Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 44: The first cut is a set-piece.

Monday 31st August, 1959, 9.0 p.m.

Rentreé des classes to-morrow. I did manage to get a day out, after all. Did the Great Missenden trek very successfully except for the last leg, where building-up has obscured Fieldfare’s tracks [Fieldfare was the pen-name for an Evening News columnist who wrote guides to walks in rural areas of the Home Counties].

More or less resigned to the 6¼% now; my revised calculation shows that I only lose about 4/- a week, I think, on the 5½% offered by the Temperance. I ought to hope that rates of interest on advances, including advances by local authorities, come down generally; but my human nature being what it is — and I doubt if it’s much worse than the average run of human nature —  I find myself hoping that Building Society rates will go up (the rate of the Friern Barnet U.D.C’s advance to me will remain constant).

Also, meno male, I succeeded in getting off a short story for the J.C. [Jewish Chronicle]. I am not at all sure, this time, whether it will even get printed (I would have been surprised had my “What is a Jew” effort not been printed, at least). Lacking imagination, I was forced to write up a chapter of biography —  the story is called “Service at a Circumcision.” It is a more or less straight account of the Briss — for fictional purposes I made it take place during term, at 1 p.m. (The historical event took place at 2 p.m. while I was on holiday). I have no plot-making ability, so I knew that whatever I wrote would have to be a set-piece description. Even so, I failed to rise to the heights of my theme, which was the awful responsibility of bringing a child into the world. I know I lost no sleep about the fate that might befall you, P.I., [Philip Israel] and that I am doing nothing to try to make the world safe for you to live in. That doesn’t mean, of course, my boy, that I don’t pray ( I can’t pray to anyone, unfortunately, but there’s nothing can be done about that now, but I do “pray that”) that you will have a long, happy life. I confess that my motives in begetting you were not entirely pure and lofty, but very few people, I venture to assert, do have children from wholly pure and lofty motives. Please believe me, though, – I don’t know what to say. I love you? But that raises again the question of whether I am capable of love. I don’t know. Admittedly you give me great happiness, now, when you’re seven months old, and I think you’re happy, too, for by far the greater part of the time. I suppose I want to have a built-in guarantee of your happiness. Forgive this pitiful meandering, Philip. Und das hat dichten wollen!  Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for you to show me up. But then, again, I suppose I mustn’t set too great hopes on you. Mustn’t drive you into making up for my failures. Be healthy, be reasonably successful – I think you have a reasonably happy disposition anyway. I think your old man has, too, really; but, without wishing to make too much of a song and dance, he rather had it taken out of him in his early, formative years – up to 20 – and I hope this won’t happen to you.

Saw Clark of Thames & Hudson today. Handed him completed typescript of God’s Wilderness, though I haven’t had B.R.‘s [Professor Beno Rothenberg] corrections back yet. He sounded me out about translating two other books by B.R. I suppose I ought to have said I would want 4 guineas a thou.; instead I just said I would need till September 30th 1960 to do a book equivalent to God’s Wilderness. But perhaps, in spite of my seemingly monopolistic position, I wouldn’t be able to get more. I think T. & H.’s reaction to an attempt by me to exploit my position might have been to say: thus far and no farther. B.R. told me they gave him £100 advance fee to retain the option over each book he wrote; but even so, they might have decided not to send good money after bad, or for 4 guineas a thou, say, they might have been able to get David Patterson [scholar of Modern Hebrew literature]. Or, if I were in their place, I would put an advt. in the J.C. – unusual, but then it’s unusual not to have translators on tap. And I’m pretty sure an advt. in the J.C. would produce some reasonable translators, even if Clark had to sub their text more heavily than he does mine.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 40: Inacceptable specimen

Sunday, 12th April 1959, 9.08 p.m.

A rather bad day, didn’t get up till midday after staying up till 2 a.m. As a result, headachey, irritable, taking it out of E., [Edith] who was on the go continuously from 7.30 a.m. On Sundays now the routine is for the family to come round for tea: the two boobbes [i.e. my grandmothers Yetta and Esther], Sam & Lily [his brother and sister-in-law], Alf [mum’s brother]. It means a certain amount of work, though I suppose it’s churlish of me even to mention it – after all we have been guests often enough of the “family.” But on top of coping with Philip…Though here again I am being unfair: first of all, I have very little coping to do myself; Edith does it all, except for an occasional turn I take with the bottle, and secondly Philip, touch wood, gives very little trouble, really. He can be left alone for 4 to 5 hour stretches by day and by night. At the moment complete silence while I write this in the front-room. E is ironing, P is sleeping, the next door’s are quiet so is Mrs F.D. E. has just said: “Bet you’re writing ‘Real Look-back-in-anger’ -set-up.” Actually, it’s a picture of domestic bliss – oh,sod it, I’m to blame, I know.

I have had a rather trying time with T & H. They sent me a contract which left me with the feeling I might deliver a 50,000 word TS & find them sending it back to me and stalling the payment. I’ve had the contract re-worded, and whatever happens I shall get £50, but – I’ve made a number of errors, I think. First – I should have asked a fee of 4 guineas a thou, not 3. I think they would have paid 4, or at least 3½. Secondly, I said that if I delivered 20M words by May 22nd, and they didn’t wish me to go ahead with the translation, they should pay me £50 in full settlement – I should have said 25M, & asked for £75 in full settlement (of the work I would have completed). However, I’m fairly sure I shall be asked to complete the commission and be given a pro-rata payment for the text I shall have delivered by 22nd May, which will amount to 30M words.

I am faced by a moral dilemma – “with” surely – why am I so shaky on prepositions? Why, at my time of life, is my English not impeccable? I wrote to Clark saying his contract was inacceptable and talking about a specimen translation; he wrote back saying he noted I found the contract unacceptable and agreeing to my suggestion about a sample translation. I looked it up in Fowler — he recommends unacceptable. I had already sent T&H a specimen translation, what I should have referred to was a sample of the actual work I was delivering.

Although my contract says I am to translate Rothenberg’s book & to be paid 3 guineas a thou English words, Clark told me orally that if the translator’s fee came to £250 it would make the book commercially impracticable. Also, I have to submit the complete TS by Sept.30th. I have done 30M words & now could do another 20 – 30M comfortably by July 31 – Aug 31. But my feeling is that these subsequent 20 – 30M words cover ground already covered. Should I advise Clark to limit the English version to what I have already done? Or should I go ahead regardless, and do another 20-30M words & get another 60-90 guineas? I feel rather inclined to the latter. If I limit my translation to 60M words (actually, without any cuts at all, it would go to 90M words, but I couldn’t get it done in time), Clark will have no cause for complaint, and if he decides to cut the extra 20-30M words, he will have saved himself the cost of the extra paper and composition.

School to-morrow. E. says she’ll be sorry because in a way, in many ways, I’ve been a help; in a way, glad because I shall be out of the way.


Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 26: No Asch in Yehoshua

Tuesday, October 1st 1958, 8.25 p.m.

The first day of Edith’s “retirement”. I called for her at her office yesterday. her colleagues had presented her with layette-stuff; very moving, really. We celebrated in a mild way by dining at the Strand palace. E. naturally revels in her new-found leisure, though it remains to be seen whether she will revel quite so much as time advances and she finds herself “confined to barracks” and having to work to a tight budget. The change has been a relief to me, too. To-night I was able to listen to a talk on the wireless, make this entry and I stand a fair chance of being able to listen-in for an additional hour and have a bath. Under the old dispensation I would have had to go to the launderette (which to-day Edith was able to do in the morning), do all the washing-up (to enable Edith to get on with the ironing, which she will now be able to do in daylight hours) and so on.

I started taking my French class at the Clapton & Kingsland Evening Institute the Monday before last. Thirty-one students! Which means the class should last throughout the session. Only 30/- a night; probably leaves me with about 17/6 after deducting tax, fares, teas; but I have nothing more lucrative with which to occupy the time.

I “preached” at the kids’ services on the Yomim Nowroim [“The High Holidays”] at Highgate Shool. Difficult to know what to say to them. They were an awkward age group; the oldest – one or two only – about 13; too young to give ’em much meat. Must try to work up a collection of “stories.” The young chap who “takes” the service ( for a fee, I have reason to believe – why not, I take a fee for my Sunday-school teaching) was rather weak, unfortunately; couldn’t sing, or even read Hebrew at all decently (he read, or tried to read, Israeli, which would have been all right if he could have done it).

My translation from the German of a – rather drippy – article by Max Brod and also, from the Hebrew, of a quite intelligent article by Yehoshua Bar-Yossef appeared in the last issue of The Jewish Quarterly I was given full translator’s credits. Unfortunately my translation of the latter article, which was largely a complaint about the poor quality of Hebrew-English translating, was rushed (I did it all – about 1500 words English text – on the Friday preceding the Saturday on which we left for Crikvenica) and could have been better. I had no time even to type my rough draft; anyway the printed text has elementary grammatical errors like: “translators of sufficient high standards” which, whether originally my fault or not, will not redound to my credit. I’d never heard of Yehoshua Bar-Yossef before. Apparently he’s a well-known Israeli author, & writes in Yiddish, too. He complains Hebrew has no translator, as Sholem Asch had, of the calibre of Maurice Samuel. The answer’s obvious enough. Let’s have a Hebrew Asch, and I won’t let him down!

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 21: Supercalorieflagellisticexhibitiondocious

Wednesday, 4th June 1958 – 9.15am

3rd day of diet – at least one has had sufficient will-power to persevere thus far. I shall probably be able to get down to 13 stone, the problem would be to avoid slipping back. I think the answer might be to get a bathroom weighing machine – if and when funds permit – get down to x lb; and immediately my weight rises beyond x+7lb. ( x+5lb.?) go on a 2-day banana-and-milk diet. “Moderation” all the time I find myself unable to observe.

John Calder wrote asking me for specimens of my translating as they had a book on Janáček for translation. The book, I gather, is not much longer than Brod’s, but more technical. I suppose I ought to try to do it if they give me the job, but I face the prospect with no great enthusiasm. It would mean practically no time for myself and Edith – in that order, because I wouldn’t complain if I didn’t devote enough time to myself, not that Edith really “complains” either, but, well darling – if you read this, please let me explain – and there is the galling feeling that all the work I have done on Brod’s book would be completely wasted. Perhaps not completely though. I sent Calder the MS of the Brod study; perhaps that might be the decisive factor in their decision to entrust the work to me (awful English, I know, but not pleonastic; how should it be re-written?).

All these irons in the fire, nothing seems to come from them. Janson-Smith wrote, in answer to my request for news of my translation of Brod’s Cicero, that Elek had “reluctantly returned” the TS after 6 months because they were unable to find an American publisher to “share the cost of translation.” I’d asked for 2 gns. a thou, Lionel Kochan had previously written to me that they seldom paid more than 1½ gns a thou – I’m prepared to “let down my trousers”, as they say in Yiddish and let ’em have the 100M TS for 75 gns. (I don’t know whether die Hosen nachlassen exists in this sense in German – anyway I suppose it would be die Hosen herablassen. The idiom is coarse, but is the one that instinctively comes to mind. I suppose the idea is: you try to avoid taking down your trousers – I was going to write until you get to the toilet, but if you have to (have to accept the best bargain you can make), then you have no alternative but to “let down your trousers” – but it strikes me the idea is simply: you try to preserve your dignity and keep your trousers up by asking the price you want (2 gn), but if you’re forced to reveal the essential weakness of your position, then you must do so (stand revealed in all the shame of let-down trousers) in order to get the cash. I wonder if I could take this up with Bithell, from whom I have a letter to answer.

This rather unscholarly (flagellate yourself, boy, you can take it) philological excursus leaves me with time for only the bare record: lunched with Paul Hulton & Edith, visited Hazor exhibition at B.M. – Madeleine Blumstein was doing the conducted tour. With characteristic gaucherie I beat a hasty retreat when I saw her as for the life of me I couldn’t remember her name. Edith, strangely (?) enough remembered it – she thought I had had a sudden urge to perform a natural function – and told it to me when she came out to see what had become of me. I must say I thought it was quite a feat to talk for fifty minutes without notes, even allowing for the fact that the exhibits formed points d’appui. Edith surprised at the “deference” I showed Madeleine – silly girl.

Later heard Rabbi Maybaum talking on Franz Rosenzweig. I went chiefly, almost wholly, with the idea of putting another iron in the fire. I had gathered that a group of people were trying to float a translation of R’s works. Maybaum good: a yekke who knows his philosophy, and only a slight accent. Moreover, he remembered my “splendid” humorous articles. His thesis: agnosticism or humanism > Hitlerism could have plenty of holes picked in it (then why didn’t I pick them; politely, elegantly, devastatingly, instead of babbling inconsequentially in the discussion?) but he produced some good phrases from Kant: “the starry heavens above me and the (? ? moral law, I think,) within me” – I’d heard that one before – and ” God is a thought within me.”

Gunner Witriol and the Colonel’s Braces

On leave in Tel Aviv in December 1941, my father, Joseph Witriol, bought a humorous Hebrew periodical called Tesha Ba’ Erev (Hebrew: תשע בערב, Nine in the Evening). He read a piece in it that he thought would be worth translating into English for publication in Parade, the Army’s Middle East weekly magazine.  He assumed (naively perhaps) that this was an original Hebrew story and his (i.e Joseph Witriol’s) translation was indeed published  in Parade in due course . But what Joseph Witriol had innocently translated from Hebrew into English was actually an unacknowledged translation of an original English story, published in Lilliput in August 1941.

He related this tale in Also Lived, his autobiography (handwritten, pages 143-145) and in more detail in a short story competition organised by the Anglo-Palestinian Club in about 1951, Maurice Edelman being the judge. My dad had kept the original Lilliput article, so it only remains for me to track down the copy of Parade featuring Joseph Witriol’s translation in order to compare the two versions.

January 1 2015 update: Following my first visit to the British Library with a Reader Pass, I ordered and scanned my father’s original article from Parade, the Middle East Weekly for MEF in WWII.