressed satisfaction and breezed away!’

29 June 1984
‘Up at 6.40. Got papers round corner at 6.45. Went out at 9.20 to get fags. Returned at 9.50 and Almanac asked where Louie was… Nosey nit… He’s left telephone directories lying in foyer for DAYS. HE pointed to them and told me ‘that’s what they waste your money on!’ and railed against wastage. Never heard such humbug.

Did the accounts for the month and walked with them to Smee handing the stuff over to Lynn. Walked home via Aldwych. Reflected that nothing really changes. I’m still walking about this city dragging my loneliness with me, putting on a front, whistling in the dark. It is getting darker all the time.

Went to Tesco’s and got fish and ham and tomatoes and had that at 5.30. Tried doing a bit more writing but my heart, it isn’t in it. Think I’ll have to leave it for a bit. Feel more like weeping.’

12 October 1985
‘TURNED OFF HEATING ‘cos the weather is so WARM.

Up at 7.15 and got papers on Warren Street. Quite a lot of letters to answer AND the endless invitations to speak at functions… I sent the usual printed refusal. … Now PAUL came at 11.45 and we walked with Louisa to VECCHIA where he gave us lunch. It was very good. PAUL said he was v busy with ‘Merry Widow’ production at the Wells. We got a cab back and I felt very tired so went to lie down, but the rest was all intermittent and uneasy.

M came at 7.30 and we went to ROYS where he gave me dinner. It was fine til the table next to us filled with dreadful people: one sneezing and spraying germs everywhere. Thankfully we’d finished the meal and M readily agreed to leave these loathsome neighbours. That DAVID (John Maynard’s friend) was very kind to us. M said of the clientele ‘bit off-putting seeing such a gathering of clones’ and I agreed. Society NEEDS women because it wants the leavening only THEY can provide. There is something very unhealthy about the homosexual world: no wonder they arouse such antagonism.’

And here are a few further extracts, from The Kenneth Williams Diaries as edited by Russell Davies.

2 June 1948
‘Feeling awful. Will probably die tonight at about eleven.’

11 June 1949
‘Went to the Bank and arranged to have my account transferred to Newquay. Deposited £7 - which means that £3.10.0 a week saved, since I started on full salary, which is not so good. Must do better than this.

Richard came to my room and read this! - funny he’s the only one I’ve ever allowed to read my private and so personal! diary. But s’pose that apart from S., he’s the only one I can really trust, who will never abuse my confidence.

Met some queers in the New, and got sent up by two young matelots - rotten! awful!’

22 May 1951
‘Letter from Robert Sheaf, asking me to take part in a Shakespearean tour of villages. Sounds delightful. He saw me in Bordeaux, obviously thinks I’m young and inexperienced and would be delighted to join him and a few intense young men, doing Romeo all over Oxfordshire. Very funny reely. This little chic stays single. Read ‘The City and the Pillar’ by [Gore] Vidal. Wonderful book. Commended by Stanley in his last letter.’

28 November 1952
‘Fred Treves came to tea and there was a furious argument - spiritual versus rational. Hell! Roman Catholicism from the foundation by Peter, Christ’s meeting with John the Baptist, Individual Revelations - Church Antipathy to, etc. etc., the end. I was angry about getting worked up as I always do when discussing organised religion. I hate the aggressiveness which automatically follows its assumption of power.’

5 January 1953
‘It is always so easy for me to read what I have just written and find it vastly entertaining and well done. It seems that everything I accomplish is of enormous interest to me and I am full of admiration for myself. Is this a good thing? Or does it much matter whether it is or not? Enough of this self-analysis. Too fashionable by half in this day and age.’

17 March 1955
‘The business of actually sustaining a performance night after night is peculiarly difficult for me: my temperament seems so against it. I am by nature erratic - given to enthusiasm which wane after a time; quick to grasp the bones of a subject, slow to develop them.’

15 March 1963
‘Stanley B. [Baxter] rang me. I was delighted & I shot up there to see him on the 30 bus. He drove out to Bucks. & we talked & talked. There are times (when he is prepared to be vulnerable)) when he is just superb. Disarming, honest, charming, and hilariously funny all at once. When he’s like this one could die for him. It was so good for me to see him.’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An inner confession

‘A symphony is not just a composition in the ordinary sense of the word; it is more of an inner confession at a given stage of one’s life.’ This is Jean Sibelius, Finland’s greatest composer and a national hero born 150 years ago today, writing in his diary. While sometimes demonstrating such considered wisdom, though, his diary often descends into existential angst as well, like in this entry written a few months later: ‘Don’t give in to tobacco or alcohol. Better to write rubbish in your “diary”. Confide your miseries to paper. In the long run it’s better so! Yes - in the long run.’

Johan (colloquially Janne, and later Jean) Christian Julius Sibelius was born on 8 December 1865 in Hämeenlinna, a small garrison town in the Grand Duchy of Finland, part of the Russian Empire. His father was the city medical officer, but he died young leaving his estate bankrupt. Sibelius was brought up in the household of his maternal grandmother, with summer holidays at his paternal grandmother’s in Loviisa. In 1872, Sibelius started at the Swedish preparatory school of Eva Savonius, but soon moved to Lucina Hagman’s Finnish-language preparatory school.

Early music instruction came from relatives; and, as Sibelius and his two siblings grew up, so they would play in a trio, he preferring the violin. On graduating from high school, he began to study law at the Imperial Alexander University in Finland but quickly switched to the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy) from 1885, remaining until 1889. For the next two or three years, Sibelius travelled in Europe, studying in Berlin and Vienna, starting to compose in earnest, and absorbing many different musical experiences. In late 1891, he appeared for the first time in public as a conductor at a concert in Helsinki. And, in 1892, he completed Kullervo, a suite of symphonic movements.

Sibelius, having wooed Aino, the daughter of a Baltic aristocrat for several years, married her in mid-1892, her parents, apparently, having warmed to the penniless Sibelius thanks to the success of Kullervo. They would have six children, and live, from 1904, in a newly-built family home, Ainola, on Lake Tuusula, Järvenpää. For several years, Sibelius supplemented his income with teaching work, which left him insufficient time for composing. Biographers note that the influence of Wagner which could be heard in some of his compositions faded eventually; and, as the century neared its end, the Finnish senate awarded him a significant annual grant, allowing him more freedom to compose.

In 1899, at a time when the Russian emperor Nicholas II was restricting the Grand Duchy’s powers, Sibelius premiered his First Symphony, as well as patriotic compositions, Song of the Athenian Boys and Press Celebration Music (including, what become known as, Finlandia). These brought him much wider attention, and fame as a national figure. And soon he was making a name for himself abroad, as he accompanied, in 1900, his friend Robert Kajanus and orchestra on a tour of European cities - playing Sibelius’s new works. The following year, Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major was conducted by Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin, and the British composer Granville Bantock commissioned his Symphony No. 3 in C Major in 1907.

After an operation to remove a throat tumour in 1908, Sibelius abstained from alcohol and tobacco; some see a link between this and the darker, more uncompromising music that followed, En Saga, for example, and Symphony No. 4 in A Minor. During the war years, he continued to compose smaller works, and made progress on his Fifth Symphony, but he also started drinking again. In 1918, he conducted a march in Helsinki at the conclusion of the Finnish Civil War, reinforcing his position as a national hero.

After the war, Sibelius travelled to Denmark, and also to England, giving successful concerts. Two further symphonies followed, but, from 1926 onwards he barely produced any new compositions. Biographers believe he was working on an eighth symphony, perhaps through to the early 1930s, but, in the mid-1940s, he burned a large number of papers, and left behind no trace of any such new symphony. His 90th birthday, in 1955, was widely celebrated in Finland, but two years later, in 1957, he died in Ainola. For more biographical information see The Finnish Club of Helsinki’s Sibelius website, Wikipedia, Sonos, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Sibelius began to keep a diary while in London in February 1909, jotting down his travel finances, but also confiding, as if to a friend about his life and thoughts. He continued writing in this journal until the end of 1913; and in mid-1914 he began a new journal, which he wrote in regularly until the 1920s. The two diaries contain around 90,000 words (in Swedish, Sibelius’s native language).

The Sibelius website gives this overview of the diary: ‘Sibelius writes down weather reports, finances, natural phenomena, the names of people he has met and discussions he has had. He reports everyday incidents, his journeys and family gatherings. The diaries also reveal the composer’s times of gloom. Negative criticism depressed him, as did the temporary - and often well-founded - periods when his wife would not speak to him. To his family he sometimes said that he would go and get rid of his bad moods in his diary, and once he called his diary his “spittoon”. In fact, the diary tends to portray Sibelius as a more melancholy person than he actually was.’

Although the diaries have not been published in their own right, they are available to researchers at the Finnish National Archive; and Erik Tawaststjerna used them extensively for his biography of Sibelius. In Finnish and Swedish this was published in five volumes. However, for the English market, they were condensed by Tawaststjerna, translated by Robert Layton, and published (between the 1976 and 1997) by Faber & Faber in three volumes. Each one can be previewed at Amazon (Vol. I - 1865-1905, Vol. II - 1904-1914, Vol. III - 1914-1957) or Googlebooks (Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III).

Indeed, Tawaststjerna opens his biography, in the first volume, with a Sibelius diary entry that, he says, ‘resembles in certain respects the Finland he himself knew as a child’: (12-13 April 1915) ‘When I shut my eyes I can picture in my mind a small town with one-storey barracks from the Swedish epoch. It is a late summer’s day between five and six in the afternoon some time during the 1820s. The sun is slowly sinking towards the horizon; an officer is visiting a family with two daughters, their mother and brother, and is obviously not his first visit. They have been enjoying themselves, reading novels, playing the piano; there are geraniums in the window and the house is an old-fashioned one of considerable style. Tea is served and afterwards the party breaks up; they are all fond of each other and there is an atmosphere of real friendship, perhaps love.’

Otherwise, however, it is not until the second volume that the chronology of Sibelius’s diary entries becomes useful for Tawaststjerna’s narrative. The translator, Layton, adds a note: ‘The style of the diaries is very difficult to convey. They make even fewer literary aspirations and convey the feeling of an information dialogue with an alter ego; they are cryptic jottings, highly idiosyncratic in their vocabulary and more often than not unsyntactical and badly punctuated. Indeed, at times they are difficult to make much of and in order to convey what Sibelius’s intentions are, I have found myself drawing on idioms that may not have enjoyed currency in English in the early part of the century. However, I hope that something of their flavour and also what he is trying to say to himself comes across.’

Here are several of Sibelius’s diary entries as found in Volume II of Tawaststjerna’s biography.

Undated in the biography
‘Don’t you understand now? By being so open, you have forefeited the respect that you feel to be your entitlement. Keep your thoughts to yourself and guard your tongue in talking to others. And then your pupils (!), stand fast by them. Otherwise the best and first will have every right to treat you in kind.’

Undated in the biography
‘Don’t worry about your being 44. There’s still time. All major composers found their way to the stars by discipline and self-study. Don’t be so overawed by youth that your creativity is stifled. They won’t be able to silence your art.’

Undated in the biography
‘Don’t change the colouring before it’s necessary. In scoring one should, as a rule, avoid leaving a paragraph without any strings. The sound can seem rough. Remember the differences in wind instruments in different countries, layout of strings and so on, keep a flexible balance that can be adjusted depending on circumstances. A satisfactory sonority still depends to a large extent on the purely musical substance, its polyphony and so on. In small orchestras the oboe, usually badly played, has to be treated with the same caution as the trumpet. In some orchestras the bassoon in its middle and high register cannot play piano. Only the bottom seems capable of that. In such orchestras the lower register of the flute is almost only usable in forte. Usually both in the wind and brass, the initial entry can be tentative and leave much to be desired in terms of intonation and ensemble. Beginning must be carefully marked. Also there is need for great care when the main burden of the melodic line moves from one instrument to another.’

21 April 1910
‘Again in the deepest depression. Working hard at the newcomer.’

27 April 1910
‘Light, expectant, hopeful thoughts. Worked in my own way. Try to concentrate. ‘A must.’ Now or never.’

7 May 1910
‘Took a ten-kilometre walk while composing, forged the musical metalwork and fashioned sonorities of silver.’

12 August 1910
‘This business of concerning yourself with practical affairs when you are a creative artist. Think of all the time and energy you waste on them every day. For you this is corrosive. But press on, in spite of all the derision and abuse. Worked well today on the development of the first movement. Don’t lose the sense of life’s pain and pathos!’

16 August 1910
‘When will I get this development finished? i.e. be able to concentrate my mind and have the stamina to carry it all through. I managed when I had cigars and wine, but now I have to find new ways. I must!’

17 August 1910
‘Crossed out the whole of the development. More beauty, and more real music. Not just scoring or crescendos but stereotyped writing. Now I have to speed up. Now or never!’

5 November 1910
‘Worked well. Forged onwards into the finale. Wonderful day with snow interlacing the trees and their branches - typically Finnish.

A symphony is not just a composition in the ordinary sense of the word; it is more of an inner confession at a given stage of one’s life.’

25 December 1910
‘Christmas - ! Aino sick . . . Continue to work. Money worries begin again! Of my State Prize only 400 remains. Eight doctors’ bills unpaid. Misery wherever one turns.’

31 August 1911
‘Don’t give in to tobacco or alcohol. Better to write rubbish in your “diary”. Confide your miseries to paper. In the long run it’s better so! Yes - in the long run.’

Friday, December 4, 2015

Art but no artists

Rainer Maria Rilke, one of most intense of German-language poets and considered by some to be a founder of modern literature, was born 140 years ago today. During a two year period - when he was in love with the married Russian-born Lou Andreas-Salomé and then meeting his future wife Clara Westhoff - he kept a series of diaries. The editors of the English edition of these diaries claim they span a crucial period in the artistic growth of the young poet.

René Maria Rilke was born in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, on 4 December 1875. His father worked as a railway official having retired from the military, and his mother was considered socially ambitious. René’s childhood was not especially happy, and he was sent to military academy for five years until 1891. He left on account of ill health, only to find his parents had separated. He was tutored for university entrance, and then began studying philosophy at Charles-Ferdinand University. But, by this time, he had already published a first volume of poetry, Leben und Lieder, and was intent on a literary career. Disenchanted with his academic studies, he left, travelling to Munich to study art. There he mixed with artistic types, managed to get some of his plays produced, and published more poetry.

In 1897, Rilke fell in love with the much-travelled Lou Andreas-Salomé, a married woman many years his senior. She appears to have had a major influence over the still-young Rilke, persuading him to change his first name to Rainer, and introducing him to the ideas of psychoanalysis (she had studied with Freud). He travelled to Florence for a few weeks, then twice with Salomé to Russia, meeting Leo Tolstoy in 1898, and Boris Pasternak and Spiridon Drozhzhin, a peasant poet, in 1899. The following year, Rilke stayed at the artists’ colony at Worpswede, where he met Clara Westhoff. They married early in 1900, and had one daughter, Ruth, in late 1901.

In 1902, Rilke travelled to Paris, where he would stay for much of the rest of the decade. Clara left Ruth with her parents and joined him there. He became fascinated by Rodin, writing and lecturing on the sculptor, and even acting as his secretary for a period, and later by Cezanne. Apart from two or three more collections of poetry, he also completed his only novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He began to visit Ronda in Spain, and also Trieste in Italy, but the outbreak of WWI found him in Germany and unable to return to Paris. He managed to avoid active service, with the help of influential friends, by being assigned to the War Records Office.

After the war, Rilke moved to Switzerland, where he wrote his last two works, Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus. He died of leukemia late in 1926, highly respected in literary and artistic spheres but barely known by the general public. The Poetry Foundation provides this modern assessment: ‘Widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets, Rainer Maria Rilke was unique in his efforts to expand the realm of poetry through new uses of syntax and imagery and in the philosophy that his poems explored.’ While Encyclopaedia Britannica (1979 edition) calls him ‘a major Austro-German poet regarded as one of the founders and giants of modern literature.’ Further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Academy of American Poets, The Atlantic, or Picture Poems. For samples of Rilke’s poems see All Poetry.

Between April 1898 and December 1900, Rilke kept three diaries. The first of these, while in Florence, was probably written for or inspired by Salomé, since it is known that her own mental regimen included keeping a diary, and she is said to have asked Rilke to bring her back a diary. Biographers suggest the second diary, kept after his return to Schmargendorf, might also have been written with her in mind. The third diary was written during his sojourn at Worpswede. (However, it is worth noting that despite the diary names, Rilke visited Worpswede during the time of the Schmargendorf diary, and stayed at Schmargendorf during the time of the Worpswede diary.) They were first edited and published in German in 1942 by Ruth and her husband Carl Sieber.

A first English edition, translated and annotated by Edward Snow and Michael Winkler, was published by W. W. Norton & Co in 1997 - Rainer Maria Rilke - Diaries of a Young Poet. In their introduction, Snow and Winkler explain: ‘Rilke’s diaries do maintain a certain chronological flow, albeit one with breaks and longer interruptions, but they are not directly the immediate account of a specific time; it is not their intent to record the minutiae of day-to-day life. For this reason they have not become identified by their chronology. Rather, they are usually titled after three places where Rilke lived and, at least for a time, felt at home: Florence (and the Tuscan countryside), the village of Schmargendorf just outside Berlin, and Worpswede, an artists’ colony in the moors near Bremen.’

The editors claim that the diary period spans a crucial period in Rilke’s artistic growth: ‘At the beginning of this phase the young poet had perfected, if not yet exhausted the rhetorical techniques and mannerisms of his early, impressionistic style. His verse was still prone to the gossamer and was given more to a flirtation than a sustained artistic engagement with the exquisite and the delicate. [. . . He] had come to realise only too well that he needed to constrain his busy games of make-believe and learn how to control his ingenious lyricism. This made it necessary, most of all, to free himself from the rapturous self-indulgence that could spin mellifluous lines and intricate rhymes with prolific ease. He had to submit himself to the kind of self-discipline that comes with the ascetic solitude of regular, arduous work. Rilke’s three early diaries reflect this search for a language that might capture the specificity of things natural and crafted and at the same time convey their intrinsic spirituality. They chronicle, in other words, the emergence of the “sachliche Sagen,” the objective and visually precise language that will come to characterise his “poetry of things.” ’

Although diary entries - many dated but not all - do predominate in Diaries of a Young Poet
, there is also a good deal of poetry as well as some letters. The book can be previewed online at Googlebooks. Here, though, is one extract from each diary.

17 May 1898 [Florence diary]
‘No human being can raise so much beauty out of himself that it will cover him over completely. A part of himself will always gaze out from behind it. But in the peak times of art a few have erected before themselves, in addition to their own beauty, so much noble heritage, that the work no longer needs them. The curiosity and custom of the public will seek and of course find their personality; but that misses the point. In such times there is an art, but there are no artists.

There is an ever-recurring cycle of three generations. One finds the god, the second arches the narrow temple over him and in doing so fetters him, while the third slides into poverty and takes stone after stone from the sanctuary in order to build meagre and makeshift huts. And then comes one which must seek god again; and to such a generation these belonged: Dante and Botticelli and Fra Bartolommeo.

The element of reconciliation and loveliness that one treasures in the works of Raphael is a triumph that only seldom occurs; it signifies a high point of art, but not a high point of the artist.

Pre-Raphaelites: simply a caprice. Tired of smooth beauty, one seeks the effortful - not so? How facile a proposition! Tired of art, one seeks the artist, and in each work looks for the deed that elevated the man, the triumph over something within him, and the longing for himself.

In notes jotted down day after day vis-a-vis the paintings of the quatrocento, I could have offered nothing more than the tourists’ handbooks do. For they have formulated with unsurpassable cogency the measure of abstract beauty that inheres in the things. So much so that in fleeting consideration one employs quite unconsciously those infamous half-scientific terms that, once sharp and pregnant, have through so many mindless uses become dull and vacuous.

A handbook on Italy, if it wanted to teach pleasure, would have in it but one single word and one single piece of advice. Look! Whoever has a certain culture in him must make do with this guidance. He will not acquire pearls of knowledge and it will scarcely occur to him to ask whether this work is from the late period of an artist or whether in that work “the broad manner of the master” holds sway. But he will recognize an abundance of will and power that came from longing and from apprehension, and this revelation will make him better, greater, more thankful.’

11 September 1900 [Schmargendorf diary]
‘A fine evening at the Overbecks’. The blond painter was with me for the length of the twilight; I showed her some Russian books, the pictures of Nadson and Garshin, Droshin’s portraits, and other mementos. In the evening she sat next to me, and there was much conversation between us. The table was nicely set; small chamomiles slanted to one side framed the simple white runner, which was accented by blue-and-red-embroidered signatures of guests who had preceded us. Dr. Hauptmann and I added our names to this roll. Hauptmann was in rare form, made many cutting remarks regarding the temper of our time, always in the most charmingly ingenuous way. [. . .]

Clara Westhoff had come on her bicycle, But she walked almost the whole way back to Westerwede, since while we were talking I had passed by my gate and continued on at her side. It was about two hours past midnight. The skies were gray, quiet, and the landscape could be seen, completely without color, stretching far in the distance . . . The birch trees stood like candles beside long trails. The only thing white was a white cat, which would appear from behind the bushes in silent leaps, then vanish in the mistless meadows. It was a melancholy cat that staged a solitary dance. In the garden everything green was a shade darker. Almost black, the full bushes leaned against the white railing of the forecourt. Around the urns there was depth and air.’

14 December 1900 [Worpswede diary]
‘Sometimes I remember in exact detail things and epochs that never existed. I see every gesture of people who never lived a life and feel the swaying cadence of their never-spoken works. And a never-smiled smiling shines. Those who were never born die. And those who never died lie with their hands folded, repeated in beautiful stone, on long level sarcophagi in the halflight of churches no one built. Bells that never rang, that are still uncast metal and undiscovered ore in mountains, ring. Will ring: for what never existed is what is on its way, on its way over to us, something in the future, new. And perhaps I’m remembering distant futures when what never existed rises up in me and speaks.’

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Anna with Gestapo

Anna Freud, a key figure in the development of psychoanalytic child psychology, was born 120 years ago today. It seems unlikely that she never kept a diary, but her papers remain under the control of the Freud archive and, to date, there has been no published evidence of any journals or diaries. Her famous father wasn’t much of a diary keeper either, but, in the latter years of his life, he kept a ‘chronicle’ consisting of no more than a single phrase for most days. This has been published in a large book - as The Diary of Sigmund Freud - with half-page explanations for every phrase! According to the editors, Anna’s name ‘absolutely dominates’ the record - with entries such as ‘Anna with Gestapo’.

Anna Freud was born in Vienna on 3 December 1895 to Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays, the youngest of six children. She is said to have been competitive with her siblings, and to have been naughty, learning more at home than at school. From 1915, she worked as a teacher in her old school, the Cottage Lyceum, remaining there until 1920. She left, apparently, due to illness. By this time, she was already undergoing analysis by her father.

Having had the chance to observe children on a daily basis while teaching, Anna Freud was drawn to child psychology, and began her own psychoanalytical practice. From 1927 until 1934, she was General Secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association, originally started by her father, where she presented papers outlining her approach to child psychoanalysis. Having taught at the Vienna Psychoanalytical Training Institute for some years, she became its director in 1935. The following year, she published The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, a founding work of ego psychology, establishing her reputation as a pioneering theoretician.

In 1938, the Freuds fled from Austria in response to Nazi harassment of Jews - indeed Anna had been arrested by the Gestapo. They immigrated to London, to a house in Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, (not a 100 metres, in fact, from where I spent my early childhood in the 1950s). Sigmund Freud died a year later, but Anna continued to live in the same house 
(now a museumfor the rest of her life. Anna’s teaching in London led to a conflict between her and Melanie Klein - who had evolved her own theory and technique for child analysis - which threatened to split the British Psychoanalytical Society. A series of war-time ‘Controversial Discussions’ ended with the formation of parallel training courses for the two groups.

During the war, Anna set up the Hampstead War Nursery to provide foster care for over 80 children of single-parent families. Together with her lifelong friend Dorothy Burlingham, she published studies of children under stress in Young Children in War-Time and Infants without Families. By 1947, Freud and Kate Friedlaender had established the Hampstead Child Therapy Courses, training English and US child therapists, and a children’s clinic was added a few years later. From the 1950s, Freud travelled regularly to the US to lecture and teach. At Yale Law School, for example, she taught seminars on crime and the family, leading to publication of Beyond the Best Interests of the Child (1973) with Joseph Goldstein and Albert Solnit.

The publication of her collected works was begun in 1968, but the last of the eight volumes did not appear until 1983, a year after her death. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis put out a memorial issue, and the clinic was renamed the Anna Freud Centre. Further information is available from The Freud Museum, Wikipedia, the BBC, Psychology’s Feminist Voices or The Philosophers’ Mail.

If Anna Freud kept a diary at any point in her life, there’s been no sign of it being published or being used for biographical purposes. The only diaries kept by Anna held in the Freud Museum archives are appointment diaries. The so-called Freud Archive, held by the US Library of Congress, has a significant number of documents which remain sealed for years to come - see an article by Joseph L. Sax in RBM. But, whether any of these are Anna’s or not is hard to tell. A review of the fictional Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story by Rebecca Coffey states, ‘Anna’s papers and diaries remain under the control of the Freud Archives’.

In the absence of any diaries left by Anna, I turned to her father. But he wasn’t much of a diary writer either. Ilse Grubrich-Simitis, in her book Back to Freud's Texts: Making Silent Documents Speak (Yale University Press, 1996, see Googlebooks) refers to his ‘diary like personal jottings’ and specifies: ‘the slim “Geheim-Chronik” [secret chronicle] kept jointly with his fiancée from 1883 to 1886; the “Resiejournal” [travel diary], also comprising only a few pages, on the beginning of the voyage to America in 1909 with Ferenczi and Jung; the entries in “Prochaskas Familien-Kalender”; the “Kürzeste Chronik”.’

This latter, the “Kürzeste Chronik” or “Shortest Chronicle”, was published in English by the Hogarth Press in 1992 as The Diary of Sigmund Freud 1929-1939: A Record of the Final Decade (translated and annotated by Michael Molnar). The book is large and thick, and lavishly illustrated with many black and white photographs, but the actual diary entries by Freud are so short - a few words - that they are even included verbatim within the index (as well as at least three times elsewhere)! The bulk of the book, however, is taken up with extensive annotations of each diary entry - explanations, embellishments and analysis of Freud’s daily life.

Molnar explains in his introduction that, in 1986, the papers stored all over the house were assigned to an archive, and how, at that point, Freud’s diary was handed over to him. He goes on to say: ‘It is worth noting how frequently various names are mentioned in the diary. Not surprisingly, it is Anna’s name which absolutely dominates the record, for it was during these years of sickness that she became Freud’s constant companion, his faithful “Anna-Antigone”.’ Here are some, but not all, of Sigmund Freud’s laconic diary entries mentioning his daughter.

3 December 1929
‘Anna’s birthday 34 yrs’

17 December 1929
‘Anna to Essen - cut stones bought’

21 December 1929
‘Anna back’

26 March 1930
‘Anna to Bpest. Elkuss +’

27 March 1930
‘Anna back - Eitington from Paris’

15 April 1930
‘Anna & Dorothy to Paris’

17 April 1930
‘Anna & Dorothy back’

14 September 1930
‘Anna at Mother’s burial’

22 February 1932
‘Anna and I have infectious cold’

3 December 1933
‘Anna 38 yr’

23 January 1935
‘Anna’s lecture’

11 June 1937
‘Anna’s accident’

22 March 1938
‘Anna with Gestapo’

20 May 1939
‘Anna to Amsterdam’

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The father of neurology

‘The floor is made of tile mosaics as are the walls - no seat - only a hole which seems narrow to me at ground level. One has to be agile - but the Arabs certainly are in this respect. They do everything squatting. It is perfect, a paradise for the sense of sight and smell.’ This is Jean-Martin Charcot, born 190 years ago today, the great physician of France’s early Belle Epoque, the so-called ‘father of neurology’ and/or the ‘Napoleon of the neuroses’, writing about a Moroccan toilet in his one and only significant diary.

Charcot was born in Paris on 29 November 1825 into a modest artisan family. He seems to have been a gifted school child, mastering several languages, and was selected by his father as the one child to receive a higher education and enter medical school. He received his M.D. from the University of Paris in 1853 with a dissertation on arthritis. In 1860, he was named associate professor in medicine, and two years later, he was appointed head of a hospital service at Salpêtrière, a complex in the 13th arrondissement near the Seine. Aged 39, he married Augustine-Victoire Durvis, a young widow, with whom he had two children.

Charcot began to publish many books and articles on infectious illnesses, geriatrics, diseases of the internal organs. And, in 1872, he was elected to the Paris Medical Faculty as professor of pathological anatomy. During the 1870s, he turned increasingly to the new discipline of neurology, becoming one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, publishing on a wide range of neurological conditions, MS, Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s, aphasia etc. He was the first to describe several conditions, including multiple sclerosis and the disintegration of ligaments and joint surfaces (Charcot’s disease, or Charcot’s joint) caused by locomotor ataxia and related diseases or injuries. In particular, he was known for his work on hysteria, and he developed the practice of using hypnosis as a means to study his patients, often using the technique in public demonstrations.

This - the early years of the Belle Epoque - was a heyday for the medical profession in France, as a group  progressive physician-scientists - among whom Charcot was the most famous - sought to modernise medicine more in line with scientific understanding. Apart from his medical discoveries, he also pioneered the art and science of medical photography. Charcot’s second-to-none reputation as a teacher attracted students from all over the world, not least, in 1885, Sigmund Freud.

Meanwhile, in their grand home on the boulevard Saint-Germain, the Charcots would give lavish parties, attracting the cream of Parisian society, politicians, artists, writers and, of course, other physicians. In 1882, Charcot was named Chair for the diseases of the nervous system, the first such professorial post in the world. Financing followed his fame, with the government resourcing a new neuropathological institute at Salpêtrière. Charcot died, relatively young, in 1893. Further information is available at Wikipedia, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Science Museum, and inside Medical Muses: Hysteria in 19th-Century Paris by Asti Hustvedt (some pages of which about Charcot are viewable at Googlebooks).

Charcot was not a diarist, though he did occasionally keep note-books when on holiday or travelling. One such note-book so stood out from the rest for Toby Gelfland (Department of History, University of Ottawa) that he decided to translate, edit and publish it - as Charcot in Morocco (University of Ottawa Press, 2012). In July 1887, Charcot went south to Spain for his annual summer holiday, but, on this occasion, concluded the voyage with a week in Morocco, and while there kept a detailed personal diary, amounting to 14,000 words, 95 manuscript pages, and various sketches, maps and watercolours.

The journal is a unique document, says Gelfand, because of its sheer length and detail but also because of ‘the intimate, relaxed, colorful, at times frankly exuberant quality of a first-person narrative written primarily for oneself, even if it were later to be shared with family and friends’. Furthermore: ‘The journal offers rare access to an otherwise elusive figure who said little of a spontaneous nature in public. [. . .] Historians, following most contemporary accounts, tend to portray Charcot as an authoritarian and rather austere medical leader, a “grand patron” who was at once intimidating and shy, if not secretive. The Moroccan journals reveals a less pretentious figure possessed of a rough and ready sense of humor, someone who did not always take himself or others so seriously.’

10 August 1887
‘Soon we reach the 1st Moroccan doorway, a square house, which sits atop a high hill. Two Moors of the Emperor who are to accompany us emerge; one carries a gun, the other a bag. These 2 do not join in with our group. Sometimes they approach, then at other times they disappear - only to reappear a little afterwards at a turn in the way . . . they are definitely strange; as well they have a rather unhealthy look about them with their caped robes that seem to be soaked with sweat.

We have been walking perhaps 2 hours when suddenly the plain widens out. In the middle we see a castle in ruins covered with ivy - not far off, some stones are piled up in a way that marks off an oval shape of earth. It is a tomb. There are many others. On a few of the tombs, red rags hang from sticks planted in the ground, rags now faded which must have formerly had a beautiful red color. They mark the tomb of a chieftain, more or less canonized and elevated to the level of a saint. It was here that the battle against the Moroccans took place which led to the march on Tetuan. More than 20 years ago, all that. The name Prim returns to mind. We walk on and keep on walking. From time to time I look at my watch. We’re going to get to the Moor’s place soon, no doubt! By this time hunger and thirst have set in. But where is this the devil of a house of the Moor? We don’t see it. Here are a few trees and rocks. We have lost sight of the sea. Anxiously, we walk on for nearly an hour; devil of a house gone astray. We begin to berate the Moors of the Emperor who led us down this wrong path. At last, there it is, a hut scarcely above the ground, hidden among the underbrush and tall cactus. [. . .]

I get up and rejoin the group drinking water, who are sharing a watermelon. On the mound where they are sitting, there is no more space. One of the Moors of the King noticed; he goes up to my son and, tapping him gently on the shoulder, says to him, in Spanish, “Your father is not seated.” My son gets up and I sit down in his place. An example of Arab manners that is in sum very edifying and which demonstrates that, even if we are among the people of Barbary, we are not with barbarians.’

11 August 1887
‘Soon we arrive at one of our “wealthy Moors”. [. . .] The young ladies go into the women’s quarters. Employing a searching gaze, we look into everything open to us. I think they were expecting us; most certainly, they were waiting for us. However a flurry of emotion, doubtless feigned, a pretended surprise, took place when we entered. A lady of mature years, who appeared beautiful to me, quickly fled, but not before showing us her face. That left 4 or 5 negresses, who shamelessly stayed where they were. Moreover, they were very beautiful, their arms and legs nude, their bodies lightly clothed in a clear fabric. They certainly do not belong to the religion whose acolytes cover up. As always, the first floor with balcony is just about the same as the lower floor. But it seems we cannot visit since the private living quarters are there. I look everywhere for a certain spot which interests me from a hygienic perspective. Instinct guides me. Here water flows on the ground - one certainly cannot go in without clogs. The floor is made of tile mosaics as are the walls - no seat - only a hole which seems narrow to me at ground level. One has to be agile - but the Arabs certainly are in this respect. They do everything squatting. It is perfect, a paradise for the sense of sight and smell.’

12 August 1887
‘It is agreed that I will give a few medical consultations; they implored me to do so. A few people have been referred by the consul, or by M. Alvans, the military envoy, who never tires of being helpful.

Here come the patients, 5 or 6 of them, all Jews. They file into the patio. I sketch one who presents a beautiful case of Parkinson’s. Nothing very interesting from the point of view of diagnosis. But all are nervous cases. Yesterday, on the square, they showed me a Jew who remained mute, so they say, during his entire childhood but who eventually began to speak. Was he a case of hysteria?

The consultation is over. I must see the town some more so as to take with me an indelible visual impression. Along the way, on one of the most densely inhabited streets, we hear in the distance a sort of chanting, mixed and monotonous at the same time: the voices of men. They appear in a cortege of about a hundred persons; they are walking quickly, they seem to be in a hurry. “The dead go quickly.” In fact it is a burial. The deceased is carried on a kind of cot, nude in a white shroud which hides him completely, the head too. It seems to me that no one stirs nor extends greetings. We don’t either: that is not the custom here. We let the cortege pass, we will meet it again momentarily, in the cemetery.’

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We hope for better times

‘Our Co for the first time have the sad duty to perform of burying one of their number. Jane is also quite sick of a Diareah but we hope not dangerous. [. . .] many are complaining & the dust is the greatest hardship to endure we have found on our whole journey. But we hope for better times.’ This is the heartfelt diary writing of Polly Lavinia Crandall Coon - born 1890 years ago today - travelling with others on the long and arduous trail across the continent, from Wisconsin to Oregon, in search of a better life.

Polly Lavinia was born on 24 November 1825 in Alfred, Allegheny, New York, the eldest child of what would become a large family. In 1838, the family moved west to Lima, Rock County, Wisconsin where they settled. Paul became one of the members of the Wisconsin constitutional convention in 1847, and was dubbed a ‘Father of Wisconsin’. But, in 1952, they set off, west again, overland in wagons to Oregon, with most of their children, including Polly and her daughter. Polly’s husband, Thomas, and her brother had already made the journey a year or two earlier.

Once settled in the new land, Thomas died, in early 1854, and two months later Polly gave birth to their second child. Soon after, Polly had her claim of land surveyed. She sold it off in lots to form a new town, called Silverton - on the banks of Silver Creek. She taught at a school in Silverton, and also in Salem and other nearby communities. In 1855, she married Stephen Price, a carpenter and millwright, who built them a new home. They had one son, before moving, in 1856, to Salem; and much later they lived in Hood River, on the south bank of the Columbia River. Both Stephen and Polly died in 1898. Not much is known of Polly, though a little more information can be found at the Liberal University of Oregon website.

A daily diary kept by Polly on her journey was published by A. H. Clark, in 1983, within Covered Wagon Women - Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1852: The Oregon Trail, as edited and compiled by Kenneth L. Holmes and David C. Duniway. This was the fifth volume of an eleven-volume series: Covered Wagon Women - Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1890. Some pages of Polly’s diary - Journal of a Journey Over the Rocky Mountains - can be read at Googlebooks. Here are a few extracts (they are as originally published except for a few full stops which I have inserted where they naturally ought to be).

29 March 1852
‘Started from the town of Lima Rock Co. Wis. on our long contemplated journey to seek a home on the Pacific coast, in the territory of Oregon. Passed through Janesville to the town of Plymouth where we struck our camp for the first time, & found that we had truly left all comfort behind at least as far as the weather is concerned. But all are in health & spirits seeming determined to manufacture as much comfort as possible from what material we have.’

8 April 1852
‘All are well & in excellent spirits. We traveled yesterday 16 miles and camped on a vast prairie in Lafayette Co where nothing but land & sky were to be seen save one little log house. But to make up the absence of other interesting matter we found a wedding party assembled in the aforesaid “log house”. The “old Man” came up and gave us all an invite to attend the dance in the evening. We all went down but none of us joined in the exercises but Ray & Stallman. They reported to have had a very fine time and staid till morning the others returned at 9 o’clock. We have tonight a beautiful camping ground near the line between G[r]ant and Lafayette pleasant weather but still wet under foot.’

9 April 1852
‘Rained all day consequently we have laid by - improving the time in doing some baking. At night the ground being very wet we were obliged to take shelter in the house.’

10 April 1852
‘Reached the Mississippi at Eagle Ferry 2 miles above Dubuque found a number of teams in wait to go over.’

11 April 1852
‘After being delayed all day in getting all crossed over we at length reach Dubuque. We made a few purchases & excited not a little curiosity nor a few remarks from the good people of the city by our “Bloomer Dresses.” Left this town about 3 o’clock passing out some 2 miles through the deepest mud & worst roads I ever saw. Camped in a field & got about half enough poor hay for which the Man charges 30 cts per yoke. I record this as a demonstration of the depth of the heartlessness to which the human heart is capable of arriving.’

12 April 1852
‘Our brother Ray left us this morning - It was with deep regret and tearful eyes we left him to plod on alone towards his home. We feel sad that we leave him behind but hope another year will bring him to Oregon. This after noon it is quite pleasant except the chilling winds which sweep furiously across the endless praries of the state of Iowa. All well and judging from the talking and laughing we hear from the adjoining tent all are in good spirits. The roads continue very bad otherwise we get along very finely.’

11 May 1852
‘Traveled near about 16 miles & camped again on a large Prarie near a beautiful spring which we consider a great treat. After getting our tents pitched & supper nearly in readiness a heavy thunder shower struck us & we were nearly drenched but succeeded in keeping our beds tolerable dry.’

28 May 1852
‘We have all felt much distressed today at witnessing a scene truly heartrending. About noon we came by a Camp where yesterday all were well & today one man was buried - another dying & still another sick. The disease was Diareah which which they had not medicine to check & the result from death. The man that was buried left a young wife to either return through a savage country or go on alone and heartbroken. Many of our Company are complaining but none very sick.’

13 August 1852
‘Dr Weber grew worse after stoping, medicine had no effect & about 1 o’clock at night he died. Our Co for the first time have the sad duty to perform of burying one of their number. Jane is also quite sick of a Diareah but we hope not dangerous. Samuel does not not improve much. The weather is so very hot & dusty that very many are complaining & the dust is the greatest hardship to endure we have found on our whole journey. But we hope for better times.’

17 August 1852
‘Our Co commenced crossing - having stretched a rope across the river & coupled two wagon boxes together, towed over the cattle first & then carried our wagons, luggage & people. We got over quite early with the sick ones in order to make them as comfortable as possible.’