UMILTA WEBSITE || OLIVELEAF WEBSITE || JULIAN OF NORWICH, TEXT AND CONTEXTS || BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN, REVELATIONES, WEBSITE || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || FLORIN WEBSITE 1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY

MOSAIC, PALIMPSEST: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY


I am 77. They keep saying I should write my autobiography. And I reply, 'I already have. But it's in bits and pieces. A mosaic, a palimpsest. It's not linear. And besides I keep getting into others' books!' In Italian. In English. Fragmented. This book is redundant.

In the mornings, struggling into consciousness and memories, what hits is the injustice of my husband. In Blackstone's Law women, marrying, cease to exist, become their husband's property, become his name, become him. I am Mrs Halbert Harold Holloway II. And there was a second Mrs Halbert Harold Holloway II. And then, at a further layer of consciousness, I realize I have created pearls around irritation. I no longer share his bed nor am I now kicked out of it, which I had bought, but now have my own narrow one which was kindly given to me. I remember a photograph by a woman photographer called 'The Unmade Bed'. Mine I make first thing in the morning, before Mass, its counterpane from my convent with its blue cross on white, to be on my coffin. Amor meus crucifixus est.

  

MY ENGLAND
 
 



This house was known as 'Darbyes' for it had belonged to a Darby. It is later than the Doomsday Book, but older than Tudor, likely built following the Black Death when Westfield's village moved away from its churchyard traumatically filled with plague dead. The great yew tree beside the house, which I see is still standing, marked the Pilgrim Road to Canterbury. My mother had bought the house before she married my father. She was in her forties, so I was born, 14 April 1937, in Devonshire Place, part of Wimpole Street, in Marylebone, so she could be close to medical care. Then I was brought down from London to this beautiful house in Westfield, East Sussex, as soon as she and I could travel.


It was here that I was baptized, in Westfield's Church of St John the Baptist, in a fourteenth-century font that had first held Catholic babies, then Protestant ones. The church is part Saxon, part Norman. I loved going to church here, walking through the fields in flowered print dress and bonnet made by the village dressmaker, seeing the real flowers in the hedgerows, among them wild roses, hearing the Lesson read from the great brass Eagle, listening to the choir from the Methodists sing Carols at Christmas in the Anglican church. Later, I would return to this church and find its vicar, Revd. Evan France, to be a splendid scholar of Hebrew, Greek and Arabic, and take one beginning Hebrew lesson from him.

We moved from Devonshire Place to Strand-on-the-Green and my earliest memory is of being in my cot there and the Thames rippling reflections across the ceiling. Then that lovely house was bombed. Our next London place was at Rivermead Court in Putney, by Hurlingham Club where I was allowed to play in a child-sized house, and where again we were beside the Thames, often spending time in the Putney Underground, our bomb shelter. But mostly we grew up in the Sussex countryside.

When the war came my parents had had to do war work, my father being Press Secretary to exiled President Benes of Czechoslovakia in London. I can remember Christmas parties at the Czech Embassy and a Czech diplomat carrying me on his shoulders to see a table laden with wobbling jellies, cakes and so much else, more food than one ever saw together in one place during the War. My mother first worked for the BBC listening to enemy broadcasts in Evesham, for she was fluent in French, German and Dutch from her convent schooling in Holland, as well as English. Once, she heard that our village was to be bombed. She was not allowed to say anything about what she knew on pain of death. So, instead she came down to us in Sussex and we spent the night in the cellar together as great land mines were dropped overhead, cracks appearing in the walls of our house from their heavy explosions. They didn't shoot her, as legally they should have, but she lost that job and worked instead for the Red Cross, editing a newsletter with pictures of the prisoners-of-war in German camps to be sent to their families in England. I can remember her crawling on hands and knees positioning the photographs and text on the floor. We children were next taken to be with a carpenter and his wife who lived in a house in Westfield Lane called Rosemount and who were from Scotland. Mr Beattie taught me carpentry so I could make toys for my baby brother. Mr and Mrs Beattie, their Christian names, Alexander and Mary, and my mother, Sybil Margaret Rutherford Bolton, herself half Scots, are buried in Westfield's churchyard, my father and brother in Rome's Protestant Cemetery.

It was while we were at the Beatties that I was first sent to convent school up on the Ridge, Holmhurst Saint Mary, of the Community of the Holy Family. Schooling was difficult because, when I was six and my brother four, a flying bomb had exploded over our house and we were deaf. I describe what that growing up was like in the essay Deaf/Death.

So, after the War, I came to live with my younger brother amidst my father's books, shelved in my mother's house, Darbyes, and I remember my father reading Plato in Greek, teaching me to read from an eighteenth-century edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, with its s's like f's, and telling me about the alphabetised signatures in the gatherings and bindings of books. He also held me up to look through the round glass window into the Reading Room of the British Library, and through the then war-emptied halls of the British Museum, only the Mildenhall Treasure being on display. Once, he showed me a hand-written diary written by a British officer on the island of St Helena, describing Napoleon's presence there and his fatal illness. My father had worked as a child in the Bodleian Library, fetching books for Yeats and Bridges and Underhill, during the First World War. Then, after the Yorkshire Post, had gone to India in the thirties, working as an editor for the Times of India. Where he was Gandhi's friend and biographer.


CONVENT SCHOOL

Or I lived alternatively at school, where my father was well known, famous even, but with never enough money to pay my school fees.
See Mosaic:

She is six years old when her long loose hair is tightly plaited behind her face and she is first taken to the school. Her mother is not with her. She is in London. War is raging. The young child and her brother are boarded with a childless Scots couple who love them dearly. They live in a Sussex bungalow filled with fumed oak furniture and which has a sand pit, an orchard, a tool shed and a green house with a grape vine, thick and gnarled with age, thrusting up against the paned glass roof.

The frail Scotswoman rings the convent doorbell. The girl and her brother lean close against her skirts. The door is opened. It is the first time the girl has seen a nun. The garbed figure whose face is framed by a stiff, snowy coif, smiles sweetly and bids them enter. They walk along a sunny white corridor to the parlour. There they are greeted by the headmistress and shown into chairs. Talk. Talk in waves and rhythms, incomprehensible. The children fidget. They feel guilty, knowing they should not do so. The nun talks forever to their foster mother. When they are ready to leave she swoops down and kisses the girl's forehead. The sharp coif feels uncomfortable but the kiss is gentle. There are butterflies in the walled garden beyond the window. A bell chimes slowly. The interview is broken off and they leave, the girl and her brother holding hands as they go down the stairs from the grey stone doorway with the Latin inscription on the lintel.

PAX INTRANTIBUS

SALUS EXEUNTIBUS

BENEDICTIO HABITANTIBUS

Words in a strange language, left an unsolved mystery until, some years later, the Latin mistress introduces her first year pupils to the ancient tongue by helping them translate the many classic mottoes to be found throughout the school grounds on mossy stone lintels and baroque Italian archways. Then and only then did she decipher:

     

 

Peace to those who enter here

Salutation to those who leave us

And blessings upon those who abide here

 

Elsewhere in the garden of Paradise it said,

 

SALVE ATQUE VALE


 

And Mosaic2:

She longs again for the ordered rule of her convent school. Four days ago she had said her final farewell, embraced the spare, habit-draped figures and kissed the old apple cheeks under the harsh starched wimples. Not a word of reproach did they give her, only kindliness. They led her through the classrooms of memory, walked with her in the gardens where the birds sang perched on the boughs of the old trees. Brother Juniper, an affectionate, aged Airedale, came bounding across towards her, leaving a nun who was hoeing in the formal rose garden. Julia buried her face in his rough coat, leaving there a few hot tears. On they went under the great cedars and yews, up the baroque stone stairway of the Italian terrace with its obelisks and urns, through the vast rooms, a paradise of green and blue birds on Jacobean boughs, the Della Robbia terracotta, the Fra Angelicos. And at the door a benediction, the last glimpse of the severely dressed figures smiling, the heavy knotted ropes around their waists, emblematic of their sacred and threefold vow. Above the door was carved PAX INTRANTIBUS/ SALUS EXEUNTIBUS/ BENEDICTIO HABITANTIBUS. I no longer live there, she had thought, and I shall never again enter these doors, so not for me is the peace and the blessing. Somewhere else in the garden is chiselled SALVE ATQUE VALE, a salutation for the condemned. The nuns finally closed the great door. Then before her were the heavy green gates let into the wall. When she closed them behind her the latch had fallen into place with a clang.

And Holmhurst.

AMERICAN EXILE

At 16 I was sent away to America, to live with an aunt in California and to go to college there. There, when I was 17, I met my husband, published his short story, The Woman the Sun, the Flowers and the Courage, in our literary journal, also my own essay 'Death Valley Incident, I would use my pitiful earnings to buy his medicines when he had pneumonia; then, at 20, married him. He was 28.

I was still under legal age, still required to obey my elders and my betters, for instance, we could not drink champagne at my wedding, but I was afraid of the future with him. Knew that all was not well. Tried to get away from my aunt to my mother, sent her the money to get my ticket, but she drank it. I was trapped. Then the nightmare began. My husband could not love women, only their money, did not want children, only cars. I had to pay every penny our children cost us to be born, breastfeed them, make their clothes, work, in the end working four jobs at once. I loved them. He did not allow me to go back to England, but went himself and told my grandmother and everyone else in my family that he would do everything for us and they were not to leave us one penny. He ordered me to write a best-selling novel to buy us a house. I tried, finishing it, Mosaic, after I had bought us a house in Belmont, with my dowry. He had, during our engagement, killingly disparaged its beginning. Then destroyed what I had written so I had to rewrite it all from memory with my screaming youngest baby at my side, in order to forgive my husband. He killed our three cats. His psychologist, Dr David Freeman, called me into his office, after three sons and nine years of marriage, saying it was too dangerous, that I must consider myself a widow, that we must leave him or he would kill us. Or a colleague. Or many people. Dr Freeman waved in front of me the results of the Personality Inventory Test. I fumed with rage. How dared they judge my husband on the basis of a piece of paper run through a computer?

But then it did happen. Except we all kept quiet as the dead, while he rampaged through the house, the garden, axing, with a great wet-oak axe, everything in sight, everything that symbolized us. Then trembling, telephoned his mother. Who praised him. We fled. Then returned. Then he beat me in front of our screaming children, my back is still injured and the pain bouts excruciating. The Judge insisted on a divorce to save our lives. A divorce to which I never consented. But the Judge overruled me, insisting that it was the only legal way to obtain the life-saving restraining order. I saw it was, indeed, the only way to save my husband's soul. But always wrote 'separated', never 'divorced', on official documents. The Judge insisted on half my husband's income coming to the children. And the house I had bought us to be legally ours. But we never did receive child support. My husband talked my aunt into quit-claiming our house to him when we were starving in Rome and could not make its payments. It had been bought with my dowry from my Great Aunt in Dublin. My husband had not put down one penny of his own. First virgin, then, during our marriage, I was always faithful to him. A dowry, where a marriage fails, is returned to a chaste wife so she can raise their children. He used my dowry for his Ph.D., first at San Francisco State, then at Wayne State, Universities, and also, he told me, for going out with prostitutes; marrying, he later told me, his second wife in Synagogue, writing in a letter at the time about spending his honeymoon in hospital from contracting her sexually transmitted disease. No one helped me with my Ph.D., nor with our three sons, apart from my aunt paying Quaker boarding school tuition. Nor did he leave them our money (which he told them he had inherited instead from his unmarried uncle's gold mine, another scam), when he died, giving it instead to his second wife and finally at her death, it being shared between her sons and his. My aunt's money, to have been left to us for our children's university education, was likewise taken by my uncle for his adopted children in Ireland on the basis of my psychopath husband's earlier statements that fully convinced my grandmother that he was fully supporting us and that no one else was to leave us anything.

And so it was that I and my three children, our sons, came to Berkeley, and where I studied first for the M.A., then, at Berkeley's invitation, for the Ph.D. I had only wanted the M.A., to prove to my husband that it was possible for him to study in graduate school, get his Ph.D., and at the same time have children, for he had always raged at me, saying having children had ruined his life, had ruined his chances of further study. For me it had been the choice of working in nursery schools and department stores many hours away from my children in poverty or choosing graduate school in poverty but with more time with my sons.

At Berkeley the most vivid memories are of us being hungry and scared, but also of silk-screening beautiful posters against the war in Vietnam, of sitting on the floor in Professor Thomas Parkinson's house while assembling pirate copies of Mark Twain's War Prayer, of Tom Parkinson's speech at People's Park saying 'No more killing', of Star Trek episodes watched with graduate students in nuclear physics, I the only woman, the only non-scientist, where we would de-code their anti-Vietnam allegories, 'No Kill I', of my children being tear-gassed and my youngest son's terrible ear infection because of this, two miles away from the University of California in our Married Students' Housing in Albany.

Then full time teaching for the Franciscans in Illinois, while writing the dissertation, and where I was so ashamed at being a divorced woman; my brother telling me of course I could never attend the Queen's birthday parties; then at Princeton University for seven years, then at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

ENGLISH CONVENT



HERMIT IN ITALY

 

 
This was when I became Julian, first in one unheated room near a church for four years then in a cemetery, though not yet dead, for fourteen. In this time editing Julian, entering her pages, in prayer, as I sought, but also with trauma, doubt, to be overcome with God's help. And Julian's.

In Progress



Watching the Glyndebourne Benjamin Britten opera of Henry James' Turn of the Screw, layered in my memory with the Metropolitan Opera's production of Benjamin Britten's opera of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, I found myself in the childhood world, in the Novice world, both in the Convent, learning of the ways in which children are abused and terrorized with death threats if they tell. So that is the secret of Henry James' ghost tale, that Miles' perpetrator is Quint. The ceremony of innocence shattered. The pearl of the fine writing, the fine composing, telling/not telling, censoring the tale, - and its horror.


See also Family and Convent School Albums:

irena-alice     
Mother Agnes

Mosaic; Gandhi; BBC http://catskill.gcal.ac.uk/repository/repos-fs/gcu/a0/a1/gcu-a0a1k7-b.mov recording of many voices 'Talking of Gandhiji', my father's voice being one of these; Death Valley Incident; Family Album; Halbert Harold Holloway, The Woman, the Sun, the Flowers and the Courage; Sir James Roberts; My England (in progress); Morris Dances of England; Nigel Foxell, Amberley Village; The Joy of the Bicycle; Richard Ben Holloway, Together Let Us Sweetly Live; Jonathan Luke Holloway, Home Birth Can Be An Option; Holmhurst St Mary; Mother Agnes Mason, C.H.F.; Rose Lloyds, Rose's Story; Deaf/Death; David and Solomon; How to Make Cradles and Libraries; Hazel Oddy, Martha's Supplication; Tangled Tale; Oliveleaf Chronicle; Vita





UMILTA WEBSITE || OLIVELEAF WEBSITE || JULIAN OF NORWICH, TEXT AND CONTEXTS || BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN, REVELATIONES, WEBSITE || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || FLORIN WEBSITE 1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY