mad in pursuit: letters from james & orpha, summer of '26

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The Sunday letter was folded into the Monday letter and had a note scribbled on the back: “This is part of Sunday’s incoherent rambling. I’d not send it except that you asked that I send as much of what I write as I can. It is inadequate, horribly put -- futile, I suppose to you." Her rambling sounds a bit like Marlon Brando's improvisations in "Apocalypse Now" -- taking all her bits of knowledge and trying to expound on the universe. She reflects the struggle of youth in the 1920s -- what it means to be "modern." Do you have to be atheistic, scientific and unsentimental or is it still okay to find comfort in God? Then, within her family, she reverts to the willful unhappy child of 21, who can't wait for independence.

Postmarked Tuesday 7.27.26, from Orpha in Glens Falls NY

Sunday, July 25

There is the calm tonight that the words you quoted gave me – and a deeper calm, a more unspeakable Beauty, a more deeply spiritual Soul than the moaning of many voices could mean.

It must be great – to give Peace to my starving soul, to my wanting body, to my almost unbearable need for you.

Like evening it is – cool evening – like the words –

There is something in it akin to Earth, isn’t there? Warmth, a heating, mother feeling that is humble yet magnificent. It is the mother of Earth born creatures, the warm beginning of the dry dust to which we must return in part. Yet we scorn the Earth-love. The smooth creeping crawling things that have no eyes – we are their brothers, are we not? And still we are to ourselves self-sufficient, some of us. It is only because there are those who have gone before and those who care now who make it possible for us to ignore the seed of life, the vital life heart – only because of a great slowly beating, more strongly beating, beautifully timed, perfectly tuned soul that God gave to those of us whom he exalted above the lowly creatures, our crawling kin. Our forefathers cared for the Soul, it was to them all of Life. They nurtured it, suckled it. They have left it us – a perfectly formed, incomparable, undisparagible spiritual absolute.

To us who are very modern, it is passι, weakened in truth and rationalism by what? A baby thing: science – a fluctuating thing, a soulless thing. The heritage they left us, having nourished it thru centuries of opposition – that tiny growing flame of spiritualism, the kinship with the Giver of the Soul, the likeness of us to our Maker, the inseparableness from Him and from Man – the human relationship growing from the divine relationship, thence the duty to God and man – to something outside ourselves – a divine passion and a human passion – these have been left us to be scorned by most of us, nurtured still by a few who still admit of a Greater than Themselves. We wiser disclaim Him, boasting that we are self sufficient. Decay we would find in our hearts if we searched there truthfully – decay of the dead thing, left to die from lack of personal sensitiveness to its being – the existence of that greater than ourselves.

What, oh what if there were no feeling of a greater Being? What when a tiny new soul comes into the world? What a starving, a famine – if there were no one to whom to turn for blessing its new existence – no one to thank for its deliverance, no one to succor it in its struggle for continued existence, no one to whom to commend it when at last its flight is done – and its wrinkled eyelids must be closed in eternal sleep – what if no assurance that, if the eyelids close while yet they are tiny fluttering rose petal eyelids, they will open again in a life fuller – a life of reunion with loved ones – a full recompense for the life denied on earth when the starving mother heart might clasp the little soul again within its warmth for always.

It is not modern, I know it is not – That perhaps it is not rational. That it is absurd and old fashioned to show affection, to have that capacity to starve for affection and human contact, to wish however inconsistently with dogma & doctrine to help others and to show them appreciation, gratitude, solicitude–

A mother; her child, on whom she lavishes all her affection, whom she deeply loves, for whom she sacrifices, denies herself – this for 14 years, then the child taken from her. An irrevocable loss to her – made a fiendish torture to her because she has not the memory of the child once having looked into her face and having said “Mother, I love you.”

Old fashioned? Yes – but it is well, once in a while, to be old-fashioned enough to be human.

James, James, we shall know and understand all this – we shall live all of life. There are other things – things of another sort, too, to talk

Monday evening

Thank you for your letter this morning.

Last night I wrote to you far into the night – nothing conclusive, nothing very coherent – just what we would discuss together if we were sitting close to one another before our fireplace. I had read during the day. I had heard a minister and his message – I was at peace – I felt God, I wanted you to know how I felt Him, how He helped me hear the wanting of you – It seemed that if He were such a real thing, a real part of my life, He must be of yours, if we are to be one – as we are, almost, now.

Tonight, I am horrible, ugly – there is Hate in my heart – Hate for myself, for the incongruity, the disparity of life – for which nothing is to blame. There has been turmoil here tonight again – the two extremes that are my family and its characteristics, at their worst, and the things that I have acquired from you, or that you have awakened in me at their steeliest, most unrelenting inflexibility – at war again. So again there is no Peace.

Last night I could not sleep – for my thoughts were too awake, and you seemed too near – tonight, if sobbing has not exhausted me, I shall lie awake again – and need you, need you – and suffer, for I shall not have the strength to subdue it tonight. This is another night of Hell – which shall not be repeated ever when I am with you – for I am too much yours, and of a part of you now to endure separation for long.

You will hate me perhaps in this temperament – as you did when I seemed to seek self-pity long ago in the midst of a storm of invectives against Aunt Carrie and her oddities. You will say I am strong only when there is nothing to resist – but my nature must have a chance to grow in its new form – now it is being nipped in the bud – I feel it slowly drying at times – and I hasten to give it encouragement and water – and prop it to a fresh start –

Tonight I seem naked, horribly naked, with all my crude, ungentle passions, appetites, all that is evil in me, cynical, hateful, laid bare as bleeding flesh, beside all that I love that is quiveringly beautiful, all that shrinks from exposure. I do not understand myself tonight.

It has been impossible for me to copy a part of what I wrote last night, and to send it today – so I shall enclose what I scribbled, a part of my being with you last night. It was beauty and harmony that I felt yesterday, and last night – now I seem to have lost all but a faint moaning bit. I shall try to be strong and gain control again now – when it is dark and I can feel you and whisper to you – when I can pray to God and feel His strength and peace.

Perhaps I shall not be able to come to you at all this Summer, mon Jacques. Will it be very hard and inconvenient? I leave all the myriad little decisions and alterations to your far abler judgment – yours and your mother’s. I’d like ever so to help – but I can work doubly hard in the Fall when we finish our Castle together. What do you think of that? Just if I cannot come to you before you come to take me away?

Oh – my heart is hungry for you – my body is aching – oh, my James –


[The following poem was enclosed, apparently cut from the Church bulletin]

If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books and my food, and summer rain:--
Lord, Thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake!
Or Lord, if too obdurate I,
Choose Thou, before that spirit die,
A piercing pain, a killing sin
And to my dead heart run them in!
--Robert Lewis Stevenson


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