Letter to Naomi Mitchison March 6, 1937

Letter to Naomi Mitchison
March 6, 1937

A letter of reply on an invitation to collaborate on The World and Ourselvesand on 'socialism'

Laura Riding to Naomi Mitchison, March 6, 1937:  letter
from National Library of Scotland MSS Acc.9186, folder 1.
Transcribed by Alan J Clark (5NB, RG8 7PW), 2011-06-16, with attempt to reproduce any minor oddities of capitalisation, punctuation - March 6 [ALS, 4 sides]

Villa Guidi / Lugano Paradiso /Switzerland / March 6 [1937]

Dear Naomi Mitchison

It is very generous of you to answer my letter. I do indeed think that you make a dangerous misplacement of emphasis, but this does not mean that I do not ‘like’ you – from what I know about you you are honest and kind – which would preclude there being anything unpleasant in my feelings about you – in so far as our personal remoteness allows of ‘feeling’.

My ‘insideness’ has nothing to do with such distinctions as that between buying jam and making it at home. Yes, my letter says that jam is not important. The work of truth is important, it is all that is really important. The real function of women is in this. The bearing of children is a peculiar derivative of this function – I wish I had time to talk about this here, but I am frightfully busy. I can only say here that it is very clear to me that the bearing of children is not an inside performance nor has sexual attractiveness anything to do with inside qualities, sex itself is the great externaliser. And after sex? When the demarcations have been made?

Yes, politics gives ‘more’ to talk about – that is the fatal deception of quantity. It gives economic injustices to talk about, millions of people to talk about in the context of misfortune. And after politics? What will you talk about then.

When it comes to asserting, defining the realities inside the historical crust of physical misfortune? Is there nothing to talk about inside this crust except birds on boughs?

My dear Naomi, don’t think I don’t ‘know’ about politics! I wager I have given more years of my life to politics, socialist politics, than you have – from almost infant years almost to the end of my university years. The circle in which I moved and all my relatives were pioneer socialists in America, among them they created the first Socialist //
Newspaper in America. Did you ever hear of Eugene Debs, the perennial Socialist candidate in America for president? I sat on his knee as a child – and worked in campaigns for him when I was old enough to. At my university I was the president of two socialist societies – one went by another name to capture the milder-minded. All very good exercise in talk, yes.

And I remember in my economics class at the university, being the only student who could properly elucidate the content of Marx’s Capital (in America students talk in classes). And so on and so on. No, Knoxville is not my home town, I know nothing of it. What strange things people say of me!

And Spain – don’t you think I know all about that? more intimately than all the ‘Friends of Spain’? In view of all that I personally suffer from that awfulness – do you think that I can be one to speak lightly and ignorantly of these things? (One of my dearest friends, a Spaniard, in prison there). That I have not varied ways of knowing what is happening there? That the faculty of acquiring concrete information is reserved to Socialist party members?

I should like to see you stop thinking in political terms – thinking rather in terms of what you call an ‘ethic of love’ as a programme of order emanating from inside energies. If such an ethic is effective privately, why not publicly? If you confine it to private existence, it is you surely who are making artificial distinctions between inside and outside.

This letter is merely by way of thanking you personally. Your letter is valuable as a statement, and I shall be pleased to use it, in my search for a principle of compatibility, and for indications, among all the letters I am receiving.

If you have anything to add to it on the ‘ethic of love’ theme which would constitute an answer apart from your political answer, I should be very glad to have it also for use.

Yours sincerely

Laura Riding

{NM’s two TLS’s (3? and 9 March) are largely as reproduced in The World and Ourselves, 1938, pp.73-80.

However, the Knoxville subtopic does not belong there.