Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 1: Culture, schmulture

Wherever possible, Joseph Witriol’s Journal entries are transcribed exactly as written. Some background about both his Journal and my editing of it is in the introduction to the Hasmonean school entries already posted at Melchett Mike.  See also the note on Also Lived – The Autobiography of a Failure.


1 APRIL 1957 TO 30 DECEMBER 1959

Joseph Witriol's Journal: Volume 1

Journalist’s cover story

1st April 1957.

April Fool’s day not the best day on which to start a journal, perhaps. But perhaps appropriate perhaps perhaps (if I were James Joyce this would be hailed as revolutionary prose style, gangs of Ph. D. researchers would be unearthing the private allusions – there ain’t none) in a baal journal (that’ll stump ’em, but I’ll make it easy for them – baal = Heb. “master,” of course, so baal journal = the bloke who keeps a journal. Journalist?) who starts his journal a few days before his forty-fifth birthday.

Not wholly dissatisfied with this start, considering: a) ( Ph.D. researcher of 2157 please note, as representative of my daily routine) up at 7.45 a.m., bed made, shaved, dressed (presentably by a fluke – new suit left hanging over chair at night – no time to put in wardrobe and change for sports jacket – pullover – whipcord slacks), breakfasted (breakfast prepared overnight), usual Monday routine at school, sponged and pressed slacks collected, slacks for sponging and pressing handed in, heeled-shoes collected, ¼ lb. toffee (all eaten this evening), 1lb apples bought, Mum phoned too (Mum querulous, but I suppose at 75,* immersed in Pesach cleaning, a widow for over 30 years, both her sons divorced (but my brother Sam happily re-married, but no children unfortunately) understandable), supper made (admittedly facilitated by boiled fish collected from Mum last Friday and – 3 pages of Brod’s Cicero translated. Now 10.30 p.m. Basta. (The “x hrs” whenever it occurs indicates the number of hours spent on translation. To-night’s figure approximate; must try to time more accurately in future.) 2¾ hrs. Cicero 1/4/57. A

* 31/12/67. Actually – according to her Austrian birth certificate – 78. [original footnote]

Friday, 5th April 1957. 9.15 p.m.

Time only for a short entry before taking Friday night routine bath (“Routine! Sacred goddess” – opening for an ode – why can’t I, don’t I write it?). Another week over, another something-or-other. 1 hr 5/4/57 Cicero A

Sunday, 7th April 1957. 10.45 p.m.

Cicero finished – Schluss mit Jubel, as Joseph Sperling, my old Polish-Jewish (was he Jewish, I don’t remember his ever saying so, perhaps he wasn’t after all) boss used to say. With Sam [his brother] and Lily [Sam’s wife] to see Look Back in Anger at Golders Green Hippodrome last night. Seems extraordinary it should have had the success it has. I’ve no objection to its sordid naturalism, but its naturalistic dialogue struck me as being jejune. Presumably many people talk wittily or finely even in natural life, and I see no reason why such talk should not be given us on the stage, rather than the – sorry to repeat the word – jejune dialogue of Look Back in Anger. This is not criticism, too tired to give a critique, anyway what do I get out of it if I do get up a critique anyway anyway? (The repetitions in Witriol have a deep inner significance – I’m trying to be sarcastic and failing. Why can’t I bloody well do anything?) Last word on Look Back in Anger – Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea gripped me more. I see in today’s Sunday Times that phrases like Je te quitte (in Beckett’s Fin de Partie) are much more significant than they seem. Christ! (no anti-Christian bias intended). Liked the bit in the Sunday Times in a review of Robertson Hare’s biography of how R.H. said to the Censor: Can I say “You may smack my bottom?” Censor: Yes, I pass bottom, I was the first to pass bottom.  2hrs. Cicero 7/4/57 A

Sunday 14th April 1957. 9 p.m.

Chez maman at 58 Moresby Road, for Pesach.  A strain on the nerves, but que faire. The little adopted girl of the Blatts (Mum’s tenants) creating – actually “singing” above, Sam had to sacrifice a precious Sunday to “knock in a few nails” (i.e. do about 4 hrs’ handyman’s work) for Mum, had to keep tight hold on self to avoid tension exploding. Must be thankful Mum is mobile. I just don’t know what will happen if she becomes chair or bed-bound. Saw Mirele Efros last Monday, 8th, done by Polish Jewish State Theatre. Homely, unpretentious drama played with elegance (settings) and Kooltoor (no spitting, etc. as in the old-style Yiddish plays at the Pavilion pre-war). Tuesday stewarded at Islington Schools’ music festival at Northern Polytechnic Theatre, taken to his home by Mat (Rosen). Mat jawed as usual – he took me home at midnight. Can’t remember what I did Wednesday. Purpose of this journal is to remedy defects of memory, but not much point if entries infrequent, but just haven’t the energy to write-up daily or at least other-daily. Think I did couple hours translating – no, couldn’t have done, as I see “Cicero finished” under 7th April 1957. I think I just spent the evening putting together figures of my “literary” earnings, ready for H.M. Inspector of Taxes. Thursday to Mum, Friday nil, Saturday letter from Commentary with their edited typescript of my translation of Brod’s Das Unheimliche. Their editing discreet enough not to offend my amour propre, but I noticed no credit given me as translator on the typescript. Wrote saying I was keeping their cheque (36 dollars – my 3/8 share, as agreed between Brod and myself – 2,500 words) until I had their confirmation they would print my name. Revised my Brod MS before sending it off to Mrs Dorothy Shirley. This, with letter to Brod, preparing letter packet for, and writing letter to Mrs Shirley, took, say, 3 hrs. Am entering “actual translation,” i.e. writing translation out in rough as “A”; all other work involved in translation, e.g. revising MS, writing to authors, typists, agents, publishers, revising TS as “B.” So –   3 hrs. Cicero B 14/4/57

A review in The Times, noch

Lear mit a shmeer: Mirele Efros

Addendum. I ought to have mentioned that Richard [Gabriel Richard Stern, a good friend who helped with Polish and Russian words in Mumme Loohshen] had arranged for him and me to see the M. of V. at the Old Vic with Frieda Shafir (?), who played the part of Mirele’s faithful old womanservant. Frieda smart, 40-ish (?), extremely intelligent – I didn’t mean to be offensively patronising – a pleasure to listen to good Yiddish. She annoyed by Robert Helpman’s mauscheln – “Vell,” etc. But as she says, perhaps she is hipperemfindlikh. I enjoyed the decor and the excellent 10/6 stalls seats, recollecting the hard wooden benches of the gallery I had sat on as a kid nearly 40 ! years ago.