Season 4, Episode 8
Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Sunday, October 5, 1941
This morning I actually feel peaceful. I think my mind’s load of worry about Artie has finally lifted, so that it’s rested and at ease again. What a to-do that Edna episode has been! What I hope now is that Artie will be so interested and contented up in his O.C.T.U. that Edna will quickly fade from his mind. I’m sure his correspondence with her developed so factually simply because he was so utterly bored at New Romney. At last he has got away from there; and I most concentrated hope that he has got away from her also.
Yesterday I began to read Sarah Gertrude Millin’s book, The South Africans. I am interested in all of this woman’s work, and, because of Olive Schreiner, I am always interested in South Africa. This book interests me deeply and has given me two jolts; the first is a minor jolt, and concerns my own affairs; the second is major, and concerns world affairs.
To take the minor jolt first. It concerns religion. Mrs. Millin is a Jewess herself, so she never has an inside understanding of Christianity or Christians. Not that she is anti-Christian, but she just can’t know the indelible Christian background of any Gentile life, no matter how un-believing. She observes the Christians, and, I presume, in her own beliefs, or non-beliefs, can be classed with our educated agnostics. However, writing of the South African colored people, she has made two statements, which sort of snagged me. She writes:
“The natives are increasing because they no longer kill one another…even if they only kill an enemy whom the witch-doctor has smelted out. The white people came along and make a fuss; and quite often a perfectly well-meaning person, highly respected and with occult power, is hung. So if one can’t drink, or fight, or occupy oneself with religion, what is there in life to do but propagate sons to plough the lands, and daughters to fill the Kraals?”
And again: “Most of the Bloemfontein natives are Basutos, and therefore rather more civilized than the warrior-bred native. They have their social sets, social standards. They live in brick houses with streets at their doors. They save from wages that are lower than anywhere else in the Union. They are devout churchgoers. They fervently respect their black ministers and teachers. They marry as Christians, and not necessarily with lobola (money paid to a father to buy his daughter for a wife). They have English or Dutch Christian names, and call one another Mr. or Mrs. They go, with avidity, from youth, through maturity and into senility, to Sunday school. It is their club, anything connected with the church. They sing hymns, giving them an odd Kaffir quality in the singing—wildness penetrates the meek notes of the music. They go to school. They learn the piano. They play tennis. They love letter writing.”
These statements came to me like a slap in the face. Ted! I thought Ted! I remembered the two old Negresses in our Tenafly cottage, particularly Miss Nelson. I thought of the weekly pictures in our English Catholic papers of native priests. This week’s Herald carries a picture of a black bishop! These things make me sick. Again I flinch away from Ted’s dreadful religiousness, a religiousness that seems to me so puerile, so childish, and so unbearable. The hatred that is always in me for Ted’s evangelicalism, his religion, which I despise, flares up again, and scorches me. Yes, I think, he is just on par with Maria and Miss Nelson. He’s crazy! I can’t bear it.
The major jolt I receive from this book is a sort of dismay. This book was written and published in 1926, long before our present European conflict began to stir. It is dominantly concerned with the colored peoples of South Africa, with the color question. As one reads it today and asks oneself: But what of democracy? Of Liberty? Of Equality? Of Justice? What are we fighting for? A new order? What new order? Just as I saw the illusion of personal importance, riding down to Artie’s camp, in a similar way this book shows me the great illusion of the white man.
This present war isn’t a world war; it is only a European war. The ideal life, which we promise to establish in the world, after victory, what of that? An ideal life for whom? For us, only us, the English, the Americans, and perhaps the French, and a few other educated Europeans. What do we mean by education? Only what is taught in our schools, that’s all. All the time there are and there will remain, all the other millions of people on the globe, who are not as us, and who, even if they can take a veneer of our education, will never be as us, never become one with us. What is our law and custom to the colored man! Nothing. Democracy. freedom, equality, brotherhood, justice, culture. These are meaningless to millions and millions. So what are we fighting for? For ourselves. I think of the blah blah, which rolls out of the radio, political, religious, and patriotic. It’s all of it dope. It is the conceit of Europeans, the conceit of the white man.
I ask myself: what about all the people of South America? They are not white people either. Are we going to share the world with them after the war? Of course not, no more than we share it now. What will victory do for the South African? Nothing.
Just as each one to ourselves quite unconsciously, but nevertheless actually, considers oneself the center of the universe, so do we collectively consider ourselves radically, and our particular race to be the dominant race.
“I am an Englishman.”
“I am American.”
“I am a Frenchman.”
“I am a German,” and enough said.
How stupid! Meanwhile the politicians bring a war to pass, and the few make money from it whilst the multitude perish, and who cares? All the time the talkers talk. The pious pray. Men beget, and women labor. Oh God! It makes me sick!
It toughens my resolve to protect myself. A new world order? It is to laugh. A universal religion? It is to laugh even louder. There is no brotherhood of man. Black and white, rich and poor, the haves and have-nots, the drivers and the driven; ad- nausea. That’s all.
Ted has gone out to a Knight’s Meeting. I smile. Over lunch he told me he was going, and after lunch he went up to take a bath! Then he called me to find him his clean underwear. He was very fussy. Why? It strikes me there is an “initiation” at the Knights this afternoon, with nudity, and all that sort of symbolism stuff. Men playing. Damn fool men.
I have finished, The South African. The book winds up on the insoluble question of what to do with the native.
She writes: “The educated Kaffir trembles at the thought of a country of his own, separation of black from white, segregation. A native educated is a native spoilt. What is his maturity to him then but a tragedy; a ripeness unused, souring, fermenting? What can he do with his training and his education? He can teach other natives to become the superfluity he has himself become. That is all. He may not try to rise. He may not, even if his intelligence and capacity are of the highest, aspire to mount beside a European whose intelligence and capacity are of the lowest. All the laws of nature would seem to stop and planets would crash wildly into one another and the universe would come to an end if ever a black man were lifted to a position of command over a white man.
“That is the feeling in South Africa. It slumbers even in the hearts of the otherwise just and temperate men. However they may wish the happiness of the native, and demand rights for him, there is something which prevents men from making an equal of him, except spiritually, except theoretically, and still less a superior. Nor can they easily, here and now, bring themselves to touch his skin.”
What about our American Declaration of Rights? All men are born free and equal? Well, white men for white men wrote that. Are Negroes people? And don’t I come right up slam against this feeling in myself? Haven’t I always said, “Niggers haven’t souls?” Don’t I suspect in Edna Renacre a touch of the tar-brush? And that is the reason why I never will accept that girl as one of the family? Her looks are to me anathema.
Mrs. Millin writes, “All around the black man there are new, strange, terrible forces. To these he submits himself because they are the forces of the white man, his master, teacher, and conqueror. He believes in the white man’s God. He does the white man’s work. He wears the white man’s clothes. He learns the white man’s language, his skills and his wisdom. Well, where is he? At Bulehoek he relies on this God, and he is slaughtered. To the mines he is lured to this work, and the white miners ride the bitterness against him. He attends mission and government schools, and thinks, like a child, how he will please by his decency, his industry, and his progress, and hostile tongues declaim: ‘A native educated is a native spoilt.’ There is an arresting term: ‘the white man’s God.’ A white God of course. Who said: God is made in the image of man? And what about Jesus: Who in Christendom ever thinks of Jesus as a Jew? As he was. How we dislike the Jews!”
Tuesday, October 7, 1941
Now I have been reading a book, which has disturbed me emotionally. It is only a simple novel, entitled, Nor Perfumes Nor Wine, but it has brought to the front of my mind those memories I prefer to keep behind. It is an American story. It opens in 1907. It is the story of the bringing up of five sons, first on a place seventeen minutes from New York City, then in Brooklyn, then in Connecticut. The Bronxville place is very remindful of our Tenafly home; even the family cow is named Daisy! The book even speaks of Bayonne, New Jersey!
The book itself is inconsequent, but the memories it evokes are devastating. I find myself weeping for my sons, and I can’t bear it.
Now this afternoon I have received a copy of Mary Colum’s book, From These Roots. It is a second hand from Boots. I asked for it when I first read the book, back in 1938. I had given up hope of ever seeing it again, but here it is. I am so glad to have it. I think it a very important book, one I should possess. In a way this particular book coming to me now is queerly coincidental, for I am stirring again. I mean that secret self that wants to write books. I have been at a full stop all summer, but now ideas are flowing again, and I want to write. I’m broody. I want time, and no disturbances. Now that Artie’s affairs have cleared out of the way, my mind is set free for my own affairs. If I can only stave off the neighbors and the callers.
Wednesday, October 8, 1941
Commenced to read Havelock Ellis’s autobiography, My Life. It was published last year, but has only just come in to me. Queer, isn’t it? That this book should come to me in my present mood. Ever since my journey to New Romney I have been dwelling again on my project of writing the story of my life. Though I was excoriated then with the flash of the insight of the total unimportance of the individual, and of the human race en masse; nevertheless, paradoxically, I was impressed with the indelibility of myself. Myself. No matter how trivial, how trashy, how incomplete and frustrated, nevertheless, it is only to myself and through myself that there is any meaning in the universe, or, indeed in any universe at all. When I am not, nothing will be. So I want to express myself, whilst I can; to leave something tangible of myself for my tangible descendants, those bits of me which may continue to persist when I am only dust. So I want to state myself; not the self I appear, or the self I think I am; but what I am: myself.
Seven fifteen p.m. I went done to the Floral Hall this afternoon, to have a shampoo and set. I had forgotten it was market day, so I ran into the shopping crowd. It appalled me. Such ugly people, such drab people; I did not see one good face. Had I been in an American city I would have discovered myself to be in the “foreign” part, and I shouldn’t have worried. These were English people!
Tonight I am too tired to do anything, even too tired to read. Luckily there is a good B.B.C. Symphony concert at eight o’clock, Handel’s “Water Music,” some Berlioz, and Eva Turner singing “Softly Sighs” from Der Frerscluntz, and “One Fine Day” from Madame Butterfly. So I shall make myself happy with that. Unless Ted comes in early of course! Last night I wanted to listen to some quiet bedtime music, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and he would talk. He sucked his pipe all the time, and spoke in his monotone between nearly shut teeth. He discoursed on art, and got around to the statue of the Sacred Heart in the British Church. He went on and on, talking against the music. It was completely maddening. I suppose he thought he was being amiable. Anyhow, I’ll hope for good listening tonight.
Thursday, October 9, 1941
The war news from Russia grows worse and worse. The Germans are still pressing in and a more violent battle than ever is now in progress, in the central sector, that is the Moscow section. The figures given out are so colossal they are almost beyond comprehension. Each side claims to have annihilated the enemy by millions. What folly! Oh God, what folly!
I have been house cleaning again today. Mrs. Prior has written that she is suffering with rheumatism and that she is under the doctor, but she hopes to come to work next week. Well I hope so. Housework bores me. Anyhow, I am sick of housekeeping. Ever since that trip to Romney I have wanted to be on the go. Maybe it’s the Jew in me, the wandering Jew. I like to travel, to keep on going places, on and on. I am tired of sitting in a house; looking after a house wearies me. Let somebody else do it, that’s what I think and feel. Being house-proud is certainly not one of my vices. Of course I might have been, had I ever had the sort of house I liked. I have never had anything to say about the kind of a home I must live in; I have had to make do with someone else’s choices. Now I don’t even want my own choice. I only want to be free of a house, and the everlasting job of housekeeping. For more than thirty-six years I have been a housekeeper; that’s too long, a damned sight too long. Let me be free for a while! That’s my prayer to destiny: free of everything and everybody.
Friday, October 10, 1941
I am in an awful mood of misery, on the verge of tears. Physically affected too with a lump in my breast, a twist in my bowels. Due to Ted of course! Because of myself, the fool creature that I am who cannot adapt to the peculiarities of this man. The weather, too, is against me. Rain, dullness, stickiness, the whole atmosphere is depressing.
There is an advertisement in The Times this morning, put in by the Rationalist Press Association, which is a protest against the proposals for intensified religious education in schools. Very foolishly I commented on it. That set Ted off. Without looking at it even, he was away on a long harangue about Protestants and the errors of Protestantism; and as the minor subject was education, of course he had to drag in Gladys and give her a few slams. This bigotry overwhelms me. I never get used to it. Nor can I answer it. Indeed, I don’t try to. It would be to argue with a mad man.
Anyway I am in a bad way, suffering with suppressed passion. All last evening I read the Havelock Ellis book. It does interest me, though I do think Ellis was a bit potty. After I went to bed, I lay awake a long while, thinking about him and Olive Schreiner, and their odd love affair. Olive Schreiner has interested me ever since I was a young girl. I always read anything whatever I can find about her. Well, then I was dreaming of “love” and woke early long before the alarm went off, full of desire. With me that is the natural time for desire, at the end of the night. But of course I made no sign. You would have thought the man beside me would have sensed my passion. But no, he was completely obtuse.
The alarm sounded and he got up. When he returned from the bathroom he did a series of exercises. I could see all this in the mirror. He didn’t even know I was awake. Then off he went, and out to church. To church, to his absurd religion, to communion with a wafer, to his dream, to a fantasy. I thought, as I have thought a thousand times, oh, for a man, a real man! I longed for a real life. I longed for flesh and blood, my children, and their children, a mate, a real mate. Not this dreamer; not this damned fool dreamer who runs away from all the facts. I was in mental and physical agony.
Well, I got up, and prepared breakfast in the usual way. I should have beaten down my misery as the morning went on. I had to listen to his tirade against the Protestants. This floors me. It makes me feel ill. I feel I am up against a lunatic, and there is nothing I can do about it. Endure? I have endured for thirty years or more and the enduring destroys me. I want to escape, that’s what I want. I want to live my own life, while I have a life to spend. I want America; I want my children, a lover, a friend, health, freedom, and happiness. Well, I can bear solitariness. Anyhow I am a natural solitary I think. What I want is happy solitariness: to be free.
That day I went to see Artie, yes, I was happy traveling alone. I want to wander, to get away from the shackles of marriage. I want to be free. Oh, God, to be free! Ted is free. More than anybody I know he does exactly as he likes. He has arranged his life to suit himself, entirely. What a life! An escapist life. He should have been a priest, not a husband.
Twice this week I have met Father Bishop on the street and each time with a sense of shock. He looks such an oddity. He doesn’t look like a man. He looks like a neuter, not a man. Each time I have been offended by his lack of manners. He doesn’t raise his hat. Is it against code for a priest to raise his hat to a lady? Maybe. I don’t know. Anyhow, such a discourtesy stamps him as no gentleman.
Well, I must go and dress, and go out and buy some fish for lunch. Christians eat fish on Fridays because, being bloodless, fish don’t copulate! Oh, I don’t know whether I am laughing or crying. If only the sun would shine I should feel better. What a climate!
© 2011 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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