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Mystery Issue, March 2013 | 36


WELCOME TO ISSUE 77 OF LITRO This month sees a special issue of excerpts from the published diaries of some well-known (and some perhaps less well-known) personalities, past and present. The action starts overleaf.

RANDOMNESS >> Diaries can be terse and businesslike or intensely personal – and sometimes (perhaps most affectingly) a combination of the two. They let us re-evaluate from the diarist’s perspective events to which we were previously just outside observers, or give us an insight into the private joys and dreads that shape the diarist’s life. The selection presented in this issue of LITRO showcases this, we hope, to striking effect. The choice of excerpts (all written in the month of August) and the accompanying explanatory notes are by Hamish Ironside, and details of the publications from which the material is drawn can be found on the last page, should you wish to explore further. >> Diaries also serve to mark the passage of time – while at the same time demonstrating clearly that what we often think of as modern stresses or pleasures are by no means something new. This has two special resonances for me. One of my main personal concerns is sustainability – environmental, social and economic – a concept defined by time. Through LITRO we have always aimed to act in as responsible a way as possible – printing on recycled paper; using a very efficient format that can easily retained or passed on to other readers; making issues available online; and also working with a variety of organizations to make sure the magazine is widely accessible and features a large range of voices and views. Culture is clearly a major aspect of social sustainabililty, and I hope that, by making good quality short fiction easily available on a regular basis, LITRO has become a worthwhile endeavour. >> The second resonance is that this will be the last issue


of LITRO that I (Mike Fell) edit. It has been an important part of my life over the last two and a half years – from having the idea, calling for submissions, handing out early issues at Stockwell underground station, meeting and working with many supportive and enthusiastic people to help with distribution (including in cities in the north of England, Munich, Boston and more) and on to publication and (much) wider circulation by Ocean Media – in the form you see today. I would like to say how grateful I am to everyone who has been involved over the course of the project. >> This is still only the beginning of the road. Under the new editorship of Tom Chivers I’m sure LITRO will go from strength to strength – and that you will continue to enjoy your monthly fix of short fiction (and occasionally real life).

LITRO READER OFFER This month we have three £50 vouchers to give away, for use at EthicalSuperstore.com – a great place to do all your fair trade, organic, and eco-friendly shopping. For a chance to win, simply send an email to litro.fiction@gmail.com with the subject ‘Ethical offer’, and tell us (a) what you like most about LITRO, and (b) what you think could be improved. Good luck!

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KENNETH WILLIAMS 11 AUGUST 1980

English actor and radio/television personality (1926–1988). The daily despair – punctuated by elation only fleetingly through art, friendship or the occasional satori – is portrayed with such honesty and eloquence in his diaries that it could be argued that these writings, more than his film and television appearances, form his lasting achievement.

Got to Bristol and did the radio interview & then went to George’s bookshop. Nobody there. Coped with two bloody reporters: ‘Which is your favourite story in the book?’ etc. and the Harlech TV news cameras in the shop! So one’s humiliation (piles of unsold books … nothing to sign) is actually filmed! But you dance like a dancing bear. On from there to an exhibition of unsold Bratby canvases and I’m hanging alongside the Queen Mother: she’s listed at £200, me at £500 & both are ignored by the buyers. On to Harlech TV studios. Eventually appear in front of cameras with Faith Brown. She’s v. kind about the book and does one or two of the best women’s cracks. Rush for the 5.10 train. ‘British Rail regret to announce …’ It is late. Liz Newlands sitting opposite me looking like a funeral attendant. I’m taking Alka Seltzer ‘cos the bowels are in uproar from unnecessary hurried eating. I talk too much to cover the appalling reality of a day filled with horror. Back in the flat with distended belly & wonder how I’m living through the entire stupid con trick.


CAROLINA MARIA DE JESUS 18 AUGUST 1958

Brazilian favelado (slum-dweller) and subsequently writer (1915– 1977). Carolina built her own house in São Paulo out of cardboard, cans, plywood and other scraps, and supported herself and her children by collecting paper from the street and selling it. Her diary was what marked her out in the slum – a source of intrigue and amusement to neighbours, many of whom were illiterate – and its publication was what got her family out of it as the book became an immediate international bestseller.

I don’t like to lose a Monday. I go out early because I always find so many things in the garbage. I left with Vera. I feel so sorry for my daughter! I went to Dona Julita, picked up her paper. I earned 55 cruzeiros. What does 55 cruzeiros buy? I was nervous. When I got home I lay down because I had carried some thirty kilos of scrap and tin cans. On my head. After I rested for a while I went to Rosalina to ask for her wagon to take the scrap to the junk yard. She loaned it to me and I filled the wagon. I was cold. I was welcomed with joy by Senhor Manuel. We weighed the material and I got 191 cruzeiros. I went by the Guiné Bakery and bought a guaraná and some bananas. I put Vera in the wagon. When I got to the favela I was beat. João said to me: ‘Now that you’ve got some money, I can have my tooth pulled, because it’s aching.’ I told him to get dressed and wash his feet. I was going to go out dirty. Then I thought: It’s better to change. I changed, then hurried out. When I got to Filisberto de Carvalho Street I heard them talking about a fight. I went to see. It was Meiry, Pitita, Valdemar, and Armin. The Portuguese who sells cows’ intestines had sold everything and was going home. He knows Meiry and he stopped to talk to her. Valdemar showed up and asked


that he is the dentist nearest to the favela and that I wanted him to remove a tooth from my son João. João sat down in a chair. ‘How much is it, Doctor?’ ‘A hundred cruzeiros.’ I thought the price was exorbitant. But he was already sitting in the chair. I opened my purse and sat down, and started to count out notes of five. I separated 20 notes of five.

MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE 10 AUGUST 1936

English writer, editor, spy and media personality (1903–1990). Muggeridge became a devout Christian relatively late in his highly eventful life, but even as an agnostic he was profoundly religious.

I repeated ‘Oh, purify my heart. Oh, purify my heart.’ If, I thought, my heart is pure I shall know God, and if I know God I shall have no more fear. Even as I thought this I began to wonder if passers-by along the road might have seen a lean ecstatic face through the bars of the kitchen window, if great austerities would bring me fame, and remembered the character in one of Tolstoy’s stories whose eyes brimmed with tears as he thought of his own goodness. Knowledge comes through experience alone. I may know that, for instance, love is preferable to hate, but I love and hate indiscriminately until I experience love and hate in such a way that my own heart is torn by the conflict between them, and left broken but understanding. I cannot see any other way now of approaching the problem of living. Action is exhilarating, but in the end nothing. Even action for others as an end in itself is nothing. It is only becoming pure of heart and so knowing God that provides a purpose.


SOPHIA TOLSTOY 19 AUGUST 1910

Russian wife of Leo Tolstoy (1844–1919). It would be preferable to describe her as something more than wife of Tolstoy (and mother of their many children), but Sophia Behrs married Leo Tolstoy at 18 years of age (he was 34) and history records her in no other role – except that of diarist. Their marriage was famously a difficult one, and became progressively more so. In the final crisis, leading up to Leo’s death when fleeing the family home at the age of 82, all the underlying disagreements became focused upon Leo’s friendship with Vladimir Chertkov. It is difficult for the reader to avoid taking sides in this epic domestic conflict, as their friends and children did; at the time the consensus seemed to be that Sophia was hysterical and even insane, but contemporary readers might feel more sympathetic towards her situation and state of mind. Certainly one feels the villain was Chertkov. Leo and Sophia both kept diaries; following Sophia’s entry below is Leo’s account of the same day.

Awoke very early, and that unceasing suffering – the thought that there, near Yasnaya, sits Chertkov – recommenced. But my husband consoled me. In the morning before I was up he came to my room and asked how I had slept and how I was, and did so not as he generally does with formal coldness, but with real sympathy. Afterwards he confirmed his promises: (1) Not to see Chertkov at all. (2) Not to give his diaries to anyone, and (3) Not to let either Chertkov or Tapsel take photographs of him. I begged that of him. It was repulsive that his idol should photograph Leo Nikolaevich, like an elderly coquette, in woods and ravines, and that he should despotically turn the old man all ways in order to take pictures of him and make a collection of photographs as well as of manuscript. ‘I shall correspond with Chertkov,’ Leo Nikolaevich added, ‘because that is necessary for my work.’ I hope that it will be about his work, and not anything else. But I am grateful even for that.


two, when the spiritual ought to prevail over everything! I try to close my eyes to all his weaknesses and to turn my heart away and seek elsewhere the light I no longer find amid our family darkness.

LEO TOLSTOY 19 AUGUST 1910

Russian writer (1828–1910). Leo Tolstoy’s diary entries are generally as terse as his wife’s are voluble. The diary seems a burden to him – just one of many duties – while for Sophia it is a necessity. Reading both diaries together, with the same day often unrecognizable between the two accounts, one feels the pain of their marriage’s final crisis far more intensely than if reading either diary in isolation. Even so there is a certain amount of humour, albeit largely inadvertent.

In the morning she asked me to renew the promises I had already made, and also not to be photographed. I injudiciously promised. A good letter from Chertkov. He writes correctly about the methods of dealing with mentally unbalanced people. At dinner I inappropriately told of Arago tout court,* and felt ashamed, and was then ashamed of being ashamed. *‘Arago tout court’ alludes to the mathematician Arago, referring to his celebrated status, saying to a group of people: ‘You may call me Arago tout court’ (i.e. simply Arago). Tolstoy therefore said he could be spoken of as Tolstoy tout court.


ALAN CLARK 10 AUGUST 1991

English Conservative politician and historian (1928–1999). It is hard to imagine any other politician referring to a colleague as a ‘cunt’ in their published diaries, but if Clark’s indiscretion kept him from climbing as high as he’d have liked in the world of politics, it also won him an unusual level of admiration (as distinct from mere support) from the British public. Beyond the controversialist persona, Clark was a natural writer and his diaries are often as moving as they are amusing. His marriage was generally a happy one, despite the notorious infidelities and episodes such as the following.

I don’t really know what happened to last week. Not really very happy. This morning I said I was more unhappy than at any time since I could remember – Jane, too, she’s terribly standoffish and cries at intervals. She is confronting me with things that I’ve done in the past which have been ‘out’ many times before and were ‘kissed and made up’ since, but still I’m basted. We had dreadful row coming back from Bratton. A journey which I drove continuously in the Discovery using m-way the whole way and with my foot absolutely flat down 95–100 in pretty thick traffic, under four hours, but small thanks I got etc etc. I’ve promised (a) not to whinge (b) not to swear (c) not to ‘drive fast’. It’s all part of the castrating syndrome. There is a certain type of woman of which Jane is one and Valerie (to take an obvious and most emphatic example) is not who would rather have their man a eunuch than have him ‘chasing around’.


JAMES BOSWELL 9 AUGUST 1774

Scottish writer, lawyer and laird (1740–1795). Boswell was capable of remarkable feats of memory, particularly in recording long conversations verbatim. He drew on this for his famous Life of Johnson, widely regarded as one of the greatest works of English literature, much of his material having been transcribed directly from his diaries. Other celebrated highlights of the diaries include the visits to Rousseau and Voltaire, and to David Hume when he was ‘just adying’. Yet Boswell can be equally entertaining on days where ‘nothing happens’, thanks to his eye for detail, his capacity for amusement and philosophical reflection in the most mundane minutiae, and more than anything else what he rightly called his ‘singularity’. For these reasons he may be regarded as the best of all diarists.

Mr Bruce of Kinnaird, who was just returned from his most curious travels, was in the Court of Session, a tall stout bluff man in green and gold. I was very desirous to be with him. Monboddo set him dead, and Maclaurin snuffed him keen. Bob Chalmers introduced me to him, saying, ‘I thought you two would be glad to see one another.’ I said I was extremely happy to have the honour of being known to Mr Bruce, and wished much to see him, not merely to make a formal bow. He said he would be very glad to meet with me, or something to that purpose. All this was very well. Good, unmeaning, commonplace politeness from him. I was quite impatient to hear him talk. I consulted with Monboddo and Maclaurin, and set out to try what I could do to get an appointment made to dine or sup in a tavern. He had now gone out of the court. I went home, changed my wig, and then went and called for him at his lodgings in Mrs Reynolds’s in Miln’s Square. Luckily he was just come in, and I found him alone; and a most curious scene I had with him. I conjectured that he had come to London with high expectations from Government and been disappointed. This had soured his temper, not very sweet originally; and he had come to Scotland, at which he had conceived a strong aversion when young from the bad usage of a stepmother who had obtained unjust settlements from his father – and come in bad humour with it and its inhabitants, just to try how much he could squeeze out of his estate to support him in


could not bear to be questioned; at least I was told so, and it is very natural. He was like a ghost, which, it is said, will tell you a great deal of itself, but nothing if you question it. All extraordinary travellers are a kind of shows; a kind of wild beasts. Banks and Bruce however were animals very different one from another. Banks was an elephant, quite placid and gentle, allowing you to get upon his back or play with his proboscis; Bruce, a tiger that growled whenever you approached him. I made a good apology for him to Maclaurin, saying that my ignorant questions could not but fret him. ‘Suppose,’ said I, ‘an Englishman should come with the utmost civility, and say, “Mr Maclaurin, I beg leave to apply to you as a man who can give me the best information. Pray, do your judges determine causes on foot or on horseback?” Some of my questions to Bruce,’ said I, ‘were almost as provoking.’ I dined quietly at home, and wrote law papers in the afternoon.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL 12 AUGUST 1994

English journalist (and soon to be novelist with the publication in November of All In the Mind), born 1957, best known for his former role as press secretary for Tony Blair and director of communications and strategy for the Labour Party. Like most political diaries – and unlike those of, say, Hopkins – Campbell’s diaries are of interest more for what they say than how they say it. Yet he is quietly skilful in his ability to capture telling detail, as is exemplified in the following vignette from a family holiday with the Blairs (and the Kinnocks).

As part of the Blairs’ chaotic travel plans, we had to set off at 4am so that I could get them to Marseille railway station. Fiona and I, and Neil and Glenys, couldn’t believe the way they went from place to place on holiday. Why can’t they settle in one place? We arrived at the station at 5.35 and the train wasn’t due to leave, so we thought, till 6.15, so I started to get the half-asleep kids and the assortment of bags sorted while Tony went to check where the train was going from. With Euan still asleep and refusing to wake up, Tony


LITRO TASTER

AN EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSITION HANDBOOK ROB HOPKINS ‘The Transition movement is the best news there’s been for a long time, and this manual is a goldmine of inspiration to get you started’ Phil England, New Internationalist So what actually is a ‘Transition Initiative’? The initial term used to describe this concept was ‘Transition Towns’, but this has since become largely irrelevant, given that we are now talking about Transition cities, boroughs, valleys, peninsulas, postcodes, villages, hamlets and islands ... So although none of these alliterates quite as nicely as Transition Towns, Transition Initiatives seems to be the best overall term. Transition Initiatives are an emerging and evolving approach to community-level sustainability, which is starting to appear in communities up and down the country. They are, to use a term coined by Jeremy Leggett, ‘scalable microcosms of hope’. The idea began with the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan in Ireland, and has since spread to communities around the UK and beyond. Transition Initiatives are based on four key assumptions: 1) That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise. 2) That our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany peak oil. 3) That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now. 4) That by unleashing the collective genius of those around


GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS 16 AUGUST 1873

English poet and Jesuit priest (1844–1889). Hopkins was an infrequent diarist, and never a compulsive or confessional one – the diaries only hint at the torment evident in the poems. Yet the richness of his idiosyncratic language can be mesmerising even in these prosaic snippets from his largely humdrum, ascetic existence.

We rose at four, when it was stormy and I saw dun-coloured waves trailing hoods of white breaking on the beach. Before going I took a last look at the breakers, wanting to make out how the comb is morselled so fine into string and tassel, as I have lately noticed it to be. I saw big smooth flinty waves, carved and scuppled in shallow grooves, much swelling when the wind freshened, burst on the rocky spurs of the cliff at the little cove and break into bushes of foam. In an enclosure of rocks the peaks of the water romped and wandered and a light crown of tufty scum standing high on the surface kept slowly turning round: chips of it blew off and gadded about without weight in the air. At eight we sailed for Liverpool in wind and rain. I think it is the salt that makes rain at sea sting so much. There was a goodlooking young man on board that got drunk and sung ‘I want to go home to Mamma’. I did not look much at the sea: the crests I saw ravelled up by the wind into the air in arching whips and straps of glassy spray and higher broken into clouds of white and blown away. Under the curl shone a bright juice of beautiful green. The foam exploding and smouldering under water makes a chrysoprase green. From Blackburn I walked: infinite stiles and sloppy fields, for there has been much rain. A few big shining drops hit us aslant as if they were blown off from eaves or leaves. Bright sunset: all the sky hung with tall tossed clouds, in the west with strong printing glass edges, westward lamping with tipsy bufflight, the colour of yellow roses. Parlick ridge like a pale goldfish skin without body. The plain about Clitheroe was sponged out by a tall white storm of rain. The sun itself and the spot of ‘session’ dappled with big laps and flowers-in-damask of cloud. But we hurried too


fast and it knocked me up. We went to the College, the seminary being wanted for the secular priests’ retreat: almost no gas, for the retorts are being mended; therefore candles in bottles, things not ready, darkness and despair. In fact being unwell I was quite downcast: nature in all her parcels and faculties gaped and fell apart, fatiscebat,* like a clod cleaving and holding only by strings of root. But this must often be * Latin, meaning ‘sank exhaustedly’.

FRANZ KAFKA 15 AUGUST 1913

Jewish-Bohemian writer (1883–1924). Kafka’s diaries, like his fiction, often include an element of humour in the most trying of circumstances. It is as though he is amused by his suffering even as he suffers. His agonies here concern his vacillation over whether to marry Felice Bauer; the letter is to her parents.

Agonies in bed towards morning. Saw only solution in jumping out of the window. My mother came to my bedside and asked whether I had sent off the letter and whether it was my original text. I said it was the original text, but made even sharper. She said she does not understand me. I answered, she most certainly does not understand me, and by no means only in this matter. Later she asked me if I were going to write to Uncle Alfred, he deserved it. I asked why he deserved it. He has telegraphed, he has written, he has your welfare so much at heart. ‘These are simply formalities,’ I said, ‘he is a complete stranger to me, he misunderstands me entirely, he does not know what I want and need, I have nothing in common with him.’ ‘So no one understands you,’ my mother said, ‘I suppose I am a stranger to you too, and your father as well. So we all want only what is bad for you.’ ‘Certainly, you are all strangers to me, we are related only


by blood, but that never shows itself. Of course you don’t want what is bad for me.’ Through this and several other observations of myself I have come to believe that there are possibilities in my ever-increasing inner decisiveness and conviction which may enable me to pass the test of marriage in spite of everything, and even to steer it in a direction favourable to my development. Of course, to a certain extent this is a belief that I grasp at when I am already on the window sill.

CESARE PAVESE 18 AUGUST 1950

Italian writer, literary critic and translator (1908–1950). Pavese was one of the few writers equally at home in poetry as in prose. An excellent English translation of selected poems was published under a title that applies to many diarists but particularly to Pavese: A Mania for Solitude. The following entry is his last, written nine days before his suicide at the age of 41.

The thing most feared in secret always happens. I write: Oh, Thou, have pity. And then? All it needs is a little courage. The more the pain grows clear and definite, the more the instinct for life asserts itself and the thought of suicide recedes. It seemed easy when I thought of it. Weak women have done it. It needs humility, not pride. I am sickened by all this. Not words. Action. I shall write no more.


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From global warming to terrorism, growing poverty, war in the Middle East and uncertainties over the supply and affordability of oil, it sometimes feels as though the wheels of our civilization are all coming off at once … Human history is filled with defining moments when, faced with new conditions that only altered perspectives could surmount, people were forced to make fundamental choices that determined their fate. Grasping the significance of such moments and making the deep shifts in thinking, perception and behaviour required in order to succeed in the new reality is what historian Thomas Berry (1999) calls The Great Work of a people. Seen from this perspective, human history is the story of how societies responded to their defining moments … Today, through circumstances only partly our doing, it is our turn. The offering has come about due to the profound risks posed to us and future generations by global climate change and many other interlinked environmental and social problems. These perils are the result of humankind’s failure to align our thinking and behaviours with the fundamental laws of ecological and human systems … In these early years of the 21st century, through circumstances created by previous generations and amplified by our own behaviour, we have been chosen for the great work of fundamentally reframing the thinking and behaviours that created and buttressed our economic and social systems around the higher purpose of protecting the climate and adopting a path towards sustainability. We did not set out to create this moment. Ironically, the unbridled success of our industrial economy and related social systems brought it upon us.

LITRO TASTER

AN EXCERPT FROM THE POWER OF SUSTAINABLE THINKING BOB DOPPELT


SOURCES OF DIARY EXCERPTS Kenneth Williams from The Kenneth Williams Diaries edited by Russell Davies, reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins Publishers (© The Estate of Kenneth Williams, 1993) Carolina Maria de Jesus from Beyond All Pity: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus (published in the USA under the title Child of the Dark), translated by David St Clair, reproduced by kind permission of Souvenir Press. Malcolm Muggeridge from Like It Was: A Selection from the Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge, Collins. A good starting point for anyone interested in Muggeridge is The Malcolm Muggeridge Society (www.malcolmmuggeridge.org). Sophia and Leo Tolstoy from The Final Struggle: Countess Tolstoy’s Diary for 1910, with Extracts from Leo Tosltoy’s Diary of the Same Period, translated by Aylmer Maude. Wider selections of both Leo and Sophia’s diaries have also been published separately, with different translators, but all these books are out of print. The Maude translation has the (possibly dubious) advantage of being contemporary, Maude having been a close friend of the Tolstoys. Alan Clark from The Last Diaries by Alan Clark, edited by Ion Trewin. Reproduced by kind permission of Weidenfeld & Nicolson (The Orion Publishing Group). (© The Estate of Alan Clark, 2002) James Boswell from Boswell for the Defence, one of the twelve volumes by Yale University Press that form the most complete edition of Boswell’s diaries, although the best introduction is The Journals of James Boswell: 1762–1795, edited by John Wain. Alastair Campbell from The Blair Years by Alastair Campbell (Arrow, £9.99). The author’s novel, All in the Mind, will be published in November by Hutchinson. Gerard Manley Hopkins from Penguin’s Poems and Prose. Oxford University Press also publish The Major Works, a similar collection containing diary entries and other prose alongside Hopkins’s poems. Franz Kafka from The Diaries of Franz Kafka, translated by Joseph Kresh, edited by Max Brod, published by Secker & Warburg. Reproduced by kind permission of The Random House Group Ltd. Cesare Pavese from This Business of Living by Cesare Pavese (translated by Alma E. Murch), reproduced by kind permission of Peter Owen Publishers.


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