The Black Notebook
I see I am falling into the self-punishing, cynical tone again. Yet how comforting this tone is, like a sort of poultice on a wound. Because it is certainly a wound — I, like thousands of others can’t remember our time in or near ‘The Party’ without a terrible dry anguish. Yet that pain is like the dangerous pain of nostalgia, its first cousin and just as deadly. I’ll go on with this when I can write it straight, not in that tone.
I remember Maryrose put an end to the argument by remarking: ‘But you aren’t saying anything that you didn’t say earlier.’ That stopped it. She often did this, she had a capacity for silencing us all. Yet the men patronized her, they thought nothing of her capacity for political thought. It was because she could not, or would not, use the jargon. But she grasped points quickly and put them in simple terms. There is a type of mind, like Willi’s, that can only accept ideas if they are put in the language he would use himself.
Now she said: ‘There must be something wrong somewhere, because if not, we wouldn’t have to spend hours and hours discussing it like this.’ She spoke with confidence; but now that the men did not reply — and she felt their tolerance of her, she grew uneasy and appealed: ‘I’m not saying it right, but you see what I mean …’ Because she had appealed, the men were restored, and Willi said benevolently: ‘Of course you say it right. Anyone as beautiful as you can’t say it wrong.’
She was sitting near me, and she turned her head in the dark of the car to smile at me. We exchanged that smile, very often. ‘I’m going to sleep,’ she said, and put her head on my shoulder and went off to sleep like a little cat.
We were all very tired. I don’t think people who have never been part of a left movement understand how hard the dedicated socialists do work, day in and day out; year in, year out. After all, we all earned our livings, and the men in the camps, at least the men actually being trained, were under continuous nervous stress. Every evening we were organizing meetings, discussion groups, debates. We all read a great deal. More often than not we were up till four or five in the morning. In addition to this we were all curers of souls. Ted took to extremes an attitude we all had, that anyone in any sort of trouble was our responsibility. And part of our duty was to explain to anyone with any kind of a spark that life was a glorious adventure. Looking back I should imagine that of all the appallingly hard work we did, the only part of it that achieved anything was this personal proselytizing. I doubt whether any of the people we took on will forget the sheer exuberance of our conviction in the gloriousness of life, for if we didn’t have it by temperament we had it on principle. All kinds of incidents come back — for instance Willi, who after some days of wondering what to do for a woman who was unhappy because her husband was unfaithful to her, decided to offer her The Golden Bough because, ‘when one is personally unhappy the correct course is to take a historical view of the matter.’ She returned the book, apologetically, saying it was above her head and that in any case she had decided to leave her husband because she had decided he was more trouble than he was worth. But she wrote to Willi regularly when she left our town, polite, touching, grateful letters. I remember the terrible words: ‘I’ll never forget that you were kind enough to take an interest in me.’ (They didn’t strike me at the time, though.)