Hugh de Selincourt
Secret manuscript diary covering the first year of the Second World War, written by a British novelist for his German lover, the translator and w… Read more
Published in 1939 by Unpublished.

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SECRET MANUSCRIPT DIARY WRITTEN FOR HIS GERMAN LOVER - A Diary for Eva’s Future Perusal by Hugh de Selincourt

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Secret manuscript diary covering the first year of the Second World War, written by a British novelist for his German lover, the translator and writer Eva Schumann. The work of a highly experienced writer, this diary is written with fluency and writerly skill, conveying the day to day uncertainties and privations of the Phoney War, set against a complicated personal and domestic backdrop.

Disguised binding, using the black cloth case of Iqbal Singh’s Gautama Buddha to conceal his manuscript within - de Selincourt mentions this ruse in the diary: ‘I sent Eva a message via “Ada” that... I was turning the Black Book into a Diary, of which nine pages were already filled for her future perusal’ (p10). The manuscript is written on unlined leaves (193 rectos; 3 versos) in an easily legible italic hand, c 40,000 words, covering the period September 1939-March 1940. This is a draft manuscript containing corrections and emendations throughout. The manuscript title page makes clear that it was furtively prepared for ‘Eva’ who is referenced throughout the text. One letter from Eva is laid into the text (p105), blandly written to escape the censors and sent via an intermediary in Holland, ‘Ada’. At the foot of the title the writer has stated ‘Oct 1938’ as the start date before replacing this with ‘Sep. 1939’. A few interpolated manuscript notes in pencil explain biographical details such as: ‘Bridget was H.de S.’s daughter’ etc. Several images are tipped in before the manuscript begins including a newspaper photograph of the writer’s son in law Michael Balkwill, a Home News Editor at the BBC and a single original photographic image of 2 boys (p160). Hugh de Selincourt (1878-1951) was a very successful novelist of the inter-war years, best remembered for The Cricket Match, which is repeatedly mentioned in the diary. A friend of Havelock Ellis, Hugh and his wife Janet had an open marriage but this did not prevent him from concealing this diary from his wife who lived with him at Sand Pit, a luxurious house near Storrington on the South Downs. His lover, and the manuscript diary’s dedicatee, Eva Schumann (1889-1973) was a married German translator and writer who had lived in England and become close both to De Selincourt and his wife. When the diary begins she was living in Breslau. It’s not known whether De Selincourt managed to present the diary to Eva.

WAR: Everything within the diary is overshadowed by the war - it was begun after the declaration of war against Germany in September 1939 during the phase known as the ‘Phoney War’. De Selincourt sets the scene ‘The party at Sand Pit consists of Bridget [his pregnant daughter], Tweedle [dog] and Cotton [cat] Cugga, Missie, Janet [wife] and me. Also Bimbie Bimbo… a kitten from Wales [a gift from the food writer Dorothy Hartley]. The music room has been made gas proof by boarding up the chimney and papering the windows: even the gratings in the wall outside have been stopped up’. Early on he makes clear that ‘we are not at war with the German people, but with the Hitler Regime.’ There are descriptions of German planes buzzing the south coast and the fog of war: ‘Rapley…. Told us of a secret ray that can stop the workings of a motor car or aeroplane…’ The reality of divided families deeply affected him after he talked to a young conscript: ‘he knows and we know that in a few weeks or months he may be blown to pieces in France. Everywhere these agonies are being lived through. Little happy families wrenched apart…. The Soldiers must learn to destroy, and to kill.’ The BBC war reports broadcast by a family friend, Charles Gardner, punctuate the diary, and a trip up to London to record a talk at the BBC’s Broadcasting House on 12 December 1939 prompts one of the most remarkable passages in the diary: ‘I went out into the black-out. It was like emerging into a wall of black velvet picked out with small stars… beyond words eerie… Waterloo in its dim blue lit darkness, crowded, was totally unreal,’ (p120). But in this diary the horrors of the conflict are always at one remove as the family attended a screening of the film ‘Professor Mamlock’ despite their terror that ‘it might dwell on Concentration Camp Atrocities, which [we] were anxious not to see.’

EVA SCHUMANN: Like the war, his lover, Eva Schumann is both present and absent: ‘She is a brooding presence and also an ache of loss a spiritual counterpart to the blackout’ (p.140) His use of intermediaries (‘Ada’ in Holland) to keep in contact with her ‘seems to make her distance almost more intolerable… But I was rejoiced to know that she intended to read all my books through again.’ And occasionally Eva is addressed more directly: ‘Do you understand any of this, Eva? I write still struggling. And then your presence brings a certainty to me… Your presence helps me to be wholehearted and to know.’

CRICKET: Already by 1939 De Selincourt was best known for story, The Cricket Match. While in Broadcasting House he had has to endure the jokes of his producer on the subject, but a phone call from Charles Gardner is more comforting on the eve of his departure, ‘going as War Correspondent of the B.B.C. to France leaving Umbrage… yesterday or today. He wanted to tell me how he had re-read The Cricket Match on this his farewell time and how much it had meant.’ (p19) There are regular meetings at the village Cricket Club (‘Voysey fetched me for a Committee Meeting of the Cricket Club’ and he records his gardener’s somewhat dismissive response to the story.

DOMESTICITY As he used the diary to muse upon culture and war, his friendship with Havelock Ellis (and his cache of letters) and affair with the American birth control activist Margaret Sanger, De Selincourt’s greatest comfort in these pages was domesticity: ‘I fetched in Bridget’s vests and panties and brassiere, Michael’s shirt, dresses and so on, feeling too strange and peculiar as I did for the first time in my life what was after all a fairly simple job.’ (p17) And of course there was his daughter’s pregnancy: ‘Bridget, the wonder continually thrills me of how Nature has fashioned a woman’s womb, where a man so beautifully so warmly so snugly begins to live, its folded perfection of sensitiveness to rage in ecstasy at the touch of that which [is] most manly, bringing delight of passion that is almost unbearable to the woman.’ In the final pages of the diary his son in law Michael Balkwill phones with the longed-for news: ‘“Philip [the family nickname for the pregnancy] has come…” Michael is going to the Nursing Home. And while I write - “Norway” goes on….’ And a few days later the diary reaches its emotional highpoint in De Selincourt’s profoundly emotional first meeting with his grandson - ‘I decided I must memorise his face, photograph it on my mind…’ As he writes earlier of ‘Mozart’s music, as in the dream, the deep and unspeakable things in life rise to the surface like bubbles and find perfect expression…’ (p.114)

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Added under Book
Publisher Unpublished
Date published 1939
Subject 1 Book
Product code 8160

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