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Journal of Katherine Mansfield


page 174


The Question.

January. Does one ever know? One never knows. She realised how foolish it would be to ask the question: “What are you thinking of?” And yet if she did not ask the question she would never be certain that he was not thinking of … Even if she asked, how could she be certain he did not make up the answer.

[An unposted letter.]

Your letters sounded insincere to me; I did not believe them. People don't write such things; they only think they do, or they read them in books. But real life is on quite another plane. If I were not ill, I still would have withdrawn from the world because of my hatred of insincerity. It makes me dreadfully uncomfortable and unhappy. I could have answered your letter just in your vein and ‘accepted’ it, you knowing how I accepted it and I knowing that you knew—but it wouldn't have lasted. It would have been another cul de sac relationship. What good would that have been to either of us?

You see—to me—life and work are two things indivisible. It's only by being true to life that page 175 I can be true to art. And to be true to life is to be good, sincere, simple, honest. I think other people have given you a wrong idea of me, perhaps. I like to love only my friends. I have no time for anything less precious. Friendship is an adventure; but do we agree about the meaning of the word ‘adventure’? That's so important! That's where I feel we would quarrel. If you came on to our boat should we have understood one another?

You must not think I am ‘prejudiced’ or unfair. I am not. I still wish it were possible; but I cannot, and I won't pretend. Let us really and truly know where we are first. Let us be open with each other and not concealing anything.

January 14. “To be happy with you seems such an impossibility! It requires a luckier star than mine! It will never be…. The world is too brutal for me.” [Keats to Fanny Brawne, August 1820.]

[February?] Le travail, même mauvais, vaut mieux que la rêverie.

“But I can't see why you should mind, so much,” she said for the hundredth time. “I can't see what it is you object to. It isn't as though people would notice you even. Goodness me! I'm always meeting them since … since …” She broke off. “And it seems such a waste, too. There it is, standing in the hall, doing nothing. It seems so ungrateful, after it's been lent to you, page 176 not to give it a trial at least. Why don't you say something?”

She was pinning on her hat in front of the mirror in the sitting room. Her outdoor jacket and gloves lay across a chair. And when he still didn't answer her she made a little weary hopeless face at the mirror which meant: “Oh dear, we're in one of our moods again!”

“If it's me you're thinking of by any chance,” she said quickly, snatching at the jacket——

Here is Marie with the supper. And I shall have to endure her until it is over. But that is not important: what is, is that I have not written anything to-day worth a sou. I have passed the day in a kind of idleness. Why? Does it take so long to begin again? Is it my old weakness of will?

Oh, I must not yield! I must this evening, after my supper, get something done. It's not so terribly hard after all. And how shall I live my good life if I am content to pass even one day in idleness? It won't do. Control—of all kinds. How easy it is to lack control in little things! And once one does lack it the small bad habits—tiny perhaps—spring up like weeds and choke one's will. That is what I find.

My temper is bad; my personal habits are not above reproach; I'm ungracious—mentally untidy. I let things pass that I don't understand (unpardonable!) and I excuse myself, invent pretexts for not working. Yet is my desire to be idle greater than my desire to work? Is my page 177 love of rêverie greater than my love of action. Treacherous habit! Habit above all others evil and of long standing! I must give it up at once or lose my self-respect…. He that faileth in little things shall not succeed in great things. Even my handwriting. From this moment it too must change. After supper I must start my Journal and keep it day by day. But can I be honest? If I lie, it's no use.

[I joined K.M. at Mentone in February 1921, when The Athenæum ceased separate publication. At the beginning of May K.M. left Mentone for Switzerland, while I returned to England to lecture at Oxford, rejoining her at Sierre at the end of May. After a little while we went up to Montana to a furnished chalet (“Chalet des Sapins”). For some weeks the action of K.M.'s heart in the high altitude gave her great pain.]

May 5. Genève: Salle d'attente. The snow lay like silver light on the tops of the mountains.

In the chill, greenish light, the wide motionless rivers looked as though they were solid, and the pale furrowed earth, with white fruit-trees like coral branches, looked as if it were water.

Later. The station clock.

[An unposted letter.]

The Tig Courier, Sir, is a weekly paper that pays you £950 a year for an article, personal as possible, the more intimate the better.

For three days the Editor has been waiting for your copy. To-night she got a postcard written page 178 in a train; but that was all. Will you tell her

(a) your reasons for withholding it (as subtle as you like) or

(b) when she may expect it.

Address: Tig, Stillin, Bedfordshire.

[An unposted letter.]

Dear B. I can't tell you how glad I am to hear you are dancing again—‘albeit delicately’, as you say.

Lo! how sweetly the Graces do it foot
To the instrument!
They dauncen deftly and singen sooth
In their merriement.

That means you are really better. Don't get ill again. Isn't it awful—being ill! I lie all day on my old balcony lapping up eggs and cream and butter with no one but a pet gold-finch to bear me tumpanēē. I must say the gold-finch is a great lamb. He's jet tame, and this morning after it had rained he came for his Huntley and Palmer crumb with a little twinkling rain-drop on his head. I never saw anyone look more silly and nice. Switzerland is full of birds, but they are mostly stodgy little German trots flown out of Appenrodt's catalogue…. But all Switzerland is on the side of the stodges….

[An unposted letter.]

I keep walking and walking round this letter, treading on my toes and with my tail in the air; I don't know where to settle. There's so much to page 179 say and the day is so fine. Well, here goes, darling.

The journey to Geneva took no time. My watchet seemed to be racing the train. We arrived some time after one, and I went and sat on a green velvet chair while L.M. saw to things. I suppose we had a long wait there; it did not seem long. Ever since early morning those mountains that I remembered from last time had been there—huge, glittering, with snow like silver light on their tops. It was absolutely windless, and though the air was cold, it was cold like spring. In fact (perhaps you realise I am putting a terrific curb on myself) it was delicious. Only to breathe was enough. Then we got into an omnibus train, and it waddled slowly round the lake, stopping at every tiny station. Germans were in the carriage; in fact, I was embedded in Germans, huge ones—Vater und die Mama und Hänse. Every time we saw a lilac-bush, they all cried Schön! This was very old-world. There was also a notice in the carriage to say that the company had thoughtfully provided a cabinet. This they read aloud—first, Vater, then die Mama and then little Hänse.

We arrived at Clarens just as the station clock (which was a cuckoo clock: that seems to me awfully touching, doesn't it to you?) struck seven, and a motor-car, like a coffee-mill, flew round and round the fields to Baugy. Oh dear, you realize I'm just telling you facts. The embroidery I'll have to leave for now. The hôtel is simply admirable so far. Too clean. Spick is not the page 180 word, nor is span. Even the sprays of white lilac in my room were fresh from the laundry. I have two rooms and a huge balcony. And so many mountains that I haven't even begun to climb them yet. They are superb. The views from the windows, Betsy, over fields, little mushroom-like chalets, lake, trees, and then mountains, are overwhelming. So is the green velvet and flesh-pink satin suite in the salon, with copper jugs for ornaments and a picture on the wall called Jugendidylle. More of this later.

I am posing here as a lady with a weak heart and lungs of Spanish leather. It seems to ‘go down’ for the present. Well, I had dinner in my room: consommé, fish with cream sauce, roast turkey, new potatoes, braised laitue, and two little tiny babas smothered in cream. I had to send the turkey and trimmings away. Even then….

Saint-Galmier is superseded by Montreux,1 which the label says is saturated with carbonic acid gas. But my physiology book said this was deadly poison and we only breathed it out—never unless we were desperate, took it in. However, according to Doctors Ritter, Spingel, and Knechtli, it's marvellous for gravel and makes the water sparkil like champagne. These are the Minor Mysteries….

June 8. For the first time since the war I talked German to a German. “Wollen Sie fragen ob page 181 man warten kann?” And so on. It was simply extraordinary. Why?

July. Montana. One thing I am determined upon. And that is to leave no sign. There was a time—it is not so long ago—when I should have written all that has happened since I left France. But now I deliberately choose to tell no living soul. I keep silence as Mother kept silence. And though there are moments when the old habit ‘tempts’ me and I may even get so far as to write a page, they are only moments, and each day they are easier to conquer.

Chalet des Sapins, Montana. Just as now I say scarcely a word about my treacherous heart. If it's going to stop, it is going to stop, and there's an end of it. But I have been in this little house for nearly two days now, and it has not once quietened down. What dread to live in! But what's the use of saying aught? No, my soul, be quiet….

July 10. And now, just as I felt a little better and less worried about my head and my heart, the gland has become inflamed and all the surrounding tissue, too. It looks as though an abscess were forming. So here is another scare. And with it, I've one of my queer attacks when I feel nauseated all the time and can't bear light or noise or heat or cold. Shall I get through this, too? It is not easy still to find the courage to cope with these onslaughts….

page 182

July 13. Went to the Palace, and had the gland punctured. It is very unlikely that they will save the skin. I am sure, from the feeling, that they won't, and that this affair is only beginning. I shall be back at the Palace before the week is out. In the meantime I am exhausted and can't write a stroke.

Well, I must confess I have had an idle day. God knows why. All was to be written, but I just didn't write it. I thought I could, but I felt tired after tea and rested instead. Is it good or bad in me to behave so? I have a sense of guilt, but at the same time I know that to rest is the very best thing I can do. And for some reason there is a kind of booming in my head—which is horrid. But marks of earthly degradation still pursue me. I am not crystal clear. Above all else I do still lack application. It's not right. There is so much to do, and I do so little. Life would be almost perfect here if only when I was pretending to work I always was working. But that is surely not too hard. Look at the stories that wait and wait just at the threshold. Why don't I let them in? And their place would be taken by others who are lurking beyond just out there—waiting for the chance.

Next Day. Yet take this morning, for instance. I don't want to write anything. It's grey; it's heavy and dull. And short stories seem unreal and not worth doing. I don't want to write; I want to live. What does she mean by that? It's not easy to say. But there you are!

page 183

Queer, this habit of mine of being garrulous. And I don't mean that any eye but mine should read this. This is—really private. And I must say—nothing affords me the same relief. What happens as a rule is, if I go on long enough, I break through. Yes, it's rather like tossing very large flat stones into the stream. The question is, though, how long this will prove efficacious. Up till now, I own, it never has failed me….

One's sense of the importance of small events is very juste here. They are not important at all….!? Strange! I suddenly found myself outside the library in Wœrishofen: spring—lilac—rain—books in black bindings.

And yet I love this quiet clouded day. A bell sounds from afar; the birds sing one after another as if they called across the tree-tops. I love this settled stillness, and this feeling that, at any moment, down may come the rain. Where the sky is not grey, it is silvery white, streaked with little clouds. The only disagreeable feature of the day is the flies. They are really maddening, and there is nothing really to be done for them: I feel that about hardly anything.

1 Saint-Galmier and Montreux are both mineral waters.

The Barmaid.

She had an immense amount of fuzzy hair piled up on top of her head, and several very large rings, which from their bright flashing look, you felt certain were engagement-rings.

Above all cooking smells I hate that of mutton chops. It is somehow such an ill-bred smell. It page 184 reminds me of commercial travellers and secondclass, N.Z.

I'll stand in front of the house and knock, and when the door is opened, run in past the maid and call for whoever is there.

Should you say wasted? No, not really. Something is gathered. This quiet time brings one nearer.

July. I finished Mr. and Mrs. Dove yesterday. I am not altogether pleased with it. It's a little bit made up. It's not inevitable. I mean to imply that those two may not be happy together—that that is the kind of reason for which a young girl marries. But have I done so? I don't think so. Besides, it's not strong enough. I want to be nearer—far, far nearer than that. I want to use all my force even when I am taking a fine line. And I have a sneaking notion that I have, at the end, used the Doves unwarrantably. Tu sais ce que je veux dire. I used them to round off something—didn't I? Is that quite my game? No, it's not. It's not quite the kind of truth I'm after. Now for Susannah. All must be deeply felt.

But what is one to do, with this wretched cat and mouse act? There's my difficulty! I must try to write this afternoon instead. There is no reason why I shouldn't! No reason, except the after-effects of pain on a weakened organism.

July 23. Finished An Ideal Family yesterday. It seems to me better than The Doves, but still it's not good enough. I worked at it hard enough, page 185 God knows, and yet I didn't get the deepest truth out of the idea, even once. What is this feeling? I feel again that this kind of knowledge is too easy for me; it's even a kind of trickery. I know so much more. This looks and smells like a story, but I wouldn't buy it. I don't want to possess it —to live with it. NO. Once I have written two more, I shall tackle something different—a long story: At the Bay, with more difficult relationships. That's the whole problem.

“Out of the pocket of the mackintosh she took an ample bag, which she opened and peered into and shook. Her eyebrows were raised, her lips pressed together….”

“And a very long shining blue-black hairpin gleaming on the faded carpet….”

“She shuddered. And now when she looked at his photograph, even the white flower in his buttonhole looked as though it were made of a curl of mutton-fat….”

“And she saw Mr. Bailey in a blue apron standing at the back of one of those horrible shops. He had one hand on his hip, the other grasped the handle of a long knife that was stuck into a huge chopping block. At the back of him there hung a fringe of small rabbits, their feet tied together, a dark clot of blood trembling from their noses….”

July 18. The noise in this house this morning is sheer hell. It has gone on steadily since shortly after six o'clock, and for some reason the maid page 186 seems to have completely lost her head. It's now nearly ten, and she hasn't cleared the breakfast away. I have to go again to the Palace at 11, and the consequence is I'm rather nervous anyway. And I've had the flowers to do and various things to see to like—laundry. I can hardly bear it. Now she plods up. Bang! She will be at the door in a moment. I don't know how to stand it if it goes on. She's here. She's about to put the things in the lift. What are her thoughts? I don't know or care. But I bitterly long for a little private room where I can work undisturbed. The balcony is not good enough; neither is this salon. Here again, J. has beaten me. And it's not half so important for him….

A Welcome.

And because, when you arrive unexpected, there is so often a cold gleam in the hussif's eye which means: “I can manage the sheets perfectly, but the blankets are certainly going to be a problem,” I would have you met in the doorway by a young creature carrying a not too bright lamp, it being, of course, late evening, and chanting, as you brush under the jasmine porch:

Be not afraid, the house is full of blankets,
Red ones and white ones, lovely beyond dreaming,
Key-pattern, tasselled, camel-hair and woolly,
Softer than sleep or the bosom of a swan.

[In the middle of the manuscript of Her First Ball.]

July 25. All this! All that I write—all that I am—is on the border of the sea. It's a kind of page 187 playing. I want to put all my force behind it, but somehow, I cannot!

Ful gay was al the ground, and queynt,
And poudred as men had it peynt
With many a fresh and sondry flour
That casten up ful good savour.

[From an unposted letter.]

It's a chill, strange day. I can just get about. I decided this morning to write to S—about the Swiss Spahlinger treatment: whether it would be suitable for me, etc. And I shall wire you tomorrow, asking you to go and see S—. Say what you like. But let him know that I am practically a hopeless invalid. I have tried to explain about money to him; why I haven't paid him, and I have promised to pay the first moment I can….

August. “I have been writing a story about an old man.”

She looked vague. “But I don't think I like old men—do you?” said she. “They exude so.”

This horrified me. It seemed so infernally petty, and more than that… it was the saying of a vulgar little mind.

Later: I think it was shyness.

August 11. I don't know how I may write this next story. It's so difficult. But I suppose I shall. The trouble is I am so infernally cold.

[The “next story” was The Voyage. The finished manuscript is dated August 14, 1921.]

page 188

[From an unposted letter.]

I would have written a card before, but I have been—am—ill, and to-day's the first day I've taken a pen even so far. I've had an attack of what the doctor calls acute enteritis. I think it was poisoning. Very high fever and sickness and dysentery and so on. Horrible. I decided yesterday to go to the Palace, but to-day makes me feel I'll try and see it out here. J. is awfully kind in the menial offices of nurse, and I've not been able to take any food except warm milk, so Ernestine can't work her worst on me. She seems, poor creature, to be much more stupid than ever! Burns everything! Leaves us without eggs, and went off for her afternoon yesterday without a word. We didn't even know she was gone.


August. A sudden idea of the relationship between ‘lovers.’

We are neither male nor female. We are a compound of both. I choose the male who will develop and expand the male in me; he chooses me to expand the female in him. Being made ‘whole.’ Yes, but that's a process. By love serve ye one another…. And why I choose one man for this rather than many is for safety. We bind ourselves within a ring and that ring is as it were a wall against the outside world. It is our refuge, our shelter. Here the tricks of life will not be played. Here is safety for us to grow.

Why, I talk like a child!

page 189

August 29. “If I could only sweep all my garden up the hill, to your doors!” Her perfect little gesture as she said this.

The Candlestick.
[An imaginary letter.]

Many thanks for your stuffy letter. As for the candlestick, dear, if you remember, I gave it you on your last birthday. No wonder it reminded you of me. I have kept it in its paper and intend to return it to you with a pretty little note on your next. Or shall I first send it to you as an early Christmas present and do you return it as a late one or a New Year's gift. Easter we shall leave out. It would be a trifle excessive at Easter. I wonder which of us will be in possession of it at the last. If it is on my side, I shall leave it you in my will, all proper, and I think it would be nice of you, Camilla, to desire that it should be buried with you. Besides, one's mind faints at the idea of a candlestick whirling through space and time for ever—a fliegende candlestick, in fact!

I have been suffering from wind round the heart. Such a tiresome complaint, but not dangerous. Really, for anything to be so painful I think I would prefer a spice of danger added. The first act was brought on by a fit of laughing.

September. September is different from all other months. It is more magical. I feel the strange chemical change in the earth which produces mushrooms is the cause, too, of this extra ‘life’ page 190 in the air—a resilience, a sparkle. For days the weather has been the same. One wakes to see the trees outside bathed in green-gold light. It's fresh—not cold. It's clear. The sky is a light pure blue. During the morning the sun gets hot. There is a haze over the mountains. Occasionally a squirrel appears, runs up the mast of a pine-tree, seizes a cone and sits in the crook of a branch, holding it like a banana. Now and again a little bird, hanging upside-down, pecks at the seed. There is a constant sound of bells from the valley. It keeps on all day, from early to late.

Midday—with long shadows. Hot and still. And yet there's always that taste of a berry rather than scent of a flower in the air. But what can one say of the afternoons? Of the evening? The rose, the gold on the mountains, the quick mounting shadows? But it's soon cold—Beautifully cold, however.


[The following occurs in the middle of an unpublished and unfinished MS. called “By Moonlight.” “Karori” was the “novel” of which Prelude and At the Bay were—at one time—to have formed parts. But eventually the idea was abandoned, because K.M. saw that her “novel” would have been so unlike a novel that it was no use calling it one.]

I am stuck beyond words, and again it seems to me that what I am doing has no form! I ought to finish my book of stories first and then, when it's gone, really get down to my novel, Karori.

Why I should be so passionately determined to page 191 disguise this, I don't quite know. But here I lie, pretending, as Heaven knows how often I have before, to write. Supposing I were to give up this pretence and really did try? Supposing I only wrote half a page in a day—it would be half a page to the good; and I should at least be training my mind to get into the habit of regular performance. As it is, every day sees me further off my goal. And, once I had this book finished, I'm free to start the real one. And it's a question of money.

But my idea, even of the short story, has changed rather, lately—That was lucky! J. opened the door softly and I was apparently really truly engaged…. And—no, enough of this. It has served its purpose. It has put me on the right lines.

[At the end of the same MS. is this note.]

This isn't bad, but at the same time it's not I good. It's too easy…. I wish I could go back to N.Z. for a year. But I can't possibly just now. I don't see why not, in two years' time though.

[An unposted letter.]

October 13. Dear Friend. I like your criticism. It is right you should have hated those things in me. For I was careless and false. I was not true in those days. But I have been trying for a long time now to “squeeze the slave out of my soul.” … I just want to let you know.

Oh, I am in the middle of a nice story [The Garden Party]. I wish you would like it. I am page 192 writing it in this exercise book, and just broke off for a minute to write to you.

Thank you for the address. I can't go to Paris before the spring, so I think it would be better if I did not write until then. I feel this light treatment is the right one. Not that I am ill at present. I am not in the least an invalid, in any way.

It's a sunny, windy day—beautiful. There is a soft roaring in the trees and little birds fly up into the air just for the fun of being tossed about.

Good-bye. I press your hand. Do you dislike the idea we should write to each other from time to time?


[At the end of the manuscript of The Garden Party.]

This is a moderately successful story, and that's all. It's somehow, in the episode at the lane, scamped.

The New Baby

It is late night, very dark, very still. Not a star to be seen. And now it has come on to rain. What happiness it is to listen to rain at night; joyful relief, ease; a lapping-round and hushing and brooding tenderness, all are mingled together in the sound of the fast-falling rain. God, looking down upon the rainy earth, sees how faint are these lights shining in little windows,—how easily put out….

Suddenly, quick hard steps mount the stone staircase. Someone is hurrying. There is a knock at my door, and at the same moment a red page 193 beaming face is thrust in, as Ernestine announces, “He is born.”


“He is born!”

Oh, Ernestine, don't turn away. Don't be afraid. Let me weep too.

You ought to keep this, my girl, just as a warning to show what an arch-wallower you can be.

October 16. Another radiant day. J. is typing my last story, The Garden Party, which I finished on my birthday [October 14]. It took me nearly a month to ‘recover’ from At the Bay. I made at least three false starts. But I could not get away from the sound of the sea, and Beryl fanning her hair at the window. These things would not die down. But now I'm not at all sure about that story. It seems to me it's a little ‘wispy’—not what it might have been. The G.P. is better. But that is not good enough, either….

The last few days what one notices more than anything is the blue. Blue sky, blue mountains, all is a heavenly blueness! And clouds of all kinds—wings, soft white clouds, almost hard little golden islands, great mock-mountains. The gold deepens on the slopes. In fact, in sober fact, it is perfection.

But the late evening is the time—of times. Then with that unearthly beauty before one it is not hard to realise how far one has to go. To write something that will be worthy of that rising moon, that pale light. To be ‘simple’ enough, as one would be simple before God….

page 194

October 27. Stories for my new book.

N.Z. Honesty: The Doctor, Arnold Cullen, and his wife Lydia, and Archie the friend.

L. Second Violin: Alexander and his friend in the train. Spring—spouting rain. Wet lilac.

N.Z. Six Years After: A wife and husband on board a steamer. The cold buttons. They see someone who reminds them.

L. Life like Logs of Driftwood: This wants to be a long, very well-written story. The men are important, especially the lesser man. It wants a good deal of working … newspaper office.

N.Z. A Weak Heart: Ronnie on his bike in the evening, with his hands in his pockets, doing marvels, by that dark tree at the corner of May Street. Edie and Ronnie.

L. Widowed: Geraldine and Jimmie: a house overlooking Sloane Street and Square. Wearing those buds at her heart. “Married or not married….” From Autumn to Spring.

N.Z. Our Maude: Husband and wife play duets and a one a two a three a one a two three one! His white waistcoats. Wifeling and Mahub! What a girl you are!

N.Z. At Karori: The little lamp. I seen it. And then they were silent. (Finito: October 30, 1921.)

I wish that my silence were only a two-minute one!

October. I wonder why it should be so very difficult to be humble. I do not think I am a good writer; I realize my faults better than anyone page 195 else could realize them. I know exactly where I fail. And yet, when I have finished a story and before I have begun another, I catch myself preening my feathers. It is disheartening. There seems to be some bad old pride in my heart; a root of it that puts out a thick shoot on the slightest provocation…. This interferes very much with work. One can't be calm, clear, good as one must be, while it goes on. I look at the mountains, I try to pray and I think of something clever. It's a kind of excitement within, which shouldn't be there. Calm yourself. Clear yourself. And anything that I write in this mood will be no good; it will be full of sediment. If I were well, I would go off by myself somewhere and sit under a tree. One must learn, one must practise, to forget oneself. 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. I am bad. I fail in my personal life. I lapse into impatience, temper, vanity, and so I fail as thy priest. Perhaps poetry will help.

I have just thoroughly cleaned and attended to my fountain pen. If after this it leaks, then it is no gentleman!

November 13. It is time I started a new journal. Come, my unseen, my unknown, let us talk together. Yes, for the last two weeks I have written scarcely anything. I have been idle; I have failed. Why? Many reasons. There has been a kind of confusion in my consciousness. It has seemed as though there was no time to write.

page 196

The mornings, if they are sunny, are taken up with sun-treatment; the post eats away the afternoon. And at night I am tired.

‘But it all goes deeper.’ Yes, you are right. I haven't been able to yield to the kind of contemplation that is necessary. I have not felt pure in heart, not humble, not good. There's been a stirring-up of sediment. I look at the mountains and I see nothing but mountains. Be frank! I read rubbish. I give way about writing letters. I mean I refuse to meet my obligations, and this of course weakens me in every way. Then I have broken my promise to review the books for The Nation. Another bad spot. Out of hand? Yes, that describes it—dissipated, vague, not positive, and above all, above everything, not working as I should be working—wasting time.

Wasting time. The old cry—the first and last cry—Why do ye tarry? Ah, why indeed? My deepest desire is to be a writer, to have “a body of work” done. And there the work is, there the stories wait for me, grow tired, wilt, fade, because I will not come. And I hear and I acknowledge them, and still I go on sitting at the window, playing with the ball of wool. What is to be done?

I must make another effort—at once. I must begin all over again. I must try and write simply, fully, freely, from my heart. Quietly, caring nothing for success or failure, but just going on.

I must keep this book so that I have a record of what I do each week. (Here a word. As I re-read At the Bay in proof, it seemed to me flat, dull, and not a success at all. I was very much page 197 ashamed of it. I am.) But now to resolve! And especially to keep in touch with Life—with the sky and this moon, these stars, these cold, candid peaks.

November 16. To go to Sierre, if it goes on like this … or to—or to—

November 21. Since then [i.e. since writing the entry of October 16, 1921] I have only written The Doll's House. A bad spell has been on me. I have begun two stories,1 but then I told them and they felt betrayed. It is absolutely fatal to give way to this temptation…. To-day I began to write, seriously, The Weak Heart,—a story which fascinates me deeply. What I feel it needs so peculiarly is a very subtle variation of ‘tense’ from the present to the past and back again—and softness, lightness, and the feeling that all is in bud, with a play of humour over the character of Ronnie. And the feeling of the Thorndon Baths, the wet, moist, oozy … no, I know how it must be done.

May I be found worthy to do it! Lord, make me crystal clear for thy light to shine through!

November 24. These last days I have been awfully rebellious. Longing for something. I feel uprooted. I want things that J. can so easily do without, that aren't natural to him. I long for them. But then, stronger than all these desires, is the other, which is to make good before I do page 198 anything else. The sooner the books are written, the sooner I shall be well, the sooner my wishes will be in sight of fulfilment. That is sober truth, of course. As a pure matter of fact I consider this enforced confinement here as God-given. But, on the other hand, I must make the most of it quickly. It is not unlimited any more than anything else is. Oh, why—oh, why isn't anything unlimited? Why am I troubled every single day of my life by the nearness of death and its inevitability? I am really diseased on that point. And I can't speak of it. If I tell J. it makes him unhappy. If I don't tell him, it leaves me to fight it. I am tired of the battle. No one knows how tired.

To-night, when the evening-star shone through the side-window and the mountains were so lovely, I sat there thinking of death. Of all there was to do—of Life, which is so lovely—and of the fact that my body is a prison. But this state of mind is evil. It is only by acknowledging that I, being what I am, had to suffer this in order to do the work I am here to perform. It is only by acknowledging it, by being thankful that work was not taken away from me, that I shall recover. I am weak where I must be strong.

And to-day—Saturday—less than ever. But no matter. I have progressed … a little. I have realised what it is to be done—the strange barrier to be crossed from thinking it to writing it…. Daphne.

[On the next page begins the unfinished MS. of Daphne, included in “The Doves' Nest.”]

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1 Fragments of these two stories, Widowed and Second Violin, and of Weak Heart, are in the “Doves' Nest.”

Shakespeare Notes.

All's Well that Ends Well.

The First Lord is worth attending to. One could have thought that his speeches and those of the Second Lord would have been interchangeable; but he is a very definite, quick-cut character. Take, for example, the talk between the two in Act IV Scene III. The Second Lord asks him to let what he is going to tell dwell darkly with him.

First Lord: ‘When you have spoken it, 'tis dead, and I am the grave of it.’

And then his comment:

‘How mightily sometimes we make us comforts of our losses.’

And this is most excellent:

‘The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together; our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not; and our faults would despair if they were not cherished by our virtues.’

I like the temper of that extremely—and does it not reveal the man? Disillusioned and yet—amused—worldly, and yet he has feeling. But I see him as—quick, full of Life, and marvellously at his ease with his company, his surroundings, his own condition, and the whole small, solid earth. He is like a man on shipboard who is inclined to straddle just to show (but not to show off) how well his sea-legs serve him….

The Clown —“a shrewd knave and an unhappy”—comes to tell the Countess of the arrival of Bertram and his soldiers.

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‘Faith, there's a dozen of 'em, with delicate fine hats and most courteous feathers, that bow and nod the head at every man.’

In that phrase there is all the charm of soldiers on prancing, jingling, dancing horses. It is a veritable little pageant. With what an air the haughty (and intolerable) Bertram wears his two-pile velvet patch—with what disdain his hand in the white laced French glove tightens upon the tight rein of his silver charger. Wonderfully sunny, with a little breeze. And the Clown, of course, sees the humour of this conceit….

Parolles is a lovable creature, a brave little cock-sparrow of a ruffian.

… ‘I am now, sir, muddied in Fortune's mood, and smell somewhat strong of her strong displeasure.’

I must say Helena is a terrifying female. Her virtue, her persistence, her pegging away after the odious Bertram (and disguised as a pilgrim—so typical!) and then telling the whole story to that good widow-woman! And that tame fish Diana. As to lying in Diana's bed and enjoying the embraces meant for Diana—well, I know nothing more sickening. It would take a respectable woman to do such a thing. The worst of it is I can so well imagine … for instance acting in precisely that way, and giving Diana a present afterwards. What a cup of tea the widow and D. must have enjoyed while it was taking place, or did D. at the last moment want to cry off the bargain? But to forgive such a woman! Yet Bertram would. There's an espèce de mothers- page 201 boyisme in him which makes him stupid enough for anything.

The Old King is a queer old card—he seems to have a mania for bestowing husbands. As if the one fiasco were not enough, Diana has no sooner explained herself than he begins:

“If thou be'st yet a fresh uncropped flower
Choose thou thy husband, and I'll pay thy dower.”

I think Shakespeare must have seen the humour of that. It just—at the very last moment of the play, puts breath into the old fool.


Coleridge on Hamlet. ‘He plays that subtle trick of pretending to act only when he is very near being what he acts.’

… So do we all begin by acting and the nearer we are to what we would be the more perfect our disguise. Finally there comes the moment when we are no longer acting; it may even catch us by surprise. We may look in amazement at our no longer borrowed plumage. The two have merged; that which we put on has joined that which was; acting has become action. The soul has accepted this livery for its own after a time of trying on and approving.

To act … to see ourselves in the part—to make a larger gesture than would be ours in life—to declaim, to pronounce, to even exaggerate, to persuade ourselves (?) or others (?) To put ourselves in heart? To do more than is necessary in order that we may accomplish ce qu'il faut.

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And then Hamlet is lonely. The solitary person always acts.

But I could write a thousand pages about Hamlets.

Mad Scene. If one looks at it with a cold eye is really very poor. It depends entirely for its effect upon wispy Ophelia. The cardboard King and Queen are of course only lookers-on. They don't care a halfpenny. I think the Queen is privately rather surprised at a verse or two of her songs…. And who can believe that a solitary violet withered when that silly fussy old pomposity died? And who can believe that Ophelia really loved him, and wasn't thankful to think how peaceful breakfast would be without his preaching?

The Queen's speech after Ophelia's death is exasperating to one's sense of poetic truth. If no one saw it happen—if she wasn't found until she was drowned, how does the Queen know how it happened? Dear Shakespeare has been to the Royal Academy … for his picture.

Miranda and Juliet.

To say that Juliet and Miranda might very well be one seems to me to show a lamentable want of perception. Innocent, early-morning-of-the-world Miranda, that fair island still half dreaming in a golden haze—lapped about with little joyful hurrying waves of love…. And small, frail Juliet, leaning upon the dark—a flower that is turned to the moon and closes, reluctant, at chill dawn. It is not even her Spring. It is her time for dreaming: too soon for love. page 203 There is a Spring that comes before the real Spring and so there is a love—a false Love. It is incarnate in Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet.

When the old nurse cackles of leaning against the dove-house wall it's just as though a beam of sunlight struck through the curtains and discovered her sitting there in the warmth with a tiny staggerer. One positively feels the warmth of the sunny wall….

Twelfth Night.

Malvolio's “or … play with some rich jewel.” There speaks the envious servant-heart that covets his master's possessions. I see him stroking the cloth with a sigh as he puts away his master's coat—holding up to the light or to his fingers the jewel before he snaps it into its ivory case. I see the servant copying the master's expression as he looks in the master's mirror.

And that … “having risen from a day bed where I have left Olivia sleeping.” Oh, doesn't that reveal the thoughts of all those strange creatures who attend upon the lives of others!

Anthony and Cleopatra.

Act I. Scene I.

“The triple pillars of the world …”

“The wide arch of the ranged empire …”

“To-night we'll wander through the streets and note

The qualities of people.” (That is so true a pleasure of lovers.)

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Act I. Scene 2.

“A Roman thought hath struck him …”
“Ah, then we bring forth weeds
When our quick minds lie still …”

Enobarbus constantly amazes me, e.g. his first speeches with Anthony about Cleopatra's celerity in dying.

“Your old smock brings forth a new petticoat.”

Act I. Scene 3. Like Scene 2. (I) “Saw you my lord?” (2) “Where is he?” The married woman. There's jealousy! And then her fury that he's not more upset at Fulvia's death!

‘Now I know how you'll behave when I die!’

These are beautiful lines of Anthony's:

“Our separation so abides and flies
That thou, residing here, goes yet with me,
And I, hence fleeing, here remain with thee.”

Act I. Scene 4.

“Like to a vagabond flag upon the stream
Goes to and back, lackeying the varying tide
To rot itself with motion.”

Marvellous words! I can apply them. There is a short story. And then it seems that the weed gets caught up and it sinks; it is gone out to sea and lost. But comes a day, a like tide, a like occasion, and it reappears more sickeningly rotten still! Shall he? Will he? Are there any letters? No letters? The post? Does he miss me? No. Then sweep it all out to sea. Clear the water for ever! Let me write this one day.

“His cheek so much as lanked not.” (Economy of utterance.)

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Act III. The short scene between Anthony and the Soothsayer is very remarkable. It explains the tone of Caesar's remarks to Anthony…. And Anthony's concluding speech shows his uneasiness at the truth of it. He'll go to Egypt. He'll go where his weakness is praised for strength. There's a hankering after Egypt between the lines.

Scene 5. “Tawny-finned fishes … their shiny jaws….” and the adjectives seem part of the nouns when Shakespeare uses them. They grace them so beautifully, attend and adorn so modestly, and yet with such skill. It so often happens with lesser writers that we are more conscious of the servants than we are of the masters, and quite forget that their office is to serve, to enlarge, to amplify the power of the master.

“Ram thou thy fruitful tidings in my ears
That long time have been barren.”

Good lines! And another example of the choice of the place of words. I suppose it was instinctive. But ‘fruitful’ seems to be just where it ought to be, to be resolved (musically speaking) by the word ‘barren’ One reads ‘fruitful’ expecting ‘barren’ almost from the “sound-sense.”

“‘But yet’ is as a jailor to bring forth
Some monstrous malefactor.”

There's matter indeed! Does not that give the pause that always follows those hateful words. ‘But yet’—and one waits. And both look towards the slowly opening door. What is coming out? And sometimes there's a sigh of relief after. Well, it was nothing so very awful. The gaol- page 206 mouse, so to speak, comes mousing through and cleans his face with his paw.

“I am pale, Charmian.”

Reminds me of Mary Shelley. “Byron had never seen any one so pale as I.”

“Since I myself
Have given myself the cause.”

What does that mean exactly? That she sent Anthony away? or let Anthony go?

“In praising Anthony I have dispraised Caesar …
I am paid for it now.”

A creature like Cleopatra always expects to be paid for things.