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Leaving a Doll's House
By Claire Bloom

Chapter One: Where I Came From

I was born in the North London suburb of Finchley on February 15, 1931, the eldest of two children born to Edward Blume (originally Blumenthal) and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Grew). My parents were both born in England--my mother in London, within the sound of Bow Bells, making her an official Cockney, and my father from farther north, in Liverpool--although neither my maternal nor paternal grandparents were of English origin.

My father's family were from the cradle of European Jewry: my grandmother Caroline from Riga in Latvia, my grandfather from somewhere in greater Russia. And my mother's family went back to an ancient Jewish community on the banks of the Vistula, some miles northwest of Warsaw.

My maternal grandmother, Paula, and her husband came to England at the start of this century, as did my father's parents. My grandmother Paula's marriage was an arranged one, something not uncommon in young Jewish couples of that time and place. My maternal grandfather, Henry Griewski, his surname later to metamorphose into Grew, is described on my mother's birth certificate as a cabinetmaker. Some knowledge of timber my grandfather must certainly have brought with him from Russia, where his family were overseers of large and wooded estates belonging to the Russian gentry. He started a modest workshop in the East End of London, turning out small "fancy goods," wooden boxes and picture frames, and went on to manufacture furniture and wooden moldings. This led to some improvement of my grandparents' financial position, and by the time my mother was a small child, they had moved from the East End to the more comfortable suburb of Cricklewood, in North London.

In those days, the tyrannical behavior of the husband, the timid subservience of the wife, the adoration of male children, and the use made of daughters as domestic help were accepted in most lower-income families. Although in a Jewish household only recently arrived in Western Europe the male prerogative may have been even stronger, I doubt if Paula and Henry's household differed enormously from those of their more assimilated neighbors, but the dominant male authority that my grandfather exerted had an indelible effect on the character of my mother and her sister, Mary, and possibly, in a more distanced way, on my own.

My mother's name was Elizabeth, though she was known as Alice by everyone except her mother, who always called her Alishce. Born in 1903, she was the second daughter and third child born to my grandparents. Her elder sister, Mary, had arrived three years earlier.

My mother and aunt dealt with this problem of their female identity in completely different ways. Mary saw in her upbringing a challenge, and she fought with strength and determination to escape her family and make a successful career as an actress. After an early and ill-starred romance, Mother set about leading the most conventional of lives, and continued to do so until her middle age, when she opened an antique shop in London and ran it with great success. She determined to marry and have a large family. Mary, a "bluestocking" as well as a recluse, would have none of that.

From her earliest memories, Mary's answer to any family commotion was to retreat into her room and read. She read voraciously and passionately; her greatest happiness was to read and reread the great English poets, and, above all, to immerse herself completely in the works of Shakespeare.

Her love of literature, plus a longing to escape the restrictive atmosphere of my grandparents' house, fed Mary's determination to become an actress.

Mary entered a beauty contest, knowing no other way to penetrate this unknown world. The scheme was devised by my mother. Looking back on it, there is more than a little irony pondering the fact that this actress, described in a London Times obituary some forty years later as a leading player in the intellectual theater of the twenties and thirties, should have entered her profession in this way. Mary won first place; her photograph appeared in the newspapers.

Having wasted no time telling the press of her ambition to go onstage, Mary received several offers in theater and film as a result. Among these came a surprising one, from Mary's future husband, Victor Sheridan, who had been one of the judges.

Victor was taken with Mary's dark-eyed looks, even if he was somewhat wary of her intellectual predilections. Although associated with the stage as owner of several "variety theaters" around the country, he was more businessman than artist, and therefore a far cry from Mary's ideal of the man to share her life with.

With an alacrity that must have astonished even Mary, she and Victor became engaged. After their marriage, Mary Grew Sheridan, formerly of Hoxton and more recently of Cricklewood, moved to an elegant flat in Mayfair, with a staff of servants waiting upon her. She was dressed by the House of Worth, and dined out with her husband nearly every night at the Savoy Grill or the Ritz. But her opulent lifestyle wasn't enough to quench Mary's overpowering thirst to express herself artistically.

With Victor's financial assistance, Mary was able to take lessons from the famous teacher Elsie Fogarty, vocal coach to the young Laurence Olivier and Peggy Ashcroft. After a year as Miss Fogarty's pupil, Mary played the role of Mme. Moskowski in Israel Zangwill's play We Moderns. Produced in 1925 at London's Fortune Theater--whose manager was her husband, Victor--she scored a modest, though distinct, success.

Shortly afterward, she found herself pregnant with her only child. This unexpected interruption to her career came as an extreme blow. When my cousin Norma was born, in keeping with the practice of the day among people of means, she was swiftly passed on to a nurse. Then, just as swiftly, Mary returned to her beloved profession.

Mary was to have a brutally brief career. Her greatest moment on the stage--and also her harshest trial--came when she played "The Young Woman" in The Life Machine--called Machinal in the United States--a play by the American Sophie Treadwell, an early defender of women's rights. Treadwell wrote a stunningly honest play about a woman who is convicted for murdering her brutal husband, and condemned to die in the electric chair. This harrowing story was an extraordinarily exhausting role for an actress, both physically and psychologically; the play takes her to the very moment she is led to her execution. Mary appeared in every scene; the play was given not only for the usual six evening performances per week, but in addition there were matinees on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

Mary suffered a physical and mental breakdown, and was forced to leave the play altogether--and, indeed, the stage, for some time. This pause of over a year was enough to damage her fragile career; thereafter, Mary's brief period as a star was over. Her run had lasted barely a decade. By the time I came to know my aunt Mary, the pursuit of a role worth playing had become a fruitless burden and only a source of sorrow and frustration.

Until I found my own path, somewhere in my mid-twenties, Mary played a role almost equal to my mother's in the forming of my artistic life.

The strongest memories I have of my earliest years consist of following my mother everywhere, of clinging to her skirt, of wanting to be one with her. Also of the constant trembling of her hands, a genetic weakness inherited from her father. My own father doesn't seem to exist in my mind, perhaps because he was away so often; possibly because although only a small child, I already sensed my mother's deep disappointment in her marriage and rejected my ineffectual father in favor of my protective and adored mother.

Alice remembered the difficult years before her father's business began to flourish, the Saturday dinners where one chicken was divided among nine hungry children. Coming somewhere near the center of the age group in my grandparents' large family, Alice became chief helpmate to her mother in running the household, particularly in caring for the younger children.

When she was in her early twenties, my mother had taken a job with an American firm of film distributors; she worked as a secretary to Bobbie Brenner, a married man about fifteen years older than she. His marriage, so he claimed, was unsatisfactory; his wife had remained behind in the States while he worked in London. Alice and he very soon became lovers, and remained so for the time that Brenner worked in England. However, after about eighteen months of happiness--at least for my mother--he was posted back to New York, and he implored my mother to follow him. She must have agreed to do so with a great deal of trepidation, but agree she did. For a middle-class Jewish girl to take such a step in the 1920s was a serious flouting of morality. How she squared all this with her parents I have no idea; I think the probability was that she told them nothing of the truth, but let them believe that she was going to America to take up a job as a secretary in New York.

Her loneliness in New York, as she described it to me, was extreme; she even welcomed a mouse who came for the leftover bread crumbs; it was a relief from the isolation of the hours, or even days, when she waited for her married lover to visit her. For Mr. Brenner, in the good old tradition of married men, turned out to have no serious intention of leaving his wife. He just wanted my mother as well. After enduring two years of misery--tempered by the fact that even under these melancholy circumstances, Alice found New York to be both thrilling and vibrant--she decided to go back to London.

She very soon met and married my father. My mother and father, Edward Blume, met at a dance at my grandparents' house. Alice was now twenty-seven, Eddie was twenty-three. He spoke with the nasal Liverpool accent that he never completely lost. He was of a light build, with dark curly hair and dark eyes. I doubt he was ever good-looking. His charm lay more in the swiftness of his repartee than in the handsomeness of his features. Mother was captivated by his quick wit and taken with his dry Liverpudlian humor, though that didn't stop her from noticing the weakness of his mouth, or being more than a little concerned that he had no noticeable profession. Scarred by her unhappy first love affair, Alice settled for the attainable: she married Eddie in the hope that she could "make something of him." They were married in a synagogue, my mother dressed in silver lace, her bridesmaids in pale apple green. They settled in the north of London. There I was born, one year later. My father's profession, on my birth certificate, is described as traveling salesman.

When I once asked Mother why she married Eddie, she replied that they enjoyed a cup of tea together, a cigarette, and a good laugh. If there was more to it than that, and I hope there might have been, she never told me.

The year was 1935 or 1936. I distinctly remember climbing a staircase behind my mother, above a darkened shop. Upstairs, men, including my father, sat around a table playing cards. There followed an angry exchange between my parents, and Mother left in tears, dragging me, also weeping inconsolably, behind her. In my child's mind I sensed that the quarrel had been about money, and saw Mother upset terribly. I am certain now that my father was playing away our household funds; the fact that he was a hopeless gambler only came to be clear to me many years later.

I cannot say how many times my father lost his job--or even what jobs he held--but from the number of times we changed homes and I changed schools, he must have lost them regularly. Each time we shifted homes we moved up or down the socioeconomic scale; at one point we lived in a small bungalow in Hampshire, at another in a substantial middle-class house in Bristol, and so it went. At the start of the Second World War, we moved for some months to a primitive cottage in Cornwall. None of these changes troubled me too much, although they must have caused Mother considerable anxiety.

In spite of these dark periods in her life, she seemed to find fulfillment in our close bond. As my greatest joy was to be with her, I think hers was to be with me, and as long as we could remain at the center of each other's lives, where we lived made little difference.

What I remember most from those early days is the sound of Mother's voice as she read to me from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen. These emotionally wrenching tales, to which I raptly listened and to which I was powerfully drawn, instilled in me a longing to be overwhelmed by romantic passion and led me in my teens and early twenties to attempt to emulate these self-sacrificing heroines, at least on the stage.

The sound of Mother's voice and the radiance of those long summer afternoons are fused in my childhood memory, creating a pleasurable sensation of warmth and comfort and safety.

I lived very much in a world of fantasy. I remember no childhood playmates. I invented a phantom friend, someone I conducted long discussions with, who was my constant playmate, whose hand I held regularly, and whose ghostly company appeared to be quite sufficient. I attended so many different schools, due partly to my father's uncertain employment, and later to the war, that I never settled long enough in one place to have time to make friends with other girls.

My real friend and true companion from the beginning was my mother. We were much closer than would seem normal for a mother and daughter, almost like beleaguered inmates of a walled city. I never wanted her to feel lonely, so I would remain at home and keep her company even when I might have been outside playing. Even then I sensed I was becoming a painfully "intense" young person. All I remember of my years at school was the feeling of desolation when Mother dropped me off, and the feeling of relief when she picked me up again.

Because of our rootless and nomadic life, Mother also seemed to have few close friendships. She must have had some social life: I can recall how, during one of our family's few brief affluent periods, she came to kiss me goodnight, wearing a black chiffon dress and a white gardenia in her hair. This image of my young and lovely mother remains with me after so many others have faded with time.

In spite of my love of reading, I was never cut out to be an academic; I distinguished myself only in English and history classes at school. I hardly excelled at sports, which are such a vital part of the school curriculum of English boys and girls. Hockey was always a mystery to me, and a, source of some misgiving; I never fathomed what could motivate a group of girls to thunder about a field smacking one another with long wooden sticks. I might have enjoyed netball, the English version of basketball, had I been chosen for the team, which I wasn't. Only at rounders, an earlier incarnation of American baseball, did I experience any success, and that by sole virtue of being very fast on my feet.

There is a photograph from the same period that records my incursion into theatrical life--and plainly shows that I took myself with extreme seriousness: Dressed as Juliet in a satin dress made by her mother, the young actress, aged about eight, is seated on the floor. A Juliet cap perches on her straight, rather lank brown hair, and she humorlessly surveys the camera while the surrounding children, dressed as Little Bo-Peep and Little Red Riding-Hood, cheerfully smile into the lens.

I can remember, in clear and specific detail, the long satin dress onto which my mother and I had painstakingly sewn tiny iridescent stones, and the feel of the silk skirt against my legs. I had recently been taken to see the film of Romeo and Juliet starring Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer. I went home and learned the verse to perform the balcony scene over and over; I memorized the soliloquies, rejoicing in the sound of Shakespeare's language. While other children might be satisfied with being Little Miss Muffett and Mary with her little lamb, I said to myself that I was destined for "higher things."

Higher things began very modestly.

During our somewhat more prosperous days--prosperity being a qualitative concept in our family--we lived in Bristol, an important city in West England, and I attended an expensive girls' school, Badminton. In previous years we had resided in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, and before that in Ruislip, a quiet and dull suburb near London, where my brother, John, was born. Apart from his birth, which immediately filled me with fierce jealousy--alongside a secret desire to have him quietly disappear--I remember little of that early period before moving to Bristol.

The year was 1938 and I was seven years of age. In Bristol we were able to afford a "mother's help," a young woman named Kathleen Jones, who was from a small town in South Wales. Kathleen was no more than eighteen or nineteen at the time; though she was older by ten years, she became a proper friend to me and became my first acting partner.

She also shared the same girlish delight in games of "let's pretend," and had a talent, which she attempted to pass on to me, in the design and sewing of costumes. We gave nightly performances in the spare bedroom--always, we averred, to full houses--creating our space by hanging a bath towel across the entrance. Kathleen and I had no written text, but improvised our words as we went along. The stories we played were either taken from fairy stories or were potted versions of Shakespeare plays. I always played the lead. My chosen heroines were rarely, if ever, heroic; instead, they were tormented by hateful stepparents, imprisoned by wicked witches. Always at the end, and most delightful of all to me, was the certainty that I would be rescued by a handsome and daring young prince.

Then, to my great joy, I was cast in the school play as the maiden who spins straw into gold in Rumpelstiltskin. A strange and wonderful thing happened: I found in this disguise an unknown freedom and independence. It was an immediate, startling discovery; I could be at one with myself, while playing someone else.

Prior to that performance of Rumpelstiltskin I had gone unnoticed. Suddenly I became, for a brief moment, the Badminton School celebrity. Although I had never expected to be the center of attraction in the guise of someone else, I found the notice taken of me exhilarating, and my self-confidence began to soar. I had my requisite fifteen minutes of fame.

The second year of our stay in Bristol, we went on holiday to Cornwall, where my mother had rented a cottage for the summer. I don't recall my father visiting us, although he may have done. I recollect only my mother, my brother, John, and myself as a complete and closed unit. My brother was nearly three years old; I was eight. The cottage was close to a village near Treyarnon Bay. The beach, when the tide went out and revealed pools of sparkling seawater, was magically alive with algae of every kind, covered with stranded starfish and scuttling sea crabs, which John and I attempted, usually without success, to catch and take home for supper. My brother and I spent all day at the beach, and went back home in the early evening to our cottage. It had an outdoor privy and an iron stove for cooking. Paraffin lamps lit the small rooms. I can almost smell the stews my patient mother simmered slowly on the primitive stove. There were a series of books commonly read by children before the war, The Spartan Twins and The Greek Twins, that enchanted me. I imagined that our life in Cornwall was a re-creation of the classical, bygone world opened to me in these stories. Many years later, I would buy a cottage in Connemara in the west of Ireland, and later another house of some antiquity in Corsica, and try in earnest to re-create this simple and beautiful life.

During the final week of our stay, we went to a cafe we frequented every afternoon for our tea. Perched high above the beach and overlooking Bedruthan Steps, the cafe served Cornish clotted cream, strawberry jam, and scones; the radio was playing, and John and I peacefully ate our scones. The other customers were quiet, listening intently--as was Mother. John and I went on enjoying our tea. Although we were full of the joys of summer and glowing from the sun and fresh air, the spirit of holiday relaxation had completely left the room. I remember looking around and not understanding how grownups could look so sad on such a beautiful afternoon. The radio music was interrupted by an announcer, pronouncing his words very formally and deliberately. The prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, was about to speak. Chamberlain's voice came over the radio, and he sounded feeble and exhausted: "His Majesty's Government has received no such communication or assurance. I must therefore tell you that a state of war has been declared between ..."

I had seen the newsreels of the bombing of children during the Sino-Japanese War, which was still raging as Chamberlain spoke. I heard we were at war, and thought I understood a little of what that could mean. Someone near us started to cry. I cried, too, with my mouth full of scones, cream, and jam. My little brother kept asking me what was wrong. We left the cafe and were making our way back to our cottage, which seemed so safe from war and its troubles, when the siren sounded--apparently all over the country.

We didn't know what we were supposed to do, whether to run for home or hide by the edge of the road. We crouched in a ditch. The all clear sounded fairly soon afterward, one long, drawn-out note, as opposed to the undulating sound of the air-raid alarm we would come to know so well in the years that lay ahead.

Notwithstanding the relative safety of Cornwall, my mother felt we should return to Bristol. I was sad to leave our cottage and tranquil country life. John and I had Mother all to ourselves, and while in Cornwall she was more carefree than we had ever seen her, upon our return to Bristol the old worries and tensions came swiftly back. The crisis she found waiting for her had little to do with world events and everything to do with my father's finances. My father had lost yet another job.

The bombing of Bristol began. Badminton School, like most of the other schools in Bristol, was evacuated to the country; and as the fees had become too much for my father to pay, I was left at home to read my books in peace.

At first the air raids were almost exciting. I would be awakened in the night and taken from my own bed to a mattress in the hallway, away from the flying glass of the windows; there I would share midnight tea and sandwiches with my parents. So much did a world war mean to a child of eight. But, as the bombing got more serious, and half our roof was blown off, my understandably alarmed parents decided to sell our house at any price they could get and move out of the city. The obvious course was to return to Cornwall. Our former cottage had been rented, but another was found, slightly more weather-beaten and definitely less picturesque. I was entered in the village school, while John, not yet of school age, remained at home in our cottage with Mother.

A few years ago, while working nearby on location for a film, I retraced my morning walks to this school. I recognized the country lanes where I had strolled, the beach where my brother and I had played at being fishermen. The cottage either I couldn't find or it had disappeared--swallowed up in the rash of semidetached villas that had sprouted since that unspoiled time. The village school remained intact.

Even when I attended this school it had hardly altered since the nineteenth century. One large room held all the classes. with boys and girls aged six to fourteen. A sizable metal stove stood in the center of the room, and the Cornish pasties the local children had brought for their lunch--pies of chopped meat, onion, vegetables, and black pepper--warmed on it, filling the classroom with mouth-watering smells. The lessons themselves were rudimentary and made no lasting impression on me, but I can clearly remember the shrill squeals of boys being beaten for misdemeanors that would seem petty today.

Winter was coming on, and I recall the comfortable glow from the iron range, which was fueled by coal, and on which Mother cooked her stews. It was one of our few modern comforts. I can summon as if it were yesterday the freezing cold in our cottage and the frosty bite of sitting hunched up in a large metal tub Mother habitually used for laundry, while she poured a jug of hot water over my shivering body.

Although this period is filled with nostalgia, for Mother this isolated life was undoubtedly trying, particularly in light of the Spartan conditions and the fact that her only company consisted of two children. There were limits to how many stews she could prepare while waiting for me to come home from school; there also was some limit to her patience. She contacted Eddie and asked him to find accommodation for us in New Milton, the small Hampshire town he had moved to after leaving Bristol to be near his brother, Isadore, Isadore's wife, Dolly, and my two cousins Erica and Michael.

The so-called bungalow my father was able to rent was a disheartening sight when we first arrived. The rain had been pouring down for days and made running streams up the pathway through to the drab, colorless house. The front had a "rock garden," started, but not completed, by the former owners, and the water coursing downward formed a series of miniature mud slides. Even to my young eyes, this disaster was scarcely what my mother had been led to expect of our new home. When the rain finally cleared, the house was still an eyesore, and the town dreary and dull. Yet another count against poor Eddie.

War eventually caught up even with New Milton. The bombing began, quite regularly, at around three in the morning. Lying on our mattresses in the hallway, we listened as the explosions got closer. The sense of excitement I had initially experienced in Bristol turned into dread. I learned how to tell the difference between the sounds made by different plane engines: the German planes emitted a short, rhythmically repetitive buzz, while ours sounded a long, drawn-out hum.

The bombings became so intense that there was little chance of sleep. We got most of the bombs the Luftwaffe hadn't had time to drop on London. Why waste them on the English Channel when they could be hurled at the welcoming little community of New Milton? Twice the Germans machine-gunned our high street. Fern Hill Manor, the private girls' school where I was next enrolled, was evacuated deeper into the country, and my cousin Erica went with them. Why I wasn't sent away as well remains a mystery; perhaps I just downright refused to go. My aunt Dolly and uncle Isadore went away for a few days' rest at a safer location, and invited the four of us to use their house, which had an air-raid shelter located at the bottom of the garden, to get some sleep.

Our first night there we went to sleep in our bunks in the shelter, hoping that, at long last, we could look forward to an undisturbed night.

Sometime around midnight, the entire shelter rose up off the ground. We were thrown from our bunks and lay petrified on the floor, finding somewhat to our own surprise that we were still alive. About an hour later the air-raid warden came by to check on us, and reported that several land mines had been dropped in a complete circle around the house we were staying in.

When dawn broke, my father and I went to see the craters formed by these huge missiles when an explosion, not too far off, and more ear-splitting than anything we had heard until then, sent us scurrying home again. As we arrived back in stunned silence, we were met by the local police, who ordered us to leave the area immediately, because these bombs, timed to explode long after they had been dropped from the air, were all around us, and there was no way of knowing when the next one would go off.

We went back to our house in New Milton. A few days later the church bells rang, a signal to be sent only in case of an actual invasion. The bells had not been heard since the declaration of war. It was now 1940 and France had already fallen. The entire country was acutely aware that England was to be next.

Mother went silently upstairs and put on her fur coat. We sat in the living room, waiting for the Germans to arrive. We waited until the police came round some hours later, knocking on every door in the neighborhood to say that the bells had been rung by mistake. My parents entertained no illusions regarding Hitler's designs for the Jews.

Years later, when I reminded her of this incident, she said that although she remembered putting on her coat, she had absolutely no idea what had motivated her.

Mother felt that we could be no worse off in London at my grandparents' house. It would only be a matter of time before we were bombed out of our house in New Milton; blitz or no blitz, it was decided, and off to London we went. At this point, we had nowhere else to go.

Under My Grandmother's Kitchen Table

My grandparents' house was in a state of utmost confusion; every room that could be used was filled with cots. My grandfather was gravely ill with tuberculosis; my grandmother was valiantly trying to cope with an impossible situation. Mother, John, and I slept in one bed, while Eddie slept on the floor on a spare mattress. After our recent experience of near burial in the country, the air-raid shelter had become a place of danger to me and my mother. I spent a great deal of time under the kitchen table, as safe a haven as any from the war.

My father, whose eyesight was too weak to allow him to be taken into the army, became an air-raid warden. I can't remember where he was posted, I only know he had to leave us. Thereafter, we were supported by my grandparents.

I recollect aspects of those war years with a clarity I have retained about no other period in my life, for each moment was heightened by the sense of shared danger. The secretive nature of the English mentality, even the class differences that have had such an overwhelming and detrimental effect on the English character, seemed to evaporate. The forced camaraderie of the shelters, the strong allegiances created by the tension of the war, vanished after V.E. Day. Soon afterward, all the old class barriers would be hoisted up once more, and the ancient islanders' distrust of one another would resume.

I can only try to imagine the strain of these tumultuous times on Mother, mostly alone and responsible for two small children, with no other means of support than her parents, and with no home of her own. That is the only way I can explain her decision to leave England.

In the early months of 1941, a letter arrived from the United States, asking us, in the most affectionate terms, to come to Florida for the duration of the war. This invitation came from my father's brother David, and his wife, Estelle. The British government had asked anyone who could find a sponsor in a nonaligned country--the United States was months away from Pearl Harbor and entry into the war--to take their children and leave. The threat of invasion was still a distinct possibility, and we couldn't impose on my grandparents forever. But I believe these dangers played a very small part in Mother's calculations. She simply had reached the end of the line; this seemed the only way she could see to solve her immediate problems. The invitation was accepted and we were booked to leave for America.

Mother's decision was momentous. She knew almost nothing of the relatives on whom we were to be totally dependent--my father hadn't seen his brother since David had emigrated to the United States fifteen years before and had never met his sister-in-law Estelle--and Mother must have known that, once there, it would be almost impossible to return home. My grandfather was in failing health; my grandmother was getting older. I'm sure it was agony for this dutiful daughter to leave her parents, not knowing whether she would ever see them again. The perils of taking her children across the Atlantic during the war were also glaringly obvious to her. But just as the selling of our house in Bristol, and our move to Cornwall, was governed as much by our precarious financial position as by wartime worries, so too did her infinitely graver choice to move to America find its roots in her continuing financial distress.

Until the moment of departure, my imagination was filled with visions of waving palms and flamingos. But the reality of the adventure we were really to undertake I couldn't even begin to imagine.

We had no house to close up, no friends to whom to say good-bye. My father was granted leave to escort us to Glasgow in Scotland, which was the port of exit from which his wife and two children were to sail to America.

After we were led to our cabin, we sat in gloomy silence, waiting nervously for the signal notifying us that Eddie would have to disembark. He went up on deck to buy us a packet of biscuits, and when he came back, he was weeping bitterly. I had never seen a man cry before, and I started to sob as well. All of a sudden, this undeniably self-cantered little girl realized something terrible was about to happen, and that the entire fabric of the life she had hitherto known was about to be torn apart.

Although my father may appear from time to time in these recollections as a shadowy and irresolute figure, my feelings for him must have been much stronger than I allowed myself to recognize. To be wrenched apart in this manner gave me much more anguish than could have been possible if, however deeply hidden even from myself, I had not loved him. I felt guilty and miserable; I know that I had always sided with my mother, and denied my feelings for this other needy parent. He had been affectionate and loving, and yet, to a great degree, absent. Partly due to financial pressures, but also to some lack of center within himself. Even as a child, I had felt more pity for him than confidence or respect. Seeing him weep in this way was overwhelming. I had not experienced desolation and abandonment of this magnitude. I was certain I would never see him again, and that we were moving inexorably toward a terrifying, unknown territory.

© 1996 Claire Bloom

Little, Brown

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