Tag Archives: writing

Rob Nixon: Slow Violence

Rob Nixon Slow ViolenceI love this book, and not just because this term ‘slow violence’ encapsulates so brilliantly what I have been fighting my entire life — particularly visible in fighting slum lords who made their money by providing tenants with rats, roaches, lead-poisoning, mould, asthma, rashes, depression, harassment, fear, overflowing toilets, uncertainty and a horrible dingy water-stained shade to life twenty-four hours a day seven days a week for years. But this kind of violence becomes visible in so many ways in the lives of people and communities where I have lived and worked. It has shaped so much of who I am, it is the violence of poverty and powerlessness — until a stand is made against it. Nixon writes:

…we urgently need to rethink–politically, imaginatively, and theoretically–what I call “slow violence.” By slow violence I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all. Violence is customarily conceived as an event or action that is immediate in time, explosive and spectacular in space, and as erupting into instant sensational visibility. We need, I believe, to engage a different kind of violence, a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous, but rather incremental and accretive, its calamitous repercussions playing out across a range of temporal scales. (2)

Given how media and public attention works, how do we gain attention for slow-moving accumulating disaster? Especially important and requiring both thought and action because:

it is those people lacking resources who are the principle casualties of slow violence. Their unseen poverty is compounded by the invisibility of the slow violence that permeates so many of their lives (4)

This is also complicated because such environmental struggles are never ‘pure’, but form part of larger social and cultural struggles.But again, returning to their scope and duration, one of the greater challenges is that of scale:

how can we imaginatively and strategically render visible vast force fields of interconnectedness against the attenuating effects of temporal and geographical distance? (38)

…slow violence involves more than a perceptual problem created by the gap between destructive policies or practices and their deferred, invisible consequences. For in addition, slow violence provides prevaricative cover for the forces that have the most to profit from inaction…doubt is… a bankable product. (40)

It is this terminology and thinking through of slow violence that I find most useful, but I enjoyed the varied stories through the book as Nixon explores how slow violence is described and made prominent through

the complex, often vexed figure of the environmental writer-activist. (5)

He looks at their work as a way in to this, a way to act upon this:

To confront slow violence requires, then, that we plot and give figurative shape to formless threats who fatal repercussions are dispersed across space and time. The representational challenges are acute, requiring creative ways of drawing public attention to catastrophic acts that are low in instant spectacle but high in long-term effects. To intervene representationally entails devising iconic symbols that embody amorphous calamities as well as narrative forms that infuse those symbols with dramatic urgency. (10)

On the nature of slow violence

I love this quotation from Edward Said:

“the normalized quiet of unseen power.” This normalized quiet is of particular pertinence to the hushed havoc and injurious invisibility that trail slow violence. (6 — quote from ‘Wordly Humanism v. the World Builders, Counterpunch 4 August 2003)

and adds an interesting comparison this with Fanon’s work on violence, and how different this understanding of violence is as it

addresses environmentally embedded violence that is often difficult to source, oppose, and once set in motion, to reverse. (7)

Not that it is anything but complementary. In both

For if the past of slow violence is never past, so too the post is never fully post: industrial particulates and effluents live on in the environmental elements we inhabit and in our very bodies, which epidemiologically and ecologically are never our simple contemporaries. (8)

It is this very time scale that makes it so difficult to grasp and force action around. Others who have sought to grapple with it include Johan Galtung who coined the term ‘indirect or structural violence’, and sought to widen understanding of what constitutes violence from personal violence to include and ‘foreground the vast structures that can give rise to acts of personal violence and constitute forms of violence in themselves.’ (10)

However:

structural violence is a theory that entails rethinking different notions of causation and agency with respect to violent effects. Slow violence, by contrast, might well include forms of structural violence but has a wider descriptive range in calling attention, not simply to questions of agency, but to broader, more complex descriptive categories of violence enacted slowly over time. (11)

Just one example is how we too often look at, talk about, understand war. It is bracketed in talking of casualties between firm dates, but things like land mines, agent orange, depleted uranium all stretch out those casualties through years and decades. A whole chapter here describes Gulf War Syndrome — much of this violence is ‘invisible’ to certain or all views, purposefully hidden or erased while other views and perspectives are privileged.

Slow violence of landscape and maps:

In the global resource wars, the environmentalism of the poor is frequently triggered when an official landscape is forcibly imposed on a vernacular one. A vernacular landscape is shaped by the affective, historically textured maps that communities have devised over generations, maps replete with names and routes, maps alive to significant ecological and surface geological features. A vernacular landscape, although neither monolithic nor undisputed, is integral to the socioenvironmental dynamics of community rather than being wholly externalized–treated as out there, as a separate nonrenewable resource. (17)

This made me think so much about writers like Oliver Rackham describing the changing countryside of England through processes of enclosure, and of course this is equally true of conquest and colonialisation around the world. Nixon continues:

I would argue, then, that the exponential upsurge in indigenous resource rebellions across the globe during the high age of neoliberalism has resulted largely from a clash of temporal perspectives between the short-termers who arrive (with their official landscape maps) to extract, despoil, and depart and the long-termers who must live inside the ecological aftermath and must therefore weigh wealth differently in time’s scales.

More than material wealth is here at stake: imposed official landscapes typically discount spiritualized vernacular landscapes, severing webs of accumulated cultural meaning and treating the landscape as if it were uninhabited by the living, the unborn and the animate deceased. (17)

There is so much here, the imbrications of the cultural, spiritual, physical, environmental, political…I like this poetic acknowledgement of different relations to the land.

Our perspective on environmental asset stripping should include among assets stripped the mingled presence in the landscape of multiple generations… (18)

I also love this, more resonant with indigenous struggles but also with asset-stripped inner cities and barren countrysides:

I want to propose a more radical notion of displacement, one that, instead of referring solely to the movement of people from their places of belonging, refers rather to the loss of the land and resources beneath them, a loss that leaves communities stranded in a place stripped of the very characteristics that made it habitable. (19)

Slow violence of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism’s proliferating walls concretize a short-term psychology of denial: the delusion that we can survive long term in a world whose resources and increasingly unshared. The wall, read in terms of neoliberalism and environmental slow violence, materializes temporal as well as spatial denial through a literal concretizing of out of sight out of mind. (20)

There is some (but I would have looked forward to more I think) about walls, boundaries, what can be imagined and what can be said.

From a postcolonial perspective, the most startling feature of environmental literary studies has been its reluctance to engage the environmental repercussions of American foreign policy, particularly in relation to contemporary imperial practices. (33)

Some smart things about capitalism, that I have found echoes of in Jason Moore’s work (Capitalism and the Web of Life, which I am only partly through and also love)

capitalism’s innate tendency to abstract in order to extract, intensifying the distancing mechanisms that make the sources of environmental violence harder to track and multinational environmental answerability harder to impose. (41)

And then a number of profound thoughts around various writers and struggle and how connections have been and can be made between them. Perhaps my favourite is this mural found in County Mayo of Ken Saro-Wiwa, connecting the struggle of both communities against Shell Oil with his poetry translated into Gaelic…

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Dance your anger, Dance your joys, Dance the guns to silence, dance, dance, dance…

Nixon writes:

A quarter century ago, Raymond Williams called for more novels that attend to “the close living substance” of the local while simultaneously tracing the “occluded relationships”–the vast transnational economic pressures, the labor and commodity dynamics–that invisibly shape the local. (45)

A call I hope to respond to alongside (but probably not nearly as well) as the many writers looked at here — which has generated a whole new list of books I hope to read (and numerous essays, and the below is by no means the full list but this gives you a brief idea of the scope):

  • Animal’s People by Indra Sinha, in a context of the Bhopal distaster, how this compares to Chernobyl
  • Abdelrahman Munif Cities of Salt — five novels exploring petroleum industry and deal between Saudi Arabia and the US
  • Genocide in Nigeria (and others) by Ken Saro-Wiwa, on Shell Oil in Nigeria
  • Wangari Maathai’s Unbowed on Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and the planting of trees
  • Anna Tsing – Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection
  • Richard Drayton — Nature’s Government, on Kew gardens, and network of imperial gardens, and the ideology of improvement
  • Jamaica Kincaid on gardens! Woot!
  • Ramachandra Guha – Environmentalism: A Global History

There is more on megadams, the American pastoral and its problematic nature, wandering and etc etc.

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Poetry of Wisława Szymborska

I write and write and write here, too many words spilling across the screen in a struggle to grasp, understand and above all remember. To make mine, so that I can recall things when needed. So they do not escape me. Boring words often, missing so much and grasping at details.

I have to struggle for memory.

Time feels so fleeting and there is so much to read, to write, to know, to puzzle through. I will never get it all thought.

I read poetry and find deeper things than I had ever contemplated expressed in a few lines (not all poetry, not even most, but Wisława Szymborska yes, oh yes). The sifting of meaning already done, language perfected so nothing gushes out across page after page.

The poetry of Wisława Szymborska is deep, humble, filled with grief and wonder. Terrifying.

Who are we?

I give you three poems. One for where we are (literally) going:

Vocabulary

“La Pologne? La Pologne? Isn’t it terribly cold there?” she asked,
and then sighed with relief. So many countries have been turning up lately that the safest thing to talk about is climate.

“Madame,” I want to reply, “my people’s poets do all their
writing in mittens. I don’t mean to imply that they never remove
them; they do, indeed, if the moon is warm enough. In stanzas
composed of raucous whooping, for only such can drown out the windstorms’ constant roar, they glorify the simple lives of our walrus herders. Our Classicists engrave their odes with inky icicles on trampled snowdrifts. The rest, our Decadents, bewail their fate with snowflakes instead of tears. He who wishes to drown himself must have an ax at hand to cut the ice. Oh, madame, dearest madame.”

That’s what I meant to say. But I’ve forgotten the word for
walrus in French. And I’m not sure of icicle and ax.

“La Pologne? La Pologne? Isn’t it terribly cold there?”

“Pas du tout,” I answer icily.

One for what I’ve been thinking about so much lately and where we have been:

Archeology (excerpt)

Well, my poor man,
seems we’ve made some progress in my field.
Millennia have passed
since you first called me archaeology.

I no longer require
your stone gods,
your ruins with legible inscriptions.

Show me your whatever
and I’ll tell you who you were.
Something’s bottom,
something’s top.
A scrap of engine.
A picture tube’s neck.
An inch of cable. Fingers turned to dust.
Or even less than that, or even less.

Using a method
that you couldn’t have known then,
I can stir up memory
in countless elements.
Traces of blood are forever.
Lies shine.
Secret codes resound.
Doubts and intentions come to light.

If I want to
(and you can’t be too sure
that I will).
I’ll peer down the throat of your silence,
I’ll read your views
from the sockets of your eyes,
I’ll remind you in infinite detail
of what you expected from life besides death

One for the startling abilities of language in the present.

The Acrobat

From trapeze to
to trapeze, in the hush that
that follows the drum roll’s sudden pause, through,
through the startled air, more swiftly than
than his body’s weight, which once again
again is late for its own fall.

Solo. Or even less than solo,
less, because he’s crippled, missing
missing wings, missing them so much
that he can’t miss the chance
to soar on shamefully unfeathered
naked vigilance alone.

Arduous ease,
watchful agility,
and calculated inspiration. Do you see
how he waits to pounce in flight; do you know
how he plots from head to toe
against his very being; do you know, do you see
how cunningly he weaves himself through his own former shape
and works to seize this swaying world
by stretching out the arms he has conceived–

beautiful beyond belief at this passing
at this very passing moment that’s just passed.

Wisława SzymborskaThere is a lovely essay by Joelle Biele here on Szymborska’s relationship with the communist party and Poland’s long tradition of poetry.

Thank you also to the translators, who are part of these poems now for all of us who are lacking, who cannot read them in Polish: Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh.

Sister Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider

Audre Lorde Sister OutsiderYet another person, I think, finding Audre Lorde intense and beautiful and amazing and reading it and saying hell yes, this and this and this…

I think this will just be a long old collection of quotes. Because they are amazing, and you can never have too many quotes, right? This is my own treasure to delve back into when I need some anger or some love or some wisdom. But it is also yours. Audre Lorde’s gift to us. These will resonate with me the rest of my days, and I hope to think through many of them more deeply through my writing over time.

Because everything she says about breaking silence, both the necessity and the fear and the vulnerability, it’s all true.

From ‘The transformation of Silence into Language and Action’

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. (40)

And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger…We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters are wasted, while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we still be no less afraid.  (42)

The fact that we are here and that I speak these words us an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of these differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken. (44)

From ‘Poetry is not a Luxury’

The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has different bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized. This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are — until the poem — nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt. That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding. (36)

Some important definitions from ‘Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving’:

Racism: The belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance.

Sexism: The belief in the inherent superiority of one sex and thereby the right to dominance.

Heterosexism: The belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving and thereby its right to dominance.

Homophobia: The fear of feelings of love for members of one’s own sex and therefore the hatred of those feelings in others.

The above forms of human blindness stem from the same root — an inability to recognize the notion of difference as a dynamic human force, one which is enriching rather than threatening to the defined self, when there are shared goals. (45)

For it is through the coming together of self-actualized individuals, female and male, that any real advance can be made. The old sexual power relationships based on a dominant/subordinate model between unequals has not served us as a people, nor as individuals. (46)

From ‘Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power’:

The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference. (56)

(How fucking lovely this is as a way to understand the erotic.)

From ‘An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich’

Audre:…And I remember trying when I was in high school not to think in poems. Isaw the way other people thought, and it was an amazement to me — step by step, not in bubbles up from chaos that you had to anchor with words… (83)

Audre:.. When I wrote something that finally had it, I would say it aloud and it would come alive, become real. It would start repeating itself and I’d know, that’s struck, that’s true. Like a bell. Something struck true. And there the words would be. (88)

Audre: The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot. (98)

ohhhhhh, could I teach like that? If only I could, if only I can…

Audre: Once you live any piece of your vision it opens to you a constant onslaught. Of necessities, of horrors, but of wonders too, of possibilities. … Of wonders, absolute wonders, possibilities, like meteor showers all the time, bombardment, constant connections. (107-108)

From ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ — a title that says it all really.

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. (112)

From ‘Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference’

Much of Western European history conditions us to see human differences in simplistic opposition to each other: dominant/subordinate, good/bad, up/down, superior/inferior. In a society where the good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who, through systematized oppression, can be made to feel surplus, to occupy the place of the dehumanized inferior. Within this society, that group is made up of Black and Third World people, working-class people, older people, and women. (114)

But Black women and our children know the fabric of our lives is stitched with violence and with hatred, that there is no rest. We do not deal with it only on the picket lines, or in dark midnight alleys, or in the places where we dare to verbalize our resistance. For us, increasingly, violence weaves through the daily tissues of our living — in the supermarket, in the classroom, in the elevator, in the clinic and the schoolyard, from the plumber, the baker, the saleswoman, the bus driver, the bank teller, the waitress who does not serve us.

Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you, we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs upon the reasons they are dying. (119)

I love this discourse on violence, acknowledgment that what we face is not all the same. I also love the call out to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

I need to read some more poetry — I have so much poetry to read:

 We have chosen each other
and the edge of each others battles
the war is the same
if we lose
someday women’s blood will congeal
upon a dead planet
if we win
there is no telling
we seek beyond history
for a new and more possible meeting.

From ‘The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’

I love acknowledging the need for anger, the benefit of anger, the right to anger. Hell yes.

My response to racism is anger

Women responding to racism means women responding to anger; the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and co-optation.

My anger is a response to racist attitutudes and to teh actions and presumptions that arise out of those attitudes…I have used learning to express anger for my growth. But for corrective surgery, not guilt. Guilt and defensiveness are bricks in a wall against which we all flounder; they serve none of our futures. (124)

We are not here as women examining racism is a political and social vacuum. We operate in the teeth of a system for which racism and sexism are primary, established, and necessary props of profit. (128)

This…being poor teaches you a little of this, but not all of this, not the depth of this. Racism always wielded like a knife cutting away, always cutting whether superficially or deep. So many cuts, so many years…it stops mattering.

Women of Color in america have grown up within a symphony of anger, at being silenced, at being unchosen, at knowing that when we survive, it is in spite of a world that takes for granted our very existence outside of its service. And I say symphony rather than cacophony because we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so that they do not tear us apart. We have had to learn to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives. Those of us who did not learn this difficult lesson did not survive. And part of my anger is always libation for my fallen sisters. (129)

The power of anger as a positive force, one that brings transformation

But the strength of women lies in recognizing differences between us as creative, and in standing to those distortions which we inherited without blame, but which are now ours to alter. The angers of women can transform different through insight into power. For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth. (131)

from ‘Learning from the 60s’ (and there is a lot to learn)

MALCOLM X is a distinct shape in a very pivotal period of my life. I stand here now – Black, Lesbian, Feminist – an inheritor of Malcolm and in his tradition, doing my work, and the ghost of his voice through my mouth asks each one of you here tonight: Are you doing yours? (134)

As Black people, if there is one thing we can learn from the 60s, it is how infinitely complex any move for liberation must be. For we must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those oppressive values which we have been forced to take into ourselves. Through examining the combination of our triumphs and errors, we can examine the dangers of an incomplete vision. Not to condemn that vision but to alter it, construct templates for possible futures, and focus our rage for change upon our enemies rather than upon each other. In the 1960s, the awakened anger of the Black community was often expressed, not vertically against the corruption of power and true sources of control over our lives, but horizontally toward those closest to us who mirrored our own impotence. (135)

And this and again this:

You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities. And in order to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness. (142)

From ‘Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger’

There is a distinction I am beginning to make in my living between pain and suffering. Pain is an event, an experience that must be recognized, named, and then used in some way in order for the experience to change, to be transformed into something else, strength or knowledge or action.

Suffering on the other hand, is the nightmare reliving of unscrutinized and unmetabolized pain. (171)

So much wisdom here, I could do a post on each. Maybe I will.

Michael Harris — Noir’s descent

Michael Harris - Where Desert Rivers DieMichael Harris writes noir’s descent into darkness better than anyone else I know. A lot of people can write dark characters in varying shades of too-often cliched and flawed fatalities. But no one quite manages to draw the likeable, decent-if-only-they-weren’t-slightly-too-broken-to-be-decent characters that Harris does, with their tenuous grip on their identity and their thoughts and their lives and their homes and their jobs. The aging men whose pasts are full of ghosts, who have been pushed past their personal line in the sand though you’re never quite sure when that happened. They probably don’t know either, just that it happened back then — childhood maybe. The relationship with their father maybe, their time in prison, Vietnam. They are so vulnerable to that slight, final nudge that will send them circling into a colorful and richly detailed spiral into hell itself, both of psyche and circumstance.

You ache with their vulnerability. You ache too, with the pain they inflict, on themselves and on others. There are no good guys and bad guys, only guys who are trying to be good in spite of everything, and those who gave up a long time ago.

His novella Where Desert Rivers Die exemplifies this.

…is there no end to the blood in the world? He dabs at the nicks with toilet paper, all the while thinking of the toilet itself and the drain in the floor. They pull at him, like Death Valley. Like all those sinks where desert rivers go to die.

You see? Down.

Michael Harris - The Chieu Hoi SaloonThis is slightly lighter fare than The Chieu Hoi Saloon, which we were proud to publish in the Switchblade imprint. That is a long, brilliant and brooding book that builds like a thunderstorm to the finale. It envelops you. Desert Rivers does too, but its length means it is more of a flash and a thrill ride across California up to Colorado, where the point of no return has already been reached before you start and you are already racing towards an uncertain finish. You and Warren both are just waiting for the crash. This is a book you will finish in an evening, but that will linger on with you for a long time. It is a book that means something.

All this praise aside, I love both novel and novella even more when they are set alongside what is perhaps the most beautiful, exquisite novella I have ever read, and that is Canyon.  Also by Michael Harris, not yet available anywhere I don’t think except through a request to the author. A novella of childhood. A novella of wonder.

But all of his work has wonder in it.

Arthur Machen’s The Imposters

The Three ImpostorsIt was a fine autumn evening, and a faint sunlight shone on the yellow walls of the old deserted house, and showed the patches of gangrenous decay, and all the stains, the black drift of rain from the broken pipes, the scabrous blots where the bare bricks were exposed, the green weeping of a gaunt laburnum that stood beside the porch, and ragged marks near the ground where the reeking clay was gaining on the worn foundations. It was a queer rambling old place, the centre perhaps two hundred years old, with dormer windows sloping from the tiled roof, and on each side there were Georgian wings; bow windows had been carried up to the first floor, and two dome-like cupolas that had once been painted a bright green were now gray and neutral. Broken urns lay upon the path, and a heavy mist seemed to rise from the unctuous clay; the neglected shrubberies, grown all tangled and unshapen, smelt dank and evil, and there was an atmosphere all about the deserted mansion that proposed thoughts of an opened grave.

What is not to love about such gothic prose? Arthus Machen’s The Imposters is quite splendid all round, not least because Machen does not lack a sharp edge to him. On Dyson and Phillips he writes:

By the mistaken benevolence of deceased relatives both young men were placed out of reach of hunger, and so, meditating high achievements, idled their time pleasantly away, and revelled in the careless joys of a Bohemianism devoid of the sharp seasoning of adversity.

What I loved most about the book though, was how it moved between city streets and country villages in ways such books rarely do, but people do all the time. It moves from haunted ruins in deep countryside to London carrying the same atmosphere but now describing streets I know. Though of course, this is not as I know them, the gibbet-like contrivances and pantechnicon warehouses are all gone …

I went out and wandered rather aimlessly about the streets; my head was full of my tale, and I didn’t much notice where I was going. I got into those quiet places to the north of Oxford Street as you go west, the genteel residential neighborhood of stucco and prosperity. I turned east again without knowing it, and it was quite dark when I passed along a sombre little by-street, ill lighted and empty. I did not know at the time in the least where I was, but I found out afterwards that it was not very far from Tottenham Court Road. I strolled idly along, enjoying the stillness; on one side there seemed to be the back premises of some great shop; tier after tier of dusty windows lifted up into the night, with gibbet-like contrivances for raising heavy goods, and below large doors, fast closed and bolted, all dark and desolate. Then there came a huge pantechnicon warehouse; and over the way a grim blank wall, as forbidding as the wall of a jail, and then the headquarters of some volunteer regiment, and afterwards a passage leading to a court where wagons were standing to be hired. It was, one might almost say, a street devoid of inhabitants, and scarce a window showed the glimmer of a light. I was wondering at the strange peace and dimness there, where it must be close to some roaring main artery of London life, when suddenly I heard the noise of dashing feet tearing along the pavement at full speed, and from a narrow passage, a mews or something of that kind, a man was discharged as from a catapult under my very nose

And this…this is what all of long for sometimes is it not? For the strange, the weird, to irrupt into the daily humdrum:

“It is all more strange than I fancied,” he said at last. “It was queer enough what I saw; a man is sauntering along a quiet, sober, every-day London street, a street of gray houses and blank walls, and there, for a moment, a veil seems drawn aside, and the very fume of the pit steams up through the flagstones, the ground glows, red hot, beneath his feet, and he seems to hear the hiss of the infernal caldron. A man flying in mad terror for his life…

It seems ever harder now for this to happen, London of Machen’s time seems to lend itself to such possibilities much easier. Perhaps though, as Raymond Williams writes, each generation turns from the ugliness and meanness of the present towards a nostalgia of the past. But some things don’t seem to change, it is still true that almost everyone comes to London at some point — and if not London, then the big city near their town or village. Youth from all over the country come to be part of the action, to remake themselves, become something they can’t become within the confines of small tight communities.

I felt that there was nothing for me to do in the country, and as usually happens in such eases, London drew me like a magnet. One day in August, in the early morning, while the dew still glittered on the turf, and on the high green banks of the lane, a neighbor drove me to the railway station, and I bade good-bye to the land of the broad moors and unearthly battlements of the wild tors. It was six o’clock as we neared London; the faint sickly fume of the brickfields about Acton came in puffs through the open window, and a mist was rising from the ground. Presently the brief view of successive streets, prim and uniform, struck me with a sense of monotony; the hot air seemed to grow hotter; and when we had rolled beneath the dismal and squalid houses, whose dirty and neglected back yards border the line near Paddington, I felt as if I should be stifled in this fainting breath of London. I got a hansom and drove off, and every street increased my gloom; gray houses with blinds drawn down, whole thoroughfares almost desolate, and the foot-passengers who seemed to stagger wearily along rather than walk, all made me feel a sinking at heart. I put up for the night at a small hotel in a street leading from the Strand, where my father had stayed on his few brief visits to town; and when I went out after dinner, the real gayety and bustle of the Strand and Fleet Street could cheer me but little, for in all this great city there was no single human being whom I could claim even as an acquaintance.

For all its lure, there is something lost. There are desires unfulfilled, hopes destroyed, lives that never reached their promise.

It takes a long time to know it, much less achieve anything there.

“You were wrong to give in so completely,” he said, when I was silent. “A month is too short a time in which to feel one’s way in London. London, let me tell you, Miss Lally, does not lie open and undefended; it is a fortified place, fossed and double-moated with curious intricacies. As must always happen in large towns, the conditions of life have become hugely artificial; no mere simple palisade is run up to oppose the man or woman who would take the place by storm, but serried lines of subtle contrivances, mines, and pitfalls which it needs a strange skill to overcome. You, in your simplicity, fancied you had only to shout for these walls to sink into nothingness, but the time is gone for such startling victories as these. Take courage; you will learn the secret of success before very long.”

Machen does not just sharpen his wit on Dyson and Phillips, but on London’s monotony and mean streets as well, never losing sight of this veil of gothic prose and imaginings that he is pulling over it.

I also love this dig at Paris, and it resonates entirely with what I felt while there, under that veil there really is something after all…

“I see you can find the picturesque in London,” he said. “To me this great town is as I see it is to you, the study and the love of life. Yet how few there are that can pierce the veils of apparent monotony and meanness! I have read in a paper which is said to have the largest circulation in the world, a comparison between the aspects of London and Paris, a comparison which should be positively laureat, as the great masterpiece of fatuous stupidity. Conceive if you can a human being of ordinary intelligence preferring the Boulevards to our London streets; imagine a man calling for the wholesale destruction of our most charming city, in order that the dull uniformity of that whited sepulchre called Paris should be reproduced here in London. Is it not positively incredible?” … They had lingered at the corner of a street on the north side of the Strand, enjoying the contrasts and the glamour of the scene. Dyson pointed the way with a gesture, and they strolled up the comparatively deserted streets, slanting a little to the right, and thus arriving at Dyson’s lodging on the verge of Bloomsbury. Mr. Burton took a comfortable armchair by the open window, while Dyson lit the candles and produced the whiskey and soda and cigarettes.

And this paean to a suburb? This evocation of phantasy and gothic horror in such surroundings left by everyone else to everyday staid graspings after economic prosperity and their meanness?  The chance happening of adventure here? Happiness.

Nay, I will say that he who has stood in the ways of a suburb
and has seen them stretch before him all shining, void, and desolate at noonday, has not lived in vain. Such a sight is in reality more wonderful than any perspective of Bagdad or Grand Cairo. And, to set on one side the entertaining history of the gem which you told me, surely you must have had many singular adventures in your own career?”

Before me was the long suburban street, its dreary distance marked by rows of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by the faint sickly smell of burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by any means, and I had to walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted as those of Pompeii. I knew pretty well what direction to take; so I set out wearily, looking at the stretch of lamps vanishing in perspective; and as I walked, street after street branched off to right and left,–some far reaching to distances that seemed endless, communicating with, other systems of thoroughfare; and some mere protoplasmic streets, beginning in orderly fashion with serried two-storied houses, and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, and rubbish heaps, and fields whence the magic had departed. I have spoken of systems of thoroughfare, and I assure you that, walking alone through these silent places, I felt phantasy growing on me, and some glamour of the infinite. There was here. I felt, an immensity as in the outer void, of the universe. I passed from unknown to unknown, my way marked by lamps like stars, and on either band was an unknown world where myriads of men dwelt and slept, street leading into street, as it seemed to world’s end. At first the road by which I was travelling was lined with houses of unutterable monotony,–a wall of gray brick pierced by two stories of windows, drawn close to the very pavement. But by degrees I noticed an improvement: there were gardens, and these grew larger. The suburban builder began to allow himself a wider scope; and for a certain distance each flight of steps was guarded by twin lions of plaster, and scents of flowers prevailed over the fume of heated bricks. The road began to climb a hill, and, looking up a side street, I saw the half moon rise over plane-trees, and there on the other side was as if a white cloud had fallen, and the air around it was sweetened as with incense; it was a may-tree in full bloom. I pressed on stubbornly, listening for the wheels and the clatter of some belated hansom; but into that land of men who go to the city in the morning and return in the evening, the hansom rarely enters, and I had resigned myself once more to the walk, when I suddenly became aware that some one was advancing to meet me along the sidewalk. The man was strolling rather aimlessly; and though the time and the place would have allowed an unconventional style of dress, he was vested in the ordinary frock coat, black tie, and silk hat of civilization.

I did love The London Adventure, but this to me stands hands above it, both in terms of page-turning story but also psychogeographic evocations of the city, and these — the places we find for ourselves in our cities where it is not quite so mean or uniform, where gardens and fragrances can cheer us though poverty:

Amongst the many friends who were favored with the occasional pleasure of Mr. Dyson’s society was Mr. Edgar Russell, realist and obscure struggler, who occupied a small back room on the second floor of a house in Abingdon Grove, Notting Hill. Turning off from the main street and walking a few paces onward, one was conscious of a certain calm, a drowsy peace, which made the feet inclined to loiter; and this was ever the atmosphere of Abingdon Grove. The houses stood a little back, with gardens where the lilac and laburnum and blood-red may blossomed gayly in their seasons, and there was a corner where an older house in another street had managed to keep a back garden of real extent; a walled-in garden whence there came a pleasant scent of greenness after the rains
of early summer, where old elms held memories of the open fields, where there was yet sweet grass to walk on. The houses in Abingdon Grove belonged chiefly to the nondescript stucco period of thirty-five years ago, tolerably built with passable accommodation for moderate incomes; they had largely passed into the state of lodgings, and cards bearing the inscription “Furnished Apartments” were not infrequent over the doors. Here, then, in a house of sufficiently good appearance, Mr. Russell had established himself; for he looked upon the traditional dirt and squalor of Grub Street as a false and obsolete convention, and preferred, as he said, to live within sight of green leaves. Indeed, from his room one had a magnificent view of a long line of gardens, and a screen of poplars shut out the melancholy back premises of Wilton Street during the summer months. Mr. Russell lived chiefly on bread and tea, for his means were of the smallest; but when Dyson came to see him, he would send out the slavey for six-ale, and Dyson was always at liberty to smoke as much of his own tobacco as he pleased.

What better way to grasp the feeling of a London still being built into the form we know today, the feeling of wandering through them in the night, the sights and sounds of the local pub, the mystery of moving from high to low, grace to squalor, darkness to light:

He had turned, without taking note, to the northward, and was passing through an ancient fallen street, where now notices of floors and offices to let hung out, but still about it there was the grace and the stiffness of the Age of Wigs; a broad roadway, a broad pavement, and on each side a grave line of houses with long and narrow windows flush with the walls, all of mellowed brick-work. Dyson walked with quick steps, as he resolved that short work must be made of a certain episode; but he was in that happy humor of invention, and another chapter rose in the inner chamber of his brain, and he dwelt on the circumstances he was to write down with curious pleasure. It was charming to have the quiet streets to walk in, and in his thought he made a whole district the cabinet of his studies, and vowed he would come again. Heedless of his course, he struck off to the east again, and soon found himself involved in a squalid network of gray two-storied houses, and then in the waste
void and elements of brick-work, the passages and unmade roads behind great factory walls, encumbered with the refuse of the neighborhood, forlorn, ill-lighted, and desperate. A brief turn, and there rose before him the unexpected, a hill suddenly lifted from the level ground, its steep ascent marked by the lighted lamps, and eager as an explorer Dyson found his way to the place, wondering where his crooked paths had brought him. Here all was again decorous, but hideous in the extreme. The builder, some one lost in the deep gloom of the early ‘twenties, had conceived the idea of twin villas in gray brick, shaped in a manner to recall the outlines of the Parthenon, each with its classic form broadly marked with raised bands of stucco. The name of the street was all strange, and for a further surprise, the top of the hill was crowned with an irregular plot of grass and fading trees, called a square, and here again the Parthenon-motive had persisted. Beyond the streets were curious, wild in their irregularities, here a row of sordid, dingy dwellings, dirty and disreputable in appearance, and there, without warning, stood a house genteel and prim with wire blinds and brazen knocker, as clean and trim as if it had been the doctor’s house in some benighted little country town. These surprises and discoveries began to exhaust Dyson, and he hailed with delight the blazing windows of a public-house, and went in with the intention of testing the beverage provided for the dwellers in this region, as remote as Libya and Pamphylia and the parts about Mesopotamia. The babble of voices from within warned him that he was about to assist at the true parliament of the London workman, and he looked about him for that more retired entrance called private. When he had settled himself on an exiguous bench, and had ordered some beer, he began to listen to the jangling talk in the public bar beyond; it was a senseless argument, alternately furious and maudlin, with appeals to Bill and Tom, and mediæval survivals of speech, words that Chaucer wrote belched out with zeal and relish, and the din of pots jerked down and coppers rapped smartly on the zinc counter made a thorough bass for it all.

This sums up so many of my own walks in a way: ‘…he made a whole district the cabinet of his studies, and vowed he would come again…’ I wish Arthur Machen had made more money, had not inhabited this shadowy place of Grub Street writers, had been able to write more of what he wanted to write. But perhaps then I would not have loved it quite so much. He tries to escape with us the dirt and dreary realities of the city, the hackwork. I think he succeeds here.

But we both of us know all that we are escaping is still there.

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Reading Adam Bede and Mostly Hating It

2249617(Spoiler alert)

Holiday in Wirksworth this year, and finding all the references to George Eliot and Adam Bede there, I thought to myself it would be good to read it. I read Middlemarch while an overly precocious teen, and though profoundly unimpressed to the point of remembering nothing about it, I’ve been meaning to give her another go.

I was a bit sorry I did. Still, I plowed through it over the holiday while resting after glorious walks. I confess in some ways it was immensely thought-provoking. One novel was probably enough, however.

What was most interesting, given my interests, were her invocations of city and country and the relationship between the two…these were rare though. So this first post shall be full of all that had me huffing and puffing and snorting and reading aloud passages, mostly to do with her characterizations of women and workers.

In many ways it strikes me now as simply quaint, with an odd trace of orientalism to start:

With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past. This is what I undertake to do for you, reader. With this drop of ink at the end of my pen, I will show you the roomy workshop of Mr. Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder, in the village of Hayslope, as it appeared on the eighteenth of June, in the year of our Lord 1799.

There is also a curious claim to depicting reality, almost as a painting might, a clear identification with the narrative voice.

Certainly I could, if I held it the highest vocation of the novelist to represent things as they never have been and never will be. Then, of course, I might refashion life and character entirely after my own liking; I might select the most unexceptionable type of clergyman and put my own admirable opinions into his mouth on all occasions. But it happens, on the contrary, that my strongest effort is to avoid any such arbitrary picture, and to give a faithful account of men and things as they have mirrored themselves in my mind. The mirror is doubtless defective, the outlines will sometimes be disturbed, the reflection faint or confused; but I feel as much bound to tell you as precisely as I can what that reflection is, as if I were in the witness-box, narrating my experience on oath.

This is visible in the deep descriptions of farming life and village customs, I quite enjoyed descriptions such as this one:

Mr. Rann’s leathern apron and subdued griminess can leave no one in any doubt that he is the village shoemaker; the thrusting out of his chin and stomach and the twirling of his thumbs are more subtle indications, intended to prepare unwary strangers for the discovery that they are in the presence of the parish clerk.

This view of early methodism and the role of women in it was also interesting (when it didn’t send me to sleep, which it did). But god, the descriptions of most of the women. A record of changing mores this may undoubtedly be, but I don’t think Mary Anne Evans and myself would have got on too well at any point through the ages.

Poor Bessy had always been considered a naughty girl; she was conscious of it; if it was necessary to be very good, it was clear she must be in a bad way. She couldn’t find her places at church as Sally Rann could, she had often been tittering when she “curcheyed” to Mr. Irwine; and these religious deficiencies were accompanied by a corresponding slackness in the minor morals, for Bessy belonged unquestionably to that unsoaped lazy class of feminine characters with whom you may venture to “eat an egg, an apple, or a nut.” All this she was generally conscious of, and hitherto had not been greatly ashamed of it.

I confess no little admiration for the sentence ‘unsoaped lazy class of feminine characters…’ despite hating its earnest content. But she celebrates how everyone here fits into and accepts their place except at their very great cost:

Adam was not a man to be gratuitously superstitious, but he had the blood of the peasant in him as well as of the artisan, and a peasant can no more help believing in a traditional superstition than a horse can help trembling when he sees a camel. Besides, he had that mental combination which is at once humble in the region of mystery and keen in the region of knowledge: it was the depth of his reverence quite as much as his hard common sense which gave him his disinclination to doctrinal religion, and he often checked Seth’s argumentative spiritualism by saying, “Eh, it’s a big mystery; thee know’st but little about it.” And so it happened that Adam was at once penetrating and credulous.

There is a steady class consciousness:

You suspect at once that the inhabitants of this room have inherited more blood than wealth, and would not be surprised to find that Mr. Irwine had a finely cut nostril and upper lip; but at present we can only see that he has a broad flat back and an abundance of powdered hair, all thrown backward and tied behind with a black ribbon–a bit of conservatism in costume which tells you that he is not a young man.

and this

For in those days the keenest of bucolic minds felt a whispering awe at the sight of the gentry, such as of old men felt when they stood on tiptoe to watch the gods passing by in tall human shape.

and this

Adam, I confess, was very susceptible to the influence of rank, and quite ready to give an extra amount of respect to every one who had more advantages than himself, not being a philosopher or a proletaire with democratic ideas, but simply a stout-limbed clever carpenter with a large fund of reverence in his nature, which inclined him to admit all established claims unless he saw very clear grounds for questioning them.

Ah, our steady peasant stock so superior to those proletaires… So I suppose I should have taken the views on women as they came, but they are at times quite unbelievable.

There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of themselves in various styles, from the desperate to the sheepish; but there is one order of beauty which seems made to turn the heads not only of men, but of all intelligent mammals, even of women. It is a beauty like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks making gentle rippling noises with their soft bills, or babies just beginning to toddle and to engage in conscious mischief–a beauty with which you can never be angry, but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend the state of mind into which it throws you. Hetty Sorrel’s was that sort of beauty.

These few sentences contain such absurdity, especially given what happens to her later as hers is clearly a deeply sexualised beauty…I suppose not everyone needed to be as brilliant and clearheaded and eloquent in defense of women as Mary Wollstonecraft, but writing even earlier than Evans she at least shows that perhaps other women of the time may have reacted as I do. I’m prepared to accept I am missing something or that all of this can be argued, but still…anger and laughter kept flaring. I present more of my favourite quotes, like where Hetty

after a momentary start, began to pace with a pigeon-like stateliness backwards and forwards along her room

Here we have the awkward foreshadowing of what is to come

Hetty would have been glad to hear that she should never see a child again; they were worse than the nasty little lambs that the shepherd was always bringing in to be taken special care of in lambing time; for the lambs WERE got rid of sooner or later. As for the young chickens and turkeys, Hetty would have hated the very word “hatching,” if her aunt had not bribed her to attend to the young poultry by promising her the proceeds of one out of every brood.

Odd asides, like this one:

But one of the lessons a woman most rarely learns is never to talk to an angry or a drunken man.

There is the educator Bartle, who has devoted himself to giving classes for working men. Which makes me like him, but heavy handed hints show he was wounded by a treacherous woman in his youth, causing a constant stream of anti-female invective to pour out of his mouth, like this tidbit:

“That’s the way with these women–they’ve got no head-pieces to nourish, and so their food all runs either to fat or to brats.”

You know that’s just the character talking, but there is so so much of it. And then the narrative voice starts in with this sort of thing:

you will never understand women’s natures if you are so excessively rational. Try rather to divest yourself of all your rational prejudices, as much as if you were studying the psychology of a canary bird, and only watch the movements of this pretty round creature as she turns her head on one side with an unconscious smile at the ear-rings nestled in the little box. Ah, you think, it is for the sake of the person who has given them to her, and her thoughts are gone back now to the moment when they were put into her hands. No; else why should she have cared to have ear-rings rather than anything else? And I know that she had longed for ear-rings from among all the ornaments she could imagine.

And so for a pair of earrings hidden carefully away and dreams of rising above her station and dressing in silks, she gets kissed in the wood. I had forgotten how oblique these novels had to be, but I was still slightly ashamed of myself not realising some innocent kisses in the wood inevitably led to pregnancy well hidden until what must have been the 7th or 8th month. Then poor Hetty is off on her search for the father and desperation and hunger and birth and you’re maybe not that surprised she leaves the baby out in the woods.

I feel for young women reading this in the days before sex ed.

Hetty stands in strong contrast with the other main character Dinah, Methodist preacher (until they banned women from preaching, and she agreed it was for the best), sure in herself and her faith, not anxious to wed. She was far too saintly for me to like much and her sermonizing very tedious, so her winning men over to the idea that women could be sensible every now and then still didn’t sit that well. They are both drawn too much as caricatures of good and bad, but I suppose it’s her first novel and all.

Of course there was that one wonderful scene where Mrs Poyser gives the squire what for on the matter of rents and fields, and I enjoyed that immensely.

That was the very short highlight of a very very very long novel.

There were other bits and pieces that were interesting. Beside the fact that I found the women much more compelling than the title character, though I liked a carpenter as one of several central characters. I appreciated this focus on more everyday lives.  As Evan says rather pedantically

Nevertheless, to speak paradoxically, the existence of insignificant people has very important consequences in the world. It can be shown to affect the price of bread and the rate of wages, to call forth many evil tempers from the selfish and many heroisms from the sympathetic, and, in other ways, to play no small part in the tragedy of life.

Her own station in life is clear here:

The progress of civilization has made a breakfast or a dinner an easy and cheerful substitute for more troublesome and disagreeable ceremonies. We take a less gloomy view of our errors now our father confessor listens to us over his egg and coffee. We are more distinctly conscious that rude penances are out of the question for gentlemen in an enlightened age, and that mortal sin is not incompatible with an appetite for muffins. An assault on our pockets, which in more barbarous times would have been made in the brusque form of a pistol-shot, is quite a well-bred and smiling procedure now it has become a request for a loan thrown in as an easy parenthesis between the second and third glasses of claret.

Ah, the easy life.

I rather loved this curious and unexpected hint of the pivotal role of the Scots in English gardening (Scotch though, dear me):

I think it was his pedigree only that had the advantage of being Scotch, and not his “bringing up”; for except that he had a stronger burr in his accent, his speech differed little from that of the Loamshire people about him. But a gardener is Scotch, as a French teacher is Parisian.

Turnspits! I had just been reading about them elsewhere, and the use of dogs in medieval times to keep the spit turning

a brown-and-tan-coloured bitch, of that wise-looking breed with short legs and long body, known to an unmechanical generation as turnspits, came creeping along the floor, wagging her tail, and hesitating at every other step, as if her affections were painfully divided between the hamper in the chimney-corner and the master, whom she could not leave without a greeting.

This poor dog Vixen is subject to far too much of her master’s invective against women sadly.

Just one last curious quote:

It is very pleasant to see some men turn round; pleasant as a sudden rush of warm air in winter, or the flash of firelight in the chill dusk. Mr. Irvine was one of those men.

I rather liked that one.

Anyway, the cool city & country stuff next post.

The end of my holiday in the Peak District

Day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 (morning) | 4 (afternoon) | 4 (night) | 7 | 11 | the end

I am so finished with those men and their delusions. When M. starting singing Kate Bush I knew we were done, I don’t know what Sprake did to those poor trees or what M. was seeing up there, or why he thought we were trapped and couldn’t get out because I got out easy enough, or just where Charteris and everyone else went or when the police cordon went up that I had to cross or if it’s rehab M. needs or if the old ones really have returned but honestly, life is too short to stay in a damp mouldy house with no food and someone channeling Maurice Denham. That’s just not okay in real life.

The real M. would never have done that to me…would he?

But I’m pretty sure it will all be just fine once Jeremy Corbyn is elected. Then M. will return safe and sound, happily babbling the old nonsense of before and not the new post-Charteris nonsense.

I’m not even scared of the old ones now…

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 11

Day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 (morning) | 4 (afternoon) | 4 (night) | 7 | 11

My god we are still here, and this mist has come down and M. insists we can’t get out and Sprake has come back and he’s being disgusting — I mean properly disgusting. Did I ever at any point evince any kind of desire to see his penis? No. No woman (or man) wants to see that. He’s been wandering around in nothing but some kind of stupid cape and I just…I am so done. It’s over. Sprake has clearly escaped from the hospital and Dyson says he can’t find the farm and there is nothing to eat here and Dinah quit days ago because her food kept going rotten and because the men are all being weird assholes.

If only I’d come to the end of my tether a day or two earlier.

Let the mist rise and I will be out of here, I can feel the hysteria rising in the air, the strange mix of testosterone and fear and over-intellectualization of everydamnthing, and I don’t like it. I am going to hit M. over the head with the proverbial frying pan and drag him home if he gives me any fuss. With love of course.

If only I could un-see Sprake. If only I didn’t have the feeling I am living through a Lovecraft story without all of the repressed bits — and really wishing them repressed. If only I didn’t have the feeling that something is actually terribly wrong.

Not tentacles-out-of-the-mist wrong. But very wrong indeed.

Until the mist goes, I’m off to play with the cat.

The last day…

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 7

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 (morning) | Day 4 (afternoon) | Day 4 (night) | Day 7

I couldn’t convince M. to go.

Almost I left without him, but to abandon him here? It seemed an impossible decision.

Especially because after that terrible night where I began to feel all that he was experiencing creep over me, things have seemed to get better. I have tried to return to my walks in this beautiful country, my books.

The best thing is that the white cat followed me home from the ruins. I found it on the doorstep the morning after that terrible night spent huddled and starting at shadows. I gave it some milk and it twined around my ankles. It curls up purring on my lap now, purring. But only when M. — and all of the men for that matter — are away. It hates them, slinks into hidden corners before I even know they are approaching.

It is how I know they are approaching.

M. has stopped overthinking his translations of that old manuscript, seems much more cheerful and has stopped muttering to himself. He’s stopped scribbling in his journal as well — until today. I shall have to try and get him to share it with me, but he refused to say anything when I first asked him. Normally I would respect his need to keep some privacy in our relationship, I told him, of course I would.

But not when I fear something is terribly terribly wrong.

And it still is, I can feel it creeping up on us again.

He is spending his time in that cave, trying to translate the inscriptions on the steles though he has also brought scans of them home. He took me once when Charteris and the others were away, the one time they were all busy with some other task… sometimes I feel they watch him. M showed me the bare place in the rock where the face had been.

I don’t know what I think about that place, don’t like it, don’t like M. there. Or us continuing here. M. refuses to join me in my walking, even after I described the miraculous pies of Bakewell.

He has no time for pie? Impossible. Steak and Stilton, I said. Lamb and Leek. Real Bakewell tarts. He has refused to join me. And something new has happened this morning, but he just shakes his head when I ask him and says everything is fine.

I can see it is not. I found him shaking, muttering about squirrels again, and I am afraid.

Day 11

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 4 (night)

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 (morning) | Day 4 (afternoon)

I can’t sleep, can’t sleep at all. My mind beset with worries, all kinds of worries, but most of all that I too am infected. Poisoned. Hallucinating like the rest.

I too have started seeing things.

Flurried movements at the edge of my vision.

M. has been tossing and turning beside me, I know his sleep is restless as well.

I am determined tomorrow that we shall just go home.

Day 7