From Marjorie’s letters to Irina (1992-1994)

…I`m back at Amnesty for three days, writing a report of my time in Moscow. I`m struck by the identical attitudes of most people at AI; they`re not so much identical views, which you could ask them about, but attitudes, which don`t really bear scrutiny but do a very good job at defining “us” and “them”. I find it quite claustrophobic. My time in Moscow was the first when I`d made friends outside work for many years, and it was very refreshing. This collective security of opinions is a bit like a Party meeting, I imagine…

*

Oddly, in the last year I have discovered I am an instinctive traditionalist as a Quaker. That`s one area where I seem to feel oldest is best, and I`m happy to look back and borrow. Perhaps being older than Christ does it to you, but 40 has been a psychological hurdle. I am seeing if I have any roots. Looking at Quakerism I realise I have, and thinking about my article for Nina Petrovna [a Russian dissident and ex-prisoner of conscience] I realise I have there too. No matter how weedy it was, I did have a part in a historical movement for a decade…

*

…Have you ever read or heard any plays by Howard Barker? I heard one on the radio last night, called “The hard-hearted woman” and it was quite marvellous. The English was beautiful too and I thought you might well like it. It was about a city under siege and the calculated sacrifices a people can make in order to save their lives and their culture. Basically they can sacrifice any material treasures, but if they once sacrifice any human value their culture is lost and deserves to be. The подтекст running through the play is that each person is under siege all their lives, and silence, cleanliness and manners are the defences we each put up to protect ourselves. Love is the funny process by which the defences evade…

….I`m also going to try to photocopy a poem by Howard Barker (my new discovery) for you. It`s the monologue of a dead First world war soldier and just about captures the history of Europe this century – it certainly captures the ideologies of our different cultures (yours and mine). It`s difficult, but I found it interesting enough to persevere with and I hope you do too…

*

…I think the Mandelstam poem you sent me is very beautiful indeed. I can`t quite grasp the sense and that is part of the beauty. I`d like to read more…

Averintsev is actually very interesting about Mandelshtam, and for me really captures something. I like the way he takes OM’s Lutheranism seriously, for instance, and it makes a lot of sense to me. All consistent with OM’s ‘ascetic restraint’. I like the passage: ‘zdes’ prikhozhanie – deti prakha i doski vmesto obrazov lyuteranskii propovednik – gnevny sobesednik’. It reminds me of the portrait of Elders on the Hebridean Isles, in the National Gallery – if you remember that dark, grim picture. In fact I liked all the grim Vyborg bits in the Egyptian Stamp. When I was in a rush, I felt I was wading through Averintsev, but when I have the time I find it all fascinating…

*

..I`m reading Gippius`s diary about Мережковский – you`ve got it too, haven`t you? I find it terribly funny, because she keeps saying she will write only about him, then follow another seven pages only about herself. As I know nothing about either of them, I can`t quite enter into the rapture of their romance either and it seems a bit banal. Anyway, I can manage Russian, and I`m quite enjoying that…

*

I`m enclosing an extract from the New Zealand writer I told you about, who was wrongly put in a mental hospital for 8 years, because she was unusually “introverted”. In a diluted way I know what she means from my own experience. Do you? I think it`s good writing too:

“I inhabited a territory of loneliness which I think resembles that place where the dying spend their time before death, and from where those who do return, living, to the world, bring inevitably a unique point of view that is a nightmare, a treasure, and a lifelong possession; at times I think it must be the best view of the world, ranging even farther than the view from the mountains of love, equal in its rapture and chilling exposure to the neighbourhood of the ancient gods and goddesses…” 

(Janet Frame “An angel at my table”)

*