Sunday, 24 October 2010

W. N. P. Barbellion The Journal of a Disappointed Man

"Country (?) of Alton (?) et tous ces petits animaux - with great love Dec 2 1949 - inscription in Malcolm Lowry's Penguin edition.

W(ilhelm) N(ero) P(ilate) Barbellion was the nom-de-plume of Bruce Frederick Cummings (7 September 1889 - 22 October 1919), an English diarist who was responsible for The Journal of a Disappointed Man. Ronald Blythe called it "among the most moving diaries ever created"

Cummings was born in Barnstaple in 1889. He was a naturalist at heart and ended up working at the British Museum's department of Natural History in London. Having begun his journal at the age of thirteen, Cummings continued to record his observations there - gradually moving from dry scientific notes to a more personal, literary style. His literary ambitions changed course in 1914 upon reading the journal of the Russian painter Marie Bashkirtseff, in whom he recognised a kindred spirit (see the 14 October 1914 entry of his Journal); in his 15 January 1915 entry he indicated that he intended to prepare his Journal for publication: "Then all in God’s good time I intend getting a volume ready for publication."

Likened to James Joyce and Franz Kafka, W.N.P. Barbellion’s Journal is one of the great diaries and caused a sensation when first published in 1919. Begun when its author was 13 years old, the Journal at first catalogues his misadventures in the Devon countryside - collecting birds’ eggs, spying girls through binoculars - but evolves into a deeply moving account of his struggle with multiple sclerosis.

Yet, for all its excruciating honesty, W.N.P. Barbellion has an extraordinary lust for life. As Zeppelins loomed above South Kensington, the humour and beauty he found in the world around him – in music, friendship, nature and love – deepens not just the tragedy of his own life, but the millions of lives lost during the First World War.
Buy a copy from The Dovecote Press

You can read the diaries on Internet Archive or as a weblog

Also check out The Quotable Barbellion

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