Thursday, June 7, 2012

Glimpses of Eugene Elliott, Attu Island, 1945

Murray's first post, on Attu, was shared with his good friend from Seattle, Eugene Elliott, later an English professor at the University of Washington. Both were writing novels during the abundant indoor downtime provided by winter weather in the Aleutians.

29 January 1945
[During a bull session about religion] Gene said there was mention of life in the Aleutians in the Bible. He quoted the passage, the number of which I forget, but the words are: “Jesus Christ: the same yesterday today and forever.”
22 February 1945
The weather today was really rough. When I went to go out of the hut once I knocked myself out, quite literally, by running into a board. I hadn’t realized that snow had sifted through onto the floor of our tunnel and raised it so much that I no longer had clearance for my head. Then, later, after I had been out of the hut for about an hour, I could not find the entrance. The trap door was drifted over. I had to dig to find it, dig some more before I could burrow my way in. I had a bad claustrophobic moment when I was stuck in the elbow of the tunnel but finally made it. .. It is a queer feeling to walk in a high wind when there is much loose snow about. The snow blows up from the ground and you can’t see your feet. A flashlight is no help. You just walk slowly, trying to test the drift with each step before trusting your weight. Other men move past, dim, shapeless, truncated in the drifts. They look like shadows without their accompanying objects.
Tonight I read some more of Gene’s symphonic book. God, but he writes well. From a purely commercial standpoint, I am not sure whether there is enough movement and continuity in the book. But from the point of satisfaction to the author, of saying what he has to say in the form he wants to say it, I envy him very much. ..
3 April 1945
Gene is in the room with me, working on his novel. He really suffers. In fact he is about the closest thing to Larry Abbott I have seen when it comes to the agony of composition. While he doesn’t have Larry’s habit of banging his head on the desk in an effort to start the flow of inspiration, he does groan, swear with expected softness, and hold his forehead as though his temples were likely to shake loose. Like me, Gene will take any chance to keep from writing when the work is not going well – he will read anything (even the Readers Digest), cut his nails, go for a beer, sweep the floor, put tape on the crack in his eyeshade or trim his already too neat mustache. Currently he is cleaning the keys of his typewriter with a jackknife. A few moments ago he was trying to work out a chess problem in the London Sunday Times.

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