August 20, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

Norwich, Vermont
August 20, 1931

Dear A.D.R.:

I was glad to have heard from you at last. Of course, I realized that you couldn’t be writing letters; the only trouble being that I worry about you.

After reading your letter three or four times, I felt pretty sure that you were feeling better about B.R. You didn’t dare to say so in so many words, and I don’t blame you—but still, there it is, isn’t it? I was also awfully glad to realize, by your quotations from his letters, that he still has plenty of his own sense of humor, and that nothing can alter that.

As for you, you don’t have to worry about old ladies’ almshouses, or anything of that sort!

When I turned the page of your letter and read the “further happenings of this horrible summer,” I said to myself: “This is more than the limit. It can’t be true.” And I laughed a little, it seemed so utterly far-fetched, if you know what I mean. Well, what can I say? Ye Gods!

Thanks for the clippings. Yes, I sympathize very much with that poor chap who wanted to be let alone and to have a row-boat.

You want to know Things. I should say it was you who had the Things to relate. Helen says that she would write to you, only she can’t think of anything to say, because there is too much to say. She feels for you quite tremendously, I am sure of that. Her revision is all finished now, except for a few details. She is now working on a new prospect, a rather vague one as yet, in connection with radio broadcasting.

We haven’t gone back to New York yet. I may not for nearly two weeks yet. I haven’t gotten very brown, and I’ve worked pretty nearly all the time, but I’ve enjoyed myself a good deal. Somehow I can’t make this summer a parallel with the one of yours that you told me about. I am a bit depressed, and anyway the hermit-thrushes have stopped singing now. But the goldenrod is glorious. I console myself at times by indulging in long conversations with an ancient farmer who has friendly blue eyes and an immense white moustache behind which he smiles secretly.

The Harper article fizzled, because I couldn’t, if you know what I mean. The book may just possibly escape fizzling. I have nearly finished the sixth chapter now. That is about half of it, I should say, because they are long chapters—fifteen pages each. I still hold to my opinion that it’s a pretty good book.

I think it was grand that you got that Thanksgiving story off. I don’t know how you managed it, with all your sixteen worries, each one being plenty for one person at a time. I get thrown all off the track myself by reading in the newspaper some little item about the ice being bad up Point Barrow way.

The thing I have been gladdest of this summer, I think, is that I have been working on Farksoo again, after a long spell during which it rested in a drawer untouched.

I am lonesome as hell, and wish I could see you. It was partly for selfish reasons that I suggested that you come east this winter. The invitation still holds good, in fact, it always holds good. If I ever come to live out west, you’ll come to see me sometimes, won’t you? We can have cocoa and discuss the events of the world. I believe I shall come, someday.

I guess that’s about all. I feel miserable because I can’t do anything, for you or myself or the ice or anything. I think impotence is about the worst sort of curse. If ever there is anything I can do, you’ll let me know, won’t you? And if anything does happen that makes you change your mind about coming east, remember that we want you.

Anderson—God willing—will be back toward the end of September.

As ever,

About Farksolia, part 1

Barbara began to formulate her imaginary world of Farksolia when she was a few months shy of nine years old—shortly before she began to write her first novel, “A House Without Windows.” She worked on Farksolia for several years, developing the language of Farksoo with its extensive vocabulary and mysterious alphabet.

Barbara described her new world in an essay (undated, but probably when she was nine, in 1923). Excerpts of the essay appeared in Harold McCurdy’s “Barbara: The Unconcious Autobiography of a Child Genius,” but I thought I’d transcribe the whole thing. Here’s the first part.


Farksolia is a separate planet from the earth, and much more interesting. The planet is about twice the size of the earth, and the Farksolians are about twice as highly developed as we are. Or, at least, they were. The Farksolians all agreed, in almost everything. They were all vegetarians, and above anything else they all agreed to live in one big city so that the surrounding landscape would not be spoilt by houses. So that they did, all except a few of the poorer folks. Sheheritzade is the name of the city where they lived. There were eleven queens over Farksolia and all of them were great people. But those queens are grouped in two classes, the queens before Atee, and the queens after Atee. These two groups were of entirely different dispositions. The queens before Atee had their minds always on the goodness of the people, rules that would make them better, and though they all loved ruling and making rules, they all loved beauty also. They could never quite make the people good enough or kind enough and always they tried to make the people as beautiful as the woodlands around the forest, and tried to make the people love these woodlands, and also they tried to make the people love the sea and swim and bathe in it, and rejoice that they were alive. All this the queens before Atee tried to make the people do and be.

Then after Atee all was changed. This was during the Farksolian war and so of course all was changed. Queens Lazade, Herazade, Chrysothemis and Perizade were always urging the warriors on. Such brave men, and such handsome men! They fought hard with the friends of Queen Atee long after Queen Atee had herself passed. But I cannot go on talking about wars and warriors without explaining what it was all about. Queen Atee, the seventh, was chosen because of her beauty, but when she got to ruling the people all decided she was too fierce, turned on the people who had chosen her, and Queen Atee, herself and friends, and she had many friends. But after the war had passed, the people had overcome Atee, they found themselves extinguished greatly. In fact there were only two families living, with one queen, Perizade, the last. Then Perizade died, and that ended that. The people were sorry that they had gone at Queen Atee at all, and had a hard time struggling along. One family now has a little boy about six years old, and the other family a little girl, about six months. I hope and I want a lot of people to hope with me that the two children may marry and breed the race again. Here is the order of the eleven great queens: Bruwanderine, Lacee, Ibirio, Flitterveen, Rooeetu, Liassa, Atee, Lazade, Herazade, Chrysothemis, Perizade.

During the reign of Bruwanderine the people were a little lower in life than we are now, but they developed much faster than we did and during the reign of Liassa, the sixth, they looked back on themselves as savages. Then they were quite a little higher than we are now. They loved the sea (I will tell about the sea, presently) and they had wonderfully developed body organs. The most marvellous thing about the organs is the way the nose is developed. They can hold the breath for ten minutes, and of course they are wonderful swimmers and divers. Sometimes they can breathe slightly under water, and the wonderful nostrils can deliver to the lungs the small amount of air under water, only it is very rarely that a Farksolian is found with a nose quite so highly developed. If one of them breathed in about two lungfuls of salt water the body would sink. Now if the body was quickly pulled out of the water the Farksolian would be unconscious for about half an hour. But if the body was left in the water the Farksolian would drown. They are built much more strongly than we are and are prepared for much more serious work during their long life. They marry much younger than we ought to, sometimes as young as twelve or thirteen, but more commonly sixteen or seventeen. If we married so young we probably would be very weak and unable to take care of  a family. But the Farksolians marrying at sixteen or seventeen are much better wives or husbands than we are if we marry at twenty-nine or thirty. If they marry at about twelve or thirteen, they are as good as we are marrying at twenty.

Now about the sea mentioned above. It is about two thousand miles from Sheheritzade, and the sea itself is about twice the size of the Pacific Ocean. It is a wonderful sea, oh a wonderful sea, and when the sun dances on it it shows up wonderful colours, blues and greens and golds. The sand on the beaches is fine and very white indeed. This sand will show off anything that is swept up on it by the waves, and makes a beautiful background for things that look trashy on our yellow sand. In this sea are very beautiful little fishes marked with alternative bands of blue and gold.

On the other side of this magnificent sea there is a huge plain which extends all along the shore of the sea. There are about two inhabited houses on the plain and about one uninhabited house. Over this marvellous plain run strange, brown little wild animals. Over this plain fly beautifully and gloriously birds with magnificent gaudy plumage. Over this plain fly butterflies with richly coloured wings. All the birds and butterflies on the plain are very beautifully coloured. Wonderful slotched [sic] of colour.

Letter to A.D.R., May 29, 1930

Washington, D. C.
May 29. [1930]

Dear A. D. R.:

The MS is nearly FINISHED!!!!! The heart’s blood has all been shed, and nothing is left now to do but to add a few finishing touches. We’ve been here two months now, and our rent expires, so we are going out into one of those delightful little one-horse villages in the Virginia backwoods, to spend a week of sheer rest, walks, and finishing touches, before we sail for New York. We’ve earned it, don’t you think? At least, Helen has.

My job goes out to the back-woods with me. You see, I am now a full-fledged Editor. I edit, and suggest, and copy for that certain medical and scientific gentleman whom you have heard of. This, incidentally, is the typewriter I use  for him–I use it myself to keep in practice with it! And that certain gentleman rewards my distinguished efforts at frequent intervals with one of those succulent tid-bits knows as Wages. In fact, I get paid fifteen whole cents for every single page; and since this type is large, the pages count up mighty fast.

Well, what I mainly wanted to say is already said–about going off into the back-woods. They are going to hold mail here until we get back to Washington, in about a week from now, or perhaps a little more. Then–New York! Helen has a friend there with whom she can stay for nothing, and I am going to stay with my Strange-Marriage Family, which I told you about, in Pelham, twenty minutes from New York. Thus we shall be SEPARATED–which will be good for us both. Furthermore, she can transact her business in N. Y. alone–just as she wants.

Then I’m going after a job. I made a definite determination that by June 15th I was either going to have one or a definite prospect for one. I have a vague feeling that Harper may land me in his Bookshop–especially if he likes the MS. Then there is Percy Waxman, Helen’s friend at Pictorial, and there is always A. A. Knopf. I am one of his authors, and he is almost bound to do something for me if necessary, though that is the last resource–as I despise the place, the chilly, rapid-fire efficient business money-atmosphere of the place. There is also a Jew by name Goldsilver or something of the sort, a friend of a friend of ours, a wealthy and influential person, who might help.

I’ve been into the Civil Service Commission here, but that’s definitely out. If I live to be forty-nine, and am still an old maid, I’ll consider it–not until then! Anyway, I have a fancy that New York will do something, it being so tremendous and–oh, well, there’s no adjective for it. In New York, the first few days, it takes the whole set of a human being’s faculties just to keep his head through the uproar. But one improves with a little time.

Anderson sailed on the 16th, as per schedule, sailed right out into space. Look up Point Barrow on a map of the Arctic regions–that’s the end of the route–then they turn around again and circle Alaska toward home–if they don’t encounter a nor’-easter, or an iceberg, or the pack-ice. Before they sailed he sent off one dashing letter, or quite a different tone from what you’d expect of a person embarking on such a mean voyage. He described his own particular position aboard, half-way between sailor and engineer (there are four gasoline engines for sails and cargo, you see); and then he wrote several ages in mocking echo of the “tourist literature” on Seattle, concerning statistics and what-not. And then he seemed to run out of material, and said “Well, goodbye!” or words to that effect. A person like that sort of takes one’s breath away, seems to me. Very startling and over-powering.

Farksoo progresseth, even with everything else that is on hand. I improve it every time I take out the MS and breathe gently on it. Sometimes I arise at six in the morning and gloat triumphantly over it. I’ve combined the two vocabularys (ies, I mean!) into one, Farksoo and English all mixed. It’s much better that way; and the Grammar develops magnifiquement.

How is The Exception? And the Devil’s Limb? And the Other One? And Thyself? It seems a very long time–almost a kickworthy long time–since I heard from you! Maybe there’ll be a Royal-typed letter awaiting me when I come back our retreat in the woods.

We have seen the Pratts, and spent a most glorious day at Capitol View with them. I think those woods are too beautiful to be true–oh, how well they satisfy the hunger of one who has spent a year and a half away from New England! Pinkish bronze oaks, gold-green maples in the sunlight, dogwood and red-bud flowering…. And I saw the quarry pool, and the daffodils growing wild on your lawn, Shipmate. And the apples and lilacs were flowering, then, and there were violets and spring beauties everywhere. And Phoebe’s bench is still up there in the branches of the enormous old cherry-tree.

But this won’t do, in this curious old world of ours! Anyway, here’s a whole steamer’s cargo of love to you.

Your matey,

More Notes on Farksoo

The Farksolia/Farksoo folder in the Columbia University archives is very full but there are unfortunately important pages missing. Also, the archives do not include the card catalog entries of Farksoo>English and English>Farksoo words that Barbara describes in her correspondence.

Barbara wrote a brief manual on the structure of the language, and here are two versions of it: an early, very-nearly-complete one and a later, not-quite-so-complete one (pages 4 & 7 are missing). The last page in the gallery is a List of Grammatical Words and Symbols.