'Katherine Mansfield Today' Blog

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What was KM thinking and writing 90 years ago today? The ‘KM blog’ posts daily extracts of her letters and notebooks written almost 90 years ago...
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20 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dear Bogey darling I shall not have any Xmas present for you. But you know that £5 I sent you. How much did you spend. Would you buy a book each for Chaddie & Jeanne for me & keep the rest for yourself? Jeanne would like DeLaMares new poems Down-a-Down-Derry I am sure (its 7/6, isn't it?) and Chaddie - hm - that is difficult! Some book that looks pretty and tastes sweet- some love poems. Is that too vague? And may I ask you to execute these commissions for me? I hope there will be something left over for you darling. Buy it with my love. I'll tell you what I want for a present. Your photograph. The proof of the drawing of course I should simply treasure, but why should you send me that. Keep it. Of course if you could have it copied. There is a man here who is going to take a photograph of me one day. I have changed. I have no longer a fringe - very odd.  [To J. M. Murry, c.17-20 December 1922.]

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19 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Then on Saturday afternoon when I was in the stable he came up to rest, too, and talked to me a little. First about cows and then about the monkey he has bought which is to be trained to clean the cows. Then he suddenly asked me how I was and said I looked better. "Now," he said "you have two doctors you must obey. Doctor Stable and Doctor New Milk. Not to think, not to write . . . Rest. Rest. Live in your body again." I think he meant get back into your body. He speaks very little English but when one is with him one seems to understand all that he suggests. The next thing I heard was that I was to come into here for the rest of the winter. Sometimes I wonder if we ‘make up' Mr Gurdjieff s wonderful understanding. But one is always getting a fresh example of it. And he always acts at precisely the moment one needs it. That is what is so strange. . . [To J. M. Murry, c.17-20 December 1922.]

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18 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My fortunes have changed again. I have been moved back from my little bare servants bedroom on the general corridor to my beautiful sumptuous first room overlooking the lovely park. It seems almost incredible grandeur. I suppose - I feel I have learnt the lesson that other room had to teach me. I have learnt that I can rough it in a way you & I have never done, that I can stand any amount of noise, that I can put up with untidiness, disorder, queer smells, even, without losing my head or really suffering more than superficially. But how did Mr. Gurdjieff know how much I needed that experience? And another mystery is that last week when it was intensely cold I felt I had come to an end of all that room had to teach me. I was very depressed and longing beyond words for some real change and for beauty again. I almost decided to ask him to send me away until the weather got warmer. [To J. M. Murry, c.17-20 December 1922.]

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17 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My darling Bogey
   I am so delighted to hear of your ½ motorcar. I think it is a most excellent idea. What fun you and Sullivan will have with it. It is so pleasant to think of you two together and I like to know that Sullivan will now understand you from a real standpoint, after sharing your life & working with you in the real sense. Do you teach him to cook and to sew and to knit. The fairies in the keyholes must have a quiet laugh or two of a gentle kind. As to those four little wood gatherers I love them. I hope your tooth is better. Just the same thing has happened to me. My biggest and brightest stopping has come out. But I shall have to hang on until the spring when I can get to Paris. So far all is well.
[To J. M. Murry, c.17-20 December 1922.]

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16 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   I am glad you are working. I don't at this moment feel near painting, though I had a long talk about it the other evening with a man who once had a collection of Gaugins in Moscow. But his point was what is the use of painting unless one knows the laws of art. How can it have any compelling, real value if it is just dans le vague. You have to know not only the effect this painting has on you, but the principle underlying that effect. And so with music and so with literature. We play with the arts and produce something good by accident.
   We have a great deal of music here, but its eastern not western. Quite another world. The dances too are often ancient Assyrian dances, or Arabian or Dervish Dances. I feel as though I have lived years in the East. There are between 50 and 60 of us here all occupied in different ways. One lives in the centre of such a various active world - no, not in the centre - one is part of it. It is very different from my life of the last few years.
   I cannot today write of your last but one letter, dearest Brett. I rejoice for you.
   Goodbye for now.
                          Ever your loving
                                             Tig.
The tea is marvellously good. How did you know I was longing for some good tea of my own? It was one of your happiest flukes. [To Dorothy Brett, 15 December 1922.]

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15 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dearest Brett
   Of course I listen; of course I am glad to hear. And do not think I don't appreciate the fact that you have gone on writing. I do - fully.
I wish I could write back. But for the moment there simply seems nothing to say and I know so little of what is happening. Your visit to Selsfield for instance you speak of as though I know about it. But I don't. And the Sullivan affair - scarcely at all. Its bound of course to come to a foolish end. Poor L.E! Thats where sentimentalism leads a man. She, of course will always look for the softer bed and the softer man and always hark back to Sullivan. She is an unpleasant little creature at this stage of her development. Why see her otherwise? To Dorothy Brett, 15 December 1922.]

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14 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

That, the ultimate remark in this letter was what I was driving at when I suggested you should join Jack. I felt then I'd be sure of you.
Dear Ida,
   Forgive this paper. The parcels have arrived and are extremely satisfactory, thanks very much. Why are you still so awfully tragic? I feel you must be very ill physically. Tell me your Physical health. I am not dead though you persist in pretending I am. And of course I shall not be here all my life. ‘Connected' with this work and these ideas, yes, but that is different. As soon as I am cured I shall leave here and set up a little place in the South and grow something. You can come and talk over the fence if you like and are not too mournful. Come and stay with me if you promise to smile now and again. Dear Ida! Thank you for the tops and for everything. As I have said I'll write again at Christmas and provided you are a happy nature I shall beg you to join forces with me when I leave here, if you care to, of course, in some kind of farm. So learn all you can for goodness sake.
                 With love, yours ever,
                                       KM [To Ida Baker, 15 December 1922.]

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13 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

And when I remember last year & that bed in the corner week after week & those trays. Here there is no more fine food. You eat what you get & thats the end of it. At the same time I have wonderful what shall I call them? friends. When you leave Lisieux - come to Fontainebleau for a few days. I will arrange to meet you there. Not before the late spring though.
   Ill write to you again at Xmas - a long letter instead of a ‘present'. For I haven't one for you. And tell me all you care to about your new life. I am sure I know a great deal more about cows than you do. I spend hours every single day with them.
   Goodbye for now dear Ida.
                         Yours ever
                                  K.M. [To Ida Baker, 12 December 1922.]

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12 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

I think it would be very well worth while for you to know Dunning. I am sure Dunning knows how to live. However, its as you please. And you may find Lisieux absorbing. I would be very glad if you would tell me your financial position. Will you? Quite frankly?
  It is intensely cold here and very damp. Very rarely the house is heated. I have a fire in my little room though. I live now in the workers quarters & have the kind of bedroom Gertie Small might have. Bare boards, a scrubbed table for the jug & basin etc. At about 10.30 p.m. we start work in the salon & go to bed at about 1-2 a.m. The corridors are like whistling side streets to pass down - icy cold. My hands are ruined for the present with scraping carrots & peeling onions. I do quite a lot of that kind of kitchen work. But I shall be glad to exchange a very grubby washing up cloth for an apron or an overall. This life proves how terribly wrong & stupid all doctors are. I would have been dead 50 times in the opinion of all the medical men whom I have known.  [To Ida Baker, 12 December 1922.]

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11 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My dear Ida
   Many thanks for your two letters. The postman has told me this morning that my 6 colis are awaiting me at the post office. I'll send you a line when I have ‘examined' them. I am sure they will be very nice. I will also send you a cheque for 300 francs for the coat & skirt in the course of a day or two. If that suits you. I hope you like your farm. Jean S. is a very good youngish writer, I believe. You ought to try & get hold of his books in your library. Thank you for telling me about jack. He sounds happy. I dont think I can talk ‘fuIly' about my suggestion that you should join him in a farm. It seemed to me for many reasons a very good idea and I suppose I had deep reasons. But such explanations are futile. He wrote as though he liked the idea but you were not very keen, & mentioned the fact that beautiful hand weaving is done at Ditchling which might interest you to learn. [To Ida Baker, 12 December 1922.]

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10 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My dear Lady Rothermere.
   I was so glad to hear from you, so sorry to know you are not coming to Fontainebleau until January. I have been hoping, for days, to hear of your arrival. We miss you here awfully.
[letter incomplete, 10 December 1922.]

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9 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   Yesterday when I was in the stable Mr Salzmann came up. He had just returned from his work - sawing logs in the far wood. And we began to talk about poverty. He was talking of the absolute need for us today to be poor again, but poor in the real sense. To be poor in ideas, in imagination, in impulses, in wishes, to be simple, in fact. To get rid of the immense collection with which our minds are crammed and to get back to our real needs. But I shall not try to transcribe what he said. It sounds banal; it was not. I hope you will meet this man one day. He looks a very surly, angry and even fierce workman. He is haggard, drawn, old looking with grey hair cut in a fringe on his forehead. He dresses like a very shabby forester and carries a large knife in his belt. I like him almost as much as I like his wife. Together they seem to me as near an ideal couple as I could imagine.
   Bogey are you having fine weather? Today is perfectly glorious. There was a heavy frost last night but its marvellously clear and fine. No, I don't want any money just now, thank you, darling heart. What nonsense to say those WS. [War Savings] certificates are mine. Why? They are yours! And don't go building a 7 roomed house. 7 rooms for 2 people! I will write again in a day or two. Goodbye for now, dearest darling Bogey.
                   Ever your own
                                       Wig.
Don't forget the photograph! [To J. M. Murry, 9 December 1922.]

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8 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

What do you read? Has Dunning any unfamiliar books? You have rather a horror of anything at all. . . Eastern - haven't you? I read Ouspensky's Tertium Organum the other day. For some reason it didn't carry me away. I think it is extremely interesting but - perhaps I was not in the mood for books. I am not at present, though I know that in the future I shall want to write them more than anything else in the world. But different books. There is Mr Hartmann here with whom I have great talks nearly every evening about how and why and when. I confess present day literature simply nauseates me, excepting always Hardy and the other few whose names I cant remember. . .But the general trend of it seems to me quite without any value whatever.
[To J. M. Murry, 9 December 1922.]

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7 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My darling Bogey
   I have never had a letter from you that I so ‘understood' as your last about your house & how you are living & the wages you gave to John & Nicholas. I can't say what a joy it is to know you are there. It seems to me very mysterious how so many of us nowadays refuse to be cave dwellers any longer but in our several ways are trying to learn to escape. The old London life, whatever it was, but even the life we have led recently wherever we have been is no longer even possible to me. It is so far from me that it seems to exist in another world. This of course is a wrong feeling. For, after all, there are the seeds of what we long after in everybody and if one remembers that any surroundings are possible . . . at least. [To J. M. Murry, 9 December 1922.]

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6 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   I don't know how you feel. But I still find it fearfully hard to cope with people I do not like or who are not sympathetic. With the others all goes well. But living here with all kinds I am simply appaled at my helplessness when I want to get rid of someone or to extricate myself from a conversation, even. But I have learnt how to do it, here. I have learnt that the only way is to court it, not to avoid it, to face it. Terribly difficult for me, in practice. But until I really do master this I cannot get anywhere. There always comes the moment when I am uncovered, so zu sagen, and the other man gets in his knockout blow.
   Oh, darling, I am always meaning to ask you this. I came away this time without a single photograph of you. This is intolerable. I really must have one, Bogey. Not only because I want it fearfully for myself but people keep on asking me. And I am proud of you. I want to show them what you look like. Do please send me one for Xmas. This is very important.
   Goodbye for now, my own Bogey. I am ever your loving
                                 Wig.[To J. M. Murry, 6 December 1922.]

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5 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

There is a small steep staircase to a little railed off gallery above the cows. On the little gallery are divans covered with persian carpets (only two divans). But the whitewashed walls and ceiling have been decorated most exquisitely in what looks like a persian pattern of yellow, red and blue by Mr Salzmann. Flowers, little birds, butterflies, and a spreading tree with animals on the branches, even a hippopotamus. But Bogey all done with the most real art - a little masterpiece. And all so gay, so simple, reminding me of summer grasses and the kind of flowers that smell like milk. There I go every day to lie and later I am going to sleep there. Its very warm. One has the most happy feelings listening to the beasts & looking. I know that one day I shall write a long long story about it. At about 5.30 the door opens and Mr Ivanov comes in, lights the lantern and begins milking. I had quite forgotten the singing wiry silvery sound of milk falling into an empty pail & then heavier plonk-plonk! ‘Mr' Ivanov is a very young man, he looks as though he had just finished his studies, rather shy, with a childlike beaming smile. [To J. M. Murry, 6 December 1922.]

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4 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My darling Bogey
   Your Sunday letter arrived today. Until I have your answer to mine suggesting that we do not meet until the spring I will not refer to the subject again. . .I think that's best.
   Your little house and way of life sounds so nice. I am very very glad that you feel Dunning is your friend. Do you have something of your Lawrence feeling for him? I imagine it is a little bit the same. And Mrs Dunning - you like her? And do you play with the little boys? There are nine children here. They live in the childrens house and have a different mother every week to look after them. But I remember now I have told you all that before. Ill tell you instead about that couch Mr Gurdjieff has had built in the cowhouse. Its simply too lovely.  [To J. M. Murry, 6 December 1922.]

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3 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dear Ida
   In case this letter reaches you in time & you have the money, please buy me the warmest skirt and jumper & knitted coat you can find in a darkish colour - the coat a large size. Its against the cold.
                   Yours ever,
                             K.M. [To Ida Baker, 2 December 1922.]

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2 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Then when I first came here I had a most sumptuous luxurious room and so on. Now I rough it in a little, simple, but very warm room. But its tiny. We couldn't sit in it. Deeper still is the most sincere feeling I am capable of that I do not want to see you until I am better physically. I cannot see you until the old Wig has disappeared. Associations, recollections would be too much for me just now. I must get better alone. This will mean that we do not meet until the spring. If this sounds selfish it must sound selfish. I know it is not and I know it is necessary. If you do not understand it please tell me, darling.
   I don't feel the cold as much as I have in other winters. Its often sunny, too & I have just bought for 23 francs very good boots lined with felt with felt uppers. But Ill say no more just now. I hope you will understand & not be hurt by my letter, dearest heart.
                 Ever your
                            Wig. [To J. M. Murry, 1 December 1922.]

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1 December 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

No, let me be very careful. I have not asked Mr Gurdjieff if you could come. He might say ‘yes' but I can't [see] what on earth an outsider could do here just now. Its winter. One can't be out of doors. One can't just stay in one's room. Meals are at all hours. Sometimes lunch is at 4 p.m. & dinner at 10 p.m. And so on. But the chief reason that matters is this. Physically there is very little outward change in my condition so far. I am still breathless, I still cough, still walk upstairs slowly, still have to stop and so on. The difference is that here I make ‘efforts' of a certain kind all day & live an entirely different life. But I have absolutely no life to share at present. You can't sit in the cow house with me at present or in the kitchen with seven or eight people. We are not ready for that yet. It would simply be a false position. [To J. M. Murry, 1 December 1922.]

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30 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My darling Bogey
   I seem to have snapped at that £10 like a dog with a bone, and I never even said merci in my last letter. I am most awfully grateful for it. I accept it with joy, though I did mean - yes, truly - to send it back to you. Did you see L.M. I wonder? Wayside Cottage reminded me of Rose Tree Cottage. The name only. They are of the same type. I hope you are snug in it. I suppose you couldn't (or wouldnt care to) snare L.M. as working housekeeper & gardener. I dont see Sullivan as a great help in such matters. But perhaps I wrong him.
   About Christmas. I want to be quite frank. For many reasons I would rather we did not meet till the spring. Hear my reasons before judging me for that, will you? For one the hotels at Fontainebleau are closed - the decent ones. You could not come to the Institute as a guest at present. Its not running smoothly enough. You would simply hate it. [To J. M. Murry, 1 December 1922.]

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29 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   But so many people come forward as I write. They are all very different; but they are the people I have wanted to find - real people - not people I make up or invent. Tell me about your new plans when you can, my darling, will you? Was L.M. just the same? It is a horrible thing; I have almost forgotten her. And only 2 months ago it seemed I could not have lived without her care. Do Dunnings children have lessons? Why don't you offer to teach them something. Its good to be in touch with children, one learns very much. Goodbye for now, my darling Bogey. I do feel we are nearer than we were. But there is so much, so very much one cannot write. One can only feel.
            Ever your own
                            Wig.  [To J. M. Murry, c.27 November 1922.]

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28 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

  But I wish I could tell you of the people I live with. There is not only my friend Olga Ivanovna. There are the Hartmanns, husband & wife. He was - is - a musician she is a singer. They live in one smallish room, awfully cramped I suppose. But to go & sit there with them in the evening before dinner is one of my greatest pleasures. Dear precious people! She is very quick, beautiful, warmhearted. No, its no good. I cant describe her. He is small & quite bald, with a little pointed beard & he generally wears a loose blouse spotted with whitewash, very full trousers, wooden boots. He is a ‘common workman' all day. But it is the life between them; the feeling one has in their nearness.  [To J. M. Murry, c.27 November 1922.]

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27 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   You know I told you a Turkish Bath was being built. It is finished & working. It was made from a cave used for vegetables & of course all labour including the plumbing, the lighting & so on done by our people. Now one can have seven different kinds of baths in it & there is a little rest room hung with carpets which looks more like Bokhara than Avon. If you have seen this evolved it really is a miracle of ingenuity. Everything is designed by Mr Gurdjieff. Now all hands are busy building the theatre which is to be ready in 2 weeks. I have to start making costumes next week. All the things I have avoided in life seem to find me out here. I shall have to sew for hours on end just as I have to puzzle over these problems in mathematics that we get sometimes in the evening. [To J. M. Murry, c.27 November 1922.]

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26 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   Are you having really perfect weather (except for the cold). It is absolutely brilliantly sunny, a deep blue sky, dry air. Really its better than Switzerland. But I must get some wool lined overboots. My footgear is ridiculous when I am where I was yesterday - round about the pig sty. It is noteworthy that the pigs have of themselves divided their sty into two. One, the clean part, they keep clean & sleep in. This makes me look at pigs with a different eye. One must be impartial even about them, it seems. We have 2 more cows, about to calve in 3 weeks time. Very thrilling. Also our white goat is about to have a little kid. I want to see it very much. They are so charming. [To J. M. Murry, c.27 November 1922.]

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25 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My darling Bogey
   I understand affairs much better from your last letter. I am v. glad you are going to be near Dunning. Of course I do not feel that my way is ‘the only way'. It is for me. But people have such hidden energy, such hidden strength that once they discover it in themselves why should they not do alone what we learn to do here? You were only joking, weren't you, when you said you might find Le Prieuré was your way, too. For one can only come here via Ouspensky, & it is a serious step. However, one can always go again if one finds it intolerable. That is true, too. But the strangeness of all that happens here has a meaning, and by strangeness I don't mean obvious strangeness - theres little of it - I mean spiritual. [To J. M. Murry, c.27 November 1922.]

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24 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   Darling I must sit down to a Russian lesson. I wish you knew Russian. I have also been learning mental arithmetic beginning 2 X 2 = 1 3 X 3 = 12 4 X 4 = 13 5 X 5 = 28 and so on at great speed to the accompaniment of music. Its not as easy as it looks especially when you start from the wrong end backwards. In fact at 34 I am beginning my education.
   I can't write to E. [Elizabeth von Arnim] about her book. I thought it so dreadfully tiresome and silly. It didn't seem to me like a fairy tale; I saw no fairies. In fact I saw nobody. And jokes about husbands, double beds, God and trousers don't amuse me, Im afraid. In fact it seemed to me a sad tinkle from an old musicbox.
   Goodbye for now, my dearest Bogey
                  Ever your own
                          Wig. [To J. M. Murry, c.24 November 1922.]

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23 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   I shall be interested to hear of your meeting with Ida. That reminds me again of the stockings which arrived in perfect order. What an extraordinary brainwave to hide them in the Times. They are very lovely stockings, too, just the shade I like in the evening. Ones legs are like legs by moonlight.
   It is intensely cold here - colder and colder. I have just been brought some small fat pine logs to mix with my boulets. Boulets are unsatisfactory; they are too passive. I simply live in my fur coat. I gird it on like my heavenly armour and wear it ever night and day. After this winter the Arctic even will have no terrors for me. Happily the sun does shine as well and we are thoroughly well nourished. But I shall be glad when the year has turned.  [To J. M. Murry, c.24 November 1922.]

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22 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My darling Bogey
   I have received your letter saying you will leave Selsfield & that L.E. [Vivian Locke-Ellis] and Sylvia are to join forces. It sounds a very bad arrangement to me - I mean for L.E. and Sylvia. They are nothing to each other as types - in fact they are so far apart as to be almost different kinds of beings. However - I don't suppose it matters.
   I hope you & Sullivan do find a place together in the country somewhere near Dunning. I am glad you feel Selsfield is too luxurious. It is very very lovely but it is not living. There is too much ‘dinner is served, Sir' about it. Do you ever feel inclined to get into touch with Lawrence again? I wonder. I should like very much to know what he intends to do - how he intends to live, now his Wanderjahre are over. He and E.M. Forster are two men who could understand this place if they would. But I think Lawrence's pride would keep him back. No one person here is more important than another. That may not sound much of a statement, but practically it is very much. [To J. M. Murry, c.24 November 1922.]

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21 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dear Ida
   I hasten to answer your letter. Please buy me NO dress of any kind and NO shoes. This is final! I cant risk the wrong things again & I prefer to go without. Please understand I am absolutely fixed in my mind about this. No dress, no shoes, no material for dress!
   As from this week I have no more money so I can't buy any more clothes. I don't want them, either. The coats were in the Paris box, I am sure. Please pack that small silky blanket of mine as well, if possible, with the eiderdown.
   Excuse a hasty note. I am busy and my pen is not good. I hope you like seeing Jack & that all goes well with you. Thank you for your letter with the snapshots of the cat.
   When I say I have no money I do not mean I have not always money for you when you need it. I have. You have only to ask - so ask please.
                       Yours ever
                                     K.M.
What a pity you and Jack could not start a small farm together. Why don't you suggest it if you like him enough. [To Ida Baker, 23 November 1922.]

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20 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   Ouspensky came over last week. I had a short talk with him. He is a very fine man. I wish you would just see him - out of - lets call it curiosity.
   I must get dressed for dinner. I badly need a good washing. Remarkable how clothes fall into their proper place here. We dress in the evening but during the day. . .the men look like brigands. Nobody cares, nobody dreams of criticising.
   Oh, Bogey how I love this place! It is like a dream - or a miracle. What do the ‘silly' people matter & there are silly people who come from London, see nothing & go away again. There is something marvellous here - if one can only attain it.
   Goodbye for now, my dearest.
                                  Ever your own
                                                     Wig.
I will write Elizabeth.  [To J. M. Murry, 19 November 1922.]

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