Modernism and autobiography

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Modernism and autobiography

Table of contents :
Cover......Page 1
Half-title......Page 3
Title page......Page 5
Copyright information......Page 6
Table of contents......Page 7
List of contributors......Page 9
Modernism and Autobiography: Introduction......Page 13
Notes......Page 21
Part I Ancestries......Page 23
Chapter 1 Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, Modernism, and a History of Nerves......Page 25
Notes......Page 38
I......Page 40
II......Page 42
III......Page 47
Notes......Page 51
Chapter 3 Writing at Sea: Conrad’s Personal Record of “My Life,” “My Two Lives”......Page 53
Analogic Selves......Page 54
Sailing on the Sea, Writing in a Cave......Page 57
Memory and Interruption: Reminiscence without Confession......Page 59
The Skeptic’s Spectacle......Page 62
Notes......Page 63
Chapter 4 Two Henrys: James and Adams as Autobiographers......Page 65
I. Similarities......Page 66
II. Divergences......Page 69
III. Explaining the Contrast......Page 73
Notes......Page 76
Chapter 5 Spaces of Time: Virginia Woolf’s Life-Writing......Page 77
Notes......Page 87
Part II Emerging......Page 89
Chapter 6 Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography: Evelyn Waugh’s Labels and the Writing Personality......Page 91
I. Travel Writing as Autobiography......Page 92
II. Autobiography as Modernism......Page 96
III. Modernism as Reeducation......Page 99
Notes......Page 103
Chapter 7 Queer Autobiographical Masquerade: Stein, Toklas, and Others......Page 106
Notes......Page 117
Chapter 8 A Young Writer Grown Old: Elizabeth Bowen’s Autobiographies......Page 120
Autobiographies in Middle Age......Page 123
Growing Up and Growing Old......Page 127
Notes......Page 133
Chapter 9 “Leaving the Territory”: Ralph Ellison’s Backward Glance......Page 135
Notes......Page 145
Part III Surviving......Page 147
Chapter 10 Touching Semiliterate Lives: Indian Soldiers, the Great War, and Life-“Writing”......Page 149
Notes......Page 163
Chapter 11 The Last of Katherine Mansfield: The Affective Life in the Journal and the Letters......Page 165
Notes......Page 175
Chapter 12 T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence......Page 179
Notes......Page 190
Chapter 13 The Real Hem......Page 192
Notes......Page 203
Part IV Disappearing......Page 205
Chapter 14 “Death before the Fact”: Posthumous Autobiography in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight and Smile Please......Page 207
Notes......Page 217
Abstracting Selfhood......Page 219
Standing Aside......Page 222
Dissolution......Page 226
Notes......Page 230
I......Page 233
II......Page 235
III......Page 236
IV......Page 237
V......Page 239
VI......Page 243
Notes......Page 245
Index......Page 247

Citation preview

M o d e r n i s m a n d Au to b i o g r a p h y

This volume offers seventeen original essays that attest to the extraordinary inventiveness and range of modernist autobiography. It examines the ways modernist writers chose to tell their life stories, with particular attention to forms, venues, modes of address, and degrees of truthfulness. The essays are grouped around a set of rubrics that isolate the distinctive character and shared preoccupations of modernist life-writings: questions of ancestry and tradition that foreground the modernists’ troubled relation to their immediate familial as well as cultural past, their emergence as writers whose experiences found expression in untraditional and singular forms, their sense of themselves as survivors of personal and historical traumas, and their burdens as self-chroniclers of loss, especially of self-loss. It will appeal especially to scholars and students of literary modernism and English literature more generally. Maria DiBat tista is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. She has written extensively on modern literature and film, and her books include First Love: The Affections of Modern Fiction; Fast Talking Dames, a study of American film comedy of the thirties and forties; Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography; and Novel Characters: A Genealogy. Emily O. Wit tman, Associate Professor of English at The University of Alabama, has published widely on literary modernism, translation studies, and autobiography. She is coeditor (with Maria DiBattista) of The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography (Cambridge, 2014)  and cotranslator (with Chet Wiener) of Félix Guattari’s Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977–1985 (2009).

Modernism and Au to b i o g r a p h y Edi ted by M a r i a D i B at t i s ta Princeton University

Em i ly O . W i t t m a n The University of Alabama

32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013-2473, USA Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Information on this title: © Maria DiBattista and Emily O. Wittman 2014 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2014 Printed in the United States of America A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data Modernism and autobiography / edited by Maria DiBattista, Emily O. Wittman. pages  cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-107-02522-6 (hardback) 1. Autobiography  2.  Modernism (Literature) I. DiBattista, Maria, 1947– editor of compilation. II.  Wittman, Emily Ondine, 1971– editor of compilation. ct25.m567  2014 809′.93592–dc23    2014009738 ISBN

978-1-107-02522-6 Hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


List of Contributors Modernism and Autobiography: Introduction

page vii xi

Part I Anc estri es 1. Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, Modernism, and a History of Nerves Francis O’Gorman


2. The “Fascination of What I Loathed”: Science and Self in W. B. Yeats’s Autobiographies


3. Writing at Sea: Conrad’s Personal Record of “My Life,” “My Two Lives”


4. Two Henrys: James and Adams as Autobiographers


5. Spaces of Time: Virginia Woolf ’s Life-Writing


Rónán McDonald

Michael Levenson Lee Mitchell

Elizabeth Abel

Part II  E me rg i ng 6. Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography: Evelyn Waugh’s Labels and the Writing Personality


7. Queer Autobiographical Masquerade: Stein, Toklas, and Others


Jonathan Greenberg

Barbara Will




8. A Young Writer Grown Old: Elizabeth Bowen’s Autobiographies


9. “Leaving the Territory”: Ralph Ellison’s Backward Glance


Allan Hepburn

Marc C. Conner

Part III Su rvi vi ng 10. Touching Semiliterate Lives: Indian Soldiers, the Great War, and Life-“Writing”


11. The Last of Katherine Mansfield: The Affective Life in the Journal and the Letters


12. T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence


13. The Real Hem


Santanu Das

Jay Dickson

Max Saunders

Maria DiBattista

Part IV  D isa ppea ri ng 14. “Death before the Fact”: Posthumous Autobiography in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight and Smile Please


15. Abstraction, Impersonality, Dissolution


16. Name after Name: Beckett’s Secret Autobiography




Emily O. Wittman Robert L. Caserio Michael Wood


E liz abet h Abel is a Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (Chicago, 1989)  and Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow (California, 2010); and the editor or coeditor of Writing and Sexual Difference (Chicago, 1982); The Signs Reader: Women, Gender, and Scholarship (Chicago, 1983); The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development (New England, 1983); and Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism (California, 1997). She has published essays on gender, psychoanalysis, race, and visual culture. Robert L. Caseri o, Professor of English at Penn State, University Park, is coeditor, with Clement Hawes, of The Cambridge History of the English Novel (2012) and editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Twentieth-Century English Novel (2009). His Cambridge Introduction to British Fiction, 1900–1950 is forthcoming. M a rc C. Co nner is Ballengee Professor of English and Associate Provost at Washington and Lee University. He is the editor of The Aesthetic Dimensions of Toni Morrison (Mississippi, 2000), Charles Johnson: The Novelist as Philosopher (Mississippi, 2007), and The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered (Florida, 2012) and has written extensively on American, African-American, and Irish modernism. S antanu D as is a Reader in English at King’s College London. He is the author of Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (Cambridge, 2006)  and the editor of Race, Empire and First World War Writing (Cambridge, 2011) and The Cambridge Companion to the Poetry of the First World War (2013). Currently, he is completing for Cambridge University Press a monograph titled India, Empire and the First World War: Words, Images and Objects and leading a collaborative research project involving partners across Europe on “Cultural Encounters in a vii



Time of Global Crisis: Colonials, Belligerents and Neutrals during the First World War.” M aria D iB at ti sta, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University, has written widely on modern literature and film. Her most recent works include Fast Talking Dames (Yale, 2001), Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography (Princeton, 2008), and Novel Characters: A Genealogy (Blackwell, 2010). J ay D ic kson is Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College. He is the author of multiple articles on modern British literature and culture, including essays on such figures as James Joyce, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and Lytton Strachey. J o n at h a n G ree n be rg is Associate Professor of English at Montclair State University. He is the author of Modernism, Satire, and the Novel (Cambridge, 2011)  and the forthcoming Cambridge Introduction to Satire, both from Cambridge University Press, as well as numerous articles on twentieth-century literature. You can follow him on Twitter. Al l an Hepburn is James McGill Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature at McGill University. He is the author of Intrigue: Espionage and Culture (Yale, 2005)  and Enchanted Objects: Visual Art in Contemporary Fiction (Toronto, 2010). In addition to having ­published articles on Joseph Conrad, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and other authors, he has edited three volumes of material by Elizabeth Bowen: short stories, essays, and broadcasts. A fourth volume, devoted to Bowen’s book reviews, is forthcoming. Since 2008, Allan Hepburn has been coeditor of the McGill–Queen’s University Press poetry series. M ic h ael Levenson is William B. Christian Professor of English at the University of Virginia and author of A Genealogy of Modernism (Cambridge, 1984), Modernism and the Fate of Individuality (Cambridge, 1990), The Spectacle of Intimacy (Princeton, coauthor Karen Chase, 2000), and Modernism (Yale, 2011). He is also the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Modernism (2000, 2nd edition 2011). He has been Chair of the English Department and is the Founding Director of the Institute of Humanities at the University of Virginia. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities



and the Mellon Foundation and currently serves as a Fulbright Senior Specialist. Rónán McDonald holds the Australian Ireland Chair of Irish Studies at the University of New South Wales and is Director of the Global Irish Studies Centre. He is the author of The Death of the Critic (Continuum, 2008), The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett (2007), and Tragedy and Irish Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) as well as numerous articles and essays on modern and Irish literature. He is currently editing a volume of essays entitled The Values of Literary Studies. Lee M itc h el l is Holmes Professor of Belles-Lettres at Princeton University. His books include Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The Nineteenth-Century Response (Princeton, 1981), Determined Fictions: American Literary Naturalism (Columbia, 1989), and Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film (Chicago, 1996) F ranc is O’ Go rman has written widely on English literature, mostly on poetry and nonfictional prose from 1780 to the present. His recent publications include editions of John Ruskin’s Praeterita (Oxford, 2012), Elizabeth Gaskell’s Sylvia’s Lovers (Oxford, 2013), and essays on Larkin, Wordsworth, Swinburne, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Tennyson, and the modern university. He is currently editing Swinburne for Oxford University Press and is a Professor of English at the University of Leeds. M a x Sau nders is Director of the Arts and Humanities Research Institute, Professor of English, and Co-Director of the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London, where he teaches modern literature. He studied at the universities of Cambridge and Harvard and was a Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He is the author of Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, 2  vols. (Oxford, 1996, 2012) and Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature (Oxford, 2010) and the editor of four volumes of Ford’s writing, including an annotated critical edition of Some Do Not … (Carcanet, 2010). He has published essays on life-writing, on impressionism, and on a number of modern writers. He was awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship in 2008–10 to research the To-Day and To-Morrow book series. B arbara W il l is Professor of English at Dartmouth College. She is the author of numerous articles on modernism and two books on


Contributors Gertrude Stein: Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of “Genius” (Edinburgh, 2000) and Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Columbia, 2011).

E mily O. W it tma n is Associate Professor of English at The University of Alabama. Her work lies at the intersection of literary modernism, translation studies, and autobiography. She is coeditor (with Maria DiBattista) of The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography, 2014) and cotranslator (with Chet Wiener) of Félix Guattari’s Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977–1985 (Semiotext(e)/MIT, 2009). M i c h a e l Wood is Emeritus Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. He is the author of, among other books, Literature and the Taste of Knowledge (Cambridge, 2005)  and Yeats and Violence (Oxford, 2010). Most recently he has edited an English-language selection of the letters of Italo Calvino (Princeton, 2013).

Modernism and Autobiography: Introduction Maria DiBattista and Emily O. Wittman

“This whole book is the distillation of a deep personal experience; it is autobiography in the truest sense, in terms of what outward impact set the inner life in motion towards its true relation to the world: the story of the search for what is truly one’s own, and the ability to recognize it when found, and to be faithful in love of it.”1 What is most noteworthy and ultimately intriguing about Katherine Anne Porter’s reflections on the essential character, favored story, and distinctive aims of life-writing is that they are inspired by Eleanor Clark’s Rome and a Villa, a work most readers would regard as travel literature. Indeed, a book that begins, “The first thing about the Campidoglio, besides what it is, is the stairs,” would hardly seem to lend itself to the kind of autobiographical interpretation Porter affixes to it2 – to anyone, that is, not familiar or patient with modernist experiments with the form. Porter’s notion that the quest for what is truly one’s own need not follow the spiritual itinerary of Augustinian conversion narratives or pursue the curriculum vitae outlined in memoirs of childhood and young adulthood, need not, in fact, even present the self as its immediate subject, represents a singularly modernist conception of lifewriting. As such, it provides an introduction to the themes and concerns of this collection, which explores how modernist writers transformed the conventions and expanded the scope of autobiographical writings. As the essays in this volume attest, modernist autobiography, which often draws an arc back to the speculative mood and variable lengths of Montaigne’s Essays, typically challenges the established narrative practices of the genre. In place of the traditional life-narrative that traces the progress of the self as it moves toward, and ultimately claims, what is truly its own, modernist autobiography might concentrate on short periods of a person’s life (a “growing season” such as Paris in the twenties was for Hemingway); or else it might restrict its focus to a particular, life-defining and often life-altering problem  – sexual abuse, such xi


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as the childhood molestation Virginia Woolf confronts in her “sketch” of the past; nervous collapse, such as recounted with such pitiless candor in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up; or addiction, such as dramatized in Jean Rhys’s depressive but strangely exalted novels of alcoholic breakdown. Nothing less could be expected of modernist writers, who, however they differed in temperament, style, class, politics, and, of course, life experiences, cultivated a reputation for iconoclasm, nowhere more relentlessly and ingeniously than in their assault on traditional notions of what a self, indeed what life, is. Modernist autobiography troubles both the “bios” – the life-matter – and the “auto” – the grammatical and existential first person – of the form. W. B. Yeats worried that to write about oneself was to “exchange life for a logical process” and so took pains to keep his autobiographical notes “natural” as “a casual thought” so “that I may not surrender myself to literature.” Yet as Rónán McDonald recounts, Yeats’s Reveries, although philosophically convinced of “the failure of abstract ratiocination to express the underlying integrity of lived experience,” are surprisingly open to scientific paradigms of thought and remarkably porous to literary allusion. The very word “life,” as Elizabeth Abel and Michael Wood remark, asserts its authority while refusing to yield its ultimate meaning in the criticism, fiction, and life-writing of Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett. Woolf ’s manifesto for modern fiction is predicated on the conviction that “life” is not as the Edwardian “realists” described it, but is rightly apprehended as “this varying, unknown, uncircumscribed spirit.”3 And while few might share Moran’s conviction that his life constitutes an “inenarrable contraption,” many might anxiously entertain Molloy’s surmise that “if I go on long enough calling that my life I’ll end up by believing it. It’s the principle of advertising.”4 If this principle is dubious – and it is – there exists another, less commercially viable but also less compromised principle to help determine whether what one feels and experiences can truly be said to amount to a life. This principle postulates that life, whether figured as inerrable contraption or elusive spirit, is ineluctably mutable. This principle is personified in the tutelary genius of Proteus that Ralph Ellison located at the center of the American life-experience. Life, the shape shifter, can take many forms, a fact the modernists acknowledged by looking for life anywhere and everywhere it might manifest itself. A recipe can tell us as much about what life was like in modernist Paris as a firsthand account of who attended the famous dinner for the Le Douanier Rousseau or the details of how Picasso managed his strict diet during the First World War and



the Occupation (the one to be found in the “autobiography,” the other in cookbook of Alice B. Toklas). To accommodate the fluidity and variousness of life and how it feels to be living it, modernist autobiography often tampers with sequence and chronology, sometimes abandoning the very idea of eventfulness in favor of recounting memories or anecdotes that evoke the emotional and moral texture of ordinary experiences that hardly qualify, by any standard of measurement, as momentous or life-altering. Yet despite their apparent ordinariness, and even triviality, such remembered sensations or experiences prove consequential in influencing the attitudes of adulthood. At times these attitudes prove coherent and profound enough to qualify as a philosophy of life, such as Virginia Woolf reports crystallized out of those “moments of being” that shocked her out of the existential torpor of daily existence. She devotes the first pages of “A Sketch of the Past” to describing how these moments of sensuous and emotional receptivity, which initially left her feeling passive and subjugated to a reality utterly indifferent to her own existence, ultimately spurred her to formulate what she calls her philosophy or “constant idea that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art … we are the words, we are the music, we are the thing itself.”5 Such apparently dis- or unconnnected moments of heightened perception and agonized awareness can be so luminous as to obscure the outlines of the “story” one has or would like to tell; they can even blot out entire regions of lived experience. Modernist retrospection seldom reinserts itself seamlessly into the past, but proceeds, if proceeds is the word, along a meditative course riddled with ellipses, plagued by lapses in memories, and compromised by deliberate omissions. The obliteration of entire stretches of personal history is most often the work of voluntary rather than involuntary forgetting, such as notoriously and hauntingly exemplified in Henry Adams’s famous chapter heading “Twenty Years After,” which silently passes over any mention of his wife’s suicide or of the years that led up to and followed from it. In her unfinished autobiography, mordantly titled Smile Please, Jean Rhys depicts her life as unrelievedly bleak without making a single mention of her criminal escapades or even the existence of a daughter. Other writers prefer to toy with the pretense of candid soul searching or to dispense with the teleology that informs so many life-narratives, a teleology encapsulated in the theme of “How I Grew,” the actual title of Mary McCarthy’s caustic portrait of herself as a young girl. Such writers approach themselves aslant, at those busy intersections where life-writing


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crosses paths with adjacent subgenres, such as the personal essay, travel writing, food writing, literary journalism, criticism, even movie reviewing. Autobiography that takes this form may avoid the crippling self-consciousness of more introspective and self-focused narratives that hesitate before the full disclosure promised by the autobiographical mode of confession or self-exposé. The self they reveal may be hiding in plain sight, to be inferred from outward shows of feeling, taste, and opinion. In the introduction to her 1994 collection of film reviews, For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies, Pauline Kael remarked: “I’m frequently asked why I don’t write my memoirs. I think I have.”6 Kael’s rejoinder, which might strike some serious devotees of autobiography as flippant, nonetheless reflects the wide latitude modernist writers permit themselves in recalling the experiences and defending the opinions that define them. The narrators of these renegade life-writings invade and invariably colonize venues and formats typically reserved for more impartial observation or for outright entertainment. Evelyn Waugh, as Jonathan Greenberg reveals, commandeered travel writing to establish impeccable, if doctored credentials for what Greenberg identifies as his “writerly” as opposed to biographical personality. This Waugh is unfailingly witty, knowing, and, above all, metropolitan. Elizabeth Bowen, protective of her privacy even as she enjoyed her growing celebrity, was particularly deft, as Allan Hepburn demonstrates, in crafting and monitoring her public image in interviews, publicity blurbs, and promotional materials for her work. Others turned to popular forms not, as Waugh and Bowen did, to seek out or develop serviceable disguises, but rather to disclose aspects of their lives and experiences that could not be revealed in any other format. Barbara Will reflects on how Alice B. Toklas reappropriated the use of her own voice, so uncannily ventriloquized by Gertrude Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in a cookbook that also bore her name on its cover, but lacked, as Will points out, an authorial signature on the title page, a fact Will takes as indicative of the deep complementarity of these life partners, who often referred to themselves as “Gertrice-Altrude.” In reproducing the recipes she had collected and prepared over the years and in recalling the people who enjoyed the meals prepared from them, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook qualifies as autobiography in its truest sense, at least as Porter defines it – a work in which Alice describes the modern métier and household art that she recognizes and loves as truly her own. Toklas thus takes her honored place in the culinary wing of modernist life-writing, whose cornerstone is M. F. K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf.



Published in 1942, How to Cook a Wolf is a unique literary blend of war memoir and survival manual with chapters devoted to practical matters – “How Not to Boil an Egg” and, most elementally, “How to Stay Alive” – and others that offer meditations (and titles) worthy of Montaigne (“How to Comfort Sorrow”) and Thoreau (“How to Practice True Economy”).7 Such radical departures from the conventions and formats of traditional autobiography court as well as exhibit extravagance (in the etymological sense of wandering far afield, transgressing set boundaries), but not simply out of a love of novelty and adventure. Their breach of revered epistemological divisions between fact and fancy, fiction and nonfiction reflected, as Katherine Mansfield observed, how “intent” modernists writers were: “We are intent as never before on trying to puzzle out, to live by, our own particular self. Der Mensch muss frei sein – free, disentangled, single.” “Is it not possible,” she writes in a journal entry Jay Dickson recommends to our attention, that the rage for confession, autobiography, especially for memories of earliest childhood, is explained by our persistent yet mysterious belief in a self which is continuous and permanent; which, untouched by all we acquire and all we shed, pushes a green spear through the dead leaves and through the mould, thrusts a scaled bud through years of darkness until, one day, the light discovers it and shakes the flower free and – we are alive – we are flowering for our moment upon the earth. This is the moment which, after all, we live for, – the moment of direct feeling when we are most ourselves and least personal.8

To puzzle out “our own particular self ” requires a revised grammar of autobiographical persons in which we are, in Mansfield’s trenchant formulation, most ourselves when we are least personal. The possibility of such a transformative grammar of impersonality is comically entertained by the “I” of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a linguistic façade for the book’s “real” author, Gertrude Stein. Hemingway begins A Moveable Feast by addressing himself in the second person, thus grammatically uniting the self who writes to the self who lived (so innocently! so richly, despite his poverty!). This “you,” who (or which?) is located both outside and within the Hemingway who writes, is a creature of the past who survives, is indeed stored away, in what Hemingway hauntingly designates as “the remises of my memory and my heart.”9 This “you” lies dormant until retrieved from the remises of memory and of the heart and revivified in the continuous present of the page on which it is written back into existence.


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Beckett, who would be appalled by any promise or augury of resurrection, dissects the precisions and treacheries of the second person as autobiographical device in a passage from Company that is devastating in its lucidity: Use of the second person marks the voice. That of the third that cankerous other. Could he speak to and of whom the voice speaks there would be a first. But he cannot. He shall not. You cannot. You shall not.10

Here we see how right Yeats was to worry that the ratiocinations of logic might drive out life. Beckett forbids himself the thought of a first person to whom he might speak as of and to himself. Nonetheless, he seems equally resolved on sparing himself the indignity of the contagious, corrupting effusions of that “cankerous other” that may lurk within or barely apart from him. No wonder he wants for company, devising all alone as he does in the dark, hoping “to kindle in his mind this faint uncertainty and embarrassment” about his own solitary existence (5). Henry Adams, on the other hand, can only speak to and of himself with elaborate formality in the third person, a tactic, as Lee Mitchell shows, that may inoculate him from the cankerous emotions of self-sympathy, false certainty, and pleasure in the wrong company. The third person is a device that allows Henry Adams to consider himself as a monitory rather than cankerous example of a failed education, or rather of an education into a failure that was historically, as it was psychologically, inevitable. These grammatical experiments with narrative persons suggest how charged the very concept of personhood, almost but not quite a cognate for selfhood, was for modernists. Michael Levenson draws attention to the singular meaning and significance that attaches to Conrad’s use of the word “personally” in his autobiographical reminiscences, A Personal Record. Levenson remarks that, “along with its variants (‘person,’ ‘personal’ ‘personality’)” the word “leads a complex career in the fiction.” Equally complex, as Max Saunders observes, is T. S. Eliot’s use of the word “personality” in his letters “so as effectively to redefine it, away from the Romantic sense of an authentic, interior identity which literature is charged to ‘express,’ towards a concept of a false self: the sense of a self inflated by its own emotional attitude to the extent that all it can express is its own emotionality.” Ellison, as Marc Conner notes, also contributes to the rich, if vexed history of the modernist personality in the autobiographical fragment “Leaving the Territory,” where he speaks directly of “your own incongruity of personality.” The incongruity arises from Ellison’s recognition that the personality  – what is “truly one’s own”  – is not single and unified,



but exists as an ensemble of multiple, mutually combative, and dissenting identities constantly shifting places and forms. Hence the importance of Proteus as a figure for Ellison’s literary or, as Greenberg terms it on his essay on Waugh, his “writing personality.” The distinctly modernist turn toward abstraction, impersonality, and self-dissolution can be traced, as Robert Caserio shows, to a distrust of the instability of personality and a growing aversion to what Woolf called “the damned egotistical self.”11 Impersonality, considered either as an aesthetic doctrine or as an ethical ideal, renders the problem or puzzle of identity primarily as one of visibility. But audibility also presents a challenge to would-be self-chroniclers. How to record a life became a literal problem for modernist autobiographers confronted with, and eventually dependent on, new recording and dictating technologies that obstructed as much as they facilitated the translation of the writer’s voice and thoughts into signs on a page. Max Saunders wonders how Eliot’s being “forced’ to dictate his letters rendered them less direct and more impersonal. In old age, Rhys was terrified of tape recorders, but used them because she feared even more the possible distortions that writing by dictation might occasion. Santanu Das questions the very assumption that autobiography is a text produced by hand – either through the pen that inscribes or by tapping out words on a keyboard. Das not unreasonably asks that we consider the situation of semiliterate sepoys whose life-writings exist beyond the realms of the selfscripted and are made up of “objects, images and words.” Such uncertainties, embarrassments, and evasions, along with the hazards and errors of transcription, suggest how compromised, inaccurate, or outright deceptive modernist autobiography can be. Yet many of the autobiographical writings considered here, even those that are selective in the facts and feelings they record, are searingly honest in confessing that life has disappointed rather than fulfilled their quest for what is truly and rightfully their own. They do not pretend to offer serene, satisfied, or even resigned reflections on a life nearing its end. More often they suggest the emotional tremors of a life in danger of collapsing: Edmund Gosse, whose young life, as Francis O’Gorman relates, was marked by his mother’s agonizing death, the “perverse malady” of his father’s religious obsessions, and an abduction by a mentally ill woman of his father’s congregation, attempting to rest content, as Gorman says, “with living nervously”; James recovering from the nervous breakdown following the failure of the New York edition of his novels; Conrad reacting to the increasing weight of financial burdens and responsibilities caused by the birth of a son and the increasing invalidism of his wife; T. S. Eliot, as Max


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Saunders reflects, composing The Waste Land (that self-described “personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life,”)12 and developing his theory of impersonality in response to the war and his own fear of madness, a loss of reason horribly vivid to him in his wife, Vivien’s nervous disorders and in the growing symptoms of his own breakdown in 1920–1; Evelyn Waugh attempting to disguise and morally rehabilitate himself after the sexual calamities, humiliations, and subsequent indecorously rapid demise of his first marriage; Woolf ’s nerves, never steady or strong, rattled by the wartime bombings of her beloved London; Ellison never recovering from the trauma of his father’s death and the great Refusal by the man he regarded as his surrogate father. No wonder Stein found identity bothersome and confessed, almost as if it were a condition of being alive, “Identity always worries me and memory and eternity.”13 It should probably worry all of us, which is one reason, among many others, why we should reflect, as do the essays in this volume, on how modernist authors converted this worry into works of art. This volume consists of essays on modernist autobiographies that address these worries in various forms, venues, modes of address, and degrees of truthfulness. The essays are grouped together under a set of rubrics that isolate the distinctive character and shared preoccupations of modernist life-writing: questions of ancestry and tradition that foreground the modernists’ troubled relation to their immediate familial as well as cultural past, their emergence as writers whose experiences found expression in untraditional and singular forms, their sense of themselves as survivors of personal and historical traumas, their burdens as self-chroniclers of loss, especially of self-loss (necessary self-loss for Henry Miller, and inevitable self-loss for Rhys and Beckett). Roland Barthes, an inheritor and an adept of modernist autobiographical practice, understood and experienced his attempt to capture himself in writing as the dispossession of his body. He tells us how Barthes on Barthes entailed taking “my body elsewhere far from my imaginary person, toward a kind of meaningless speech of the People, of the non-subjective mass (or of the generalized subject), even, if I am still separated from it by my way of writing.” “By my way of writing” – so Barthes recalls and reinscribes on the threshold of his own autobiography the image of those circuitous routes, detours, and byways that one follows in quest of what is truly one’s own. Barthes, who once rather confidently proclaimed the death of the author and the historical necessity of his demise, here contemplates being transported to that “elsewhere” where he no longer exists, except in those forms of nonbeing that prevail in modern life: in the meaningless speech



of the People, of the nonsubjective mass. Barthes’s response to the modernist situation in which he must pursue and “write” himself is to detach his autobiography from any “representation of an individual with a private life and a civil status.” He dedicates himself to creating a repertoire of images that “will be free of its own, never figurative signs.” Barthes makes one exception to this rule of exclusion – images begotten and inscribed by “the hand that writes.”14 The hand that writes – this image alone survives for Barthes as an emblem of the embodied self in quest of its truth, its essence, and, if those prove unreachable, traces of its existence. For this reason it adorns our cover, an emblem of the modernist autobiographies that are considered within this volume and those hovering on the horizon of the landscape surveyed in the pages that follow. Notes 1 Katherine Anne Porter, “Eleanor Clark,” The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter (New York: Delacorte Press, 1970), 80. 2 Eleanor Clark, Rome and a Villa (South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 2000), 3. 3 Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” The Common Reader (New York: Harcourt, 1953), 153. 4 Samuel Beckett, Three Novels (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 53, 114. 5 Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past” Moments of Being, with introduction by Jeanne Schulkind, ed. (New York: Harcourt, 1985), 72. 6 Pauline Kael, For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies (New York: Dutton, 1994), 3. 7 M. F. K. Fisher, How to Cook a Woolf (New York: North Point Press, 1999). 8 Katherine Mansfield, The Scrapbook of Katherine Mansfield (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940), 160–1. 9 Ernest Hemingway. A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, Seán Hemingway, ed. (New York: Scribner, 2009), 9. 10 Samuel Beckett, Nohow On (New York: Grove Press, 1996), 4. 11 Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary (New York: Mariner Books, 2003), 22. 12 Eliot’s remark was reported by Theodore Spencer and recorded by the poet’s brother, Henry Ware Eliot. It is printed as an epigraph in Valerie Eliot’s edition of the manuscripts. 13 Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography (Cambridge: Exact Change, 1991), 119. 14 Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (New York: Hill & Wang, 2010), 3 (approximately).

Pa rt   I


Ch apter 1

Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, Modernism, and a History of Nerves Francis O’Gorman

Why is there so much sickness in Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907)? Virginia Woolf felt literature in general had not taken enough notice of being ill. Given pain’s ubiquity, she said in 1930, “it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”1 That was an odd comment, for European literature is full of sickness. And Gosse’s text is peculiarly addicted to the language of malaise, both physical and mental. How to read that language, however, is not so easy to determine. Ann Thwaite, in her long biographies, Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849–1928 (1984) and Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Philip Henry Gosse (2002), has persuaded many readers of the limits of Father and Son as a literal testament, despite Gosse’s robust protestations of his accuracy.2 While recognising the constructed nature of the autobiography, my central concern is not with Edmund Gosse’s factuality but with the implications of his descriptive habits and what they reveal about the sometimes mischievous uses to which this text has been put in defining modernism against a construct of “the Victorian.” It has been a familiar rhetorical move to describe Father and Son, perhaps like Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh (1903), as evidence of a clear rupture with the past. This claim has sometimes been supported by the fact that Gosse initially wrote what may look like a traditional “Victorian” biography of his father, The Life of Philip Henry Gosse (1890), before turning in Father and Son to a more personal and “authentic” account of his family and upbringing, and of the rejection of his father’s faith. It is easy to imagine the outlines of the modernist “break” with “the Victorian” can be plotted between these two texts: Father and Son, the argument runs, is permitted to say what the earlier biographical volume could not, and both to describe, and to be emblematic of, a rejection of the constraining past in favour of the new. There are many problems with this argument. Among the most notable is the fact that Gosse was as careful a selector of material about his own life 3


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in Father and Son as he was about the lives, beliefs, and habits of others: consider, for instance, the “confidential” statement about Swinburne’s drinking and sexual habits locked up in the British Museum for years.3 But my essay examines the broader issue of how to write history from single cases. I argue, via the suggestiveness of the text’s nervousness and fascination with nerves, that Father and Son offers itself as representative only uncomfortably, nervously, with major qualification. That discomfort is internalised as an explicit part of the book’s substance. Fretfully, Father and Son invites its readers, against the grain of many critical perceptions, to think harder about how metonymy works in (literary) history. Gosse’s narration implies that this one text, and the strange lives narrated there with their peculiar and often pathologised circumstances, can be taken to stand primarily for historical movements, for the shift of epochs, only with considerable cost to intellectual integrity. Father and Son, I think, asks its reader to remain undecided: to rest content with living nervously. Edmund Gosse remarks that his walk to the chapel in the family’s first year in Devon was through disgustingly foetid air, and when he arrived at the place of worship he found a congregation “poor, simple, and generally sick” (115).4 That might be a description – the “generally sick” – of his own condition as a child, so frequently “fragile” (81). The young Gosse, in the early stages of his narrative, is alarmingly frail. He seems also alarmingly tormented. He is “very pale and nervous, and slept badly at nights, with visions and loud screams in my sleep.” In a great “ferment of mind,” he “runs pins into my flesh” and strikes his “joints with books.” This selftorture, a self-abuse that contemporary readers will notice all too readily, culminated in “a sort of fit of hysterics, when I lost all self-control, and sobbed with tears” (61). The “sort of ” is unnecessary. There are other breakdowns. Stolen from his father’s congregation by a woman with a serious psychotic condition (“crazed,” says Gosse, 130), the child suffers the consequences. His “nerves were shaken,” and there is a return of the “distressing visions from which [he] had suffered as a very little child” (132). Confined as a young boy as the principal carer of his terminally sick mother, dying of cancer; suffering in a household from Henry Gosse’s constitutional melancholy, which sank into “depression” (106) on the unmitigated failure of his life-defining work, Omphalos (1857), it is hardly enough that Gosse observes blandly that “the conditions of our life were unfavourable to our health” (95).5 He was a “little, nervous child” (135) always attracting comments from family and passersby that he was not long for this world,6 even as his birth had nearly been a catastrophe as he “appeared to be dead” (38). The thought of being left

Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son


alone if his father were to die, after years of his “too-anxious love,” leaves another ­sorrowful tableau: “I felt like a small and solitary bird, caught and hung out hopelessly and endlessly in a glittering cage” (167). Henry was brought to God when travelling home from Newfoundland in 1832 after hearing that his sister Elizabeth was dangerously ill. But the thought of Henry dying leaves Edmund only in panic. After the nineteenth-century autobiographical accounts of mental sickness  – J.  S. Mill’s breakdown, William Hale White’s depression, John Ruskin’s failing mind  – Gosse’s text is a peculiarly frank and seemingly un-self-conscious representation of a life where such things as “a state of depression not to be described” (166) seem to have become, depressingly, a part of the day-to-day. Father and Son describes an environment crowded with the sick, especially the mentally ill, even if they are not always so named. “If we were suddenly transplanted into the world of only fifty years,” Gosse says, “we should be startled and even horror-stricken by the wretchedness to which the step backwards would reintroduce us.” It is his own narrative’s function to take us back, and wretchedness is indeed a result. Of the suffering body, Gosse writes of a period without anaesthetics, without chloroform’s great contribution to the “mitigation of human torment” (75). But the suffering mind, for the most part, is both narrated and unassisted. We watch the death of Emily, Henry’s first wife, after “her vain and delusive attempts to obtain alleviation for her anguish” (72). And we also glimpse Henry “depressed and unnerved by anxiety” (71) or, later, “tired out with anxiety and sorrow” (88). These are consistent terms that surround accounts of Henry, as they appear with largely unremarked frequency in Glimpses of the Wonderful. We observe the “perverse malady” (112) of Henry’s conscience, wound up, in his son’s eyes, to an extreme pitch in searching out what sin it was that justified God’s punishment of him in the reception of Omphalos, a work in which he sought to reconcile Biblical accounts of the Creation with new geological findings of the “datable” age of the earth. We encounter the congregation racked with consumption, but also a village in which there were those “who had more or less unquestionably crossed the barrier which divided the sane from the insane.” These “imbeciles” did not include the aptly (re-)named Miss Mary Flaw,7 who had once a strong mind, but “her wits had left the rails and were careering about the country” (129). She was Edmund’s kidnapper. Miss Burmington was “distressingly deformed in the spine” (120), but out in the streets there was madness again: a demented onion seller (loudly denouncing the pope and so winning Henry’s support) and a “fat sailor . . . probably crazed” who spent the entirety of his conscious


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life walking up the centre of the street “vociferating with the voice of a bull, Wa-a-atch and pray-hay!|Night and day-hay!” (86). Gosse rarely judges these men and women. His famous caution, for which Woolf so archly, so harshly, criticised him, prevents him from either smiling at the afflicted or drawing conclusions about them in print. He is neither sympathetic nor disgusted. “No doubt,” Gosse says quietly, “our peculiar religious community was more likely to attract the feeble members of a population, than to tempt the flush and the fair” (118). And he leaves it at that – any possible judgments neatly suspended, hidden away in that seemingly neutral, unemotional, “No doubt.” Gosse may well be describing, but not naming, a habitation of mental illness. It would be easy to say that Gosse grew up with an obsessive father, whose mental health was fragile and whose sense of the emotional life of others was dreadfully impaired. Many readers have been tempted to draw this conclusion, and it is not hard to see why. When Gosse observes that “both my parents  . . . were devoid of sympathetic imagination” (78), he generously names what may seem to others a more grievous moral failing in their treatment of their son – isolated, pursued with guilt, undernourished intellectually and emotionally. No wonder Edmund put pins in his own flesh. And for the most unsympathetic readers, it is an easy step from this to think that the whole nature of Henry’s religion was pathological. Virginia Woolf thought so. Henry suffered from an “almost insane religion mania,”8 she said, and later critics have repeated her. Jeffrey Meyers’s description of the text in 1999 was simply “A Case of Religious Mania.”9 Modern accounts of obsession  – Emily Colas, Lennard J. Davis10 – do not seem so far from Edmund’s representation of Henry’s absorbed, intently focused sense on his own capacity to know, uniquely, the mind of God, and his desire to cast out all knowledge other than that. But it is hard indeed to write with authority about another’s religious faith, and it is especially difficult to decide in Father and Son not only because of Edmund’s famous unreliability, but because of his careful lack of indication of what, precisely, his own theological position now is. Virginia Woolf criticised Gosse for never entering “the more profound regions”11 of his subjects’ hearts. But Gosse’s text, without ever being explicit, invites us, nevertheless, to see a child growing up in a household raddled by physical and mental ill health. It always permits us to conceive of Henry’s seemingly obsessive religion as a product of, or at least profoundly shaped by, some form of obsessive disorder. Realising this, some readers may feel they have grasped the key to the growth of Edmund’s “neurotic condition” (121).

Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son


There is no doubt that Father and Son has its own unmissable verbal tics, as if representation is itself obsessed with forms of infirmity. Sickness is everywhere. Edmund thinks of an idea as “demented” (101); he thinks of Henry’s attempts to answer the geologists with Omphalos as a “system of intellectual therapeutics which could not but heal all the maladies of the age” (105), as if writing about the accuracy of the Bible’s account of a six-day Creation could not be conceived outside the terms of ill health. The young Edmund’s obsessive imitation of science writing and illustrations, described in Chapter  8, is a “mania” and the product of a “deep depression of spirits” (148). This writing and painting, looked back on from adulthood, is no hobby, fascination, or childhood absorption. It is a symptom. Even Charles Kingsley, waiting outside one day for Henry Gosse to acknowledge him, careers about the garden “nervously” (139) in Gosse’s recollection, seemingly prey to some loss of motor control, a nervous convulsion. From this tragicomedy of ill health, the reader might be tempted to reach more general conclusions about Gosse’s beliefs and intentions. Does Gosse’s text intend us to think of all extreme forms of Christianity as a kind of mental illness? Surely Father and Son does not suggest that any form of Christianity is a kind of mental aberration however much some readers are inclined to confuse Henry Gosse’s distinctive personal faith, his extraordinary claim to knowledge of the mind of God, with Christianity as a whole? Are we, beyond that, invited to read the narrative as a redemption story that tropes salvation as a breaking away from a place of sickness and death? Is sickness, in other words, a literary figure that helps Gosse organise his life story as a kind of parable of redemption? Is autobiography shaped here (accepting that Father and Son troubles and confuses the distinction between biography and autobiography) by the ancient plots of Atonement and Salvation? Or is sickness asked to bear a different ideological weight? Are we to perceive modernity, if that is what Gosse thinks he represents, as emerging from the rejection of a world of narrow-minded faith as malady, in favor of the embrace of a healthier culture of individuality and self-determination? Does Father and Son’s drama of sickness into health, disease into vigour, allow us to infer a master narrative of the birth of one epoch from the ruins of another as a kind of optimistic healing of wounds inflicted by the past?12 Yet, before answering any of these troublesome questions, we arrive at the largest challenge for the reader of Gosse’s text, the topic by which Father and Son’s reception has been dogged: how to read Father and Son’s significance as a cultural document as opposed to a personal one. If this


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problem is always in some way relevant to autobiography, it is the largely unrecognised, largely undiscussed centre of Gosse’s. How, that is to say, should the reader relate a single man’s curious and unusual life-story to a larger narrative of historical change? How should we relate growing up with the St. Marychurch branch of the Plymouth Brethren (Henry never used the word “Plymouth”) in the 1850s and 1860s to the whole unfolding of cultural, intellectual, and religious history of Great Britain from the “Victorian” to the modern age? George Moore, it is worth remembering, had used the “Plymouth Brethren” in his gloomy novel of survival Esther Waters (1894) to signify his heroine’s oddity, her old-fashionedness, her out-of-the-wayness. But does Gosse really suggest it is emblematic of “Victorian Christianity” and of the temper of an age more fully? How might a reader plot the Birth of the Modern from this drama that opposes Father to Son? And is that what we should do, anyway? Hardly surprisingly, on this matter of how to read a text so absorbed with a history of nerves, Gosse is – nervous. Revealingly, he cannot even decide how to name the story, how to define its reach in a summary term. The subtitle is “A Study of Two Temperaments.” But Gosse modifies that promptly in the “preface”  – it is a “document,” he says (the emphasis is his), “a record of educational and religious conditions which, having passed away, will never return” (33).13 This is a book, then, in which characters stand metonymically for religious history, for the ending – so Edmund implies14 in the “epilogue,” linking his father with the tradition of Jeremy Taylor (240)15  – of an essentially ­seventeenth-century faith in the midst of the nineteenth. The principal dramatis personae also stand for the falling away of a whole educational system that preferred ignorance to anything but Biblical knowledge. Father and Son is, it seems, testimony beyond a mere individual’s life story. But then, Gosse modifies that too. “This book,” he remarks, opening chapter 1, “is the record of a struggle between two temperaments, two consciences and almost two epochs” (35). So what, exactly, is it? With that remark about epochs – the evasive “almost” notwithstanding – we have the text on the verge of being not only religious history but cultural history. Certainly, we have an invitation to read the lives of Henry and Edmund Gosse as representations of historical movements even as we know the volume to be written by a man who famously, in Henry James’s words, had a genius for inaccuracy.16 Are the Gosses to be thought of as figures in an allegory of the birth of the modern? Certainly Edmund’s association with Ibsen and his friendship with André Gide have been taken to place him in the vanguard of the new, though of course, he was also friends with great

Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son


Victorians, including Swinburne. Edmund’s story is, apparently, epochal. And yet the text cannot sustain this epochal note; it quickly proves unable to live up to the pressure of making its account representative of histories beyond a family’s peculiar history, however many readers have preferred to think otherwise. Peter Allen remarks that Father and Son offers “the pleasure of reading a dramatic and well-told story, and the further pleasure of feeling that we are adding to our stock of historical understanding as we do so.”17 But, regardless of pleasure, the pressure between these two narratives – personal story and historical understanding – is, startlingly, a cause of what might be thought the indisposition, the nervous condition, of the text itself. John Gardiner, in a chapter on “anti-Victorianism,” is hardly alone in situating Father and Son in the same frame as The Way of All Flesh, as a refusal of the “Victorian,” and another “crucial reference point for Edwardian critics of the past.”18 “Butler and Gosse are significant,” adds Max Saunders, “for their styptic criticism of the Victorian ethos  . . . for marking a break with the past, and the beginning of a modern subjectivity.”19 Yet Gosse’s own book insists at once on the representative nature of his life story, and on its remarkable and unrepresentative peculiarity. We cannot tell any straightforward story of the birth of the new from this fretful account of a fretful self. For the most part, Gosse tries to make no or only the most modest leap from individual history to a greater narrative. There are moments: Henry is once the “last surviving type” (239) of Puritanism, and there is that famous ending (Edmund “took a human being’s privilege to fashion his inner life for himself,” [251]). But elsewhere there is a different language. Even in that “preface,” Gosse speaks of the “unusual conditions” (33) of his childhood and he promptly repeats that in chapter 1: the “conditions,” he says, “of the two persons (which were unusual)” (3). The parentheses seem an awkward attempt to be honest about the unusualness of those two people, and to bracket unusualness so that the idea of the representative can still be sustained. But for much of the narrative it is precisely the strangeness, the individuality and oddity of Gosse’s experience, that is the subject. If Henry’s faith made him the last surviving remnant of an older Puritanism, he clung to a life that was like one of the fossils he struggled to understand  – his proper environment long gone. Struggling in supposed isolation, he is framed as an obsessive, melancholy preacher and naturalist, regarded after the publication of Omphalos as eccentric and marginal even by the most devotedly anti-Darwinian of Christian readers. He is on the outside, even as much of the time be believes himself uniquely on the inside of the divine mind. Almost every detail of Father and Son owes its


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emotional force to oddity, to the curiosity of an “unnatural” upbringing narrated in prose that might belong in a realist novel. At the very end of the history, Edmund champions the right to his own “normal impulses” (251), as if all that had happened before was abnormal, an aberration, an oddity, and in turn far from representative. Sinners in Henry’s congregation use, symptomatically, their own private language (“They were apt in their penitence to use strange symbolic expressions,” [165]). That glimpse of the idiosyncrasy of the congregation – so improbably founded by that mysterious group of Cornish fishermen  – points to some of the more memorable personal experiences in the text, which hinge, obtrusively, on a recognition of the very curiousness of Gosse’s life. There is, for one, the half-comic, half-appalling story of the beetle. In chapter 7, Gosse recalls seeing this creature, “with more legs than a self-respecting insect ought to need” (134), crawling toward him as his father is praying loudly and at length. With a shout of panic when the beetle finally reaches the child’s chin, Gosse disturbs Henry – and is severely rebuked for interrupting his father’s petitions to God. “But I think, looking back,” Edmund says: that it was very extraordinary for a man, so instructed and so intelligent as he, to dwell so much on the possible anger of the Lord, rather than on his pity and love. The theory of extreme Puritanism can surely offer no quainter example of its fallacy than this idea that the omnipotent Jehovah – could be seriously offended, and could stoop to revenge, because a little, nervous child of nine had disturbed a prayer by being frightened at a beetle. (135)

The point is about the difference between the inconceivably vast mind of God and the local, individual, moment-in-time case of a trembling, anxious child. The difference of scale is what matters here and, of course, it matters more literally in the small child and the monumental father, recollected through the eyes and pen of someone now as grown-up as that father. And there is another, larger, difference of scale too: that between the text’s occasional claim that it represents two epochs and its desire to capture, lucidly, the singularity of highly individual experience, recast by personal memory. There is “no quainter example,” no more extreme or exceptional case, in the history of “extreme Puritanism.” The quaintest and the most extreme example of the most extreme: these are hardly the terms on which the typical can be built. The struggle of Father and Son, then, is not really between two temperaments or, even, between two epochs. It is between two ways of reading. Peter Allen thinks that Gosse’s worry about accuracy in the various prefaces to Father and Son – a result of his mauling by John Churton Collins

Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son


over From Shakespeare to Pope (1885) – prompts “nervous asseverations.”20 But there is also something nervous – the term is unavoidable in a text so drawn to the language of mental sickness – about this oscillation between one kind of narrative interpretation and another; a fretfulness about a story that is curious, private, and strange, but that might be made publicly consequential by being recast as historical, analytical, documentary. Two temperaments or two epochs? “Father and Son” or “The Victorian and the Modern”? If the friction between these alternatives produces a kind of nervousness in the text, an indecision, and even a kind of worry in the mind of the reader about how to interpret, it is hard to avoid noticing that Father and Son wonders about how to read nerves themselves.21 What larger story, in London, then in St. Marychurch in the 1850s, can be put on suffering? Or is suffering only itself? Is a child enduring shattered nerves a local case with specific social, physiological, and mental causes – or part of the grand scheme of God’s dealings with humanity, part of his punishment for sin? Henry Gosse had no doubts on this question. Pain and sickness were sent by God as a punishment for wrongdoing. They were part of the divine scheme. Henry “cultivated the belief that all my little ailments,” Edmund says: all my aches and pains, were sent to correct my faults. He carried this persuasion very far, even putting this exhortation before, instead of after, an instant relief of my sufferings. If I burned my finger with a sulphur match, or pinched the end of my nose in the door (to mention but two sorrows that recur to my memory), my Father would solemnly ejaculate: “Oh may these afflictions be much sanctified to him!” before offering any remedy for my pain. (137)

The narrative only works, its emotional effect is only clear, if the reader does not share Henry’s notion of pain, but regards these afflictions as accidents, slips, a moment’s incaution with a match or a closing door. Believers might have continued living “over a cess-pool,” says Gosse, “working themselves up into an agony to discover how they had incurred the displeasure of the Lord, but never moving away” (61). Obsessed by the general explanation, the poisoned householders fail to see the compelling local and specific one that not only rendered the general irrelevant but exposed its potentially fatal risk in the particular case. The contingent strains against a belief in the necessary; a local sanitary problem is pitched against the intentions of the divine as, elsewhere, the odd individual life history rubs against the grandest claims about a change from one “epoch” to another.


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Did Henry think the same kind of divine plan was at work with his wife’s cancer? Gosse’s narrative ventures no description of that fatal illness as a divine act but, rather, presents Edmund’s conclusion that much of Emily Gosse’s misery was caused by specific, individual conditions. “Her sufferings, I believe,” Edmund says in chapter 3, “were principally caused by the violence of the medicaments to which her doctor, who was trying a new and fantastic ‘cure’, thought it proper to subject her” (75). There is the alternative view: the notion of local, delimited causes. Gosse ironically inserts that “I believe,” inscribing a neat, underemphasised challenge to his father’s faith with a quite contrary set of meanings for human pain. It is an ironic indicator that, for Edmund, medical science is no comparable matter of creedal belief but factual, authoritative, knowledge. Henry might have seen all Edmund’s mental suffering as part of God’s intentions. He might have perceived them as afflictions that could be sanctified. But Father and Son also allows the reader to perceive that, alternatively, those sufferings are more likely the product of the young Gosse’s “unusual conditions,” a “ferment of mind” (61) produced by the difficulties of an exceptionally odd, deprived, and uncomforted childhood. The individual circumstances – what is local to the case – are more credible than a grand narrative built on local details. The positivist Frederic Harrison – entirely out of sympathy with Puritanism – spoke about Father and Son as “a story of rank cruelty and almost insanity.”22 But if that is an overly easy judgment to make, it is not difficult to see Edmund’s own mental disturbance produced by individual, distinct, and almost unique conditions. And on such exceptional histories, as they are offered to us in Gosse’s still moving memoir, what kind of greater cultural narrative can really be situated? The modernists were hardly averse to caricaturing the Victorian period, or drawing out its least appealing features. And Gosse’s text has served its turn as an exemplum of new beginnings, from the commencement of modern life-writing23 to modernism itself. But, however keen Gosse was to welcome some aspects of early twentieth-century writing, Father and Son asks the reader about the legitimacy of evidence in life stories; about the evidential status of autobiographies in tracking historical change rather than, more modestly, revealing the contours of peculiar, curious lives. Father and Son invites us implicitly to look through the potential interpretations of a life history to discern the role of metonymy in plotting cultural change itself. Gosse’s memoir quietly reminds readers – though it never does so overtly – to be watchful in making the interpretive move from the individual instance to grander assertion, just as it also alerts them, unobtrusively, to the problems of authority and authenticity that

Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son


dog many of modernism’s bolder rejections of the “Victorian.” Father and Son might seem from one angle to be “premodernist” and “anti-Victorian” (even if Henry is described as a survival not of the nineteenth century, but of the seventeenth). Yet Father and Son is, perhaps, better conceived as a study that cannot decide how to present the history of so-called epochs at all. Father and Son might be thought modernist in its very hesitancy, in its mood of irresolution in representing human histories in open-ended ways. Part of my argument about its nerves is, in this respect, descriptive of its proximity to the oblique, the partially disclosed, in modernist narrative proper. Yet Gosse anticipates at the same time the criticism of modernism’s way of writing in famously broad-brush terms about its predecessors, often through acts of metonymy. Fretting about what kind of meaning his text can bear, Gosse alerts readers to just how narrowly based and incomplete claims about whole “epochs” can be. Father and Son makes us usefully nervous, on the threshold of the modernists’ own grand narratives, of grand narratives themselves. At the centre of Gosse’s religious drama is Omphalos, Henry’s attempt to explain the integrity of Genesis by arguing that the world bears the traces of a history that it did not actually have. Writing with “the constant prayer that the God of Truth”24 would sanctify the argument for all those unhappy with criticism from geology of Biblical authority, Henry Gosse finds himself, in Edmund’s account, confounded by a hostile reception. He “could not recover from amazement at having offended everybody by an enterprise which had been undertaken in the cause of universal reconciliation” (106). That destructive realisation that there was more than one way of seeing Henry’s own text prompts “depression” and “anger with God,” driving Henry “further from humanity” (104). Henry is mentally split on the rock of different readings. His depression, in Edmund’s eyes, is born directly from the conflict of two explanations that will not cohere. “There is a peculiar agony,” Gosse famously says, “in the paradox that truth has two forms, each of them indisputable, yet each antagonistic to the other” (102). “Truth,” here, is perhaps Edmund’s diplomatic term, respectful to his father and evasive about what kind of Christian faith Edmund now possesses. But the broader point remains. “Agony” is produced by the conflict of two interpretations. And a kind of readerly nervousness is, in turn, deliberately invited by the text, which itself offers the possibility of two conclusions that are deducible from a text divided between offering a history of an individual’s temperament and of an epoch. Can “truth” exist in two forms here? Can those two ways of reading, both using exactly the same evidence, survive without conflict?


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Or is there, metaphorically speaking, an inevitable cause of mental trouble in trying to decide between the two? Art’s hypothesised relationship with neurosis has been, in Freudian accounts, the active modern version of an ancient association between the artist and madness. What is commonly thought Freud’s association, regardless of how he altered and complicated his position, has been much resisted even if the bond between artistic expression and the unconscious, with all its dark desires, has permanently established itself in contemporary views of art’s identity. Lionel Trilling in The Liberal Imagination (1941) was not the first critic to resist any straightforward association between art and the neurotic, though both “Freud and Literature” and “Art and Neurosis” remain important essays. Trilling pointed out that the commonplace association, newly revived by Freud, between a textual artefact and a state of grave mental imbalance was too easy to make because literary artists were, by definition, better at talking about their mental troubles than most. “We are all ill,”25 Trilling bracingly says. But that does not make us all artists, and the roots of art must be found elsewhere. On the matter of art and neurosis, in which modernism was so variously interested,26 Father and Son points provocatively in a new and quite different direction. Gosse’s text might offer some evidence that the author’s writing was all too closely associated with neurosis; that Father and Son is an autobiography with “a kind of secret headache” (197). But more subtle is the text’s challenge to associate its central case about the mental conflict of two interpretations of the world in the reception of Omphalos to its own local nature and narrative; to relate the unstable, anxious topic of what Father and Son says it is about as a “document” to the act of interpreting it. Readers are faced with a double way of comprehending this text, and, at its centre, Gosse aptly places the tormented history of Omphalos, a book that supposedly precipitated its author’s depression because it failed to reconcile two great competing interpretations. There is, it may be, a “peculiar agony” of meaning “in two forms” (102). Yet what readers of Father and Son are challenged to do, it seems to me, is to set the memory of Omphalos aside, or to learn its lesson, and to perceive the conflicting interpretations of Gosse’s life in Father and Son without flinching – to brace themselves for a text that is, simply enough, two different things at once. Recognising the possibility of meanings at variance with each other, the reader is dared to keep them both in mind. We are asked to decline any single-minded or even obsessive insistence on only one side. To read

Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son


“sanely” – to invoke for a moment the medical language Gosse so temptingly offers – means the reader of Father and Son should not endeavour to adjudicate between the grander claims of “epoch” and the local claims of individual history by effacing one or the other. The encouragement is to recognise that the division exists and that the text is split. This is not a condition peculiar to Father and Son, though peculiarly visible there. Indeed, modernism itself might be said to have exploited such tensions elsewhere, as Thomas Hardy did in allowing the reader to wonder whether Tess of the d’Urbervilles suffers primarily from the “ache of modernism,”27 as the narrator phrases it, or from something produced by her own very distinctive and tragic circumstances. T. S. Eliot in a similar vein later called The Waste Land (1922) “the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life . . . a piece of rhythmical grumbling.”28 Yet the poem, as he knew, is habitually taken as a cultural analysis of postwar England, as something quite beyond merely personal complaining. Reading “sanely” in Gosse’s history of nerves involves the consideration of similar possibilities, and, it seems to me, we must neither worry about divisions (as Edmund worries) nor fall prey to an obsessive and imbalanced absorption in only one version of the account (as Henry does, and later readers of Gosse’s text, and Hardy’s and Eliot’s, sometimes do). Father and Son is no simple version of the birth of the modern from the ruins of a constraining Victorian past, however frequently we are told that it is – and sometimes, almost, by Gosse himself. Instead, amid these textures of nervous equivocation, Father and Son gives new force to the liberal notion that there can be a kind of madness in seeing only one side of an argument. Virginia Woolf did not like the caution of Father and Son. She wanted Gosse to be franker, firmer, more clear-cut: more decisive. She wanted him to say which side he was on. But reading Father and Son “sanely,” I think, is to read cautiously. It is to accept that Gosse’s still popular memoir, on this consequential matter of how to interpret its status as a document, and beyond that on the broadest question of how to read historical evidence in autobiography, is not firm and frank and certain. If Father and Son is to be regarded as somehow a modernist autobiography, it is worth remembering just how uncomfortable the text is about making individual things representative of greater movements, substantial and substantive shifts in history. We would do well to be anxious, like Father and Son, of making too tidily a statement about how to map the fault lines of culture through odd cases. Literary critics are sometimes better being nervous.


O’G orma n Notes

1 See “On Being Ill” (1930) in Virginia Woolf, Collected Essays, 4 vols. (London: Hogarth, 1966–7), iv. 193–203, 193. My thanks to Elisabeth Jay, Katherine Mullin, and Julia Reid, and the editors, for advice on earlier drafts of this essay. 2 See Ann Thwaite, Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849–1928 (London: Secker and Warburg, 1984) and Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Philip Henry Gosse (London: Faber, 2002). 3 Edmund Gosse, “Confidential Paper on Swinburne” [1917], British Library, Western Manuscripts, Ashley MS 5753. 4 All references to Father and Son are to page numbers in the edition by Peter Abbs (London: Penguin, 1983). 5 I follow Thwaite in the use of “Henry” as P. H. Gosse’s preferred name: See Glimpses of the Wonderful, xix. 6 For example, Gosse, Father and Son, 127. 7 Not identified in Douglas Wertheimer, “The Identification of Some Characters and Incidents in Gosse’s Father and Son,” Notes & Queries 23 (1976): 4–11. 8 Woolf, “Edmund Gosse,” Collected Essays, vol. iv. 81–7, 82. 9 Jeffrey Meyers, “A Case of Religious Mania: Gosse’s Father and Son,” ANQ 22 (1999): 21–7. 10 Emily Colas, Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive (London: Pocket, 2000); Lennard J. Davis, Obsession: A History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). 11 Woolf, “Edmund Gosse,” 84. 12 Relevant to this in terms of scientific history is David Amigoni’s account of the contested notion of progress in Father and Son in Colonies, Cults and Evolution: Literature, Science and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 164–86. 13 On the changes to the prefaces, see Douglas Wertheimer, “Gosse’s Corrections to Father and Son 1907–1928,” Notes & Queries 25 (1978): 327–32. 14 Note also Edmund’s observation in chapter 4 that they used the “language of the seventeenth century” in discussing religious controversy (94). 15 Note that it is more generally accepted now that, though there were some similarities between Puritanism and nineteenth-century evangelicalism/ dissent, there were also considerable differences in theology, worship, and practice. 16 Quoted in Thwaite, Glimpses of the Wonderful, xvi. 17 Peter Allen, “Sir Edmund Gosse and His Modern Readers: The Continued Appeal of Father and Son,” ELH (1988): 487–503 (489). 18 John Gardiner, The Victorians: An Age in Retrospect (London: Hambledon, 2002), 32. 19 Max Saunders, “Biography and Autobiography” in Laura Marcus and Peter Nicholls, eds., The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 286–302 (287).

Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son


20 Allen, “Sir Edmund Gosse and His Modern Readers,” 493. 21 The history of worry in the early twentieth century is traced in Francis O’Gorman, “Modernism, T. S. Eliot, and the ‘Age of Worry,’” Textual Practice 26 (2012): 1001–19. 22 Quoted in Thwaite, Glimpses of the Wonderful, xv. 23 See Hermione Lee, “Father and Son: Philip and Edmund Gosse” in BodyParts: Essays on Life-Writing (London: Chatto & Windus, 2005), 100–11. 24 Philip Henry Gosse, FRS, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (London: Van Voorst, 1857), vii. 25 Lionel Trilling, “Art and Neurosis” in The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (London: Secker and Warburg, 1951), 160–80, 178. 26 See, for instance, Louis A. Sass, Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought (New York: Basic, 1992); Thomas C. Caramagno, The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf ’s Art and Manic-Depressive Illness (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Jennifer Kroll, “Mary Butts’s ‘unrest cure’ for The Waste Land,” Twentieth-Century Literature, 45 (1999): 159–73; Anthony Cuda, “T.  S. Eliot’s Etherized Patient,” TwentiethCentury Literature 50 (2004): 394–420. 27 Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 140. 28 T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts, revised ed., Valerie Eliot ed. (London: Faber, 2010), 1.

Ch apter 2

The “Fascination of  What I Loathed”: Science and Self in W. B. Yeats’s Autobiographies Rónán McDonald

I Published separately over a period of two decades, Yeats’s Autobiographies were first grouped together in 1955, some sixteen years after his death. The plural title indicates the variety of their composition, perspective, and style. They range from the episodic, reflective meditations of Reveries over Childhood and Youth (1916) to the mosaic portraiture of The Trembling of the Veil (1922) to the diarized “Estrangement” (1926) and “The Death of Synge” (1928), these two deriving from the earliest written of all the volumes, a journal Yeats maintained in 1909. Reveries and The Trembling of the Veil, the main focus of this essay, were published together as Autobiographies in 1926. “The Death of Synge” (1928), “The Bounty of Sweden” (1924), and Dramatis Personae (1936), which settled some old scores with George Moore, were added later.1 A complete collection of the extant “journals,” alongside a more sexually frank and emotionally intense version of The Trembling of the Veil, was published separately in 1972 as Memoirs, edited by Denis Donoghue. These entries and diarized autobiographies are not reworked into artistic structure and narrative form, yet they have the advantage of immediacy and hence a sort of heightened authenticity. As Yeats put it at the start of “Estrangement”: To keep these notes natural and useful to me I must keep one note from leading to one another, that I may not surrender myself to literature. Every note must come as a casual thought, then it will be my life. Neither Christ not Buddha nor Socrates wrote a book, for to do that is to exchange life for a logical process.2

Despite the differences in structure between the various volumes, they often express anxiety about exchanging “life for logical process,” about the distortions and spurious coherence that retrospection can impose but also, 18

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as a more broadly philosophical position, about the failure of abstract ratiocination to express the underlying integrity of lived experience. Yeats’s stance in the culture war between science and art, the so-called “two cultures” debate, is ostensibly unambiguous.3 He allies himself firmly against the depredations of modern empiricist orthodoxy and in favour of the inviolate imagination and visionary truth. The conflict between the truth claims of the two cultures resonates with the formal tensions within autobiography as a genre, straddling as it does recorded history and personal creativity, between testament – “I have changed nothing to my knowledge” (3) – and the unconscious distortions of retrospect – “it must be that I have changed many things without my knowledge” (3). Laura Marcus suggests that the autobiographer, as opposed to the more liberally licensed memoirist, is expected to hold, in good faith, “the intention to tell the truth, as far as possible” as a “guarantee of autobiographical veracity and sincerity.”4 Yeats begins his autobiographical writings asserting this intention, while acknowledging its limitations. The limitations of autobiography are not only those of selective and unreliable memory. There are also cultural strictures. Autobiography can only run along the tracks already lain: how one conceives of a life story is determined by the possible lives that are visible within social narrative. The grooves of self-articulation are limited to set tropes such as Oedipal struggle, rise and fall, loss of childhood innocence, deconversion, the quest for agency. Therefore, as an objective description of recalled subjective experience, autobiography involves tension and contradiction, not just with individual selection but with cultural sanction. These conflicts resonate with the cleft between the two cultures. I wish to argue here that in the Autobiographies Yeats’s own avowed epistemology echoes the formal tensions of the genre. He recounts a struggle between the impulses of his mind and those of his artistic values: “I was full of thought, often very abstract thought, longing all the while to be full of images, because I had gone to the art schools instead of a university” (166). This is a dilemma on which the autobiographical writings hinge, especially as the form seeks both to depict the past and to resist the mechanisms of that depiction. When Yeats attains intellectual maturity, he renounces positivism, science, and abstraction, and their aesthetic correlative, realism, which together make up a view of the world he derides as “Huxley, Tyndall, Carolus Duran, Bastien-Lepage bundle of old twigs” (168). But the role of memory as witness, for all its unreliability, needs to gather empirical information and cast it in chronological sequence, like the bundle of twigs he decries.


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The thematics of Yeats’s autobiographical writing thus impel him to chafe against the received generic form. Repeatedly Autobiographies registers the dilemma, adopting strategically opaque modes of expression that anticipate the more outré experimentalism of the modernists. The text is often uneasy in its descriptive remit, deploying a wavering and meditative idiom, often moving laterally from description to description without a strong sense of chronology, and at certain points, the ends of books II and IV of Trembling of a Veil, for example, breaking into disconnected fragments. This second and most substantial of his autobiographical volumes, much of it given over to vignettes of Yeats’s contemporaries, is remarkable for its authorial absence. Attention has shifted here from Yeats to the figures around him with significantly curtailed heed to the effect these individuals have on Yeats’s own consciousness and development. The effect is to diffuse the autobiographical consciousness. There is, then, a link between the formal disquiet that sometimes marks these texts and the epistemological conflict between objective recall and creative insight. This occurs not just in the narrative form, but also, tellingly, in the content, the story that is told. Yeats embraces and then renounces scientific naturalism in Reveries over Childhood and Youth, a progression profoundly caught up in the complex Oedipal relationship he has with his materialist father. In The Trembling of the Veil, Yeats positions himself as an antagonist in the “two cultures” debate decrying the depredations of science and realism. But despite the stridency of his opposition to science the text is full of residual scientific thinking, evident in metaphor and figuration but also in an anxious search for groundedness and verification as a salve to the divided self.

II If Reveries over Childhood and Youth commences with an overt acknowledgment of the unreliability of memory, it also recognizes that early childhood memory, like the diary form Yeats deploys later, avoids the imposition of narrative causality: My first memories are fragmentary and isolated and contemporaneous, as though one remembered some first moments of the Seven Days. It seems as if time had not yet been created, for all thoughts are connected with emotion and place without sequence. (5)

Without the distortions of temporality, childhood has a prelapsarian connection with sensation, impression, and immediacy. But freedom from

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sequentiality is expressed by rupturing the autonomy of the text through an intertextual simile (“first moments of the Seven Days”). Even at the earliest, Yeats weaves into his narrative tissues of quotations that throw into question authority and originality, exposing at once the textualized nature of the autobiographical subject and the deeply precedented quality of autobiographical form. Yeats’s autobiographical writings are remarkably porous, suffused with references to other literary works. This is not just a question of erudition or comparison. Literary example is identified, repeatedly, as a lodestar to writing and to life. Within it the young Yeats finds his authority figures, his guides: I had many idols, and as I climbed along the narrow ledge I was now Manfred on his glacier, and now Prince Athanase with his solitary lamp, but I soon chose Alastor for my chief of men and longed to share his melancholy, and maybe at last to disappear from everybody’s sight as he disappeared drifting in a boat along some slow moving river between great trees. (64)

Not for the last time, the autobiographical subject becomes obscured in the process of narration. What room for his own agency beneath these mythic exemplars? His wish to “disappear from everybody’s sight” is realized precisely by the crowded allusions, the textual thicket. Where is the “real” subject? The perforation of narrative integrity through the search for literary guides is one way in which the text self-cancels while it enacts a search for authority, for verifiability. Yeats records that he was unhappy without knowing quite why, feelings that are intimately tied up with a response to authority (religious and familial) and personal guilt: “I used to think about God and fancy that I was very wicked” (6). From early on, he has a crisis of religious faith, not simply because he has read science, but also because his father’s materialist outlook has eroded the religious instruction imparted to him by his mother’s family: “My father’s unbelief had set me thinking about the evidences of religion and I weighted the matter perpetually with great anxiety, for I did not think I could live without religion” (25–6). So Yeats’s initial deconversion is not a straight clash between parental faith and scientific scepticism, but rather a more mediated reaction in which paternal authority puts him in conflict with the faith of the maternal family. One of the notable features of Reveries is the permeability of the family unit, a parallel to the intertextual porousness already noted. Much of Reveries takes place in Sligo, the home of the Pollexfens, Yeats’s mother’s family, so the dynamics are one of an extended rather than immediate


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family. Though uncles feature largely, there is no sustained discussion of Yeats’s sibling relationships. Notably, Yeats’s mother herself is scarcely mentioned, an absence that has been identified by Elizabeth Grubgeld as a hallmark of Anglo-Irish autobiography in contrast to the life writings of the Catholic lower and middle classes.5 Reveries evokes a strongly male world. Yeats’s father only visits Sligo occasionally, yet the relationship with him steers the young Yeats’s path toward autonomy and freedom. Significantly, he planned to call Reveries “Father and Son,” had the title not been already used in 1909 by Edmund Gosse.6 But the force of “paternal” authority is not easily gainsaid and if, at times, Yeats strives to exert his own agency, he is nonetheless preoccupied with family precedence, which through genealogy, allies itself to his urge for explanation, aetiology, causality. He seeks determinism in heredity. Gazing wistfully at family portraits, Yeats takes pride in the prominent positions in the professions and soldiery of his forefathers. The pride is, perhaps, all the more self-defensive because of the realization, expressed elsewhere, that his family does not reach the Ascendancy rank of the local great families of Lissadell and Markree who live in the Sligo vicinity. But, strikingly, he seeks to isolate quasi-aristocratic qualities of courtesy and equanimity that might distinguish his lineage from the vulgarities of the contemporary marketplace: “I am delighted with all that joins my life to those that had power in Ireland or with those anywhere that were good servants and poor bargainers” (22). The genealogical preoccupations of “Introductory Rhymes” to Responsibilities, published the same year as Reveries, resonate here. In this poem, Yeats asks pardon of his “Old Fathers’,” whose blood “has not passed through any huckster’s loins,” for not yet producing a child “to prove your blood and mine.”7 But if he seeks to ground his behaviour in the example of others, if he needs reasons for what he does, he is also aware that his search for reassuring precedence undoes individual agency. The truly aristocratic, finely bred personality, he feels, acts more spontaneously, without being burdened with the guilt-ridden self-consciousness that impedes him: “I knew almost from the start that to overflow with reasons was to be not quite well-born; and when I could I hid them, as men hide a disagreeable ancestry” (166). So his search for ancestral lodestars is itself a sign of bad breeding, just as the compulsive identification of literary exemplars obscures his capacity for autonomous agency. In both cases a hunger for deterministic guidance undermines subjective authenticity. The search for knowledge, for verification, again proves a self-cancelling endeavor.

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Much of the Autobiographies plays off the danger of knowledge, and Reveries in Edenic mode links knowledge and carnality.8 Nobody would tell the young Yeats where calves come from, and, innocent of sexuality, he can only conclude that they are created through divine intervention. When sexual knowledge begins it therefore signals the final separation from the certainties of religious consolation. A visiting boy explains to Yeats “all the mechanisms of sex,” a description that “made me miserable for weeks” (26). The boy’s story is confirmed by an encyclopaedia, the forbidden book. Knowing the brute facts of human generation heralds the symbolic end of Yeats’s childhood. Death (in the form of the death of his younger brother, Robert), sexuality, and transgression are all intertwined in this period of Yeats’s recalled development, as he mutates from innocence to anxious experience. Yet knowledge, and specifically scientific knowledge, becomes for the adolescent Yeats a surrogate religion, despite his later hostility to it. He develops an interest in collecting newts and butterflies. He finds great pleasure, he tells us, in wandering through woods, collecting specimens or gathering fossils at the cliff edge. He dreams of becoming a celebrated naturalist and, with the zeal of the deconverted, wants to evangelize his views, especially to those who will be religiously compromised by them: [I] was hot for argument in refutation of Adam and Noah and the Seven Days. I had read Darwin and Wallace, Huxley and Haeckel, and would spend hours on a holiday plaguing a pious geologist, who when not at some job in Guinness’s brewery, came with a hammer to look for fossils in the Howth cliffs. (60)

Despite his fervour, the young Yeats is nonetheless very divided. He has not developed his naturalist explanations without much struggle, and, in a sense, its attractions for him are its connections not just with his own father, but with authority and explanation more generally: “When I had read Darwin and Huxley and believed as they did, I had wanted, because an established authority was on my side, to argue with everybody” (79.) At the same time as he feels safe in demonstrable certainty, he has a conflicted impulse to rebel. Yet as Reveries proceeds, he begins to feel the lure of the secret, the unseen, and the supernatural. By his later teenage years, some of his occult interests are beginning to stir: “I still carried my green net but I began to play at being a sage, a magician or a poet” (64). Still, this initially seems more a continuation than a renunciation of science. Moreover, his interest


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in Sligo folklore slides into the investigative mechanisms that are already in place. His naturalist forays in search of eggs and butterflies become instead a hunt for raths and faery hills. This move from science to the supernatural, rather than being an inversion, then, is in important senses a continuation of the empirical methods that the adolescent Yeats had enthusiastically embraced. For all their ostensible incompatibility, the two positions, naturalism and supernaturalism, intertwine and penetrate. His anti-scientific beliefs are profoundly mediated by what he seeks to renounce. He starts to think of his father’s philosophy as “a misunderstanding created by Victorian science, and science I had grown to hate with a monkish hate,” but at the same time he doubles back from the renunciation, “and in a moment I would unsay what I had said and pretend that I did not really believe it” (82). He hates science because of its destabilizing power on his own convictions, but it holds an authority he struggles to renounce. There are clearly split and divided motivations here that exceed the usual fickleness and faddishness of adolescence. His response to reading George Eliot reveals something of the ambivalence: She seemed to have a distrust or a distaste for all in life that gives one a springing foot. Then, too, she knew so well how to enforce her distaste by the authority of her mid-Victorian science or by some habit of mind of its breeding, that, I, who have not escaped the fascination of what I loathed, doubted while the book lay open whatsoever my instinct knew of splendour. (87–8)

Drawn to the spiritual and the vital, Yeats has been sufficiently formed by his father’s materialist views and his own early naturalism to feel the “fascination of what I loathed” and the ill-breeding that feeds it. His urge for veracity and transparent aetiology opposes the vitalism he associates with creative power untethered to abstraction and logical process. Yet the form in which he is writing compels Yeats to compromise his anti-realist stance. He needs to mould the past, to shape it into narrative through conscious intentionality. Moreover, the indictment of Eliot for her Victorian scientism here contrasts with a letter to his friend F. J. Gregg of late summer 1886 (the year when Reveries ends) where he chides her for insufficient attention to “Darwen” [sic]: She understands only the conscious nature of man. His intellect, his morals, – she knows nothing of the dim unconscious nature of the world of instinct which (if there is any truth in Darwen [sic]) is the accumulated

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wisdom of all living things from the monera to man while the other is at the very most the wisdom gathered during four score years and ten.9

Regardless of the correctness of this distillation of Darwin’s theory, it is significant that the young Yeats holds up Darwin as an intellectually substantial figure who deals in depths, not surfaces and is well versed in wider evolutionary theory. It is the opposite of the superficial realism that he later associates with Huxley and Tyndall. We know that Yeats, ever a resourceful moulder of the past, is not to be trusted as a reliable witness. According to R.  F. Foster, his official biographer, Yeats “altered and reshaped the pattern of his earlier life to fit with the story of his emerging country – changing perspective and even chronology to make his point.”10 That he incorporates a hostility to Victorian science at the end of Reveries is an example of how the distaste for science during the writing of Reveries is being retrospectively read back into the younger Yeats by the older in order to give the renunciation of his father’s materialist outlook a more coherent narrative shape.

III This change of chronology is in part a response to the exigencies of form. One of the most recognizable tropes of the autobiographical genre is “deconversion,” the loss of childhood faith that also underscores a move away from innocence toward disenchantment. In many late Victorian memoirs, this is staged as an encounter with science, and particularly evolutionary theory. Often the deconversion occurs from happening upon a forbidden book. In the case of Yeats’s friend and collaborator the playwright John Millington Synge, the fatal book was Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859).11 Science also robs Yeats of his “faith.” Here, by contrast, we are not presented with the drama of the forbidden book; the deconversion is not epiphanic, and it occurs via Darwin’s popularizers T. H. Huxley and John Tyndall, rather than Darwin himself. Nonetheless, it is a cardinal passage in the Autobiographies to which Yeats ascribes a whole religiousaesthetic outlook: I was unlike others of my generation in one thing only. I am very religious, and deprived by Huxley and Tyndall, whom I detested, of the simple-minded religion of my childhood, I had made a new religion, almost an infallible Church of poetic tradition, of a fardel of stories, and of personages, and of emotions, inseparable from their first expression, passed on from generation to generation by poets and painters with some help


Mcdona ld from philosophers and theologians. I wished for a world where I could ­discover this tradition perpetually, and not in pictures and in poems only, but in tiles around the chimney-piece and in the hangings that kept out the draught. (115–16)

It is hard to credit Yeats as ever having had a deconversion experience like some of his more devout contemporaries. As already seen, Reveries asserts a teenage enthusiasm for Lyell, Darwin, and Huxley. So the passage in A Trembling of the Veil, while it gives his later hostility to scientific materialism a retrospective coherence, must be qualified by his early enthusiasms. Yeats’s approach to science and modernity is ambivalent, and intertwined with various submissions to and rebellions against authority. The deconversion trope seeks to graft the narrative into a coherent pattern, which the wayward and opaque narrative often resists. The encounter with evolution is deployed as a generically sanctioned (if not autobiographically accurate) route to disenchantment. The internal slippages within the passage, and its use of metaphor, merit close analysis. If Huxley and Tyndall were “despised,” they nonetheless robbed Yeats of his “simple-minded” Christianity and impelled him to embrace a combination of the occult and the aesthetic. Yeats diagnoses his early attempts to create a poetic and philosophical system – a leitmotif of his career – as a reaction to materialist science and desacralizing positivism. That intriguing mention of the hangings that keep out the draught is both a descriptive detail and an arching metaphor. The “church of poetic tradition” operates here as a sort of literary prophylactic, a protection against a cold and godless exterior world, just as the hangings keep out the draught. As so often in Yeats, however, the curtains also highlight what they exclude: the artistic haven is at once asserted and, implicitly, contradicted, just as Huxley and Tyndall are rejected even as they purportedly rob his faith. The self is threatened by the brute facticity of evolutionary theory and disappears behind a heightened, wavering, heavily wrought style. The renunciation of the materialist or scientific worldview is of a piece with a spurning of realism in art, a surface representation likened to cackling birds picking at seeds. The negative exemplars are the French realist painters Jules Bastien-Lepage and Carolus Dunn. Several times during The Trembling of the Veil, Yeats links the “despised” Huxley and Tyndall to these two, an unlovely avian quartet of French painters and English scientists that stand as a synecdoche for the arid positivist worldview that he so fervently repudiates.

The “Fascination of  What I Loathed”


But even in The Trembling of the Veil, Yeats’s anti-scientific posture is not only defined by what it opposes but also underpinned by it. He is drawn to psychical research and spiritualism, which for all its anti-materialism is shot through with pseudo-scientific language. Yeats does not forsake arid science for the allure of mysticism. His interests would be more accurately described as moving from enchantment with science in adolescence to the science of enchantment in adulthood. After his switch to more supernatural pursuits, he preserves his early scientism in an abiding obsession with verification. He may, as he claims, be “naturally religious” in one respect, but this never extends to blind faith. He never stopped seeking proof for his occult beliefs. If he renounced the evidence of the senses, Yeats never renounced evidence per se. Of his membership of the Esoteric section of the Theosophical Society in the 1890s, he wrote in his Memoirs, “I was always longing for evidence, but ashamed to admit my longing,” and as a result of some attempts to evoke the spirits of dead flowers he was expelled.12 Inspired by the philosopher Henry More (1614–87), Yeats points to the instinct of birds to build nests as an illustration of the limitations of natural science. Science, he maintains, cannot explain such instinct. The birds’ nest motif echoes the avian imagery  – bird droppings, pecking  – that he uses to characterize “Huxley, Tyndal, Duran, Bastien-Lepage,” but significantly inverted. The image of the bird, collecting strands and twigs and forging them into a great whole, “driven by a memory independent of embodied memories” (62), is a sign of how the bird itself is part of a greater whole of anima mundi, a unity that underlies the separation of individuals, the split between past and present, the dispersal and alienations of the modern world that leave the poet with an overwhelming sense of fragmentation. The effort to overcome fragmentation, like the bird driven by instinct, must be an escape from ratiocination and abstraction. When, in The Trembling of the Veil, Yeats writes of “fragmentation” it evokes the opposite of instinct: a dry, rational, surface-orientated positivism that produces science in thought and realism in art. Toward the end of book 1 of The Trembling of the Veil, “Four Years: 1887–1891,” the poet recalls a “conviction that the world was now but a bundle of fragments possessed me without ceasing”(190). This conviction leads him to a yearning that becomes a motif of the volume, for “Unity of Being,” a sense of the obscured whole that these fragments deny, the organic interconnectedness of all things, including the various arts, the past with the present, the elements of the self and its modes of knowing. Standing against this


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unity are the habits of thought embraced by modernity, the materialist and scientific view, the dreary realism of surfaces in the visual arts, the dominance of habits of “abstraction,” which he defines as “not the distinction but the isolation of occupation, or class of faculty” (190). He craves a holistic culture antedating the era of specialization and mechanization, a yearning that feeds into his conservative and oligarchical politics. Historically, he finds a cultural zenith during the Renaissance: Somewhere about 1450, though later in some parts of Europe by a hundred years or so, and in some earlier, men attained to personality in great numbers, “Unity of Being”, and became like “a perfectly proportioned human body”, and as men so fashioned held places of power, their nations had it too, prince and ploughman sharing that thought and feeling. (291)

His metaphor here for unity of being is the perfectly formed human body, its faculties working in organic harmony. But again, the biological and often hereditarian figurations of Yeats’s earlier interest in naturalism are used as a metaphorical buttress for his idealized pre-Enlightenment society. Scientific modes of thought are carried into an anti-scientific philosophy. “Unity of Being” ties together the fabric of both self and society, which in a ravaged and chaotic Europe is understandably desirable, but also, and for the same reason, painfully distant. Those who pursue the values of imagination and integration in the modern world have no sustaining roots in the wider culture. This in part underlies the fall of the “tragic generation” of the writers and artists of the Rhymers Club that Yeats recalls in the London of the 1890s. Ireland, however, offers a promise for obtaining the Unity of Being that has been lost in England: I used to tell the few friends to whom I could speak these secret thoughts that I would make the attempt in Ireland but fail, for our civilization, its elements multiplying by division like certain low forms of life, was all powerful; but in reality I had the wildest hopes. (194)

The descriptive simile derives from evolutionary biology, mingled with contemporaneous discourses of degeneration, the undesirable elements of civilization pullulating out of control. If the problem is the analytic, desacralizing momentum of scientific epistemology, it is striking how often Yeats uses its vocabulary in his diagnostics. Ireland in the wake of Parnell offered “soft wax” (199), which could be moulded into a unifying national culture sourced in ancient mythology. The solution to modern fragmentation can come through the Irish revival as he aspires to “create some new Prometheus Unbound; Patrick or

The “Fascination of  What I Loathed”


Columcille, Oisin or Finn in Prometheus’s stead and, instead of Caucasus, Cro-Patrick or Ben Bulben” (194). Ireland promises Yeats an imaginative riposte to the fragmentary, desacralized modernity, where the arts could still play a central role in public life and where Yeats could fuse theosophical, nationalistic, and imaginative commitments. In Seamus Deane’s formulation, “Yeats began his career by inventing an Ireland amenable to his imagination. He ended by finding an Ireland recalcitrant to it.”13 Ireland would break up into its own rebarbative fragments, with a vicious civil war and the founding of a partitioned Free State, whose insularity and middle-class philistinism often appalled Senator Yeats. Yeats’s struggle with the modern world, and the extraordinarily powerful poetry that struggle produces, is itself a product of conflicted modernity. Similarly, in his Autobiographies Yeats conducts a rhetorical battle with abstraction, science, and realism, which simultaneously reveals his complex creative dependence on them. Notes 1 For the publication history of Autobiographies, see “Textual Introduction” in W.  B. Yeats, Autobiographies, William H. O’Donnell and Douglas N. Arhcibald, eds., The Collected Worlds of W.  B. Yeats, vol. III (New York: Scribner, 1999), 13–29. 2 W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1955), 461. Hereafter cited parenthetically. 3 The phrase was first used by C. P. Snow. See The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959). 4 Laura Marcus, Auto/biographical Discourses: Criticism, Theory, Practice (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1994), 3. 5 Elizabeth Grubgeld, Anglo-Irish Autobiography: Class, Gender, and the Forms of Narrative (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004), 62. Notably, the mother-son relationship does feature in Yeats’s loosely autobiographical novella John Sherman (1891) 6 W. B. Yeats, Letters, ed. Allan Wade (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 589. 7 W.  B. Yeats, The Variorum Edition of the Poems, Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach, eds. (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 269–70. 8 Eamonn Hughes points out that Reveries deliberately plays off this structural affinity with the Bible in various ways. “‘You need not fear that I am not amiable’: Reading Yeats (Reading) Autobiographies,” Yeats Annual 12 (1996): 84–116. 9 Yeats, Letters, 31. 10 R.  F. Foster, “Philosophy and Passion: Yeats, Ireland and Europe” [University College Cork/ESB International Annual W.  B. Yeats Lecture Series] (Cork: University College Cork, 2005), 6


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11 J.  M. Synge, Prose, Alan Price, ed. (1966), 10–11, vol. 2 of Collected Works, Robin Skelton, gen. ed., 4 vols. (London: Oxford Universty Press, 1962–8). 12 Yeats, Memoirs, 23–4. 13 Seamus Deane, “Yeats, and the Idea of Revolution,” Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature 1880–1980 (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1985), 38.

Ch apter 3

Writing at Sea: Conrad’s Personal Record of “My Life,” “My Two Lives” Michael Levenson

His past was always near, but Conrad made only one concerted effort to tell the story of his life. The occasion, a series of memories later collected as A Personal Record, occurred at a time of creative, economic, and domestic emergency. Within a career punctuated by crises, the years of autobiographical gestation and composition (1907–9) were not uniquely, but more intensely, bleak. His son Boris suffered a life-threatening illness lasting for many weeks. Financial burdens pressed relentlessly. New literary projects ran into impasse; promises to his agent, J. B. Pinker, multiplied and lapsed. During these months, many pages of Conrad’s correspondence emitted long groans of pain, mixed with appeals for readerly understanding, emotional sympathy, and, often, money. Then, in spite of all, he continued to nurse hopes of “striking a blow for popularity.”1 Why, he wondered, should the formidable Thomas Hardy be popular? What is the difference between them? he asked, and then quickly answered, “Foreignness I suppose”2 (Letters 4, 9). On all sides, he saw marks of the failure and deterioration of his career. Through the first months of 1908, Conrad moved between moods of despair and the demands of work. His oft-stated resolve was to finish Chance, a novel that he saw (rightly) as likely to win the wider readership he wanted. But Chance (the “main thing”) (Letters 3, 413) was interrupted by a new story, then called “Razumov,” which Conrad could neither shake nor complete: it would grow into Under Western Eyes over the next several years. Chance, he promised Pinker, will soon be done; in fact, it took another four years before it was ready to publish. At this moment, in the midst of uncertainty and unkept promises, Conrad resolved to tell a story of his life. A few years earlier he had published The Mirror of the Sea (1906), a memoir of his time as a seaman, but one cast as a chronicle of ships and oceans, provokingly indifferent to his own experiences. Then in 1908 Ford Madox Ford took up editorship of a new journal, the English Review, which nursed the ambition to cultivate serious writing in a thoughtless 31



age. With Ford’s encouragement, Conrad agreed to publish an account of both his early life and the beginnings of authorship (“intimate personal autobiographical things,” he told his agent, “under the general title (for book form perhaps) of the Life and the Art”) (Letters 4, 125).3 The pieces began to appear in December 1908 under the title “Some Reminiscences”; they ended abruptly in June 1909. Though it carries an air of improvisation, A Personal Record raises difficult questions about the constitution of selfhood through written narrative. Conrad knew himself as one “to whom an open display of sentiment is repugnant.”4 Nevertheless, once begun, he found his task absorbing.5 Autobiography for him became a transaction between what must be said and what could never be said. It stimulated a risky turn inward, even as it presented the self as an object to be seen, inspected, and judged. All this overwrought activity unfolds over a nihilistic chasm of nonmeaning. No ethics can found the writer’s vocation; it can never justify itself.

Analogic Selves If A Personal Record must serve as Conrad’s one sustained act of “autobiography,” it stands no less as implied biography of those who surround him, especially those who read and reviewed his work. During these testing years, Conrad saw himself as deeply misunderstood. The recent novels, Nostromo (1904) and The Secret Agent (1907), had divided readers to such an extent that his literary standing threatened to lose coherence, as well as force. Within A Personal Record he notes that Nostromo is still mentioned, “sometimes in connection with the word ‘failure’ and sometimes in conjunction with the word ‘astonishing’” (APR 272). A few pages later he reflects that “I have been called romantic. Well, that can’t be helped. But stay. I seem to remember that I have been called a realist, also” (APR 281). These contradictions absorb and disturb him. Early in The Secret Agent, when the anarchist professor boasts, “There are very few people in the world whose character is as well established as mine,” we can hear Conrad’s own longing for an established reputation.6 “Books may be written in all sorts of places” (APR 195)  – this is the charming disarming first line of the reminiscences. Its passive mood should be noted. In periods of anxiety and threat, Conrad often resorted to the passive, keenly aware of what “he has been called” and how his work “is mentioned.” The power of an outer agency compels him, as it compels his characters. To his old friend Edward Garnett he had written with unsuppressed bitterness: “I’ve been so cried up of late as a sort

Writing at Sea


of freak, an amazing bloody foreigner writing in English (every blessed review of S. A. had it so – and even yours)” (Letters 3, 488). He took such comments to heart, partly out of characteristic sensitivity to judgment, but also from the undeceived perception that “we live in the world and its weights and measures impose themselves upon our judgment – yes, even upon our feelings” (Letters 4, 290). For Conrad, authorship and autobiography are emphatically social in this respect, dependent on terms of transaction between the writer and the public sphere. The project of A Personal Record, self-consciously and willfully, is to compose a self-portrait to replace the counterfeit version circulating in the press. At its center stands one informing principle, analogy, that will move Conrad’s “two lives” (APR 282)  into symmetry: “the feelings and sensations connected with the writing of my first book and with my first contact with the sea” (APR 193). The form, as he would finally defend it to Ford, “expresses perfectly my purpose of treating the literary life and the sea-life on parallel lines with a running reference to my early years” (Letters 4, 263). This core perception was immediately generative. Writing, like seagoing, erupted out of the routine of previous existence; both acts were without precedent, not only in his life, but also in the lives of those he knew. No friends or relatives had left their landlocked region to follow ocean currents; nor had any of his relations written a novel. As the reminiscences record these two creation stories, Conrad enjoys and exploits the improbable echoes between them. It is impossible to say “which of the two impulses has appeared more mysterious and more wonderful to me” (APR 208). More extravagantly, he trusts his analogy to reveal the risk that he associates with both life choices. Writing, he avers, is like wrestling with the Lord, an image glossed as follows. These are, perhaps, strong words, but it is difficult to characterize otherwise the intimacy and the strain of a creative effort in which mind and will and conscience are engaged to the full, hour after hour, day after day, away from the world, and to the exclusion of all that makes life really lovable and gentle – something for which a material parallel can only be found in the everlasting sombre stress of the westward winter passage round Cape Horn. For that too is the wrestling of men with the might of their Creator, in a great isolation from the world, without the amenities and consolations of life, a lonely struggle under a sense of over-matched littleness, for no reward that could be adequate, but for the mere winning of a longitude (APR 272).

The high rhetoric puts a seal on the parallelism. What can be as austere as the rigors of imagination? – only a contest with the ferocity of winds. This is the picture that the A Personal Record insistently frames: the two



vocations of arduous labor, displaying the author/seaman as unhesitating and tenacious, as one who cleaves to the task in heavy weather. In this composite self-image of a prideful laborer, trusted to meet duties in either domain, Conrad was reacting to a strain of readings that had crystallized in a yet unpublished essay by Arthur Symons, sent to Conrad in those unsteady months of 1908. The burden of an otherwise warm appreciation was to read the author through the lawlessness of his characters. A startled Conrad responded: “I did not know that I had a ‘heart of darkness’ and an ‘unlawful’ soul. . . . I did not know that I delighted in cruelty and that the shedding of blood was my obsession.” In two stiffly careful responses, he declared that he was “really a much simpler person,” one who wrote with “dignity” and in “a spirit of piety,” with a “quasireligious sentiment” (Letters 4, 100, 113). These terms will be keynotes of his reminiscences. A sequence near their end describes the examinations of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, which must regularly certify the seaman as “sober.” Conrad draws out all the connotations of sobriety as a defense of his dignity against suspicions of lawlessness: I will make bold to say that neither at sea nor ashore have I ever lost the sense of responsibility. There is more than one sort of intoxication. Even before the most seductive reveries I have remained mindful of that sobriety of interior life, that asceticism of sentiment, in which alone the naked form of truth, such as one conceives it, such as one feels it, can be rendered without shame. . . . I have tried to be a sober worker all my life – all my two lives. (APR 282)

This is the labor of analogy at its most emphatic. The sober virtues on shipboard correspond to the sobriety of the hardworking novelist. Dignity, piety, persistence, and pluck are what the two lives share. In this respect, the memory of the seafaring years undergirds and validates the writing life. Analogy, then, gives the advertised reward (“the literary life and the sea-life on parallel lines”) and the ethical justification (“a sober worker all my life”). Yet the unfolding of the reminiscences loosens the very tie on which it depends. The opening anecdote tells of his being interrupted in the writing of Almayer’s Folly’s tenth chapter by a banjo-playing third officer, who asks, “What are you always scribbling there?” (APR 196). Feeling no answer possible, Conrad hides his writing and gazes through the porthole. The two lives may follow “parallel lines,” but the opening incident establishes the radical distance between them. It sets in train a series of

Writing at Sea


episodes, in which the book  – the slow-growing manuscript of the first novel – lives out risky adventures invisible to all but the author: “Like a cask of choice Madeira, [the manuscript] got carried for three years to and fro upon the sea,” taking on “a faded look and an ancient, yellowish complexion” (APR 205). Concealed, nearly lost, it becomes the “inseparable companion” of his travels (APR 209). When he visits the district in the Ukraine where he had spent time as a child, he lays out his “wandering MS.” on a writing-table, noticing how it attracts no attention from his gracious relatives (APR 211). The book appears as a secret relic, always near at hand but concealed from others, a tattered object and delicate container of private reverie.

Sailing on the Sea, Writing in a Cave Writing, however, almost from the start of the autobiography, resists the parallel with seagoing. The text continually reasserts the force of analogy; it works to contain writing within the anchored sobriety endorsed by the Marine Department. But the more Conrad unspools his narrative of narrative (the eruptive asocial scenes of writing), the more uneasy the correspondence. The sea life is his past, writing the present, and the text that sets up the analogy stands only on one side of it. A Personal Record is a book, not a boat; at every stage of the project, textual self-consciousness shows through. Even as Conrad sustains the correspondence of his two lives as the “official” story, the text pivots on moments when authorship stands revealed as unparalleled, and distinctively difficult. In that highly wrought comparison between the creative effort of a writer and the shipboard struggle toward “winning of a longitude,” the conceit ends by breaking down, because “a certain longitude, once won, cannot be disputed. The sun and the stars and the shape of your earth are the witnesses of your gain; whereas a handful of pages, no matter how much you have made them your own, are at best but an obscure and questionable spoil” – at which point Conrad reverts to his exasperation at the response to Nostromo: “Failure” – “Astonishing” (APR 272). Here the gap between the two lives opens wide. On one side, the agony of writing is that its effects are incalculable. Will the work of years be dismissed with a sneer? Or will it be preserved and cherished? Life at sea, Conrad finally concedes, “is not, upon the whole, good equipment for a writing life,” and this because “quarter-deck training does not prepare one sufficiently for the reception of literary criticism.” On shipboard, you find criticism, too, but it has a “freshness and vigour” (APR 280) lacking in the



literary world. The contrast is not a question of tone – helpful or carping – but a profound difference in how one’s private intentions encounter the social world. An exhausted crew shares the aim of conducting its ship through storm. The exhausted author can expect only the usual cacophony of opinion. There remains a deeper question: not the incalculable relation of author to reader (or reviewer), but the author’s relation to the very impulse to write. Why write? Conrad reconstructs the origin of his authorship as a radical mystery. Till I began to write that novel I had written nothing but letters, and not very many of these. I never made a note of a fact, of an impression or of an anecdote in my life. The conception of a planned book was entirely outside my mental range when I sat down to write; the ambition of being an author had never turned up amongst these gracious imaginary existences one creates fondly for oneself . . . As a matter of fact, I was not at all certain that I wanted to write, or that I meant to write, or that I had anything to write about. (248–9)

Writing is an indeterminacy and an obscurity; its origins and its ends are dark. Such root convictions are bound to unsettle the project of a personal record. How can any light be cast, when nothing will emerge from the shadows? Because writing is “not the outcome of a need,” because it is “a hidden, obscure necessity, a completely masked and unaccountable phenomenon” (247), there is no source to excavate, not even a central narrative to recover. The result is the distinctive technique of A Personal Record: the shifting attention, the slippages of memory, and the associative meanderings. The promise to describe the writing of his first novel alongside the first sight of the sea is only weakly kept. These memories quickly solicit others. Then memory itself gives up its priority, as Conrad relies on the papers of his uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski, and on family legends, in order to sketch the longer history of his relations. An extended sequence tells of his great-uncle, Nicholas B., a lieutenant in Napoleon’s army, whose adventures, including the desperate eating of a dog during the retreat from Moscow and the theft of his military honors, carry well beyond the terms (and the dates) Conrad had set for his readers. What justifies these anecdotes, like many others in the work, is simply that they belong to the milieu of his life, to its contingent web of relations  – on which principle it is difficult to exclude anything. Alert to the difficulty, Conrad reflects upon it in the “Familiar Preface” of 1911, where he acknowledges the criticism of readers who followed the first publication, two years earlier in the English Review. “I was

Writing at Sea


remonstrated with for bad economy,” he admits: “Practical remarks. But, truth to say, I have never understood the kind of thrift they recommend” (APR 187). He admits the risk in the style. “I fear that trying to be conversational I have only managed to be unduly discursive,” and then turns to defend himself: “This discursiveness is not so irrelevant to the handful of pages which follow.” (APR 192–). As he struggled with Chance in late 1907, he described it similarly, as “rather a discursive sort of thing – by no means what the reviewers call a ‘well-told story’” (Letters 3, 508). The word “discursive” becomes Conrad’s name for an open, associative technique that rejects hierarchies of significance, “conversational” in its ever-turning attention, indifferent to the “thrift” of taut structure.

Memory and Interruption: Reminiscence without Confession What does this imply for the work of memory? Among other things, it means that memory has no privileged destination, no origin or first cause. A book that promises to tell of two beginnings already surrenders the clarity of source, a point stressed when Conrad recalls his first turn to writing: “I cannot trace it back to any mental or psychological cause” (APR 265). But then it grows clear that sources are, if anything, too plentiful. He presents himself as a product of the maternal branch, stretching back to Napoleon through his granduncle, but no more than the branch and stem of his father, poet and patriot. His reading has made him who he is, but so too has his experience of sailing ships before the dominance of steam. Then there is his Polishness. Indeed nationality stands out as a swarm of affiliations that never resolve into identity. To Edward Garnett he writes, “You remember always that I am a Slav (it’s your idée fixe) but you seem to forget that I am a Pole” (Letters 3, 492). He continues to insist that “both at sea and on land my point of view is English, from which the conclusion should not be drawn that I have become an Englishman. That is not the case. Homo duplex has in my case more than one meaning” (Letters 3, 89).7 So it unquestionably does. Above all, what memory gathers are not sources but interruptions: the leap from landlocked life to sea, the reaching toward an England he had never seen and an English he had never heard pronounced, the launch of a career as novelist without preparation or plan. With the last decision, the tableau of interruption is most sharply outlined. Conrad summons the image of his lodging in Pimlico near the Thames, as he began to draft the first pages of Almayer’s Folly: “Unknown to my respectable landlady, it was my practice directly after my breakfast to hold animated receptions



of Malays, Arabs and half-castes” (APR 200). Later, alongside a quay in Rouen, he composes a line of dialogue “on the grey paper of a pad which rested on the blanket of my bed-place,” conjuring “a hallucinated vision of forests and rivers and seas, far removed from a commercial and yet romantic town of the northern hemisphere” (APR 195). The pages of the memoir take frequent lingering pleasure in the abyss between heated imagination hidden in the pages of a manuscript and the public world that carries on in busy indifference. The story of gaps and interruptions culminates near the end of A Personal Record, when Conrad narrates the surprise visit of a neighbor, a “general’s daughter,” who enters through an open door and catches him lost to time and the daily world, in the midst of composing Nostromo. Her appearance shocks him out of reverie, leaving “every nerve quivering with the pain of being uprooted out of one world and flung down into another” (APR 273). The woman apologizes for the interruption, to which Conrad now silently replies: “Interrupted – indeed! She had robbed me of at least twenty lives, each infinitely more poignant and real than her own, because informed with passion, possessed of convictions, involved in great affairs created out of my own substance for an anxiously meditated end” (APR 275). He conjures “the intense weariness of which that interruption had made me aware” (APR 274) – the word “interruption” as his beating, repeating echo of the separation between worlds: “The general’s daughter does not know the secret terms of self-imposed tasks” (277). Conrad gives this broadly drawn tragicomedy of misunderstanding as the conditions of his craft. For all the reassuring talk of parallelism as the structure of the text and the life, the inner world of writing shows itself as a separate, secret intensity. But it remains without content, evoked without being described. What he refuses to tell the general’s daughter, he withholds from the reader as well, holding proudly to the claim that “I’ve never asked myself, or looked into myself or thought of myself.” The turn to autobiography, then, is folded in ambiguity. It will be a faithful account, but one that refuses to be a confession. Indeed, the specter of Rousseau looms over A Personal Record. The “matter in hand,” he writes, “is to keep these reminiscences from turning into confessions, a form of literary activity discredited by Jean Jacques Rousseau” (APR 269). How to reminiscence without confessing? – this is the one way to cast the problem. Another is to recall the invention of Marlow. When Conrad devised his speaking, reminiscing narrator in the story “Youth” (1898) and then elaborated the device (and the character) in “Heart of Darkness”

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(1899) and Lord Jim (1900), he set exacting terms for the relation between the leading of a life and the telling of tales. At the opening of “Heart of Darkness” Marlow is both expositor and example of the puzzle of testimony. “‘I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to me personally,’” he remarks, “showing in this remark the weakness of many tellers of tales who seem so often unaware of what their audience would best like to hear.”8 “Personally” is the charged word, and along with its variants (“person,” “personal,” “personality”), it leads a complex career in the fiction. The title “Some Reminiscences” changed to A Personal Record when it appeared as a book in the United States in 1912; it has kept that title in all editions thereafter. In The Secret Agent the language of personality had been extensive and varied. It includes a satiric run at the idea of a “great Personage,” but its most telling use is with the bomb-making “professor.” Carrying a massive explosive in his breast pocket, he relies on the police knowing of his willingness to use the weapon at any moment – relies, in short, on “force of personality.” Of Jim in Lord Jim, Marlow writes that “he was overwhelmed by his own personality – the gift of that destiny which he had done his best to master”9 And thinking of the audience his memoir might attract, Conrad observed, “I believe there is a good deal of curiosity as to my personality in the US and, if I am to believe several competent opinions, in this country as well” (Letters 4, 125). “Personality” appears as something apart from its acts, impulses, or desires, something at once encompassing and deep, in effect the total meaning of a life (“gift of a destiny”), which is why it resists articulate speech. Marlow hesitates to narrate what has happened to him “personally,” because he speaks out of this staunch principled reticence: the conviction that “personality” is not something that can be told or divulged. It might be glimpsed or captured in a glance, but it can only be distorted through the ceremony of confession. Conrad’s final title comprehends the rising tension. “Personal” makes an intimate promise that the neutral “Record” threatens to cancel. Introducing the mishap of the general’s daughter, Conrad recalls his bewildered effort to preserve the terms of civility: “Oh! How do you do? Won’t you sit down?” immediately adding that “this horrible but, I assure you, perfectly true reminiscence tells you more than a whole volume of confessions à la Jean Jacques Rousseau would do” (APR 273). Not to confess – never! – but to offer a “perfectly true” record of the visible surface of the world (public, outer): this is the solution to the problem of autobiography. The inwardness of experience remains unchronicled; Conrad



mocks “the famous need of self-expression”; but the inner obscurity can give way to luminous precision in the outer world. Perception replaces confession.

The Skeptic’s Spectacle Reminiscences can testify, but they cannot justify. A Personal Record is finally the autobiography of a skeptic. Thought cannot save us. As Conrad bracingly, unnervingly, insists, “Nothing humanely great – great, I mean, as affecting a whole mass of lives – has come from reflection” (APR 185). Then toward the end of the memoir he delivers a hard considered judgment: “The ethical view of the universe involves us at last in so many cruel and absurd contradictions, where the last vestiges of faith, hope, charity, and even of reason itself, seem ready to perish, that I have come to suspect that the aim of creation cannot be ethical at all” (APR 267). What, then, if anything, is his record finally willing to profess? In the uneasy letter to Symons at the start of the project, Conrad insisted that he wrote with dignity, “not out of regard for myself but for the sake of the spectacle, the play with an obscure beginning and an unfathomable denoûment” (Letters 4, 114). This is the conceit developed at the end of his autobiography. If creation is not ethical, “I would fondly believe that its object is purely spectacular: a spectacle for awe, love, adoration, or hate, if you like, but in this view – and in this view alone  – never for despair! Those visions, delicious or poignant, are a moral end in themselves.” Conrad delivers his rhetorical signature here: the abstract nouns in series, the verbal repetitions, the rising rhythm, the exclamation point. But as it flutters and swirls, the ornate language insists on pointing beyond itself. This is what spectacle means: that the world exceeds us, our words, and our paltry justifications: “I was by no means anxious to justify my existence. The attempt would have been almost inconceivable, in a purely spectacular universe, where no such disagreeable necessity can possibly arise” (APR 268). Nothing within us, or between us, can justify the record of a life. This is what the reminiscences at last affirm. Our only choice is to turn outward toward the spectacle, because an “unwearied self-forgetful attention to every phase of the living universe reflected in our consciousness may be our appointed task on earth” (APR 267). The volume ends with a long, gorgeous memory of Conrad’s last evening on a pilot boat serving in waters off Marseilles. The black water, the fort, the islets, adopt sharp outlines under the “frozen moon,” “as though

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one were allowed to look upon the mystic nature of things” (APR 297). The entire sequence is a paean to the visibility (and audibility) of a world that allows itself to stand revealed – as, for instance, when the boat we were going to relieve swam into our view suddenly, on her way home, cutting black and sinister into the wake of the moon under a sable wing, while to them our sail must have been a vision of white and dazzling radiance. Without altering the course a hair’s breadth we slipped by each other within an oar’s length. A drawling, sardonic hail came out of her. Instantly, as if by magic, our dozing pilots got on their feet in a body. An incredible babel of bantering shouts burst out, a jocular, passionate, voluble chatter, which lasted till the boats were stern to stern, theirs all bright now, and, with a shining sail to our eyes, we turned all black to their vision, and drew away from them under a sable wing. (APR 298)

Conrad lived and wrote with “a positive horror of losing even for one moving moment that full possession of myself which is the first condition of good service” (APR 190). Holding himself fast, possessing himself, meant keeping eyes turned to the spectacle of the world. The only way to write a personal record is to write it impersonally. You draw all you see and recall, and when you have clarified each vivid outline, the one thing unseen is yourself. The eye, as Wittgenstein stressed, exists nowhere in its visual field.10 Neither, finally, does Conrad’s I. Notes 1 Joseph Conrad, The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol. 3 (1903–7), Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 431. 2 Joseph Conrad, The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol. 4 (1908–11), Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 9–10. 3 See Lynda Prescott, “Autobiography as Evasion: Joseph Conrad’s ‘A Personal Record,’” Journal of Modern Literature 28:1 (Autumn, 2004), 183. 4 Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea and A Personal Record, ed. Morton Dauwen Zabel (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960), 189. 5 For details of the composition of the autobiography, see Jean M. Szczypien, “Joseph Conrad’s A Personal Record: Composition, Intention, Design: Polonism,” Journal of Modern Literature 16:1 (Summer, 1989), 3–30. 6 Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 50. 7 Demory describes the distinctive structure of national time in A Personal Record. Conrad, she notes, “is a Polish sailor turned English writer, and one aim of the book is to argue that this progression was not accidental but foreordained.” Pamela Demory, “Ambivalence in Joseph Conrad’s ‘A Personal Record’: the



Anti-Autobiographical Autobiography,” Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1997), 54–65. Prescott marks the importance of F.  R. Leavis’s The Great Tradition in establishing Conrad’s “essential Englishness.” “Autobiography as Evasion,” 178. 8 Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness,” ed. Robert Kimbrough (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988 3rd ed.), 11. 9 Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Jacques Berthould, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 247. 10 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, D.  F. Pears and B.  F. McGuinness, trans. and eds. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961), 117.

Ch apter 4

Two Henrys: James and Adams as Autobiographers Lee Mitchell

Why should America’s most accomplished novelist and its preeminent historian, close friends, have written autobiographies that contravene what each had achieved professionally? Near the end of their lives, Henry James and Henry Adams turned backward, recollecting what had made those lives significant: what framed early experiences, crystallized aesthetic choices, altered political visions. And strikingly, they created eerily similar personae for themselves. The Education of Henry Adams (1906/1918)1 presents us with someone perpetually befuddled, earnestly seeking an education, regularly making misguided assumptions, and finally failing to understand. A Small Boy and Others (1913),2 the most commanding of James’s autobiographical volumes, conceives his younger self as a figure equally unenlightened, eternally “dawdling and gaping” at all that occurs. Two of the most influential figures in their respective fields chose to depict themselves as youths inordinately passive, abysmally ineffectual. Even more striking, the ironic perspective that Adams adopts seems itself indebted to James’s own intricate novels, while James sacrifices any such narrative complexity for evocative reminiscences of events that simply happened to have happened to him. Despite conceiving themselves as near-twins in a stance of passive benightedness, they seized dramatically different strategies to tell their stories – strategies differing not only from each other but from those perfected in their own most distinctive works. James adopted a voice of acquiescent fascination, luxuriating in “the state of easy wonder, [at] what most comes back” (147); by contrast, Adams chose to fulminate at his pathetic insufficiency, all hyperbolic complaint at a persistent consciousness of failure: “For him, alone, the old universe was thrown into the ash-heap and a new one created” (5). Yet just as singularly, the sympathetic voice with which James recovers his past seems the antithesis of novels that reveal consciousness as elusive, overdetermined, self-divided, dark, and elliptical. A Small Boy forswears a glimpse of personality actively shaped by experience 43


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in preference for an ingenuous parade of family, fleeting acquaintances, ­discontinuous events that reveal little of James himself, except as artlessly passive observer. Conversely, Adams constructs a tartly fraudulent, even duplicitous account that passes itself off as authentic and places himself center stage in a pose of invincible innocence, ever outraged, ever disconsolate. Yet in this, he, like James abandons his own familiar style; The Education is the antithesis of the scrupulously even-handed histories Adams had penned of American politics – now combining broad denunciations and half-truths in a series of artfully invented scenes, limning a life that matches his own in dates, places, names, but distinctly not in terms of recollected consciousness. Where James is artlessly bemused and befuddled, Adams is artfully deceived and bamboozled. If neither is better prepared than most children for the confusions of an adult world, James seems simply to delight in this lack of evident structure while Adams adamantly deplores it, creating a plot into which everything contributes to his particular miseducation, as the ironic pawn of global forces pitched against him alone. This autobiographical contrast could not be more marked: between a haphazard series of episodes with little narrative arc, and an all but hysterically entangled history of labyrinthine deceptions. Yet the ultimate paradox of these autobiographies lies less in any contrast between them than in their so completely defying the lives that created them. After all, James’s late novels immerse us in the ineluctable, mutually constructed realms of consciousness, and yet he offers a largely two-dimensional account of people, actions, events, and their untroubled effect on his development into a writer. Adams, who as president of the American Historical Association had predicted a scientific approach to history, offers instead a deliberately misleading account of his life that becomes a thesis in education and its failure. The final irony is that Adams’s provocative stance succeeds, while James falls short of expectations he himself created, in an autobiography that lacks the revelatory power his own novels had led us to expect. If Adams’s histories languish today while James’s novels continue to delight, the irony is that of the two, Adams achieves a commanding, magisterial style that – coupled with a deliberately paradoxical subject – marks the Education as his masterpiece.

I.  Similarities Differences aside, A Small Boy and The Education share features essential for any successful autobiography, including an array of vividly lived local

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moments that unfold gradually to forge personality, warranting a ­reader’s growing interest in the writer’s past. Consider James’s uneasy initial encounter with Dickens’s novels, first illustrated by George Cruikshank – illustrations transformative for James in their strange irresolution, their “subtly sinister” effect even when most “intended to comfort and cheer.” As he shrewdly observes, Cruikshank intensified Dickens’s narrative power iconically: “The nice people and the happy moments, in the plates, frightened me almost as much as the low and the awkward” (103). The mystery for James of Cruikshank’s illustrations is that they lent an eerie irresolution to otherwise placid figures. Importantly, that evocation of art’s uncanny impress on his youthful sensibility adumbrates the effect James himself would strive for in his own more subtly ambivalent creations. Later, he evokes the stunning impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, describing inimitably the mode of apprehension Stowe somehow magically induced: “We lived and moved at that time, with great intensity, in Mrs. Stowe’s novel – which [was] my first experiment in grown-up fiction.” As he continues, the novel becomes “much less a book than a state of vision, of feeling and of consciousness” (131). Few subsequent accounts have registered so astutely the mental impact of Stowe’s explosive novel, which in its immense success anticipated the transmogrifying effect of subsequent monsters of popularity – books (and films) that seem at once to embody yet imaginatively exceed the very plots they inscribe. Adams achieves such nuanced insights just as regularly, though focusing less on public displays than his own private life. Notably, the single major omission in his account was the most intensely personal: his lively thirteen-year marriage to Clover Hooper, whose unexpected suicide (brought on by depression over the death of her father) was the most intensely crippling event of his life. Yet if their years together are passed over in silence, confirming the depths of Adams’s psychological devastation, other close personal encounters are often wittily configured in emblematic, even moral terms. Consider when Charles Quincy Adams abruptly overrides his grandson’s childish protest at going to school, simply taking him by the hand and walking the long mile to town, “contrary to the inalienable rights of boys, and nullifying the social compact” (13). The ex-president’s quiet discharge of paternal responsibility becomes for Adams an exemplum for personal as well as political character. And what makes the episode riveting are its extravagant terms of description (“a tool of tyranny,” “disreputable work, “no syllable of revolting cant”), which wryly transform a childhood memory into an outsized paradigm of duty fulfilled, all uncomplainingly. Later, likewise in moral terms conceived rather differently, Adams recalls


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being confused during his first visit to the slaveholding South, presuming a clear moral equation between human bondage and “bad roads,” as if one led somehow inextricably to the other (47). The point is that any equation of morality and physical setting always misleads, with Adams wryly concluding that “he never thought to ask himself . . . how to deal with the moral problem that deduced [a slaveholding] George Washington from the sum of all wickedness” (48). Both James and Adams delight in teasing paradoxical conclusions from untoward circumstances, with James occasionally matching Adams’s sardonic wit. Recalling his own uncertain sense of vocation, he equates it with an impoverished New York skyline, then shifts the analogy to his ignorance of national politics: The bright and empty air was as void of “careers” for a choice as of cathedral towers for a sketcher, and I passed my younger time, till within a year or two of the Civil War, with an absolute vagueness of impression as to how the political life of the country was carried on. The field was strictly covered, to my young eyes, I make out, by three classes, the busy, the tipsy, and Daniel Webster. (42)

Baffled by prospects taken for granted by others, James summarizes the political world of his youth in broad cartoon strokes, as alternatively assiduous, bibulous, and oratorical. Adams matches that Hogarthian reduction of politics to rudimentary gestures, offering sustained insights that ensue from life in a far more politically situated family. His account of Garibaldi, for instance, inverts James’s view of Webster, seeing an excess of nuanced possibilities hardly apparent on the surface of an eminently uncomplicated figure. The notion that “simplicity is complex” becomes as surprising to contemplate as the obverse, a conclusion that hardly requires Garibaldi to illustrate how first impressions mislead: “One could have learned this from a glow-worm” (96). What compounds the droll, even mischievous tone both men adopt toward their pasts is their shared admission of ignorance, of being mystified by all that occurred, which lends a distinct hyperbole to their dramatization of youthful experiences. James affects the posture of a “dawdling and gaping” child who simply wonders at what transpires around him unsuspected, a role that seems as self-consciously inflated as Adams’s depiction of a futile juvenile “education.” Both allegedly got things wrong in a fashion that blithely defies interpretive skills. For James, such mystified impressionability remained undiminished, never dulled by experience but converted into a capacity for sustaining believable fictions. His

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acquired genius for narrative seems an extension of this earlier fascination with so many missed “realities of relation” (158). The very inability to know another, which left him baffled by obscure motives, led to an unstated desire nonetheless to aspire to understand: “These images, however, were but drops in the bucket of my sense of catching character, roundabout us, as I say, at every turn and in every aspect” (319). Thoroughly inverting this narrative of gradual accession to knowledge is Adams, who presents himself more sensationally (akin to Isabel Archer’s self-characterization as the “applied handled hung-up tool” of others), focusing more whimsically on melodramatic scenes. Not just victim of mystification but of fraud and double-dealing, Adams portrays himself mock-ironically as innocent human butt of all creation; already, as a precociously deceived six-year-old, “his new world was ready for use, and only fragments of the old met his eyes” (5). Pages later, “a cruel universe combined to crush a child” (12). The conceit of juvenile sensibility affronted by whatever defies expectation grows ever more ludicrously inflated: “All experience since the creation of man, all divine revelation or human science, conspired to deceive and betray a twelve-year-old boy who took for granted that his ideas, which were alone respectable, would be alone respected” (33). If James succumbs too often to what might be termed the fallacy of factual precision (because it happened, it must be invoked), Adams’s ostentation dismantles facts themselves. Misrepresenting much of what he actually felt at the time (as his letters and biographer, Ernest Samuels, make clear), he creates a new self theatrically energizing his narrative of failure.

II.  Divergences Similarities aside, no one would ever confuse the two retrospective accounts, making one wonder at deliberate contrasts in their approaches. A modest difference emerges in what otherwise seems the same: of youths divided between two distinctive places. James merely alludes to a split between the summery “sweet taste of Albany” and its “antithesis to New York,” his winter home (10). But as quickly as fleeting holidays themselves, he drops the description. Adams, however, seizes on the contrast of childhood abodes to enforce his entire thesis of education, of order fleetingly discernible amid chaos. And what is most convincing in his evocation are the contrasting values he elicits from place itself, which becomes a contrast of “two modes of life and thought,” of “winter confinement, school, rule, discipline” and “liberty, diversity, outlawry, the


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endless delight of mere sense impressions given by nature for nothing, and breathed by boys without knowing it” (7–8). This sense of nature’s bounty bestowed on boys “without knowing it” lingers, explaining Adams’s ability to transform local evocations into more compelling insights. Perhaps James’ experience was never so readily summarized, but the fact is that Adams conceives his life poetically, teasing out implications from recollected details that configure not only a larger mentality but an entire contemplative mode. This contrast speaks to a more significant divergence between Adams’s artfully fashioned narrative that bends each experience to an overall thesis and James’s haphazard cobbling of events that simply happen to have happened. Adams’s account is an elaborate fabrication built up incrementally moment by moment, unfolding variously chapter by chapter, evolving into a performance that makes the reader increasingly wonder what might conceivably next go wrong. James resists even such perverse coherence, if only because in thrall to a past that recurs to him now disjointedly, more or less by association, free of any retrospective seam-stitching thread – resulting in a sequence of seminal moments that remains at once dazzling and dizzyingly indeterminate. Yet why should that be so, since both authors figure forth their pasts in terms of education, with James styling himself a veritable sponge soaking up impressions? Consider how he speaks across the decades to his younger incarnation, retrospectively observing his own looming prospects: I at any rate watch the small boy dawdle and gape again . . . withhold from him no grain of my sympathy. He is a convenient little image or warning of all that was to be for him, and he might well have been even happier than he was. . . . [H]e was to enjoy more than anything the so far from showy practice of wondering and dawdling and gaping: he was really, I think, much to profit by it. What it at all appreciably gave him – that is gave him in producible form – would be difficult to state; but it seems to him, as he even now thus indulges himself, an education like another. (24–5)

Perhaps at no other point does James evoke so suggestively the sense of himself as lively quiescence, ready for the education still to come, passionate about the very passions he has yet to experience. Yet even this evocation seems indefinite, uncertain, incapable of cohering into a distinctive narrative of the very “education” James proclaims, since neither here nor later is he prepared to clarify how “dawdling and gaping” might, even for one so young, became translated into the nascent tools of novelistic success.

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By contrast, Adams repeatedly offers detailed accounts of initial consternation and gradual edification, from early intimations of “the color of yellow” and “baked apple” (5) to confounding diplomatic encounters during the Civil War, then on to his introduction of educational change at Harvard  – change that required skeptical self-consciousness from all in authority. Repeatedly, Adams’s account illuminates his willing responsiveness, wittily engaging contradiction and paradox, striving at once to expose inconsistency and to understand its terms. Indeed, the hapless figure he represents himself as having been, early and late, is no more hapless than his reader in the face of the experiences he represents. Adams was actually among the most important educational influences in the nineteenth century, despite his deflating self-description, and the process of his narrative is not simply (as with James) to offer an account of indiscriminate experience, but to offer himself up in mock-ironic and dismissive tones as among the most astute of his peers. Even so, he was woefully ill prepared by training and inclination to cope with the radical changes and new ideas that emerged during his life. The arc of his “education,” then, becomes that of the reader’s as well, in a narrative that persistently registers the need to learn to react more effectively, to read more presciently, “to react with vigor and economy” (314). Perhaps the best way to convey the contrast between James and Adams is by focusing on the characteristic manner in which individual figures loom through each book  – family members, political leaders, and artistic luminaries, prominent scientists and blandly predictable teachers. James dotes on often obscure names and random places, most of which had no meaning for readers even a century ago  – of long-dead elderly aunts and uncles, of half-forgotten school chums and fleeting summer companions. His description of one of his disliked tutors, Mr. Forest, is characteristic: “I see him aloft, benevolent and hard, mildly massive, in a black dress coat and trousers and a white neckcloth that should have figured, if it didn’t, a frill, and on the highest rostrum of our experience, whence he comes back to me as the dryest of all our founts of knowledge” (171). The image is photographic, but only evoked to be immediately dismissed as superfluous, followed in turn by a series of equally irrelevant replacements. Likewise, authors he read, even met, wander through (Poe, Irving, Hawthorne, Dickens, Margaret Fuller), though their names generally serve as mere metonymies for literary fame rather than as transforming encounters, either in person or in prose. We never learn how others’ styles altered James’s later conception of what writing might do, whereas


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Adams invokes the example of James himself to explain his own historical methods: “Henry James had not yet taught the world to read a volume for the pleasure of seeing the lights of his burning-glass turned on alternate sides of the same figure” (163). Adams alerts us here to the singular aspect most obviously missing in James’s self-depiction, even when James occasionally approaches Adams’s wry self-figuration of a boy misled and abused. Recalling tagging after his brother, James captures their contrasting personalities in William’s stern rebuff: “‘I play with boys who curse and swear!’ I had sadly to recognise that I didn’t, that I couldn’t pretend to have come to that yet” (202). Still, little ensues from this wonderfully illustrative memory, which otherwise captures so distinctively all that separates the brothers early and late, intellectually and psychologically. The same goes for less distinguished family members, including his genial brother Wilky’s alleged “genius . . . for making friends. It was the only genius he had” (223). We never learn, however, what prompts James “to think of ” his brother’s sociability as constituting a “genius” worth remarking. By contrast, Adams recalls his sister Louisa as a paragon of feminine brilliance (“quick, sensitive, wilful, or full of will, energetic, sympathetic and intelligent enough to supply a score of men with ideas” [85]) – as a personality indeed who could have modeled James’s own sprightly heroines. That capacity for turning family members into representative types (in this case, say, of Isabel Archer or Maggie Verver) may have something to do with Adams’s singular family itself, but it just as characteristically results from his literary talent for converting actual subjects into symbolic figures. Repeatedly, Adams seizes on historical personages as crucial emblems in the effort to understand events. Prime Minister Gladstone becomes an unscrupulous villain (“Never in the history of political turpitude had any brigand of modern civilization offered a worse example” [157]); his foreign minister emerges as a brazen liar (“Every act of Russell  . . . showed the clearest determination to break up the Union” [163]). Art historians are inept, scientists woefully incapable of proving their Darwinist claims, making whole fields of inquiry seem more like religions for true believers than vocations for those committed to sifting through facts. Even a glimpse of Lincoln triggers for Adams a rumination on the “plain, ploughed face” that registered “the same painful sense of becoming educated and of needing education that tormented a private secretary. . . . [No] man living needed so much education as the new President but . . . all the education he could get would not be enough” (107). That capsule portrait brilliantly transforms Lincoln into a version of Adams himself, an elongated homunculus in quest of enlightenment that will never be

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adequate to the national tragedy soon to unfold. Later, Adams registers an evening with the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (“a real genius”) as another unrivaled encounter, sweeping him up in “the rush of Swinburne’s talk” that surpassed in bristling insights any other he had heard, or ever would (141). Each of these stellar moments transforms Adams’s so-called history of failure into a compelling life lived and learned from, preparing him for his own historical vocation. James and Adams diverge even at descriptive levels, simply in evoking sensuous detail, since James so often subsides uncharacteristically into vague allusion while Adams (also uncharacteristically, at least in his historical scholarship) toys with the luxuriant implications of local moments. At one point, James confesses, in what becomes a habitual pose, “I lose myself in ravishment before the marble and the pink” (14), unable to do more than falter before the “soft confusion” of memory that blurs the unnamed “images I really distinguish” (15). Conversely, Adams tightens his focus on long-lost vistas and aging impressions, verbally transmuting otherwise commonplace recollections into something like poetry: To the boy Henry Adams, summer was drunken. Among senses, smell was the strongest  – smell of hot pine-woods and sweet-fern in the scorching summer noon; of new-mown hay; of ploughed earth; of box hedges; of peaches, lilacs, syringes; of stables, barns, cow-yards; of salt water and low tide on the marshes. . . . His idea of color was a peony, with the dew of early morning on its petals. The intense blue of the sea, as he saw it a mile or two away, from the Quincy hills; the cumuli in a June afternoon sky; the strong reds and greens and purples of colored prints and children’s picture-books, as the American colors then ran; these were ideals. (8)

The detailed imagery, built up in accumulating appositions, registers a powerfully transforming imagination that resists any “soft confusion” of reminiscence. Instead, the passage sweepingly embodies a childhood retrospection of summer, converting anomalous mental snapshots into a cinematic narrative of visual, olfactory, even sonic largesse.

III.  Explaining the Contrast The contrast between A Small Boy and The Education has nothing to do with each writer’s considerable narrative or descriptive facility (arguably, James is elsewhere Adams’s master in both regards), and everything to do with their separate agendas in taking a backward glance. Adams willingly sacrificed historical authenticity to create a special kind of guide, inventing a youthful persona artfully named “Henry Adams” who tilts against


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his times and is repeatedly (if only imaginatively) bested by events for which his education supposedly failed to prepare him. James was wholly uninterested in any such larger agenda (invented or otherwise), desiring instead a form of personal therapy through simple authored recollection. Having suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by the commercial fiasco of his New York Edition, coupled with desolation at the death of his brother William, he immersed himself in the past as a kind of talking cure, dictating his reminiscences for largely self-restorative purposes. He had little interest in justifying that rationale, abjuring explanation and resting instead simply on “fond evocation”: “Why I should so like to do it is another matter – and what ‘outside interest’ I may suppose myself to create perhaps still another: I fatuously proceed at any rate” (55). That lack of regard for “what ‘outside interest’” may accept as a rationale gives the game away, since “fond evocation” was redolent only for those who had lived through his experiences; even then, no indication emerges of an underlying order to his narrative, or of chapters bound together by some structural design. Adams is the opposite, conceiving his account as tightly fitted Bildungsroman, reconfiguring his entire past, encapsulating eccentric memories into larger conundrums and paradoxes. Moreover, he cavalierly mixes disparate modes and motley subjects, merging childhood reminiscence into science, and science into art history, then into politics: Natural Selection led back to Natural Evolution, and at last to Natural Uniformity. This was a vast stride. Unbroken Evolution under uniform conditions pleased every one – except curates and bishops; it was the very best substitute for religion; a safe, conservative practical, thoroughly CommonLaw deity. Such a working system for the universe suited a young man who had just helped to waste five or ten thousand million dollars and a million lives, more or less, to enforce unity and uniformity on people who objected to it. (225)

With a skeptical squint and a gruesome analogy, Adams lays bare the drearily conventional paradigms of science and politics both, if only by drawing attention to their self-confirming logics as a means of compelling readers into second thoughts about any and all received wisdom. Just as science can prove its pat claims no more indisputably than religion, so conventional (northern) justifications for war are exposed to a troubling political insight, even if one Adams would in a less witty mood himself forswear. The lapidary polish of his account effectively exposes all facile assumptions, even Adams’s own, with epigrams everywhere skewering sacred

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cows: “Any other education would have required a serious effort, but no one took Harvard College seriously. All went there because their friends went there, and the College was their ideal of social self-respect” (54). Assessing his friendship with Charles Sumner, he concludes: “No man, however strong, can serve ten years as schoolmaster, priest, or Senator, and remain fit for anything else. All the dogmatic stations in life have the effect of fixing a certain stiffness of attitude forever, as though they mesmerized the subject” (102). That “stiffness of attitude,” moreover, braces a temperament he is everywhere at pains to massage, even as he occasionally adopts it himself to expose his own failed comprehension. Delighting in contradiction, in pointed anomalies and weird analogies, Adams punctures pretension at times simply by being unduly pretentious himself. And his use of himself as tailor’s model for the clothing of contemporary conceits is meant at once to indulge broad generalities as fully as to upend them; or, as he concludes, “The American mind exasperated the European as a buzz-saw might exasperate a pine forest” (180). Of course, whatever general truth may lie herein is regularly whittled, honed, and refuted by a host of incidental events. Yet as Adams claims, even watchfulness has a limit: “The mania for handling all the sides of every question, looking into every window, and opening every door, was, as Bluebeard judiciously pointed out to his wives, fatal to their practical usefulness in society. One could not stop to chase doubts as though they were rabbits” (232). It is in that quicksilver passage from Bluebeard to bunnies that we find Adams’s characteristic, enigmatic slipperiness, everywhere reflected in his effortless ability to stay nimble, figuratively and literally. Perhaps all that becomes clear in this contrast of memoirs is a more or less obvious point: that living an accomplished life cannot alone command posterity’s attention. James seems to have assumed as autobiographer that it was enough, or nearly so, by giving himself over to full disclosure as thoroughly as possible, spooling memories out in his commanding late style describing a past that somehow, inexplicably, led him to become the novelist he is. Adams resists any such ready assumption, and the vividness of his account lies in its often misshapen, deliberately inaccurate view of his actual life. James’s tendency is ever to invoke details just as remembered, in richly textured tones, but the lack of any effort to link sequences together finally contributes to a disjointed, even inchoate performance. Admittedly, this also affects Adams’s account in the latter half, when he shifts toward a larger historical set of theories that allows him to lose track, to slip into diffuse generalities. His compelling narrative begins to lose steam, to shift into loose scientific analogies, in a process that becomes at


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once overly thematic and finally self-defeating. Still, his voice in the first half of the book is vibrant, convincing, engaging. The contrast of A Small Boy and Others and The Education of Henry Adams reminds us that autobiography requires more than simple biographical importance. Adams understood that a written life needs a plot, a narrative perspective, a voice that somehow threads together events otherwise dissociated, casual, fortuitous. James should have treasured that premise, if only because he mastered it so completely in his fiction. But the success of The Education depends on Adams’s having taken a distanced, ironic view of himself, placing events in a progression that leads ineluctably to failure from different angles, seen through the gimlet eye of a born skeptic toward any overarching abstractions – which only lends to the whole that much greater fascination. By the same token, James’s focusing everything so completely through the wondrous gaze of his younger self, seen as if unchanged by his equally wondrous older self, ends by slowly draining interest from his narrative. Adams succeeds by taking a page from James’s protomodernist novels, evoking a complex psychology that depends on pressures placed on perspective. James forgets the lessons his novels had so wonderfully taught, with the result that we share his delight in reminiscence precisely (and only) because he is the creator of those novels, whose persona we want to understand but whose autobiography leaves ever elusive. Notes 1 Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, Ernest Samuels, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973). All citations are to this edition. 2 Henry James, A Small Boy and Others: A Critical Edition, Peter Collister, ed. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011). All citations are to this edition.

Ch apter 5

Spaces of Time: Virginia Woolf ’s Life-Writing Elizabeth Abel

“Life? Literature? One to be made into the other?” Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography (1928)

An aspiring writer who struggles to complete her poem for 350  years, Orlando voices one of Woolf ’s enduring challenges: how to adapt literary genres to the fluidity of life. The genre that fails most conspicuously is the one Orlando parodies, but since the question Orlando’s hapless biographer poses, “Life, life, what art thou?”, turns out to be unanswerable, the obstacles inhere as much in content as in form (199). Woolf negotiated these tensions at multiple junctures over the course of her career, and near its end, in her unfinished memoir “A Sketch of the Past” (1939–40), proposed a compound noun – “life-writing’’ – whose capaciousness seemed adapted to the variability of both sides of the equation – but at a moment when both were narrowing down. As a passionate reader and writer of the biographies, memoirs, diaries, and letters that the category of life-writing collectively comprises, Woolf was wary of the more restrictive designations “autobiography,” which raises the specter of the “damned egotistical self,” and “biography,” inevitably constrained by the “granite” of fact.1 Her preferred term was “memoir,” a genre whose embrace within her milieu reflected the consensus that it offered a particular lens on a shared historical experience. Even “memoir,” however, lacks the broader philosophical implications of “life,” one of Woolf ’s signature words, which she invokes and apostrophizes more than a thousand times in her fiction and countless more in her nonfiction, a word she embraced repeatedly for its inclusiveness and elusiveness, always in excess of both “self ” and “writing,” located both beyond and within each of those terms. For if “life escapes,” as she believed it escaped the Edwardian novel, perhaps “nothing else is worth while.”2 Apparently without direct knowledge of Bergson, Woolf offered her own inflection of the vitalist philosophies that circulated through 55



early twentieth-century culture. Rather than attempting to define “life,” she represented a spectrum of attitudes toward it and evoked it as a forcein-motion that traverses and unsettles individual life forms through verbs of continuous motion, participial phrases, and verb-derived nouns that gesture beyond the “psychology of personal intercourse” that has dominated the novel.3 The attraction of “life-writing” is the space it affords this more diffuse, impersonal vitality, which reconstitutes the authorial ego as a medium, rather than fully intentional agent, of life’s translation into literature. But that independence of human agency could turn on a dime, as it did increasingly toward the end of Woolf ’s career, into an indifference that unravels identity. Already lurking in To the Lighthouse (1927) as the flood of darkness and rumble of war that invade “Time Passes,” this threat is countered only by the novel’s meticulously crafted closure, the line Lily Briscoe draws “there, in the centre” of the painting that proclaims the triumph of an impersonal aesthetic over the impersonal passage of time (310). When Woolf revisits the autobiographical sources of To the Lighthouse in the late 1930s, much has changed. The disastrous conditions of “Time Passes” have become the prevailing conditions of the present. Unable to maintain confidence in the power of form to stay the relentless march toward a second world war, Woolf both relaxed her hold over the tightly crafted novelistic form and embraced the more flexible endeavor of lifewriting. The challenge was to find a shape that could resist both the impersonal unraveling of time and the dubious consolation of aesthetic form. Unlike the line in the center of Lily Briscoe’s painting, “A real life . . . must lack centre,” Woolf noted in her diary while working on “Sketch.” “It must amble on. All the same, I can weave a very thick pattern, one of these days, out of that pattern of detail.”4 Although “one of these days” never arrived, the “Sketch” that Woolf characterizes as a “loose story” offers an inchoate pattern of detail that becomes visible as both a consequence of and a bulwark against the threat of an escalating war.5 On 15 April 1939, three days before beginning “Sketch,” she notes “this horror of war” in her diary.6 Through the summer of 1939, the “monotonous boom of the war” drowned out other sounds.7 During the bombardment that exploded with the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, Woolf ’s present and former London flats were hit, while “five German raiders passed so close over Monks House that they brushed the tree at the gate” (124). Perhaps it is no surprise that the retrospective gaze from this vantage point should characterize life as a “blow from an

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enemy hidden behind the cotton wool of daily life” or as “the force which had respected me sufficiently to make me feel myself ground between grindstones” (72, 137). There, in the center of Woolf ’s life-writing, is not the artist’s unifying line, but her body, sandwiched between two grindstones. What narrative strategies could respond to this pressure without falsifying, by overly aestheticizing, the randomness of a “real life”? “Sketch” unfolds an exploratory process whose tentative formal gestures and imagistic patterns suggest why these “notes” were never “swept into a whole” (75). The underlying trajectory of the story “Sketch” narrates is the Stephen family’s movement from Talland House, their summer home in St. Ives, to Hyde Park Gate, their permanent London residence. This story has its own mythologizing features, which subsume the annual back-and-forth into a one-way passage from a globular, idyllic infantile space under the aegis of the mother to a vertical, imprisoning urban counterpart under paternal rule. Loosely bridged by a sliver of transitional space presided over by Woolf ’s half sister Stella after their mother’s death, the structure suggests the residual imprint of the tripartite design of To the Lighthouse, despite the obvious shift to splitting the family home between geographically as well as temporally disparate incarnations. Intercepting this structure, however, is a distinguishing feature of life-writing: the “space of time” (79) that is also the narrative space between the time of composition and the story that is told. Woolf calls attention to this space in the first entry in which she notes the date of composition: I think that I have discovered a possible form for these notes. That is, to make them include the present – at least, enough of the present to serve as a platform to stand upon. It would be interesting to make the two people, I now, I then, come out in contrast. And further, this past is much affected by the present moment. What I write today I should not write in a year’s time. (75)

However, as she goes on to acknowledge, the mutual constitution of past and present remains a work in progress, since neither location is stable, and the more the battered present shapes the past in its own image, the harder it is to move them into intimate rapport. The metastory of “Sketch” explores the material conditions of life-writing: how it is possible to reach out across time to embrace the past from a beleaguered present and how diverse spaces of time shape and are shaped by these gestures. “A Sketch of the Past” could be viewed as Woolf ’s attempt to revisit To the Lighthouse from the vantage point of her biographical counterpart,



Cam, rather than her aesthetic surrogate, Lily. Submerged in the narrative design of To the Lighthouse, Cam silently watches the past recede from view as she sits between her father and her brother in the boat that James steers toward the future; Woolf resuscitates Cam in “Sketch” to write the story of the past from an analogous position. Sandwiched between two grindstones as she regards a receding past from a precarious location in the present, Woolf, like Cam, lacks a secure position from which to mobilize Lily’s integrative gaze. Teasing out the traces of To the Lighthouse as a rough guide to the more loosely structured later text, I will follow their shared investment in the early, multisensory space of time whose abrupt termination by the death of Woolf ’s mother complicates its recovery. The ambivalent lure of memory staged during an interlude between the deaths of Woolf ’s mother and stepsister leads to an alternative mode of life-writing elicited by her entrapment with her father at Hyde Park Gate. The phrase “life-writing” emerges in “A Sketch of the Past” during a meditation on “‘the subject of this memoir’,” a phrase Woolf place between quotation marks to call attention to its status as an inherited trope and problematic. The challenge voiced by the narrator is how to render the “invisible presence” of individuals and groups, “all those magnets which attract us this way to be like that, or repel us the other and make us different from that.” If this magnetic field is not analyzed, “how futile life-writing becomes.” Yet the narrator does not feel up to the task: “I see myself as a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place, but cannot describe the stream” (“Sketch,” 80). Perhaps the problem lies less in the stream’s invisible currents than in the narrator’s relation to them. The passage reprises the key components of Woolf ’s recurrent scene of writing: a stream, a fish, and a narrator, familiar from the staging of A Room of One’s Own. Revisited in “Professions for Women,” writing and fishing are even more closely intertwined: a girl sits “with a pen in her hand” like “a fisherman lying sunk in dreams on the verge of a deep lake with a rod held out over the water.”8 Vanished from “A Sketch of the Past” is the fishing rod, the direct line between the narrator and the fish, an absence especially striking because the fish here is the narrator’s younger self. Rather than fishing, the narrator gazes, futilely. The detachment illustrates a turn in Woolf ’s narration from the famous “stream of consciousness” (more accurately free indirect discourse) that characterizes her fiction to the “scene making” that she announces in her memoir as “her natural way of marking the past” (142). Despite the parallel construction of “life-writing” and “scene making,” and the mixture

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of agency and receptivity that both imply, the scenic’s strong emphasis on the visual filters out the kinetic field and sensory modalities that energize Woolf ’s fiction. Scene making offers a strategy for visualizing invisible presences at a safe remove, but scenes risk devolving into inherited scripts. The quandary is dramatized succinctly in the scene – or composite scene – of the death of Woolf ’s mother, a set piece excised to great effect in To the Lighthouse, but repeatedly presented with only minor variations in Woolf ’s memoir and diaries, as if the trauma were frozen in memory.9 The stunned thirteenyear-old, led into her mother’s bedroom in the early morning by her older stepbrother, George, remains a dazed and alienated spectator whose only expressed emotion is a desire to laugh at the performance of grief by a sobbing nurse. The scene has a specular quality, as if viewed through a pair of disembodied eyes that impartially take note of an assemblage of objects and formulaic gestures, including her own gesture of kissing her mother’s face. The following evening, when Virginia is led back by her stepsister Stella for a final good-bye, the scripted quality both persists and is punctured by the unexpected sensation of once more kissing her mother’s now-cold face. “When I kissed her, it was like kissing cold iron” (92). The tactile memory endures as a different kind of “feeling.” As the deathbed scene segues ineluctably into the prescribed and protracted scene of mourning, however, the burden of imposed scenarios shrouds such direct sensations: “a dark cloud settled over us. . . . It seemed impossible to break through. . . . A finger seemed laid on one’s lips” (93, 95). The narrator has a different relation to the era that precedes the trauma of her mother’s death, however. In her account of the genesis of To the Lighthouse “in a great, apparently involuntary rush,” “Sketch” reprises the imagery of life-writing as a challenge of giving voice, rather than visibility, to the earliest of the “invisible presences” that course through the stream of life: “One thing burst into another. Blowing bubbles out of a pipe gives the feeling of the rapid crowd of ideas and scenes which blew out of my mind, so that my lips seemed syllabling of their own accord. . .” (81). As the stream bubbles up into language, the invisible presence of the mother seems to speak itself, surging from the currents of memory through the daughter’s lips, washing away the taste of cold iron and the pressure of a silencing finger in an imaginative rush that emerges from below or before the capacity to make scenes. The spontaneous overflow of material for To the Lighthouse echoes the beginning of “Sketch,” where the narrator’s earliest memories similarly well up spontaneously. Plunging into the writing of the memoir “in the



sure and certain knowledge” that a path will emerge, she initially retrieves a highly visual image of the purple, red, and blue flowers on her mother’s dress, viewed up-close from her perch on her mother’s lap. Displacing and deepening this first impression is “the most important” of all the narrator’s memories, the base that supports the ever-filling bowl of her life: waking up in the nursery at Talland House in St. Ives. In this incantatory passage, the tense shifts from the past of recollection and interpretation to a timeless present, as the remembering “I” is absorbed into the impersonal “it” of memory. “It is of lying half asleep, half awake; in bed in the nursery at St. Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking . . . one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind . . . and feeling, it is almost possible that I should be here; of feeling the purest ecstasy I can conceive” (64–5). As the boundaries of the room and consciousness blow in and out with the breeze, the “I” is gradually precipitated out of an encompassing surround. This feeling “of lying in a grape and seeing through a film of semi-transparent yellow,” creating the impression of a “globular; semi-transparent” world bounded by a translucent maternal envelope, lies at the origin of the “luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end” that Woolf exhorts modern novelists to convey.10 But in “Sketch,” this semi-transparent envelope is circumscribed within a particular space of time that becomes increasingly attenuated and difficult to access in the narrative present. Woolf introduces the figure of a space of time as a way to characterize the first and most formative of the eras that constitute the rough chronological chunks of “Sketch”: her first thirteen years, from her birth in 1882 to the death of her mother in 1895, a space in which she imagines roaming in a “great hall . . . with windows letting in strange lights; and murmurs and spaces of deep silence” (79). As the globular, womb space of infancy expands into childhood, the constant remains the mother’s centrality. “I suspect the word ‘central’ gets closest to the feeling I had of living so completely in her atmosphere that one never got far enough away from her to see her as a person” (81, 83). The coordinated shifts from “I” to “one” and from “living” to “seeing,” in tandem with the mother’s evolution from an “atmosphere” to a “person,” suggest the ambiguous benefits of gaining a perspective. Both a manifestation of “life” and its enabling medium, atmosphere both creates and requires a context, a structure, a generative source and outer boundary, or it will dissipate. The series of deaths (Woolf ’s mother, her half sister Stella, and her brother Thoby) that “tumble” the narrator “out of the family structure” that has been “cracked and gashed” by

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life’s blows attenuate the atmosphere that shelter had sustained (137). The impact renders the narrator not only vulnerable, “a shelless little creature,” but also “critical and skeptical of the family” (138). Hence, when describing the effect of Stella’s death, Woolf recalls the thin yellow film that had enclosed her early world: “The blow, the second blow of death, struck on me; tremulous, filmy eyed as I was, with my wings still creased, sitting there on the edge of my broken chrysalis” (124). The juxtaposition of the blow and the eye implies that the filmy covering has been rent, an implication supported by the narrator’s newly critical perspective. Disenchantment yields some compensation: clear-sightedness enables the adult narrator to perceive retrospectively the gaps that had always existed in the original atmosphere, at the same time that this visual acuity inhibits her immersion in the stream of memory.11 This is the context in which we might revisit the notorious “incident of the looking-glass”: Woolf ’s childhood sexual molestation by her stepbrother Gerald on a “slab outside the dining room door” that is conflated in memory with the “ledge” of a looking-glass that is also in the hallway of Talland House (69, 67). The central components of these combined scenarios are the invasion of the young girl’s body as Gerald’s hand moves steadily under her clothing, her shame at looking at herself in the mirror, and her dream of “looking in a glass when a horrible face – the face of an animal – suddenly showed over my shoulder” (69). The incident is positioned immediately after, and marks a break from, her richly sensory and protective early world. To account for its appearance here, beyond the freedom from the constraints of the Memoir Club that Alex Zwerdling has so persuasively analyzed, we might consider its resonance with the narrative present of “Sketch”: the sense of exposure that culminates not only with the cracking of the family shelter, but also with the larger political context of England’s vulnerability to invasion by sea, anticipated only three miles from Woolf ’s Sussex home, and to bombardment by air, which quickly became a daily reality.12 The incident, moreover, functions self-reflexively as a traumatic induction into the visual, as the adult narrator reflects on the advent of self-reflection as the trauma of emerging from the fullness of sensation into the perception of a face in the mirror. Violation, exposure, the loss of protective covering (clothing, mother, atmosphere) are both cause and consequence of the narrator’s sharpened visual acuity. A further resonance links the “slab” or “ledge” on which the young Virginia is forcibly placed to the image of the adult writer’s vulnerable position on the “platform” of the present. When the platform recurs in the subsequent entry, it is reduced to a “little platform of present time,” in



which the weather is “damp and chilly” (85). As the memoir proceeds, the platform of the present shrinks: “(London battered last night),” the parenthetical notation for 11 October 1940, dwindles to a date: “(15th November 1940)” (143). Unlike her dwelling in the houses that shape the spaces of time in the past, the narrator in the present seems poorly housed, her unsheltered platform echoing the exposure of the ledge at precisely the moment at which she announces the mutually constitutive relationship between past and present. Yet however much (or because) their circumstances mirror each other, the narrator’s past and present selves seem divided by an impassable gulf. The atmosphere between them is too thin, the space of time dividing them too drafty and vast. Across it, the narrator regards her younger self with the clear-eyed gaze whose acquisition she attributes to the blows of life that have broken the familial chrysalis and pierced the yellow veil. She does not reach out, extend herself emotionally through the gesture Woolf gives Clarissa Dalloway, whose embrace of her childhood self enables her to hold “her life in her arms,” which “grew larger and larger in her arms, until it became a whole life, a complete life.”13 Unable to make a whole life out of the unfinished “Sketch,” Woolf presents a more attenuated relation to her younger self as a reflex of an historical moment that cannot generate the kinds of physical connection suggested by the emphasis on Clarissa’s arms. Arms – especially hands – are the body parts at stake in the scene of sibling conflict that follows, and has been overshadowed by, the scene of Gerald’s molestation. The narrator recalls her childhood self and Thoby pummeling each other with their fists on the lawn and then lowering her arms and giving up the fight. Given prominence by its position as the first in a trio of exemplary “moments of being,” the scene is framed by a brief for the aesthetic value of shock, now a familiar trope of modernism.14 But the argument – that shock provokes a search for meaning that “is or will become a revelation of some order” – is hard to apply to this instance, as it is to a similar scene in which the narrator is accosted by an “idiot boy” and collapses as if “passive under some sledge-hammer blow” (72, 78). Thoby’s blows launch a pattern of imagery that figures life as bodily assaults. At home, the narrator who “knuckled under” George’s authority also submits to Gerald’s groping hand, Thoby’s clenched fist, and her father’s verbal whipping, while enduring more abstractly “those two lashes of the random, unheeding, unthinking flail that brutally and pointlessly killed” her mother and Stella (144, 152, 136). Similar language characterizes the narrative present, in which metaphor turns literal again (152). In this

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context, dropping one’s fists, lowering one’s arms, become symbolic gestures of submission to the inevitability of violence. The past cannot heal the present in part because, viewed through the present’s disenchanted lens, the past is already broken. This paralysis, this inability to reach out to the past in order to make “a whole life,” underlies the memoir’s reliance on scene making rather than a more palpable embrace of memory. Instead of the rounded life that might restore the “globular” world of infancy as aesthetic form, there is a return to the banks of the stream from which life-writing emerges. During a transitional moment in the present, between a channel crossing back from Europe in the summer of 1939 and a year-long break to the following summer when the Battle of Britain erupts, the narrator ventures into a transitional space of time in the past between the prolonged scene of mourning for her mother and the second “blow of death” – Stella’s – that will expose her “without protection to the full blast” of her father (107). During this interlude in the figurative and literal bombardment, as Stella tries to assume the mediating function of their mother by letting “a little light” into the house of mourning, the narrator imaginatively returns in the present to the figure of the stream that echoes the channel crossing (and “Time Passes”) as a space between (95). Since Stella presides over this interlude of peace, there is a greater potential for the continuity that the narrator craves as an antidote to disruption in the present. The narrator looks to the bottom of the river to lend depth to the present, “For the present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you can feel nothing else” (98). But since past and present mirror one another, there must be peace in the present to restore the fullness of the past, for “any break . . . destroys the fullness of life . . . it breaks; it shallows; it turns the depth into hard thin splinters” (98). The emotional fluidity offered by the river requires a stable residence on land. Toward the end of the passage, Woolf revises her expectations of life-writing: “I write this partly in order to recover my sense of the present by getting the past to shadow this broken surface.” The promise of depth has dwindled to the shadow of a broken present. Yet in spite of this foreboding, the narrator wills herself into the river, as if the memory of Stella enables her to forgo the safe perspective from the riverbank for immersion in the past. That this immersion on the brink of war is not the spontaneous bubbling up of the memories that became To the Lighthouse is suggested by the language with which she both seeks



permission and urges herself on: “Let me then, like a child advancing with bare feet into a cold river, descend again into that stream.” The water is cold; the feet are bare; the advance is a descent. In contrast to the warm bath of memory with which “Sketch” begins, the narrator imagines treading cautiously into a bed of “hard thin splinters” that threaten her bare foot. The fragile platform of an unhoused present is both a necessary and an insufficient bulwark against the lure of memory. It is hard not to glimpse a foreshadowing of drowning in the shadow of the present’s broken surface. This intimation becomes more explicit when, after a year’s break, the narrative resumes on 8 June 1940: “The battle is at its crisis; every night the Germans fly over England; it comes closer to this house daily. If we are beaten then – however we solve that problem, and one solution is apparently suicide . . . book writing becomes doubtful. But I wish to go on, not settle down in that dismal puddle” (100). The river of life-writing extends an invitation, as well as an alternative, to the dismal puddle of death. This is not where “A Sketch of the Past” concludes, however. As with “Time Passes,” the destabilizing interlude passes and the narration of the past resumes without further recourse to the figure of the river. The final space of time between Stella’s death in 1897 and Leslie Stephen’s in 1904 unfolds on the solid ground of the tall dark paternal “cage” of Hyde Park Gate (116). Although Woolf dryly pairs the emergence of dictators abroad and at home in the section’s opening entry, the space of time dominated by her elderly father, “a typical Victorian,” and her two older stepbrothers (“consenting and approving Victorians”) reverts to the previous century, rather than, as in To the Lighthouse, moving forward into modernity (147). The aerial bombardment that intensifies in the narrative present has less resonance with this high Victorian world than with the previous, more vulnerable scenes of early childhood. The specular relation between the adult narrator and her exposed childhood self shifts to an identification between two outsiders positioned as sharp-eyed observers at the “flap of the tent” in which the “circus” of Victorian society unfolds “in full swing” (152–3). The critical gaze whose traumatic advent in the shattering of a childhood world inhibits the narrator’s reimmersion in that world is well suited to describe the patriarchal circus from which her adolescent self seeks refuge as a skeptical observer. That self is not immune from paternal tyranny, however. If the metaphor of the circus affords some detachment, that of the menagerie places her squarely inside the cage.

Spaces of Time


It was like being shut up in the same cage with a wild beast. Suppose I, at fifteen, was a nervous, gibbering little monkey, always spitting or cracking a nut and shying the shells about, and mopping and mowing, and leaping into dark corners and then swinging in rapture across the cage, he was the pacing, dangerous, morose lion; a lion who was sulky and angry and injured; and suddenly ferocious, and then very humble, and then majestic; and then lying dusty and fly pestered in a corner of the cage. (116)

Woolf succeeds here in rendering the invisible currents of attraction and repulsion that had thwarted her earlier attempt to depict “those instincts, affections, passions, attachments” that collectively compose the “force of life” and the elusive subject of life-writing (79–80). As the figure of lifewriting shifts from the fish in the stream to the mammals in the zoo, the bodily pulsations that throb beneath narrative sequence rise to the surface. Perhaps the narrative arc of the fisherwoman – of imaginative exploration that eventuates in aesthetic form  – has been played out. Looking back at her fifteen-year-old self, Cam’s age in the boat with her father, the older narrator relinquishes Cam’s silent effort, as she trails her hand in the water, to find a narrative thread that could connect the receding past to “the dark, the slumberous shapes” of the future (281). Recalling the Victorian world of Hyde Park Gate paradoxically affords a contemporary glimpse of “life” as the plotless affective tugs and pulls that elude the trajectory of narrative. More erratic than the shimmering vitality of nature, more reciprocal than the blows of an indifferent universe, the surges between the monkey and the lion anticipate the bodily intensities that have come into view with the “affective turn.” In the novels Jane Austen did not live to write, she would have devised, Woolf proposes, a method for conveying not only what people are, “but what life is.”15 Since “what life is” never ceases to evolve, perhaps we could project an analogous future for Woolf ’s exploratory version of life-writing that would extend her recognition that “life is always and inevitably much richer than we who try to express it.”16 Notes 1 The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Anne Olivier Bell, ed. (New York: Harcourt, 1978), II, 14. “The New Biography” (1927), Granite and Rainbow (New York: Harcourt, 1958), 149. According to the Encyclopedia of Life Writing, Margaret Jolly, ed. (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001), Woolf produced three biographies, four memoirs, thirty notebooks of diaries (which she maintained, with occasional breaks, from 1897 until 1941), and 3,767 letters, which she began writing at age six (956).



2 “Modern Fiction” (1925), The Common Reader (New York: Harcourt, 1953), 153. 3 “The Narrow Bridge of Art” (1927), Granite and Rainbow (New York: Harcourt, 1975), 19. 4 The Diary of Virginia Woolf (New York: Harcourt, 1984), V, 335. 5 “A Sketch of the Past,” in Moments of Being, ed. Jeanne Schulkind (New York: Harcourt, 1985), 124. Subsequent citations will be noted in the text parenthetically. 6 Diary V, 215. 7 Diary V, 238. 8 The Death of the Moth (New York: Harcourt, 1942), 61. 9 See the diary entries for 5 May 1924, in Diary 2, 300–1; and 4 May 1937, and Diary 5, 85. 10 “Modern Fiction,” 154. 11 My understanding of atmosphere and memory in Woolf is indebted to two dissertations in progress: Anna Abramson, “Modernist Atmospheres” and Irene Yoon, “The Materials of Memory.” 12 Alex Zwerdling, “Mastering the Memoir: Woolf and the Family Legacy” Modernism/Modernity 10:1 (2003), 165–88. 13 Mrs. Dalloway (1925) (New York: Harcourt, 1981), 43. 14 See especially the Frankfurt school. Sarah Cole offers a more pertinent distinction between “enchanted” and “disenchanted” violence in At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence in England and Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). For an insightful reading of shock’s function in Woolf ’s lifewriting, see Evelyne Ender, Architexts of Memory:Literature, Science, and Autobiography (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005. 15 “Jane Austen,” in The Common Reader (1925). (New York: Harcourt, 1953), 149. 16 “The Narrow Bridge of Art” (1927), Granite and Rainbow (New York: Harcourt, 1975), 23.

Pa rt   I I


Ch apter 6

Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography: Evelyn Waugh’s Labels and the Writing Personality Jonathan Greenberg As a young man in the 1950s, conscious of his status as a colonial subject and writer, V.  S. Naipaul found in Evelyn Waugh a compelling model of “a particular kind of writing personality.” Naipaul describes this writing personality as “metropolitan,” and he identifies certain qualities that accompany or constitute its metropolitanness: sexual knowledge, elegance, aloofness, wit, and style. The notion of a writing personality is, as Naipaul concedes, “only a vague idea,”1 but contemporary readers of Waugh will recognize both the quality that Naipaul describes and its allure. As recent works like Paula Byrne’s Mad World and Alexander Waugh’s Fathers and Sons testify, the encounter with Waugh’s writing still arouses in many a desire to pull back the curtain of fiction in the hopes of revealing that metropolitan writing personality who can guide us through a vanished world of class eccentricity and sophisticated wit. Naipaul’s concept of the writing personality names a quality central to Waugh’s appeal that does not quite belong either to his fiction or to the man outside the fiction. The term indicates neither the “persona” of a dramatic monologue nor the “implied author” of Wayne Booth’s Rhetoric of Fiction  – concepts that when assimilated to New Criticism banished biography altogether. Nor does it suggest a simple, knowable “historical” person behind the “disguises” of Waugh’s writing. Instead it identifies a quality of the writer, manifested in the writing, that is imagined to transcend both the individual books that bear the author’s name and the mundane, often grubby details of his actual life. Given the variety of works in Waugh’s oeuvre, one could “read” this writing personality through any number of texts  – novels, reviews, essays, letters, interviews. Still, for a number of reasons, I want to focus on Waugh’s first book of travel writing, Labels (1930). As a first-person work that claims to be factual, it reminds us of the ways in which fiction always hovers around the edges of any autobiographical account. As an early work, it shows us a writing personality 69


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emerging rather than fully formed. As an account of famous places that are, in Waugh’s phrase, “already labeled,” it allows special attention to the author’s own way of seeing and feeling. Above all it helps us to think about the key terms in this volume’s title: autobiography and modernism. Labels is autobiographical in the plain sense that it purports to recount events from the author’s life experience, but it also offers an autobiography in the way that it constructs a writing personality, writing a self by showing how that self engages the world. At the same time, Labels is a work of modernism, both in the self-consciousness with which it foregrounds this writing personality and in the ironic, worldly, and “metropolitan” nature of the personality in whose reality it makes us believe.

I.  Travel Writing as Autobiography For many young men of Waugh’s class and generation, writing during a period when travel still retained some of the romance of imperial adventure, going abroad became a way to enlarge life experience, free oneself from oppressive domestic routines, and gather material for other books.2 For Waugh in particular, travel and travel writing were crucial elements of the creative process, especially during the decade just before World War II. Waugh typically kept diaries of his travels, used the diary material for his travel books, and then reshaped the material again in his fiction – most centrally in the great satires of the 1930s, Black Mischief, A Handful of Dust, and Scoop. So while Waugh’s main characters almost always remain Englishmen of his own class, encounters with people and places outside England are indispensible to both his novels and his public image. No matter how definitively English Waugh appears, he consistently displays his Englishness through characters who travel the world. Labels, Waugh’s first travel book, was composed during a turbulent and formative time in his life. It began as part of a stratagem, arranged by his agent, to secure an inexpensive honeymoon for Waugh and his new wife, Evelyn Gardner (typically called “She-Evelyn” to distinguish her from her husband). The plan was that the Waughs, who had been married in 1928, would travel free on the liner the Stella Polaris in exchange for favorable publicity in Waugh’s book.3 At the same time the travelogue provided an easy next career move for a twenty-six-year-old writer who had published only one novel (Decline and Fall) and a short biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. But in the end the plan was mostly a failure. During the trip, which lasted from February to June 1929, She-Evelyn contracted pneumonia and had to be hospitalized for a month in Port Said, Egypt. The

Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography


romantic honeymoon never came to pass, and according to at least one biographer, it was during She-Evelyn’s illness in Port Said that “she began to feel that she had been in some way deserted by [Waugh] . . . it became apparent to her that something was missing emotionally from the marriage.”4 Shortly after their return to England, She-Evelyn began an affair that ended the Waughs’ union. By the time Waugh published the book, then, it had become, peculiarly, an account of the travels of an unmarried man; A Bachelor Abroad was the American title. Yet Waugh did not edit out his wife’s presence entirely. Instead he created a semifictional pair of English honeymooners, Geoffrey and Juliet, who accompany him (the first-person narrator) on much of the trip. Geoffrey and Juliet serve as surrogates for the Waughs, while the narrator himself remains the central experiencing subject of the book. This division of himself into an unmarried first-person narrator and a married third-person acquaintance may have served Waugh as a kind of psychological defense as he reexperienced the trip in light of his wife’s later infidelity; it may have been necessary to ensure a suitably breezy tone; it may simply have been a way to avoid the awkwardness of publicly discussing the short-lived marriage.5 In any case, the choice not only produces some awkward plot contrivances but also complicates any easy categorization of Labels as either fiction or nonfiction.6 Even if we leave aside (for now) the invention of Geoffrey and Juliet, Labels is a book that continually raises questions about what kind of a literary work it is. It raises these questions in two important and interrelated areas: genre and authorship. Problems of genre arise in the book’s very first words, where Waugh relies on the old trick of disclosing a lie in order to gain the reader’s trust: “I did not really know where I was going, so, when anyone asked me, I said to Russia. Thus my trip started, like an autobiography, upon a rather nicely qualified basis of falsehood and selfglorification.”7 Linking his travels – which at the time lay in the future – to the genre of autobiography, Waugh self-effacingly presents himself as directionless, artless, and clueless. Just as importantly, he also presents himself as deceptive. His reference to autobiography in fact cuts against expectations; he allies his travels with that genre to establish not his narrative’s veracity but rather its unreliability. Of course, to find falsehood and self-glorification at the foundation of autobiography is no longer shocking, if it ever was. More than three decades ago, Paul de Man made the case that “autobiography  . . . is not a genre or a mode, but a figure of reading or of understanding that occurs, to some degree, in all texts.” Autobiography does not “reveal reliable


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self-knowledge,” but rather foregrounds the moment of reading in which “the author declares himself the subject of his own understanding.” It is this claim to reveal self-knowledge, not the knowledge itself, that earns de Man’s interest, for it “makes explicit the wider claim to authorship that takes place whenever a text is stated to be by someone and assumed to be understandable to the extent that this is the case.”8 Put simply, autobiography is the way of reading that we undertake when we assume that the name of the author makes a difference to the interpretation of the text. In reading autobiographically, the name of the author becomes a label we affix to a text to provide it with meaning. Following de Man, then, we can say that autobiography denotes an interpretive trope rather than a set of historical truths. Waugh makes a similar claim when he explains his choice of title: I have called this book Labels for the reason that all places I visited on this trip are already fully labeled. I was no adventurer of the sort who can write books with such names as Off the Beaten Track in Surrey or Plunges into Unknown Herts. I suppose there is no track quite so soundly beaten as the Mediterranean seaboard; no towns so constantly and completely overrun with tourists as those I intend to describe. (13)

What looks like a challenge for the author – why describe what the reader already has seen? – becomes an opportunity to see things anew: “The interest I have found in preparing this book . . . was that of investigating with a mind as open as the English system of pseudo-education allows, the basis of the reputations these famous places have acquired” (13). And this reseeing effectively transposes the reader’s interest from the viewed to the viewer, from the historical truths to the interpretive trope. The promise of the text becomes not what Waugh will see, but how he will see it – and how he will say it. What matters will be the metropolitan “writing personality,” imbued with cultural knowledge and verbal gifts, that Naipaul found so attractive. In Labels, what guides our reading is above all the label of the author’s own name, the label that makes the book an autobiography. This question of genre is tied tightly to the book’s persistent theme of authorship. Once Waugh makes himself the subject of his book – once he makes travel writing into autobiography – he frees himself to discuss his own uncertain legitimacy as an author. The most obvious way he does this is to frame his own motives as commercial rather than artistic or reportorial. In Malta he laughingly reveals the ways in which he barters positive publicity for free lodging, while in Corfu he archly celebrates both the island’s beauty and his own desire to earn the money he needs to enjoy it: “Do let me urge

Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography


you, gentle reader, if you have only borrowed this book from a library, to buy two or three copies instantly so that I can leave London and go and live peacefully on this island” (135). Acknowledging the profit motive in this way performs two key functions. It distances Waugh from the pretensions of highbrow “literary” travel writing, helping to clear creative space. But it also positions him as an aspiring rather than an established professional author. For despite his urbane or metropolitan tone, Waugh portrays himself as an inexperienced writer-traveler with only “two very dim books” to his name, “less . . . a writer than an out-of-work private schoolmaster” (22); he doubts that he will ever become “anything more considerable than one of a hundred globe-trotting novelists” (138). Indeed in his opening pages he claims that “one of the acute problems of authorship today” is merely to “get down one’s seventy thousand words without obvious plagiarism” (15). Of course we might trace these self-effacing gestures to the anxiety of the newly married, or newly separated, or newly celebrated twenty-something author. But we should also recognize the way in which Waugh folds the expression of these anxieties back into the construction of his writing personality, the way he charms us by presenting himself as an outsider to his trade. Yet it would be too simple to claim that Waugh presents himself only as an outsider. Sometimes in fact he does just the opposite, giving us a window into the ways of journalists and publishers. In the eyes of the British colonists in Port Said, he is “one of those writing johnnies” (73), and he tosses off references to “advice from my agent about the ‘sort of stuff you can put across editors’” (21). Later he scoffs at the willingness of prideful writers to “starve their wives and tailors rather than accept less than their fifteen guineas a thousand words” (101). As an author, then, Waugh is “inside” enough to tell us how the publishing world works, but “outside” enough to see it in its absurdity. And because of this in-between status, Waugh finds himself struggling to explain to the secretary of the Monte Carlo Sporting Club why he is not a member of the Author’s Club: Either [the secretary thought] I was a crook trying to pass myself off as an author, or else I was a renegade and discredited author, an outcast from his fellows, a plagiarist and infringer of copyrights, an illiterate, misleading, and mischievous author, one, no doubt, whose books were bound in plain wrappers and might not be sent through the post. (28)

Consciously or unconsciously, Waugh’s comic vignettes resonate thematically. Here he urges us to ask what kind of an author he is. Who is this writing personality? What shady, mischievous, immoral, or illegal things might he be up to on his travels? Who, Labels asks, is Evelyn Waugh?


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II.  Autobiography as Modernism Labels is an autobiography, then, because Waugh uses his description of the Mediterranean seaboard to direct attention to his own position as a writer – the potential unreliability of his account, the mercenary nature of his motives, his lack of fitness for the job. In a broad sense, this move is a modernist one: the turn from observed objects to observing subject emphasizes the processes of seeing, interpreting, and labeling rather than any old-fashioned “realist” concern with “simple” or “objective” description. But Waugh’s account is modernist in a second sense too: although Naipaul uses the term “metropolitan” to describe Waugh’s writing personality, the term “modernist” applies equally well. The aloof, knowing, witty manner that Naipaul associates with the metropolitan writer emerges in the way that Waugh relabels the things that he sees. To recall his opening justification for the trip, “the interest” of the book will be “that of investigating with a mind as open as the English system of pseudo-education allows, the basis of the reputations these famous places have acquired” (13). These investigations result, in almost every case, in new, ironic redescriptions of famous places, objects, people, ideas, and values. Waugh’s modernism thus lies in his debunking of heroic, celebratory, or otherwise inflated prior accounts. In peeling back “labels,” Waugh peels back the clichéd representations of cities and sights, inherited both from earlier  – often Victorian  – generations of travel writers and from Baedecker guides written for an age of mass tourism. More often than not, Waugh discovers that these cities and sights fail to merit the praise they have received. Probably the most famous instance of such modernist redescription in Labels is Waugh’s account of Mt. Etna: I do not think I shall ever forget the sight of Etna at sunset; the mountain almost invisible in a blur of pastel grey, glowing on the top and then repeating its shape, as though reflected, in a wisp of grey smoke, with the whole horizon behind radiant with pink light, fading gently into a grey pastel sky. Nothing I have ever seen in Art or Nature was quite so revolting. (146)

As Paul Fussell points out, Waugh introduces this description with the travel writer’s favorite cliché of the memory that lasts a lifetime, but his blunt final sentence exposes the pretensions of the tourist’s evocative word painting.9 Similarly, Waugh deems “unforgettable” his first glimpse of Paris  – which he then describes as “lying in a pool of stagnant smoke, looking, except for the Eiffel Tower, very much like High Wycombe indefinitely extended” (12).10 What is notable in this last example is not so

Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography


much the ugliness of the city as its ordinariness. Time and again Waugh domesticates the exotic through a comparison to mundane English phenomena. “Montmartre,” he tells us, “is a kind of Wembley Exhibition of what anyone has at any time thought to be at all pleasurable” (17). In Pompeii, “which everyone knows all about” (146), the much-touted “pornographic frescoes” are “in most cases, mere scribbles, no better than D. H. Lawrence’s” (147). The countryside around Haifa looks like “some grouse-laden corner of the Scottish highlands” (54). In Egypt, “the Sphinx is an ill-proportioned composition of inconsiderate aesthetic appeal” (87), and the rough beast itself “is just about as inscrutable and enigmatic as Mr. Aleister Crowley” (88). And so on with the Acropolis, the Hagia Sophia, the town of Gibraltar, and much else. Such comparisons establish Waugh’s writing personality as immune to novelty. This worldly, knowing personality is, moreover, a distinctly modernist one in its determination to avoid sentimental effusiveness. In describing the Rock of Gibraltar, for example, Waugh recalls Thackeray’s 1846 travelogue, Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo: “‘It is the very image,’ he [Thackeray] said, ‘of an enormous lion, crouched between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and set there to guard the passage for its British mistress’” (167). Yet our narrator fails to see this likeness: “Everyone else on board was instantly struck by the felicity of this image, so I suppose that it must be due to some deficiency in my powers of observation that to me it appeared like a great slab of cheese and like nothing else” (167). The deficiency Waugh owns up to is really a greater power of observation, and this power derives from his disciplined refusal to indulge the imperialist fantasy that allowed Thackeray to project form and intention onto the shapeless slab. Waugh was no kneejerk antiimperialist, but here the modernism of his writing personality easily trumps the conservatism of his politics. The grand Victorian narrative must be punctured. Throughout the book, then, Waugh’s target is what he calls, with a nod to Sir Thomas Browne’s seventeenth-century inquiry into the sources of human misunderstandings, “the modern pseudodoxia epidemica” (18). Just as he rejects the nationalist ideology that causes Thackeray to find a British lion carved into Gibraltar’s cliffs, so he dispenses with the sentimental banalities that shape our ideas of the exile’s life. He describes the expatriates in Port Said through a long series of negatives that debunk a whole catalog of clichés derived from imperial adventure tales: There was, of course, no nonsense of tropical romance; no indomitable jungle, no contact with raw nature, no malaria, delirium tremens, or “mammy-


G reenberg palaver”; no one showed the smallest inclination to “go native”; no one was eating out his heart for the lights of Piccadilly or yew walks of a manorial garden; they did not play their bridge with greasy cards or read and re-read a year-old newspaper; no one was “trying to forget.” (64)

Similarly, Waugh takes a shot at a more recent target, the self-glorifying autobiography of Robert Graves, when he describes the games on the deck of the Stella Polaris: “I should really like, in the manner of Goodbye to All That, to fill in some pages at this point with descriptions of my own athletic prowess, but must instead confess that I was defeated in the first round of every one of these games, and was severely rebuked by my partners on two occasions for more than ordinary clumsiness” (52–3).11 And again, on the Aegean Sea, when “an American lady” conjures a vision of ancient boats from the biblical city of Ophir “with a cargo of ivory, sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine,” Waugh proclaims himself unable to summon such an image. Instead he recalls the recent bloodbath of Gallipoli: “I could not [see it], but with a little more imagination I think I might easily have seen troopships, full of young Australians, going to their death with bare knees” (120). Here in fact Waugh quietly but firmly sounds a note of pathos. For all its aloofness, his writing personality can tell us what we should be feeling as well as what we should not. This last point is especially important, for it shows us that the stringency of Waugh’s satiric vision does not lead to nihilism or cynicism. It does however entail a suspicion of enthusiasm, so that even when he discovers that a place or object lives up to its reputation, Waugh reminds us that our experience is shaped by labels. We see this most starkly in Waugh’s pages on Venice, where he appears to fall speechless: “What can I possibly write, now, at this stage of the world’s culture, about two days in Venice, that would not be an impertinence to every educated reader of this book?” (137). The “educated reader,” he realizes, knows Venice already, not just the city “itself ” but also the centuries of writing about Venice. To avoid impertinence, Waugh therefore resorts to the ancient rhetorical gambit of proslepsis, in which the speaker says something under the pretense of avoiding the topic. “Am I to say,” Waugh asks, “that it consists of an archipelago of one hundred and thirty-five islands transected by a hundred and forty-five canals?” (137). He follows this with roughly five hundred words of similar questions, and in the process of asking them he describes art, architecture, history, cuisine, nightlife, and much else, including the errors in Ruskin’s account of the city – all before deciding not to describe the city at all: “No, it seems to me a

Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography


moment for humility” (138). Waugh’s invocations of Ruskin and of the late “stage of the world’s culture” again remind of us the earlier, heroic, Victorian travel narratives, but his turn to this baroque rhetorical device provides a screen against romantic gushing. For all his snarky debunking of Etna, Gibraltar, and the pyramids, Waugh here shows how his modernist redescription can nonetheless help us identify what we should value in the Mediterranean world.

III.  Modernism as Reeducation Waugh’s modernist writing personality thus teaches us what to see, what to feel, and what to value. It offers a cultural pedagogy, an education or reeducation in aesthetics. Not surprisingly then, education turns out to be a prominent theme of Labels, as Waugh explores the long-established links among travel, taste, and knowledge. As James Buzard notes, the English upper classes for centuries considered Mediterranean travel as a valuable experience in the formation of the self. During the Enlightenment the “Grand Tour” of Europe, undertaken by “young men of the ruling classes,” became a common “ideological exercise.” On these tours, Oxford and Cambridge graduates were “expos[ed] . . . to the treasured artifacts and ennobling society of the Continent” in “a social ritual intended to prepare these young men to assume the leadership positions preordained for them at home.” And even though in the nineteenth century the Grand Tour was “absorbed and superseded” by the phenomenon of “mass tourism,” it established an ideal of travel-as-education that persists through the modernist period into the present.12 Yet Waugh, as we have seen, expresses skepticism about the accounts of the Mediterranean that this tradition has yielded, and his skepticism is at bottom a skepticism about the cultural training and taste-making that travel is expected to accomplish. To return, one more time, to Waugh’s opening formulation of his aims, he states that he wants to “investigat[e] with a mind as open as the English system of pseudo-education allows, the basis of the reputations these famous places have acquired” (13). Here, as usual, Waugh slyly undercuts himself. Even as he proposes that he can see and know things better than previous travel writers, he concedes that his mind cannot be as unbiased or empiricist as he might like, since it is formed by only a “pseudo-education,” which will limit more than enable his ability to debunk his predecessors’ accounts. Indeed Waugh disparages his own “public school and university education” as no more than


G reenberg a vague knowledge of History, Literature, and Art, an amateurish interest in architecture and costume, of social, religious, and political institutions, of drama, of the biographies of the chief characters of each century, of a few memorable anecdotes and jokes, scraps of diaries and correspondence and family history. (34)

In short, Waugh’s skepticism about cultural training extends to himself. Therefore just as we saw how Waugh presents himself as both a writer and not a writer, so he also portrays himself as both educated and pseudoeducated, both a tourist and not a tourist. Sometimes the role of the naïve tourist makes for good comedy, as when Waugh makes jokes about being cheated out of money by cab drivers, shoe shine boys, or vendors hawking worthless souvenirs. Like William Boot in Scoop, he shows his inexperience by carrying far too much luggage, and with an obliviousness characteristic of any number of his comic protagonists, he absentmindedly gathers to himself a stack of casino chips belonging to a humorless governess (29). He admits to the tourist’s feeling of “obligation,” and even “panic” (46), about seeing as much as possible. Yet at other times it is Waugh’s difference from his fellow travelers that matters. The other passengers on his boat excitedly photograph and paint the Corinth Canal, but it leaves Waugh indifferent; the others see Thackeray’s lion in the Rock of Gibraltar, but Waugh sees only cheese. By the end of his tour, he is happily mocking the unseaworthy and entitled passengers on the Stella Polaris who “after a night of heavy seas in the Gulf of Lyons . . . bore slightly discontented faces, as though attributing the bad weather to negligence on the part of someone in authority” (148). But whichever role he chooses at any moment, Waugh uses that role to fashion his writing personality as a sophisticated one. For even when his rejection of received opinion looks like philistinism, it is a deliberate, self-conscious philistinism, the result of knowing better, not worse. His ignorance is actually a claim to knowledge: a knowledge about which knowledge he does not need to know.13 Given how frequently Waugh questions the value of travel-as-education, it is not surprising that he takes a strong interest in the tourists themselves. Waugh declares his “fellow passengers and their behaviour in the different places we visited” to be “a far more absorbing study than the places themselves” (42). The observation of tourists is in fact “a necessary part of the study of any conscientious analyst of modern social conditions” (33–4) since tourists are as much a part of the modern landscape as “gossip-writers or psycho-analysts” (34). Tourism, like writing, becomes Waugh’s very subject, and he transforms spectators into spectacle.

Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography


The tourist in Labels is represented as desperate for a kind of cultural knowledge that he or she can never truly attain. Chronicling his visit to the pyramids of Sakkara, site of the Serapeum, “the burial-place of the sacred bulls” (89), Waugh scorns the tourist’s obligation “to conjure up the ruined streets of Memphis and to see in one’s mind’s eye the sacred procession as it wound up the avenue of sphinxes, mourning the dead bull” (90), announcing that “we can leave all that to Hollywood” (90). Instead he focuses on “the present spectacle” and insists on viewing not the ancient Egyptians but his own companions  – especially the Americans  – as the object of anthropological curiosity: Oh, ladies and gentlemen, I longed to declaim, dear ladies and gentlemen, fancy crossing the Atlantic Ocean, fancy coming all this way in the heat, fancy enduring all these extremities of discomfort and exertion; fancy spending all this money, to see a hole in the sand where, three thousand years ago, a foreign race whose motives must for ever remain inexplicable interred the carcasses of twenty-four bulls. Surely the laugh, dear ladies and gentlemen, is on us. (90–1)

With this final “us,” Waugh includes himself, yet he retains the critical position from which to ridicule the entire undertaking. Still, despite his mockery of them, Waugh begins “to sympathise with American visitors to Europe” (95), who do not grow up amid European culture and instead must obtain the tradition by great labor. As Waugh immerses himself in Egyptian and Arabic culture, he comes to understand this American feeling of ignorance, and he again makes comedy out of his failures: I found myself floundering hopelessly in my attempts to grasp the essentials of Arab architecture. I would memorise a list of dynasties in the morning and forget them before luncheon; I confused the features of one building with those of another, and, looking at photographs later, was often unable to remember which buildings I had seen and which I had not. (96)

But this ignorance, like the inability to see Thackeray’s lion, turns out to be a subtle form of knowledge, as Waugh’s real target proves to be the bogus obligations and burdens of tourism. He views his travelling party as a “ragtag and bobtail of self-improvement and uplift” (90), a weary crew beaten down by “the thundering surf of education” (90). The Enlightenment idea of travel as self-formation has decayed into the modern phenomenon of travel as cultural literacy; education has become pseudo-education, the mindless memorization of dynasties and dates. Indeed at many times Waugh rejects the whole enterprise of cultural education, opting


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instead for the simple comforts of good meals, fine weather, and luxurious accommodations. There is one final area in which Waugh repeatedly displays his sophisticated writing personality: sex. Biographically, this is the arena where Waugh most completely conceals the facts of his life, turning his own failed honeymoon into someone else’s. Furthermore, although Waugh briefly mentions – by first names only – his friends Alastair Graham and Mark Ogilvie-Grant, whom he visits in Greece during the tour, he leaves out any allusion to the nature of his friendship with Graham, who had been, according to Martin Stannard, Waugh’s homosexual lover at Oxford and who supplied at least one prototype for Sebastian Flyte of Brideshead Revisited.14 (Ogilvie-Grant, also a friend, was by 1929 Graham’s lover and companion.) Waugh’s biographers disagree whether (and if so, where) Waugh met with Graham a second time on the trip. Some, following Christopher Sykes, claim that while She-Evelyn convalesced in the hospital in Egypt, Evelyn met up with Graham in Cyprus; Martin Stannard and Humphrey Carpenter doubt this story, asserting instead that Graham visited both Waughs in Port Said and lent them money.15 Both Stannard and Carpenter, moreover, recognize the intensity of Waugh’s bond with Graham and wonder about its effect on the Waughs’ marriage.16 But even at the very moments where Labels brazenly misrepresents the historical facts, it establishes the sophistication of the writing personality. In contrast to a tale of a sexually uncertain new husband with a sick bride, what the reader of Labels gets is the voice of a blasé sexual tourist, who reports on erotic dancing and prostitution throughout the Mediterranean without ever considering these women as anything more than curiosities.17 In Port Said, when Juliet is laid up in the hospital, the narrator and Geoffrey kill time by visiting the red-light district, where they find “picture postcards of unexampled lewdness” that interest them mainly as camp phenomena. Still, Waugh and his second self appear to find the postcards worth sharing, as “Geoffrey bought a packet and sent them in heavily sealed envelopes to various acquaintances in England, thereby, I believe, rendering both himself and them liable to criminal prosecution” (66). In Cairo, they again visit the red-light district, by now finding such an expedition a matter of routine: “After dinner, inevitably, we sought out the houses of ill fame” (71). Aloof from any expression of sexual excitement, Waugh finds only mild amusement in the scenes of sexual tourism. But again Waugh’s comic vignettes may illustrate underlying tensions. On the train from Paris to Monte Carlo, the ailing Juliet, suffering from pneumonia, is assigned a wagon-lit to share with “a very young priest”:

Travel Writing as Modernist Autobiography


He had dined with the late service and returned to his carriage to find Juliet just getting into bed. He had stood in the doorway for one half-minute, his eyes wide with shock. Juliet had made things worse by giving him a feverish smile of welcome. Then, without a word, he fled. (26)

The celibate young priest encountering the “feverish” She-Evelyn/Juliet might indeed represent Waugh himself. He is confused whether the woman he confronts bears an expression of sexual excitement or physical illness, uncertain whether the tour about to commence will be a sexual adventure or merely an opportunity for cool, chaste observation. As we have seen in his representation of himself as a somewhat illegitimate writer, and as a somewhat ill-educated tourist, Waugh cultivates this kind of confusion and doubleness. Indeed the perfect emblem of this doubleness might be seen in the “astonishing” sculpture Waugh finds in Naples, Antonio Corradini’s La Pudicizia (“Modesty”). Waugh describes the piece as “a gross female figure draped from head to toe in transparent muslin,” and he is struck by its “ingenuity” and its artistry – how the marble muslin at once covers and reveals the female form, how the form and the covering are carved from the same stone, how the differences between flesh and fabric are “observed with a subtlety which defies analysis” (48). Revealing and concealing at the same time, the sculpture – a nude that is not a nude – thus provides Waugh with a model of how to represent sexuality. When a gesture of concealment fails to conceal, it becomes the gesture itself that garners our interest. It thus becomes an emblem not only for sexuality, but for autobiography itself. But one last comic vignette perhaps even better encapsulates Labels as a whole. While traveling in Greece, Waugh meets “a photographer making little tin-type photographs which, when developed, usually revealed his own thumb-print and little else” (131). The clumsy tintype photos provide a neat metaphor for Waugh’s own more deliberate artistry. As unique to his person as a thumbprint, stamped onto everything he records, in Labels as elsewhere Waugh’s writing personality fills the frame. Notes 1 V. S. Naipaul, The Enigma of Arrival (New York: Knopf, 1987), 135. 2 Writing about British travel between the wars, Paul Fussell describes “travel” as somewhere “exploration” and “tourism.” He identifies a rejection of British values and of the perceived squalor of cities and suburbs as a motive spurring travel abroad. Paul Fussell, Abroad: British Literary Travel Writing between the Wars (New York: Oxford, 1980), 38–41, 15–21.


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3 Biographical details are generally available in many of the works cited herein; the most detailed account is probably Martin Stannard, Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years 1903–1939 (New York: Norton, 1987). For the arrangement with the cruise line, see 171. 4 Humphrey Carpenter, The Brideshead Generation: Evelyn Waugh and His Friends (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990), 182. 5 David Wykes suggests that both psychological demands and those required by the book market led to Waugh’s decision: “Converting [She-Evelyn] and his earlier self into a pair of unremarkable, nearly uninteresting fictional characters may have seemed the best way temporarily to quiet the demon of the catastrophe and allow him to write amiably about those aspects of the journey that could be severed from the memories of a relationship that was heading for disaster.” David Wykes, Evelyn Waugh: A Literary Life (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999), 72. Martin Stannard calls Labels “a difficult book to write” and notes that Waugh told Peters of “his distaste for the work,” which “dealt, after all, with his honeymoon cruise.” See Stannard, 212. 6 Complicating matters further, Waugh destroyed the travel diary he kept of the trip, along with much of the diary material from the years of his first marriage. 7 Evelyn Waugh, “Labels,” Waugh Abroad: Collected Travel Writing (New York: Random-Everyman’s, 2003), 7. Future references to Labels are given parenthetically in the text of the essay. 8 Paul de Man, “Autobiography as De-facement,” MLN 94:5 (1979): 921–2. 9 Fussell, 182–3. 10 For the non-British reader, High Wycombe is a town about thirty-five miles west-northwest of London. 11 See Fussell, 184, where he reads Waugh as rejecting “the pose of self-congratulatory exile.” 12 James Buzard, “The Grand Tour and After (1660–1840),” The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs, ed., (New York: Cambridge, 2002), 38. 13 My discussion of sophistication owes a debt to Joseph Litvak, Strange Gourmets: Sophistication, Theory, and the Novel (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997). 14 See Stannard, 128. I do not mean to suggest that censorship laws, social conventions, or personal inhibitions would have permitted Waugh to write about the affair with Graham in any sexually explicit way, especially in a travel book. Still, Waugh did refer to Richard Pares, another Oxford affair, as “my first homosexual love.” The quotation is from the published Letters edited by Mark Amory, quoted in Tison Pugh, “Romantic Friendship, Homosexuality, and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited,” English Language Notes 38.4 (2001): 68. 15 Stannard cites a letter from Graham in response to his (Stannard’s) inquiries on the matter.

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16 Carpenter speculates that She-Evelyn “may also have been bothered by the homosexual undercurrent of his friendship with Alastair,” while Stannard suggests that she may have “felt a little awkward in th[e] overtly homosexual world” of Athens. See Carpenter, 182; Stannard, 176. According to Stannard, it was during a previous visit to see Alastair in Greece (Christmas 1926) that Waugh finally ended his erotic relationship with Graham: “He now knew beyond doubt that he was not homosexual.” See Stannard, 131. 17 The first woman Waugh probably slept with was a prostitute in Nimes, in the summer of 1927. See Stannard, 136.

Ch apter 7

Queer Autobiographical Masquerade: Stein, Toklas, and Others Barbara Will

Although known today chiefly for a single recipe – “haschich fudge,” or marijuana brownies – The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book in fact deserves a more sober place in any discussion of modernist autobiography. Ironically selfreflexive, intertextual, antiauthoritarian, and queer, the Cook Book shares many characteristics with other modernist autobiographies, perhaps most obviously with the work that made the name “Alice B. Toklas” synonymous with the genre, Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). Double and mirror to Stein’s text, the Cook Book (1954) is a testament to the enduring emotional and literary power Stein held over Toklas long after her death in 1946. But the Cook Book is also an unruly stepchild, a text that eludes our grasp while promising to be revelatory.1 In comparison to the Cook Book, Stein’s Autobiography has long fascinated critics, either as an aberration in an avant-garde career or else as the beginning of a new direction in her late writing. Few critics, by contrast, have written about Toklas’s Cook Book, and criticism that compares the two texts is practically nonexistent.2 There may be an obvious reason for this: the Cook Book does not present itself as an autobiography, in the way Stein’s text so self-consciously (and ironically) does, and the Cook Book has a utilitarian, functional dimension that seems at odds, at least on the surface, with the high seriousness of the autobiographical genre. Yet it is increasingly possible to see the two texts as versions of a similar modernist project, one that transgresses the conventional limits of genre and in the process arrives at a new kind of intertextual relationship. As Tzvetan Todorov has shown, modernist writing has a deep investment in “disobey[ing]” generic constraint, in imagining itself at the end of a project of literary classification and ordering.3 “Mak[ing] it new” is not just a representational strategy, but an antigeneric one, committed to difficulty and to the frustration of readerly expectations. While Todorov ultimately takes a dim view of this stance  – seeing it as an “egocentric illusion”4  – his characterization of the modernist resistance to genre is 84

Queer Autobiographical Masquerade


certainly borne out by Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Deconstructive and playful, Stein’s “autobiography” of her lover, Alice Toklas, is above all subversive, posing a central challenge to the chief feature of autobiographical writing: its insistence on the uniqueness and autonomy of the first-person “I.” A perfect example of Todorov’s point, the Autobiography is a modernist text that at once nominates itself generically and at the same time unsutures itself from generic constraint: specifically, from the narration of an individual author’s progressively evolving and exemplary life. After Stein, it would seem, the genre of autobiography could never look the same. Todorov, of course, argues that genre cannot simply be transcended or discarded; that even the self-consciously antigeneric or “­disobedient” text is itself at the origin of a new “rule.”5 It is this last point I would like to consider in this essay, since it seems relevant to the uncanny relationship between Stein’s Autobiography and Toklas’s Cook Book. How strange is it, after all, that the text Stein offers as a modernist deconstruction of the genre of autobiography is adopted by Toklas as a model when she comes to write her own memoirs as the Cook Book? Characters, events, even the voice of the narrator in both texts are strikingly similar, and while Toklas does not title her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas: Part II, she might well have. In a crucial way, therefore, Stein’s antigeneric autobiography does indeed lie at the origin of a new “rule,” a rule instantiated by the appearance of the Cook Book.6 I would suggest, however, that Stein’s Autobiography initiates less a new generic direction for autobiography than a new kind of autobiographical series: what I will call, provisionally, “queer autobiographical masquerade.” I use the term “series” here in the Steinian sense, as a key term for her understanding of the successive relationship between disparate things, textual and otherwise. Emerging out of her early interest in typologies, “series” for Stein describes a potentially infinite set of variations of repetitions, repetitions that are never exact reproductions but what she calls “exact resemblances”: both the same and different, both iterations of and departures from one another. Unlike a typology, however, a series need not be limited to the determination and classification of a single set of types; a much looser term, “series” describes a successive arrangement of things, either “in temporal succession, or in the order of discourse or of reasoning.”7 In her 1913 text Tender Buttons, Stein had made reference to “an arrangement in a system to pointing,” evoking a cubist representational stance “in which each thing is related to every other thing.”8 Ten years later, in


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her lecture “Composition as Explanation,” Stein begins characterizing her experimental writing as “a series . . . a list . . . a similarity and everything different . . . a distribution and an equilibration” and connects it to “the period of the cinema and series production.”9 Like the motion picture with its successive frames, the experimental Steinian text, with its core principle of “beginning again and again,” functions as a series of continuous present-tense moments in language. The idea of series enables Stein to show how the continuous present remains vital over the course of a text: each new present moment both connects to what occurred before and represents a “beginning again.” But the idea of series also allows for the relationship between texts to be explained in a way that acknowledges the modernists’ resistance to genre. A series of texts would describe a succession of “exact resemblances” that both relate to and differ from other texts in the series. In comparison to that of genre, the idea of series offers more relational latitude: the nature of serial resemblances does not really matter; they can be resemblances of similarity or of difference; nor are there specific constraints on the type or scope of the various texts in the series. What matters is the simple fact of relationship. In the end, thinking about the Autobiography and Toklas’s Cook Book as part of a series allows us to posit that their mutual “disobedience” toward genre does not preclude their having a formal intertextual relationship. “Queer autobiographical masquerade” embeds the genre of autobiography within the antigeneric devices of queering and masquerade. It positions this genre against itself, using its expectation of singular authorial self-exposure to enact a performance of doubled authorial concealment. And it does so in the service of a queer aesthetics that finds its imaginative power and scope in the challenge it presents to traditional ideas of the self as original, unified, and fully present to itself.10 Queering and masquerade are in play from the outset in both Stein’s Autobiography and Toklas’s Cook Book. Both texts ventriloquize the same distinctive first-person voice – that of “Alice B. Toklas” – who in both cases serves as witness, companion, and handmaiden to Gertrude Stein. Yet neither work focuses, as does conventional autobiography, on the exceptional significance, development, or uniqueness of “Alice B. Toklas.” In both, “Alice B. Toklas” is a relatively static and flat signifier for one-half of a doubled persona, the entity Stein herself referred to casually as “GertriceAltrude.” The other half of this persona, “Gertrude Stein,” is an equally static, almost comically idealized “genius”: the foil to the modest “Alice.”

Queer Autobiographical Masquerade


As the first text in this series, Stein’s Autobiography effectively brands the Gertrice-Altrude persona as an easily consumable unit with predictable and often humorous features. “Alice B. Toklas” is always ironic, diffident, and wifely; “Gertrude Stein” is always hearty, perceptive, and magnetic. Together, the two glide seamlessly through a variety of extraordinary and at times harrowing events – the birth of modernist art, World War I, postwar Paris  – with these charming yet depthless and masked personalities intact. The second text in this series, Toklas’s Cook Book, redeploys the Gertrice-Altrude persona and its episodic narrative line and both mirrors and reconfigures it. As many have pointed out, Stein’s Autobiography disrupts the tacit pact that the genre traditionally makes with its reader, which assures an identity of author, narrator, and main character.11 For Stein, the only “assurance” of identity is initiated from the outside, through a mutually constitutive relationship. From her statements about writing as a dialogic process of “talking and listening” to her insights into the exchange of looking with her dog, Stein often commented upon the process of the self formed through another. Many of these statements and insights grew out of her early psychological experiments with human types, or what she called “bottom natures.” From the two opposing types (“sluggish” and “stimulated”) of her 1898 psychological essay “Cultivated Motor Automatism,” to Melanctha and Jeff in her 1906 short story Melanctha, to herself and her brother Leo in her 1910 portrait Two: Gertrude Stein and Her Brother, Stein spent her first decade of writing exploring the seemingly endlessly mutating dynamic between binary and oppositional bottom natures. She soon came to realize that the doubled or Janus-faced self, the self composed of two complementary but often warring halves, was essential to any typology of human difference. A major breakthrough occurred with The Making of Americans – her gargantuan effort to type “every one who was and is and will be living” – when she discovered a foundational binary: “independent dependent” (attacking) versus “dependent independent” (resisting).12 Finally, all human character was seen to fall into one or the other of these two types or “bottom natures.” This typological breakthrough would in turn coincide with a crucial development in Stein’s personal life: the arrival of Alice Toklas onto the scene, in 1907–8 – an event that also encouraged Stein to turn her typological gaze inward. I have written elsewhere of how important Stein’s typological enterprise was to her ability to define herself as a “genius” and in so doing free herself to embark on a highly experimental oeuvre.13 What remains relatively unknown is the degree to which Stein’s early claim to “genius” depended


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upon the presence of an entirely opposing type: Alice Toklas. The working notebooks for The Making of Americans record the minidrama of this period in Stein’s life when suddenly the question of Toklas’s “type” becomes of paramount, troubling concern, resolved only when Stein realizes that Toklas is her true binary opposite: “the most sordid unillumined undramatic unimaginative prostitute type.” While this characterization is far from flattering, it is crucial. Stein, borrowing from dominant typological theory of the day, understood that the genius and the prostitute lay on opposite ends of the typological spectrum; that the prostitute was in a sense the female version of the genius (“the only thought that disturbs her is the possibility of losing her power”); that “great men have always preferred women of the prostitute type.”14 Far from being a social pariah, therefore, the prostitute was crucial to the self-realization of genius; the one type could only fully be realized in the presence of the other. Happily, the “genius” and the “prostitute” types also conformed to the foundational binary Stein had discovered in The Making of Americans. As a “genius,” Stein saw herself as the “attacking” type, the “complete egoist,” “independent” but with a strong core of dependency (“My attack on Alice is like Grants on Lee and that is the essential character of the unaggressive complete egotist, always a forward pressure, often suffering fearful loss”). In comparison, Toklas the “prostitute” was of the “resisting” type, seemingly dependent but at bottom independent, powerful, and manipulative (“she cares more about loving than about me, that is she cares more about having completely possession of loving me than of loving me”). Working through this dynamic allowed Stein to see that her sexual complementarity with Toklas had less to do with the vagaries of desire (or worse, with the “perversion” of inverts) than with the inevitable complementarity between foundational binary types.15 From the genius and the prostitute to Gertrice-Altrude: by the time Stein comes to write The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and Toklas comes to edit it, the two-sided persona is fully formed, its masklike features seamless and reassuring, its self-presentation flawless. The writing of autobiography henceforth becomes a matter of finding the right way to articulate this “self ” composed of two types that together make up a whole. Much has been written on Stein’s achievement, including the canny way in which her text simultaneously credits Toklas with an authorial voice and credits herself with “genius” – a win-win situation for both women. Disseminating authority in this way also, again, poses a formal challenge to autobiographical norms. As Max Saunders writes, the Autobiography enacts “a non-atomistic collaborative production of life-writing – which is

Queer Autobiographical Masquerade


arguably an essentially more honest form [of autobiography], recognizing the intersubjective nature of all life-writing.”16 Autobiography as collaboration, autobiography as intersubjectivity; what started out in Stein’s thinking as a conviction about typological binaries finds its ultimate expression in an autobiography of the queer, doubled self. To be sure, one could also argue – as many have – that Stein is the only true winner in this text, since only she is the “genius,” only she the true creative subject, the true artist. Toklas is always relegated to the narrative background, a self-proclaimed “wife” who (supposedly) happily sits with other “wives of geniuses.” It is indeed Stein’s authorial act of supposing on behalf of Toklas – her fundamental gesture of appropriation and subordination  – that has troubled many readers. From Georges Braque to Janet Malcolm, readers have been quick to indict Stein for her “egocentric deformations” and “playful egomania” in using Toklas as her foil.17 Yet this critique is based on a misunderstanding of Stein’s terms and their embeddedness in her earlier work in psychological character. It fails to acknowledge the complex way in which “genius” for Stein describes only half of a whole, half of a typological binary. The “genius,” again, is a type constructed in relation and opposition to the “prostitute.” If Stein cannot exactly call Toklas her prostitute in a narrative that deliberately sets out to be an American best seller, she can certainly call her her wife. To lay claim to genius, in Stein’s mind, requires precisely that. This claim more than any other upholds the text as a queer autobiographical masquerade. After all, in the Autobiography Stein is not a genius but a “genius”; Toklas not a wife but a “wife.” This “autobiography” is in fact a campy send-up of straight autobiography, a text that  – to invoke Susan Sontag’s famous definition of camp – sees the world in quotation marks. In this context, it is absolutely essential that the “genius” and her “wife,” Gertrice-Altrude, be presented as flat, unchanging, masked types; as Sontag reminds us, “Wherever there is development of character, Camp is reduced.”18 Indeed, though the fact has escaped all readers and critics, Stein’s early interest in character types – and her exaggerated, extravagant effort in The Making of Americans to write the “complete history” of all varieties of two essential human types – prepares the ground for the camp performance of the Autobiography. Intersubjective and queer; campy and deconstructive; a text that proffers autobiographical “realness” only to withhold this realness behind the mask of Gertrice-Altrude, the Autobiography poses a radical challenge to a genre centered on the autonomous subject. But even radicalism can have its limits, and in the Autobiography those limits are reached the


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moment Stein’s name appears on the text’s title page, as it does in every edition after the first. The signature – what Derrida calls “an attachment to the source”  – reinstates authorial power, as do the final moments of the Autobiography, when the mask falls off and Stein emerges as the text’s “real” author.19 Moments before this unveiling, though, “Alice” tells us, “[Gertrude Stein] began to tease me and say that I should write my autobiography.” This “tease” takes on deeper meaning in light of the dynamic between the two women during the period when Stein was writing the Autobiography. According to Ulla E. Dydo, the early 1930s was a time when Toklas, jealous at the discovery of an early love affair of Stein’s, “withdrew her validation” of Stein’s authority for a time. As Dydo writes, “One gets the impression that during the summer of 1932 the two women goaded and hurt each other wherever possible.”20 Composed at the end of that fateful summer, the Autobiography is both a goad and a tease, an act of appropriation and ventriloquization but also an act of conciliation. It is as though Stein were saying to Toklas, “Here is what you might sound like in your own autobiography; I’ve had fun with it; now it’s your turn.”21 Twenty years later, with The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, Toklas would take up the challenge. “As if a cook-book had anything to do with writing,” Toklas writes as the last sentence of her book, a statement that encapsulates an entire intertextual and interpersonal dynamic. Seemingly self-effacing and diffident, Toklas’s words, written less than a decade after Stein’s death, pay homage to her lover’s authority and defy it in the same gesture. Of course a cookbook has nothing to do with writing – writing is produced by geniuses; cooking is produced and written about by wives. Gender and genre could not be more rigidly policed in this statement. If autobiography is the quintessential popular genre of the autonomous (male) subject, then the cookbook, with its basis in food, nurturing, and family life, might be seen as the quintessential popular genre of the female subject. As Sherrie A. Inness writes, “Cookbooks are one of the most strongly gendered forms of popular literature.”22 Yet Toklas’s final words – so seemingly confident in their generic assumptions – overturn these assumptions in the simple fact of their utterance. At the end of the Autobiography, Stein had revealed the joke of its composition – that she, not Toklas, was its author: “About six weeks ago Gertrude Stein said, it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it for you. . . . And she has and this is it.”23 At the end of the Cook Book, Toklas repeats the joke and trumps it. Not only is this Cook

Queer Autobiographical Masquerade


Book a work of writing, it is  – unlike the Autobiography  – Toklas’s work of writing, not Stein’s. Obliquely, ironically, Toklas’s final sentence echoes the endpoint of the Autobiography and undercuts it: the joke, finally, may be on Stein. According to her biographer Linda Simon, Toklas was “delighted” by the prospect of writing the Cook Book when she was approached by Harper’s in 1952, though the publishing house “seemed cooler toward the recipes than toward the prospect of getting Alice to intersperse her stories among them.”24 Liberated by the assignment, Toklas claimed that “she intended to pour everything into the book,” making it a figurative stew of memories, recipes, and associated thoughts on topics ranging from travel to war to servants, from France to America to the difference between the two countries. Apparently this mix had been projected by Stein herself: Simon notes that before her death Stein had already sketched out a plan for a mutually authored cookbook, in which “the recipes . . .would be interspersed with each one’s recollections.”25 In the wake of Stein’s death, Toklas seemed “able to take her own voice back,” as Belinda Bruner writes.26 According to Simon, at the age of seventy-five, Toklas “was finally going to reveal herself to the world.”27 Bruner’s and Simon’s accounts lend credence to the idea that Toklas saw this assignment as her chance to respond to the challenge of Stein’s Autobiography. If the latter had made “Alice B. Toklas” a recognizable but passive part of a modernist landscape (“I like a view,” Alice says in the Autobiography, “but I like to sit with my back to it”),28 then the Cook Book would turn the chair around, finally allowing the real Alice to vocalize the commentary. But who is the “real” Alice? In a strange way, the Cook Book seems less to challenge the performance of its predecessor than to affirm it. On the one hand, formally, the texts are quite different: while Stein’s Autobiography proceeds chronologically, Toklas’s Cook Book is structured thematically, with chapters ranging from “The French Tradition” to “The Vegetable Gardens at Bilignin.” Unlike the Autobiography, the Cook Book intersperses anecdotes about the Stein-Toklas ménage with useful knowledge in the form of recipes; while Stein may have wanted to draw readers to her experimental writing through oblique reference to it in the Autobiography, Toklas’s book gives readers the actual tools to experience the kind of original creations that might have come out of her kitchen. On the other hand, the two texts are remarkably similar in voice, views, and creative concerns. Stein’s loving descriptions in the Autobiography of her own literary creation (“she was struggling with her sentences, those long sentences that had to be so exactly carried out” [50]) are echoed in Toklas’s directions in her recipes


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that emphasize precision and care in cooking (“Boil furiously uncovered”; “Poach gently in milk”; “Paint the mixture on the chops with melted butter, dip in fine fresh breadcrumbs” [96, 79, 110]). Interspersed with the recipes, Toklas’s views on the differences between France and America, her depiction of modernist friends, even her repeated formal references to Stein as “Gertrude Stein” seem to have been delivered directly out of the pages of the Autobiography. The characterization of Stein as an affable but distracted genius makes for amusing anecdotes – as when a harried Alice is compelled to kill and prepare six white pigeons in advance of Stein’s return home since “she didn’t like to see work being done” – but this is a characterization that might easily belong to the Autobiography, which often figures Stein as willfully naïve and disconnected from domestic duties. Beyond the GertriceAltrude persona, the other chief remnant from Stein’s text is the narrative voice of the Cook Book, whose uncanny resemblance to Stein’s “Alice” leaves the reader with the odd sensation of viewing the copy of a copy. Far from revealing the “real” Toklas, indeed, the Cook Book continues the queer autobiographical masquerade set in place by Stein’s Autobiography. A particularly significant episode from this earlier work, reproduced more or less exactly in the Cook Book, seems to capture the extensive play toward authority and originality between the two texts. The setting is the First World War, and Toklas, the character and narrator, is involved in an extended act of impersonating Stein in front of a French official. When Toklas is finally compelled to reveal that she is not Gertrude Stein, the revelation threatens to explode into unpleasantness but is resolved when the official meets Stein and is charmed by her. In the Autobiography, this scene functions as perhaps the central mise-en-abyme of the text: “I am not Mademoiselle Stein, I said,” writes Stein in the voice of Toklas, who has just been impersonating Stein.29 In the Cook Book, Alice writes of the episode, “It was time to acknowledge who I was,” a statement that rings more clearly than Stein’s original with metatextual force: the Cook Book is indeed Toklas’s “time to acknowledge who [she] was.”30 Yet the fact that Toklas chose to “acknowledge who [she] was” in an episode that is a version of an episode from Stein’s text – which is itself the story of an impersonation told by an imposter, Toklas – has a vertiginous effect. A textual doubling of an earlier scene of narrative doubling, this moment in the Cook Book only affirms once again the difficulty of ascertaining the real Toklas apart from her relationship with Stein, or of determining the uniqueness of the Cook Book apart from its relationship with the Autobiography. In one particular way the Cook Book is an even more radical document than its predecessor: no signature appears on the title page of any edition

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of the text. While the title – The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book – might seem to offer enough authorial attribution, Stein’s Autobiography makes it clear that titles alone do not represent “an attachment to the source.” A seeming simulacrum of its predecessor in voice, tone, characters, and events, the Cook Book in its lack of a signature ultimately takes the masquerade one step further. While the Autobiography’s end unveiled the “joke” of its composition and the “reality” of its author, the Cook Book in the end never does even that. The joke of this supposedly revelatory text, finally, may be on the reader. But not quite. As the second installment in this series, Toklas’s text is not so much a simulacrum of Stein’s text as an “exact resemblance,” one whose difference is to be found not in narrative voice or narrated event but in the creative process this text uniquely celebrates: cooking. Cooking is something that receives scant attention in Stein’s Autobiography, although a single sentence, comparing Matisse’s style to the preparation of a dish, grudgingly acknowledges Toklas’s interests (“I do inevitably take my comparisons from the kitchen because I like food and cooking and know something about it” [49]). What matters in the Autobiography is what matters to Stein: the creation of modern visual and literary art by a group of Parisian acquaintances, in relation to whom Toklas is always a spectator, never a participant. When domestic work gets done it is by the servant Hélène, a “most excellent cook” who apparently preferred working for the Stein-Toklas ménage to staying at home with her husband. Meanwhile, the “work” that Stein and her artistic friends do in the Autobiography merits ample descriptions, as in the lengthy description of Stein’s composition of “Melanctha,” “the first definite step away from the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century in literature.”31 In the Cook Book this formula is repeated and inverted. The “work” of this text is cooking, which Toklas is at pains to place on the same level as artistic creation: “These dishes,” she writes in a chapter on little-known French recipes, “are most of them a slow evolution in a new direction, which is the way great art is created – that is, everything about is ready for it, and one person having the vision does it, discarding what he finds unnecessary in the past.”32 Echoing almost verbatim Stein’s ideas about art in “Composition as Explanation,” this account reconceives the breakthrough of artistic modernism as a culinary event.33 Whatever “vision” the modernist genius may have is matched in the kitchen by the chef who creates “great art.” This theme is reiterated in the recipes themselves, which, like the discussion of Stein’s compositions in the Autobiography, serve as guides for entering into a profound aesthetic experience. While


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necessarily instructive, the recipes are also heavily editorialized: at the end of the recipe for “Lobster Archiduc” we are told “This dish has an illusive [sic] flavour”; Madame Loubet’s Asparagus Tips is “a thing of beauty”; Iced Soufflé is “ineffable.” “Some of us who, considering cooking as an art, feel that a way of cooking can produce something that approaches an aesthetic emotion,” Toklas writes.34 Are the recipes, then, the site in this “autobiography” where the masquerade ceases and the “real” Alice Toklas emerges? Perhaps; yet one of the oddest features of this text is that many of its recipes, and the descriptions of their making, do not originate with Toklas but with her servants and friends. In the chapter entitled “Recipes from Friends,” the recipes are presented with the names of their authors preceding them, as though directly transcribed by Toklas. Hélène, Trac, Jeanne, and other servants provide the recipes and the cooking for one chapter; friends for another; and the majority of the remaining meals described are prepared for Stein and Toklas by others during their travels around France and the United States. Even the most famous recipe in the book  – haschich fudge  – is not Toklas’s own; nor is it clear that she ever made the delicacy.35 If the recipes show how “great art” is created, then Alice Toklas is patently not their creator. She is the witness and translator for the “great art” of others. As Derrida might add, no signature need certify the authority of this text since the presumed author is nowhere to be found. In this the Cook Book appears once again to be more of an extension than a fundamental departure from Stein’s Autobiography. In the end, the Cook Book leaves us with an uncanny sense of repetition and difference, familiarity and strangeness. Promising autobiographical self-revelation, the text ultimately dispenses with this promise. But Toklas’s disobedience toward the autobiographical genre may in the end be the greatest homage she pays to the first text in this series, the text that indeed initiates the masquerade: Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. In charting the trajectory of this series initiated by Stein’s Autobiography – the series I have been calling “queer autobiographical masquerade” – it is tempting to speculate briefly beyond the literary achievements of Alice Toklas. What, after Toklas’s Cook Book, continues the line of this distinctly modernist, antigeneric series? In the last half-century, many texts have paid homage to the GertriceAltrude persona and affirmed its influence. Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964) is notorious for its depiction of a scene of homosexual panic

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in the chapter that tells of “the way it ended with Gertrude Stein.”36 Yet in many ways this text is a natural extension of the queer autobiographical series initiated by the Autobiography and the Cook Book. Purportedly a straight-up memoir, Hemingway’s text is also, as its title suggests, about the delights of eating and drinking and the piercing pleasures of abstaining from both. In this regard, Stein and Toklas play a central role: the account of Hemingway’s break with the couple, precipitated by overhearing the two women engaged in a sadomasochistic exchange, is framed by a description of the guilty pleasures of drinking Toklas’s famous eau-de-vie before noon; and the exaggerated account of the actual exchange (“I heard someone speaking to Miss Stein as I had never heard one person speak to another; never, anywhere, ever”) has undeniably campy overtones. A less anxious, but no less perceptive and original homage to the Stein-Toklas queer masquerade is present in Lola Pashalinski and Linda Chapman’s play, Gertrude and Alice: A Likeness to Loving (1999). Using Stein’s own words to capture the shifts in self-exposure and masking between Stein and Toklas as they enact their domestic rituals on stage, A Likeness to Loving has an uncannily “exact resemblance” to the voice of Stein’s Autobiography. And in her portrayal of Toklas, Chapman directly elicits the voice of the Cook Book, making it seem, as one critic writes, “as if she is always speaking in quotation marks.”37 Finally, even Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris cannot help but participate in the queer series that, as Stein herself wrote, coincided with “the period of the cinema and series production.” Perched on a chair in her rue de Fleurus salon, the character of Stein (played aggressively by Kathy Bates) reads to the protagonist Gil Pender a line from his own barely fictionalized memoir, a line that selfconsciously reflects on the film itself: “What was prosaic and even vulgar to one generation had been transmuted by the mere passing of years to a status at once magical and also camp.” Suddenly, it appears, all efforts at capturing the lives of the modernists – from Hemingway’s to Pashalinski/ Chapman’s to Pender’s to Allen’s own – have become camp performances (if not, in Allen’s case, necessarily magical ones). They are, like so much of contemporary literature and art, indelibly marked by the new rule that Gertrude Stein first set in motion. Notes 1 Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1933); hereafter cited in the text as the Autobiography; The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (New York: Anchor Books, 1964); hereafter cited in the text as the Cook Book.


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2 Janet Malcolm briefly discusses the two texts together in Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), passim; see also Anna Linzie, The True Story of Alice B. Toklas: A Study of Three Autobiographies (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006), and two articles: Carole Stone, “The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book: Nameless Cookie?” in The 21st International Literature and Psychology Conference: Selected Papers, N.  N. Holland, ed. (Gainesville, FL: Institute for Psychological Study of the Arts, 2004), n.p.; and Belinda Bruner, “A Recipe for Modernism and the Somatic Intellect” in “The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book and Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons,” Papers in Language and Literature 45:4 (Fall, 2009), 411–33. 3 “This might be the very sign of the authentically modern writer – one who no longer respects the separation of genres.” Tzvetan Todorov, “The Origin of Genres,” New Literary History 8:1 (Autumn 1976): 159. 4 Todorov, “Origin,” 160. 5 Todorov, “Origin,” 160. 6 As Janet Malcolm notes in Two Lives, “The ‘Cook Book’ itself sits in a bath of reminiscence about Toklas’s life with Gertrude Stein, from which its own literary virtue derives” (59). 7 Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “series.” 8 Marjorie Perloff, “The Difference Is Spreading: On Gertrude Stein,” Poets. org, accessed 19 December 2012, prmMID/19342. 9 Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation,” in A Stein Reader, Ulla E. Dydo, ed. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1993), 500. 10 See also Brian Loftus, “Speaking Silence: the Strategies and Structures of Queer Autobiography,” College Literature 24:1 (February, 1997): 28–44. 11 Philippe Lejeune: The “autobiographical pact . . . supposes that there is an identity of name between the author  . . . the narrator of the story, and the character who is being talked about” (On Autobiography, trans. Paul John Eakin [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989], 12. 12 Gertrude Stein, Making of Americans. 13 Barbara Will, Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of “Genius” (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 21–76. 14 Otto Weininger, Sex and Character (London: Heinemann, 1906), 228, 226. 15 Will, Gertrude Stein, Modernism, 74–5, n. 33. 16 Max Saunders, Self-Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiographfiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 357. 17 Georges Braque et  al., “Testimony against Gertrude Stein,” transition 23 (February, 1935), 2; Malcolm, Two Lives, 13. 18 Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” in Against Interpretation: and Other Essays (New York: Macmillan, 2001), 286. 19 Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” in Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 328. 20 Ulla E. Dydo, “‘Stanzas in Meditation’: The Other Autobiography,” Chicago Review 35:2 (Winter, 1985): 13–14.

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21 “For all its sleight of hand, [the Autobiography] is not only Stein’s autobiography, but her impression of the kind of self Toklas might present in hers” (Saunders, Self-Impression, 357). 22 Sherrie A. Inness, Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001), 39. 23 Stein, Autobiography, 310. Benjamin Widiss, in Obscure Invitations: The Persistence of the Author in Twentieth-Century American Literature (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), reads this ending as indicating that Stein “ultimately underscore[s] authorial control rather than cede[s] it” (26). 24 Linda Simon, The Biography of Alice B. Toklas (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977), 217. 25 Simon, Biography, 261 26 Bruner, “Recipe,” 413. 27 Simon, Biography, 217. 28 Stein, Autobiography, 3. 29 Stein, Autobiography, 219. 30 Toklas, Cook Book, 65. 31 Stein, Autobiography, 66. 32 Toklas, Cook Book, 147. 33 Stein, “Composition,” passim. 34 Toklas, Cook Book, 136; 89; 142; 109. 35 Toklas, Cook Book, 273. In the chapter entitled “Recipes from Friends,” the recipes are presented with the names of their authors preceding them, as though directly transcribed by Toklas. 36 Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (New York: Scribner’s, 1979), 115. 37 Ben Brantley, “Theater Review; Just a Couple, Unaware the World Is Watching,” New York Times (14 June 1999).

Ch apter 8

A Young Writer Grown Old: Elizabeth Bowen’s Autobiographies Allan Hepburn

Autobiography is a record of ageing; not to write an autobiography is one way to avoid getting older. Elizabeth Bowen never wrote an autobiography, but she thought a great deal about the relation between age and writing. As she acknowledges in the preface to Early Stories, by writing she could shoulder her way into the company of grown-ups. A writer can write above her age: novels and short stories explore the tenseness of adult situations that lie beyond the writer’s ken. Fiction presents masked versions of the writer, not personal experience. Prefaces to her novels and short stories were, as Bowen admitted, “the nearest I shall come to autobiography.”1 Notwithstanding this shyness about self-disclosure, she was at work on Pictures and Conversations, a book about her life as a writer, shortly before she died in 1973. In notes appended to the last chapter, she insists that Pictures and Conversations is not an autobiography because it follows no time sequence and because “it will be anything but all-inclusive.”2 Bowen’s autobiographical pieces are short; they consist of innumerable profiles used for publicity. Short though they may be, they summarize Bowen’s personality, ambitions, and disappointments. As a celebrity writer, she fashioned herself according to the dictates of commercial publishing. These miniature autobiographies reveal a modernist preoccupation with masks and impersonality; as her fame increased in the 1940s and 1950s, her biographical statements camouflaged her emotional life. They also display Bowen’s acute awareness of the passing of time. As she states in an essay entitled “Autobiography,” Bowen favours autobiographies written by people in middle age. Autobiographies, she notes, are on the increase after the Second World War. She concedes that autobiographies may have attained popularity because they are as well written as novels: “not that the novelist writes less well today, but that the autobiographer of today writes better.”3 The interest of the genre lies for Bowen in its interrogative, rather than its declarative, qualities; the contemporary autobiographer asks questions of himself instead of providing 98

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analysis. Sincerity and truthfulness are still at stake, but they are qualities that take second place to the author’s ability to render an intelligible version of himself to readers. Success follows when the autobiographer can “pinpoint his own identity” in relation to the “accepted workings of human nature.”4 The narrative has to blend the exceptional with the ordinary in such a way as to activate readers’ interest. The upstart youngster and the superannuated oldster may not be able to speak effectively to the ordinary reader, whatever the reader’s age. For Bowen, the best autobiography “is mobile, exploratory. This may come from the fact that today it is less often written in old age; it is, rather, the work of early or late maturity. Is it not at this point, about halfway through the journey that we do all have an instinct to pause, look back, and reflect?” In order to speak “not only to but for his contemporaries,” the autobiographer has to have accumulated enough experience to say something momentous about his life.5 Hence the autobiography written in middle age has an advantage: “neither youth’s trend towards introspection nor old age’s urge to post-mortem is to be feared.”6 A writer’s autobiography is necessarily an afterthought. The subject – how and why someone became a writer  – gains magnitude only in the light of success. Like Edith Wharton’s A Backward Glance or Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography, the autobiography of a novelist is more often than not a summing up. It memorializes influences; it dramatizes crises. “Few novelists,” Bowen thinks, “willingly contemplate themselves: their own susceptibilities, having been professionalized, have lost mystery for them. Trollope’s Autobiography, for instance, shows a disinfected, total loss of self-interest after the evaporation of the miseries of youth.”7 According to Bowen, novelists seldom aim to justify their actions or bemoan their childhoods. Instead, the novelist converts private miseries into fiction; fiction disinfects the writer’s psychic life. In Bowen’s radio play called “Anthony Trollope – a New Judgement,” broadcast on the BBC in 1945, William, a young soldier heading to battle, asks his Uncle Jasper whether he may borrow one of Trollope’s novels. By mistake he pulls Trollope’s Autobiography off the shelf and carries it away. Published posthumously, Trollope’s autobiography was “scandalously honest” to the minds of those who, their “fine feelings” on the alert, read it when it was published in 1883.8 If the book was a mistake for Trollope’s career, it is no mistake for a reader like William. As William acknowledges, Trollope’s novels provide a “support against the sort of hopelessness we’re inclined to feel” during the war. William admires “ordinary people with the knack of living ordinary lives” in Trollope’s novels.9



Not every autobiographer speaks to his own age. Trollope’s autobiography proves that a writer can live out of joint with his time while pretending to represent its central tenets. As Bowen explains in an introduction that she wrote to Trollope’s novel Doctor Thorne, the scandalous honesty of the Autobiography concerned the discrepancy between Trollope’s public and private selves: “Trollope the equable, likeable, bluff Victorian” is at odds with “the outcast boy” stamped by failure.10 As the Autobiography indicates, Trollope despised Victorian conventions: “He had been the victim of a system which now, on coming into his powers, in blameless revenge he seized upon as his subject.” In particular he dramatized “the passions of class” that inhibited social mobility.11 Trollope’s Autobiography addresses personal circumstances and Victorian mores with utter detachment: Trollope becomes a character in the impersonal drama of his own life. The writer lives through acts of reading and writing. In an appreciation of E. M. Forster’s novels, Bowen defines autobiography as ongoing reading; books that germinate in the reader’s imagination create inner life. “I have written,” she states about Forster’s novels, “a sort of autobiography: the autobiography of an E.  M. Forster reader.” As a reader fully alert to plots and consequences, she stores up fodder for the imagination by reading and thinking about Forster’s novels. If her reader’s account of these novels is biased, so be it: “Autobiography is accorded the right to be disproportionate, prejudiced, and subjective.”12 As a reader saturated in Forster’s writing, Bowen has no interest in the person behind the fiction. A writer’s autobiography is unnecessary because everything that he wished to express can be found in his novels. The autobiography of a novelist meets the autobiography of a reader in a location mutually agreed upon: fiction. Bowen’s own forays into autobiography dwell on impersonality. In a preface to a selection of her short stories, she thinks that, in some stories, “I do not seem to have been enough on guard. Such stories seem overwritten, or, still worse, yoked to my personality. I am dead against art’s being self-expression. I see an inherent failure in any story which does not detach itself from the author.” Her resistance to an interpretation of any short story as masked autobiography conforms to the high modernist orthodoxy of impersonality: a literary work synthesizes material and invents something new, but it cannot be attributed to a psychological cause in the writer. Yet Bowen admits that “total impersonality in story-writing is, for me certainly, impossible – so much so that it would be a waste of time to wonder whether it would be desirable.”13 The story “Coming Home,”

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for instance, is “transposed autobiography.”14 Transposition, she claims, is inevitable: “any fiction  . . . is bound to be transposed autobiography,” possibly at many removes.15 The transposition, as in music, introduces a change in register and thus a change in emotional valence. The material, derived from some event in the writer’s life, transforms on the page into something new and strange.

Autobiographies in Middle Age By the 1940s Bowen had achieved celebrity status, which only increased through the 1950s. With the guidance of her literary agent, Spencer Curtis Brown, Bowen had representation with major publishing houses: Jonathan Cape in Britain and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States. For a year in 1945, she had an exclusive contract with the New Yorker for her short stories. Although she was famous on both sides of the Atlantic, she felt uneasy about the obligations attached to being a celebrity. The first duty of the writer, according to Bowen, is to write, not to pontificate or to play the role of public intellectual. In an exchange of public letters that Bowen had with Graham Greene and V. S. Pritchett in 1948, she expressed alarm over the transformation of the writer into a pundit: The writer or artist is expected to have no time off – platforms, either actual or metaphorical, claim him as their perpetual due. The vitality, not to speak of the time, demanded by all that sort of thing has got to come from somewhere: it cannot but be taken from the store intended for his work, his proper work. I regard this as damaging: in his between-times the writer needs to re-charge his batteries by private living.16

Private living competes with public appearances to the detriment of the former. The penalties of international celebrity were steep for Bowen. At the insistence of her publishers, she wrote any number of jacket copy blurbs, answers to questionnaires, and autobiographical notes that kept her in the public eye. She sent out squibs called “The Next Book,” “My Best Novel,” and “Miss Bowen on Miss Bowen.” On 15 March 1946, Blanche Knopf sent Bowen a copy of Ivy Gripped the Steps and Other Stories, which had an outdated biography on the jacket. She wrote, “I am horrified and embarrassed at the biographical sketch that we have on the wrapper. We apparently have no later official material from you. Nevertheless, this copy should never have been approved. The fact that I did not see it is no excuse and I am deeply mortified. Will you not sit down and write us a new biographical sketch of yourself so that we have it in the files?”17 Created on



demand, autobiography disperses across a series of brief glimpses into the facts of Bowen’s life and working habits. Bowen did not take easily to self-fashioning. On 5 October 1938, she sent Blanche Knopf a draft of jacket copy for her next novel: I said I would send a paragraph about The Death of the Heart, but I’m afraid it has spread into something more. I suggest that one of your people digest it (if it is digestible) and make a précis of it. I wanted, at however undue length, to give a line on the intention of the book. I very much do not want it to be taken as either “a sympathetic study of adolescence,” or, “a subtle study of sophisticated London life.” I know from what you said that you realise that it is neither. This piece that I have written could well be re-worded, and if necessary simplified. I hold no brief for the actual wording itself, and very much do not want it attributed to me. So adapt it, cut it about, have it rewritten, or entirely scrap it – just as you like.18

Usually scrupulous about words and their meaning, Bowen dissociates herself from the jacket copy that she provides, perhaps with good reason. The summary statements that she makes about The Death of the Heart seem disingenuous. While the novel is not entirely “‘a sympathetic study of adolescence,’ or ‘a subtle study of sophisticated London life,’” it can be characterized as a study of a particular adolescent tossed into sophisticated London life in the 1930s, viewed from a satirical rather than sympathetic angle. Bowen does not want to be responsible for encapsulating her novel in a phrase or two. As an anonymous writer of her own blurbs, she develops a mask – the novelist as advertising copywriter – that does not compromise her celebrity status. Nonetheless, to satisfy requests for information from magazines and publishing companies, Bowen submitted autobiographical texts that magnified her public image. She sent statements to Mademoiselle, the Broadsheet, Everywoman Magazine, and elsewhere. She drafted a long autobiographical statement to be kept on file at Curtis Brown’s offices, with the intention that it be adapted to various purposes. These texts present her in diverse guises: Irish, British, cosmopolitan, personable, distinguished, genuine, discreet, above all hardworking. Many of these texts begin with “I was born” or a variant of that subject and verb. “I was born in Dublin,” she writes in the most extensive autobiographical text, written in 1948 and revised in 1952.19 The note written for Mademoiselle varies the phrase: “I am Irish; my home is in County Cork. I was born in Dublin, went to school in England.”20 “Miss Bowen on Miss Bowen,” published

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in the New York Times Book Review, begins, “I was born in Dublin on June 7, 1899. I am an only child and was meant to have been a son, and should have been called Robert.”21 Another text, written in the third person, offers an impersonal account of being born, in which Bowen the biographical witness detaches from Bowen the person: “Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin.”22 While it is not uncommon for authors to write blurbs as if they were looking at themselves from an objective distance, Bowen typically wrote hers in the first person and let others revise the text according to their needs. Beginning an autobiographical text with one’s birth is conventional, but not inevitable. Birth haunted Bowen, both her own and her characters’. A place, a person, and an event unite at a birth. Destiny may be imprinted into an individual at birth, or it may be earned over time. “To have been born became to be on the scale of emperors and popes, to be conspicuous everywhere,” thinks Leopold in The House in Paris.23 “To have been born” ushers in an indeterminate duration, signalled by the existential form that “born” must take. In English, “to born” is not a verb; “to be born” is the necessary infinitive. In The House in Paris, conjugations of “to be born” attest to the temporal implications of birth. Being born inaugurates the mysteries of identity, among them nationality and duration. By opting for the simpler verb tense, “I was born,” in her autobiographical texts, Bowen in no way diminishes the magnitude of birth. The first-person pronoun dominates. In Seven Winters, she writes, “The first three weeks of my life were weeks of June  – the only June I spent in Dublin until the summer when I was twenty-one. I was born in the room, designed for a back drawing-room, that was my mother’s bedroom at 15 Herbert Place.”24 Determined to be the protagonist of her own life, Bowen represents her mother in this account only by the metonym of the bedroom. In Bowen’s repeated utterance of the expression “I was born,” her mother is rarely evoked. Bowen’s thinking about birth extends to her thinking about autobiography. No autobiography can begin anywhere but with birth, which is the moment of separation from the mother. Bowen’s autobiographical texts, short though they may be, probe the central problem of language in relation to birth. Autobiography, insofar as it aims to convey the truth of impressions, is antinovelistic; lifewriting peels back artistic language to raw, even crude, expression. In her review of Henry Handel Richardson’s autobiography, Myself When Young, Bowen expresses astonishment over Richardson’s wilful abandonment of style in narrating her life: “Her object, now, was not to set up illusion



but to penetrate to its early source: she must, therefore, have fought shy of the magic that for any writer cannot but emanate from words.” The successful writer makes the most of the handicap of being a child – born without asking to be  – by establishing social relations through words. Richardson, on the other hand, strips away style in order to let “the submerged design of her life, like something hitherto written in invisible ink, appear.” Autobiography is antinovelistic in its resistance to style. In Bowen’s view, few novelists attempt autobiography because they transmute their lives into other characters: “The novelist tends to be tempted into autobiography less by the ignis fatuus of his nature than by a fascination with experience (any experience, even his own) for its own sake.”25 Placed in various perspectives with different spotlights and dramatic flourishes, the subject of autobiography resembles a character in a novel, but only up to a point. Whereas the novelist uses language to highlight character and action, the autobiographer uses language to strip away conventions, to search back to origins, such as first impressions of places and people. “I have had varying fortunes,” Bowen comments in the autobiographical text that she wrote for Mademoiselle.26 She is referring to her commercial and critical success as a novelist. Whether true or not, the statement presents a position with regard to success. For the middle-aged writer, something lies in store still: further novels, other triumphs. Fortunes change. In a short piece called “The Next Book,” published in autumn 1948 in Now and Then, a promotional magazine produced by Jonathan Cape, Bowen discusses the relation of the writer to past and future projects: I am always obsessed by the idea of “my next book.” I know this to be the case with many writers: is it so with all? The next book seems to promise to be the repository for everything I have not been able to say so far. Or, perhaps, that I have not so far been able to pin down. Books which I have written and published seem to have gone into the blue, like balloons with the cables cut: they have very little further to do with me. All that remains with me of them are the blunders  – the ignorance that at the time prevented me gripping my subject as it ought to have been gripped, the imperfect realization of what I really did mean.27

In her autobiographical statements, Bowen attempts to explain the origins of her novels. Whatever their value as marketing plugs, these short autobiographies, often self-critical and candid, license Bowen to speculate on the making of fiction, specifically the way that literary works are inseparable from youth and age. In autobiography, the writer can explain mistakes instead of making them.

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Growing Up and Growing Old Bowen prided herself on being, as she states on many occasions, the same age as the century, as if they had grown up together. She came of age in the interwar years when there was “an explosion of media interest in ‘women’s ages’ and a corresponding idealization of youth in Britain.”28 By midcentury Bowen belonged to a modernist generation superseded by younger writers. In her fifties in the 1950s, Bowen brooded over the meaning of age – her own and her generation’s. She wrote numerous essays about the perils of childhood, almost always from the point of view that postwar parents had abandoned the obligation to educate their children effectively. Although childhood was a recurrent theme in her early fiction, Bowen claims that she is not nostalgic for her youth: “For one thing, I now enjoy my adult state.”29 The word “now” intimates, a bit slyly, that she has not always felt on easy terms with adulthood. In essays such as “The Beauty of Being Your Age,” “Mental Annuity,” “Teenagers,” “On Not Rising to the Occasion,” “Books that Grow Up with One,” and her prefaces to volumes of short stories, Bowen meditates on the difficulties of being a middleaged woman. Bowen’s essays about age express her frustration about being superseded by younger generations. In “Mental Annuity,” she resists the idea that anyone can outlive his or her day: “If one has lived one’s day, it lives on within one. Witness the glow, the authority of great-aged people. Only the superficialities desert one.” Those superficialities gone, maturity depends on the annuities paid by reading, friendship, and memory. Maturity resides in interior life, not busy rounds of parties and telephone calls. “Not till the middle years does one look ahead, with lessening illusion, and objectively,” Bowen writes. “Only then, when one already knows what it means to live, does the future take shape as a probability.”30 Yet she faces the shortening future with grim determination: “We need much to live by – and live we must.”31 As she observes in “The Beauty of Being Your Age,” the future holds particular complexity for women in middle age; although there may be a “slackening of early tension, a lay off of emotion’s more wild demands,” middle age creates a sense of “anticlimax, or at least aftermath. Or, outward adjustments hide an inner bewilderment.”32 Like Simone de Beauvoir, who divides her study of age, La Vieillesse, into inner and outer changes, Bowen understands the future as indefinite, with no fixed duration and increasing chances for solitude and eccentricity. Age wreaks changes on the body as well as the soul.



As she grew older, Bowen turned to her childhood because of its aura of plenitude. In the 1956 essay “On Not Rising to the Occasion,” she reminisces about her upbringing. In this autobiographical essay, she may be denying the passage of time by asserting her solidarity with the past or she may be claiming a limitless future by contemplating childhood events. In memories of her Edwardian childhood, adults advised her, through subtle directives and implications, not to show off, to gush, or to be taciturn. “In my long-ago childhood,” she writes, “it was important what grown-ups thought. They were the censors, the judges. Today, they have less prestige, they have abdicated from power, gone down in status: in some families, they seem like a fallen upper-class.”33 Because parents have abdicated responsibility for instructing children, the line between children and grown-ups dissolves. Mental age has gone down with time, not up. As Bowen points out in a shrewd review of Ivy Compton-Burnett’s Elders and Betters, “everyone in this novel is the same age, and nobody is admirable.”34 Elders are not always betters. Elders who aspire to the mental age of children are particularly reprehensible. By contrast, Bowen believes that children have a duty to grow up. According to this outdated model of maturity, grown-ups know everything and children try to discover the social mark of what is right or acceptable as far as behaviour goes. Adulthood shifts its locations. Consequently, no one is ever an adult with absolute certainty. Not to rise to the occasion is not to be fully civilized or fully grown up, a proposition that has particular meaning for writers. Bowen likened writers to children because they share uncertainty about hidden expectations and meanings. “The child, almost any child,” she states in “The Roving Eye,” “is born with the hope that the universe is somehow to be explained: it may be, the writer does not outlive that hope  – here and there his eye passes, from clue to clue.” The child manifests curiosity that remains a vital component of the writer’s sensibility. If a writer preserves the childlike hope that explanations are to come, even if they never arrive, she or he lives with a forward disposition to time. Age does not enter into the writer’s personality except insofar as the writer preserves youthful curiosity, even hopefulness. Adult understanding is inimical to the writer’s curiosity. The writer resembles a “child who cannot keep silent” because he has something to share and communicate.35 In this regard, autobiography asserts itself as a genre for mature writers who have lost some of their childlike curiosity and who wish to speak in a voice of nonfictional authority. Autobiographical commentary provides an opportunity to register disappointment and fold it into one’s experience. Bowen relishes

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the opportunity to gaze down a long vista to her own childhood, for it proves that she has successfully grown up. In Bowen’s view, writers cultivate their childish approach to people and events. They do not pursue writing as a rational activity: “they are of a childishness which could seem incredible, and which is more than half incredible to their thinking selves. The childishness is necessary, fundamental  – it involves a perpetual, errant state of desire, wonder, and unexpected reflex. The writer, unlike his non-writing adult friend, has no predisposed outlook.”36 The thinking self yields to the creative self, which never loses touch with childish wonder. The child, as a model for the writer, has no bias or predisposition. Judgements are suspended; anything goes. The errancy of the child’s desire leads to discoveries that the rational mind excludes. Bowen locates in the child the possibility of fresh responses, whether in approach to situations or in approach to language. In this sense, a writer’s reflexes have to remain spontaneous – or “unexpected,” to use Bowen’s term  – in order to remain creative. She advises in an essay to neophyte writers that “language must on no account be allowed to set or harden; all the time we must let it extend its range, keep it on the move, have it remain open – open, that is to say, to a constant, refreshing intake of the new.”37 In this regard, autobiographical writing presents a challenge: if the autobiographer wishes to remain faithful to a previous self or incarnation, should he retain a language that belongs to that former identity, or should he recast that former identity in a mobile, “unexpected” language? The child’s disposition to react by reflex may work for creative writing, but it creates a problem for life-writing, implicated as it is in questions of sincerity and authenticity. Whatever the virtues of being a writer with childlike naïveté, Bowen found the psychological outlook of the child agonizing. She never aspired to remain a child; she wanted to enter the adult world as a fully fledged adult already. Age, her youth, daunted her. An only child, she grew up surrounded by adults. The idea of the “élite grown-up – successful in their performances” – appealed to her sensibility. Growing up as an Edwardian, Bowen feared that her approach to adulthood was so slow that the adults “might be no longer there by the time I reached them.”38 This fear bespeaks belatedness; the child who knows she is a child cannot but be inherently belated. The child who lags after adults may never grow up; she is doomed to immaturity. She will be permanently excluded from the glamorous élite of grown-ups. According to the logic of this irrational fear, the gap between child and adult never closes, and it certainly does not close fast enough for the child who wants to fit into adult company.



Bowen’s family history, Bowen’s Court, betrays her fear of belatedness. She traces the lineage of Anglo-Irish landowners, of which she is the last: “I was the first woman heir; already I had changed my father’s name for my husband’s. We had no children.”39 By contrast, her memoirs, Seven Winters: Memories of a Dublin Childhood, written the year after Bowen’s Court, almost as an appendix to the impersonal history of her family, fleshes out her childhood recollections of dancing, shopping, and governesses. Her family is virtually invisible. In Seven Winters, Bowen characterizes children of her vintage as sociable because well mannered: “We were brought up to be pleasing to grown-up people, and it was taken that we could contend with each other.”40 To be pleasing to grown-ups does not mean that children understand grown-ups. Bowen remembers that sociability existed in silences and mysteries as much as in dances and visits: “My parents did not always communicate with each other, and I did not always communicate with them.”41 If the child aims to grow up, she does not always know what she is to grow up to. Paradoxically, the child who aspires to grown-up status keeps striving even after she has become an adult and entered the ranks of celebrities. She knows no other way to behave. For Bowen, a writer assumes the mindset of a child but writes in order to become an adult. In a preface that she wrote to Early Stories, she describes her attitude toward age: I feel that I had a snobbery with regard to age. For my generation, grownups were the ruling class. As an only child I had lived very much among them, noted as closely as possible their habits, and filed what appeared to be their ideas. Motherless since I was thirteen, I was in and out of the homes of my different relatives – and, as constantly, shuttling between two countries: Ireland and England. I was, it seemed, at everyone’s disposition. Though quite happy, I lived with a submerged fear that I might fail to establish grown-up status. That fear, it may be, egged me on to writing: an author, a grown-up, must they not be synonymous? As far as I now see, I must have been anxious to approximate to my elders, yet to demolish them.42

The ideas of grown-ups may, in fact, be different from what they appear. The homeless child has to decipher grown-up ideas and live according to shifting expectations. To be grown up, in the context of Bowen’s motherless adolescence, meant moving house often. Playing up to adults required feats of circumspection in terms of family and nation. An only child, Bowen accommodated herself to the social conditions imposed on her. The child’s duty, she implies, using herself as an example, is to blend in,

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to become an adult. Speaking of Portia, the narrator in The Death of the Heart delivers a rather cruel aphorism that could be drawn from Bowen’s own experience: “In the home of today there is no place for the miss: she has got to sink or swim.”43 Bowen, tossed from one relative to another, was at everyone’s disposition and, being so, had to make the most of her ordeal. Bowen tinkered with this passage a great deal. It first appeared as the preface to Early Stories before being revised as “First Writing” for Afterthought. She adapted the content for the two contexts. In the first version of the text, she is declarative. She notes that being grown-up meant reading certain kinds of books: “[I] tried in my reading to keep abreast with books they seemed to admire, which were of many sorts.”44 Looking back over her early stories, Bowen recognizes her will to grow up, which she hopes to accomplish by reading, then writing. Her fear of not establishing grown-up status “had probably reached its peak when I started writing. A writer and a grown-up, it appeared to me, could not but be synonymous. I had embarked on an act of levelling up. As far as I can see, I was anxious at once to approximate to the grown-ups and to demolish them.”45 In the preface, Bowen is certain that writers and grown-ups are synonymous; in the version in Afterthought, she presents this idea as a question ventriloquized through her younger self. The “levelling up” might refer to her own maturity – growing up to the level of adults – or it might mean, as the next sentence implies, a surpassing the level of adults in order to better them. Writing accelerates growing up even beyond the level attained by one’s elders. In this contest, the young invariably win. If writing promotes Bowen into the ranks of grown-ups, it may present only the appearance of maturity rather than its substance. Writing can disguise an obstinate case of adolescence. Her characters, she states, “were senior to myself, involved in experiences I did not wot of, often gutted by passions beyond my ken.”46 If the fear of never growing up motivates her writing, that fear becomes a liability, for it preserves the writer in a state of immaturity. The writer, because she writes, will never grow up. She is and will always remain an awkward adolescent. This paradox entails other pitfalls. Writing about childhood does not preclude other subjects; nor does it preclude other approaches besides the wide-eyed child’s. For a writer who is an adult in a world of adults, writing has nothing to do with the desire to grow up. The writer who ceases to write altogether stops because the mysteries of adulthood have been dispelled; nothing is left to be said. About



Trollope, Bowen remarks, “The longings of youth are immortal; they ­outlast their fulfilment.”47 Yet age reduces forces and douses passions. Simone de Beauvoir, contemplating the dwindling of creativity that older writers experience, hypothesizes that “si notre élan vers l’avenir est brisé, il nous est difficile de le recréer chez un héros imaginaire: ni en lui ni en nous l’aventure humaine ne nous passionne assez [if our fervour for the future is broken, it is difficult to recreate it through an imaginary hero: neither through him nor through ourselves does the human adventure stir us enough].”48 The autobiography written in middle or late life affirms a faith in what is demonstrable, whereas fiction does not. Autobiography establishes a bridge to the future via a detour in the past. The last lines of Trollope’s Autobiography, which Bowen quotes at the end of “Anthony Trollope – a New Judgement,” bid adieu to readers, while linking Trollope with future readers: “‘Now I stretch out my hand and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read the many words I have written.’”49 In Bowen’s preface to Early Stories, the autobiographical impulse splits between fidelity to one’s anxious, adolescent self and to the mature writer who looks back over her corpus with a discerning eye. Within the fear that the writer writes in order to acquire maturity lies another fear, namely, that writing will not only allow Bowen to catch up to her elders, but to surpass them. By surpassing them, by proving that she is more adult than they, she demolishes them. While this attitude toward earlier generations might be understood as quintessentially modernist  – an attitude traceable within Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, and Samuel Butler’s Notebooks  – Bowen feels uneasy about doing away with tradition altogether. From her position as a grown-up, she wants to hold with the past while recognizing youthful exuberance and errors of judgment. If writing indeed offers a way for Bowen to grow up, all her fictional writings have to be taken as a form of autobiography, in which the dominant themes are striving and a fear of belatedness. In a magisterial study of Katherine Mansfield, Bowen draws attention to Mansfield’s early death, while pointing out that she “was drawn to old people, seeing them as victors.” The old have conquered adversity and, to some degree, time. They have patience, a trait that Mansfield could not afford; being ill, she had to mature quickly. With Mansfield in mind, Bowen speculates on the writer’s capacity to make the most of her given talents: “It is with maturity that the really searching ordeal of the writer begins. Maturity, remember, must last a long time. And it must not be confused with single perfections.”50

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The impersonal subject “it,” coupled with the dictatorial verb “must,” makes these observations sound like laws handed down from on high. Yet Bowen also means them as a guide to writers in middle age who wish to keep on writing. Autobiography allows an accounting of successes to date and a possible route into the future. Maturity lasts a long time; autobiography lasts even longer. Notes 1 Elizabeth Bowen, Afterthought: Pieces about Writing (London: Longmans, Green, 1962), 9. 2 Elizabeth Bowen, Pictures and Conversations (New York: Knopf, 1975), 61. 3 Bowen, Afterthought, 199. 4 Bowen, Afterthought, 203. 5 Bowen, Afterthought, 201. 6 Bowen, Afterthought, 203. 7 Elizabeth Bowen, Collected Impressions (London: Longmans, Green, 1950), 102. 8 Bowen, Collected Impressions, 244. 9 Bowen, Collected Impressions, 242. 10 Bowen, Afterthought, 17. 11 Bowen, Afterthought, 19. 12 Elizabeth Bowen, People, Places, Things: Essays by Elizabeth Bowen, Allan Hepburn, ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 283. 13 Bowen, Afterthought, 77. 14 Bowen, Afterthought, 87. 15 Bowen, Afterthought, 78. 16 Elizabeth Bowen, The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen, Hermione Lee, ed. (New York: Harcourt, 1986), 229. 17 Elizabeth Bowen Papers, MS 52987, Huntington Library, San Marino, California. 18 Knopf Collection, 686.14, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. 19 Elizabeth Bowen Collection, 1.5 dated “11/10/48,” Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. 20 Elizabeth Bowen Collection, 1.5, HRC. 21 Elizabeth Bowen, “Miss Bowen on Miss Bowen,” New York Times Book Review (6 March 1949), 33. 22 Elizabeth Bowen Collection, 1.8 dated “3.6.48,” HRC. 23 Elizabeth Bowen, The House in Paris (New York: Anchor, 2002), 23. 24 Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen’s Court and Seven Winters (London: Vintage, 1999), 465. 25 Bowen, Collected Impressions, 101f. 26 Elizabeth Bowen Collection, 1.5, HRC.



27 Elizabeth Bowen, Listening In: Broadcasts, Speeches, and Interviews by Elizabeth Bowen, Allan Hepburn, ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 85. 28 Cynthia Port, “‘Ages Are the Stuff!’: The Traffic in Ages in Interwar Britain,” NWSA Journal 18.1 (2006): 138. 29 Bowen, Afterthought, 80. 30 Bowen, People, Places, 345f. 31 Bowen, People, Places, 349. 32 Bowen, People, Places, 356. 33 Bowen, People, Places, 343. 34 Bowen, Collected Impressions, 89. 35 Bowen, Afterthought, 192. 36 Bowen, Afterthought, 191. 37 Bowen, Afterthought, 212. 38 Bowen, Collected Impressions, 86. 39 Bowen, Bowen’s Court, 448. 40 Bowen, Seven Winters, 501. 41 Bowen, Seven Winters, 469. 42 Bowen, Afterthought, 86. 43 Elizabeth Bowen, Death of the Heart (New York: Anchor, 2000), 49. 44 Elizabeth Bowen, Early Stories (New York: Knopf, 1951), ix. 45 Bowen, Early Stories, x. 46 Bowen, Afterthought, 86. 47 Bowen, Afterthought, 17. 48 Simone de Beauvoir, La Vieillesse (Paris: NRF Gallimard, 2008), 427. 49 Bowen, Collected Impressions, 245. 50 Bowen, Afterthought, 54f.

Ch apter 9

“Leaving the Territory”: Ralph Ellison’s Backward Glance Marc C. Conner

By seeking to move forward, we find ourselves looking back and ­discovering with some surprise from whence we’ve come. I had to become a writer . . . to feel at home in the world. Ralph Ellison1

On 20 June 1933, twenty-year-old Ralph Ellison climbed aboard a freight train in Oklahoma City with the intent of “hobo-ing” his way to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, to begin his college education. The journey would prove an arduous one, both physically and psychically. When, more than four decades later, Ellison wrote a semifictional memoir titled “Leaving the Territory,” he depicted this journey as the pivotal event in his education as both a man and a writer. By the time Ellison arrived in Harlem in the mid-1930s, the material of his writing life was already available to him in his own past. Ellison found in his own life much of the essential material that would pervade his first novel, Invisible Man; his unfinished epic, Three Days before the Shooting . . .; and his luminous essays on American culture. “Leaving the Territory,” written late in Ellison’s life, goes back to the beginning of that life in order to understand the writer that he would become. The grand concern of all of Ralph Ellison’s writing is identity. When asked in his 1955 Paris Review interview whether “the search for identity is primarily an American theme,” Ellison responded, “It is the American theme” (CE 219). He likened “the great mystery of identity in this country” to “a religious mystery” (CE 550). The famous opening sentence of Invisible Man, “I am an invisible man,” announces its originating crisis as precisely the question of identity. Ultimately the Invisible Man understands that only in realizing identity can freedom follow: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” Ellison insisted that Invisible Man was not an autobiographical novel – “Let me say right now,” he stated in the same interview, “that my book is not an autobiographical work” (CE 210) – yet 113



much of the protagonist’s experiences in the novel derives from Ellison’s interpretation of his own life, particularly his college experiences, his move to New York, and his involvement with left-wing political parties in the late 1930s. Similarly, Three Days before the Shooting . . . , which occupied Ellison steadily for more than forty years, confronts this same crisis of the self in even more autobiographical terms. Here Ellison revisits the Oklahoma of his youth in the mid-1950s, right when it was fading away. This grand epic began as a novel about Oklahoma: Ellison wrote to his friend Albert Murray in 1952, “I’ve got to get real mad again, and talk with the old folks a bit. I’ve got one Okla. book in me I do believe.”2 Similarly, in “Leaving the Territory,” Ellison looks backward and thereby emerges as a modernist writer for whom his own life experience will be the material of his fiction. “Leaving the Territory” chronicles Ellison’s departure from the Oklahoma of his youth; yet Ellison came to realize that however much he might wish it, to escape the country of his past was impossible. As Jervis Anderson observed in a 1970 biographical essay, Oklahoma “retains an exceptional influence on his outlook, and [Ellison] continues to harbor an affection for the region which far exceeds what people ordinarily feel for distant places in which they were raised.”3 In that essay, Ellison states, “I dream constantly of Oklahoma City. My childhood is there. And, as you know, you tend to dream, can’t help dreaming, of your early experiences and of the people you first knew” (55). In his second novel, Oklahoma became the emblem of American complexity, standing both for the remarkable range of expressive possibility that America offered, and for the determining, and perhaps constricting, elements in America’s cultural geography from which the writer, and also the self, could never escape. As Ellison famously remarked, “Geography is fate” (CE 663). John Callahan explains that in Three Days, through “telling Hickman’s story of the early days in Oklahoma, and Bliss’s (a.k.a. Mister Movie-Man) sojourn there in the twenties, Ellison . . . is imagining and telling his own story. In their different ways, Hickman and the Senator recapitulate the world Ellison grew up in and heard the old folks in Oklahoma tell about. . . . Here Ellison’s recurring theme of ‘our orphan’s loneliness’ and ‘the evasion of identity’ is felt and told on the deepest frequencies of consciousness – its autobiographical impulse transmuted into art by bold acts of imagination.”4 The second novel is both self-exploration and a fictional rendering of Ellison’s vision of America on the eve of the civil rights struggle. “Leaving” focuses on perhaps the seminal experiences of Ellison’s life, a roughly four-week period in the early summer of 1933 that would be his

“Leaving the Territory”


proving ground and the foundation for his future career.5 Accepted into Tuskegee, Ellison learned in early June that he had to report immediately to play his trumpet in the summer concerts. Short of train fare, Ellison determined to make his way via the hobo routes. His biographer Larry Jackson rightly sees that “the train ride in the summer of 1933, a peak Depression year, was an education in itself,” at the end of which Ellison realized that “he had survived, and endured his first test of independent adulthood. Now he occupied the newly won psychological terrain of selfdetermination.”6 Ellison focuses almost obsessively on this journey in his memoir, for this was the crucible in which the great modernist writer was forged. A remarkable element of “Leaving” is that Ellison wrote the memoir entirely in the second person. It opens, “When you were a young boy in Oklahoma you day-dreamed wildly of adventure. At their vaguest these were fantasies in which you left home and resolved all complaints and dissatisfactions by an abrupt change of scene.” This produces great narrative complexity, what Helmut Bonheim calls “cases of ‘sloppy identity’ or of ‘referential slither.’”7 The apparently simple line between teller and tale and narrator and character is blurred in second-person narrative; “The person addressed is not only the supposed reader: he is also the person the story is about. We think of the person spoken about in most stories as fictive. The persons spoken to as real, namely ourselves, the readers. In the you-story the two are conflated” (69). The ensuing ambiguity of self is strikingly Ellisonian: “The oddity about stories which rely on the second person is that the ‘you’ is a Protean shapeshifter, sometimes a neutral ‘one,’ sometimes an addressee, within the fictive world or outside it” (79). Proteus is precisely Ellison’s archetype for the modern American novelist, confronting the ambiguity and fluidity of experience: “For the novelist, Proteus stands for both America and the inheritance of illusion through which all men must fight to achieve reality” (CE 154). Ellison’s use of the second-person perspective creates precisely such a Protean effect in voice, subject, and audience.8 The narrating self in “Leaving the Territory” is actually multiple selves, “component[s] of your personality,” and particularly a “dissenting self ” who arises in and through language: “a slumbering, questioning part of you that lay dormant until evoked by certain orders and levels of words that were seldom sounded in your normal environment” (emphasis added). The process of self-creation emerges through the use of language, leading to “that word-inspired ‘you’ which went on developing.” He comments: “It was a baffling condition, this having a self



that was creating itself within you out of words, and out of ideas and emotions, both vague and concrete, which gave life to words.” This linguistic confusion raises to the surface what the narrator terms “your own incongruity of personality,” which becomes the major concern of the memoir: the multiple, dissenting selves contending for supremacy within the narrator. Thus the goal of the memoir is “integration,” both for the individual self and for that self ’s relation to society. Ellison seeks “something still unmastered as you groped toward manhood and true self-consciousness . . . toward some as yet unformulated form of integration, a sense of wholeness that was both personal and social.” “Integration,” of course, is a highly charged term for an African American novelist who comes of age as a writer in the 1940s and 1950s and whose unfinished magnum opus seeks partly to account for the remarkable turbulence of the civil rights era. As Timothy Parrish has recently argued, Ellison’s true legacy to American letters is that he became “the conscience of democracy in the wake of the Civil Rights movement.”9 The memoir’s aim of integrating the fragmented self, and integrating that self into the community, mirrors the aims of Ellison’s entire era and of his own philosophy. For despite the separatist aims of the black nationalist movement, Ellison stated, “I’m unashamedly an American integrationist” and argued that “the human imagination is integrative – and the same is true of the centrifugal force that inspirits the democratic process” (CE 486). Ellison’s struggle for “integration” was exacerbated by the loss of his father when Ellison was only three, a trauma that fragmented both his sense of self and his relation to his society. The memoir material, like Invisible Man and Three Days, can be understood as Ellison’s efforts to write his way past these traumas of loss and disintegration. Early in “Leaving the Territory,” Ellison expresses this fundamental loss of his father in a detached assessment (made possible by the second-person perspective) that suggests how thoroughly he understands its implications: As a child you had had doubts and fears  . . . rooted in the experience of seeing your father placed into the earth and your mother restrained from leaping into the grave. . . . You had been left all too aware that death could come even to those one loved, and that changes of fortune could be swift, unpredictable, and devastating. . . . Your father’s death had left you haunted by a sense of uncertainty.

In 1956, as he was drafting the first versions of Three Days and watching in fascination from Rome as the nascent civil rights movement accelerated,

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Ellison tried to evoke the devastation of his father’s death in an essay that he could only finish nine years later. Ellison described his dreams of his father’s death, which led him to realize “what it meant to be his fatherless child.” This became Ellison’s cri de coeur: “But what quality of love sustains us in our orphan’s loneliness; and how much is thus required of fatherly love to give us strength for all our life thereafter?” (CE 35)  Ellison’s hope that one day he would be restored to his father became for him “a recurring fantasy”: I would emerge from a cold side street into the warm spring sun and there see my father, dead since I was three, rushing toward me with a smile of recognition and outstretched arms. And I would run proudly to greet him, his son grown tall. And then I could awake at last from the tortuous and extended dream that was my childhood with my father gone. So urgent had been my need for a sense of familial completeness, to have our family whole and happy as it had been until shortly before I saw him placed at last into the earth, that this thin fantasy had been made to serve for the man of flesh and blood, the man of the tales, the ghost stories, the gifts and strength and love. (42)

Ellison confesses that he was unable, in 1956, to draw these conflicts together into an aesthetic, or a narrative, whole: “I simply could not organize the various elements – literary, political, psychological, personal – into the complex, meaningful whole which my sense of reality and my concern with fiction demanded” (30). Ellison, acknowledging “defeat with the essay,” instead “returned to my novel” (46), confirming that the Three Days project, like his essays and the later memoir writing, all originate in Ellison’s efforts to overcome this disintegrating trauma of the loss of the father. The incompleteness of both the memoir and the second novel may suggest that Ellison could never quite overcome these traumas to his own sense of self and community.10 The struggle for integration that runs throughout “Leaving the Territory” is intensified because the community rejects the hero at the very outset of his quest. In the longest section of the memoir, fifty-six manuscript pages (more than a quarter of the entire piece), the narrator finds himself thwarted by his own society. The biographical details of this story only emerged through Rampersad’s reliance on the memoir in his biography. Ellison, desperate to get to Tuskegee but without enough money to cover the train fare, received welcome news: he could accompany the wife and daughter of Dr. Wyatt Slaughter, a leading figure in the black Oklahoma community and a longtime family friend, on their journey southward. Ellison was elated by this stroke of good fortune, as well as by this tangible



community support of his quest; thus his disappointment was profound when Dr.  Slaughter, for reasons never stated, suddenly refused Ellison permission to accompany his wife and daughter. The result for Ellison was profound alienation; as Rampersad suggests, after this refusal, Ellison could no longer call Oklahoma “home” (47).11 Steeped in theories of heroism from Lord Raglan to James Joyce to Joseph Campbell, Ellison structures the refusal as the reversal, or peripetia, of the hero, and as the block that he must overcome to realize his destiny: “You were now about to take your next step in your initiation into manhood” when this “prominent community leader and trustee of your church refused you the right of passage. . . . This sudden reversal of your wide-eyed expectations was all the more shocking because it came without a word of explanation.” The Refusal threatens to sever the narrator’s connections to his community: “You came close to losing your faith in your community’s leaders not to mention the intimate network of friendship that had long been a support of your identity.” The resulting isolation echoes and reinscribes his primal isolation resulting from his father’s death, for “with the innocent identification of a child you considered yourself a member of their extended family . . . [and] now this act by one of the family members threatened to shatter your world [already] vulnerab[le] by the death of your father.” The Refusal cripples the narrator’s quest for personal identity and opens his eyes to “the abiding tensions, generational and hierarchal, which existed in your community,” particularly tensions of color and class. As he casts about for a possible explanation for the Doctor’s decision, he recalls an event years before when he challenged the Doctor’s social position and by implication the entire social and racial hierarchy of their community. He recalls of the Doctor that “having delivered countless babies in child-birth, his favorite question to little boys cornered in the drug store was, ‘Say, aren’t you one of my little niggers?’” The narrator comments that “the touchy epithet echoed tones of affection, but it seldom failed to create an uneasy silence, both among the boys and his adult listeners. For in a sense he was, indeed, their ‘father,’ and the ambiguities of class, color, and parentage evoked by the joke were barely transcended by its humour.” The narrator understands the role of power and class that the Doctor assumes, and that the “joke” reasserts that power. As he recalls his exchange with the Doctor, he sees that even then he was challenging the Doctor’s authority – a realization the Doctor shared and that might explain his own later refusal:

“Leaving the Territory”


Once years ago, when he had put the question to you in the crowded drug store you had dared to answer, “No, sir.” You’d said it softly but firmly, thinking of your deceased father as you waited for an angry response. Instead, he sniggled with laughter. “Oh, yes, you are,” he said. “You’re a proud little nigger, but you’re still one of mine!” . . . But could it be that the exchange which occurred so long ago was now the secret cause of his refusal?

The narrator locates the cause for this communal rejection in his own pride, his memory of his father, and his refusal to allow a new father figure to claim him as his own creation and make him subservient.12 The narrator then shifts into an elaborate fantasy of an actual confrontation with Dr.  Slaughter (comparable to the Invisible Man’s fantasy of Dr. Bledsoe as “‘a shameless chitterling eater,’” whom he will “‘accuse . . . before the eyes of the world’” [265]). “So now as you sat on the edge of your bed in a mood that skittered wildly between accusation and self-indictment you fantasized meeting him in direct confrontation,” he begins, and then proceeds, for an astonishing thirty-two pages, into a bizarre series of verbal confrontations with the Doctor’s wild invective, racial prejudices, sexual innuendo, and personal attack, which the narrator tries to ward off with reasonable defenses, all with a barbershop chorus of men looking on and cheering wildly. The fantasy begins with the Doctor attributing his refusal to the narrator’s sexual threat: “‘Very well,’” the Doctor exclaims, “‘to begin with you’re too fascinated by the idea of fornication.’” When the narrator protests, the Doctor continues, “‘Oh, I can read you alright! And you’re not only girl-crazy, you have a dirty mind and have known the taste of homebrew, Choctaw beer, and bootleg whiskey!’” To further protests, the Doctor shouts, “‘Don’t give us that innocent act . . . you read too many books, and you’re guilty of every damn crime you’ve ever read about, heard about, or have seen in the movies!’” The Doctor conflates the narrator’s sexual license with his interest in literature, culture, and then music – “‘you have further dishonored my expectation for your advancement by hanging around with jazz musicians, with riff-raff whom you seem to prefer to men and women of higher moral and musical standards’” – becoming in the narrator’s mind “a nightmarish inquisitor,” provoking him to continue wondering, “What did I do to offend him  . . . where did I go wrong?” One senses Ellison’s own bafflement, from his perspective of the late 1970s, at the suggestion that he was out of step with the black community and had somehow offended the very culture from which he had emerged.



This is a major thesis of Rampersad throughout his biography  – that Ellison’s integrationist approach had alienated him from the black community and this was precisely the cause of Ellison’s inability to finish his second novel: “As a novelist, he had lost his way. And he had done so in proportion to his distancing of himself from his fellow blacks” (513). As I have argued elsewhere, and as other scholars have concurred, this argument is deeply flawed13; nevertheless Ellison certainly was aware that his views were not compatible with the more charismatic positions of black nationalism and the black aesthetic, positions he dismissed as “the reverse of that racism with which prejudiced whites approach Negroes” (CE 754). It is certainly conceivable that Ellison projects this cultural clash back into his earlier experiences. The parallels to Ellison’s own position increase when the gathered audience enters into the verbal sparring. They elevate the confrontation into the realm of racial debate, particularly the great question of racial authenticity and the required degree of protest necessary to be a true race man  – exactly the debates that swirled about Ellison in the 1960s and 1970s. “‘Yeah, Doc, that’s right!’” shouts one. “‘And he said that you side with ole DuBois in claiming that only these heah yalla, blue-veined dudes are intended to lead our people!’” Then another voice cries, “‘I’ll tell you whose side he’s on. . . . He’s on his own! He thinks he’s so high and mighty that he’s out for nobody but his self!’” Another replies: “‘That’s right, Doc, he’ll never be a good race-man like you.’” The narrator’s response matches Ellison’s own arguments for integration and deracialized thinking that he asserted repeatedly against the black nationalist movement: “From where was all of this craziness coming from? For after all, your mother had always insisted that you respect people for what they did. ‘Treat people as individuals,’ she’d said, ‘it’s character that counts, not color.’ And you’d tried to do so.” This argument matches Ellison’s insistence, as early as 1958, that “in the United States, the values of my own people are neither ‘white’ nor ‘black’; they are American. Nor can I see how they could be anything else, since we are a people who are involved in the texture of the American experience” (CE 299). The Doctor responds to Ellison’s insistence that character is not determined by color: “‘It’s bad enough for you to be going around trying to turn white black, but you’re so reckless that you’ve even been trying to turn black white. Well, that is no less than treason, and I’ll not be a party to any such reckless abjuration of our American arrangement – No, indeed!’” The blending of black and white in cultural terms was a bedrock belief in Ellison’s understanding of American culture: “Most American

“Leaving the Territory”


whites,” he famously insists, “are culturally part Negro American without even realizing it,” and more, “whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow black” (CE 584, 587). His conviction is that Americans are integrated by culture, not by race: “We are bound less by blood than by our cultural and political circumstances” (CE 754). Perhaps Ellison places these foundational beliefs into the memoir anachronistically, as if they had occurred to him earlier than they really did; or, perhaps, he implies that his foundational positions on race and culture preceded all his writing, and that the theory of blended black and white paint in Invisible Man finds its genesis in this early insistence on character, not color. Ultimately the Doctor describes the narrator’s actions as representing a primal fall from innocence into destruction: “‘Your crimes have been numberless,’” he accuses, “‘as from the very beginning,’” and since the day of his birth “‘you have been a threat to everything, including law, order, and sacred ceremony!’” He then suggests an unspecified offense with a girl in a “‘weedy, abandoned garden’” in which “‘you were prepared to violate and reverse the ancient pattern whereby our mother Eve and all her daughters were predestined to be both the instigators and revealatorsprimeval of man’s inglorious fall!’” Ellison here alludes to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and particularly Earwicker’s Offence in the Park. This event, which is endlessly repeated in Joyce’s book, stands for the entire concept of shame and wrongdoing, from Adam’s first offense in the garden to the prurience of a Chapelizod pub keeper in Joyce’s Dublin. Finnegans Wake meant a good deal to Ellison  – he proudly recounted purchasing a numbered, signed edition of Anna Livia Plurabelle from a Harlem bookseller in 1940 (Rampersad 138) – and its complex meditation on archetypal heroism certainly resonated with Ellison’s fascination with heroes that spurred his composition of Invisible Man.14 Here he draws upon that work to signal his narrator’s struggle to transcend the tribe and emerge as a liberated self – the defining quest of “Leaving the Territory.” As the Doctor elaborates the fantasy, his language becomes increasingly chaotic, imaginative, rollicking, even poetic in its extravagance: “Rearing and pitching, you destroyed your high silk hat, tore off the tails of your wedding jacket! Ripped off your ascot tie, and rolled in the aisle! You screamed and howled like a banshee, scratched and bit like a wild-cat, snotted your nose, and pissed your britches! And all the while you were punching and kicking at anyone who came near you – including the little bridesmaids, their escorts, and their horrified pappas and mammas! You debased and converted that holy ceremony into something worse than a double-barrelled shot-gun wedding! And then to compound your act of


Conner blasphemy you upset the refractory table, smashed the plates and glassware, and ruined the entire wedding supper – four-layer cake, fruit punch, fried fish, and crisp fried chicken!”

This exuberant comic prose characterizes Ellison’s method throughout Three Days, particularly when he delves into the vernacular poetic energies of African American storytelling figures. Leroy’s expletive-filled rant to Hickman in which he imagines that the Reverend is “none other than Chief SAM the fucking liberator” (549–61); or Jessie Rockmore’s wild address to Aubrey McMillen in which he concludes that “‘seeing what’s happened to this coffin has finally opened my eyes to the true, disgusting nature of our human existence’” (942–49); or especially Cliofus, in the Cave of the Winds, telling his bizarre and seemingly unending story about Miss Kindly to Hickman in the “Hickman in Georgia and Oklahoma” section (865–92), all voice Ellison’s sublime poetic expression that erupts both in the memoir and in Three Days, showing again the kindred nature of the two projects. Ultimately the Refusal points Ellison toward his emergence as a writer, which is the climax of the entire memoir. The Doctor approaches the end of his tirade by stating that the narrator has, from his earliest days, adopted the tactics of the Joycean modernist writer – silence, exile, and cunning: “‘From his first nasty bawl he went on to become so sly and tricky that by now his very silence constitutes a denial and a rejection of all that is sacred and stable! . . . For two years now you’ve been the quiet one, the intentionally enigmatic one!’” The Doctor also senses that the narrator is creating a new language for African American experience: “‘I am aware of your efforts to transform the sacred into the profane and to play hell thereby with law and order. That’s right! In order to confuse the unwary you . . . have invented no less than a new, double-tongued dictionary.’” Thus the Refusal is really a reaction against Ellison-as-modernist-writer. The Doctor refuses him the company of his women because Ellison has revealed his eventual emergence as the great modernist chronicler of African American experience. The silence and cunning that seem to be the narrator’s natural traits will now be joined with the exile foisted upon him by the Doctor and the communal rejection that he enacts. After the Refusal, the only course left for the hero is to leave the community and to forge his new identity as a writer. The rest of “Leaving the Territory” details the narrator’s picaresque adventures as he makes his way toward Tuskegee. The journey, however, is never completed – like the Three Days project, “Leaving” never finds a finished form. Rather, Ellison

“Leaving the Territory”


uses the narrative to express in almost essayistic style many of his central tenets of American culture and identity – not unlike his method in much of Three Days before the Shooting . . .. By the end of the typescript, he is still on the trains, journeying through the America that would become the material as well as the inspiration of all his subsequent writings. Ellison’s goal is now precisely what he articulated in his 1953 National Book Award acceptance speech: “The way home we seek is that condition of man’s being at home in the world, which is called love, and which we term democracy” (CE 154). If the trauma of losing his father remains, if the rejection by the community leader lingers, nevertheless our final vision of Ellison’s self-writing is of his venture into the territory, the territory not merely of Oklahoma nor even of America, but the more elusive and more rewarding territory of the exploration of the self that longs for a fully integrated existence. Notes 1 The first epigraph is from Ellison’s essay “Going to the Territory” (597), the second from “What These Children Are Like” (74), in The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, John Callahan, ed. (New York: Modern Library, 1994); cited hereafter in the text as CE. 2 Albert Murray and John Callahan, Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (New York: Modern Library, 2000), 44. 3 Jarvis Anderson, “Going to the Territory,” New Yorker (22 November 1976), 55–99. 4 John Callahan, “Introduction,” in Ralph Ellison, Juneteenth, John Callahan, ed. (New York: Random House, 1999), xix–xxxi, emphasis added. 5 “Leaving the Territory” exists in the Library of Congress Ellison archives as a coherent manuscript in at least two versions, showing several levels of revision. The final typescript, likely completed in the early 1980s, has extensive hand emendations by Ellison, indicating that he thought of it as a work in progress to which he would return. There are also hundreds of pages of computer files that extend and revisit the key scenes of the memoir. The entire manuscript runs to 219 pages and, although exact dating is difficult, seems to have been written largely during the 1970s and early 1980s, with substantial revision after that. Its writing, then, is contemporaneous with Ellison’s massive expansion of the Three Days novel, particularly as Ellison moved into the computer sequences in that project. Throughout this essay, I quote from the most complete typescript, dated 1981 in the LOC archives, Part I, box 110. 6 Lawrence Jackson, Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002), 91. 7 Helmut Bonheim, “Narration in the Second Person,” Recherches Anglaises et Americaines 16 (1983): 69–80.



8 Rampersad does not address the memoir’s complexity of narration, but transcribes the main points of the memoir as if it were unvarnished fact – a rather reductive approach to Ellison’s writing. 9 Timothy Parrish, Ralph Ellison and the Genius of America (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 28, 11. 10 Indeed the trauma of the journey Ellison undergoes in the memoir intensified his sense of a split or divided self, as Jackson argues: “The wounds that he gained on his journey to Tuskegee, and his repression of its violent memory, signaled growing separation between Ellison’s public and private personalities” (94). 11 Jackson, who did not have access to “Leaving the Territory,” reports vaguely that another acquaintance would be driving down to Tuskegee who could take Ellison, but this fell through because Ellison could not yet drive a car. This version, based on personal interviews, as well as parts of Jervis Anderson’s essay, differs greatly from the details in the memoir. Although Jackson lacked many details of this period, he nevertheless understands its importance and impact with impressive insight. 12 This is one of many resemblances that the Doctor shares with Dr. Bledsoe in Invisible Man, of whom the novel’s narrator states, “He was our coal-black daddy of whom we were afraid” (116)  – words that could easily be said of Dr. Slaughter. We can speculate that Ellison’s portrayal of Dr. Bledsoe draws upon this decisive encounter in his early manhood with Dr.  Slaughter. Similarly, when Bledsoe calls the Invisible Man “Nigger,” the narrator reels: “It was as though he’d struck me. I stared across the desk thinking, He called me that . . .” (139), a reaction that echoes the narrator’s response to Dr. Slaughter’s joking assertion of fatherly mastery. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: Vintage, 1989). 13 See my “Reading Ralph Ellison: Hidden Name and Complex Fate,” in South Atlantic Review 73:4 (Fall, 2008): 146–53, and also Tim Parrish, “Ralph Ellison, Finished and Unfinished: Aesthetic Achievements and Political Legacies” in Contemporary Literature 48:4 (Winter, 2007): 639–64. 14 “When I started writing Invisible Man I was reading Lord Raglan’s The Hero, in which he goes into figures of history and myth to account for the features which make for the mythic hero, and at the same time I got to thinking about the ambiguity of Negro leadership during that period” (CE 76).

Pa rt   I I I


Ch apter 10

Touching Semiliterate Lives: Indian Soldiers, the Great War, and Life-“Writing” Santanu Das

A few weeks before his death in a prisoner-of-war camp outside Berlin in 1916, a twenty-three-year-old Gurkha soldier, Jasbahadur Rai, sang into the funnel of a phonograph held before his mouth by his German captors: We came to Germany on the orders of the British Listen, listen. Now listen. We came on the orders of the British. Three courses of water flow in Nepal’s village. Water flows without a pause. We are not dying but even alive we are not living. The soul is crying out.1

The song is interrupted by awkward pauses, sharp intakes of breath, and the constant whirring of the phonograph disc. Yet there is a compulsive fluency to the singing, as the voice rises and falls, passionate, desolate, high-pitched. More than is possible in writing or a photograph, the body and emotions of the singer are palpable behind the song: the effect is uncanny and memorable. The recording, done on 6 June 1916, was among the 2,677 audio recordings conducted by the Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission, between 29 December 1915 and 19 December 1918, on First World War POWs held in Germany, including a large number of nonwhite colonial prisoners. This was part of a singular ethnological undertaking in wartime Germany. These prisoners were segregated in two special camps; they were then photographed, measured, and asked to narrate a story or sing a song, which was recorded. The camp records describe Jasbahadur as a farmer with “no school education.” Traumatised by his experience, Jasbahadur perhaps felt This chapter is part of a book-in-progress on India, empire, and First World War writing. Hence it draws on archival research, some of which I have used elsewhere, but the material is here considered afresh and the argument has been developed in new directions through the focus on “life-writing.”




compelled to tell his life story; not knowing how to write, he turns a racial experiment into a lasting testimony. But whom was Jasbahadur addressing as he spoke into the funnel? Blurring the boundaries of plea, reportage, complaint, prison-narrative, and testimony, Jasbahadur’s song also asks questions about the nature of life-writing: does it merely add to the range of sources, or does it ask fundamental questions about the bias toward textuality, inscribed in the very phrase “life-writing,” as it confronts the nonliterate subject? Jasbahadur was among the over one million Indians, including six hundred thousand combatants and five and a half thousand noncombatants, who were sent overseas during the First World War. Between 1914 and 1918, in a grotesque reversal of Conrad’s vision, hundreds of thousands of nonwhite men were voyaging to the hearts of whiteness and beyond – Mesopotamia, Egypt, Gallipoli, East Africa  – to witness the horror of Western warfare. Indeed, if one happened to visit Ypres during wartime, one would have seen Indian sepoys, tirailleur senegalese, North African spahis, Chinese and Indo-Chinese workers, Egyptian and South African labour corps, Maori Pioneer battalions, First Nations Canadians, and Aboriginal Australians, in addition to white troops and workers from Europe and the British dominions.2 Of all the colonial empires, India contributed the highest number of men to the war effort. Neither elite nor subaltern, these soldiers are doomed to wander in the no man’s land between the Eurocentric modern memory of the war and the nationalist history of India. The First World War marks the high-water mark in British life-writing. “I am not concerned with poetry. My subject is war and the pity of war.”3 If Wilfred Owen’s was the most spectacular refashioning of poetry as testimony in the early twentieth century, his fellow-comrades were not far behind. If the mouth could not articulate what the eyes had seen or ears heard, the hand wrote; letters, memoirs, diaries, biographies, autobiographies, fiction, and poetry poured out to the extent that much of war writing became a form of life-writing, from Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That (1929) to the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) nurse Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth (1933) to Woolf ’s experimental novel Jacob’s Room (1922). But both during and after the war, nothing could match the popularity of the trench lyric by the soldier-poets, which became the terrain of First World War memory and was further consolidated by Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory (1975) – a pioneering work, hovering somewhere among life-writing, literary criticism, and cultural history. Missing from this narrative, as has often been pointed out and increasingly rectified,

Touching Semiliterate Lives


Figure 10.1.  An Indian, unable to write, is making a thumb impression on the pay sheet instead of signing for his pay. 7th (Indian) Division. (Source: Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.)

are the stories of women, civilians, working-class privates; also missing from the narrative, but less frequently pointed out, is the vast colonial war experience. Eurocentrism is, however, not the only culprit. Against the vast collections of letters, diaries, manuscripts and memoirs that form the cornerstone of European war memory and life-writing, we can set the photograph given in Figure 10.1 from the Imperial War Museum Archives. It is a close-up of anonymous hands, separated from the rest of the bodies but differentiated by skin colour, posture, and clothing. A seemingly white hand – confident, lettered, assured – closes in around the fingers of a “coloured” and inked hand, only partly visible, for a thumb impression. The caption reads: “An Indian sepoy, unable to write, is making a thumbimpression on the pay sheet instead of signing for his pay.” “How do we touch,” asks the postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak, “the consciousness of the subaltern? With what voice-consciousness can the subaltern speak?”4 If a “structured” powerlessness is key to Spivak’s definition of the subaltern and her erasure, the lack of literacy (and hence of written records) also potentially consigns the subaltern to vast deserts of silence. Our strategy of recovery necessarily has to be interdisciplinary, oblique, and tentative.



In recent years, there has been a swell of interest in recovering colonial and non-European life-stories, though these works often focus on the highly literate, if not the cultural elite, within these communities. In Postcolonial Life-Writing: Culture, Politics and Self-Representation (2009), Bart Moore-Gilbert traces the “detailed poetics of a subgenre” through an intricate analysis of works by figures as diverse as Gandhi, Soyinka, and Said; his focus is on the scripted, the literary, the decentred. If the biographer, in Richard Holmes’s classic formulation, is a ferryman, like Charon, between the living and the dead, how do we “track the footsteps”5 of people who could not write? My aim in this essay is both recuperative and provocative. What I wish to recover here is not the life trajectory of any particular sepoy (from Persian sipahi meaning “soldier”) or the collective biography of the Indian war experience but rather certain “moments of intimacy, revelation, or particular inwardness”6 that enable us to understand the private, tremulous life of the sepoy in the First World War. In a context where the actual protagonists  – semi- or nonliterate soldiers recruited from northern India – have left us with few textual clues, I argue that we need to go beyond the self-scripted and the conventional, explore the undergrowth of material traces and visual and literary culture to fill in the gaps left by the narrowly biographical, and establish a dialogue among what I call “objects, images and words.” There is a related methodological query prompted by some of my sources: what happens when the life-story of one is imagined or retold by another? What happens when the sepoy experience is refashioned by others: by an imperial apologist, a bereaved grandmother, a postwar novelist? If life-writing involves, as Hermione Lee notes, both “making up” and “making over” – a “quasi-fictional story-like shape,” with the “need for accuracy” pulling against it,7 a project like this one is an enterprise perhaps even more precarious and ramshackle, a joining of half-known, rough-hewn fragments. Of the one million Indian sepoys, some 138,608 were sent to France till December 1919. The majority of them served between October 1914 and December 1915, taking part in the battles at Neuve Chapelle, Festubert, and Loos.8 These Indians were the conscripts of both modernity and empire, for it was the conjunction of cheap colonial labour markets and modern transportation that resulted in their being drafted. At 10 am on 22 October 1914, thirty-six red London buses travelled along the road between the villages of Wallon Cappell and Wulverghem, carrying the first Indian troops to arrive at Flanders; following them were Indian mule carts with Punjabi drivers. But how do we get insights into what happened next?

Touching Semiliterate Lives


Figure 10.2.  The war mementos of Captain Dr. Manindranath Das. (Source: Photograph courtesy of the Author.)

Memories exist precariously, stubbornly. In the village of Lehri in northern Pakistan, a simple plaque commemorates the 391 men from the area who went to the war; opening the diary of Private Charles Stinson, Ist Australian Light Horse Brigade, in the Australian War Memorial, one comes across a page where an Indian had signed his name “Pukkar Singh” in three languages  – Urdu, Gurmukhi, and English.9 A search through the wardrobe of family friends in Calcutta revealed the war mementoes of Captain Dr. Manindranath Das, who served as a doctor in Mesopotamia: his military uniform, a dispatch signed by Winston Churchill, and several medals, including the Military Cross (Figure 10.2). Most poignant of all my findings were a pair of broken, bloodstained glasses and a photograph of a young man in military uniform wearing them that I came across in a small, dilapidated museum in the former French colony of Chandernagore near Calcutta (Figure  10.3). The label identified him as “Dr.  J.  N. Sen, M.D., M.R.C.S., Private, West Yorkshire Regiment  . . . he was the first Bengalee, a citizen of Chandernagore killed in 1914–1918 War.”10 Meaning and materiality are fused and confused; so are imperial war service, regional pride, and cultural identity. What these objects – the scrawl on a diary, military medal and mess tins, or the bloodstained glasses – suggest



Figure 10.3.  The bloodstained, broken glasses of Captain Dr. J.N. Sen. (Source: Photograph courtesy of the Author.)

is not a coherent narrative, but moments of intimacy; what is insurgent is the body of these men, involved in chance encounters in foreign lands, or moments of perilous military service, or the daily routine of eating and drinking, or, as with the bloodstained glasses, the ultimate moment of death. Archives of touch and intimacy, they give tantalising insights into moments of a life otherwise unknown.

Touching Semiliterate Lives


Figure 10.4.  A sepoy dictating a letter. (Source: Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.)

The main sources of our information remain the thousands of letters from the sepoys.11 It is estimated that in March 1915, the Indian soldiers were writing ten thousand to twenty thousand letters a week. Some of the sepoys were literate and could write themselves, but the majority were not; a photograph from the Imperial War Museum illuminates the unique processes of composition (Figure 10.4). Like the previous photograph, this one too is arranged around a drama of touch: however, opposed to the impersonal touch of the former, the wounded sepoy here reaches out in a gesture of gratitude to the scribe who writes the letter as dictated to him by the sepoy. Letter writing was thus not a solitary act but a collaborative process. These letters were then translated by the colonial censors, and detailed extracts and biweekly reports were compiled by the Chief Censor E. B. Howell on the “morale” of the Indian troops. In the pantheon of First World War letters, these extracts are some of the most vivid forms of life-writing, ranging from the sepoys’ first ecstatic responses to “Europe” – “Every house is a sample of Paradise”12 – to observations about family life, gender relations, agricultural and educational systems in the



West to occasional hints of romance with local French women. Perhaps because of the awareness of censors or internal pressures of masculinity, feelings are often not voiced directly; instead, they lead to a thickening of language as emotions such as horror, resignation, or homesickness erupt through images, parables, and similes. Encoded in narratives and embedded in metaphors lies the intimate world of the Indian sepoy as shaped by the war. Consider the following two letters written by traumatised Indian sepoys from France in 1915: As tired bullocks and bull buffaloes lie down in the month of Bhadon [the dry, hot season] so lies the weary world. Our hearts are breaking, for a year has passed while we have stood to arms without a rest. . . . Germany fights the world with ghastly might, harder to crush than well-soaked grain in the mill. For even wetted grain can be ground in time. . . . We have bound ourselves under the flag and we must give our bodies.13 The enemy is weakening. In the fighting of the 10th March, up to the 12th, according to my estimate, 5,525 Germans were taken prisoners of war, and 25 guns and machine guns. . . . Our new army is collected in great numbers. Wherever he shows strength, our guns at once knock him flat. Please God, I speak with certainty, our King – God bless him – is going to win and will win soon. . . . [On a separate scrap of paper] God knows whether the land of France is stained with sin or whether the Day of Judgement has begun in France. For guns and of rifles, there is a deluge, bodies upon bodies, and blood flowing. God preserve us, what has come to pass! From dawn to dark and from dark to dawn it goes on like the hail that fell at Swarra [?] camp. But especially our guns have filled the German trenches with dead and made them brim with blood. God grant us grace, for grace is needed. Oh God, we repent! Oh God, we repent! (18 March 1915)14

These letters are some of the most sensuous testimonies: sensuous in the double sense of a record of sense impressions and the employment of the language of the senses. The images of “tired bullocks and bull buffaloes” or “well-soaked grain” are not just communicative gestures or literary embellishments but repositories of feeling; they are evocative of the organic and agrarian communities of northern India. Transported hundreds of thousands of miles, such images show how the cognitive structures of these men are rooted in the world of rural Punjab. If the “pastoral” becomes a self-conscious mode to write life in times of war, as in Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (1929), here the images show how steeped the daily life and language of the ordinary sepoy was in the local rural culture. The

Touching Semiliterate Lives


second letter refers to an offensive around Neuve Chapelle on 9–12 March 1916 in which the Indian Corps were involved. More than twelve thousand five hundred men were killed or wounded. Here we have the textual drama of two bits of paper, one endorsing the official line of victory, the other surreptitiously slipped in and remorseful. Is this an attempt to avoid the censors, or is it testimony to an internal conflict between the public statement of victory and inner anguish, an official super-ego and a traumatised id? If victory was ideologically the province of a state-sponsored notion of izzat or honour, the moral core is violated by a visceral sense of guilt: “Oh God we repent, oh God we repent.” If the sepoys were perceived in Europe as loyal and gallant but emotionally naive, these letters suggest their complex inner histories as well as sensitivity and alertness to a range of issues, from questions of morality to class and colonialism to propaganda and censorship. It is tempting to read these letters  – incomplete, fragmentary, tantalising  – as the sign of the necessarily partial knowledge we have of trench life, the material trace of the impossibility of ever fully understanding trench experience. While we should guard against overzealous poststructuralist conflations, these letters are by no means the transparent envelope of sepoy experience: they are more like palimpsests where, underneath the mediations, it is still possible to discern the whispers of the sepoy heart. The one writer who seemed to have access to these censored letters during the war was Rudyard Kipling, and on the basis of these, he embarked on a bizarre act of “life-writing” in 1917. His war text The Eyes of Asia, written as part of imperial propaganda, takes the form of four short stories, where Kipling imagines himself to be a semiliterate Indian soldier writing home letters about the wonders of Europe. A far cry from the delicacy he had shown in Kim, The Eyes of Asia comes across as jingoistic and offensive in its almost parodic version of the sepoys’ Occidentalism. But what makes it difficult to dismiss such instances as wholly fabricated is Kipling’s occasional engagement with or even incorporation of sepoy letters into his account, as I realised in the course of my archival research. Consider the following two extracts, each describing the lady of the house where an Indian sepoy had billeted: the first is from a censored letter written by an actual sepoy, the second written by Kipling’s imaginary soldier in “The Fumes of the Heart”: Of her own free-will she washed my clothes, arranged my bed [and] polished my boots. . . . Every morning she used to prepare and give me a tray with bread, butter, milk and coffee. . . . When we had to leave that village


Das the old lady wept on my shoulder. Strange that I had never seen her weeping for her dead son and yet she should weep for me. Moreover, at [our] parting she pressed on me a five franc note.15 Of her own free-will she washed my clothes, arranged my bed, and polished my boots daily for three months. . . . Each morning she prepared me a tray with bread, butter, milk and coffee. When we had to leave that village the old lady wept on my shoulder. It is strange that I had never seen her weep for her dead son, but she wept for me. Moreover at parting she would have had me take a fi-farang [five franc] note for the expenses.16

The exactness of transcription is astonishing: the Indian sepoy’s voice is being wholly hijacked for imperial propaganda. What makes this palimpsest even more complex is the way this piece of fictive “life-writing” actually pushes, as I shall suggest, toward autobiography. The trope of the “French mother,” a recurrent sentiment in the sepoy letter, deeply engaged Kipling. The final story swells to a crescendo of longing of the sepoy for his mother in India: My thoughts are always with you. Mother, put your ear down and listen to me. Do not fret; I will soon be with you again. . . . Mother, think of me always as though I were sitting near by, just as I imagine you always beside me. . . . I shall come in the dead of the night and knock at your door. . . . Oh, my mother, my mother, I am your son, your son; and as I have said at the beginning I will return to your arms from out of this country, when God shall permit.17

This intense homesickness and maternal craving gain special resonance in the context of Kipling’s own life. As is well documented, Kipling spent eight idyllic years in Bombay, where he apparently spoke, wrote, and dreamt in Hindustani. Yet, like many children from the colonial administrative class, he was separated from his mother and sent away to England, an experience that haunted him throughout his life; as he would write later, “we could not understand why our parents had deserted us.” In his old age, does this imaginative identification with the Indian soldier make Kipling revisit his childhood and create a fantasy of maternal warmth still located in India? But there pulses another current through the writing. In September 1915, his eighteen-year-old son John (Jack) Kipling, a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, had disappeared in the Battle of Loos in 1915. The imagined Indian soldier writes: “Mother, once I was reported ‘missing, killed or believed taken prisoner’,” the message that Kipling and his wife received. The painful story of their subsequent lifelong search to find their son and Kipling’s intense involvement in the work of imperial war commemoration is well known. In these contexts,

Touching Semiliterate Lives


The Eyes of Asia – a text usually dismissed as propagandist – reveals multiple intensities of meaning where different life-stories cross each other: the grief of the father and the desolation of the child arising from the dislocations of war and colonialism. If biography pushes toward autobiography in Kipling, a more remarkable text similarly drawing on war letters comes from India, written by a bereaved grandmother in her eighties. When her only grandson, Captain Dr. Kalyan Kumar Mukerjee, serving as a doctor with the Indian army in Mesopotamia, died during the Siege of Kut in 1917, the eighty-two-yearold Mokkhada Devi decided to write his biography.18 Mukherjee was in Mesopotamia from his arrival at Basra on 9 April 1915 till his death from high fever in 1917 and was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. Kalyan-Pradeep is an astonishing act of life-writing, combining history, war memoir, intimate family drama, and archival documentation. At one level, it is a remarkably detailed account of the Mesopotamia campaign, with precise military details; layered with it is the life-story, portrayed in deeply affective terms, of her beloved grandchild – a highly educated and upper-middle-class Bengali boy who leaves his medical training in England to go to the battlefields. Copies of official documents are included as the mark of authenticity. At the centre of the narrative, set like jewels, are a series of remarkable letters that Mukherjee wrote back from Mesopotamia. Part of the ambulance corps attached to the 6th Division and working just behind the firing line, he witnessed severe fighting. On 26 July 1915, two days after the Battle of Nasiriyah, he wrote to his mother: “I had been working constantly, with hardly time to breathe, from 6 o’clock in the morning till 1pm. Rivers of blood, red – everywhere – I was myself covered in blood. . . . Why is there so much bloodshed?” And on 20 October 1915, a couple of weeks after the Battle of Kut-al-Amara, he wrote: Great Britain is the educator. The patriotism the English have taught us, the patriotism that all civilised nations celebrate  – that patriotism is the cause of this bloodshed. Patriotism means snatching away another’s land. It leads to empire-building. To show patriotism, nationalism by killing thousands and thousands of people and getting hold of a bit of land, well, it’s the English who have taught us this. The youths of our country, seeing this, have started to practise this brutal form of nationalism. Killing people, throwing bombs at the Viceroy – these horrific things have started. Shame on patriotism! So long this narrowness continues, bloodshed in the name of patriotism will not cease. Whether a man throws a bomb from the roof-top or whether fifty men start firing – the root of this bloodshed, this madness is the same.19



Visceral memories of his experience as a military doctor in Mesopotamia give way to astute political analysis that links the war and colonial violence; but this is also the emotional history of Mukherjee and a certain section of the Indian educated bourgeoisie at a crucial moment in India’s journey toward independence. If the prewar years in India were marked by nationalist violence, with political killings and colonial repression, Mukherjee’s letters are not just a condemnation of violence or patriotism. He exposes the intimate relationship between patriotism and imperialism, but his critique of imperialism cannot be equated with Indian nationalism. Through acute ratiocination, he associates imperial aggression with its obverse  – nationalist terrorism. For Mukherjee, imperialism, revolutionary nationalism, and the European war are all implicated in the same vicious cycle of violence, reminding one of the anticolonial and anti-nationalist views of the Indian poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore.20 Mokkhada Devi extracts such letters in full without comment, but the message is clear: let the remarkable letters resurrect most fully her dead grandson. Kipling and Mokkhada Devi operate at the opposite ends of the colonial spectrum, but in both, there is intense engagement with actual letters  – whether for imperial propaganda or personal commemoration. There are other remarkable examples of Indian life-writing during the war, such as the multivolume diaries of Prince Amar Singh or the memoir Abhi Le Baghdad of Sisir Kumar Sarbadhikari, another POW in Mesopotamia.21 Yet, the work in which the social and emotional reality of the sepoys finds its most poignant expression is neither a diary nor a memoir but a piece of fiction written by someone born a decade too late to go to the war. The novelist Mulk Raj Anand is now largely forgotten, but he was an important literary figure in the early twentieth century. He straddled both British and Indian modernism, worked for some time as the private secretary to T. S. Eliot, and hovered on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Group.22 More importantly, he grew up in Punjab and belonged to the same agriculturalmartial community from where the sepoys were recruited. Across the Black Waters, written in 1938, is dedicated “to the memory of my father Subedar Lal Chand Anand, M.S.M, (late 2/17th Dogra),” who worked in the British Indian army though he did not go to war. Written in the wake of novels such as Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Aldington’s Death of a Hero, both published in 1929, Anand’s novel is also an act of lifewriting, if by proxy. At a time when European voices had hijacked the memory of the First World War, the novel is a challenge to the very whiteness of war memory and a vital act of recovery of the Indian lives at war. Across the Black Waters is the middle part of the Lalu trilogy, named after

Touching Semiliterate Lives


the protagonist, a sensitive village youth, whose rebellion against the religious conservatism of the rural community (the subject of the first volume, The Village) is a thinly veiled account of Anand’s own. In the second volume, Anand makes Lalu go to the war in France along with his battalion. In the process, it opens up a whole new world in war fiction, as we see these farmer-soldiers from northern India landing in Marseilles, negotiating Western culture for the first time  – including a visit to the pub and brothel – before they are pushed into the trenches. The 69th Rifles in the novel is closely modelled after the 57th Wilde’s Rifles, and the time of action is set around the Battle of Flanders in 1914, where the Indians suffered disastrous losses. Anand follows the broad historical contours, from the visit of General Roberts to enthuse the Indian troops to their fraternisation with the Germans on Christmas Day 1914. However, what makes the novel such an impressive example of lifewriting is not just the historical fidelity but the intimate understanding and evocation of the sepoy lives in France. The following passage is a characteristic example, as Anand vividly imagines the bodies transforming the space: Habitual early risers, most of the sepoys were hurrying about, unpacking luggage, polishing boots, belts and brass buttons with their spittle, washing their faces, cleaning their teeth with the chewing-sticks which they had brought from home, and gargling with thunderous noises and frightening reverberations, to the tunes of hymns, chants and the names of gods, more profuse and long winded, because the cold air went creeping into their flesh. . . . “Ohe, where are you going?” Uncle Kirpu shouted. Lalu rushed in, put on his boots quickly, adjusted his turban and walked out again. “The boy has gone mad!” exclaimed Kirpu to Dhanoo.23

If Sassoon in The Diary of an Infantry Officer had reduced the sepoy to a blob of brown and red, here touch, taste, feeling, and sound evoke the body of the sepoy as a sensorium rather than a photograph or object. While boots, belts, and buttons mark the body at war, Anand’s visceral imagination seizes upon the abject  – “spittle”  – to lay a bodily patina, as it were, over the traditional Western uniform. His art often lies in inscribing difference at the intimate level of bodily minutiae rather than an overt level of identity politics. Affective communities are not formed through the homoerotic intensity of Owen, but forged over the chewing stick brought from home or through the familial Hindi greeting “Ohe” as



Figure 10.5.  Neuve Chapelle (Indian) War Memorial. (Source: Photograph courtesy of the Author.)

Touching Semiliterate Lives


Anand aligns the social life of things with their taste on the tongue and refashions language as emotional resonance rather than verbal communication. Across the Black Waters is “life-writing” as both remembrance and projection. It hovers tantalisingly between fiction and collective biography of the peasant-soldiers of his father’s generation who had gone to the war and many of whom he would have known as a child; it is also a tantalising “autobiography” in a deeper sense, for Lalu’s values and insecurities are Anand’s own, with the possibility always that he would have volunteered for war service had he been born a generation earlier. In recent years, there has been much interest, particularly among the South Asian communities settled in Europe and America, to visit the Indian war cemeteries in France, such as the beautifully maintained Neuve Chapelle (Indian) War Memorial (Figure  10.5), and recover the Indian life-stories of the First World War. Such recovery often becomes a political act, a process of integrating the ethnic identities of these descendants and communities with one of the defining moments in twentieth-century European memory. While the battle sites and cemeteries provide a physical link with the past, they accrete fresh intensities of meaning as the fragmentary records and vivid literary reimaginings fill in the gap left by history. Notes 1 PK307, Lautarchiv, Humboldt University, Berlin. Recorded at the POW camp at Wünsdorf on 6 June, 1916 at 4 pm. These archival sound recordings are still largely unknown. See Ravi Ahuja, Heike Liebau and Franziska Roy, eds., “When the War Began, We Heard of Several Kings”: South Asian Prisoners in World War I Germany (Delhi: Social Science Press, 2010), 168–170. 2 See Santanu Das, ed., Race, Empire and First World War Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 3 Jon Stallworthy, ed., The Poems of Wilfred Owen (London: Chatto and Windus, 1990). 4 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Rosalind Morris, ed., Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 255. 5 Richard Holmes, Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (London: Flamingo, 1995), 27. 6 Hermione Lee, Body Parts: Essays on Life-Writing (London: Random House, 2010), 3. 7 Lee, Body Parts, 28. 8 Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914– 1920 (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1920), 777.



9 Lehri, Pakistan; Charles Stinson, “Diary,” Australian War Memorial, Canberra, PR84/066. 10 Dr J.  N. Sen, “Papers” (The Indo-French Cultural Institute and Museum, Chandernagore, West Bengal). 11 See David Omissi’s edited volume Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers’ Letters, 1914–1918 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999). Also see Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994); Dewitt Ellinwood and S.  D. Pradhan, eds., India and World War I (Delhi: Manohar, 1978); Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain (London: Pluto Press, 2002); Santanu Das, “India, Empire and First World War Writing” in Elleke Boehmer and Rosinka Chaudhuri eds., The Indian Postcolonial Reader (London: Routledge, 2010), 297–316, and “Indians at Home, Europe and Mesopotamia” in Race, Empire and First World War Writing; When the War Began. 12 Letter from Saif Ali, France, 17 August, 1915. Quoted in Censor of Indian Mails 1914–1918, Part  2, L/MIL/826, India Office Library, British Library, London, 00. 13 Indian Voices, 91. 14 Indian Voices, 43. 15 Letter from Sher Bahadur Khan, 9 January 1916, France, Censor of Indian Mails 1914–1918, Part 2, L/MIL/826, IOL. 16 “The Fumes of the Heart,” The Eyes of Asia (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1918), 36. 17 “A Trooper of the Horse,” 77, 78, 101. 18 Mokkhada Devi, Kalyan-Pradeep: The Life of Captain Kalyan Kumar Mukhopadhyay, I. M. S. (Kolkata: privately printed, 1928). 19 Letter dated 20 October 1915 in Kalyan-Pradeep, 334. 20 For the essays on nationalism delivered in 1916–1917, see Tagore, Nationalism (Delhi: Penguin, 2009). 21 “Diaries of Major General Amar Singh,” particularly the years 1914–1917, Nehru Memorial Library, New Delhi (Microfilm, 3540–3541); Sisir Prasad Sarbadhikari, Abhi Le Baghdad (Kolkata: privately printed, 1957). 22 See Saros Cowasjee, So Many Freedoms: Major Fiction of Mulk Raj Anand (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978). 23 Mulk Raj Anand, Across the Black Waters (Delhi: Orient Longman, 1949), 19.

Ch apter 11

The Last of Katherine Mansfield:The Affective Life in the Journal and the Letters Jay Dickson

When Katherine Mansfield died suddenly in January of 1923, she left behind three slim published volumes of her short stories but no complete account of her thirty-four years. Her widower, the editor and critic John Middleton Murry, eager to secure what he reputedly described as “her rightful place as the most wonderful writer and the most beautiful spirit of our time,”1 within a few years produced for the literary marketplace not only two more volumes of uncollected stories and Mansfield’s Poems but also multiple books of Mansfield’s unpublished life-writing. In addition to the two-volume Letters of Katherine Mansfield that he brought out in 1929, Murry combed the trove of her uncollected manuscripts and notebooks, which included not just personal diary entries but also unfinished stories, lists of titles, outlines, recipes, records of conversations imagined and real, and commonplace reading notes on her favorite writers (including Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov), in order to produce the bestselling Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927). In his introduction to the Letters, Murry expressed his hope that, taken together with the Journal, the two collections would form “an intimate and complete autobiography of the last ten years of her life.” These books came so to dominate critical and popular understandings of Katherine Mansfield’s literary achievement that Christopher Isherwood would write in a 1950 appreciation, “Today I still find it impossible to think of Katherine Mansfield as the author of her stories, without relating her to the Journal and the Letters. For she is among the most personal and subjective of all modern writers; and, in her case, fiction and autobiography form a single, indivisible opus.”2 So many others in the modern literary establishment shared this point of view in the decades after Mansfield’s death that Katherine Anne Porter noted in another appreciation of Mansfield that “she is in danger of the worst fate that an artist can suffer – to be overwhelmed by her own legend, to have her work neglected for an interest in her ‘personality.’”3 Much Mansfield scholarship, particularly after Murry’s death in 1957, extricated 143


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her fictional writing from the legend that came to surround her life story. Many writers, following in the footsteps of Murry’s many detractors among the British modernist literary community, have since repudiated his editions of the 1927 Journal and the 1929 Letters as corrupt, even “bad,” texts that present incomplete or inaccurate versions of Katherine Mansfield as both writer and woman. This has proven especially true since the publication (1984–2008) of the five volumes of The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, edited by Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott, and the two-volume Notebooks of Katherine Mansfield (1997), edited again by Scott, which have replaced (respectively) the Murry-edited Letters and Journal as the definitive collections of Mansfield’s life-writing. Nevertheless, it remains inarguable that the original Journal and Letters enormously influenced Katherine Mansfield’s reception among an international audience during the early decades of the twentieth century and provided literary inspiration for a remarkable variety of younger writers, including Christopher Isherwood, W.  H. Auden, Patrick White, Irène Némirovsky, and Anaïs Nin. For these writers, Mansfield’s life-writings provided an appealing and even romantic model of a literary imagination at odds with that promoted by other older modernist writers of Mansfield’s generation. The debates that Mansfield’s “autobiography” (as Murry termed the collections) engendered thus uncover a vexing concern at the heart of literary modernism: that is, the role of the affective life in the creative imagination. This was something that many of Mansfield’s peers sought to repudiate, just as others sought to find it revealed within the life-writings Murry edited and promoted. The controversy over Murry’s publication of his wife’s life-writings began almost immediately after Mansfield’s death from a violent pulmonary hemorrhage brought on by tuberculosis in 1923. When later that year Murry first began publishing snippets from Mansfield’s personal diary entries as well as unfinished story fragments in his first posthumous collection of her writing, The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories, a friend of the couple complained that Murry was “boiling Katherine’s bones to make his soup,”4 while D. H. Lawrence caustically wrote that Murry was, in effect, asking the public to buy Mansfield’s “waste-paper basket.”5 Murry himself had anticipated these objections in his preface to The Doves’ Nest, where he wrote that, during the final years of her life “there is not a scrap of writing – not even the tiniest fragment – . . . which does not bear the impress of her exquisite individuality and her creative power.”6 The tremendous and unprecedented financial success of his editions of The Doves’ Nest and Poems of Katherine Mansfield in 1923, and of the Adelphi, the literary

The Last of Katherine Mansfield


magazine he began in July of that same year primarily as a shrine to his dead wife’s memory, in that each issue contained either her unpublished writings or a reminiscence of her,7 impelled Murry to publish the Journal of Katherine Mansfield in 1927 and the two-volume Letters of Katherine Mansfield in 1929. The Journal, in particular, sold at such an astonishing rate that Murry supplemented it in 1939 with The Scrapbook of Katherine Mansfield, for which he combed through even more of her unpublished personal writings. In 1954, Murry produced a further, expanded “definitive edition” of the Journal that consolidated the most personal of the materials from the Scrapbook with the original 1927 Journal as well as a few unpublished early diary entries. Since the publication of these collections Murry has endured much further public censure, in large part because many have considered it embarrassing to publish all Mansfield’s personal writings and because it seemed to act against her explicit wishes. Although Murry justified his decision to publish the Journal on the basis of one diary entry (for 22 January 1916) that expressed her intention “to keep a kind of minute notebook, to be published someday,”8 many biographers have pointed to one of her final letters to him, on 7 August 1922: All my manuscripts I leave entirely to you to do what you like with. Go through them one day, dear love, and destroy all you do not use. Please destroy all letters you do not wish to keep and all papers. You know my love of tidiness. Have a clean sweep, Bogey, and leave all fair – will you?9

Composing her will the following week, she made her wishes even clearer: “All manuscripts note books papers letters I leave to John M. Murry likewise I should like him to publish as little as possible. He will understand that I desire to leave as few traces of my camping ground as possible.”10 Other scholars have objected to Murry’s heavy editorial hand in editing the Journal, noting his occasional misconstruing of her notoriously nearly indecipherable handwriting, his alteration and creation of certain dates, and his decision to omit passages that might have been considered hurtful or libelous (he changes her description of her then-living father, Sir Harold Beauchamp, for example, from “like a constantly offensive odour” to “like a constant offense”).11 Moreover, the Journal presumes a kind of cohesion that simply did not exist in Mansfield’s mind. Mansfield’s intermittency in producing regular entries might argue against her even having kept an actual diary (unlike, for example, her contemporary Virginia Woolf ). This has prompted at least one scholar to claim recently, with some justification, “The Journal of Katherine Mansfield does not exist.”12


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Even so, The Journal of Katherine Mansfield absolutely does and did exist, insofar as it was published in 1927, and went into seven different reprint editions in the next three years and was translated into multiple languages. Not only did it become the best seller of her many posthumously successful texts, it also became the particular favorite of the many younger writers who used it as a touchstone for understanding the literary imagination at work. Patrick White and Irène Némirovsky, for example, considered the Journal as among their favorite books,13 and Némirovsky so cherished it that she hid her copy in her handbag to take with her when arrested by the French police in World War II.14 In her inaugural “Constant Reader” book review column for The New Yorker, Dorothy Parker termed the Journal of Katherine Mansfield “a beautiful book and an invaluable one,” and deemed it “the saddest book I have ever read.”15 Edward Upward and Christopher Isherwood during their Cambridge days were so fond of the Journal that they imagined “Kathy” (as they referred to her between themselves) as a personal friend and wondered, in Isherwood’s words, “what [she] would have said on certain occasions, how [she] would have behaved, what advice [she] would have given us.”16 Isherwood transmitted his lifelong affection for Mansfield’s Journal to W. H. Auden, who wrote in his reflective 1933 poem “Here on the cropped grass of the narrow ridge I stand” of finding solace from “Kathy in her journal, ‘To be rooted in life, / That’s what I want.’”17 The aspiring modernist diarists Elizabeth Smart and Anaïs Nin also repeatedly turned to the Journal of Katherine Mansfield in the twenties and thirties as a model for their own life-writing.18 Clearly, even if we consider the Journal a collaborative text between Mansfield and Murry, its influence and importance to a generation of writers are indisputable. For more than a score of years, it was, with the two-volume 1929 Letters, the only account in English of Mansfield’s productive adult life. Indeed, her first authorized biography, written under the joint pen of Murry and Ruth Elvish Mantz (1933), ends in 1912 and declares in its final paragraph, “The rest of Katherine Mansfield’s life – a bare eleven years  – is written by her own hand in her Journal and her Letters. . . . What she was, what she became, is told in them with far greater truth than any biographer could hope to achieve.”19 Even so, aside from what Murry barely details in his introductory note, the Journal omits clear details of the external events of Mansfield’s many sojourns throughout New Zealand and Europe and much literary gossip (as both Dorothy Parker and Virginia Woolf noted in their reviews).20 Why then was it such a popular text, particularly for so many aspiring young writers? The 1927 Journal of Katherine Mansfield represented something unusual in modernist

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life-writing that many at the time felt was important to their own literary and imaginative projects: that is, a writer’s affective life. Murry’s preface to the Journal provides the barest coordinates against which that life might be mapped according to the more familiar elements of autobiography and biography: where she was born, where she lived, what she did, whom she knew, and so forth. But the majority of the published text (that is, the portions attributed to Mansfield herself ) records nothing so “granite,” as Virginia Woolf might put it. Rather, the Journal represents what Woolf calls the “rainbow” of an interior imaginative life and, as such, represents not only an important and formative modernist text but also a blueprint for how a modernist creative consciousness might work. Woolf herself makes this quite clear in her review of Mansfield’s Journal for the New York Herald Tribune from 18 September 1927. Woolf and Mansfield of course had enjoyed a notoriously prickly friendship, and Woolf had silently objected when she read Murry’s comments about Mansfield’s diary extracts straining for purity in his introduction to The Doves’ Nest in 1923.21 Woolf managed to hide those feelings in her review of the Journal, where she notes of Mansfield, “It is not the quality of her writing or the degree of her fame that interest us in her diary, but the spectacle of a mind – a terribly sensitive mind – receiving one after another the haphazard impressions of eight years of life.”22 The comparison immediately suggests Woolf ’s description of the mind receiving “a myriad impressions  – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel,” impressions that modern fiction ought to portray. In her 1919 essay of the same name, Woolf famously asks, “Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?”23 Indeed, Woolf credits Mansfield with the instincts of a true writer: “No one felt more importantly the importance of writing more than she did,” Woolf writes. “In all the pages of her journal, instinctive, rapid as they are, her attitude toward her work is admirable, sane, caustic, and austere.” This laudable seriousness with which Mansfield takes the task of writing likely inspired Leonard Woolf to follow Murry’s examples when he published Virginia’s posthumous A Writer’s Diary in 1953, which, like Mansfield’s Journal, imparts the workings of a modernist writer’s mind as immediately experienced on the page. The reception of the impressions of which Woolf makes particular note, and their translation into feeling, are paramount throughout Mansfield’s Journal. The weather consistently affects Mansfield’s mood (usually adversely), as of course does the state of her health during her years-long


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bouts with tuberculosis. But the circumstances explaining the mood often matter less to Mansfield than the description of the mood itself: “I got up in the dark to be ready for my little maid and watch the dawn coming,” she writes in her entry for 11 January 1915. “It wasn’t up to much, though. I am wretched. It is a bright winking day. Oh God, my God, let me work! Wasted! Wasted!” (21). At times she can transmit the mood to her external surroundings: “I am waiting for L. M. [i.e., her frequent living companion and former schoolmate Ida Baker] to come,” she writes in her entry dated for 27 March 1914. “She’s very late. Everything is in a state of suspense – even birds and chimneys. Frightened in private” (11). Brian Massumi’s well-known identification of affect with intensity is particularly germane here,24 in that what matters most to Mansfield in these entries is the heightened state of anticipation that her circumstances engender. Typically, her entries depend on the intensity of mood even when the circumstances of it are not fully described: for example, the entirety of her entry for 30 March of the same year reads, “‘I am afraid you are too psychological, Mr. Temple.’ Then I went off and bought the bacon” (11). Whether “Mr. Temple” was a real person or imagined for a story or vignette is left unexplained; what matters instead is the private evocation of the mood of the retort. Indeed, the fact that Mr. Temple is faulted here for being “too psychological” is quite indicative of the temper of the entire Journal. Though the affective life is central to the text, the actual workings of psychology (that is, the science of the psyche) are questioned throughout. The characteristic trick of the Journal is for Mansfield to try to pinpoint an affective mode or response, and then to question how to name it or whether to name it at all. “What is it that stirs one so?” she writes cryptically in her entry for 3 May 1922. “What is this seeking – so joyful – ah, so gentle! And there seems to be a moment when all is to be discovered. Yes, that’s the feeling” (237). The entirety of an entry for 2 August 1918, in the form of a vignette, reads in much the same way, with the same repeated dashes and ellipses, as if the crucial moments where the affect might be named have been omitted: “Her heart had not spoken. . . . When it does – too late – the pain of it. I ought to have felt like this – often, often” (98). Such references to the heart recur throughout the Journal as indices of emotional intensity: “‘I’ – like a blow on her heart – ‘I have come – for – ,’” begins another such elliptical vignette (103). The language-defying force of feeling also frequently characterizes the pivotal moments of Mansfield’s most famous short stories, wherein an affective mood or moment is evoked, but the character within the story

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has decided difficulty naming it. We might think here of Laura Sheridan in “The Garden-Party,” experiencing an epiphany when seeing the workman’s corpse at his wake in the house at the end of the lane, but unable to speak of it adequately to her brother Laurie; or of the eponymous protagonist of “Mr. Reginald Peacock’s Day” unable to voice to his wife his deeply felt wish to reconcile with her without resorting to stock phrases; or of Bertha Young’s inability to explain to herself adequately her feelings of “bliss – absolute bliss.” Other examples of this affective impasse proliferate throughout her most famous stories, such as in the endings to “Marriage à la Mode,” “Sun and Moon,” and “A Cup of Tea.” The anxiety always attendant on these moments is one Mansfield herself exhibits throughout the Journal: how to express the intensity of the mood without somehow cheapening it through the potential banality of linguistic expression. The Journal is rife with such moments in which Mansfield berates herself for expressing herself badly and not getting to the authenticity of what she intended to convey. In July of 1921, for example, she frets about the lack of authenticity plaguing the composition of the short story “Mr. and Mrs. Dove,” noting, “It’s not quite the kind of truth I’m after. Now for Susannah. All must be deeply felt” (187), and when later that month she completes “An Ideal Family,” she complains, “I worked at it hard enough, God knows, and yet I didn’t get the deepest truth out of the idea, even once. What is this feeling?” (187). Her constant point of self-criticism throughout the Journal (for others, but especially for herself ) is a falsity of feeling. Much like the famous episode of Beryl Fairfield before the mirror toward the end of her 1919 novella Prelude, Mansfield throughout the Journal consistently catches herself out “acting” or putting on a “sham,” especially in her writing: “Let me take the case of K. M.,” she claims at one juncture. “She has led, ever since she can remember, a very typically false life. Yet through it all, there have been moments, instants, gleams where she has felt the possibility of something quite other” (247). Mansfield’s concern about living “a very typically false life,” and finding moments of sincere feeling behind it, recurs throughout her lifewritings published by Murry. Many Mansfield critics, beginning with Brigid Brophy in 1966, have noticed how throughout her personal writings Mansfield was aware of herself as what Brophy calls “a polymorphous poseuse.”25 Throughout her Journal and the Letters Mansfield signals an awareness of multiple personae she could assume, discard, or even synthesize, particularly in her writing. She gives voice to this consciousness quite eloquently in a much-quoted passage first published in The Scrapbook of Katherine Mansfield that Murry entitled “The Flowering of the Self ”:


Di ck son True to oneself! Which self? Which of my many – well, really, that’s what it looks like coming to – hundreds of selves? For what with complexes and repressions and reactions and vibrations and reflections, there are moments when I feel I am nothing but the small clerk of some hotel without a proprietor, who has all his work cut out to enter the names and hand the keys to the wilful [sic] guests. Nevertheless, there are signs that we are intent as never before on trying to puzzle out, to live by, our own particular self. Der Mensch muss frei sein – free, disentangled, single. Is it not possible that the rage for confession, autobiography, especially for memories of earliest childhood, is explained by our persistent yet mysterious belief in a self which is continuous and permanent; which, untouched by all we acquire and all we shed, pushes a green spear through the dead leaves and through the mould, thrusts a scaled bud through years of darkness until, one day, the light discovers it and shakes the flower free and – we are alive – we are flowering for our moment upon the earth. This is the moment which, after all, we live for, – the moment of direct feeling when we are most ourselves and least personal.26

Elsewhere in her personal writings, Mansfield constantly criticized her false and performative selves, but in this bravura passage Mansfield suggests that by consciously weeding through their very multiplicity and instability a writer could discover her truest self and allow it to blossom. As her self-consciously flowery prose here suggests, Mansfield believed gaining access to this “moment of direct feeling” – which she calls in her 27 January 1920 entry in the Journal “the defeat of the personal” (145) – was absolutely necessary to her craft as a writer, despite its constant difficulty. “One must learn, one must practice, to forget oneself,” she notes in a Journal entry while apparently preparing a short story, adding, “I can’t tell the truth about Aunt Anne unless I am free to look into her life without self-consciousness. Oh God! I am divided still!” (198). Even at the moments of her greatest privacy Mansfield worries she will still be apt to assume a false performative self. Thus it should come as no surprise that in the diary entries themselves Mansfield could claim, “I don’t mean that any eye but mine should read this. This is – really private” (185), while planning to have them someday collected and published as a “minute notebook.” Just as Smart and Nin looked to Mansfield’s Journal as a model for their own diaries, Mansfield as an adolescent studying in London treasured The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff, which was an international publishing sensation in the final decades of the nineteenth century. The daughter of wealthy Russian émigré nobles living on the Continent, Bashkirtseff, a prodigy as a singer and painter, kept a remarkable journal

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in some 103 notebooks that detailed not simply her inner life but her fierce desire to become famous one day. Even though the published version of Bashkirtseff’s journal begins with her claim “What use is there in posing and deceiving?,”27 it clearly was written with an eye toward being published, and thus seems extremely self-conscious for all its claims of artlessness. This is precisely the paradox Oscar Wilde (another fin-de-siècle writer, whom the younger Mansfield adored and emulated) elaborates in his 1895 play The Importance of Being Earnest by lampooning Bashkirtseff through the character of Cecily Cardew, who refers to her own diary as “a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication.”28 This double consciousness of being distastefully artificial when affecting to be at her most guileless runs throughout Mansfield’s life-writings and is no doubt responsible for her constant self-reproach against her own writing as “sentimental.” When crafting dialogue for an abandoned piece called “The Cook’s Story” that she included in the Journal, she trails off and dismisses what she has written as “sentimental toshery” (119). In another entry, Mansfield complains, “If I try to find things lovely, I turn pretty-pretty” (13). Throughout the Journal recur her attempts to lose her artificiality by writing “simply, fully, freely, from my heart” (200), emphasizing what was for her the very difficult task of producing “something childish but very natural” (to use the Coleridge title Mansfield appropriated for one of her own short stories). Mansfield’s goal in all her writing was to evoke feeling simply and naturally without falling into the selfconscious trap of artifice that might lay her open to the charges of writing sentimentally. Such fears were apparently justified. Even during Mansfield’s lifetime, her reviewers drew attention to the “unique sensibility” drawn with “exquisite deftness” behind her published fiction.29 All the same, Mansfield endured some private censure for her emotional expression in her fiction, which many of her peers saw as crossing into cheap excess and vulgarity. In a 7 November 1922 letter to Ezra Pound, for example, T.  S. Eliot harshly termed Mansfield “a sentimental crank,”30 while her friendly rival Virginia Woolf reacted to the publication of Mansfield’s short story “Bliss” in the Mercury by characterizing it to a friend as “so hard, and so shallow, and so sentimental. . .”31 Mansfield’s reputation as a sentimentalist increased even more after the publication of her Journal in 1927, in which few among her immediate modernist cohort recognized her more satiric personal nature. Lytton Strachey found the book “quite shocking and incomprehensible  . . . why that foul-mouthed, virulent,


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brazen-faced broomstick of a creature should have got herself up as a pad of rose-scented cotton wool is beyond me.”32 Murry’s editorial involvement in her posthumously published life-writings did nothing to help Mansfield’s posthumous reputation among their coterie. Murry believed that Mansfield’s attempts to reach a state of impersonality through the expression of intense feeling bolstered his notion of the romantic creative genius he also found in writers such as Keats and Blake.33 When Murry tried to make the case for this model in his famous exchange with T. S. Eliot in the midtwenties in the pages of the Criterion,34 however, he was widely perceived by his peers as having lost the debate. The professed antisentimentalist doctrine that Eliot had promoted in such earlier essays as his 1919 “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and his 1921 “The Metaphysical Poets” had by this time become widely accepted by other modernist writers as a central aesthetic tenet. Moreover, as Murry loudly embraced various causes (encompassing communism and Catholicism) in his criticism and books, justifying them with personal anecdotes, he was dismissed more and more by his peers as a maudlin crackpot. As his own standing declined, so did Mansfield’s reputation. Leonard Woolf, who confessed he genuinely liked Katherine Mansfield while she was alive, summed up the feelings of many among their modernist cohort when he wrote of her, “She got enmeshed in the sticky sentimentality of Murry and wrote against the grain of her nature.”35 Thus, despite her own expressed intentions in her personal writing of transmuting affect into literature without demeaning it linguistically, Mansfield began to be seen (in large part because of what was seen as a “cult” that Murry had created around her memory) as the “sentimental crank” Eliot thought her. Indeed, even among those younger modernists who embraced her appearance of spontaneity and her attempts at emotional self-questioning in the Journal and the Letters, it became typical for them later in life to dismiss her vivid claims upon their creative imagination as the affections of immaturity.36 Strikingly, however, it also became typical for such writers to admit, despite their disdain for her sentimentality, the power of Mansfield’s affective display. Despite his boyhood affection for Mansfield’s personal writings, Patrick White later complained they “lingered on to accuse her as a monster of sensibility and egotism”37; yet he still found himself as an adult “tremendously intrigued by the private, sometimes automatic outpourings,” and confessed, “[they] do jump at one.”38 Several writers who counted themselves Mansfield enthusiasts, such as Isherwood and Elizabeth Bowen, tried actually to distinguish between Mansfield’s cloying sentimentality and the genuine sentiment captured

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in her writings that they still found vital and affecting.39 Katherine Anne Porter, who noted Mansfield’s tendency at times to fall “dangerously near to triviality or a sentimental wistfulness,” nevertheless concluded of her writing that “the emotional content is present as implicitly as the germ is a grain of wheat.”40 Even while these younger modernists saw the danger of which Mansfield was aware in self-consciously expressing emotion, they recognized the sincerity of the feeling behind the effort, and felt it made her an important fiction writer. Mansfield entered a relative period of critical eclipse particularly after Murry’s death in 1957. This was reversed only in the later 1970s and 1980s, with the revival of interest in Mansfield’s Bloomsbury friends and with the advent of feminist literary criticism. Even then, however, the 1927 Journal and the 1929 Letters received mention mostly to emphasize Murry’s errors and what became regarded as his exploitative attempts to distort his wife’s memory.41 O’Sullivan and Scott’s careful work in publishing fuller and more exhaustive editions of the Collected Letters and the Notebooks have rendered these two earlier texts largely obsolete for most Mansfield scholars working today.42 Even so, Murry’s edited collections did so much to gain Mansfield a truly international audience that they must remain central to any understanding of her literary achievement and afterlife. As “[the] intimate and complete autobiography of the last ten years of her life” (as Murry described them), they are important texts not only because they influentially depicted a writer’s attempts to chart her affective life, but also precisely because they became something of an embarrassment to literary modernism. As in the case with most sources of cultural discomfiture, Katherine Mansfield’s 1927 Journal and 1929 Letters point exactly to what its culture wishes so urgently to efface: in this particular case, modernism’s vexations regarding the ethos and aesthetics of emotional expression. Notes 1 As qtd. in Sandra Jobson Darroch, Ottoline: The Life of Lady Ottoline Morrell (London: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1975), 258. 2 Christopher Isherwood, “Katherine Mansfield,” in Exhumations: Stories  – Articles – Verses (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), 65. 3 Katherine Anne Porter, “The Art of Katherine Mansfield,” in The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield, Jan Pilditch, ed. (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996), 45. 4 As qtd. in Claire Tomalin, Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life (New York: St. Martin’s, 1987), 241.


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5 As qtd. in Tomalin, 239–40. 6 John Middleton Murry, “Introductory Note,” in The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield (1923; rpt. London: Constable, 1932), x. 7 Murry noted that when he was presented with the first royalty check for a thousand pounds for The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories and Poems of Katherine Mansfield in 1923, “It was by far the biggest cheque I had ever received, and ten times as big as Katherine had received for her entire work.” See Jeffrey Meyers, Katherine Mansfield: A Darker View (1978; rpt. New York: Cooper Square, 2002), 254. The first issue of the Adelphi in 1923 sold more copies than any literary monthly had up until that time, and within two weeks of its publication went through three reprintings with more than fifteen thousand copies sold. See F. A. Lea, The Life of John Middleton Murry (London: Methuen, 1959), 109. 8 Katherine Mansfield, The Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927; rpt. New York: Ecco, 1983), 44. All further references to this text are from this edition and appear parenthetically within the text. 9 As qtd. in Michael Holroyd, “Bogey’s Clean Sweep,” London Review of Books, 2, no. 10 (22 May 1980): 25. 10 Ibid. 11 Philip Waldron, “Katherine Mansfield’s Journal,” Twentieth Century Literature, 20, no.  1 (Jan. 1974): 15. Besides Waldron, several other Mansfield scholars and biographers take Murry to task for his editing of the Journal for similar reasons: see also Ian Gordon, “The Editing of Katherine Mansfield’s Journal and Scrapbook,” Landfall, 49 (1959): 62–9; Jeffrey Meyers, “Murry’s Cult of Mansfield,” Journal of Modern Literature, 7, no.  1 (February, 1979): 15–38; W. H. New, “Mansfield in the Act of Writing,” Journal of Modern Literature, XX, 1 (Summer, 1996): 51–63. 12 Valérie Baisnée, “My Many Selves: A Reassessment of Katherine Mansfield’s Journal,” in Katherine Mansfield and Literary Modernism: Historicizing Modernism, Janet Wilson, Gerri Kimber, and Susan Reid, eds. (London: Continuum, 2011), 179. See also Judy Simons, Diaries and Journals of Literary Woman from Fanny Burney to Virginia Woolf (Iowa City: U of Iowa Press, 1990), 150: “It is important to remember  . . . when we speak of Katherine Mansfield’s Journal that really such a document never existed.” 13 See Olivier Philipponat and Patrick Lienhardt, The Life of Irene Némirovsky, Euan Cameron, trans. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 419n; David Marr, Patrick White: A Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 122, 566–7. 14 See Philipponat and Lienhardt, 376. 15 Dorothy Parker, “The Private Papers of the Dead,” in The Portable Dorothy Parker, introduction by Brendan Gill (1973; rpt. New York: Penguin, 1976), 451–2. 16 Christopher Isherwood, Lions and Shadows: An Education in the Twenties (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1947), 72. 17 W. H. Auden, “Here on the cropped grass of the narrow ridge I stand,” in The English Auden, Edward Mendelson, ed. (New York: Random House, 1977), 144.

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18 See Elizabeth Podnieks, Daily Modernism: The Literary Diaries of Virginia Woolf, Antonia White, Elizabeth Smart, and Anaïs Nin (Montreal: McGillQueen’s University Press, 2000), 239, 306. 19 Ruth Elvish Mantz and J. Middleton Murry, The Life of Katherine Mansfield (London: Constable, 1933), 349. 20 Parker, Dorothy Parker 451–2; Virginia Woolf, “A Terribly Sensitive Mind,” in The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield, 17. 21 “She said a good deal about feeling things deeply: also about being pure, which I wont criticize, although of course I very well could.” Virginia Woolf, entry for 19 June 1923, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, II: 1920–1924 Anne Olivier Bell, ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 248. Mansfield herself says very little straight out about “purity” in the published Journal extracts in The Doves’ Nest; Woolf is more likely objecting to Murry’s comments about Mansfield’s “incessant effort towards an inward purity.” See John Middleton Murry, “Introductory Note,” in The Doves’ Nest, xvi. 22 Woolf, “A Terribly Sensitive Mind,” 16. 23 Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” Collected Essays, II (New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1967), 106. Podnieks also makes the comparison between the injunctions in “Modern Fiction” with what Woolf observes in her review of Mansfield’s Journal; see Podnieks, Daily Modernism, 125–6. 24 Brian Massumi, “The Autonomy of Affect,” Cultural Critique, 31 (Fall, 1995): 88. 25 Brigid Brophy, “Katherine Mansfield’s Self-Depiction” (1966), The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield, 89. See also Simons, Diaries and Journals, 149–68; Deborah Martinson, In the Presence of Audience: The Self in Diaries and Fiction (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2003), 14–6, 54–84; Baisnée, My Many Selves, 178–87. 26 Katherine Mansfield, The Scrapbook of Katherine Mansfield (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940), 160–1. 27 Marie Bashkirtseff, “Author’s Preface,” in The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff, I, A. D. Hall, trans. (1889; rpt. Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1913), 9. 28 Oscar Wilde, The Major Work of Oscar Wilde, Isobel Murray, ed. (1989; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 512. Elizabeth Podnieks makes the case that Wilde mocks Bashkirtseff’s diary through Cecily Cardew’ s fictional one; see Podnieks, Daily Modernism, 28. 29 Conrad Aiken, “The Short Story as Colour,” The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield, 9. 30 T.  S. Eliot, letter to Ezra Pound, 7 November 1922, Letters of T.  S. Eliot, I: 1898–1922, Valerie Eliot, ed. (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988), 592. 31 Virginia Woolf, letter to Janet Case, 20 March 1922, Letters of Virginia Woolf, II, Nigel Nicolson, ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), 514. 32 As qtd. in Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey: A Biography (1971; rpt London: Penguin, 1987), 928. 33 See, for example, John Middleton Murry, “Katherine Mansfield,” The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield, 53–66.


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34 For a superb contextualization of the debate, see Malcolm Woodfield, “Introduction,” in Defending Romanticism: Selected Criticism of John Middleton Murry, ed. Malcolm Woodfield (Bristol: The Bristol Press, 1989), 1–52. 35 Leonard Woolf, Beginning Again: An Autobiography of the Years 1911 to 1918 (1964; rpt. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972), 204. 36 For example, W. H. Auden removed “Here on the cropped grass of the narrow ridge I stand” from his Collected Shorter Poems in its second edition, and he also omitted it from his Collected Poems. He seems to refer to Isherwood’s earlier influence upon him when he explains he threw out of the latter “dishonest” poems, which he defines as “one which expresses, no matter how well, feelings or beliefs which its author never felt or entertained.” See W. H. Auden, “Author’s Forewords,” Collected Poems of W.  H. Auden, Edward Mendelson, ed. (1976; rpt. New York Random House, 1991), xxv. Carson McCullers also wrote that she largely outgrew her youthful adoration for Mansfield’s writing; see McCullers, Illumination & Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers, Carlos L. Dews, ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999), 59. 37 As qtd. in Marr, Patrick White, 376. 38 Ibid., 567. 39 See Elizabeth Bowen, “A Living Writer,” The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield, p.  74: “Now and then the emotional level of her writing drops; a whimsical, petulant little-girlishness disfigures a few of the lesser stories. Some others show transferred self-pity. She could not always keep up her guard.” Isherwood distinguishes between “Writer A,” the “childlike, intuitive” and more sentimental side of Mansfield, and “Writer B,” her more satiric and cynical side; he notes her best writing emerges when both sides to her work in tandem. See Isherwood, “Katherine Mansfield,” 70–2. 40 Porter, “The Art of Katherine Mansfield,” 50–1. 41 For a particularly virulent example of this, see Jeffrey Meyers, “Murry’s Cult of Mansfield,” Journal of Modern Literature, 7, no. 1 (February, 1979): 15–38. 42 The editorial constraints regarding the publication of these later editions, however, suggest that even they might not fully represent the texts as originally constructed and give a false idea as to their material circumstances. As Anna Jackson argues, this is particularly the case with the Notebooks, where the standardized published materials in the 1997 edition give little sense of the chaotic nature of the original manuscripts in which they were included. See Anna Jackson, “The Notebook, Journal, and Papers of Katherine Mansfield: Is Any of This Her Diary?” Journal of New Zealand Literature: JNZL, 18/19 (2000/2001): 83–99.

Ch apter 12

T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence Max Saunders

In the summer of 1922 T. S. Eliot hired a typist. Or rather, he was “absolutely forced to employ a shorthand typist 2 evenings a week, for correspondence,” as he told his friend Sydney Schiff.1 It had to be the evenings because of his day job at Lloyds Bank, and he needed help because of the volume of correspondence required to launch his review, the Criterion. When, occasionally, he used the typist for personal correspondence as well, he felt under strain. This is one of two letters to friends that end with postscripts mentioning the typist and apologising for the difference she makes to his writing: “Hence anything strained or impersonal you may notice in my letters,” he wrote to Schiff. A week earlier he had told Richard Aldington: “This has been a rather impersonal letter and there are many more things I should like to say to you.”2 The one more thing he did say was a postscript explaining why he had not said more: “I am now forced to employ a typist for a couple of hours twice a week, and I have dictated this letter to her – hence any peculiarities of forced style!” The repetitions of “forced” perhaps recall its repetition in The Waste Land, which he had finished in the preceding months: “So rudely forced.” As perhaps the taking on of the typist may have recalled the poem’s typist to the poet’s mind: the typist brought passively “home at tea-time” by the evening, to be forced by the “house-agent’s clerk,” who “assaults at once” in an episode of “undesired” sex characterised by “indifference,” and as “automatic” as the hand with which she smooths her hair and puts on a record. In a word, the encounter is “impersonal,” that other word repeated in these letters about dictating letters. It is disconcerting to hear the apostle of impersonality apologising for writing impersonally. Eliot caught himself writing differently than he would have if writing them himself. True, these are letters, not poems. He may not have meant the same thing by “impersonal” that he meant when he used it in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” advancing an “impersonal theory of poetry.”3 Here he may have meant not that he was 157



impersonal about himself (not discussing his feelings), but rather that the presence of the typist prevented him writing about other persons. Either way, the unease of the situation – which makes him feel he cannot write as usual, or as he would like to – results from the way dictation creates a splitting of the audience: he speaks to the typist, for the recipient. She is expected to adopt a manner of professional impersonality to mitigate this awkwardness, and her impersonality is reciprocated by her employer. Eliot then has to find a style that can be impersonal and personal at the same time. Seen in these terms, what is striking about his impersonal correspondence is not the difference between writing letters and writing poems, but how the unfamiliar situation he finds himself in while dictating these letters has an uncanny resemblance to his experience writing poetry or criticism: that the people hearing him are not the intended audience; that most people who read him will misunderstand him, even when they admire him: “99% of the people who ‘appreciate’ what one writes are undisguisable shits and that’s that.”4 When his brother sent him a book by James Branch Cabell, Eliot’s response suggested that his aspiration for an impersonal critical tone is both a rebuke to sentimentality and a defence against misprision: I have sometimes thought of taking up myself in a much drier and more legal style, the only style that I can muster, these questions of the cant words “realism” and “impressionism.” It would be possible to do so in connection with James Joyce, about whom I have to write an article for the Dial; but I do not intend to let myself go on this highly contentious subject at the present time; people who admire Joyce to excess would only abuse me, and the people who detest him would only abuse both Joyce and myself.5

This passage too is set off against a note of self-reproach about not writing personally enough, in his letters to Henry, to whom he felt very close: “I have not had the leisure to write a satisfactory and personal letter for years, and it is a recreation at which I am painfully out of practice.”6 Is the dry, impersonal style, then, the only style that he can muster in letters too, or even in person? Such questions are prompted by the publication of Eliot’s letters: a project now resumed after an interval of more than two decades; the first volume (1988) being followed not only by a second (2009) and third (2012), but also by its own replacement: a revised volume 1, enlarged by about two hundred further letters (2009). This chapter will ask what difference the letters make to our understanding of his creative and critical processes. It seems less surprising now than it might have done to the generation

T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence


of New Critics he inspired, that his life writing might shed light on his art; that his letters should show him wrestling with the very problems that drive his poetry and criticism. What is more surprising, however, is the light it sheds on precisely the terms with which Eliot seeks to separate off the biographical from the literary: “personal” and “impersonal.” Hence the focus on those terms here; and inevitably, on the (expanded) first volume of the letters, covering the period when Eliot is formulating and experimenting with his “poetics of impersonality.” This chapter concentrates on the first volume, to show how – among other things – the letters adumbrate different contexts for Eliot’s thinking about impersonality. They bear out Maud Ellmann’s claim in The Poetics of Impersonality (1987) that the terms “personal” and “impersonal” are mutually implicatory. But they also show how Eliot not only anticipated the critique of his theory of impersonality, but also developed a cogent counterargument – articulated more fully in the letters than the criticism – which distinguishes between personal subject matter and impersonal treatment of it. “What every poet starts from is his own emotions.”7 Ellmann quotes this remark of Eliot’s to argue that he “never disputes the assumption that the work of art originates in an experiencing subject.” But she sees it as a concession that undermines the theory of impersonality: “In fact, he seems to bait the icon of the author only so that it may prove its own resilience. Personality resurges, undefeated, because the concepts of emotion, communication, and expression ultimately guarantee its sway.”8 “Certainly I don’t deny the importance of emotion,” as Eliot (in his letters as well as his criticism) was the first to say, as here, in a letter to his fellow poet John Gould Fletcher, written in between “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and The Waste Land; but that, as it continues, indicates that Eliot’s way of not denying the importance of emotion was to consider it in a way that set him apart: I often find it present to me when other people find only frigidity  – or vice versa. One writes about the world one has experienced: and experience without emotion (of some kind) is almost a contradiction. I think there is an important distinction between the emotions which are in the experience which is one’s material and the emotion in the writing – the two seem to me very different.9

That last distinction is the crucial one. Emotion is important as material. It is when it carries away the writing that it becomes a problem. It is emotional writing, rather than writing about emotion, that Eliot associates with “personality.” The letters show him using the term “personality” so



as effectively to redefine it, away from the romantic sense of an authentic, interior identity that literature is charged to “express,” toward a concept of a false self: the sense of a self inflated by its own emotional attitude to the extent that all it can express is its own emotionality. As he put it in a letter  – admittedly published, in the Athenaeum  – which argued that Phillip Massinger “had very little personality  – very little to express”: I do not believe that a work of art is any “complete and precise expression of personality.” There are all sorts of expressions of personality, complete or precise or both, which have nothing to do with art; so that the phrase seems to me to have very little use for literary criticism.10

The problem, that is, arises when what is being expressed is the “personality” rather than the emotion. Among the “expressions of personality” that troubled him, and that had “nothing to do with art,” were the sentimental excesses of wartime journalism. As he wrote to his mother in the spring of 1918: “I fear it would take very serious privation indeed to make Americans realise the wastefulness of such huge papers filled with nonsense and personalities.”11 The “wastefulness” here is not just a matter of waste paper and suggests that the cultural pervasiveness of “nonsense and personalities” contributes to the waste of The Waste Land. The importance of the war as a context – perhaps the context – shaping Eliot’s thinking about impersonality comes across clearly in the letters. “It is some comfort to think of our difficulties as impersonal,” Eliot had written to his father the previous spring: “that is, that thousands of other people, in a good many countries, are suffering worse from the same cause, and that the whole world is going to find living harder after the war.”12 “Besides,” he wrote again to his father at the end of 1917, “everyone’s individual fortunes lives are so swallowed up in the one great tragedy, that one almost ceases to have personal experiences or emotions, and such as one has seem so unimportant!”13 It was an idea he had contemplated more theoretically in the early weeks of the war: Does anything kill as petty worries do? And in America we worry all the time. That, in fact, is I think the great use of suffering, if it’s tragic suffering – it takes you away from yourself – and petty suffering does exactly the reverse, and kills your inspiration. . . . The thing is to be able to look at one’s life as if it were somebody’s else. . . .14

That need for detachment from the self sheds light on the notorious passage toward the end of “Tradition and the Individual Talent” when Eliot seems to offer an escape from impersonality’s escape from personality:

T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence


“Of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”15 “Tradition and the Individual Talent” redefines another romantic critical touchstone, that of originality, from a desire to express personality and emotions, toward wanting to escape from them, by dissolving the self into the impersonal tradition. As Frank Kermode observed, Eliot’s criticism frequently turns on this notion of sacrifice or surrender of the individual to something larger than itself, whether conceived as tradition or religion.16 What is not generally remarked is how “surrender” and “sacrifice” are terms fraught with their wartime burden: they do not so much indicate a noncombatant’s humble attempt to offer his services where he can (Eliot was classed unfit for active service; nonetheless he tried, unsuccessfully, to volunteer for intelligence work toward the end of the war) recognise that in a time of such mass sacrifice, the terms of aesthetics need to be revised. As his Athenaeum letter continued: “The creation of a work of art is like some other forms of creation, a painful and unpleasant business; it is a sacrifice of the man to the work, it is a kind of death.”17 Death is one kind of waste. The “kind of death” that is a living death is another, and more like the state of mind of The Waste Land. Eliot was much possessed by death during as well as after the war. The letters chart how his states of nervous exhaustion and occasional collapses made him wonder not only whether he would be able to continue writing poetry, but whether he would be able to continue living: I am not anxious to write more – or rather I feel that the best promise of continuing is for one to be able to forget, in a way, what one has written already; to be able to detach it completely from one’s present self and begin quite afresh, with only the technical experience preserved. This struggle to preserve the advantages of practice and at the same time to defecate the emotions one has expressed already is one of the hardest I know.18

Knowing how antithetically this view of “expression” as abject bodily function opposes the romantic account, Eliot teased his recipient: “I wonder if you will agree with me.” “Tradition and the Individual Talent” had argued for the separation between “the man who suffers” and “the mind which creates” art.19 That splitting reformulates the earlier aspiration: “The thing is to be able to look at one’s life as if it were somebody’s else.” But Eliot advocates a further kind of separation: not that between the mind that creates and the man who suffers, but one between the mind that creates and his past creation. However, the sentence about the difficult struggle “to defecate the emotions one has expressed already” makes clear that



it is the emotions in those past creations he wants to be able to separate himself from. The letters reveal that his choice in poems such as The Waste Land or “The Hollow Men” of voices sounding like the already dead was part of a personal strategy of separating himself from his own personality. He told Middleton Murry: “I have deliberately killed my senses – I have deliberately died in the last ten years in order to go on with the outward form of living – this I did in 1915 – What will happen if I live again?”20 If Eliot associated “nonsense and personalities” with U.S. newspapers, it was living in England that gave him that perspective. His feeling of being separated from Englishness made him especially alert to personality, to personality as a particularly English obsession, but also quite uneasy with his own. “Don’t think that I find it easy to live over here,” he told his brother Henry. “But it is never dull,” he continued, in an uncharacteristically incomplete syntax: “and the intense awareness of individual personality – when I do meet Americans now, they always irritate me by never observing – by having no curiosity about what sort of a person one is.”21 If Americans now irritated him for lacking “the intense awareness of individual personality” that characterised the English, that English awareness irritated him when it was at the expense of other kinds of awareness, including the awareness of what lies outside or beneath “personality.” The letter to Henry continues in Eliot’s most candid and revealing manner: But really, your letters, some of the things in them, give me a great deal of pain. I am fonder of you than of any man living. We have some of the same faults and weaknesses – what has preserved me – if I am preserved, which I often doubt (you are not in a position to know) is something which has nothing to do with my conscious character (that is weak enough) but is either a very hidden deep force or just luck, or Vivien’s assistance, in large part.22

This is perhaps as close as Eliot gets to Freud in acknowledging something akin to the psychoanalytic unconscious. But it is also part of the story of the gestation of “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” since probably only nine days later he was writing to Mary Hutchinson, saying that he had “now got started on a long subject” – evidently the planning out of the essay: I think two things are wanted – civilisation which is impersonal, traditional (by “tradition” I don’t mean stopping in the same place) and which forms people unconsciously – I don’t think two or half a dozen people can set out by themselves to be civilised. . . . – and culture – which is a personal interest and curiosity in particular things – I think it is largely the historical sense, which does not deaden one’s personal taste, but trains one to discriminate one’s own passions from objective criticism.23

T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence


Now Eliot has lighted on the “historical sense” as the guarantor of objectivity, which aids the separation of personal emotions from objectivity. The phrase is tellingly ambiguous. To “discriminate one’s own passions from objective criticism” is both to separate the two, but also to use objective criticism to discriminate one’s “personal taste,” one’s own passions – that is, to ascertain which opinions are accurate and which not. Eliot became increasingly mistrustful of John Middleton Murry as he thought him incapable of such discrimination: His criticism is dictated by emotion, which is not the same thing as saying that he feels strongly about the things he criticises. Even when he is right, he is the victim of an emotion, and the rightness seems an accident. He never surrenders himself, but uses what he is talking about as an outlet for some feeling; and this is a sort of irreverence for reason which is hard to bear.24

Given Eliot’s training in philosophy, his irritation with “irreverence for reason” must not be underestimated. But his unease also had something to do with his feeling that reason was under threat. He suspected Murry’s reason was particularly threatened by his wife, Katherine Mansfield, writing to Ezra Pound of Murry: “I must say that he is much more difficult to deal with when K. M. is about, and I have an impression that she terrorises him. . . . I believe her to be a dangerous WOMAN; and of course two sentimentalists together are more than two times as noxious as one.”25 This perhaps reflects an autobiographical anxiety that his own wife’s increasing victimisation by her emotions was another threat to his own reason. In this coterie, a “sentimentalist” was equivalent to a “personality,” or someone with “personality.” Sydney Schiff wrote to Vivien Eliot about “a long characteristic letter from K. M. which gave me pleasure for it is full of her personality and her personality is a fascinating one.”26 If Eliot found her “fascinating,” it was in the way a rabbit contemplates a snake. His – and Vivien’s – letters became increasingly hostile to Mansfield, as they began to believe she was hostile to Eliot. Eliot’s anxiety over the threat to reason reflects an anxiety about being able to preserve his own during the nervous breakdown unfolding throughout 1920–1. His comments to Schiff about Murry had been preceded by a passage suggesting that his own reverence for reason was strengthened the less sure he felt about his own reason: Events succeed one another, apparently for the purpose of making one’s mind useless to one. There are times, I think, when one must try to seal one’s intellect hermetically, to prevent it from being destroyed by circumstances which it cannot mend.27



Could those circumstances have included his own emotions, which needed to be split off from his intellect lest they disorient it?  – “Only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.” The letters show Eliot trying to gauge the space for what he called the “essentially personal” even as he is developing the theory of impersonality.28 In a correspondence with Brigit Patmore, he again resists the theory of “expression,” while wanting – paradoxically – to allow “personality” to be present in a work: But I can’t see that it is really a question of expression, but simply of complete integrity  – if one is quite honest and fair to oneself the personality will be sufficiently there. There is such a difference between seeing the point of view of people one is with and accepting it. And I don’t believe there is such a frame of mind as pure receptivity. I think that when one is most alert to impressions one is also doing the most immediate thinking. And I cannot see that there is a contest between reason and intuition – the most intuitive people I have known have also had the clearest minds. . . .29

Here “pure receptivity” appears to rebut the impressionist requirement that writers should simply “render” or “present” but refrain from judgement or comment.30 Eliot the philosopher cannot accept an aesthetic that appears to eliminate “immediate thinking,” the effort to understand what is perceived: “The people who seem most curious about understanding others have usually struck me as very positive personalities.”31 The suggestion is that it is in that penumbra of thought that what is “positive” in “personality” inheres for him: in an intellectual attitude to the material, rather than an emotional “expression.” The letters give a nuanced sense of how he understands this process as working. He told Lytton Strachey: Whether one writes a piece of work well or not seems to me a matter of crystallization – the good sentence, the good word, is only the final stage in the process. . . . Anything I have picked up about writing is due to having spent (as I once thought, wasted) a year absorbing the style of F.  H. Bradley. . . .32

This was written just a few weeks before the letter to Hutchinson.33 Perhaps that metaphor of “crystallization” was too conventional a trope. But it anticipates the more impersonal chemical metaphor in the essay of the poet’s mind as like a “catalyst.”34 The letters show how Eliot’s theory of impersonality was shaped by a tendency toward what now would probably be termed “depersonalization,” with its accompanying attacks of panic. In a long letter he wrote

T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence


to John Quinn  – the New York lawyer and patron of modernists who had acted as Eliot’s agent with U.S. publishers  – the month before The Waste Land was published, “Perhaps the greatest curse of my life is noise and the associations which imagination immediately suggests with various noises.”35 This leads into a comment about noises from neighbours: a problem familiar to most city dwellers and one that had contributed to the Eliots’ need to move in November 1920 – less than a third of a mile away, just across the Marylebone Road, but nearer to Regent’s Park. But Eliot’s account of noisy neighbours is remarkable for locating the problem less in the noises themselves than in his associations with them. One effect  – characteristic of the kind Christopher Ricks identifies in Eliot’s verse, of inciting prurient or prejudicial responses – is the way the passage makes us imagine not just the noises, but what Eliot imagines them signifying.36 He is sympathising with Quinn, who just needed a month’s rest cure, so it is possible Eliot is heightening any neurasthenic tendency: Whenever I get very tired or worried I recognise all the old symptoms ready to appear, with half a chance, and find myself under the continuous strain of trying to suppress a vague but intensely acute horror and apprehension.37

As the letter continues, it appears that at least some of that horror and apprehension was the result of the hell that is other people: “It is abominable to live in a town flat unless one can afford a very expensive one, for the reason that one can never forget the lives and disagreeable personalities of one’s neighbours. [. . .]”38 The sentence implies that all one’s neighbours’ personalities are disagreeable; or at least, all those who make themselves heard through the walls. It may of course mean those among his neighbours who were being loudly disagreeable to each other. It is not only during “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels” that the walls, if you lend them your ear, are full of noises. Eliot’s early poetry often evokes a sense of something disagreeable happening in a room that catches our attention while making us feel we should probably not be witnessing it – whether it is the typist’s room described by the blind voyeur Tiresias, or “Mr. Silvero / With caressing hands, at Limoges / Who walked all night in the next room.” Ricks defends Eliot against charges of prejudice by arguing that his verse is alive to the temptations and processes of prejudice. The letters give insight into the stresses that helped produce such insights. Eliot told his mother when the new flat had been found: “I believe it to be very much more respectable, very much less noisy, and in a better neighbourhood in which not so many people are arrested. In any case, we shall I think be



free from the neighbourhood of prostitution.”39 That is not to say exactly that the “disagreeable personalities” Eliot heard in his flat lurk behind the walls in the poetry (or that the typist with the carbuncular young man was his neighbour); but that the feelings the noises produced were an impulse to the poetry. Again, the way the passage turns on the term “personalities” is crucial. (Un)neighbourly noise is intrusive, especially to someone trying to read or think or write. But Eliot appears to have found it invasive, threatening his sense of himself, of his own imagination, his own personality. Interestingly, he seems to have felt he had gone slightly too far in this letter  – as if the topic had discomposed him. And, equally tellingly, he added a postscript telling Quinn: “I am dissatisfied with this letter, it does not express either my gratitude or the great interest I have in your health and affairs. I dictated it with a bad headache and under stress of haste to catch the first mail. I will write again.”40 Here, too, the fact of dictation – of such a personal letter’s having been overheard, however professionally, by the typist  – sits uncomfortably with the idea that overheard personalities are disagreeable. It is as if the presence of the silent auditor makes Eliot hear his own life “as if it were somebody’s else” and shows up his misanthropy or fragility as itself disagreeable. What he says about Lloyds Bank perhaps indicates that what attracted him to office work was that it offered protection against that sense of intrusive and enervating personalities through surrendering the self to the impersonal. As he told Ottoline Morrell: “So very few of one’s acquaintance realise what it means to have sold the whole of all one’s days, – except at most a month a year – and old age – to a huge impersonal thing like a Bank.”41 Thus the comment to Sydney Schiff that sometimes “one must try to seal one’s intellect hermetically, to prevent it from being destroyed by circumstances which it cannot mend,” though it, too, was offered as sympathetic advice (Schiff’s wife had suffered a misfortune) and spoke of impersonal “disasters,” should perhaps be read as comparably anxious about the destructive effects of others’ personalities.42 It was an anxiety that Vivien Eliot, too, had expressed in 1919: I have been ill in a sort of way, and I had to go into a sort of retirement which is so necessary to me at times that I should die without it. It is a seemingly selfish, closed up, kind of affair, but without something like it at frequent intervals I should cease to exist as a person at all. I am perfectly certain that no one has so little resistance to human contacts as I.43

Often this “sort of retirement” involved retiring to the countryside while Eliot remained working in London; the “human contacts” between

T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence


husband and wife contributing to her sense of threatened personality; as perhaps to his. She had further reason to fear that threat three years later, identifying herself so intensely with The Waste Land that its publication felt like a loss of (part of ) herself: Perhaps not even you can imagine with what emotions I saw The Waste Land go out into the world. It means to me a great deal of what you have exactly described, and it has become a part of me (or I of it) this last year. It was a terrible thing, somehow, when the time came at last for it to be published.44

Such an attitude may itself have played a part in Eliot’s development of the “theory of impersonality.” For though sometimes passages of Vivien Eliot’s letters included in the published volumes echo or anticipate remarks by her husband, he could scarcely be imagined writing her words to his brother Henry: “Good-bye Henry. And be personal, you must be personal, or else its [sic] no good. Nothing’s any good. / Vivien.”45 Impersonality, then, as if we had not always known it, is personal, and gendered. In 1918 Eliot had written – in a rather curiously dismissive way given that he was writing to his mother – about the women in his lecture audiences being learned about “the private life of worthies,” something, he told her, “I have never bothered my head about.”46 He makes this gendering explicit in a dismissal of Santayana as too invested in the display of his personality: “I have never liked Santayana myself, because I have always felt that his attitude was essentially feminine, and that his philosophy was a dressing up of himself rather than an interest in things.”47 But if Eliot’s objection to the cult of personality took in both what he thought of as its femininity and its overemphasis of subjectivity, it went further than both.48 Ultimately, the objection is not that personality is too revealing about the self, but that it is deceptive and self-deceptive about the nature of the self: precisely a “dressing up” or masquerade rather than a disclosure. Maud Ellmann cites Joyce as exemplary in his awareness that while attempts at self-expression can be self-concealing, attempts at selfconcealment can be self-revelatory. She quotes a passage from Finnegans Wake parodying autobiography, then goes on to say: “Like Eliot, Pound stages his disfiguration in his verse, but it is the self that overblots the self: the ‘squidself ’, as Joyce would say, is ‘squirtscreened’ by its own ink. Pound reinscribes himself with every effort to delete himself. . . .”49 Eliot in his exploration of the idea of “personality” – in his letters as well as his criticism  – shows himself aware of such paradoxes. But he also saw (or at least came to see) literature as not merely implicated in them, but as



offering insight into them: a form of knowledge of self; in short, of the very personality that had seemed to be the problem. Poetry, he was to argue in the closing paragraph of his 1932–3 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, “may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves, and an evasion of the visible and sensible world.”50 Notes 1 To Sydney Schiff, 4 July 1922, The Letters of T.  S. Eliot, Vol. 1: 1898–1922, revised ed., Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton, eds. (London: Faber and Faber, 2009), 690. References to Eliot’s correspondence are to this volume, and the letters quoted from it are by Eliot himself, unless otherwise stated. 2 To Richard Aldington, 30 June 1922, 688. 3 Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Selected Essays, 3rd enlarged ed. (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1951), 13–22, 18. 4 To Ezra Pound, 30 August 1922, 735. 5 To Henry Eliot, 11 October 1922, 760. The book was Beyond Life: Dizain des Démiurges (New York: 1919), see 759n. 6 Ibid., 759. 7 Eliot, “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca,” Selected Essays, 137. 8 Ellmann, The Poetics of Impersonality: T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1987), 41. 9 To John Gould Fletcher, 23 September 1920, 503. 10 To the editor of the Athenaeum, published there 25 June 1920, 470–1 in The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Vol. 1. 11 To his mother, 28 April 1918, 261. 12 To his father, 1 March 1917, 177. 13 To his father, 23 December 1917, 242. 14 To Conrad Aiken, 30 September [1914], 63. 15 “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” 21. 16 Introduction, Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, Frank Kermode, ed. (London: Faber, 1975), 18. 17 To the editor of the Athenaeum, publ. 25 June 1920, 471 in the Letters. 18 To Robert Nichols, 8 August 1917, 212. 19 “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” 18. 20 To John Middleton Murry, [mid-April 1925], The Letters of T.  S. Eliot, Vol. 2, 1923–1925, Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton, eds. (London: Faber, 2009), 627. 21 To Henry Eliot, 2 July 1919, 370. 22 To Henry Eliot, 2 July 1919, 371. 23 To Mary Hutchinson [11 July 1919], 378. The first installment of the essay was published in the Egoist, 6:4, in September 1919; see Letters, 378n. 24 To Sydney Schiff, 30 November 1920, 522.

T. S. Eliot’s Impersonal Correspondence


25 To Ezra Pound, 3 July 1920, 473. 26 Sydney Schiff to Vivien Eliot, 9 December 1921, 612. 27 To Sydney Schiff, 30 November 1920, 521. 28 To Mary Hutchinson [11 July 1919], 377. 29 To Brigit Patmore, Tuesday [27 May 1919], 355. 30 See Max Saunders, “Impressionism, Fiction, and the Location of the Ethical” Ethics in Culture: The Dissemination of Values through Literature and Other Media, Astrid Erll, Herbert Grabes, and Ansgar Nünning, eds. (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 299–316. 31 To Brigit Patmore [April 1919], 333. 32 To Lytton Strachey, 1 June 1919, 357. 33 To Mary Hutchinson [11 July 1919], 378. 34 “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” 18. 35 To John Quinn, 21 September 1922, 750. 36 See Ricks, T. S. Eliot and Prejudice (London: Faber, 1988), and especially 122– 3, for a finely balanced discussion of such provocations in “Gerontion.” 37 To John Quinn, 21 September 1922, 750. 38 Ibid. 39 To his mother, 20 September 1920, 501. 40 To John Quinn, 21 September 1922, 750. 41 To Ottoline Morrell, Sunday [21 March 1920], 453. 42 To Sydney Schiff, 30 November 1920, 521. Eliot had advised Wyndham Lewis “to emphasise your isolation” and to live in “retirement,” whether in Paris or London, avoiding “the Chelsea people etc.” and the “young.” To Wyndham Lewis, Saturday [16 April 1921], 552–3. 43 Vivien Eliot to Ottoline Morrell, Wednesday [4 June 1919], 358. 44 Vivien Eliot to Sydney Schiff, Monday [16 October 1922], 765. 45 Vivien Eliot to Henry Eliot, Tuesday [23 August 1921], 577. 46 To his Mother, 6 February 1918, 249. 47 Ibid. 48 See Ellmann, The Poetics of Impersonality, 57, on Eliot’s rejection of the Bergsonian cult of subjectivity. 49 Ellmann, The Poetics of Impersonality, 196–7. 50 Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933) (London: Faber, 1975), 155.

Ch apter 13

The Real Hem Maria DiBattista

In some respects, Hemingway’s autobiography was already a matter of public record when, in the last decade of his life, he officially tried his (sometimes shaky) hand at the form. By that time, he had succeeded only too well in creating and perpetuating a legend about himself as a morally fearless, bracingly modern writer of few, but reliably honest words. Surely such a man was to be trusted, so intent was he on writing one true sentence. His reputation for manly candor was secured in the early fiction –-In Our Time (1925), The Sun Also Rises (1926) – which seemed and indeed was written out of wrenchingly personal experience. In less than a decade Hemingway was confident enough in his authorial and public personae (twin but not identical creations) to forgo fictional surrogates and give first-person accounts of his travels, aficiones, and opinions. Death in the Afternoon (1932) and Green Hills of Africa (1935) were inventive amalgams of cultural and self-reportage that allowed him to elaborate certain aspects of his personality (the “hunter” as dogged in his pursuit of prey as of the right word) and to establish his credentials as a cultural anthropologist and “naturalist” (how he presented himself in Death in the Afternoon)1 as opposed to the die-hard romantic that he invariably betrayed himself to be. A certain piety, even humorlessness attached to the legend. “He was absolutely without humor,” humorlessly pronounced Westbrook Pegler in a column that made it into Hemingway’s FBI files, as if Pegler had genuine insight into the man, whereas he did not.2 Hemingway was, in fact, surprisingly willing to mock the very image he vigilantly curated. Death in the Afternoon, for example, is filled with jokes as much against himself as against his foil and interlocutor, an Old Lady eager to be initiated into the virile mysteries of the bullring and the pen. One notable exchange exposes how ill-advised they both are, she in wanting to know, he in hazarding to reveal, the person behind the mask: 170

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Old lady: You know I like you less and less the more I know you. Madame, it is always a mistake to know an author. (Death, 144)

The accounts of those who “knew” Hemingway confirm how grievous a mistake that could be. Outside his wives, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s knowledge was arguably the most injurious, possibly because he could not disentangle his feelings about Hemingway from his dejected feelings about himself. He confronted both in the discreet confines of his Writer’s Notebook: “I talk with the authority of failure – Ernest with the authority of success.”3 Gertrude Stein was also struck by that authority, but was more intent on discrediting than burnishing it. In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) she genially chips away at the granitic surfaces of the Hemingway façade, which looked so pristine but was musty with tradition: “He looks like a modern and he smells of the museums.” Still, she was alert to the untold story he carried within him: “But what a story that of the real Hem, and one he should tell himself but alas he never will. After all, as he himself once murmured, there is the career, the career.”4 In the midst of writing one “autobiography,” Stein apparently already had her eye on another – that of “the real Hem” lurking behind the press clippings and the canny public posturings, a story she believed was and would remain beyond his power to tell. For his part, Hemingway had his own ideas about when and how – even whether – his story should be told. For the writer who thought it a mistake to know an author, autobiography must have seemed an especially egregious error, and not just in terms of “the career, the career.” As a young man Hemingway had quipped, “It is only when you can no longer believe in your own exploits that you write your memoirs.”5 This is youthful hauteur, but that does not mean that Hemingway was wrong to think that memoirs can reflect a loss of faith, rather than a belief in one’s capacity for noteworthy experience. That A Moveable Feast (1964, 2011), his only sustained engagement with the memoir form, remained unfinished when Hemingway shot himself contributes to the impression that he no longer fully believed in his exploits either as a man or as a writer. After his death, his widow, Mary, deleted, added, rearranged, and titled the manuscript left behind, producing a confident work that perpetuated the legendary character of the Paris years, perhaps compromising and certainly simplifying the story of “the real Hem.” In 2010 Scribner’s reissued a new version, edited by his grandson, Seán Hemingway, that restores the memoir, especially its obsessively rewritten ending, in all of its fragmentary, unfinished, and fraudulent splendor.


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The restored edition reorders some of the crucial episodes and includes several vignettes and episodes Mary had omitted: “On Writing in the First Person,” “The Strange Fight Club,” “The Education of Mr. Bumby.” Also omitted was one of his longer chapters, “Secret Pleasures,” which reveals Hemingway’s erotic fascination with cutting hair. These pleasures were fully dramatized with undisguised urgency in The Garden of Eden, his novelization of the sexual experimentation that made his marriage to Hadley so exciting and gratifying to him, but that also may have created gender confusions that eventually led to its dissolution. The dissolution of his marriage to Hadley is turned into an allegory of lost innocence in “There Is Never Any End to Paris,” the chapter that, despite telling of the corrupting influence of the rich (Gerald and Sara Murphy) and their pilot fish (John Dos Passos), concludes the 1964 Moveable Feast on a moral – and emotional – high note: “This is how Paris was in the early days when were very poor and very happy.”6 The “restored” version reveals that Hemingway had entertained another and more remorseful, even self-lacerating ending, one that carries the bleak chapter title Nada y pues Nada (a phrase that evokes the spiritual devastation of “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”). In this ending, Hemingway resists the urge to mythify his poor but happy years in Paris. The tenderness and admiration he felt for his younger self give way to more troubled feelings about who he was and what he has become: But there are remises or storage places where you may leave or store certain things such as a locker trunk or duffel bag containing personal effects or the unpublished poems of Evan Shipman or marked maps or even weapons there was no time to turn over to the proper authorities and this book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.7

The image of the remise as autobiographical archive derives, as images generally do in Hemingway, from an actual incident. The facts are these: in 1956 Hemingway repossessed two small steamer trunks he had left at the Ritz Hotel in 1928, when he had left Paris for America with his new wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Over time, these facts, variously related and elaborated, congealed into an origin narrative, in which the recovery of early drafts, notebooks, press clippings, and clothes from the Paris years “stirred him into action” (MF, 1), as his grandson Seán contends. The story of the Paris remises imbues Hemingway’s recollections with the suggestion that a special providence was at work in preserving these personal relics from the oblivion that otherwise awaited them. All the more troubling, then, is his

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final admission that the memories housed in his remises have been tampered with and that his recollections have not so much revived his failing heart as suggested that it now may no longer, if it ever did, exist. Heartless or not, Hemingway held out little hope that the story of the real Hem could be recovered from such aides-mémoires since, according to his own precept, “memory, of course, is never true” (Death, 100). Stein claims to have admonished Hemingway at the start of his career that “remarks are not literature” (Autobiography, 219). This particular remark is not only not literature, it is not even very original, except when uttered by a writer who spent his entire career seeking to restore moral substance as well as aesthetic luster to the word “true.” This dictum shadows the autobiographical writings of his last decade, which also include The Garden of Eden (1984) and True at First Light (1999), whose subtitle, A Fictional Memoir, acts as an advisory to the reader about the kind of truth Hemingway intends to present. All these works were heavily edited before they were published posthumously to vocal and principled objection by those who, like Joan Didion, thought “the publication of unfinished work is a denial of the idea that the role of the writer in his or her work is to make it.”8 There is little one can credibly say to counter such an objection, especially when it is mounted on behalf of a writer who exemplified the modernist belief that what matters are words in themselves and in the meticulous arrangement and use made of them. Still, how poor our sense of Hemingway would be without them! Both in the rambling and sometimes inchoate manuscript drafts and in the heavily edited books that others made of them, we can glimpse the inner history of Hemingway’s painful struggle to locate and memorialize “the real Hem” before he was forever lost in the fog of legend, rival and unflattering accounts of his character, the steady encroachments of depression, recurrent and debilitating bouts of illness, the ravages of two plane crashes in less than a year (1954), diminished hearing and vision, and – the final insult – the mnemonic impairments of shock therapy administered at the Mayo Clinic in the last year of his life. One might, then, feel justified in thinking that the “real Hem” is to be found, if at all, in the sprawl of untamed prose and variations of phrase and mood in which he speaks with the authority of the (finally) defeated. Yet to do so is to confuse what is confessed in a moment of helplessness with the hardier and more sustained, if conflicted acts of self-witnessing that may give a fuller “picture of a true time” (MF, 213). It is more likely that if “the real Hem” will appear at all, it will be in those writings that reflect and ultimately privilege a view of the self disclosed “at first light,”


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an atmospheric condition he described and, despite an innate and healthy skepticism toward the evidence of his own senses, could not help celebrating in his fictionalized memoir of the same name. True at First Light, which recounted his experiences (some of them fantasized) during his last stay in a Kenya unsettled by the Mau Mau rebellion, was formally predicated on the principle that “almost nothing is true and especially not in Africa,” a claim no sooner made than qualified: In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.9

There is hardly a whiff of the museum here, but one does pick up the scent of a Keatsean enthrallment with the cold pastoral of an African daybreak. In these morning visions, the naturalist and the romantic in Hemingway take turns greeting reality, the naturalist intent on seeing things as they are, the romantic in their transfigured aspect, where alone their absolute, not merely provisional, truth and beauty are revealed. The modern in Hemingway, in which these incompatible visions uneasily coexist, knows all along that what he sees and believes to be absolutely true is the most ravishing kind of lie. A special kind of lie, of course, the kind in which the imagination specializes. This disjunction between what you know is not there and the reality you take to be “absolutely true, beautiful and believable” is the space where fiction is made and its truths accredited. Few writers understood better and were less distressed by the need to enlist fiction in order to tell the ways things truly (as opposed to factually) are. This understanding allows Hemingway to relax precisely where more historically scrupulous memoirists become tense and vigilant – at the border where fact and fiction definitively square off against each other. This understanding morally supports him in pursuing the principled affair of his life: “to make things true, writing them, and put them rightly and not describe” (MF, 46). This is a writer’s creed and it is only as a writer that “the real Hem” submits to scrutiny. He also specifies the grounds on which he consents to be judged: did he, in his writing, put things rightly? The pun, one of the few Hemingway hazards, so committed is he to stony clarity, carries an ethical as well as aesthetic charge. Truth is something that is made, not found or passively beheld. It is in writing that things are put right and given a place

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within the order of the world, which means giving them a place as well as their proper weight in the order of a sentence. The authority of A Moveable Feast as modernist autobiography rests on the innovative form Hemingway devised to “put things rightly.” He described this form as “biography by remate” to his wife Mary, who in typing the manuscript wondered how it could be considered autobiographical, given how much attention is devoted to depicting the character and habits of other people. Did Mary mishear or misreport biography for autobiography? Or was Hemingway signaling how quickly, even inevitably, his own life, once consigned to the realm of writing, took on a life-form, if not a life, of its own? In either case, the life-form he conceived was, as he went on to explain, modeled on “a two-wall shot in jai alai. By reflection.” It need hardly surprise us that Hemingway’s idea of reflection does not entail placidly regarding himself in a mirror, but actively confronting himself in the light – often the glare – of how others see and respond to him. Auto/biography by remate allows, indeed requires Hemingway to demonstrate (as if in a championship bout – his last, alas!) agility in deflecting while attracting attention to himself. The two-way relays occur initially at the level of style, in Hemingway’s striking alternation between the first and second person in speaking of and to himself. The manuscript drafts show how carefully he deliberated on what it means to write in the first person. Traditional modes of selfaddress can too easily obliterate the emotional as well as temporal distance between the “I” who writes and the “I” who lived in a certain place and time and in a certain way, a distance restored by shifting to the second person.10 Such a shift introduces Hemingway (to himself as to us) in the third sentence of A Moveable Feast: “You would have to shut the windows at night.” (MF, 15). Across the span of years, Hemingway invokes a “you” that is and is not himself. Seán Hemingway rightly laments that this singular form of self-address was systematically edited out of the first edition, diminishing the emotional impact of Hemingway’s “speaking to himself.”11 The alternating perspectives produced by the sudden shifts from first to second person is amplified in the interpersonal structure of the memoir, which unfolds as a series of encounters, conversations, and one notorious overheard exchange with writers and friends against whom he measured his development as a writer and as a man. As befits a tale of apprenticeship, A Moveable Feast is organized around scenes of instruction that


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chart Hemingway’s progress from a learner, alert if somewhat skeptical of what “Miss Stein Instructs”, to a teacher, educating Fitzgerald about the predatory character of “Hawks [who] Do Not Share” (his unforgiving characterization of Zelda) and personally demonstrating the “Matter of Measurements” as they pertain to the male organ observed from above and in profile, as well as in its “resting,” swollen, or shrunken state. Stein and Fitzgerald receive the most sustained and ambivalent treatment, but there are portraits etched by remate that show no sign of mixed feelings: of the generous, supportive, personally unassuming but morally important presence of Sylvia Beach; of Ezra Pound, ignominious politics forgotten and kind offices remembered; of Ford Madox Ford, recalled without an ounce of charity as the “heavy, wheezing, ignoble” and malodorous snob pompously pronouncing on the protocols of cutting – “A gentleman . . . will always cut a cad” (MF, 78). The conversation with Ford seems partly recalled  – or invented  – to expose as comically retrograde any judgments about Hemingway’s own caddishness in betraying Hadley with her new friend, Pauline. Such a judgment would detract from Hadley’s primary role in his young life and in his memoirs, which is not as the pitiable, betrayed wife but the active and indispensable helpmeet who recalls and retains the experiences that will later mean as much, if not more, to him than they did when he was young. Hadley functions as a living remise in which are stored and inventoried their most cherished experiences: “Do you remember when we came out into the spring on the Italian side of the St. Bernard after the climb in the snow, and you and Chink and I walked down all day in the spring to Aosta?” Do you remember us having fruit cups at Biffi’s in the Galleria with Capri and fresh peaches and wild strawberries in a tall glass pitcher with ice?” (MF, 45)

Nothing in his tender reminiscences of his doomed marriage to Hadley convinces us of the initial love and rapport between them more than their mutual dedication to preserving their life together, as they are living it, against the depredations of time. Their partnership in defending themselves against loss leads to Hadley’s most exalted moment, when she voices the primary obligation of their lives: “We should live in this time now and have every minute of it.”

We feel the sublimity of this injunction for Hemingway, who responds in what we might call the oracular present tense:

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“We’re watching the water now as it hits this buttress. Look what we can see when we look up the river.” We looked and there it all was: our river and our city and the island of our city. (MF, 47)

The logic and emotional suggestiveness of remate here work to alter the character of autobiographical temporality, which conventionally transports us from the “now” of our present moment to a faraway “then,” a time of lived and concluded experience. In hearing and watching Hadley looking with him, Hemingway experiences the “then” to which he returns in memory as an inhabitable “now” that his words have restored in all its glistening and fugitive reality. But as the portraits of Stein, Ford, and Fitzgerald exemplify, biography by remate calls upon the destructive as well as life-conserving instincts of the artist eager for all there was and is to be had from his life. It sublimates but hardly disguises one of the discreditable motives for autobiography – triumphing over those who contest one’s control over that disputed territory known as the past. Here again, his form serves him well. As Suzanne del Gizzo notes, remate derives from the Spanish, rematar, literally to rekill. “Mary is right,” she remarks, to identify the word as a jai alai term, but traditionally remate is used to refer to any type of “kill shot,” a shot so forceful or perfectly placed that it cannot be returned. . . . Mary’s interpretation . . . misses the essence of the word, which is “to finish” conclusively and “to end” absolutely.12

Thus some thirty years after she had portrayed him as yellow, Hemingway attempts to settle the score with Stein, who had “got to look like a Roman emperor” (still a worthy adversary!). Their friendship came to “A Strange Enough Ending” after an unannounced visit to 22 Rue de Fleurus where he overheard Stein pleading with Alice to stop – or was it to continue? – doing what she was doing: “Don’t pussy. Don’t. Don’t, please don’t. I’ll do anything, pussy, but please don’t do it. Please don’t. Please don’t, pussy” (MF, 92). This primal scene, for all its raw and unrestrained emotionality, is not so much traumatically recalled as vividly written. The reiterations of “don’t,” “pussy,” and “please” fall into cadences that, beside and beyond their erotic and shame-inducing force, demonstrate the difference between Stein’s deliberately measured accretions of sound and sense and Hemingway’s emphatic, accelerating rhythms that build, as Stein’s refuse to do, to a climactic finish. Earlier Stein had lectured him about the difference between male homosexuality and the love between women, who “do nothing that is repulsive and afterwards they are happy” (30).


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What a story of “the real Stein,” he seems to be retorting, which she never wrote. Hemingway has all the advantages in this long-delayed bout  – he is alive, she is dead, he represents himself as eager to know what the world was really like, while she, he contends, only wanted to hear about the gay, never the real, the bad. Still, the winner refuses to take all. Hemingway may report that he “heard someone speaking to Miss Stein as I had never heard one person speak to another; never, anywhere, ever,” yet the apparent finality of that “never, anywhere, ever” ultimately yields to his more tempered view that his friendship with Stein ended not only strangely but, as he admits, “stupidly enough.” No finishing shot, then, despite the sense of some unimaginable limit, some “never, anywhere, ever” outside the compass of permissible expression that made his mistimed visit so disastrous. Hemingway, tired perhaps of keeping and settling the score, concedes that “it was really more complicated than that” (MF, 93). Of course it was. Everything, including and especially auto/biography by remate, is more complicated than it appears. Matters are in fact never more complicated than when Hemingway seems to have had the last word in the remate that demolishes his adversary. Such is the troubled outcome of his match with Ernest Walsh, the poet who alone seems to make Hemingway uneasy with himself, if for no other reason than they share a name that he hates. Hemingway brands Walsh “The Man Who Was Marked for Death,” an epithet that suggests both the fear and loathing that color Hemingway’s portrait of a man he suspects is “conning me as he had conned the shills from the boat – if they were shills and if he had conned them, of course” (MF, 97). Despite his suspicions, Hemingway accepts Walsh’s offer of “another dozen of the flat oysters” even while maliciously chewing over the question of whether or not Walsh “ate the flat oysters in the same way the whores in Kansas City, who were marked for death and practically everything else, always wished to swallow semen as a sovereign remedy against the con; but I did not ask him.” He does not have to; the answer is implied by the sadistic pleasure he takes in eating his “second dozen of the flat oysters, picking them from their bed of crushed ice on the silver plate, watching their unbelievably delicate brown edges react and cringe as I squeezed lemon juice on them and separated the holding muscle from the shell and lifted them to chew them carefully”(MF, 98). The aggression toward Ernest, which is onomastically aggression against himself, is sublimated, with a Sadeian refinement, in this image of delicate oysters recoiling from the lemon juices that set them cringing and give them flavor.

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That hunger is good discipline is a central axiom of A Moveable Feast. This moment of delectation is, then, a rare lapse in Hemingway’s artistic regimen. His writerly morale is compromised further when Walsh dares “to talk about my writing to my face”: You con man conning me with your con. I’ve seen a battalion in the dust on the road, a third of them for death or worse and no special marks on them, the dust was for all, and you and your marked for death look, you con man, making a living out of your death. Now you will con me. Con not, lest though be conned. Death was not conning with him. It was coming all right. (MF, 99)

Walsh never hears, nor is he the intended audience for this savage jeer, one of Hemingway’s rare hysterical outbursts. What shocks is Hemingway’s fierce and unforgiving translation of Matthew 7:1–3 Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. into the precincts of abject modernism, with its corpse-littered battlefields and street-savvy cons. Here Death, Hemingway’s great subject, finally makes its appearance in the memoir, bringing with it, as always, a bracing moral clarity. Even in Paris, the modernist’s Arcadia, Death is not only coming, it is (always has been) here, ready to take the measure of those who make a living off their death. This acrid encounter with Walsh, with Death, with himself, is riddled with all of the irony but none of the pity that, since The Sun Also Rises, had given Hemingway’s prose its emotional as well as moral authority: Walsh, the man then marked for death, seems to double for the man who now feels marked for death, the old and ailing Hem, aware, as never before, that what he measures out will be measured to him again. Lest he himself be conned, this moment of judgment admits of no mitigating excuse, much less self-pity. Death is not conning with Walsh or with himself, so now is the time, if any, to be accurate – true – in one’s measurements. A Moveable Feast abounds in matters of measurement  – Wyndham Lewis is comically dismissed as the “measuring worm,” and masculinity, as we have seen, literally can hinge on a matter of measurements. But spiritual measurements are harder to con. Hemingway’s play on “con,” which exists in distant but undeniable relation to his pun on “writing/righting,” may appear idiomatically modern (as Stein admitted he looked), but it smells, pungently, of the museum (as Stein insisted he did), deriving as it


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does from connen to know, learn, study. Hence “con” is a word indispensable to Hemingway’s tale of apprenticeship. Learning the art of spiritual measurement, like the art of the con, is in the great American tradition of moral apprenticeship that Hemingway traced to its founding text, Huckleberry Finn, a tale of innocence ravaged. The knowledge of good and evil entails a proviso, however, that is made explicit in The Garden of Eden: “But do not start blaming who you love nor apportioning blame. It will be apportioned in due time and not by you”13 For Hemingway, a vainglorious man by any measure, autobiography as a mode of self-reckoning involves taking stock of the materials stored in the remises of his memory and his heart. But he refuses to judge himself, suspecting that the heart willing, if not able to judge itself cannot be trusted and may not even exist. Writing rightly about himself through and against others is his sovereign remedy against the life-long con, as well as the exaggerated importance, of being Ernest. That remedy is necessarily specific to the person who writes, a position taken and affirmed in the final paragraph of the first Moveable Feast, which acknowledges that “there is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.” This lacks the flourish of climax, such as we would expect of autobiography by remate. Instead of claiming authority over the past, Hemingway merely asserts that his Paris is different from your Paris. Autobiography by remate concludes in a draw. In the manuscript drafts you can see Hemingway fretting about how best to manage his own finish. He insists that “There is no last chapter. There are fifty” (MF, 231). He considers ending his memoirs with a catalog of what he had omitted from them, like “Gide teaching me how to punish a cat” (MF, 234) or, more poignantly, “about Scott and his complicated tragedies, generosities and devotions” (MF, 235). The catalog was never completed, the remises never emptied of their contents. What does survive the endless revisions is the assertion that “this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” This declaration has the force of a consolation. It seals off the memoir in the first, pellucid light of myth, a myth that he began crafting in Paris and defended to the last, knowing full well it might all be a lie. But he also knew – or perhaps only hoped – that the truth of “the real Hem” would be apportioned in due time, though not by him and certainly not by us. If it is a mistake to know an author, it is a greater mistake to judge him. Autobiography encourages us to make both mistakes. The best, like A Moveable Feast, reveal how unavoidable, but also how instructive such mistakes can be.

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Notes 1 The distinction is made to support his view that “all those who have really experienced [love] are marked, after it is gone, by a quality of deadness. I say this as naturalist, not a romantic.” Death in the Afternoon (New York: Scribner’s, 1960), 122. All further citations to this edition. 2 FBI Files, 111. 3 F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up, Edmund Wilson, ed. (New York: New Directions, 1964), 181. 4 Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (New York: Vintage, 1990), 216–17. The passage of time has given Stein’s dismissal the air, if not quite the perfume, of a compliment. We are perhaps beginning to appreciate that there is no modernist who does not smell of the museums. 5 Ernest Hemingway, “Pamplona Letter,” Transatlantic Review 2:301 (September, 1924). 6 Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (New York: Scribner’s, 1964), 209. 7 Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition (New York: Scribner, 2011), 225. All further citations to this edition. 8 Joan Didion, “Last Words: Those Hemingway Wrote, and Those He Didn’t,” New Yorker (19 November 1998), 80. 9 Ernest Hemingway, True at First Light (New York: Scribner, 1999), 189. 10 See Marc Conner’s essay on Ellison, this volume, for further evidence of the power as well as serviceableness of this technique. 11 Seán Hemingway, “Introduction, A Moveable Feast, 4. 12 Suzanne del Gizzo, “Redefining Remate: Hemingway’s Professed Approach to Writing” A Moveable Feast, Hemingway Review 28:2 (Spring, 2009): 121. 13 Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 132.

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“Death before the Fact”: Posthumous Autobiography in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight and Smile Please Emily O. Wittman Between the 1939 publication of Good Morning, Midnight, her fourth autobiographical novel, and the 1957 BBC radio broadcast of its dramatization by the actress Selma Van Diaz, Jean Rhys was thought dead, presumably by suicide. In 1956, her future literary adviser Francis Wyndham referred to her as “the late Jean Rhys.” Rhys, living reclusively in London, either did not know about or did not bother to contradict this misinformation. Although she was officially laid to rest in 1979, she seemed to concur at the time that death was a more appropriate state for her. “I don’t know why everybody thinks I am dead,” she wrote to Van Diaz, who had tracked her down via an announcement in the New Statesman and Nation, “but I was feeling a bit that way myself at the end!”1 To her daughter Maryvonne she confided that she felt “rather tactless” being alive.2 If we look to Rhys’s autobiographical novels and Smile Please (1979), her unfinished and posthumously published autobiography, we find that she already considered herself dead when she penned her final interwar novel. “Death before the Fact,” from a passage attributed to the sixteenthcentury Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila, is Rhys’s taut description of her death-in-life in Smile Please.3 Indeed, Rhys casts herself as a posthumous writer, not in the Keatsian sense of a dying writer envisioning posthumous fame “among the English poets,” nor in the Nietzschean sense of a writer who was “born posthumously” and writes for posterity. Rather she casts herself as a writer who has already experienced a manner of death, a deep and lasting abjection that will end only with her biological death. Good Morning, Midnight and Smile Please permit an exploration of her often-stated belief that a person dies two separate deaths. They allow us to consider the implications for our understanding of autobiography and autobiographical fiction, genres long associated with change, progression, learning, and all manner of artistic and spiritual growing seasons located 185


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on a teleological axis. Out of place in the canon of life-writing, they d­ispense with the tropes of bildung, self-exposure, and self-revelation that characterize autobiographical portraits of the artist and foreground the ways in which the past can clog the present. In their unflinching depiction of abasement, emotional impotence, and rage as well as their uncompromising refusal of rebirth, Good Morning, Midnight and Smile Please can be read as pioneering work in life-writing, responding to prior autobiographical forms while also offering avant la lettre rejoinders to today’s triumphant autobiographies and optimistic “survivor” memoirs. Good Morning, Midnight and Smile Please also challenge the literary norm by treating the vastly underrepresented later years in a woman’s life: Good Morning, Midnight details the plight of a tormented woman in her late forties struggling to find a public life for herself despite emotional and financial instability; the second half of Smile Please, “It Began to Grow Cold,” treats, in its final three sections, the virtually invisible in literature  – a woman progressively nearing the end of her life. In Good Morning, Midnight, Sasha Jansen – the protagonist and narrator of Rhys’s autobiographical novel – identifies the adjective “sad” as the appropriate description for a woman in the second half of life: “Yes, I am sad, sad as a circus lioness, sad as an eagle without wings, sad as a violin with only one string and that one broken, sad as a woman who is growing old” (45). The afterlife in Rhys’s work is coterminous with biological life. It can be productively juxtaposed with the afterlife happily anticipated by the wealthy older woman in southeastern France for whom both Rhys and Sasha ghostwrote, a woman whose notion of “survival after death” follows the Christian paradigm of a physical death that precedes reunion with “dear, familiar bodies on the other side.”4 In Voyage in the Dark (1934), Anna Morgan, the youngest of Rhys’s fictional avatars, is emotionally destroyed by her abandonment by the much older man who had set her up in London for the length of his passion. From her perspective, the trauma and consequent abjection effectively destroy her but also doom her to a meaningless second life: “I’m nineteen and I’ve got to go on living, living, living.”5 Perhaps the most explicit articulation of the notion of two deaths in Rhys’s fiction is provided by Antoinette Cosway, the Creole heiress turned madwoman in her final novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966): “‘There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about.’”6 In Good Morning, Midnight, Sasha, the eldest of Rhys’s autobiographical avatars, revisits Paris for ten days, ostensibly for a recuperative vacation after a self-destructive period. Paris is the site of Sasha’s young adult life and of many of the traumatic events and disappointments that led to

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her first death, a death she has apparently attempted to literalize through an unsuccessful suicide attempt that at least one of her familiars was eager to see succeed. The novel offers a day-by-day chronicle of Sasha’s stay in Paris, a stay that includes a drawn-out encounter with a gigolo named René (a name whose etymology appears to promise rebirth) and her ultimate death at the hands of a ghostly man, an apparent commis voyageur, or traveling salesman, who leaves his neighboring hotel room and, unbidden, enters her room and her bed at the end of the novel. In Good Morning, Midnight, rebirth, resuscitation, and death are linked with sexuality in a dramatic interplay between eros and thanatos. The novel depicts lovers who promise or threaten revival through sex. Indeed, she describes the ghastly commis as “the ghost of the landing” and he seems to her, in his white dressing gown, like “the priest of some obscene, halfunderstood religion” (13, 35). Apart from Sasha, no one else appears to see him.7 Early in the novel he hovers defiantly and unwanted in the doorway of her room, smiling knowingly and presumptuously – (“Now then, you and I understand each other, don’t we? Let’s stop pretending”) – until she pushes him away and shuts the door: “It’s like pushing a paper man, a ghost, something that doesn’t exist” (35). The commis embodies Sasha’s own fears of invisibility but also, in his seemingly sacrificial robes, the terrifying yet seductive possibility of biological death. During a habitual evening stroll in Montparnasse, Sasha meets a couple of displaced Russians, one of whom invites her to the studio of his painter friend Serge. Serge confides in Sasha about an ostracized woman from Martinique whom he met in London, a “‘woman who was crying because she was at the end of everything’” (95). Although ostensibly sympathetic, he found himself incapable of performing the only act of charity that he believed could truly help her: “‘I knew all the time that what she wanted was that I should make love to her and that it was the only thing that would do her any good. But, alas, I couldn’t’” (97). Later in the novel René articulates a similar confidence in his power to revive and heal through sexual intercourse. Frustrated with Sasha’s sexual reticence, René makes a “movement with his hands like a baker kneading a loaf of bread” and promises her that “‘afterwards you’d be different. I know. Believe me’” (175). Yet Sasha seeks her second death, not revival: “If I thought you’d kill me,” she thinks to herself, “I’d come away with you right now and no questions asked” (172). The title of Good Morning, Midnight is from an Emily Dickinson poem, half of which serves as the epigraph to the novel. Dickinson’s poem suggests that the speaker is heading to a nocturnal life and even an untimely


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death because of a one-sided love affair ended by “Day”: “Day got tired of me – / How could I of him?” The second line of the poem, “I’m coming home,” suggests that the speaker is heading back to “Midnight” although sunshine was a place “I liked to stay – .” Sasha is also nocturnal; her habitual strolls and visits to bars and cafés typically take place after dark when her face is partially obscured by darkness. On a number of occasions during her walks, Sasha makes use of the French expression “entre chien et loup” (between dog and wolf ), a commonly used French expression that describes the crepuscule, when night is beginning to fall and figures are difficult to identify. In a variety of ways she thus articulates the feeling of no longer belonging, of becoming invisible while still physically alive. Good Morning, Midnight begins shortly after Sasha’s failed suicide attempt, and it is quickly clear that she will return to old rhythms, to “‘old times’” during her stay in Paris (9). In the novel Rhys, doubling as Sasha, revisits the site of her younger life and the topoi of her prior novels as well as the short stories in her debut collection The Left Bank (1927). The “impasse” mentioned on the first page is not the only the street “going sharply uphill and ending in a flight of steps” but also the hotel where Sasha seeks shelter during her futile search for emotional and financial support. Running out of money, Sasha is not looking for conventional employment but rather the scenario suggested by the two beds in her hotel room: “a big one for madame and a smaller one on the opposite side for monsieur” (9). Like Rhys’s earlier fictional avatars, Sasha has cycled through various patrons and lovers until she is by herself. But Sasha differs from these earlier avatars; she appears wealthy to strangers because of the fur coat she wears, a present from a wealthy former lover. Sasha is also at least a decade older than the last chronological avatar, Julia Martin in After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie (1931). She fears correctly that she appears an easy mark for potentially duplicitous hawkers of sexual experiences as well as clothing, makeup, and other consumer goods and that she will now suffer from the very “freemasonry among those who prey upon the rich” that helped her when she first lived in Paris (31). Sasha is a ghost in the peripatetic tradition revisiting a prior geography of experience, much of it treated in Rhys’s prior work. With nearly scientific precision and regularity, Sasha carves out a “little life,” haunting familiar cafés, streets, and restaurants (9). The Paris of her earlier adulthood functions much like the mirror in the lavatory at Les Deux Magots, which, she imagines, claims to “‘keep a ghost to throw back at each one [each person who returns to the lavatory]’” (170).

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Sasha holds her “film mind” partially accountable for the way in which the past collapses into the present. She explicitly registers the presence of the past by narrating past events in the present tense. For instance, when she describes how she once went to ask for money from a former acquaintance while in dire financial straits, the account is in the present continuous tense: “I am hating him more than I have ever hated anyone in my life, yet I feel my mouth go soft under his, and my arms go limp” (119). She similarly narrates other past traumatic experiences, including the death of her infant child and further episodes of sexual exploitation. Sasha also comments explicitly on the stubborn persistence of the past. For instance, she notes that her hotel room is “all the rooms I’ve ever slept in, all the streets I’ve ever walked in” (109). Rhys’s protagonists live after abandonment, after devastation, after the exchange of money. Sasha’s past abandonment by her husband, Enno, follows a series of abandonments by men that go back to her young adulthood. After a long account of her past life in Paris, Sasha’s present existence is indicated by a single “now” that indicates the transition from the past as past to the past in the present, a transition that principally concerns the deterioration of her physical body due to the depredations of age: “Now, money for the night is coming. Money for my hair, money for my teeth, money for shoes that won’t deform my feet (it’s not easy now to walk around in cheap shoes with very high heels), money for good clothes, money, money. The night is coming” (144). Sasha’s frequent drunkenness contributes to this physical and moral collapse, permitting even the insertion of the future into the present: “And when I have had a couple of drinks I shan’t know whether it’s yesterday, today or tomorrow” (145). Good Morning, Midnight ends in the hotel room where it begins despite Sasha’s quixotic attempt to relocate to a nicer hotel and “exist on another plane at once” (37). René visits and threatens her with rape when she resists his attempt to seduce her. His aggressive advances offer a brief but false promise of a return life to Sasha, who keeps her eyes shut while she struggles with him on the bed “because dead people must have their eyes shut.” When he pries her legs apart she feels pain in her mouth and her breasts “because it hurts, when you have been dead, to come alive” (182). After René leaves she curls up in her bed silently summoning him back  – whether to bring her life or death. The door opens but instead it is the ghostly commis who enters her room. In the final paragraph of the novel, Sasha wraps her arms around him and pulls him down to her bed, an embrace read by critics in deeply contrary ways as foreshadowing, among other possibilities, rape, death, or a sexual union with “another


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poor devil of a human being” entered into with humility and compassion (190). But the possibility also exists that Rhys will join the commis in his ghostly “paper” state. Sasha, in an interior monologue, figures herself “as still as if I were dead” (190). She rejects René’s promise of erotic rebirth and embraces instead an eroticism that keeps faith with her belief in her own lifelessness. “Yes-yes-yes. . .,” the last words of the novel, uttered by Sasha as she embraces the commis, are presumably a sardonic echo of the orgasmic yeses uttered by Molly Bloom in the final “episode” of Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) although it is unlikely that Rhys had ever read the novel (190).8 The yeses offer an affirmative response to the question posed by the room in the first sentences of the novel: “‘Quite like old times,’” the room says. ‘Yes? No?’” (9). They also recall the third section of the novel in which the room repeats its question about “old times” but responds itself with “‘Yes? . . . No? . . . Yes.’” denying Sasha agency and confirming her stunted personal and social development (145). The novel’s penultimate lines are also repetitive: “I look straight into his eyes and despise another poor devil of a human being for the last time. For the last time . . . ” (190). These lines have been difficult for many readers to manage as it appears that Sasha in some way relishes the union and relaxes into it, just as Rhys’s other fictional avatars often dive headlong into destructive sexual bonds cemented by money. I argue that the last lines of the novel are Sasha’s protracted sigh of relief, uttered when she realizes that she will finally stop living in death. In the erotic and nearoccult power of her union with the commis we can follow the lead from Smile Please and connect the final page of Good Morning, Midnight with Teresa of Ávila’s autobiography, in which she articulates a belief in two deaths and her desire to earn the second through an erotically charged spiritual and bodily sacrifice. Are we justified in reading Good Morning, Midnight as a species of autobiography? Philippe Lejeune’s definition of the “autobiographical pact” requires that the title of a work, in concert with the name beneath it, make a promise of a good faith attempt at veracity. According to Lejeune’s definition, there is no autobiographical pact in Rhys’s novel because, as in most autobiographical fiction, “the author (whose name refers to a real person) and the narrator are not identical.”9 For a work to qualify as autobiography according to Lejeune, “the author, the narrator, and the protagonist must be identical” (4). Nevertheless, Sasha’s “vital statistics,” her age, nationality, and details of her personal history, match those of her protagonist (21). It is certain that elements of Rhys’s actual experience are

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recounted here. As she recalls in Smile Please: “After Voyage in the Dark I went back to Paris again for a holiday, alone, in 1938” (127). Rhys’s trip to Paris also lasted ten days. In Good Morning, Midnight, Sasha buys a painting from Serge of an “old Jew with a red nose, playing the banjo” (100). Tucked into a folder in the Jean Rhys Collection at the University of Tulsa is a letter from a Russian painter named Simon Segal from whom she bought a painting entitled “Old Man with Banjo,” a painting she tore up “during an awful time of despair” long after her trip to Paris.10 Good Morning, Midnight is thus an unusual species of autobiographical fiction, one that we might argue is a kind of fictive nonfiction, a literary handshake between autobiography acknowledged as such, and the purportedly fictional. Smile Please, on the other hand, does establish an autobiographical pact yet complicates it with a subtitle, “An Unfinished Autobiography,” that highlights its incomplete nature. Smile Please was assembled after Rhys’s death by her editor, Diana Athill, who chose the title from the book’s first vignette. Accordingly to Athill, Rhys was initially opposed to the idea of writing an autobiography as she felt that her life had been “used up” in fiction (SP, 4). She reluctantly turned to the genre in her eighties in part because it offered her the opportunity to settle scores and set right various stories about herself. Rhys certainly had a long memory but also a scrupulous sense of integrity; from the outset she was determined to include only dialogue that she remembered clearly. Many sentences begin or end with “I think.” In the preface, Athill maintains that this scrupulous sense of honestly was partially responsible for Rhys’s difficulty with strictly autobiographical composition. In tandem with Rhys’s sense that her novels had used up her life story, this scrupulousness also contributes to the hybrid nature of Smile Please, which eschews arc-driven autobiographical form in favor of short chapters or vignettes that are usually chronological in order but rarely continuous. In her analysis of often unconnected episodes in her life we can hear an echo of Montaigne, whose Essays offer not a chronological retrospective of his life but rather a sustained self-examination. For instance, “My Day,” the last vignette in Smile Please, explores Rhys’s loneliness and insomnia. Rhys began Smile Please in 1976 and worked on it through 1979, the year of her death. Too frail to write herself and suspicious of tape recorders – perhaps because of her lifelong ambivalence about her Creole accent – she dictated her autobiography to the young American writer David Plante. The process of dictation was fraught; Rhys was disorganized and frequently inebriated. She threw fits and yelled at her amanuensis. Some


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days she was too weak to work. As she began to dictate the second half of the autobiography she became increasingly incoherent. An intensely private person who interacted very little with other writers, she feared not only the tape recorder but also the possible distortions that might result from writing her autobiography via dictation to another writer. She was particularly anxious to avoid repeating material from her fiction although she often made use of it to assist her memory. Plante recounts how she made him “check to make sure that a passage she thought of using in her autobiography hadn’t already been used in one of her novels or short stories” (51). The title Smile Please evokes the forced nature of the autobiographical project that Rhys struggled with for years, unsure of its value for herself or for anyone else. As she described it, her novelistic writing took as its point of departure an event that had happened; now she was trapped at the point of departure. A novel “‘has to have a shape’” she told Athill, “‘and life doesn’t have any’” (7). Autobiography as a genre seemed a lesser form of writing to Rhys and she doubted its purpose and merit. With respect to other writers, she declared it “idiotic to be curious about the person” (136). Accordingly, there are few shared confidences in Smile Please and very little self-exposure. Rhys occluded many parts of her life, including marital strife, her imprisonment for violent behavior, her affair with Ford Madox Ford, and the existence of her daughter Maryvonne. She also left out the two years that she spent in Austria, where her first husband, Jean Lenglet, was involved in a currency scam. Such omissions, however, do not indicate that Rhys painted an entirely flattering portrait of herself in her autobiography. There is one chapter in particular that departs radically in form and tone from the others. It was written decades before she considered writing an autobiography. “From a Diary: At the Ropemaker’s Arms” was penned in 1947, nine years after she went to Paris to write Good Morning, Midnight. The first paragraph of the chapter, which begins with the unpunctuated heading “Death before the Fact,” is presented as something that she is in the process of writing. The next heading, “The Trial of Jean Rhys,” sets in motion a trial, complete with stage directions, of a presumed guilty Rhys for a crime or series of crimes that are never specified although a series of questions expose a number of her unattractive traits. The sentence that follows this heading is significant for understanding Rhys’s good faith attempt to tell what really happened: “Someone told me that after long torture the patient, subject, prisoner, whatever the word is, answers every question with ‘I do not know’”(129). The sentence is

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also noteworthy in that “I don’t know” often serves in Smile Please (as it does for Sasha in Good Morning, Midnight) as a disclaimer that will protect Rhys’s claim of innocence even if her behavior is not always commendable and the facts of her life, as she recounts them, are not always entirely accurate. Rhys’s trial is interrupted by a section entitled “Quotations,” which includes the paraphrased or memorized passage from Teresa of Ávila’s Meditations cited in part earlier. The passage is noteworthy for its mystical notion of death in life, here envisioned proleptically: “At the cost of a long death before the fact, I shall conquer this world that is ever new, ever young. Dare to follow me and you will see” (130). This is followed by a series of questions and statements by a Prosecution and a Defense in which she is accused of and admits to being socially awkward, unforgiving, and uncommitted to friendship. And yet an ars poetica emerges as Rhys links her “childish” writing to what she believes is her immanent death (she would die thirty-two years later). In her view, writing down the honest truth about her life will allow her to earn death: “I must write. If I stop writing my life will have been an abject failure. It is that already to other people. But it could be an abject failure to myself. I will not have earned death” (133). Rhys thus suggests that writing can precipitate the bodily death that will end her death in life. Teresa of Ávila was by no means Rhys’s only major literary influence. In a number of chapters she suggests that the model for her future relationships and marginal lifestyle was in the books that she read in her family’s colonial library, with its heady combination of Milton, Shakespeare, and popular literature. “Books” narrates Rhys’s passage into literature as a child. Her much-hated nurse Meta warns her that voracious reading will end in disaster: “If you read so much, you know what will happen to you? Your eyes will drop out and they will look at you from the page.” Rhys defiantly “went on reading” (21). In “Facts of Life,” she recalls the experience of reading as a young woman and outlines her solitary sentimental education: No one ever advised me what to read or forbade me to read something. I even looked at the rare and curious shelf but I don’t remember any of it making much impression. I liked books about prostitutes, there were a good many then, and vividly recollect a novel called The Sands of Pleasure written by a man named Filson Young. It must have been well written, otherwise I would never have remembered it so perfectly to this day. It was about an Englishman’s love affair with an expensive demimondaine in Paris. (50–1)


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In “Poetry,” she recalls reading Paradise Lost “because I was curious about Satan” and Byron “because I hoped to be shocked” (47). “Facts of Life” suggests that the young Rhys was sensible to shock and risk and intrigued by the dynamics of prostitution, especially the exchange of money for companionship. The young Rhys also schooled herself about the inevitable loss for the kept woman when her appearance loses its market value and no longer attracts either affirmation or money. Several of the sections in Smile Please suggest Rhys’s early attachment to a dead-end Victorian prostitution or “kept woman” plot and the inception of a romance with abjection. Indeed, the connection between sexuality and money arguably plays a role in all of Rhys’s novels and many of her short stories as well. Furthermore, “Chorus Girls,” “Books,” and “The Religious Fit,” among other essays in the first half of Smile Please, introduce the possibility that Rhys did not so much fall into the socially marginal role of chorus girl but rather halfheartedly essayed other arguably related pursuits at which she might fail and then end up a chorus girl. Indeed, “a job in the chorus of a musical comedy” was the first employment Rhys found after her father passed away and she was forced to leave the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (85). In “Christmas Day” she considers her fascination with prostitution plots: It seems to me now that the whole business of money and sex is mixed up with something very primitive and deep. When you take money directly from someone you love it becomes not money but a symbol. The bond is now there. The bond has been established. I am sure the woman’s deepdown feeling is “I belong to this man, I want to belong to him completely.” It is at once humiliating and exciting. (97)

Rhys and Sasha are literary ghosts of Victorian, Belle Époque, and finde-siècle literary fallen women, whose updated plots they map onto the streets of London and Paris. Although Rhys shies away from narratives of progress, one element in Smile Please that could effectively be juxtaposed with a bildung or a künstlerroman is the description of her discovery of her vocation as a writer. This is detailed in the vignettes “The Interval” and “World’s End and a Beginning.” Alone in her boarding room, after the unanticipated end of her first love affair, she wrote a poem: “I didn’t know / I didn’t know / I didn’t know” (92). But her initiation into her literary vocation occurred months later, on the evening of a day on which she had purchased some black exercise books on a whim: “It was after supper that night  – as usual a glass of milk and some bread and cheese – that it happened. My

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fingers tingled, and the palms of my hands. I pulled a chair up to the table, opened an exercise book, and wrote This is my Diary. But it wasn’t a diary. I remembered everything that had happened to me in the last year and a half.” This clarification is worth noting. She appears to suggest that date- and event-driven diaries capture only the facts of what happens and put the past squarely behind the diarist, whereas what she wrote in her exercise notebooks put her present state first and allowed her to work back and forth between her devastation and the events that caused it. Her notebooks examine “what had happened to me” as opposed to recounting simply what had happened (104). Despite Rhys’s precautions, Smile Please repeats material from her fiction and even repeats material between sections. Stuck in an epistemological impasse, unable to make sense of her life (“I don’t know.” “I didn’t know”), Rhys’s vignettes fumble when they move beyond the nineteenth century and her early childhood. She writes about her early years and then – only briefly – about the life she had “used up” in her fiction. Like Sasha, Rhys’s biological body ages but she remains baffled, metaphysically evacuated, and occasionally intoxicated. In this way Good Morning, Midnight and Smile Please tackle key challenges to the genre of autobiography by narrating a form of afterlife, the life of a person who ages with neither salvation, nor conversion, nor progress. In Smile Please, Rhys suggests that the wisdom and maturity so often associated with autobiographical projects written by older writers can function as compensatory myths. Likewise, she intimates that it is neither more truthful nor more effective to write from the perspective of what one has become. For Rhys, adult life has no template or self-evident truths, only a strained particularity. Good Morning, Midnight and Smile Please demonstrate that the use of a continuous and entirely coherent narrative to describe life as it unfolds is an artificial, worn-out, and signally ill-suited approach. Her innovation, her modernity, rests precisely in this rejection of the premises and promises of post-Enlightenment autobiography, in particular the premise of a stable and triumphant sovereign self who narrates his autobiography and the promise of personal growth and social advancement culminating in insight and self-assured reflection. Notes 1 Jean Rhys to Selma Van Diaz, 22 October 1956, in The Letters of Jean Rhys, Francis Wyndham and Diana Melly, eds. (New York: Viking Penguin, 1984), 135. All further citations to this edition.


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2 Jean Rhys to Maryvonne Moerman, 9 November 1949, in The Letters of Jean Rhys, 61. 3 Jean Rhys, Smile Please (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 130. All further citations to this edition. 4 Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight (New York: Norton, 1986), 168. All further citations to this edition. 5 Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark (New York: Norton, 1982), 109. 6 Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (New York: Norton, 1966), 128. 7 Rachel Bowlby speculates that the commis is a third person in the room “since the room speaks.” Still Crazy after All These Years: Women, Writing and Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1992), 35. 8 This “yes-yes-yes” also ends an earlier sentence in which Sasha describes her “usual conversation” with a presumably male audience: “‘I believe it’s going to be fine today – yes, I hope it is – yes, yes, yes’” (161). Although it is unlikely that Rhys read Ulysses before she wrote Good Morning, Midnight because of censorship, it is possible that she was familiar with its final words. In Difficult Women, David Plante recalls that Rhys “admitted, with no sign of great regret, that she hadn’t read Balzac, Proust, Fielding, Trollope, George Eliot, James, Conrad, Joyce” (New York: Plume, 1984), 41. All further citations to this edition. 9 Philippe Lejeune, On Autobiography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 4. All further citations to this edition. 10 Jean Rhys to Selma Van Diaz, 27 October 1956, in The Letters of Jean Rhys, 137.

Ch apter 15

Abstraction, Impersonality, Dissolution Robert L. Caserio

This I, the old formula of the age, was a dead letter. D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love

Abstracting Selfhood A paradoxical vision of personal selfhood formulated in Virginia Woolf ’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) strikes a keynote of modernist autobiography. Discussing Shakespeare and Jane Austen, Woolf claims that those are names for writers whose works avoid “self-expression.” Transcending ego-centered biases, Shakespeare and Austen become impersonal: “We do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare.” “And for that reason,” Woolf continues, “Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and so does Shakespeare.”1 The identities of those writers are nominal, because their selves are abstracted in their work. Modernist autobiographers are consonant with Woolf ’s paradox. They produce life-writing, however perplexingly, as records of selves impersonally distanced from selfhood; of identities that are none. They thereby sometimes court, and value, their own dissolution. The title alone of W. E. B. Du Bois’s Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (1940) illustrates the modernist compound of personhood and abstraction. In a prefatory “apology” Du Bois disclaims the personal interest of his narrative. His life is “peculiarly mine”2 only because “it was part of . . . the central problem of the greatest of the world’s democracies and so the Problem of the future world.”3 The “Problem” is not “race”; it is instead a compound of economics and psychology. Global capitalism invests, for profitable exploitation’s sake, in the concept  – a fiction  – called “race”; at the same time, the investment is involved with “ideas conditioned on unconscious and subconscious reflexes.”4 The latter, as much as capitalist organization, requires 197


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uprooting, and delivery to rational consciousness. The uprooting cannot depend on “self-assertion.”5 In his student days at Harvard, when he was “voluntarily and willingly outside . . . social life,”6 Du Bois remembers that “I had my ‘island’ within and it was a fair country.”7 That other country harbored individuation and freedom: “The soul is still individual if it is free.”8 It is free inasmuch as it comprehends what Du Bois formulates as “that anarchy of the spirit which is inevitably the goal of all consciousness.”9 Until the Problem is solved, however, a freely individuated personality must remain abstract – a dislocated form of being that is virtual rather than realized. Experiment in Autobiography (1934) by H.  G. Wells is an English equivalent of Dusk of Dawn. In Wells we also find a drive to submerge a “purely personal criterion” in response to a global dilemma. 10 The world has not been saved by class war and the Marxist revolution in the Soviet Union, nor by “the mystical democracy of the ‘Peepul’” nor by “the childish abstractions we call nations.”11 Until the East learns “state capitalism”12 and the West learns “the socialization of capital,”13 the globe cannot realize the one thing needful: “Cosmopolis,” a rationally planned world state that will create a “world citizen’s ideology.”14 Wells’s dedication to Cosmopolis is accompanied by a shadowy self. “I am rarely vivid to myself,”15 Wells says, because his autobiography “is not even the beginning of a statement of what I am, but only of what I most like to think I am.”16 Wells, following Jung, calls this his persona. It is an abstraction, a guiding mask, and “it may be fundamentally false.”17 Nevertheless, under its guidance, “a system of creative realizations in one particular mind” may be arrived at.18 Tracking the realizations in the light of his persona, Wells’s autobiography is “not an apology for a life but a research into its nature.”19 The research includes his body and brain, which he has no qualms about reducing to those of a laboratory animal: “I dissect the dead rabbit of my former self.”20 A misleading investment in the “personality” of individuals will not forge Cosmopolis. Its project also makes the past less important to autobiography than the future. History has been snared in “time-worn gossip and stale and falsified politics,” a product of fixedly retrospective views. At the level of the persona, and of societal life, “the broad lines of probability ahead” must be “more and more ruled by the creative effects of our acts.”21 Wells’s autobiography propels a traditionally backward-looking genre into a collective futurism. Wells admits that the outcome of his Experiment returns individuation to the equivalent, “psychologically,” of “a religious life,” because

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his persona’s “sustaining idea”  – “the planned reconstruction of human r­elationships in the form of the world-state”  – is “disoriented from the ego.”22 After all, Wells concludes, “personally when I examine myself I am nothing.”23 The ego disorientation is a boon, soothing relief for the “ruffled persona.” Unlike religious antecedents, “the change . . . to a larger life,” although “still an escape from first-hand egoism and immediacy, . . . is no longer an escape from fact.” Therefore the “modern escape to impersonality” is “all the more effective and enduring.”24 The abstracted fate of the modernist self is summed up when Wells announces that, because “modern life is expansion and then effacement,” if a single self can open doors to the future, it will do so in the name of impersonality, “and then stand aside.”25 In a psychoanalytically oriented memoir, a contrast to DuBois’s and Wells’s reduction of selfhood might be expected. We might expect, instead, the value of a self establishing its victory over inward and outward threats. Nevertheless, in her Tribute to Freud (1945–6), H.  D. turns her analytic encounter with Freud away from self-possession as an aim. H. D. sought out Freud in the hope that she might, if only in memory, repeat sanely her visionary experience – of uncanny picture-writing on the wall of a room on a Greek island – that seems to guarantee a surmounting of personal life. The writing promises a corroboration of H.  D.’s desire to resurrect ancient Greek and Egyptian religion in her poetry, and to embrace an identification with its myths, whereby her identity would be dissolved into one of its figures. While Freud countenances this experience, H. D.’s desire to be absorbed by mythological abstraction also aggravates him. One day he exclaims at her apparent indifference to him, “I am an old man  – you do not think it worth your while to love me.”26 Does the outburst express Freud’s sense that H. D. will not respond to his particular identity as well as her own? A psychoanalytic encounter brings into play, in the patient and the analyst, multiple selves: repressed alternative identities, introjected selves that compensate for lost loves. But the multiple and split identities are stamped with personal specificity. H. D. appears to want to take on a uniform identity that transcends the concrete psychomachia that in Freud’s thought besets all of us. Freud’s use of mythology as a way of explaining the mind sees myth as a displacement of conflicts in the psyche. The myths must be resituated there, in order to illuminate the conflicts. H. D.’s use of myth works in a contrary direction. She wants the myth to resolve conflicts. If her desire is faithless to Freud, it is faithful to literary modernism. As in The Waste Land or Ulysses, H. D. applies mythology to personal and social


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experience in an attempt to resolve its tribulations by casting them into impersonal abstract patterns.

Standing Aside Du Bois and Wells stand aside from self to move closer to the world; H. D. seeks a being less related to it. An example of fully nonrelated being is Gertrude Stein, whose modernist innovations pervade “her” autobiographies. They are hers and not hers, as in her Everybody’s Autobiography (1937). More than one-third of the book narrates Stein’s American lecture tour in the wake of the celebrity Stein acquired from her The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). Stein characterized that book as a “joke” played on the autobiographical tradition.27 By writing an autobiography that was not one, she substituted for the life history of Toklas an innovation in the life of the genre. Is the 1937 text another joke? Its longest chapter is a story of Stein’s visit to the environments of her formative years. When Stein makes her way to her previous Oakland residence on Thirteenth Avenue, it is scarcely “everybody’s” experience that is being related. The claim of universality is implicit, however, in what fissures Stein’s autobiographical account, even in its longest chapter. Exemplary of modernism, the text depends on a constant disruption of sequential or consequential progress from past to present, and therefore on a disruption of relatedness in general. What for us might underpin relations  – whether they are narrative ones, or personal ones – is identity and personal identity’s persistence through time. But Stein, once she started to experiment in autobiography, “began to worry about identity.”28 By the time she reached Oakland, she “did not like anything that was happening.” She was faced with her identity as a definable person with a definably situated history: “If I had not been I then that place would not be the place that I could see.” But she is not pleased by being “I.” For “who has to be themselves inside them,” she asks and immediately answers, “Not any one.” No one has to be anyone inside, because “what is the use of having been if you are to be going on being.” 29 For all of us, Stein thinks, “going on being” stands apart from identity, and from identity’s relation to temporal sequence. Stein had been “going on being” until the success of her book about Toklas. That book was founded on Stein’s claim that “what happens” is an “outside” matter, and therefore not interesting, in the way that “what is,” which is inside, is interesting.30 Stein therefore annexed “the outside”  – Toklas  – in order to remake the outside “inside” Stein. To unfold (or

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enfold) “inside” meanings, Stein explains, “you do not call it [an outside thing, whether a person or a thing or an event or a state of affairs] by the name by which it is known.”31 If Stein is known as Stein, another name – for example, Toklas’s  – will better serve expression. The success of the “autobiography” gave Stein publicity. Publicity assigned her an “outside” character that it simultaneously identified with her (despite the resistance to such identity in her autobiographical “joke”). Stein wanted readers to be interested in her work, not in her. “It is funny about identity,” she writes. “You are you because your little dog knows you” – because your person effects recognition, at least at an animal or biological level – “but when your public knows you you are not the same you.”32 The return to Oakland in Everybody’s Autobiography, despite its record of frequent happiness, is an “outside” affair, at odds with Stein’s inward abstraction. “I had always been I because I had words that had to be written inside me and now,” but, for her American journey (after a quartercentury of expatriation), Stein was asked to deliver public lectures, hence to speak in a way that would be all “outside.” The prospect, threatening her “inside” words, makes her wonder: “Was I I when I had no written word inside me.” Then begins the “great bother” of “inside and outside and identity.”33 The result is Stein’s annulment of identity, whether it be outside or inside. What makes personal identity, Stein argues, is “something that you do or do not remember.”34 “The only thing that makes identity possible is no change but nevertheless there is no identity nobody really thinks they are the same as they remember.”35 Even at the animal level, illustrated by the trustworthy dog, memory and recognition fail. Stein’s dog “sometimes . . . does not know us when he sees us.”36 It is not surprising, then, that “identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself. That is really the trouble with an autobiography.”37 But that is not the trouble with Everybody’s Autobiography! Stein can claim her book to be everybody’s, because everybody is vital precisely wherein he or she is out of relation to identity and memory. The whole world is out of relation in this way, because global identities have dissolved. Everybody’s Autobiography begins with an assertion that “European culture . . . is no longer European because perhaps Europe is finished”  – finished, as a result of what Stein proclaims is “peaceful Oriental penetration.”38 Such penetration apparently means a universal intermingling, so that no one is left out and unaccounted for: “Nobody can get lost any more because the earth is all so covered with everybody


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and everybody is always moving around and you always see everybody.”39 With everybody, including herself, in intermingled motion, Stein intends “to say everything about everything.” She had attempted a similar project in her The Making of Americans (1906–8), but she points out the new difference. The earlier book, because it is “a history of every individual person who ever is or was or shall be living,” might be thought of as everyone’s biography. As biography, it depends upon relations between what is outside and what is inside and hence assumes the interest of relations among individuals, and of individuals to groups  – family, ethnic, and national groups. “At that time,” Stein comments, pursuing the comparison of the earlier text and the 1937 one, “I did not realize that the earth is completely covered over with every one.” Now, thanks to the migratory displacement whereby separate identities have been universally penetrated, and thereby undone, “there is really no relation between any one.” Hence Everybody’s Autobiography “is not to be of any connection between anyone one and any one because now there is none.”40 Disconnecting being from relational forms, modernist abstraction is here especially obscure. Stein, as if acknowledging that her claim about disconnection requires a fully illustrative instance, provides an account of the most significant loss of relation in her own experience: her break with her brother, and onetime idol, Leo Stein. Is the break not the most personal and painful episode in Everybody’s Autobiography? As such, does it not prove that Stein cannot escape from “I,” and does it not also argue that what Stein proclaims matter-of-factly as the loss of connection, whether personal or global, is not only a novel matter of fact, but also a lamentable wound? In short, does the narrative about Leo show Gertrude Stein at odds with herself? Answers to those questions, enfolded in Stein’s structuring of her text, constitute a triumph of consistency. The argument between Leo and Gertrude is central to Everybody’s Autobiography because it was about identity. Stein’s report of this argument is about identity’s escape from concretely personal terms into vital abstraction. As she began her writing career, Gertrude had begun to think of herself as not having an identity, but as having “genius” instead. She uses the term to mean the freedom of “being,” and of language, from recognizable relations to selfhood and to the world. Leo contradicted Gertrude about “genius”: “He said it [genius] was not it it was I. If I was not there to be there with what I did then what I did would not be what it was. In other words if no one knew me actually then the things I did would not be what they were.”41 Leo, attaching Gertrude’s work to a specific, recognizable identity, insists that the

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attachment is inalienable. If his claim were true it would negate Stein’s work, which perplexes the identity of words and of persons, for the sake of liberating the vital “being” that otherwise is constrained by identifiable meanings. If Leo had not insisted on the belief he asserted, Gertrude says, Leo could have been a genius himself. And so might everybody be a genius, for, as Stein points out, the global condition now is one of nonidentifiable nonrelation. Stein, by erasing everyone’s individual identity, including her own, and by revising the meaning of genius in terms of the erasure, maintains her coherence. The promise of her coherence appears, cryptically, on the first page of her text, when she declares, without any sequential (or relational) logic, that “Alice B. Toklas did hers and now everybody will do theirs. . . . That is the way any autobiography has to be written which reminds me of Dashiell Hammett.”42 Stein’s text goes on to represent detective fiction as a symptom of the new global absence of identities and traditional relations based on them. Stein’s account of Leo’s refusal of “genius” is followed by a story about an unsolved murder in Stein’s town in southern France. The apparent (but characteristic) non sequitur harks back to Stein’s first page. For, in a detective story “the man being dead he is not really in connection with any one.” “That is what makes detective stories such good reading.”43 It is also what makes autobiography good reading. The story of Gertrude and Leo is, startlingly, about a killing: the mortal wounding of a kinship. But instead of mourning the loss, Stein takes it in stride and sees us all implicated in a like severing of connections. In relation to identity, we are dead men. The severance is rooted both in the fact that “you are never yourself ”44 and in the global era of “no relation between any one.”45 “The man . . . not being in connection with any one” in detective fiction distinguishes the genre from the traditional novel, and from conventional autobiography, Stein argues. Those forms of storytelling depend on “character” for their interest. But “Why not just write meditations,” Stein wonders; they “are always interesting, neither character nor identity are necessary to him who meditates.”46 As if it were the meditation of an arelational, identity-evading being, Everybody’s Autobiography contemplates politics that, Stein writes, do “nothing . . . but make a noise.”47 She finds the Spanish Civil War and the prospects of communism in France especially noisy. Alarmingly (to us) she also says that she and Toklas “liked the fascists” in their town, and she admits that young persons are calling her “reactionary.”48 At the same time, however, Stein complains against the upsurge of global “fathers” – a recrudescence of relational figures who belie the surpassing of relations that Stein wants Everybody’s Autobiography


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to attest. “There is father Mussolini and father Hitler and father Roosevelt and father Stalin and father [John L.] Lewis and father [Leon] Blum and father Franco. . . . Fathers are depressing.”49 The problem with the fathers is that they all desire “organization,” a word to which Stein gives a nefarious shading. “The world is covered with people and these people would like to be completely organized to live,” Stein thinks.50 In other words, the all-covering people would like to hang back from the opportunity for the abstract and lively genius that history has afforded them. In their hankering for organization they desire to revert to being “themselves.” Their desire – perhaps more reactionary than Stein’s political commentary – is an unfortunate contradiction of everybody’s escape from identity. Hoping that the desire for organization will wear itself out, Stein concludes that “contradiction is there in every man and . . . woman and so nothing ever does get settled.”51 But being unsettled, and unsettled being, is better than any contrary state. Everybody’s Autobiography invites its readers to live out a vital modernist abstraction that riskily stands aside from the self.

Dissolution John Cowper Powys commits his near-seven-hundred-page Autobiography (1934) to the rehearsal of what he terms “totally useless, purposeless, unprofitable feelings.”52 Illicit sex contributes to such feelings. Not “a beautiful creative force full of life and joy,” eros for Powys provides a selfjustifying “world of intense absorption, . . . maniacal exclusiveness, . . . delirious exaction, . . . insane pursuit.”53 Powys celebrates purposeless feelings and insane pursuits because they “defy society”54 and achievement; his autobiography unfolds what he calls “the trick of sinking to the bottom of the world.” The self that the world recognizes through Powys’s fiction and his long public lecturing career sinks along with him, to identitydissolving but “restorative” effect.55 The most famous modernist-era exponents of “sinking to the bottom of the world,” contrastive as well as strangely complementary, are F. Scott Fizgerald and Henry Miller. Fitzgerald’s autobiographical essays for Esquire magazine in 1936–7 illustrate another dislocated self. Here the dislocation is crushing. In “My Lost City” (1932) Fitzgerald recounts his unexpected success upon the publication of This Side of Paradise (1920). A dream had come true: the self Fitzgerald wanted to be, and the self he was, merged, sutured by recognition, by success. The success pushed him “into the position of  . . . spokesman for the time [and] typical product of that same moment.” But soon there opened a gulf between public self and whatever

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might be personal. His public self could not sustain its fit with the recognition given it by others – or by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald and his wife came to “not know who we were and . . . what we were.”56 The personal became provisional. For what or whom does Fitzgerald speak? The essays cannot tell. By 1934, Fitzgerald writes, “The character who bears my name has become blurred”; by 1936, he announces that he has gone to pieces. He discovers that he has been living “on resources that I did not possess”57; he feels “a vast irresponsibility toward every obligation, a deflation of my values”58 (for one thing, he believes movies have superseded novels). An editor has complained to Fitzgerald that the piece called “The Crack-Up” (February 1936) required further explanation. The next month’s “Pasting It Together” responds. But the response is secretive, even though, before ending abruptly, it enumerates five reasons why “there was not an ‘I’ any more. . . . It was strange to have no self.”59 The causal logic remains unclear. In the final installment of the series, “Handle with Care,” Fitzgerald announces that, because “a clean break is something you cannot come back from,” he will return to being “a writer only,” ceasing “any attempts to be a person.”60 Such an announcement to a reading public, declaring the writer as merely a persona, with nothing behind the mask, differs markedly from versions of ceasing to be a person that subvert recognizable identities because those keep in place a social and historical organization hostile to new life-forms. Yet Fitzgerald’s return to writing confirms what many modernists insist on: identities, whether personal or public, populate a realm of hollow men. In Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934) the dissolution tale of selfhood with which modernism replaces earlier autobiography repudiates the world of hollow men. Miller evokes “being,” just as Stein does; yet his being, unlike Stein’s, does not separate itself from outward conditions. They begin with Miller’s body, whose hungers for food and sex in Paris, where he has expatriated himself, are exacerbated by Miller’s penury. Bodies, especially in their venereal phases, fill up Miller’s pages, which were accordingly banned from publication and circulation in the Englishspeaking world. Surely, one might think, those bodies represent a turn against abstraction and impersonality. Despite Tropic of Cancer’s cultivation of such “outside” phenomena, however, one is hard pressed to locate Miller’s desires in a fixedly physical realm. Consider Miller’s account of the genitals of the prostitute Germaine: She commenced rubbing her pussy affectionately. . . . There was something about her eloquence at that moment and the way she thrust that rosebush


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The passage marks an idealizing leap that fuses embodiment and immaterial vision. In a like movement Miller’s narrative, which appears to be an autobiographical history, can break into surrealistic dream states without any demarcation of the differences among sight, actual occurrence, and visionary ecstasy (or nightmare). Undoing demarcations is one of Miller’s specialties. One is not able to tell whether Tropic of Cancer is a fiction or a document, whether it is a memoir of a group (a group of “genito-urinary friendships” – “That’s how one gets acquainted in Paris”)62 or of an individual. The individual Miller has a shadowy history – he has an American wife, who might be “Mona,” whom Miller worships and mourns, but who receives no fixed definition. Miller himself has none, so that his personhood is at once present and disintegrated: he is a cynical libertine, dining off the husbands of his mistresses; he is a patiently generous friend of men whose near-insanity burdens him; he is a callous thief. Modernist texts characteristically dissolve generic categories. Tropic of Cancer aligns itself with that dissolution too, but ventures deeper into instability. Miller and his friends love the modernists Proust, Conrad, Anatole France, the playwright August Strindberg, and the painter Matisse. Matisse gives Miller “the sensation of being immersed in the very plexus of life,” a feeling he calls a refusal of “the consummation of death,” although he also identifies it with “being lost.”63 Miller’s thoughts about Matisse become another vision: of the world going to pieces (“the sun bleeds like a broken rectum”)64; still, Miller sees Matisse’s art “more solidly fixed and anchored . . . as the process of dissolution quickens.”65 Similarly, Strindberg, although his work inspired Henry and Mona to join together in “that wild carnival of maggots. . . ., that eternal duel of the sexes,” is a figure of rebirth for Miller. Strindberg experienced “the dark and fearsome sojourn in the belly of the whale, the bloody struggle to liberate himself, to emerge clean of the past.”66 Such modernist uplift promises to nudge Tropic of Cancer’s author toward a similar emergence. But Miller clings to the trick of sinking. His paean to Matisse ends in imagery at odds with its tenor: “a woman offering herself outside a urinal, . . . the air . . . steady with a stagnant sperm.”67 The celebration of Strindberg’s issue from the belly of the whale turns into Miller’s declaration of Paris as an epitome of cruelty,

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as the embodiment of “cancer and syphilis,” but as a place from which Miller will not even attempt to emerge.68 The attempt would require him to reenlist in what Miller sees as a warlike frenzied pursuit of money and sex. Having participated in that war, Miller comes to prefer being a disabled soldier, no longer eligible for combat. “As far as history goes, I am dead,” Miller writes.69 Although he refuses despair, he accepts “living in a world without hope.”70 Having arrived at this terminus in Miller, modernist impersonality might seem to constitute a monitory warning against its tendencies. Yet we might see dissolution – as a way of life, as an erasure of self or personhood or identity – enacting what the poet Shelley (perhaps the protomodernist Romantic) describes when he thinks of Prometheus, the martyr to humanity, who must learn to hope “til Hope creates / From its own wreck the thing it contemplates.” Underneath the wreckage Miller embraces a paradisiacal vision. In his memoir-essay, “Reunion in Brooklyn” (1944), he returns to his family after a ten-year absence. He is horrified by the shriveled appearance of his mother and sister, and by their mean-spiritedness, especially in regard to Miller’s father, a tailor who, having lost his livelihood thanks to “readymade” clothes, is dying of bladder cancer (a urine bag is tied to his leg) and suffering from kidney stones. The mother and sister “behaved as if [Miller’s father] had committed a crime by becoming ill”71 – a behavior intensified by their poverty. The family is another combat unit in the war Miller will not join. Fortunately, Miller receives a publisher’s advance and spends the money on the family, whose morale improves. A visionary episode supervenes. In Paris Miller has dreamed of a peaceful street that expresses “the splendor and holiness of life as it would always reveal itself in moments of utter stillness.” Now he discovers the dream street: it is a real street, near the family house, but never previously known by him. The discovery witnesses “a miraculous accord between desire and reality.” It argues that our ordinary lives are a screened alternative to “another world.”72 Miller thus ends his dissolution tale out of time, and yet in a Brooklyn space that is also real. The visionary locus becomes a distinct stability that absorbs the unstable person of Miller, eaten by the cancers of his history. The person dies, so to speak, into an enduring, impersonal ground. D.  H. Lawrence’s travel writings, his substitutes for autobiography  – or his innovation of the form – provide a final illustration of modernist autobiography’s progress. In the posthumously published Etruscan Places (1932), the Etruscan tombs speak to Lawrence of a civilization that raises questions about desire for recognition. “Why this lust after imposing


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creeds, imposing deeds, imposing buildings, imposing language, imposing works of art”73 – and imposing selves? The Etruscans, in Lawrence’s meditation, fostered a sense of the continuities among life, death, and their space of earth that depended on an impersonal transcendence. Lawrence protests that “with [King] David the living cosmos became merely a personal god. With the . . . Etruscans, there were . . . no personal gods.”74 It is better, Lawrence claims, that persons not be “the very end of all creation or evolution.”75 There is no need to worry – as autobiographers seem to – about identity. Immortality belongs to places, because they, not souls or selves, endure. Etruscan Places functions, probably, as Lawrence’s way of coming to terms with his own disappearance. His personal farewell resonates with a new corpus of life-stories that pursue a like end. Notes 1 Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 88. 2 W. E. B. DuBois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (New Brunswick and London: Transaction, 1984), 4. 3 DuBois, Dusk of Dawn, xxix–xxx. 4 DuBois, Dusk of Dawn, xxx. 5 DuBois, Dusk of Dawn, 311. 6 DuBois, Dusk of Dawn, 35. 7 DuBois, Dusk of Dawn, 36. 8 DuBois, Dusk of Dawn, 153. 9 DuBois, Dusk of Dawn, 134. 10 H. G. Wells , Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1967), 9. 11 Wells, Experiment, 60. 12 Wells, Experiment, 215. 13 Wells, Experiment, 690. 14 Wells, Experiment, 616. 15 Wells, Experiment, 19. 16 Wells, Experiment, 9. 17 Wells, Experiment, 9. 18 Wells, Experiment, 13. 19 Wells, Experiment, 348. 20 Wells, Experiment, 353. 21 Wells, Experiment, 553–4. 22 Wells, Experiment, 425. 23 Wells, Experiment, 706. 24 Wells, Experiment, 707.

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25 Wells, Experiment, 669. 26 H. D., Tribute to Freud (New York: New Directions, 1974), 16. 27 Gertrude Stein, Writings 1932–1946 (New York: Library of America, 1998), 312. 28 Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), 64. 29 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 291. 30 Stein, Writings, 312. 31 Stein, Writings, 314. 32 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 44f. 33 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 65. 34 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 71. 35 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 70. 36 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 71. 37 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 68. 38 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 21. 39 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 55–6. 40 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 99. 41 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 76–7. 42 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 3. 43 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 99. 44 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 68. 45 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 99. 46 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 102. 47 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 87. 48 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 309. 49 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 132. 50 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 102. 51 Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 308. 52 John Cowper Powys, Autobiography (Hamilton, NY: Colgate University Press, 1994), 167. 53 Powys, Autobiography, 34. 54 Powys, Autobiography, 85. 55 Powys, Autobiography, 524. 56 F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up, Edmund Wilson, ed. (New York: New Directions, 1945), 27. 57 Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, 72. 58 Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, 78. 59 Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, 79. 60 Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, 83. 61 Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (New York: Grove Press, 1961), 43. 62 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 235. 63 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 162–3. 64 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 165. 65 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 164.


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66 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 181. 67 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 166. 68 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 185. 69 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 98. 70 Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 151. 71 Henry Miller, “Reunion in Brooklyn” Sunday after the War (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1944), 85. 72 Miller, “Reunion in Brooklyn,” 101. 73 D. H. Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan Places, in D. H. Lawrence and Italy (327– 441) Simonetta de Filippis, Paul Eggert, and Mara Kalnins, eds. (Penguin Classics, 2007), 353. 74 Lawrence, Sketches, 376. 75 Lawrence, 390.

Ch apter 16

Name after Name: Beckett’s Secret Autobiography Michael Wood

He talks of his books as if they were written by someone else. Patrick Bowles

Is not this rather the place where one finishes vanishing? Samuel Beckett

I The mere mention of autobiography in relation to the work of Samuel Beckett may seem an act of folly, the promise of an inadvertent parody of many moments in that work. The long failing quest for silence on the part of Beckett and his characters, those “figments” with which he peoples his denuded worlds, would turn into a slow scene of revelation, crowded with denials but ending in disclosure all the same. A few scholars, undaunted, even encouraged by this prospect, have had interesting things to say, but it is a risky affair.1 Beckett’s elaboration of the failed quest is itself a great achievement, the stylistic signature of an unforgettable writer, and we cannot wish to invert it or undo it. But I do want to see what happens when we find ourselves tempted to believe that there is no one there in Beckett’s imagined worlds, no person in sight or hearing in these patiently created regions, nothing but figments. This is almost true, and totally true as the expression of a dream. But when we think again, as the texts invariably invite us to do, we must wonder about the one figure who cannot be lacking: the present/absent Samuel Beckett, the man who placed all the words in their perfectly misjudged order. Beckett does not write his life but his characters write theirs incessantly, and if life-writing includes sustained written skepticism about what a life is, then Beckett is a master of the genre. It is surprising how often, and how skillfully, his narrators use the word “life,” as in “the long confused 211



emotion which was my life”2; “the inenarrable contraption I called my life” (114); “his long blind life” (279); “all our long vain life long” (346); “life without tears, as it is wept” (32); “the end of a life is always vivifying” (212); “as if there could be anything but life, for the living” (239); “my life, my life, now I speak of it as of something over, now as of a joke which still goes on, and it is neither” (36); “but can that be called a life which vanishes when the subject is changed?” (353); “if I go on long enough calling that my life I’ll end up by believing it. It’s the principle of advertising” (53). All of these phrases are clichés or modify clichés and suggest that if life is nowhere, the idea of a life is everywhere. Could one write or talk one’s way out of it? Michel Foucault takes a phrase from Texts for Nothing as a cue for his paper “What is an author?”: “What matter who’s speaking, someone said what matter who’s speaking.” For Foucault this is an evocation of “indifference” in the French sense, a version of the extended disappearance of the author, announced by Stéphane Mallarmé and certified by Roland Barthes.3 It is an ethical principle, Foucault says, a question of literature’s renouncing expression and accepting an intimacy with death. Indeed the very premises of Foucault’s paper seem to be taken from Beckett, who spoke famously of the obligation to express although there is nothing to express, and whose words are, or long to be, dying words, in Christopher Ricks’s phrase.4 But if it does not matter who is speaking (or writing) in any easily identifiable sense, it does matter who occupies or is seen to occupy the position of the speaker, and Foucault goes on to put the extinct author to all kinds of work. Call him or her a function and it is as if the death had never occurred. This is a useful, clarifying argument, but must therefore lead us away from Beckett, whose character in Texts for Nothing (and elsewhere) is seeking not clarification but an elaborate form of intellectual distress. In the quotation Foucault uses there is not only a question about the speaker; there is an implied question about the asker of the question. Does it matter who that someone is, and can we avoid the tempting regression of inquiry: what matter who says what matter, and so on? A slightly fuller quotation may help us: What matter who’s speaking, someone said what matter who’s speaking. There’s going to be a departure, I’ll be there, I won’t miss it, it won’t be me, I’ll be here, I’ll say I’m far from here, it won’t be me, I won’t say anything, there’s going to be a story, someone’s going to try and tell a story.5

Where Foucault finds an author function, or several author functions, Beckett finds only a stricken consciousness, a creature who could not

Name after Name


possibly rise to anything as grand as authorship. But that creature knows a lot about language, about what sort of propositions can be retracted (“I’ll be there / I’ll be here,” “I’ll say I’m far from here” / “I won’t say anything”) and what sort have to be accepted (“There’s going to be a departure,” “there’s going to be a story”). Above all the creature knows as a dilemma what Foucault knows as cultural theory. Of course it matters and does not matter who speaks or is imagined to speak. The question for us might be when and how the mattering occurs or fails to occur, and what follows in either case. But with any luck we are not as devoted to regression as Beckett’s creature is. Why would he settle a question when he has a chance to fail to settle it, when the unsettling of questions is his whole career?

II Who speaks? Voice and talk are everywhere in Beckett, although the question is often what rather than who. The brain? Something in the brain? and the whole brain begging . . . something begging in the brain . . . begging the mouth to stop  . . . pause a moment  – if only for a moment. . . . and no response. . . . as if it hadn’t heard . . . or couldn’t . . . couldn’t pause a second.6

Of course the mouth cannot hear; it is a mouth. But then in this case it is not only a mouth; it is Mouth, a character in a play, a hole in a curtain on stage and in the remarkable television version a huge close-up of Billie Whitelaw’s lips, tongue, and teeth. This mouth has a mind and a past; a sex (female), an age (“sixty. . . . what? . . . seventy?”), anxieties, even panic, and what the writer’s instructions describe as vehemence: specifically a “vehement refusal to relinquish third person” (215). She cannot/will not tell her story because she cannot accept that any story is hers. And yet she does tell her story – who else’s story would she be telling – and in this respect represents a relatively late and distinctly lucid version of the dilemma that haunts Beckett’s characters from the beginning to the end. James Knowlson tells us that when asked about the sources for Not I Beckett evoked a memory of a “woman in Ireland” but also “referred questioners back to his own novel The Unnamable.”7 We could take the same journey back to look not for a source but for a rich and complicated version of the plight that Not I evokes only in part – as indeed we may often find that Beckett’s later work helps us to understand the earlier, because it separates old strands and holds them up to the light, and because the characters’ dedication to complication and evasion is less – complicated and evasive. It is in this sense that Company not only is a descendant of The



Unnamable – another version of the “distilled redrafting” Simon Critchley finds in Not I8 – but offers a useful introduction to a rereading of it.

III “The voice alone is company but not enough.”9 If the concluding word of Company – the single word “Alone,” isolated on the page – represents the arrival at a terminal solitude, or more precisely the end of a series of attempted departures from a solitude that cannot be departed from, then the very notion of company can only be a yearning and a joke. But what if the voice were to say “I”: “What an addition to company that would be! A voice in the first person singular. Murmuring now and then, Yes, I remember” (10). The voice says nothing of the kind and the speaker begins to be desperate. “Confusion too is company up to a point” (18). How about a dead rat? “What an addition to company that would be! A rat long dead” (19). Or a live fly? “Let there be a fly. . . . What an addition to company that would be” (20). The fly too is cancelled almost as soon as thought of. There is no company here, only what the speaker calls “the craving for company” (40). But then what about the craver? Here we meet an explicit form of the infinite regress that threatens in Texts for Nothing. As Stanley Cavell says in another context, “One can feel that there is always a camera left out of the picture: the one working now.”10 “Imagine,” a voice invites us in Company. “A voice comes to one in the dark. . . . And in another dark or in the same dark another devising it all for company” (3–4). But then who devises the deviser? For why or? Why in another dark or in the same? And whose voice asking this? Who asks, Whose voice asking this? And answers, His soever who devises it all . . . For company. (16–17)

But “his soever” is not an answer any more than it is a regular idiom, and the same nonanswerer goes further, if only “long after”: And adds long after to himself, Unless another still. Nowhere to be found. Nowhere to be sought. The unthinkable last of all. Unnamable. Last person. I. Quick leave him. (17)

It is a brilliant turn, a new grammar: I is the last person not the first. But of course you have to know the meaning of I in order to say not I, and the speaker of Company keeps trying to settle the matter in other ways. “Deviser of the voice and of its hearer and of himself. Deviser of himself for company. Leave it at that” (18). “Devising figments to temper his

Name after Name


nothingness. Quick leave him. Pause and again in panic to himself, Quick leave him” (33). The speaker arrives at something like a tongue-twister: “Can the crawling creator crawling in the same create dark as his creature create while crawling?” (38) The answer, a page or so later, when the speaker has, as he says, managed to “make up his imagination on this score” (38), is no. This does not stop him from imagining “yet another” deviser. “Yet another still. Devising it all for company. What a further addition to company that would be! Yet another still devising it all for company. Quick leave him” (44). Alas, it is all a fable, a “fable of one with you in the dark. The fable of one fabling with you in the dark” (46). The resemblances to Not I and to The Unnamable are very clear, and we shall not have missed the open references to both texts. But The Unnamable has elements that are lacking in Not I and Company, and both of the later texts have in their way succeeded in avoiding what they see as their nemesis, what we might call the blatant last or first person. They identify it clearly; they panic and swerve. Their fables are unmasked but their solitude is intact, or would be if the self were single, and did not have other tricks up its sleeve. The Unnamable provides a rich display of these tricks and finally makes only the most implausible claims for solitude.

IV In Beckett’s early fiction the mouths have names and are not just mouths. They are called Watt, Murphy, Mercier, Camier, Molloy, Moran, Malone. These characters supply their names when asked or even without being asked; they address themselves by name; they occasionally narrate a piece of their life in the third person. Molloy is a good example, of these habits if of nothing else. “Suddenly I remembered my name, Molloy. My name is Molloy, I cried all of a sudden, now I remember. Nothing compelled me to give this information, but I gave it, hoping to please I suppose.” (23) “Don’t torment yourself, Molloy.” (26) “Don’t do it, Molloy” (87) “Don’t fret, Molloy” (91) “Molloy could stay, where he happened to be.” (91)

The characters think of each other by name too. Gaber, the man who gives Moran his commission, describes Molloy to him, but Moran already seems to know something of his target or prey, although he is not sure how much or how. “Perhaps I had invented him, I mean found him ready



made in my head” (112). This is Moran’s idea of déjà vu, although he describes the phenomenon as until now “infinitely beyond” his reach. There are all kinds of games going on here, but there is nothing so far that breaks the traditional decorums of fiction. Moran and the real or invented Molloy are figures in a narrative authored by Samuel Beckett, whose name is on the cover of the book, and there is no reason why one fictional figure should not think what he likes about another. The fictional universe is not troubled or questioned, and the parallel world of these men, where mention is made of Goering and Calais, where Flaubert can be alluded to as “the great Gustave” and Japan as the land of “the Rising Sun,” pursues its exiguous but uninterrupted life. But then the names slowly begin to reveal themselves for what they always were: ways of saying “Not I” or “Quick leave him!” Oh the stories I could tell you, if I were easy. What a rabble in my head, what a gallery of moribunds. Murphy, Watt, Yerk, Mercier and all the others. I would never have believed that – yes, I believe it willingly. Stories, stories. I have not been able to tell them. I shall not be able to tell this one. (137).

This is Moran speaking. He has just mentioned “the Yerk affair,” and he is about to look for Molloy, so no epistemological or categorical line is being crossed in these cases. These characters are in his head because he is thinking about them, as his job requires. But then the rest of the “rabble,” Murphy, Watt, Mercier, belong to other Beckett works, dating from 1938, 1953, 1946, respectively. How does Moran know about them; how have they become sources of stories for him? We can ask similar questions about the following passage: Would we all meet again in heaven one day, I, my mother, my son, his mother, Youdi, Gaber, Molloy, his mother, Yerk, Murphy, Watt, Camier and the rest? (167–8)

This is Moran again. Here the mother, the son, the son’s mother, Youdi, Gaber, and Molloy all belong to the present narrative but the rest of the list echoes the earlier one, with Camier taking the place of Mercier, his partner. The suggestion that Moran really knows something about life in other Beckett books is made slightly stronger by the mere possibility of this substitution. Malone takes a rather more stylish view of the same matter and lists only names beginning with M. But he does include the two chief characters from the novel that precedes his own, and he includes himself, since he thinks he will soon be dead.

Name after Name


Then it will be all over with the Murphys, Merciers, Molloys, Morans and Malones, unless it goes on beyond the grave. (236)

He also has an odd phrase about his demise, as he calls it: “But let us leave these morbid matters and get on with that of my demise, in two or three days if I remember rightly” (236). If he remembers? Has he been told when he is going to die? By whom? Even more clearly than with Moran we are in a fictional territory where characters know about characters in other books by the same author. This is not so unusual a situation; it is what we may mean when we speak of a novelist’s world, that of Balzac or Faulkner, for example. We may, more disturbingly, be in a place where a character seems to have an idea of whose literary corpus he is in. This sort of metafictional play is not unheard of – Molly Bloom crying “Jamesy let me up out of this” appears to know who has put her in the spot she is in and what his first name is – but it is rare. And of course the very idea of Beckett’s having a world in the sense of Balzac’s or Faulkner’s is a kind of bleak joke. He has a world, of course, and that is precisely where these unmistakable figments live. But what a world. I imagine Beckett’s characters wryly responding to the notion of the death of the author in the same way. You call that dead? You call that dying? There is one more step for Beckett’s characters to take. Or Beckett’s character, since it looks increasingly as if there is only one of them, concealed behind different names. And this is perhaps the most difficult and (for the reader) tantalizing move. The step is to allow ourselves to be reminded that one can avoid the first person even while using it. “I” too, in a text or a performance, can be a way of concealing the self or an absence of self; it can be a pronoun without a referent, can even be a sort of proper noun. We may think of the way writers like Michel Butor (in The Modification) and Italo Calvino (in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler) use personal pronouns, especially the second person, converting them into the sole names of fictions rather than pointers to otherwise named creations. And in Company “he” and “him” become forms of a name, provoking in the narrator the same kind of panic – we have seen that he uses the word – as the looming first person causes in Not I.

V Perhaps more than any other work of Beckett’s, The Unnamable, apparently so thoroughly concentrated in a single consciousness, is full of other persons, pictured as a group or as a series of individuals, who



cannot be seen or formally identified but whose presence and influence are undeniable, constantly, even obsessively invoked. It is not that the self is not busy; indeed it may be all there is, in one sense. But the self is full of otherness despite itself, and the solipsist’s argument, which at times in The Unnamable feels like the solipsist’s longing for the world’s and his own nonexistence, is refuted by the tangle of information in anyone’s head. The unnamed narrator imagines other existences for himself in the form of Mahood, a talking head in a jar on a Paris street, and of Worm, an intermittently bodiless consciousness. Mahood’s jar is close to a restaurant; the owner, sometimes called Madeleine, sometimes called Marguerite, periodically changes the sawdust on which what there is of Mahood’s body rests, puts a shelter over him when it snows. The location is the Rue Brancion, an actual street in the Fifteenth Arrondissement but as the speaker tells us, “never heard of in my island home” (343). Worm has no location he can identify but imagines the half-darkness in which he lives as stretching various distances away from him, and he usually thinks of the space that is not a space as circular, with himself in the middle. Anthropocentric if nothing else, as he might (but does not) say. Mahood and Worm are confessedly the creations of the literary figure we have already seen, the writer, the inventor of Murphy, Molloy, Moran, and Malone and the rest. They are others as the self, fictions of the I or the not I. But now there is a figment saying I and claiming he is the author of the other figments, not just in some way knowledgeable about them, as Moran and Malone are. I shall not be alone, in the beginning. I am of course alone. Alone. That is soon said. Things have to be soon said. And how can one be sure, in such darkness? I shall have company. In the beginning. A few puppets. (292)

He also calls these creatures mannikins, a troop of lunatics and viceexisters. The figure of Malone circles around the speaker, who says he believes “they are all here, at least from Murphy on.” He enjoys alliteration, as Malone does: All these Murphys, Molloys and Malones do not fool me. They have made me waste my time, suffer for nothing, speak of them when, in order to stop speaking, I should have spoken of me and of me alone. (303)

“Do not fool me” is a wonderful phrase, since in context it means I have not been fooled by (the author of ) these creations, and I have not fooled myself in making them up.

Name after Name


When I think, that is to say, no, let it stand, when I think of the time I’ve wasted with these bran-dips, beginning with Murphy, who wasn’t even the first, when I had me, on the premises, within easy reach. . . . But Murphy and the others, and last but not least the two old buffers here present, could not stop them, the things that happened to me, nothing could happen to them, of the things that happened to me, and nothing else either, there is nothing else, let us be lucid for once, nothing else but what happens to me. (390–1)

The two buffers are Mahood and Worm, and the narrator is about to turn away from them and toward a different set of persons altogether, the people he calls “they” and “them,” another set of pronouns that become names. Earlier he called them his “delegates,” meaning not that he has delegated them, but that they have been delegated to look after him or pester him. They tell him things; in fact they must have told him pretty much everything he knows, and more important, perhaps, taught him to write and think in the way he does. “The things they have told me. About men and the light of day. I refused to believe them. But some of it has stuck” (297). All of it has stuck, although the speaker is not going to believe this either. “These gentlemen” thoroughly occupy the speaker’s mind. They are the “others” whose words he has: “What I speak of, what I speak with, all comes from them” (324). “They” require everything the speaker imagines he has to do, variously described as a pensum, a project, a task, a torment, a penance, whatever keeps silence and death at bay, whatever induces in him the one thought he cannot bear: that he had or has a life somewhere, that he was or is someone. These people want to “sign his life-warrant,” as he wittily says (358); they think his existence  – that is, his arrival at existence, his acknowledgment of his own existence – “is only a question of time” (368). “Ah, if only this voice could stop,” he says, “this meaningless voice which prevents you from being nothing” (370). His aspiration, as distinct from his supposed assignment, is to be able to refuse life as a proposition, as a philosophical proposition, let us say, to invert the claims of Sartre and Descartes and many others. To the argument that we exist however absurdly he opposes his own form of reason: “That the impossible should be asked of me, good, what else could be asked of me? But the absurd!” (338). And to the argument that I am because I think the speaker opposes his own long diatribe: I think but who says I am, my words are the living proof that thought is not life. The speaker almost manages to banish “them” at the end, by means of a sophisticated grammar of fiction: “They say they, speaking of them, to



make me think it is I who am speaking. Or I say they, speaking of God knows what, to make me think it is not I who am speaking” (370). “There was never anyone, anyone but me, anything but me, impossible to stop, impossible to go on, but I must go on, I’ll go on, without anyone, with anything, but me, but my voice” (394–5). Yet the others keep returning. “I notice one thing,” we read on one page; “the others have vanished, completely.” And lower down the same page, “perhaps that’s all they’re waiting for, there they are again” (400). They are still there, even when the speaker is genuinely alone. They are not the selves he has invented, the Murphys and Mahoods and the rest, but they are a figure for “the compulsion” he is under to speak. They are the others who inhabit him, not only the delegates of the historical and geographical world that haunts his memory (William the Silent, Toussaint l’Ouverture, the Carmagnole, Java, Montmartre, Killarney, the Gobi Desert, the Pillars of Hercules, Battersea Park) and the suppliers of all the literary and cultural references with which the speaker’s mind is stocked (Lucifer, Prometheus, Democritus, Saint Anthony, Shelley, the Pulitzer Prize [the prix Goncourt in the French version]) and of the Irish idioms, mock and real (“a darling dream, a broth of a dream,” “It is I invented him”) that litter the book, but also the purveyors of the very structure of the language by means of which the speaker evokes and resents them. When the speaker of The Unnamable astutely summarizes his life (“since we must call it so”), he finds “three things” in it: “the inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude, that’s what I’ve had to make the best of ” (396). As always, what he does not say is important, precisely because of what he manages to get said. The two inabilities do not contradict each other except in the abstract, but they do compromise each other; and the solitude, real enough by all kinds of criteria, has a whole swathe of the history of human thought as its heritage. “They” have a master, it turns out, or the thinker assumes they have, and the term, especially in French, nicely evokes the schoolmaster as well as the boss. He is “that other,” the other’s other: “For beyond them is that other who will not give me quittance until they have abandoned me as inutilizable and restored me to myself ” (331). This other is also the speaker’s master: “my master,” “their master,” “the master.” Who is he? It is not that we cannot know; it is that we are wise enough not to ask: The master in any case, we don’t intend, listen to them hedging, we don’t intend, unless absolutely driven to it, to make the mistake of enquiring

Name after Name


into him, he’d turn out to be a mere high official, we’d end up by needing God, we have lost all sense of decency admittedly, but there are still certain depths we prefer not to sink to. (374–5)

If we found ourselves undoing the death of God we would have to do undo the death of the author, and then where would we be? Is the master Samuel Beckett? Is that where the autobiography leads us?

VI This is certainly part of the story. The always deferred figure is that of the author, the fact behind the fiction, the true self behind the verbal masks. He is not dead, or if he is, he makes the liveliest and most troubling of ghosts. But he does not appear except as a threat, and we cannot conscript him for a confession. And why would we want a confession only from him? We will be asking for God’s memoirs next, as the inhabitants of The Unnamable might say. If we are to read an autobiography in Beckett’s work we have to consult all the players and not only the most mysterious one. The sequence we have already traced offers this consultation, and it may be worth laying it out more baldly. When one of Beckett’s characters, Moran or Malone, associates himself with characters in other works by Beckett, he is drastically simplifying the author’s project. These characters may be masks for their unnamed inventor, or indeed for the inventor named on the cover of the book, but they are not just masks, and they are not merely alike. We need to reread Murphy, Watt, Molloy, Mercier and Camier, Malone Dies in order to do justice to them, to mitigate the reductive effect of their dismissive summary, and to understand that the reduction is ironic, a gesture we are not to take at face value. Beckett is not saying he is an oblique confessor; he is saying he is a novelist and being ironic about the pretensions of such a claim – what if confession turned out to be all there was. When one of these characters says he not only knows the others but has invented the lot, with more to come, the author duplicates himself in a different way. He does not leave the cover of the book, but he does show up in its pages. The second person cannot be the first, precisely because he has shown up, and the subject now is not the writing of novels but the writing of a novel about a novelist  – or to put the case more broadly, about any sort of fabricator, including most human consciousnesses most of the time. This is where we find ourselves in The Unnamable; and other texts like Company and Imagination Dead



Imagine, with their striking imperatives (“Imagine”), make the reader an author too, cocreator of the fiction. And when we begin to hear about the other’s other, the master, then the absent figment (or reality) of Not I and Company hovers with unusual insistence, fails to appear with such frequency it is almost as if he were there. We should pause over this figure’s nonappearance, though, and ask why the thought of him causes such panic and will not go away. There are three sets of reasons, I think, the first two especially characteristic of modernist versions of the self, and the third most intimately related to Beckett. Behind twentieth century doctrines of impersonality, whether in Conrad, Eliot, Beckett, or Borges, there is a double fear: that the self cannot be revealed, or should not be revealed, because its poverty or ugliness or incoherence would be unbearable; that the revelation cannot take place because there is no self to reveal; the self has no existence except as an inference from the presence of a mask. The third reason is that the self literally, epistemologically cannot be revealed because in the moment of supposed revelation it will turn into a fake, a mere show, another figment. Qui se confesse ment, was Paul Valéry’s terse formula for this condition. For these reasons then, as well as for many others, we cannot take the absent other as the heart of Beckett’s autobiography. We cannot ignore him either, but we can turn to the lives Beckett’s characters have when they are not thinking about him, which is most of the time. We can consider their style and their tone, their preoccupations, their despair, their loyalty, their persistence. A proper description of even a fraction of these things would open a new chapter, so let me just suggest that Beckett’s autobiography is not an allegory of a life lived elsewhere, a transposition into the absent first person of what a biographer might say. It is a rich, complex, dark, funny, extensive account of a vocation. Of two vocations in one: that of a writer whose dedication to his career is comical because it is serious, and serious because it is stylish; that of a mind that does not know how to stop thinking and refuses to find reasons that will redeem this compulsion. Almost any sentence by Beckett will illustrate these vocations, almost any phrase. Let us take Moran’s “inenarrable contraption I called my life” (114). He cannot narrate it but he is narrating something. It is not a contraption, but “contraption” is the perfect word for a tidy, literate, decaying Irishman’s sense of his days and labors.

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Notes 1 See, for example, Carla Locatelli, “Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and Not I as Autobiographies” in Beckett at 100, Linda Ben-Zvi and Angela Moorjani, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press), 2008; Gary Adelman, “Old Age and Beckett,” New England Review 26:3 (2005); Peter Boxall, “‘The Existence I Ascribe’: Memory, Invention and Autobiography in Beckett’s Fiction,” Yearbook of English Studies 30 (2000). 2 Samuel Beckett, Three Novels (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 25. Further references to this volume are taken up into the text. 3 Michel Foucault, “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?” Littoral 9 (June, 1983) (the lecture was given in 1969). 4 Cf. “The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.” Samuel Beckett, Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit (London: Calder and Boyars, 1965), 103. Christopher Ricks, Beckett’s Dying Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), passim. 5 Samuel Beckett, Complete Short Prose (New York: Grove Press, 1997), 109. 6 Samuel Beckett, Collected Shorter Plays (New York: Grove Press, 2010), 221. 7 James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 522. 8 Simon Critchley, “Who Speaks in the Work of Samuel Beckett?” Yale French Studies 93 (1998): 114–30. 9 Samuel Beckett, Nohow On (New York: Grove Press, 1996), 5. Further references are taken up into the text. 10 Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 126.


Adams, Henry, 43–54, 54n1 The Education of Henry Adams, 43–55 Aldington, Richard, 157 Death of a Hero, 138 Allen, Woody Midnight in Paris, 95 American Civil War, 46, 49 Anand, Mulk Raj, 138 Across the Black Waters, 138, 141, 142n23 Ars poetica, 193 Athill, Diana, 191 Auden, W.H., 144, 146, 154n17, 156n36 Augustine of Hippo, xi Austen, Jane, 65, 66n15, 197 “Autobiographical Pact”, 190 Balzac, Honoré de, 217 Barthes, Roland, xixn14, 212 Barthes on Barthes, xviii Bashkirtseff, Marie The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff, 151 Beach, Sylvia, 176 Beckett, Samuel, xixn10, xixn4, 211–22 Company, xvi, 213, 214 Not I, 213 Texts for Nothing, 212 The Unnamable, 213, 217, 220 Bergson, Henri, 55 Bildungsroman, 52, 186, 194 Black Nationalism, 120 Bloomsbury Group, 153 Blunden, Edmund Undertones of War, 134 Borges, Jorge Luis, 222 Bowen, Elizabeth, xiv, 98–111, 152 “Anthony Trollope – A New Judgement”, 99 Bowen’s Court, 108 The Death of the Heart, 109 Early Stories, 98 The House in Paris, 103

Pictures and Conversations, 98 Seven Winters, 103, 108 Brittain, Vera Testament of Youth, 128 Butler, Samuel, 3, 9, 110 Butor, Michel, 217 The Modification, 217 Byrne, Paula Mad World, 69 Byron, George Gordon Lord, 194 Calvino, Italo If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, 217 Campbell, Joseph, 118 Capitalism, 197, 198 Cavell, Stanley, 214 Chapman, Linda Gertrude and Alice: A Likeness to Loving, 95 Churchill, Winston, 131 Civil Rights movement, 114, 116 Clark, Eleanor, xi Rome and a Villa, xi Colas, Emily, 6 Collins, John Churton, 10 Compton-Burnett, Ivy Elders and Betters, 106 Conrad, Joseph, 31–41, 41n1, 41n3, 41n4, 41n5, 41n6, 41n7, 42n8, 42n9, 128, 155n29, 168n14, 196n8, 206, 222 Chance, 31 A Personal Record, 31, 32, 33, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 41n3, 41n4, 41n5, 41n7 Cosmopolitanism, 198 Critchley, Simon, 214 Cubism, 85 Darwin, Darwinism, 9, 23, 25, 26, 50, 52 Origin of Species, 25 Davis, Lennard, 6 de Beauvoir, Simone, 105, 110, 112n48 La Vieillesse, 105




de Man, Paul, 71, 72, 82n8 Deconversion, 19, 21, 25, 26 Derrida, Jacques, 90, 94, 96n19 Descartes, René, 219 Devi, Mokkhada, 137, 138 Kalyan-Pradeep, 137 Dickens, Charles, 45, 49 Dickinson, Emily, 187 Didion, Joan, 173 Du Bois, W. E. B., 120 Dusk of Dawn, 197

Gandhi, Mahatma, 130 Garibaldi, Giuseppe, 46 Gide, André, 8, 180 Gosse, Edmund, 3–15, 16n11, 16n13, 16n17, 16n2, 16n3, 16n5, 16n6, 16n7, 16n8, 16n9, 17n20, 17n23, 17n24, 22, 110 Father and Son, 3–15, 110 Graves, Robert, 76 Good-Bye to All That, 128 Great Depression, 115 Greene, Graham, 101

Eliot, George, 24 Eliot, T. S., xixn12, 15, 17n21, 17n26, 17n28, 138, 151, 152, 155n30, 157–68, 168n1, 168n10, 168n16, 168n20, 168n21, 168n22, 168n3, 168n5, 168n7, 169n26, 169n36, 169n42, 169n43, 169n44, 169n45, 169n48, 169n50, 196n8, 222 Letters, 157–68 “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, 152, 157, 159, 160, 162 The Waste Land, 15, 17n26, 17n28, 157, 159, 160, 161, 162, 165, 167, 199 Eliot, Vivien, 163, 167 Ellison, Ralph, 113–23, 123n1, 123n2, 123n4, 123n5, 123n6, 124n10, 124n11, 124n12, 124n8, 124n9, 124n13, 181n10 Invisible Man, 113, 116, 119, 121, 124n12, 124n12, 124n12, 124n14 “Leaving the Territory”, 113–23 Three Days Before the Shooting . . ., 113, 114, 123 The English Review, 31 Enlightenment, 77, 79, 195 Essay, 117, 123, 162 Exemplarity, 4, 21

H. D., 199 Tribute to Freud, 199 Hardy, Thomas, 15, 17n27, 31 Harrison, Frederic, 12 Hemingway, Ernest, xixn9, 94, 95, 97n36, 170–80, 181n11, 181n12, 181n5, 181n7, 181n8, 181n9 Death in the Afternoon, 170, 181n1 The Garden of Eden, 172 Green Hills of Africa, 170 A Moveable Feast, xixn9, 94, 97n36, 170–80, 181n11, 181n12, 181n7 In Our Time, 170 The Sun Also Rises, 170, 179 True at First Light, 174 Heredity, 22, 28 Hero, Heroism, 118, 121 Huxley, T. H., 25

Faulkner, William, 217 Film, 45, 79, 86, 189 Fisher, M. F. K., xiv How to Cook a Wolf, xiv Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 171, 176, 177, 181n3, 204, 205, 209n56, 209n57, 209n58, 209n59, 209n60 The Crack-Up, xii, 181n3, 205, 209n56 This Side of Paradise, 204 Flaubert, Gustave, 216 Ford, Ford Madox, 31, 33, 176, 177, 192 Forster, E.M., 100 Foucault, Michel, 212 “What is an Author?”, 212 France, Anatole, 206 Freud, Freudianism, 19 Freud, Sigmund, 14, 162, 199, 209n26 Fussell, Paul The Great War and Modern Memory, 128

Illness, 3, 144, 148, 161, 166, 173, 207 Impressionism, 158, 164 Intoxication, 4, 34, 84, 95, 119, 189, 191, 195 Ireland, 22, 28, 29, 29n10, 66n14, 102, 108, 213 Isherwood, Christopher, 143, 144, 146, 152, 153n2, 154n16, 156n36, 156n39 James, Henry, 8, 43–55 A Small Boy and Others, 43–55 James, William, 50 Joyce, James, 118, 121, 158, 167, 190, 196n8 Finnegans Wake, 121, 167 Ulysses, 190, 199 Jung, Carl, 198 Kael, Pauline, xiv Keats, John, 174, 185 Kingsley, Charles, 7 Kipling, Rudyard, 135, 136, 137, 138 The Eyes of Asia, 135 Knopf, Alfred A., xixn8, 81n1, 101, 111n18, 111n2, 112n44, 154n13, 155n26 Lawrence, D.H., 75, 144, 207 Etruscan Places, 207 Lejeune, Philippe, 190

Index Lewis, Wyndham, 179 Lincoln, Abraham, 50 London, Engand, 11, 16n1, 16n2, 16n4, 16n10, 16n18, 17n23, 17n24, 17n25, 17n28, 28, 29n2, 29n8, 30n13, 42n10, 56, 57, 62, 73, 82n10, 96n14, 102, 111n1, 111n24, 111n7, 130, 141n3, 141n5, 141n6, 141n8, 142n11, 142n12, 150, 153n1, 154n6, 154n7, 154n9, 154n12, 155n19, 155n32, 166, 168n1, 168n3, 168n16, 168n20, 169n36, 169n42, 169n50, 185, 186, 187, 194, 196n7, 208n2 Madness, 165 Mallarmé, Stéphane, 212 Mansfield, Katherine, xixn8, 110, 143–53, 153n2, 153n3, 153n4, 154n6, 154n7, 154n8, 154n11, 154n12, 155n19, 155n20, 155n21, 155n23, 155n25, 155n26, 155n29, 155n33, 156n36, 156n39, 156n40, 156n41, 156n42, 163 The Doves’ Nest, 144, 147, 154n7, 155n21 Journal, 143–53 Letters, 143–53 Marxism, 198 Matisse, Henri, 93, 206 McCarthy, Mary, xiii Metonymy, 4, 12, 13 Metropolitanism, 69, 70, 72, 73, 74 Mill, John Stuart, 5 Miller, Henry, 205–7 Tropic of Cancer, 205–7 Milton, John, 193 Paradise Lost, 194 Mise-en-abyme, 92 Montaigne, Michel de, 191 Essays, xi, 191 Moore, George, 8, 18 Morality, 46, 174, 179, 189 More, Henry, 27 Murry, John Middleton, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 149, 152, 153, 154n6, 154n7, 154n11, 155n19, 155n21, 155n33, 156n34, 156n41, 162, 163, 168n20 Naipaul, V.S., 69 Némirovsky, Irène, 146 New Criticism, 69, 159 New York City, U.S.A., xixn1, xixn3, xixn4, xixn5, xixn6, xixn7, xixn8, xixn9, xixn10, xixn11, xixn14, 17n26, 29n1, 29n3, 29n4, 29n5, 29n6, 29n7, 42n8, 46, 47, 52, 81n1, 81n2, 82n12, 82n3, 82n5, 82n7, 95n1, 96n18, 97n36, 97n37, 111n2, 111n16, 111n21, 111n23, 112n43, 112n44, 114, 123n1, 123n4, 123n6, 124n12, 141n4, 142n16, 154n15, 155n26, 165, 168n5, 169n30, 181n1, 181n3, 181n4, 181n7, 181n9, 195n1, 196n3, 196n4, 196n5, 196n6, 196n8, 208n10,


209n26, 209n27, 209n28, 209n56, 209n61 The New Yorker, 101, 123n3, 146, 181n8 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 185 Nihilism, 76 Nin, Anaïs, 146 Omphalos (Henry Gosse), 4 Owen, Wilfred, 128 Paris, 74, 80, 87, 93, 103, 111n23, 112n48, 169n42, 171, 172, 179, 180, 186, 188, 189, 191, 192, 193, 194, 205, 206, 207, 218 Paris Review, 113 Parker, Dorothy, 146 Pashalinski, Lola Gertrude and Alice: A Likeness to Loving, 95 Pastoral, 134, 174 Peripeteia, 118 Personality, 39, 45, 69, 78, 88, 115, 150, 159, 160, 162, 164, 170, 198 Pfeiffer, Pauline, 172 Photography, 49, 127, 133, 139 Plante, David, 191 Porter, Katherine Anne, 143, 153 Positivism, 19, 26, 27 Pound, Ezra, 151, 163, 167, 176 Powys, John Cowper, 204 Autobiography, 204 Pritchett, V.S., 101 Prolepsis, 193 Proslepsis, 76 Prostitution, 80, 88, 166, 193, 194 Proteus, 115 Proust, Marcel, 196n8, 206 Psychoanalysis, 78, 135, 162, 177, 187, 199 Psychology, 54, 56, 148, 197 Puritanism, 9 Rai, Jasbahadur, 127, 128 Rampersad, Arnold Ralph Ellison: A Biography, 117 Realism, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 158 Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the Western Front, 138 Renaissance, 28 Rhys, Jean, 185–95, 195n1, 196n2, 196n3, 196n4, 196n5, 196n6, 196n8, 196n10 After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie, 188 Good Morning, Midnight, 185–95 The Left Bank, 188 Smile Please, 185–95, 196n3 Voyage in the Dark, 186 Wide Sargasso Sea, 186 Richardson, Henry Handel Myself When Young, 103

228 Romanticism, 152, 160, 161, 174 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 38, 39 Ruskin, John, ix, 5, 76, 77 Said, Edward, 130 Salvation, 7, 195 Santayana, George, 167 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 219 Sassoon, Siegfried Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, 128 Saunders, Max, 9, 16n19, 88, 96n16, 97n21, 169n30 Second person, 217 Shakespeare, William, 11, 143, 168n7, 193, 197 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 207 Shock, 62, 194 Smart, Elizabeth, 146 Somerset, Fitzroy, Lord Raglan, 118 Sontag, Susan, 89, 96n18 Soyinka, Wole, 130 Spanish Civil War, 203 Spivak, Gayatri, 129, 141n4 Stein, Gertrude, 84–95, 171, 176, 177, 179, 200–4, 205 The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 84–95, 171, 200 Everybody’s Autobiography, 200–4 The Making of Americans, 87, 89, 202 Tender Buttons, 85 Stowe, Harriet Beecher Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 45 Strachey, Lytton, viii, 110, 151, 155n32, 164, 169n32 Eminent Victorians, 110 Stream of consciousness, 58 Strindberg, August, 206 Style, 26, 44, 175 Subaltern, 128, 129 Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 4, 9, 16n3, 51 Tagore, Rabindranath, 138 Teresa of Ávila, 185, 190 Meditations, 193 Thackeray, William, 75 Thoreau, Henry David, xv Thwaite, Ann, 3, 16n2, 16n5, 16n16, 17n22 Todorov, Tzvetan, 84, 85, 96n3, 96n4, 96n5 Toklas, Alice B., 84–95, 95n1, 96n2, 96n6, 97n21, 97n24, 97n30, 97n32, 97n34, 97n35, 177, 181n4, 200, 201, 203 The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, 84–95 Trilling, Lionel, 14

Index Trollope, Anthony, 99, 100, 110, 196n8 Autobiography, 99 Tuskegee Institute, 113, 115, 117, 122 Twain, Mark Huckleberry Finn, 180 “Two Cultures” debate, 19 Tyndall, John, 25 Unconscious, Unconsciousness, 14, 24, 73, 162, 197 Valéry, Paul, 222 Victorianism, 3, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 24, 25, 64, 65, 74, 75, 77, 100, 194 Walsh, Ernest, 178 Waugh, Alexander Fathers and Sons, 69 Waugh, Evelyn, 69–81 Labels, 69–81 Scoop, 78 Webster, Daniel, 46 Wells, H.G. Experiment in Autobiography, 198 Wharton, Edith A Backward Glance, 99 White, Patrick, 146 White, William Hale, 5 Wilde, Oscar, 139, 151, 155n28 The Importance of Being Earnest, 151 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 41, 42n10 Woolf, Leonard, 147, 152 Woolf, Virginia, xixn3, xixn5, xixn7, xixn11, 3, 6, 15, 16n1, 16n8, 16n11, 17n26, 55–65, 65n1, 66n4, 66n11, 66n12, 128, 145, 146, 147, 151, 154n12, 155n18, 155n20, 155n21, 155n21, 155n21, 155n22, 155n23, 155n23, 155n31, 155n31, 156n35, 197, 208n1 Jacob’s Room, 128 To the Lighthouse, 56, 57, 58, 59, 63, 64 A Room of One’s Own, 197 “A Sketch of the Past”, xiii A Writer’s Diary, 147 Orlando, 55 World War I, 15, 87, 92, 127–29, 160 World War II, 56, 70, 98, 146 Yeats, William Butler, 18–29, 29n1, 29n2, 29n5, 29n6, 29n7, 29n8, 29n9, 29n10, 30n12, 30n13 Reveries, xii Reveries Over Childhood and Youth, 18–29 The Trembling of the Veil, 18–29