I have woken fairly early to think about human life

Frances Partridge by unknown photographer, August 1946
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Frances Partridge was a remarkable British diarist born in 1900 whose long life was interwoven with the illustrious Bloomsbury Group. By 1967, when she wrote the following entry, she had already lost two of her nearest and dearest: her husband, Ralph, in 1960, and then tragically their only son, Burgo, three years later due to a brain haemorrhage at the young age of 28. Partridge was 103 when she died, by which time she had outlived countless loved ones—and it was in the pages of her diary that she grieved and contemplated the intricacies of life.

The Diary Entry

October 1st: Crichel

The long window of my room—once Eddy [Sackville-West]’s, and I feel easier in it now that the crucifix and praying-stool have gone—goes right down to the floor, and my eyes slant down across the bright blue-green carpet to the soft yellow-green croquet lawn where several birds stalk sombrely about. I have woken fairly early to think about human life—the latter stage of it—and why we cling to it, and whether if it were easy and simple to lay it aside hundreds of us would instantly (with hardly a pause or a farewell) do so. Mrs Winters, the cook, is in Salisbury hospital pretty desperately ill with leukemia. When Raymond [Mortimer] and I arrived on Friday she came forward with the curious but dignified outspokenness of the uneducated and said the doctor had told her ‘she might go at any minute.’ I felt a sort of envy, as one might when waiting one’s turn to perform in a concert, if other people are called in front of one. No more waiting. And there’s poor old Gamel [Woolsey, the American poet]—her time nearly up. Yet I know if that simple exit was handed me on a plate, some tiny bolus to be swallowed, I should not swallow it. When I walked along the road with [her dog] Moses yesterday under tearing clouds in a warm Irish wind and sun, I had a positive feeling of well-being, a physical glow.

Further Reading

The Papers of Frances Catherine Partridge, diaries included, live at the Archive Centre, King’s College, Cambridge. In 1978, the first of seven volumes of her diaries was published; the final one arrived in 2001. In 2000, a single volume of entries spanning 1939 to 1975 was also published.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *