The queen of middle-brow returns to her throne with this collection of tidbits from 1925-1945; a vast improvement over the childhood autobiography (The Other Day) that I did not like. In this book I was gratified to read how that autobiography came about, how she was pressured to do it and never really liked it. The excerpts she’s chosen for this volume are delightful, showing her utter joy in the success of her books, surprise at being chosen for book prizes, and the roller coaster of confidence and lack thereof that go with writing. It seems like she’s always grousing about having company around that she has to prepare for and then entertain, when all she really wants to do is dive into her writing. “A neighbor came and interrupted me all morning, by mending the wireless set. We didn’t ask him to. I stood by in feminine politeness, but fuming. Women are too polite to men. They (including, alas! me) will put up with anything from them—endless supposedly funny stories, dull speeches, etc.”
With the first book she gets published, Young Anne, she chastises her self for not going deep enough. “I wonder if I am any good at all? One thing I know, and that is, I don’t work hard enough. I don’t dig deep enough.” She revisits this idea in another entry when she quotes Katherine Mansfield reviewing a book by Hugh Walpole: “Nothing is deep enough. The risk has not been taken.” Whipple then whips herself: “I must take my risks. I must say what I have to say with all my heart.” Again back to the deep in a later entry: “I haven’t dug deep enough. It’s no good trying to get away with it without effort. I must make the necessary effort now.”
More whipping of self: “It is a nuisance having to write everything before I can know if I am going to be able to make anything of it. I waste time. I am a bad workman. In work, I am half-hearted. I am only enthusiastic when I am sitting in a chair doing nothing or lying in bed in the early morning.”
Still, she’s confident in her powers. After enduring a horrible driving lesson with her brother-in-law where he lost his temper, she looked at him and thought to herself, “Can you do what I can do? No, you can’t. So why be contemptuous because I can’t do what you can do? Soon I shall be able to drive a car, but will you be able to write a book?” Daaaaaaamn.
While preferring to be a homebody with husband Henry, sometimes she accepts an invitation to a fancy London party. At one, she gets a good look at Aldous Huxley: “I found him a beautiful young man. I don’t much like his books, though. He has a hatred of the female principle. He makes women seem disgusting. Does he think men are any less so?”
Occasionally she copies scraps of paper into her journal, including this bit that she’s not sure of the source: “The study of other men’s works is the surest manner of killing the power to do things for oneself. Doing is the sole parent of doing, and creating a little is the only way of learning how to create more.” Whipple calls this the best advice to any writer she’s ever come across. Essentially: write. Do the work.