Letter to A.D.R. – June 1, 1931

150 Claremont Avenue, New York. Photo taken in March, 2012.

 

150 Claremont Avenue
New York
June 1, 1931

Dearest A.D.R.:

I am really almost afraid to write to you at all. I feel quite dastardly, and all that. But I’ve been endeavoring to do sixteen different major things at once, and you know what that is like. Furthermore, the scheme of the universe was just about as full as I could manage, and I had to keep going pretty tight to keep up with it at that. Now there is one extra corner. You can have it!

Your last letter was really a very grand one. Maybe it will help a little for you to know that I answered it twice, or started to, but the answers never got finished! Also I never received the headlines which you enclosed in it. They had a tragedy. You see, I opened the letter as I was on my way from the house to the subway station, and so they blew away! I chased them a little, but there was quite a wind, and they eluded me. Of course, knowing your habits, I should have been prepared.

The best thing that letter contained was your news about B. R., and yet YOU merely appended it in ink, as an after-thought! It is too grand to be true that someone is going to see somebody they want to see. I envy you and rejoice with you all at once.

We have some rather good developments of late. Helen’s book is TAKEN!!!!!!!!!! By Louise Seaman, of Macmillan. Furthermore, it seems that now it’s been accepted, and a generous advance offer made, certain other publishers in N. Y. are on its trail–which is flattering, you know. Well, the joke’s on them.

Now, I don’t want this to be mentioned. It’s a great secret, for the time being. You must share it only with Phoebe. Helen is very anxious to have it a surprise to W. F., and for that reason I think it would be better not to tell even the Deserters. Furthermore, the Contract isn’t actually signed, nor the Check received; but it’s as good as done, and I don’t think it can really go wrong now.

There is still more editorial work to be done on it. It was accepted on faith, so to speak. Helen has gorgeously revised the first four chapters, and the faith is that the rest of the book will be pulled up to the high standard of those four. That will be done this summer. The book will doubtless be out next spring.

Helen says she’s going to get that book serialized before it’s published, then accepted by the Junior Guild, then published, then radioized, and perhaps a few odd chapters accepted by Harper’s Magazine in payment of the Debt! Well, SOME of those things ought to come through!

Other things have happened. One sad one. A. has gone, of course–which leaves the corner in my time which I was speaking about before. I’m glad to have the corner, of course, and yet — It was more of a jolt than I had anticipated. I feel quite nebulous, not quite sure of whether I’m here.

Other things have happened. We’re moving, as you can see by the heading. Just an apartment round the corner, because this building is to be torn down, beginning tomorrow, supposedly. The new place is bigger and airier and sunnier and expensiver, with a grand view of the New Jersey hills, Grant’s Tomb, and the rear of the statue of Butterfield.

Other things have happened. I’m to have a two months’ vacation, and we’re moving up to Hanover to spend them in a little cabin in the woods, just across the river from our old and dear friends the Meserveys. Really in the woods. Wood-thrushes and crickets and pine trees. Oh, my God! And stars, and smells, and green grass. A little log cabin, all furnished, facing Mt. Ascutney, for $20.00 a month. Not too extravagant, eh what? I shall climb mountains and tear around. Just the worst two months here in the city. What luck! July and August.

Other things have happened. I’m writing a book. A good book. The one about wings. The first chapter is done, and the second is well under way. The plot is mapped out rather clearly–in my head. It begins rather dismally, but soon acquires some sun. There will be sea (naturally), and a romance (?), and a satisfactory amount of misery. The plot is exceedingly old and trite, but it’s going to be handled in a new way. It’s about a shipwreck, an island, and so on. But it doesn’t turn out very well. It leaves you a little poised in mid-air.

Well, I think that’s all that has happened, summed up in brief. I think you’d better move east next winter. It’s going to be a good winter. I’m to have the same job, “with added responsibilities and an increased stipend.” The last clause is particularly inducive, I think. “Increased stipend” has a pleasant ring, has it not? Someday I’ll buy an island yet! Or a boat. Or both.

As I said, it’s going to be a really good winter. Helen’s book will be on its exciting trip through the press, I shall be working up mine, plus a few articles for Harper (say I lightly!). We’ll have a little more breathing-space, too. Why, I shall even have a room all to myself, which I haven’t had for ever and ever so long. And how I shall work!

I was going to say a lot about your comments on college. But that is so long past that I’m quite out of the mood at present. I saw your points at the time, I believe; in fact, they were obvious points. But somehow I don’t believe it will happen. Everything can’t happen, you know. I’d rather cut it out than some of the other things. One has to choose. The point is, weed your garden, don’t you know?

What are you doing, and planning to do? Damn, damn, it’s a long time since I’ve seen you. Come east next winter. It looks as if I shouldn’t go west for some time yet. Got to stick at the wheel and weed my garden. But it’s really awful how all my best friends are thousands of miles away. It’s as if I had a cursed circle around me that my friends can’t get into. A geographical circle, I mean. The only real friend I have in New York is Ethel Kelley, and she’s too sick to see me at all most of the time. When I want her most, she’s invariably too sick. Also, she’s trying to write a book too, and giving all her spare energy to that. The only other person who is at all in reach is Norman D. of New Haven, who comes down to N. Y. once in a while on business. Otherwise, I’m damned alone, if you want to know.

But that doesn’t matter, and isn’t interesting anyway.

This style of writing of mine sounds rather curt in a letter, doesn’t it? It’s a new development. I think I rather like it. The novel is more or less written in that style. Some sentences which aren’t really sentences, you know; and no long, involved ones. W. F. wouldn’t approve of that, I suppose, he being the champeen sentence-twister and wordsmith of the generation! Incidentally, any news of him? And don’t forget! He’s not to know about Helen’s book.

Do you remember that beautifully involved sentence in the introductory sketch to The Scarlet Letter? It begins “In my native town of Salem….” and ends, halfway down the page, “there stands a spacious edifice of brick.” Words to that effect. In between those two clauses, which are the complete structure of the sentence, he describes the whole town of Salem, I should say, with dashes and comma-dashes and semicolons galore. Incidentally, it was my first reading of the book, just yesterday. I never could plough through Hawthorne before. I used to get snowed under before I could find out what it was all about. But I got such a tremendous kick out of that book that I had an attack of hysteria or sumthin very like it. The suspense is crushing, and the whole structure is built up magnificently. I didn’t know he wrote like that!

That’s all I’ve read for months. Except galley proof, of course. There’s always lots of galley proof to read, when a good eye is available. I read just about all the proof that comes into the office, and am getting quite famous for not passing up errors. Very uninteresting material, though, for the most part. Scientific and technical and deadly dull! Scientists can’t write a good English sentence, somehow.

Anyway, I still think Lord Jim is the greatest book in English, and a point above Nostromo. Tell W. F. that when you see him. Then he’ll know I still disagree with him!

I suppose California is getting hot. We’ve been fried and frizzled the last three days. Helen and I have been carting basketloads of books across the street to the other apartment, and we’re about done up. I think S. F. would be grand about now. But not so good as little old Hanover!

I hope you’ll condescend so far as to forgive the long silence and write me. I’ll try to make up for it; but my tryings never seem to amount to very much. Letter-writing is a delicate matter. It has all sorts of strange bumps and valleys. It’s a quicksand affair. But even quicksand serves to pave a river with.

Yours with love,
Barbara

Letter to A.D.R., October 4, 1930

620 West 122nd Street
New York City
October 4, 1930

My dear Mate:

Your letter arrived here on Wednesday, the 24th of September. I remember that, because it was sent on the 22nd, and I remember my delight and amazement, and my admiration, too, for this world of wonders. A letter across the continent in two days? What next?!

I sat down at once and wrote an answer to it–yes, the very day I received it, mind you. Then, on reading my letter, it seemed too puny and putrid to exist, and hopelessly inadequate, so I tucked both your letter and my embryonic one away in a drawer. Then came the week-end–a week ago, and I firmly intended to answer you then. You see, Saturdays and Sundays are my only real days, and so I save up everything all week to do then, with the result that I get about half of the things done.

Well, I thought so very much about your letter, and my answer to it, that I thought myself into a state of believing that I had answered it, and it didn’t really occur to me until this morning that I hadn’t, and that my embryo was still lying in a drawer. You don’t know (yes, I guess you do, though) what a day–a week–is like in New York C I T Y (as our friend Leo Meyette always writes it on envelopes!).

Now whatever I was going to say has entirely slipped me, so I’ll begin over, having all day to do it in–that is, if I neglect my washing, and the meals, and my week-end home-work, etc., etc., etc., which I intend to do if I desire.

Your headlines are very juicy. Of the four I deciphered one–the one about the icy doom stilling the heart, don’t you know, and the record thrust within clothing. I suppose that was eventually intelligible to me only because I have been following, off and on, the tragic discoveries in the Arctic. Speaking of the Arctic: the other day my red hair was made to rise stiffly on end (like quills, etc.) by seeing a little piece in the Tribune about an air-plane which effected a rescue of the crew of a trading-ship somewhere north of Alaska–a ship owned by the Seattle Fur Trading Company. My high pitch of excitement (to put it mildly) did not abate even when I learned that the ship was a motorship, with a name which not even a newspaper reporter could have confused with my C. S. Holmes.

Imagine Phoebe studying punctuation and grammar! The funny part of that is that I, also, am studying punctuation and grammar. At the commercial school whose walls enfold me half of every week-day, they require one to take a little subject known as “business correspondence”–more briefly, “correspondence.” This embraces spelling  (such words as “separate” and “February,” and others that Anderson would laugh at), also grammar (such things as the “can” and “may” hitch, etc.). Apart from this it is quite interesting, and I think I am getting something out of it–although some of my friends would doubtless say that what I mostly need is not a correspondence course, but a hush-up course.

But this is a mere digression. What I started to say in the paragraph above this one is that Phoebe is a brick of the best no. A1 material. Isn’t it disgusting–how Things Are? Degrees and credits——bah! To sweat for one’s shelter, clothing, and bread! Ye Gods, let’s go to Tahiti. I like, and I don’t like, to think of Phoebe in school. It isn’t right, and yet it’s marvellous of her to be attacking her dragon by the hind legs and pinning him down.

There is school, and there is school. Sabra seems to be enjoying hers terrifically. She is happy as can be–comes out at one o’clock hopping and prancing and singing. She learns cooking, and handicraft, including carpentry, painting, etc.–really they show a great deal of imagination and skill down there. The children mess around with smocks on, make as much noise as they like (within reasonable bounds, of course), do more or less what they like. As you perhaps know, this Lincoln School is a so-called “progressive school.” That means that children are not “sat on” or “squshed,” or boomeranged with “mustn’ts” and “don’ts” and “be quiets.” Which is an extremely good plan–for that tender age, at least.

“Green Pastures” is easily the most tremendous thing, in a dramatic line, that I’ve ever seen or heard of. I think it beats–for effect and appeal to one’s innermost vitals–Hamlet, or R. and J., or any of the old stand-bys. Is this a literary sacrilege? Well, I can’t help it if it is. When Jehovah (a kindly, fatherly old preacher in a frock-coat) produced the firmament in a terrific thunder-clap, I wept and wept. I don’t know why. They have staged it to perfection. The thunder shakes the theatre. They have a real sea for the Ark, and a long sandy stretch of road along which God walks for miles, it seems, while bushes and trees and houses float past. It is a rolling platform, of course, but one gets the effect of walking forever and ever, and before the end of it comes everyone aches from head to foot, so real it is. I suppose someday the play will leave New York, don’t you? If it ever gets within reach of you ——— well, I guess you don’t need any advice on the subject.

Such things are—-what’s the plural of oasis?—-oases, I suppose, though it doesn’t look right. They are—-that—-in a desert of grindstones, inhabited only by dragons with scalesome, flailsome tails. Isn’t that a picture? I bet Phoebe could draw it admirably. Get her to try her hand at it, if it appeals to her. The dragons would be something like Kipling’s Bi-Colored-Python-Rock-Snake, I imagine.

I have set aside a few days around the middle of this month–marked them off mentally with red ink–for the days during which I may hear from my wandering sailor. Of course one can’t tell–I might hear tomorrow, or I might never at all. Rather uncomfortable suspense. I don’t know quite what would happen to me in that case, and I don’t care to speculate. If I don’t hear before November, I shall be worried. I haven’t many bulwarks. My family isn’t a bulwark at all. You are, and he is. He is so simple at heart that he would be laughed at by some of this world, and distrusted by most of the rest–my farents, for example–my fermenting farents. He is the soul and essence of the sea. He can sit on a schooner’s taffrail at night and become so utterly a part of the ship and the sea and the night that it makes you cease your breathing for awe. He is rugged and uncut, and, though so far above the standard of most sea-farers, he still falls far short, in some ways, of the shore-world’s standards. He is ignorant–of the little things that don’t matter. But he is so real that he puts to shame thousands of people who probably would consider themselves far “above” him.

And he answered a need of mine that nothing and no one else could answer, by knowing how to laugh, and by being serene and tranquil and deep as the trade-wind Pacific. Bulwark, oasis, anchor–what-you-will. Mysterious, too, in his comings and goings, as the sea with its tide. A romantic soul. “Sure. Don’t I know? Haven’t I sat on deck in the moonlight and let fancy put on its seven-league boots and go roaming among the stars?”

He and Conrad would have hit it off grandly.

Forgive my “uplift” trend (as old M’Andrew would have said), but one does get a bit romantic and poetic over the week-ends. At last I know what the week-end really means to the hordes and hundreds! Helen and I stand by the front windows and watch the pantomimes across the street and in the park opposite–you have no idea how interesting it all is, to see these hundreds of human figures, young and old and medium, gesticulating and running and arguing and laughing–like a puppet-show, don’t you know. It is excruciatingly funny, and excruciatingly sad–sometimes we laugh at it, sometimes we weep. Always we feel about three centuries old–in comparison to Sabra, for instance, who is so full of energy that she quite appalls both of us.

Well, what’s one to do? Here we are, all of us, kicking and straining and growing black in the face to keep up to some invisible, tyrannical Mark. I don’t know, but I’m in the fight. The shorthand? I don’t know how much longer, but I know that I can’t afford it forever. I think about a month more, and then I shall get a little job out here in Columbia. I have made some important friends, got them interested in me, and built for myself a reputation which I probably can’t live up to. More struggling–to keep up with that. There is nothing very Iridescent in sight. Helen has no job, and neither the MS nor the house is sold. Cheerful! Ja gewis. Fox Film Corp. has given up all outside readers. So farewell to the putrid novels–farewell, also, to that handy little twelve or eighteen dollars a week!

What more shall I say? I don’t wish to end this in a minor key. You are NOT to think I’m discouraged, or despondent, or anything, because that would be disobeying orders, and at sea we respect orders from mates. And anything can be shattered with a laugh. Remember what dear old Satan said about that, in The Mysterious Stranger? “Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution–these can lift at a colossal humbug–push it a little–weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

Besides, it’s Good to be alive and healthy and young, wherever you are, or whatever you’re doing; and there are wonderful things even in the newspapers. In the last Herald Tribune Magazine there were a couple of pictures which an astronomer-artist-engineer had painted of the planet Mars, viewed form one of its own moons. Could anything be more glamorous than that?

Yours for fair winds,

Barbara.

Letter to A.D.R., August 18, 1930

620 West 122nd Street
August 18 [1930]

Splice the main-brace, ahoy!

All congratulations on your latest entries in the unofficial log. It arrived this morning, and so you see I am SETTING YOU AN EXAMPLE. In fact, I wrote you a letter before this one, but tore it up. It contains too much really Tough Language, and all That Sort of Thing! I suppose I picked it up form the Unmentionable Movie Trash which I Read For a Living–anyhow, where-ever I picked it up, it certainly is NOT the proper thing to send in a letter to one who is writing Healthy Young Men for a Living.

My dear, don’t you ever yearn to spit in their faces, and to create for a change some perfectly Horrible and Gritty young men who would hammer and mash and batter and whang up all the healthy-minded maidens?  I suppose, were a list of detailed rules for healthy stories written out, they would look something like this: “No kisses of more than two second’s duration,” and that sort of thing. Wouldn’t they?

Well, anyhow! Dang it all, I’d like to see all you Russells together. It’s not right for people to have half-continents and such trash shoved whang into their faces, between them and those they love, is it? We are just Victims, that’s all. There are half a dozen or so great Wheels grinding around toward each other all the time, interlocking on the rims, and if we happen to get caught between them—–we just get mashed.

Many red devils ran from my heart
And out upon the page,
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them,
And many struggled in the ink.
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.
                    Stephen Crane.

Tough going at times, my beloved mate!

I wish I had some GOOD news for you! Alas! I am fairly busy over my eighteen-a-week (more-or-less). I have a fairly regular round of housework, synopsisses, tipe-riting, an’ a’ that. My sole pastime, so far, consists of walking along the river-bank park in the evenings after dark–“to mark, wi’ envy in my gaze, the couples kittlin’ in the dark between the funnel-stays.” (If only there were some funnel-stays! Alas!) Helen’s Manuscript is less and less sold all the time. Sabra is still at camp. Finances become lower and lower. You can’t live–here–on my salary–though I daresay I could alone. And to think that I’m the only one of the family who has a “yob!” That tickles my sense of humor fine!

My sense of humor has had more and more heavy responsibilities of late. I really need fuel for it–fresh fuel from the outside. However, I can say very truthfully that it has never yet failed me, and it isn’t going to either . . . . Leo Mayette (have I told you anything of him?) and his wife, and his brother, and his sister, have all been here for a while, but now they have departed for New Hampshire and the old home-farm again. It was a delight to have them here. Leo, in particular, is really one of the greatest persons in the world, as well as one of the very simplest and humblest.

Have you Seen or Heard anything of the Farents? I confess to a mild sort of curiosity. I suppose I should write to them, but–oh my, oh my! You see, I feel that if I can stick out this particular present-minute, present-place situation, and get on top of it, and yammer at it, and smash it, and domineer over it, and be Snooty and Disagreeable to it, and Awe it, and just make it Cringe–why, then, I guess I’m doing all I have room for. And I am doing just that. So picture yourself an Amazon, mounted upon a Bucking Elephant, and hammering that elephant over the head with a Fijian war-club.

Anyway, there’s a picture of Joseph Conrad over this table ….

And NOTHING can daunt me!

“I got a home in-a dat rock.”

Wings! I have ’em!

And Joseph Conrad sent me his blessing and his love. Not so very long ago.

And Anderson comes home in October.

Well!

Lots of things have Occurred to Me, anyhow. I think I’m ready to live a much happier sort of life from now on–I mean, to make the best of circumstances and of myself, and get a lot of pleasure and fun out of anything and everything. I wish poor Helen could do that as effectively as I have learned to do it. She hasn’t. She’s under water. God! And I can’t rescue her. I do forty-nine fiftieths of everything that is done at No. 122, as it is; and I sing as I do it: “I got a home in-a dat rock, Don’t you see?”

And in October, Anderson comes home. And I’ll have that fresh fuel for my S. of H. Besides, I may earn a whang on the back from him, and that’s worth anything.

But I want all the Russells to be together. And why must Phoebe go to school, with her scientific father to superintend her? I think school is really and primarily a place for children whose parents are banging each other over the head with rolling-pins, or whose parents are absolute morons, and whose parents are both slaving at outside work for a living, or for children reared in utter poverty and misery. (This is not supposed to cast any reflections of any kind upon the Russells, I hope you understand!) But rainbows shouldn’t be stuffed into sofa-cushions, should they?

I love you, A.D.R.

Yours ever,
Barbara.