Pilgrimage (Vol 3: Deadlock, Revolving Lights, The Trap)

This begins to feel like a slog. Books 6,7, and 8 of the series, and we travel further into Miriam’s mind as she jumps from thought to thought, not stopping to tell us where she is or with whom. She continues to wander around London, enjoying her midnight walks and seclusion in coffee shops, flaunting her independence and rejecting marriage offers. In the last book, she gives up her room to move in with another woman to save money, a flimsy curtain strung up across their bedroom to give the illusion of privacy. When, on the first night, Miriam and Miss Holland disagree about the pleasantness of rattling windows, Miriam knows she’s in a bad situation. It’s also an ill omen that Holland does not enjoy Donizetti’s comforts like Miriam, lounging on the red velvet sofa while enjoying a late night snack and coffee. Meanwhile, the poet Yeats apparently lives in the building behind them, peepable from Miriam’s window. If you can wade through the somewhat incomprehensible streams of consciousness, there are delightful tidbits of Miriam’s feminist rage.

From Deadlock, Miriam discovers one of her employers reading an outrageously sexist book:

Lovely Woman, by T.W.H. Crosland. Why so many similar English initials? A superfluity of mannishness. An attack of course; she scanned pages and headings; chapter upon chapter of peevish facetiousness; the whole book written deliberately against women… The usual sort of thing; worse, because it was colloquial, rushing along in modern everyday language and in some curious way not badly written. Because some women had corns, feminine beauty was a myth; because the world could do without Mrs Hemans’s poetry, women should confine their attention to puddings and babies. The infernal complacent cheek of it. This was the kind of thing middle-class men read. Unable to criticize it, they thought it witty and unanswerable… It ought to be illegal to publish a book  by a man without first giving it to a woman to annotate.

From Revolving Lights, in conversation with Hypo Wilson (e.g. HG Wells):

‘Nonsense, Miriam. Girls with quite good brains and abilities will marry anything; accept its views and quote them.’

‘Yes; just as they will show off a child’s tricks. Views and opinions are masculine things. Women are indifferent to them, really. Any set will do… It is that women can hold all opinions at once, or any, or none. It’s because they see the relations of things which don’t change, more than things which are always changing, and mostly the importance to men of things men believe.

Further musings:

Why cannot men exist without thinking themselves all there is?… [Men] never are. They only make or do; unconscious of the quality of life as it passes… Men have no present; except sensuously. That would explain their ambition and their doubting speculations about the future. Yet it would be easier to make all this clear to a man than to a woman. The very words expressing it have been made by men.

On Miriam’s void when in the room with the Lintoffs and Michael:

There was no pressure in the room; no need to buy peace by excluding all but certain points of view. She felt a joyful expansion. But there was a void all about her. She was expanded in an unknown element; a void, filled by these people in some way peculiar to themselves.

 

Roger Fry: A Biography

Finally read Virginia Woolf’s carefully balanced biography of her friend Roger Fry. She was hampered somewhat by the restrictions of having to please his sisters and friends and not include any scandalous material (like her sister’s love affair with him) which has illuminated Frances Spalding‘s more recent bio.

Fry sounds like rather an interesting old chap, pushing forward into Post Impressionism but still wrangling with a more traditional painting style of his own. He marries another artist, Helen, to the dismay of his Quaker parents who want nothing more than him to be hard-working and successful in the more common business aspects; Helen “goes mad” and is shut up in an asylum for nearly 30 years before kicking the bucket.

Fry gets more and more confident as a critic, and is tapped by JP Morgan to be the director of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, but Fry initially resists because he doesn’t want to leave England and he sees that Morgan had no real appreciation for art. On Morgan: “I don’t think he wants anything but flattery. He is quite indifferent as to the real value of things. All he wants experts for is to give him a sense of his own wonderful sagacity… The man is so swollen with pride and a sense of his own power that it never occurs to him that other people have any rights.” Fry signs on with an amended contract that allows him to spend most of the year in London, only traveling to NYC for three months of the year, but then acting as their buyer in Europe for the remaining months. Apparently there was quite a struggle with Morgan about whether pieces would be purchased for his private collection or for the museum.

Fry didn’t quite like America, “the contrasts are amazing… I sometimes wonder whether this society isn’t drifting back to sheer barbarism…. the trouble is that no one really knows anything or has any true standard. they are as credulous as they are suspicious and are wanting in any intellectual ballast so that fashion and passing emotions drift them anywhither.” He did meet Mark Twain at a dinner and liked him tremendously, though.

Back in London, he becomes estranged from the position and either quits or is let go after a battle with Morgan over a painting. He then takes up his previous life of lectures and writing, traveling all over Europe to look at pictures, to study them so he can go back to London and talk about them all winter.

I’m petering out my enthusiasm here, but could probably do a re-read at some point if investigating VW’s notes on writing biography.

Woolf Studies Annual, v8 2002

Discovered by way of Julia Brigg’s terrific biography, I found a treasure trove of information about Woolf. Specifically, the article in the 2002 annual by Merry Pawlowski regarding Virginia Woolf’s connections to the Women’s Services Library. This was fantastic– it includes letters between VW and the librarian (Vera Douie) detailing VW’s research requests and her continued support of the library by buying titles that were out of economic reach for their meager budget. She was clearly a huge supporter of the Women’s Library, donating dozens of books by women writers and other money and support.

The Thief’s Journal

Patti Smith whispered this book title in my ear in M Train, and I was especially keen on picking it up because of my (completely unfounded) suspicions about Papillon being a book that was cribbed from this. While Genet may have overlapped with Charrière (Papillon) in the prison in French Guiana, or not, but Genet’s book is nothing like Pap’s. Genet’s tale is a swirling mass of poetic musings around the underworld of thievery, prostitution, homosexuality, and betrayal. He himself notes “There is a relationship among [betrayal, theft, and homosexuality]…”

Set in places across Europe in the 1930s and 40s, it’s a miracle that Genet survived the tales he outlines. Soliciting sex from German soldiers, Nazis, police officers, border patrols, thieving from everyone in each country, Genet found community in jail. “Perhaps the oppressively perfect police system of the Central European states is due to the uneasiness created there by political confusion.”

He attributes his predilection for the underworld to his being abandoned to an orphanage at birth. “I already felt it was natural to aggravate this condition by a preference for boys, and this preference by theft, and theft by crime or a complacent attitude in regard to crime. I thus resolutely rejected a world which had rejected me.”

Translated from the French by Bernard Frechtman.

*****

Update: Patti Smith on On Jean Genet’s ‘The Thief’s Journal’ worth a read.

Vision and design

As part of my ongoing deep dive into Virginia Woolf’s brain, I picked up this collection of Roger Fry’s essays on art—or rather, read on the 4th floor of the library, since they wouldn’t let me check out the 1924 copy they had on hand. The first two essays were my main focus, Art and Life, and Essay in Aesthetics.

From Art and Life I gathered random thoughts and ideas, like that there was a Catholic reaction to the Renaissance when the focus began to be on the individual and deflect power away from the church.

Near quoting (I had to hand-write notes):

Impressionism marked the climax of a movement which had been going on more or less steadily from the 13th century—the tendency to approximate the forms of art more and more exactly to the representation of the totality of appearance. Once representation pushed to the point where further development was impossible, it was inevitable for artists to question the validity of the assumption that art aimed at representation.

Enter Cezanne, then Gauguin, then Van Gogh.

From Essay in Aesthetics, human life is made up of “instinctive reactions to sensible objects” and their accompanying emotions. The beauty and difference between art and real life can be seen in the difference in reaction of seeing a horse out of control on the street vs. on the cinema screen. In the theater, we see the action but don’t have to react, we can study it from angles not possible in real life. We only see as much in real life as will help us in our actions, we shut out all the rest of the information. This can be further seen if we watch a street in a mirror, which helps us abstract ourselves from it, versus directly. Art is intimately connected to our secondary imaginative life. It’s separated from actual life by the absence of responsive action. We have no moral responsibility when looking at art, we are free from the normal restrictions on us.

Art is the “chief organ of imaginative life.” Fry finds that we only look at things closely when their “sole purpose is to be seen.” Also, our emotions are weaker when involved with art, so we can see things more clearly (e.g. a painting of someone being flogged violently won’t conjure up the same response as actually seeing this in real life). With art, we can both feel the emotion (weakly) and watch it without being overwhelmed by it.

Fry denotes the qualities of art to be order (otherwise we’re troubled and perplexed) which translates into unity (a cohesive whole that we can understand), along withe variety (otherwise we’re not stimulated). The most important piece of aesthetic judgement is the consciousness and recognition of purpose. A flower in nature is beautiful, but we don’t have sympathy with the person who created it because it has no creator.

The emotional elements of design: rhythm of line, mass, space, light and shade, and color.

Fry wraps up saying we must dispense with the idea that we test whether something is art by saying how much it looks like nature. Only consider whether the emotional elements are discovered. An artist may provide a very realistic figure or only the merest suggestion of natural forms and rely on the force and intensity of emotional elements.

Can you create art with an absence of emotions?

Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life

Julia Briggs does a fantastic job weaving Virginia Woolf’s life story into a deep discussion of her major and minor works. I’m left with the greedy desire to close out the world and start re-reading Woolf’s oeuvre, from The Voyage Out all the way through Between the Acts, even tackling Flush and Roger Fry’s biography for the first time. My finger itches to pull the trigger on a purchase of her complete shorter fiction and essays, along with the collected letters. Perhaps I should wait until I make it through all five volumes of her diaries.

Interesting how Joyce is painted as her “greatest rival,” something she shared with Gertrude Stein? “Nineteen forty-one had begun inauspiciously with the death of her greatest rival, James Joyce — ‘about a fortnight younger than I am’. They had never met, though he had been ‘about the place’, and she recalled Harriet Weaver ‘in wool gloves, spinsterly, buttoned up’ visiting them at Richmond in April 1918 with the thoroughly unbuttoned typescript of Ulysses. Woolf had put it away in a drawer, but then took it out to show Katherine Mansfield. Katherine ‘began to read, ridiculing: then suddenly said, But theres some thing in this: a scene that should figure I suppose in the history of literature.’ One after another, the age’s great writers ‘became [their] admirers’.

Woolf praised Dorothy Richardson and Joyce for inventing new techniques but “found their fiction self-centered, egotistical, narrow and lacking in structure (though as both Pilgrimage and Ulysses were still in the process of being written, their structures were more difficult to discern).” Woolf called the fourth novel of Pilgrimage, The Tunnel, ‘better in its failure than most books in their success.’

Growing up, VW was “a voracious reader, to the amusement of her father who gave her the run of his library, later supplementing it with books brought back from the London Library.” While we don’t have her version of a book blog, we have several clues about what she read, through references in her work plus explicit mention. (I need to pick up a copy of Hakluyt’s Voyages, Travels and Discoveries). Also mentioned: Meredith, Ibsen, Shaw, Hardy, Conrad, Henry James, George Eliot, Austen, Thomas Love Peacock, Henry Fielding, Webster, Browning, Shelley, Spenser, Congreve.

Briggs mentions VW’s letters of protest in 1920 to the New Statesman as a turning point where she converts depression and discouragement into social analysis and a critique of patriarchal attitudes. Strong currents of feminism bubble up throughout her work, finding the clearest voice in A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas but very much a presence in everything else, especially her essays. Briggs notes that the fact of ROO‘s adoption of inconsistent positions and debates within itself is the source of its continued appeal to modern audiences… “in the process of writing out its own indignation, arrives, for better or worse, at exactly those compromises with the world of men as most women act out on a daily basis, while scarcely noticing that they are doing so.”

Woolf “associated the primary act of artistic creation with writing in longhand rather than with subsequent typing,” her process was to write by hand in the morning and then type it up in the afternoon. Further, she hit upon the strategy of working on two types of projects at once, one fiction and one non-fiction, so that she could teeter between the two when she got stuck or bored or frustrated.

Random thought– how much was society “civilized” by the tradition of afternoon tea, the stopping of all work to come together and have a conversation on a daily basis?

Further research into her claim from the 1925 essay Character in Fiction that ‘on or about December 1910 human character changed.’

All of this is sending me into a deep dive of Woolf, further convinced of her absolute stunning genius.

Gertrude Stein: In Words and Pictures

A very handy book to push you quickly through Stein’s biography with the help of her own words and photos taken of her and Alice throughout their years. Of primary interest to me were her formative years early on in Paris, when she’s still living with Leo and he’s doing the talking while she’s doing the listening. Once he’s gone, she then finds her voice. There’s also that very ugly quote by Leo in his Journey to the Self, “Gertrude and I are just the contrary. She’s basically stupid and I’m basically intelligent.” Alas, poor misguided Leo.

1913 was a seminal year, one I keep tripping over wherever I look. This book claims that in this year she meets Carl Van Vechten and they “invent the story of having originally met at the tumultuous opening night of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.” This struck a bolt of remembering through me– I just finished reading Florine Stettheimer’s biography, who was pals with Vechten back in NYC, and who was most unabashedly moved by that very same opening night of the ballet by Diaghilev. So did Van Vechten concoct that story after hearing Stettie talk about it?

There is also the 1930 first and only meeting between Stein and James Joyce, someone she’s forbidden to be mentioned in her salon. Why the strong antipathy? It can’t be from jealousy, Stein didn’t seem to have that sort of constitution.

There’s a lovely 1929 interview with Jane Heap, who asks “What is your attitude toward art today?” and Stein’s response, “I like to look at it.” This closely mirrors all of the other answers to the ten questions, brief, Stein-ian.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck

With all the swirl and constant hubbub about Marie Kondo and her much talked about book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book caught my eye as I was at Powell’s recently, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck.

Sarah Knight’s hilarious parody of Marie Kondo starts out with Knight quitting her publishing job. She finally has time to read Kondo’s book, and within hours, Knight has KonMari’ed her hubby’s sock drawer. “Life is significantly better now that we can see all of our socks,” she wrote.

But then she realized the magic wasn’t just about socks. It was about “decluttering and reorganizing your mental space by not giving a fuck” so that you focus only on things that you like (that bring joy!) and you don’t spend time on things that annoy you. She calls it the NotSorry Method (vs. the KonMari method), with two steps:

  1. Decide what you don’t give a fuck about
  2. Don’t give a fuck about those things

Her first baby steps towards not giving a fuck started with her wedding, when she decided not to give a fuck about the seating chart and to let people sit where they may. Rejoicing in the hours gained and energy unspent, she spread her “don’t give a fuck” methodology to other areas of her life, saying no to post-work drinks and unfriending annoying people on Facebook. Overall, the secret is to take care of yourself first, allow yourself to say no to things, and release yourself from guilt of saying no. The whole book is tongue-in-cheek hilarious, but also contains wise advice.

In Knight’s experience, people who don’t give a fuck fall into these three categories:

  • Children
  • Assholes
  • The Enlightened

Her book intends to help us reach the enlightened state without being jerks or throwing tantrums. She advises that we stop caring what people think, but don’t become an asshole. “Joy over annoy” is one of the phrases that stuck in my head.

She outlines several areas where you have to start giving fewer fucks: things, work, friends, and family. Like Kondo, she tackles the easiest first, and has you sweep all the things out of your mind that don’t bring you joy, like contemplating the idea of a Trump presidency. Only focus on caring about things that bring you joy.

To get us started, she gives us a sample of things she doesn’t give a fuck about:

  • having a bikini body
  • what other people think
  • basketball
  • being a morning person
  • napkin rings
  • the Olympics

Work is a trickier area, because you actually do need the money that it brings in, and hence you should give a few fucks about it. Her advice is to reduce the number of fucks you give at work, specifically around meetings and conference calls. She calls conference calls the “perfect storm of non productivity: an excuse to get absolutely nothing accomplished and waste literally everyone’s time. Whenever possible, I refuse to engage in conference calls… You can decide not to give a fuck about a conference call. NOTHING OF SUBSTANCE WILL OCCUR ON IT ANYWAY.”

What about co-workers (ugh)? Especially the ones who are constantly bragging about their children (double-ugh!)? Knight gives some top-notch advice on some responses to someone who’s blathering on about his daughter’s spelling bee trophy. You should respond, “That’s nice. My daughter is illiterate.” This way he’ll “never speak to you again. About anything,” writes Knight.

With friends, it’s even trickier. We love ‘em but we have to set boundaries. If you don’t ever want to go to that weekly pub trivia event across town you should be honest, stop giving excuses, and tell them that you aren’t interested and never will be. They won’t waste energy inviting you, and you won’t have to think up clever excuses every week.

She finishes up with family, the hardest of all. By setting up some personal policies, you can save yourself a lot of grief. For example, she has three families to visit on Thanksgiving, so it’s now her and her husband’s policy to rotate to one every year. There’s an entire section on how not to give too many fucks about weddings that is worth laughing over at length.

Essentially, not giving a fuck gains you time and energy, while saving you money.

Bright Lines

I took an ill-advised break from my deep dive into 20th c literature (Richardson, Woolf, etc.) to snap up the words from this book that I first saw at Bluestockings in the Lower East Side. It passed the first line test, was by a woman author I hadn’t heard of, and off to the races I went. The story holds up fairly well for the first 180 pages of Brooklyn adventure and then lags and drags and you yearn for the snip of an editor’s scissors. Part 2 sees the action unfolding oh so dramatically in Bangladesh (killing off the parents with the stampede of two cows? Really?), and is an unfortunate mess. Skip at all costs, although perhaps the author would do well with a less ambitious project.

Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism

This book was published in 2000 but seems more relevant than ever, words by Rebecca Solnit and photos of the destruction of the city by Susan Schwartzenberg. After a few intro pages showing demolition and construction, Solnit opens the first essay talking about Fly bar on Divis having just opened and St. John Coltrane Church getting evicted. Sixteen years later, the Fly bar seems like a relic of a more peaceful time, and Coltrane’s church is fighting another eviction from its newer location on Fillmore. “Growing income gap,” “new San Francisco run for the dot-com workers [now called techies],” and “artists are a controversial subject” ring just as true today.

She includes an interview with Chris Carlsson that ends with his bemoaning how far we’ve come from the fight for the 8 hour workday: “Your job is to work as much and as long as you can in the labor market. It’s a laughable predicament, and there’s not much time to find your way out of it, it’s a bit of a rat’s maze. And that’s speedup. We are living through the greatest speedup in human history, and nobody’s even saying it out loud.”

Suddenly, I turn the page and am confronted by memories of one of my first jobs in the city. Schwartzenberg infiltrated the offices of Netcentives, the company that offered me a strike price of $90 for each of my options which were ultimately worth $0 by the time I could exercise them (dot bomb!). She includes pictures of the kitchen area, the nap room, the pool table, and interviews someone who says “The company is in e-marketing. We provide loyalty solutions. We build the technology that makes people come back to a website. We think of it as a tool that manages loyalty between customer and company.” In a few months, I would be one of the few remaining employees, roving the deserted office space looking for abandoned toys and computer monitors to scavenge.

After delving into the horrid history of the redevelopment of the Fillmore district, Solnit veers into the territory of the avant-garde, North Beach. While this area is firmly associated in history’s mind with the Beats, turns out most of them lived elsewhere, like the Western Addition. Michael McClure says that people left in ’56 or ’57 when the “beatnik” thing got started, because of the tour buses. The beats then headed to Western Ad, where ironically tour buses circle like sharks around Alamo Square. From this essay learned there was a short film about the 1964 removal of Jay DeFeo’s The Rose from her studio at 2322 Fillmore (after the landlord jacked rent from $65 to $300).

Pilgrimage (Vol 2: The Tunnel, Interim)

When I finished Volume 1 less than a month ago, I was rapturous, giddy, screaming Dorothy Richardson’s name from the rooftops to try and raise awareness of this incredible novel. I packed all the DR material I could fit into my suitcase and headed for an extended trip to the Pacific Northwest and promptly did very little reading. Now that I’m back home, I chugged through a dozen other books before settling into devour Volume 2, which is made up of two books: The Tunnel, and Interim.

Volume 1 ended in Miram’s mother’s suicide, but no mention is made of it in the fresh pages of The Tunnel. We discover Miriam on the doorstep of her new lodgings with Mrs. Bailey, a working girl secretary to the busy dentists of Wimpole Street. She thrills at being on her own, earning just enough money to pay for a room and very simple dinners (eggs, roll, coffee) at the A.B.C. tea room. Her horizons expand with every page, going to lectures on science, Dante, etc. She explores London and various relationships: Mag and Jan, two independent women living together; her old school friend Alma, now married to a serious literary critic, and the salon of literary folk that surround them; Miss Szigmondy and her friends; Mr. Hancock, Mr & Mrs. Orly, and the other dentists. Through the kindness of Ms Szigmondy, she takes a few lessons on learning to ride a bicycle and this changes her navigable surroundings, taking a 70-mile ride one summer, sleeping in the fields.

She handles vaguely threatening men in the street at midnight:

But why, why… fierce anger at the recurrence of this kind of occurrence seized her. She wanted him out of the way and wanted him to know how angry she was at the interruption.
‘Well,’ she snapped angrily, coming to a standstill in the moonlit gap.
‘Oh,’ said the man a little breathlessly in a lame broken tone, ‘I thought you were going this way.’
‘So I am,’ retorted Miriam in a loud angry shaking tone, ‘obviously.’

Chapter 7 of The Tunnel is the shortest yet, only twenty sentences wherein Miriam remembers her mother as she sees Teetgen’s Teas, “Why must I always think of her in this place?… Something is wearing out of me. I am meant to go mad.”

As she gets more into cycling, she rails against the ridiculous clothing women must wear. Her friends Mag & Jan admit to riding their bikes around Russel Square in their knickers, “We came home nearly crying with rage at not being able to go about, permanently, in nothing but knickers. It would make life an absolutely different thing.” Miriam talks about her fondness for A.B.Cs, what she loves most about them is their dowdiness, then brings the conversation back to clothing: “That’s what I hate, dressing like other people. If I could afford it I should be stylish–not smart. If I can’t be stylish I’d rather be dowdy, and in a way I like dowdiness even better than stylishness.”

Out of nowhere, she suggests to Mag and Jan that they should write. Jan’s excuse not to is that she doesn’t want to write anything mediocre. Miriam is cut to the core, her deepest dream is to write. She wonders if it would be so wrong to write mediocre stuff, and the question is smacked down, it would be foolish, it wouldn’t sell.

Miriam realizes that if she can make it to age fifty and still be independent, she will be free:

In social life no one was alive but the lonely women keeping up half-admiring half-pitying endless conversations with men, with one little ironic part of themselves… until they were fifty and had done their share of social life. But outside the world–one could be alive always. Fifty. Thirty more years…

She visits a sick friend of her sister’s, Miss Dear, who whips up a quick dinner in her room. “It was wonderful and astonishing to know how to cook a real meal, in a tiny room.” Then in lieu of conversation, Miriam talks about the book she’s reading, Villette, about which I agree heartily:

‘I’ve been reading this thing ever since I came back from my holidays.’
‘It doesn’t look very big.’
Miriam’s voice trembled. ‘I don’t mean that. When I’ve finished it, I begin again.’

When visiting Mr. Taunton, the man who proposes to marry Miss Dear and take care of her, he shoves a book in Miriam’s hands, “Do you know this book?”

Miriam skeptically accepted the bulky volume he took down from the book-crowded mantelshelf.

‘Oh, how interesting,’ she said insincerely when she had read Great Thoughts from Great Lives on the cover… I ought to have said I don’t like extracts. ‘Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime,’ she read aloud under her breath from the first page… I ought to go. I can’t enter into this… I hate ‘great men,’ I think…

Interim begins with a Christmas visit to two of her former students from Volume 1: Backwater. Her landlady has also converted lodgings into a boarding house which amps up the social aspect by communal meals. Miriam meets the Canadian doctors, gives French lessons to the landlady’s daughter, listens to gorgeous piano playing and is invited to the pianist’s home, which she likens to Bohemia. At the end of this musical evening, she is walked back to her boarding home, “longing for solitude and to be free to wander slowly along the new addition to her map of London at night.” Her sister, Eve, flees her governess situation to become a florist assistant in London (eventually heading back to that comfortable rich house by the end of this section). She has her first dining-out-alone-at-night-in-a-restaurant experience after feeling nervous that she’d be mistreated for only ordering a roll with butter (all she could afford):

At Gower Street it was eleven o’clock. She was faint with hunger. She had had no dinner and there was nothing in her room. She wandered along the Euston Road hoping to meet a potato-man. The shop-fronts were black. There was nothing to meet her need but the empty stretch of lamplit pavement leading on and on. Rapid walking in the rain-freshened air relieved her faintness, but she dreaded waking in the night with gnawing hunger to keep her awake and drag her up exhausted in the morning. A faint square of brighter light on the pavement ahead came like an accusation. Passing swiftly across it she glanced bitterly at the frosted door through which it came. Restaurant. Donizetti Brothers. The whole world had conspired to leave her alone with that mystery, shut in and hidden every day the whole of her London time behind its closed frosted doors and forcing her now to admit that there was food there and that she must go in or have the knowledge of being starved through fear. Her thoughts flashed painfully across a frosted door long ago in Baker Street, and she saw the angry handsome face of the waiter who had shouted ‘Roll and butter’ and whisked away from the table the twisted cone of serviette and the knives and forks. That was in the middle of the day. It would be worse at night. Perhaps they would even refuse to serve her. Perhaps it was impossible to go into a restaurant late at night alone. She was coming back. There was nothing to be seen behind the steamy panes on either side of the door but plants standing on oil-cloth mats. Behind them again was frosted glass. It was not so grand as Baker Street. There was no menu in a large brass frame with ‘Schweppe’s’ at the top. She pushed open the glass door and was confronted by another glass door blankly frosted all over. Why were they so secret? Inside the second door, she found herself at the beginning of a long aisle of linoleum. On either side people were dotted here and there on short velvet sofa seats behind marble-topped tables. In the close air there was a strong smell made up of all kinds of meat dishes. A waiter flicking the crumbs from a table glanced sharply round at her and went off down the room… A short compact bald man in a white apron was hurrying down the aisle, toward her. He stopped just in front of her and stood bowing and indicating a near empty able with his short arm, and stood silently hovering while she dragged herself into place on the velvet sofa. The waiter rushing up with a menu was gently waved away and the little man stood over the side of the table, blocking out the fuller end of the restaurant. Hardly able to speak for the beating of her heart, she looked up into the little firm round pallid face with a small snub nose and curious pale waxy blue eyes and said furiously, ‘Oh, please, just a roll and butter and a cup of cocoa.’

The little man bowed low with a beaming face and went gently away. Miriam watched him go down the aisle, bowing here and there right and left. The hovering waiter came forward questioningly to meet him and was again waved aside and she presently saw the little man at a speaking-tube and heard him sing in a soft smooth high monotone, ‘Un-sho-co-lat.’ He brought her things and arranged them carefully about her and brought her an Illustrated London News from another table. She sipped and munched and looked at all the pictures. The people in the pictures were real people. She imagined them moving and talking in all manner of circumstances and suffered their characteristics gently, feeling as if someone were there, gently, half-reproachfully holding her hands tied behind her back. The waiter roamed up and down the aisle. People came in, sometimes two or three at a time. The little man was sitting writing with a stern bent face at a little table at the far end of the restaurant in front of a marble counter holding huge urns and glass dishes piled with buns and slices of cake. He did not move again until she rose to go, when he came once more hurrying down the aisle. Her bill was sixpence and he took the coin with a bow and waited while she extricated herself from the clinging velvet, and held the door wide for her to pass out.

‘Good evening, thank you very much,’ she murmured, hoping that he heard, in response to his polite farewell. She wandered slowly home through the drizzling rain warmed and fed and with a glow in her heart. Inside those frightful frosted doors was a home, a bit of her own London home.

Updated to include Virginia Woolf’s review of The Tunnel: “better in its failure than most books in their success.”