Pages

Thursday, 23 May 2019

WRITERS ON WRITING #119: Allegra Goodman


Carpe diem.  Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.  If your inner critic continues to plague you with invidious comparisons, scream, 'Ancestor worship!' and leave the building. 

(March 2001)


Click HERE to visit the website of award-winning US novelist ALLEGRA GOODMAN.

You might also enjoy:
WRITERS ON WRITING #109: Claire Messud 
WRITERS ON WRITING #99: Anne Tyler
WRITERS ON WRITING #9: Nora Ephron 

Thursday, 16 May 2019

JAMES BALDWIN Another Country (1962)


Michael Joseph UK first British edition, c 1963


He stood at the center of the bridge and it was freezing cold.  He raised his eyes to heaven.  He thought, You bastardAin't I your baby too?  He began to cry.  Something in Rufus which could not break shook him like a rag doll and splashed salt water all over his face and filled his throat and nostrils with anguish.  He knew the pain would never stop.  He could never go down into the city again.  He dropped his head as though someone had struck him and looked down at the water. 
   It was cold and the water would be cold.
  He lifted himself by his hands on the rail, lifted himself as high as he could, and leaned far out.  The wind tore at him, at his head and shoulders, while something in him screamed, Why? Why?  He thought of Eric.  His straining arms threatened to break.  I can't make it this way.  He thought of Ida.  He whispered, I'm sorry Leona, and then the wind took him, he felt himself going over, head down, the wind, the stars, the lights, the water, all rolled together, all right.  He felt a shoe fly off behind him, there was nothing around him, only the wind, all right, youGodalmighty bastard, I'm coming to you.



The Novel:  It has been said, and not without justification, that the hardest thing for any human being to understand is what goes on inside another human heart.  While love has the power to ennoble, liberate and transform us in any number of positive, life-enriching ways, it also has the power to deceive, humiliate and destroy us –– a paradox that, along with the urgent and still unsolved problem of race relations as they exist in the United States (and in the rest of what is becoming a more reactionary and intolerant world by the day), dominates James Baldwin's controversial 1962 novel Another Country.

The book begins with an extended description of the final night on earth of Rufus Scott, a young black jazz drummer whose passionate but unhappy love affair with a poor southern white woman named Leona has recently ended with her being 'taken home' by her family and committed to an insane asylum.  Rufus is well aware of the role he played in robbing the trusting and innocent Leona of her self-esteem and sanity and is certain that it was his inability to reconcile the love he felt for her as an individual with the unreasoning hatred she inspired in him as a white person that led him to emotionally and sometimes physically abuse her during the course of their short but tragic relationship.  

Filled with shame and alienated from his friends and family, Rufus aimlessly wanders the nighttime streets of New York, so poor and hungry he comes close to prostituting himself to a gay man so he can afford to buy the sandwich and the glass of whisky his exhausted body crave.  Worn down and sickened by the combination of spiritual pain and unrelenting self-loathing, he eventually appears at the apartment of his Irish-Italian friend Danny 'Vivaldo' Moore –– somebody, like his parents and devoted sister Ida, who has been frantic about him since being informed of Leona's breakdown and subsequent departure for the asylum.

Vintage/Random House US, c 2008
Rufus wants Vivaldo to blame him for what he did to Leona but Vivaldo, despite his first-hand knowledge of how cruelly his friend treated the girl, is unwilling to pass judgement on him.  'We've all been up the same streets,' he tells the tormented and sorrowful Rufus.  'There aren't a hell of a lot of streets.  Only, we've been taught to lie so much, about so many things, that we hardly ever know where we are.'  Eventually they leave for a local jazz club where Vivaldo has arranged to meet his artist girlfriend.  

At the club they also meet Vivaldo's friend Richard, a teacher-turned-novelist who's been encouraging Vivaldo in his own efforts to write, and Richard's sympathetic wife Cass.  Although they don't know Rufus and are not really part of the very different world that he inhabits, they're aware of what he did to Leona and, in Cass's case at least, share Vivaldo's reluctance to pass sweeping moral judgements on him.  'When you're older,' Cass confides to Rufus at one point, 'you'll see, I think, that we all commit our crimes.  The thing is not to lie about them –– to try to understand what you have done, why you have done it.  That way,' she concludes, 'you can begin to forgive yourself.  That's very important.  If you don't forgive yourself you'll never be able to forgive anybody else and you'll go on committing the same crimes forever.'  

Feeling a little better following this conversation with Cass, Rufus excuses himself to visit the men's room, only to use its window to return to the street and continue his solitary journey around the dark and lonely city.  Soon afterward, still consumed by guilt –– not just about Leona but also about other people whose love he either spurned or misused, a list which includes another former lover, also white, named Eric –– and feeling more bewildered than ever about his life as a black man in a world that hates him simply for being who and what he was born, he leaps to his death from the walkway of the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge.

Rufus's suicide serves as a catalyst for everyone who knew him to examine their respective consciences and make difficult decisions about who they are, what they believe and what it is they're truly seeking from life.  Vivaldo, who has a longstanding habit of paying for sex with black prostitutes, begins a relationship with Rufus's beautiful younger sister Ida, only to find himself becoming consumed by jealousy and rage as her relationship with Ellis, a white public relations man who has promised to make her a singing star, moves from being a purely professional one to being one that becomes increasingly one-sided and manipulative and, in time, sexual.  

Cass, in the meantime, finds her marriage threatened by the publication of Richard's bestselling debut novel and the critical and financial success it has earned him –– a success which, while eagerly anticipated by both of them for a number of years, suddenly cheapens him in her eyes and prompts her to begin what she believes will be a liberating affair with Eric, newly returned from self-imposed exile in France and the arms of his young French lover Yves.  Eric is also dealing with a lot of conflict in his life, his damaging experiences with Rufus making him wary of committing exclusively to Yves who is due to rejoin him in New York where the older man's career as a Broadway actor, interrupted by the time he spent in Europe, is at last regaining some momentum.  Yves is also searching for something –– some honesty, some genuine tenderness to fill the void created by the scores of meaningless physical encounters he's had with various men and women since discovering his sexual power as a teenager.  Finding this, he believes, will finally allow him to come to terms with the contempt he feels for his mother –– a woman who saw nothing wrong with sleeping with the occupying Germans during World War Two if doing so gained her what she wanted in return.

Folio France, c 2009
A merciless New York summer brings with it changes that will permanently affect everybody's lives.  Vivaldo, living in his hot and stuffy Greenwich Village apartment with Ida, comes to understand that she's never really forgiven him for not having done enough to prevent her brother's suicide.  Cass, guilty but also feeling alive and genuinely liberated for the first time in her life, continues her affair with Eric despite her growing awareness that the happiness they've found together can never possibly last.  Eric, in turn, is confronting his own guilt regarding his ambivalent attitude toward Yves, with the Frenchman's imminent arrival placing him under considerable pressure to make some kind of decision about the future they spoke of trying to build together before he left France.  

After taking Cass, Ida and Vivaldo to see a French movie in which he played a minor role, Eric and Vivaldo bid goodbye to the women and go back to Eric's apartment for a night of drinking and man-to-man soul-searching –– a night that ends, completely unexpectedly, with the two men making love in Eric's narrow bed.  In the meantime, Ida and Cass go to a Harlem jazz club to meet Ida's new white lover Ellis, who forces her to get up and sing with its house band against her will, prompting one of the musicians to accuse her of being no more than another white man's whore.  Cass arrives home soon afterward, only to be confronted by an angry intoxicated Richard who demands to know why they're drifting apart now that he's finally found the success and artistic validation he's been chasing all his life.  Cass tells him about her unhappiness and the feeling of emptiness his success inspires in her and then about her affair with Eric and why she needed to be with him because he's someone who, in her words, seems to have 'a sense of himself.'  Richard is hurt and shocked by these revelations and, after demanding to know if his wife still loves him, gives her two hard slaps across the face before passing out drunk on their sofa.

The following morning sees a happy and satisfied Vivaldo wake up beside Eric, who admits that he was attracted to him the first time Rufus introduced them to each other.  But Eric is soon forced to leave after receiving a phone call from a miserable, troubled-sounding Cass, freeing Vivaldo –– who feels strengthened and spiritually enriched by Eric's love and support –– to call Ida and inform her that he's on his way home.  Ida sounds pleased to hear from him and this too makes him happy, the implication being that he can now be as honest with her as she's been with him about what inspired and drove his ultimately parasitic friendship with her dead brother.  

Eric's rendezvous with Cass, when it happens, only confirms what they've both been unconsciously trying to deny from the beginning –– that they don't belong together even though it's now clear to Cass that her marriage to Richard is over.  She feels frightened by this knowledge despite the fact that she had an affair with Eric in the hope of growing as a person and finding herself.  But this hope, like so many others, is now completely dead in her.  'This isn't a country at all,' she despairingly tells Eric before they part for what will prove to be the final time, 'it's a collection of football players and Eagle Scouts.  Cowards.  We think we're happy.  We're not.  We're doomed.'

This belief is confirmed by what happens to Vivaldo when he and Ida are reunited in their apartment.  While Ida cooks him a meal –– a meal he never actually eats –– they discuss their problems and her belief that no white person can ever truly understand what it's like to be a person of color in the United States, citing Vivaldo's half-worshipful treatment of Rufus and her own expedient if shame-inducing relationship with Ellis as prime examples of the unbridgeable gulf that always has and always will prevent whites and non-whites from relating to each other in anything more than the most superficial manner.  Although they gradually come to understand and accept each other's point of view, their conversation does nothing to solve their own relationship problems or, in a larger sense, to break down the racial barriers that continue to divide a nation which, for better or worse, remains home to both of them.  While they willingly acknowledge the love they feel for each other, they also admit that it is a love complicated by their mutual honesty and Vivaldo's already cooling feelings for Eric which, it seems, were as short-lived as they were, while they lasted, intense and sincere.  

Eric himself, liberated by his experiences with Cass and Vivaldo, goes to Idlewild Airport to meet Yves's plane as he originally intended to do, his boyfriend's obvious joy at being reunited with him suggesting that love and a belief in the power of change –– emotions that seem impossible to attain and sustain for himself and his friends –– may not be as impossible to rediscover as they once appeared to be.

Dell Books USA, c 1964
Another Country was a novel that triggered a considerable amount of controversy in its time, as much for its unflinching examination of the problem of race as for its candid depictions of homosexual, bisexual and inter-racial love and its attempt to explore the issue of white American liberalism and the guilt produced by the desire, still prevalent among many white Americans, to 'help' black people without really 'knowing' them in anything but the politically-correct if largely superficial sense of those words.  It's a novel of ideas but not a novel that offers easy painless fixes to the problems of race, gender, identity or personal and social morality.  Baldwin's aim, rather, was to describe the issues in the hope of initiating a dialogue that would, if conducted honestly, lead to some sort of permanent resolution before the country became embroiled in an all-out race war. 
 
While many critics found it (and continue to find it) a sprawling jumble of a book, devoid of characters which, in the words of journalist Claudia Roth Pierpont, 'refuse to come to life' this is, in one sense, to misinterpret what Baldwin was attempting to do by writing it.  He set out to provide the reader with an honest emotional portrait of his own deeply troubled times, revealing and commenting on the problems that beset black and white Americans alike by narrowing his focus to a small group of interconnected New Yorkers who, for private reasons of their own which also prove to be universal, are unable to legitimately comprehend each other, their lives or a society being torn apart by inequality, mindless violence and rampant consumerism.  

It's worth noting that none of Baldwin's literary contemporaries –– a group of writers that included Norman Mailer, William Styron, James Jones, Philip Roth, Mary McCarthy and Saul Bellow among others –– were willing to put their reputations on the line by writing so eloquently about the issue –– civil rights –– which for many Americans was the defining issue of what was the most violent and politically turbulent decade their nation had experienced up until that point in its history.  Another Country was an incredibly brave novel for a gay black American writer to publish in the United States in 1962 and remains so in 2019 when virtually every issue it strives to address remains glaringly unresolved and hatred –– racial, sexual and/or religious, take your pick –– has become more widespread, politically divisive and socially corrosive than ever.  

But at its core Another Country is less about hatred than it is about love –– love thwarted, denied, trampled on and misunderstood, but love in all its strange, powerful and bewilderingly complex forms.  It also does what all 'great' novels should do –– shows us life as it really is, pulling no punches in order to spare our prejudices or support what, for many white readers, can be our cowardice as well as our all too easily compromised liberalism.


JAMES BALDWIN, c 1947
The Writer:  James Baldwin was born 'James Arthur Jones' on 2 August 1924 in Harlem Hospital in New York City.  His mother, Emma Berdis Jones, had moved to the city from Maryland sometime around 1900 and was living apart from her drug addicted husband when her son was born.  James Arthur Jones would not become James Arthur Baldwin until 1927 when his mother married David Baldwin, an abusive bottling plant worker and part-time Baptist preacher whose relationship with his sensitive and talented stepson would never be an easy one.  Emma subsequently gave birth to eight more children (her last child, a daughter, was born in 1943, on the same day that David Baldwin died), relying on her eldest child to help raise them in the impoverished and extremely challenging environment of Depression ravaged Harlem.

Baldwin began attending his local public school in 1929, where he was soon recognized as a student of rare and exceptional promise.  He was already writing stories, poems and sketches by the time he entered Frederick Douglass Junior High School in 1935 –– activities he was encouraged to pursue by a teacher named Countee Cullen who also happened to be one of the leading poets of the black 'Harlem Renaissance' movement.  Under Cullen's influence, Baldwin began contributing regularly to his school newspaper and soon became one of its editors, combining these activities with his own voracious reading and, eventually, a religious conversion which, by 1938, would see him become a junior minister at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly Church.  He continued to preach, often drawing larger crowds for his sermons than those drawn by his stepfather, after entering De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx –– a prestigious multi-racial school whose newspaper he also worked on and whose other alumni included Emile Capouya and future Vogue photographer Richard Avedon.  

It was through Capouya that Baldwin met artist Beauford Delaney and discovered the bohemian world of Greenwich Village –– a place he was visiting regularly by 1941, soaking up the artistic and literary atmosphere of its studios and cafés and reveling in the jazz and blues music his stepfather would not allow to be played inside the family home.  It was Capouya who encouraged his decision to leave the church and, following their 1942 graduation, to take a laboring job with him at an army camp in New Jersey.  Later, Baldwin would compare his time as a preacher with 'being in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion worked.'  He also remarked that joining the church had been an attempt to avoid confronting the troubling issue of his by now undeniable homosexuality. 

Baldwin stayed in New Jersey, regularly sending money home to his family, until he was fired from his job and forced to take a new job at a meatpacking plant –– a position he lost shortly after the death of his stepfather who succumbed to tuberculosis in July 1943, finally ending what had been an antagonistic, tension-fraught relationship for both of them.  Determined to do whatever it took to succeed as a writer, Baldwin moved to Greenwich Village and found a job as a waiter, sharing an apartment for a time with a young white actor named Marlon Brando.  (He and Brando would remain good friends for more than twenty years.)  In the city, regularly spending time with Beauford Delaney and sometimes sleeping in his studio, he began writing what would become his first novel Go Tell It On The Mountain –– a book based on his childhood and adolescence and the problems he encountered in attempting to confront his color, his sexuality, the unexplained absence of his natural father and the dominating influence of his abusive and, some believed, clinically insane stepfather.  

JAMES BALDWIN, c 1953
A portion of Baldwin's incomplete manuscript eventually found its way to Richard Wright, then the most celebrated black writer in the nation thanks to the 1940 publication of his own searing (if heavily censored) debut novel Native Son.  Wright liked the younger man's book and urged his editor at Harper and Brothers to read it –– a recommendation that led, in November 1945, to Baldwin receiving a $500 grant from that company's Eugene F Saxton Memorial Trust which bought him the time required to keep working on it.  The draft he completed in 1946 was rejected by Harper and then by Doubleday –– disheartening setbacks quickly followed by the suicide of his friend Eugene Worth who, like Rufus Scott in Another Country, chose to end his life by leaping from the walkway of the George Washington Bridge.

The late 1940s saw Baldwin gradually establish a name for himself as an essayist and short story writer whose work regularly appeared in publications like The Nation, The New Leader and Commentary.  He also began and abandoned a second novel and devoted himself to the study of European and American literature, instigating what would become a lifelong passion for the work of Henry James.  In November 1948, with the example of Richard Wright to inspire him, he left New York for Paris, the city that would remain his home until 1951 and where he would meet and develop friendships with a number of expatriate American writers including Truman Capote, Saul Bellow and, later, William Styron and Norman Mailer.  These years also saw him consolidate his reputation as an essayist of exceptional and penetrating insight, although money remained scarce and he failed to make any headway on any of the new novels he began and subsequently abandoned.  His time in Paris also saw him break with his former mentor Richard Wright, whom he accused in print of not going far enough in his efforts to promote the cause of black civil rights because he had created, in Native Son, a negro hero who was 'defined by his hatred and his fear.'  These criticisms, which many people felt to be unjustified and unnecessarily hostile, permanently ended what, before Baldwin's essay was published, had been an important and sustaining friendship for both writers.

Salvation of a kind arrived in 1951 in the form of Lucien Happersberger, a young Swiss man living in Paris whom Baldwin had first met and fallen in love with in 1949.  It was at Happersberger's family estate in the Swiss Alps, during the winter of 1951–1952, that he finally found the time and peace of mind required to complete what would be published in May 1953 as Go Tell It On The Mountain –– a novel praised by the critics as a searing indictment of America's pervasive, deeply entrenched but all too often glossed over racism.  Baldwin followed the novel with his first play The Amen Corner, which would receive its premiere performance at Howard University, an all black educational institution, in 1955.  

By that time Baldwin had returned to the United States, where he was working on his second novel in, among other places, the MacDowell artist's colony in New Hampshire and the Yaddo writer's colony in upstate New York.  This novel, published in the fall of 1956 by the Dial Press as Giovanni's Room, sealed his reputation as the most important and widely read black author in the United States, with its first printing selling out completely in just six weeks.  The following year saw Baldwin make his first trip to the South –– a place he'd rigorously avoided visiting up till then and was justifiably terrified of –– to gather material for an essay on the federally backed integration of what had previously been white-only schools in North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.  It was on this trip that he met a young black clergyman named Dr Martin Luther King whose Gandhi-inspired technique of passive resistance was beginning to gain him, and the cause of civil rights, some national and much needed international media coverage. 

As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, Baldwin increasingly devoted himself to the writing of essays which supported the fight for black empowerment, dividing his time between Europe, Africa (a place, like the southern states of his homeland, he had formerly refused to visit), France, Switzerland and, from 1961 onward, the Turkish city of Istanbul.  He found the writing of Another Country an immense personal struggle, telling friends that the manuscript was 'unpublishable' and that his characters refused to 'speak' to him –– a situation that led to several bouts of heavy drinking, insomnia and, for a time, persistent thoughts of suicide.  Although the book received mixed reviews after being published on 25 June 1962, these did not harm its sales or affect Baldwin's literary reputation, seeing him become, along with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, one of the most recognizable black political figures in what remained a deeply divided and violently suspicious United States.  

JAMES BALDWIN, 1965
Baldwin did not use his celebrity or his personal battles as excuses to avoid becoming involved with the struggle for civil rights on a grass roots level.  He played an active and very visible role in the movement, joining Dr King's 1964 freedom march in Alabama and petitioning US Attorney General Robert Kennedy to stop the killing of black civil rights campaigners working in the south.  The assassination of Malcolm X in New York City on 21 February 1965 led to him being asked by Columbia Pictures to write a screen adaptation of the Black Muslim leader's autobiography –– a project that would occupy him, between essays, speeches and television appearances, until 1969 when he finally quit the project in disgust, certain the film would never be made as long as white people continued to run Hollywood.  His unproduced screenplay was published in 1972 as One Day When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based on 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X.(The life of Malcolm X was later dramatized by black filmmaker Spike Lee, with the director forced to seek financial backing from several prominent black actors, musicians, writers and media personalities to finish the film after funding for it was withdrawn by the studio.  X, starring Denzel Washington in the title role, was eventually released in 1992 and went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards.)

The increasing radicalization of young blacks in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s saw Baldwin criticized as being out of touch and even 'past it' by community leaders and some of his fellow activists.  He nevertheless became a kind of elder statesman figure for the movement as time went on, participating in debates, speaking at conferences and appearing in documentaries that explored the problem of racism in both its past and present incarnations.  The writing of novels fell by the wayside to a certain extent, although three more works of long form fiction followed the 1962 publication of Another Country –– Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone (1968), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) and Just Above My Head (1979).  

Willingly or not, Baldwin found himself cast in the role of the grand old man of American letters throughout much of the 1980s, maintaining a home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in southern France but also spending a lot of time traveling between Europe and the United States where he was still viewed as an important symbol of and spokesperson for black empowerment.  He kept this up until 1987 –– between playing host to friends and fellow writers Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe and jazz superstar Miles Davis among others –– when what he believed to be a persistent sore throat was diagnosed as esophageal cancer caused by a lifetime's worth of heavy smoking and drinking.  He succumbed to this disease on 1 December 1987, leaving behind a body of work unsurpassed in its frank and fearless depiction of the race problem in the United States and its accompanying cruel absurdities.


Commemorative US postage stamp, 2004


Click HERE to read a selection of articles about US novelist, essayist, civil rights activist and social critic JAMES BALDWIN (1924–1987) published in the print and online editions of The New York Times.  You can also click HERE to read excerpts from an interview with JAMES BALDWIN conducted by JORDAN ELGRABLY which originally appeared in the Spring 1984 issue of The Paris Review.


Annapurna Pictures/PASTEL/Plan B Entertainment, 2018


A film adaptation of JAMES BALDWIN's 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by BARRY JENKINS and starring KIKI LAYNE as Tish Rivers and STEPHAN JAMES as her lover Alonzo 'Fonny' Hunt, was released on 25 December 2018 and is currently available in most parts of the world. 

You might also enjoy:
ALBERT CAMUS La chute [The Fall] (1956)
JAMES JONES To The End of the War (2011)
TAHAR BEN JELLOUN Au pays [A Palace in the Old Village] (2009)

Thursday, 9 May 2019

POET OF THE MONTH #55: Rosamund Marriott Watson


ROSAMUND MARRIOTT WATSON 
c 1900



AUBADE

The lights are out in the street, and a cool wind swings
Loose poplar plumes on the sky;
Deep in the gloom of the garden the first bird sings:
Curt, hurried steps go by
Loud in the hush of the dawn past the linden screen,
Lost in a jar and a rattle of wheels unseen
Beyond on the wide highway: ––
Night lingers dusky and dim in the pear tree boughs,
Hangs in the hollows of leaves, though the thrushes rouse,
And the glimmering lawn glows grey.
Yours, my heart knoweth, yours only, the jewelled gloom,
Splendours of opal and amber, the scent, the bloom,
Yours all, and your own demesne ––
Scent of the dark, of the dawning, of leaves and dew;
Nothing that was but hath changed –– 'tis a world made new ––
A lost world risen again.

The lamps are out in the street, and the air grows bright ––
Come –– lest the miracle fade in the broad, bare light,
The new world wither away:
Clear is your voice in my heart, and you call me –– whence?
Come –– for I listen, I wait –– bid me rise, go hence,
Or ever the dawn turn day.



Poems (1912)




The Poet:  The following biographical information appears on the Penny's Poetry Pages website.  [It is re-posted here for information purposes only and, like the poem re-posted above, remains its author's exclusive copyright-protected intellectual property.]

Rosamund Marriott Watson (October 6, 1860 – December 29, 1911) was an English poet, nature writer, and critic.

Watson was born Rosamund Ball (known as Rose), the 5th child of Benjamin Williams Ball, an accountant and amateur poet, and Sylvia Ball (née Good).  Her older brother Wilfrid Ball became a painter of landscapes and marine subjects, and helped introduce her to London's literary circles, including John Lane, the influential publisher of The Yellow Book.

Her mother died of cancer when she was just 13, and she would later recall that one consequence of this was that she had an unusual amount of freedom to pursue reading and writing. No records of any formal education for the young Ball have been found.  She initially intended to become a painter but her father forbade it; her aesthetic sensibilities would later shape her writing about gardens and interior design.

Watson began her writing career in 1883, with a column on 'modern' fashion for the Fortnightly Review.  She followed this up with other magazine writing, and by 1886 she had gotten her first poems printed in the American periodicals Scribner's Magazine and the New York Independent.

These early works were mostly published under one or other of the pseudonyms –– 'Rushworth Armytage' or 'R Armytage' –– which she adopted following her 1879 marriage to George Francis Armytage, a rich Australian.  Their daughter Eulalie was born the following year, but by September 1884 when their second daughter Daphne was born, the couple had parted ways and would later divorce.

Around 1886, she eloped with artist Arthur Graham Tomson, shortly afterwards dropping the Armytage pseudonym in favor of using 'Graham R. Tomson.'  During her years with Tomson, they lived in London and often summered in Cornwall.

She later divorced Tomson as well and lived with novelist HB Marriott Watson until her death; they never married, although some obituaries referred to her as his wife. They had a son, Richard, who was killed in World War One.

Watson's poems were published in various contemporary magazines and journals. Her major volumes of poetry were Tares (1884), The Bird-Bride (1886), A Summer Night (1891), Vespertilia and Other Verses (1895), and After Sunset (1904). Tares, which was published as her first marriage was breaking up and focuses on the disillusionments of love, was issued anonymously. Watson used the Tomson pseudonym for The Bird-Bride and for the first edition of A Summer Night.

In working under pseudonyms, Watson was part of a late 19th-century trend among women writers trying to break into male-dominated literary circles. It appears to have helped her, since the influential editor Andrew Lang praised one of her early poems under the belief that it was by a man.  Once Watson established herself in London's literary scene, later editions of A Summer Night carried her real name, as did her subsequent books, including the 1900 novel An Island Rose.

Watson wrote prolifically on gardening, and her essays on the subject (together with a few of her poems) were published in The Heart of a Garden (1906).  She also wrote several columns on interior design and fashion, some of which were collected in The Art of the House (1897).

Starting in 1892, Watson edited the magazine Sylvia's Journal, a progressive, feminist-leaning women's monthly, which covered a range of topics from work and art to the domestic sphere. Contributors under her tenure included Violet Hunt, Edith Nesbit, and others, and Watson herself wrote a book column titled Book Gossip.

In 1892, a long interview with Watson was published in Arnold Bennett's journal Woman.

Watson died of cancer at the age of 51.  Her collected poems were published in 1912 with an introduction by HB Marriott Watson. A biography of Watson, entitled Graham R, was published in 2005.

Click HERE to read another poem by British poet ROSAMUND MARRIOTT WATSON originally published in the July 1895 (Volume 6) edition of British arts magazine The Yellow Book.

You might also enjoy:
POET OF THE MONTH #50: Ford Madox Ford
POET OF THE MONTH #39: George Orwell
POET OF THE MONTH #2: Marianne Moore

Thursday, 2 May 2019

WRITERS ON WRITING #118: Joseph Conrad


Fiction –– if it at all aspires to be art –– appeals to temperament.  And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time.  Such an appeal to be effective must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion.  All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions.  It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music –– which is the art of arts.  And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour, and that light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surfaces of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.
  The sincere endeavour to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose.  And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who in the fulness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus: –– My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel –– it is, before all, to make you see.  That –– and no more, and it is everything.  If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts:  encouragement, consolation, fear, charm –– all you demand –– and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

Preface to The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897)


Click HERE to visit the THE JOSEPH CONRAD SOCIETY, a UK-based organisation (which also has a branch in the United States) devoted to 'the study of all aspects of the writings and life of Joseph Conrad' which aims to 'provide a forum and resource for Conrad scholars throughout the world and those with a strong interest in things Conradian.'

You might also enjoy:
JOSEPH CONRAD The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (1907)
FORD MADOX FORD A Call: The Tale of Two Passions (1910)
WRITERS ON WRITING #100: Ford Madox Ford

Thursday, 25 April 2019

THINK ABOUT IT #44: GI Gurdjieff


From my point of view, he can be called a remarkable man who stands out from those around him by the resourcefulness of his mind, and who knows how to be restrained in the manifestations which proceed from his nature, at the same time conducting himself justly and tolerantly towards the weaknesses of others.

Meetings With Remarkable Men (1960)


Click HERE to read more about the life and work of philosopher, teacher and composer GEORGE IVANOVICH GURDJIEFF.

You might also enjoy:
THINK ABOUT IT #43: Karen Horney
THINK ABOUT IT #37: Thich Nhat Hanh 
THINK ABOUT IT #31: Don Miguel Ruiz