About Barbara Follett

Barbara Newhall Follett was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, on March 4th, 1914. Her parents were the teachers, essayists, and literary critics, Helen Thomas Follett and Roy Wilson Follett. (Wilson Follett, my grandfather, was an exceptional scholar and was 1909 Oliver Wendell Holmes Scholar at Harvard College, a full scholarship given to Harvard’s highest-ranking freshman. He’s now best known for “Modern American Usage,” which was published in 1966 three years after his death; it’s still in print, although in a much-revised form. When Barbara was born he was teaching English at Dartmouth College.)

The Folletts chose to school Barbara at home, believing she would receive a better education if free to pursue her own interests—which centered mainly on the nature and landscape surrounding her.

A turning point in Barbara’s young life occurred when she was four and became fascinated with the clacking of her father’s typewriter. In a very short time she was typing stories, poems, and letters on her own portable machine. At five years, four months she wrote to Mr. Oberg, a friend and repairer of antiques in Providence, Rhode Island:

The goldfinches come every afternoon and eat their supper on the clump of bachelor’s-buttons right on the left-hand side of the path that leads from the back door to our road. There are ten goldfinches, five males and five females. Before they eat their suppers, they sit on the clothesline and swing in the breeze. I wish you could be here to see them.

Day before yesterday Daddy killed a snake in the potato-patch; then he threw the snake away with a stick, and then he threw away the stick. The next day Ding [Barbara’s grandmother on her mother’s side, who lived with the family] and I went down Ridgeview Place, and there were the snake and the stick. The snake was about three feet long.

Soon Barbara had her own study in the Follett home in New Haven, Connecticut, where her father was an editor at Yale University Press, and was composing stories on her typewriter, revising them with a pencil, and retyping a final copy. By the time she turned six she had worked on the 4500-word “The Life of the Spinning-Wheel, the Rocking Horse, and the Rabbit” over a period of several months. It begins:

Once upon a time, though I can’t say exactly when, there lived in a far-off country a spinning-wheel, a rocking-horse, and a rabbit. They knew many of the people in that country. They lived in a house with many pretty things in it, such as I am going to tell you about: amethysts, turquoises, opals, pearls, diamonds, and rubies, and precious stones of all kinds.

One day when Mrs. Spinning-Wheel had her head stretched out of the window looking down upon the glorious garden of flowers, she was saying to herself, humming a low, sweet little song,—”Oh dear! how I wish Mr. Horse were white!”

Mr. Rabbit was hiding in a corner behind the door, and he heard what Mrs. Spinning-Wheel had said. “Ha! Ha!” said Mr. Rabbit to Mrs. Spinning-Wheel, with a wiggle of his nose, “Mr. Horse shall be white, as white as you want him to be!”

“Eh?” replied Mrs. Spinning-Wheel.

“I say” began Mr. Rabbit a little louder. But Mrs. Spinning-Wheel interrupted him, saying:

“What do you mean to say to me?”

“I mean to say to you,” said Mr. Rabbit, “that Mr. Horse shall be as white as you want him to be.”

“Ah! Now I get you,” said Mrs. Spinning-Wheel, with a merry little laugh. “But,” said she, in a few minutes, “how are you going to make Mr. Horse as white as snow?”

“I am going to take a fairy’s wand,” said Mr. Rabbit to Mrs. Spinning-Wheel.

“A bright idea!” exclaimed she.

“Well then,” said Mr. Rabbit, “tomorrow morning I’ll go off for the wand. But now Mrs. Clock says seven and so I should think we might as well go to bed.”

And so they all went to bed.

In her very early years Barbara had few friends her own age to play with, but her animal friends (both real and stuffed) and her vivid imagination kept her company. From a letter to Mr. Oberg from January, 1922:

I pretend that Beethoven, the Two Strausses, Wagner, and the rest of the composers are still living, and they go skating with me, and when I invite them to dinner, a place has to be set for them; and when I have so many that the table won’t hold them all, I make my family sit on one side of their chair to make room for them. My abbreviation for the Two Strausses is the Two S’s. Beethoven, Wagner, and the Two S’s have maids; Beethoven’s maid’s name is Katherine Velvet, Wagner’s maid’s name is Katherine Loureena (she got the name Loureena when she was a little bit of a girl because she loved to skate in the Arena), and Strauss’s maid’s name is Sexo Crimanz… Now I am going to tell you about a funny accident that Wagner had. One morning when I had two chairs set out, one for Beethoven and the other for Wagner, I hadn’t pretended long enough to get my family used to them, and Daddy suddenly grabbed the chair that Wagner was sitting in, but I held on to it squealing: “Hey, that’s Wagner’s chair!” Then he went around to Beethoven, and I was looking suspiciously at him all the time. But he turned around again and didn’t bother Beethoven. I suppose that when he got around there, he thought that Beethoven was there.

Also in 1922, Barbara began to form her ideas about the planet Farksolia and to develop the Farksolians’ language, Farksoo, which would soon come to occupy two catalog-card files—one for the Farksoo-English dictionary and the other for English-Farksoo. In a May, 1922, letter to Mrs. Lathrop, who had sent her a copy of Walter De la Mare’s “Down A-Down Derry”:

I have now started a story about kittens, and the most important character is Verbiny the princess who found the mother-cat in the woods, caught her, and tamed her. One of the four kittens had a black back arched up like a kangaroo rat’s, and at the top of each white stocking was a band of yellow. All the kittens catch little crickets and grasshoppers, and one of the kittens catches a bay mouse, and a kitten named Citrolane catches two sparrows, one with each paw. But just a little while after the kittens are born they want so much to see what is on the other side of the fence that fences in their property that they climb up over it and jump down and almost land on a porcupine, be he good-naturedly steps aside in time. In a chapter called Springtime I have written down a little poem in a secret language that Verbiny called Farksoo. In the secret language it was this:

Ar peen maiburs barge craik coo
Peen yars fis farled cray pern.
Peen darndeon flar fooloos lart ain birdream.
Afee lart ain caireen ien tu cresteen der tuee,
Darnceen craik peen bune.

I will now translate it as best I can.

As the (and maiburs means a flower that comes in May) begin to come,
The air is filled with perfume.
The dandelion fluff floats like a (and birdream means something very beautiful).
Also like a fairy in her dress of gold,
Dancing to the wind.

Harold McCurdy, in his book “Barbara: Unconscious Autobiography of a Child Genius,” suggests that Barbara invented her complex imaginary worlds because she wanted to escape the one adults had made, with all its greed, cruelty, and violence. She also wanted freedom and independence: themes that would persist throughout her life. He also suggests that Farksolia was particularly attractive because in the past it had been ravaged by war and destruction and had barely escaped depopulation altogether, and now its future rested in the hands of a six-year-old and a baby. And, of course, in “The Adventures of Eepersip,” the first version of which Barbara wrote to present to her mother on her ninth birthday in March, 1923 (it was Barbara’s custom to give presents to others on her birthday), Eepersip runs away from home and lives very happily in Nature. In Barbara’s words:

It is about a little girl named Eepersip who lived on top of a mountain, Mount Varcrobis, and was so lonely that she went away to live wild. She talked to the animals, and led a sweet lovely life with them—just the kind of life that I should like to lead. Her parents all tried to catch her, with some friends of theirs, and every time she escaped in some way or other.

Due to illness Barbara was unable to finish Eepersip quite in time for her birthday, but did complete it a few days later, and at the suggestion of her father she revised it over the course of the summer. But in October the Follett home burned down, and the only copies of the manuscript went up in flames. Heartbroken, Barbara turned to new stories to write, but returned to Eepersip in early 1924 and worked at it over the next two years, revising it carefully all the while. Her father thought this new version, which Barbara was much happier with, warranted publication. Alfred A. Knopf agreed, and published “A House Without Windows, and Eepersip’s Life There” in January, 1927. The first printing of 2500 sold out before the publication date, and a second printing of (I believe) 5000 was ordered. The book was well received, and was reviewed in the New York Times, the Saturday Review of Literature, and The American Girl (I’ve posted those reviews on Farksolia.)

In 1927 Barbara’s fascination with the sea reached fever pitch. Fortunately, and after much perseverance on Barbara’s part in stating her case, Helen and Wilson consented to let their daughter accompany the crew of the Frederick H., a three-masted schooner, as a deck-hand on a voyage north from New Haven to Nova Scotia that summer. On her return Barbara wrote a lovely memoir of her adventure, based on letters she wrote describing her trip, and Knopf published “The Voyage of the Norman D.” shortly after her fourteenth birthday, in 1928.

All was not well at home, however. For the past year Barbara’s father had been in New Haven less and less often; his work as an editor had taken him to the Knopf offices in New York, where he met Margaret Whipple, Alfred A. Knopf’s bright young secretary (at least I think that was my grandmother’s job at Knopf). Barbara missed her father very much, and wished that he would return home for good. From a letter dated April 29, 1927:

Dear Daddy:

It seems to us that New York must be a sort of Louis XI’s palace, full of snares, temptations, pitfalls, traps, and everything else for enticing and entangling its helpless victims.

[Barbara goes on to describe a beautiful spot she has found hidden far in the woods near their house—I’ll post the text of the letter on the site soon—then continues:]

I intend to make a great many visits, basket and shovel in hand, to this veritable Eden-of-cultivated-things-gone-wild, and I hope you will come along

“… up to the pig-sties,
and sit on the farm-yard rails!
Let’s say things to the bunnies,
And watch ’em skitter their tails!
Let’s–oh, anything, Daddy–
So long as it’s you and me….”

And there really are bunnies skittering their tails. We saw an adorable small-sized one, as we came down, who flickered his white puff-ball, and he skittered from bush to bush, crouching quietly and melting “Into the landscape.”

But Barbara’s words were not enough. Wilson sent a letter received two days after Barbara’s fourteenth birthday, saying that he wanted her mother to grant him a divorce. It appears that this letter may be lost, but Barbara’s reply survives, and it is heart-breaking. From that moment on, Barbara communicated with her father very rarely indeed, and didn’t spend any significant time with him until 1937.

Barbara had been devoted to her father, and his sudden departure was certainly a terrible, disillusioning blow, but such was Barbara’s passion for life—not only for nature and adventure but for writing about her ideas and experiences and sharing her stories with others—that the family crisis did not dampen her spirit for long. Instead, she persuaded her mother that an adventure at sea should be their next step. So they set sail from New York to Bridgeport, Barbados, in September. From there—with no itinerary in mind or any idea when they would return to the mainland, and without much luggage (a suitcase and two bags that held their typewriters) and with barely enough money to survive (fortunately, food on the islands was plentiful and often free, since they made friends everywhere they went)—the two explored the area by steamer and schooner for several idyllic months. Then, with no desire to return to a New England winter, they seized the chance to extend their adventure to the South Seas. They sailed through the Panama Canal to Tahiti, to Fiji, to the Tonga Islands, to Samoa, and finally arrived at Honolulu in May, 1929. There they secured passage to Hoaquim, Washington, aboard the five-masted schooner Vigilant, which had as her second mate a 25-year-old man named E. Anderson. Anderson and Barbara became very close during that voyage; soon Barbara had fallen in love.

It must have been terribly hard for Barbara to leave Anderson when they landed, and made doubly hard considering she had to readjust to life on the mainland. Helen and Barbara went south to Pasadena, where they stayed with family friends (I believe the Russell family, including Alice Dyer Russell, with whom Barbara kept a regular correspondence for many years). Helen and Barbara fought about what to do (Helen had a fiery temper, and no doubt Barbara rose to the challenge); compounding matters was the fact that they were out of money. Two wealthy friends of Helen’s came to the rescue. Mrs. A. Brown and Miss Mildred Kennedy paid for Helen to return to Honolulu where she could work on her book about the voyage, and they put Barbara in the care of a guardian, Dr. Ture Schultz, who enrolled her as a student at Pasadena Junior College. Barbara might have been curious about the idea of going to school for the first time, but she soon found everything about the situation “poisonous.” In late September she ran away to San Francisco, where she planned to live alone and support herself as a typist. The authorities had other ideas and had her arrested, but not before Barbara had escaped through her hotel room window when the police arrived at the door. (Decades later, the Boston Globe described this escape as a “suicide attempt,” which is utter nonsense.) Barbara spent a few days in detention, steadfastly refusing to return to the custody of the guardian. The saga was reported nationally in the press, much to her parents’ chagrin. Finally a decision was reached—behind closed doors to keep the press away—between Barbara and the adults. Details are murky (at least in my mind), but I think Barbara returned to the Russell family in Pasadena; met Anderson at least once when he answered her plea to come; and, according to McCurdy’s book, had a confrontation with her father and Margaret Whipple over Anderson. Not unexpectedly, and to Barbara’s contempt, they disapproved 0f the relationship. On her sixteenth birthday, on March 4, 1930, Barbara had her friends cut her long hair, which she had had braided in pigtails for many years: It was “…one of the best afternoon’s works I ever accomplished—or perhaps ever shall,” she later wrote to Alice.

Also in March, Helen and Barbara returned to the east coast, aboard the S.S. Marsodak, which sailed from San Diego through the Canal to Baltimore. They worked together for a few feverish months finishing “Magic Portholes” in Washington, D.C., and then moved to an apartment in New York where Barbara had a few job opportunities to investigate. She had also started work on her third novel, “Lost Island,” which she was very excited about. She looked forward to hearing again from Anderson, who was serving as mate aboard the schooner C.S. Holmes on the first of three summer trading expeditions from Seattle to Point Barrow, on the north slope of Alaska. For work Barbara wrote synopses of books for Fox Films, typed for hire, and studied shorthand, while yearning to hear from Anderson, who was scheduled to return in October. They resumed their correspondence, writing to each other sometimes several times a week, and Barbara learned that the sailor had scheduled a return trip to Alaska in the summer of 1931, saying he was saving up “For A Purpose.”

Barbara and Helen spent the summer of 1931 in a cabin in Vermont, where Barbara continued to work on “Lost Island.” She also met a group of students from Dartmouth College, including Nickerson Rogers, who had graduated that year. Nick loved hiking and camping in the mountains as much as Barbara, who had not had the opportunity to do much of it since her father had deserted her. Nick, Barbara, and two of Nick’s friends drove up to Katahdin in Maine for a hiking trip, and the four began to make plans to walk the 4000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail, from Katahdin to Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia, the next year. Barbara was growing more and more fond of Nick, soon describing their relationship as “semi-platonic.” Yet she still harbored feelings for Anderson. Nick and Barbara visited each other over the winter, and in the summer she quit her job and New York and spent several months with Nick in the mountains and wilderness of New England, exploring the country between Katahdin and Vermont by foot and canoe. By now Barbara had severed her correspondence with the distraught Anderson, who wrote her a letter in October, 1932, beseeching her to choose him over “Dartmouth.”

But it was to no avail. That same October Barbara sailed with Nick to Europe. They spent about a year living as carefree gypsies, for appearance’s sake pretending to be man and wife, exploring Spain and hiking in the Alps and the Black Forest, before returning sometime in late 1933 to Nick’s home in Boston, where they got married. They lived in a series of apartments in Boston and Brookline—Barbara working as a secretary and Nick as an engineer. Barbara rewrote the ending of “Lost Island,” dedicating it to “E.A.,” but did not succeed in finding a publisher for it; she also wrote several shorter pieces about her outdoors excursions with Nick, again leaving them unpublished. She continued to write to Alice in California and very occasionally to her mother in New York, but whether she wrote anything else I don’t know; if she did the writing does not appear to survive.

As their years in Boston passed, Nick’s job kept him increasingly busy and their trips to the mountains grew sparse. Barbara missed her adventurous life but was not at all unhappy with her new, domesticated life. She remained very fond indeed of her husband. In the winter of 1936-37 she also found a new activity that delighted her: “interpretive” dancing as part of Mary Starks’s Dance Workshop Group. She and Nick also started renting a cabin in New Hampshire (for the astonishing sum of $2.50 a month) as a base for skiing and hiking, and she renewed ties with her father, now married to Margaret and living with her and their baby girl, Jane (my mother), in Bradford, Vermont. Barbara wrote to Alice on July 20, 1937:

We helped them move up there in early June, and since then have spent one week-end with them. I am very fond of them both. They are mellowing down somewhat, too, I think, what with a little less strain and worry. Of course I can never really be myself with them; they are sort of formal, without at all meaning to be. Nick is completely at sea with them. He doesn’t get the point at all. He is a simple person, and his family is simple, and all this much ado about nothing, these mannerisms, this literary pomposity, gets him down. He subsides into himself, and says nothing at all. I guess you have to be brought up with it to be used to it! And heaven knows I have a hard enough time myself!

Nick and Barbara continued happy in 1938. Nick was busier and busier and was now working as a “special salesman” at Polaroid. Their vacation time did not coincide. Nevertheless, Barbara’s wanderlust was assuaged with a three-week canoe trip with two friends “in the wilds of Canada—and when I say ‘wilds,’ I mean it, too; there was one stretch of four days when we didn’t see or hear another human being, though we were on the move all the time. We fished, swam, sunned, and paddled and paddled and PADDLED from one lake to another, one river to the next, each one being lovelier and wilder than the one before. We camped on idyllic little islands and beaches.” In the same letter to Alice, of October 4, 1938, Barbara continued:

Part of my vacation–almost a week, in fact—I spent with Follett and Margaret at Bradford. I had one heavenly day there, during which I helped F. get caught up on his gardening. We worked together till we dropped, and it was lovely. After that things kind of petered out. They were having a financial crisis at the time (just for a change!) and that was weighing them down. There was a bad spell when they thought they were going to be thrown out of the house for non-payment of rent; but that passed, and there seem to be articles coming in the Atlantic now (my grandfather ended up writing about 125 articles for that magazine). Margaret goes through occasional very bitter spells, and then recovers.

In the summer of 1939 the Dance Workshop Group’s composer and pianist, Marjorie Houser(?), Marjorie’s younger brother, Lee, and Barbara drove across the country to the Bennington School of the Dance, Mills College, Oakland, where Barbara took a workshop. She also visited her good friend, Alice, in Pasadena. And it was while at Alice’s that she received the devastating letter from Nick that ended her vacation and returned her at once to Boston. (That letter does not survive, as far as I know.) On her return Barbara found the apartment empty: Nick had gone to New York and did not return until Friday morning (Barbara had arrived on Tuesday). Conversation with him confirmed her fears that “there IS someone else.” Barbara refused to ask Nick any questions but rather “just dug my nails into my palms” and never found out who that “someone else” was (it may have been Anne Bradley, who became the second Mrs. Nickerson Rogers).

Barbara blamed herself for Nick’s behavior, desperately wanting him not to leave her, and was hopeful that things would work out. On August 22 she wrote to Alice:

I think I’ve persuaded him to give me my chance. He is a very kind person, really, and hates to hurt people. He hated to write that letter; that’s why it sounded so awful. I think that, if I can really prove that I’m different, why maybe things will work out. He still doesn’t quite believe, as he says, that a leopard can change its spots! He thinks that in a month things will be all wrong again. So I say, at least give me that month! I think I’ll get it, and I think I can win if I’ve got the strength. Just this morning he said something that made me feel sort of hopeful. I think he is a steady enough person, and a kind enough person, and also enough of an easy-going person, so that he won’t go making drastic plunges if he doesn’t have to; and if I can make a pleasant sort of life for him, I think he’ll hang on. That’s what I’m banking on, and I’m putting my heart and soul into all the little things.

On November 4, in her last letter to Alice, things appeared to have improved…on the surface, that is. Barbara had found them a new apartment, at 48 Kent Street in Brookline, just up the street from Boston. She was working part-time, dancing part-time, and looking for an opportunity to study that more.

In my last letter I told you things were going well, and I thought they were. They continued to go well for a time—at least I thought so, and I was happy, and decided that the worst part of the ordeal was over. But that was too easy. No such luck! I don’t know what to say now. On the surface things are terribly, terribly calm, and wrong—just as wrong as they can be. I am trying—we are both trying. I still think there is a chance that the outcome will be a happy one; but I would have to think that anyway, in order to live; so you can draw any conclusions you like from that!

A month later, on December 7, 1939, after an argument with Nick, Barbara walked out of the apartment with $30 and a notebook. I have many questions about my family history, but the question that stands out among them, by far, is, What happened to Barbara Follett next?

March 7, 1928 – Letter to Wilson Follett

176 Armory Street, New Haven, Connecticut
March 7, 1928

Dear Daddy:

I did receive your letter, yesterday afternoon, and I read it (as you may suppose) a good many times before I came to any conclusion or conclusions concerning it. And now that I think that I have, I feel that I must point out two ideas in that letter that seem like ill-concealed weaknesses, and that cannot help but make me suspicious. (1) Because you do not give any clue as to what your answer almost was, and especially because you call attention to the fact that you have given no clue, I am tempted to think that the answer you had in your mind was one that you are now ashamed to reveal. For, had the intended answer been the right one, why all the secrecy about it? (2) Because the question of the divorce was brought up, that seems to me to put all idea of choice out of the picture, and it also seems to betray what was in your mind. For, in the desiring of a divorce from Helen (and I shouldn’t have let her give it to you, anyhow), how is it possible that this answer which “rang clear as a bell” in your mind was the right one?

Then there are others–other points–though those are the chief ones that have anything to do with your letter. For instance, Helen clearly and decidedly eliminated the idea of divorce long before she and Miss Whipple left New Haven. I was in the room at the time, “neque temere incognitam rem pronuntio.” Besides this, Helen was actually not asking you to return to her, but to return to the family. Aren’t we ever again going to cross the ranges of mountains in all weathers, or play about in Sternway, or steer a real windjammer though the seven seas, or take sailing-lessons from Mr. Rasmussen–as we once planned?

Such things do not reconcile themselves. For instance, if you now finally and determinedly drop all that, leave it behind, kick it out of the way, then how am I to believe that they actually and truly meant all to you that they seemed to at the time? And if they did, then how am I to believe that you don’t feel any more the lure of The Maine Woods–the lure of that mountain that we have always had vaguely in our minds? This is the time of year when you are wont to have feverish spells of mountain-lure–why aren’t you having them?

In short, and taking all this into consideration (as I hope you do), the whole wretched affair strikes upon me as being so absolutely nightmarish, insane, unthoughtof, that I can hardly convince myself that I ought to take it seriously. It seems to be like the last thing on earth that a person with any fragment of a brain or of a sense of responsibility would do. Doesn’t it seem that way to you?

Then there’s another very important thing. You say Helen needs me, and right you are; but I need you, too. Thus, when you think that out, how am I to manage? She needs me, and I need you; but there aren’t two of me, are there? And I can’t cut myself in two parts, and then set the parts fighting as you and Helen are fighting–can I? Besides, though you say a great deal, both in this letter of yours and at other times, about the destructive and “poisonous” relationship between Helen and yourself, you must remember (for even I can remember that) that it hasn’t been true except during the last year or so; and that, even now, there is hardly anyone in the world who still doesn’t believe that you and Helen are an ideal pair. Why, you are the only one who even entertains that wild though! And, after all this, who is going to consider your thoughts the right ones? And besides, you cannot impress it upon me or anyone else that a relationship with a young girl of twenty is going (I mean, in the long run) to be anything but a worse nightmare than even you think your relationship with Helen is.

Now that I have said my say: there only remains one more thing. I feel that it is my duty to relate to you truthfully and accurately the details of my conversation with Miss Whipple. For I have an idea that she has gone to you, complaining that she has been maltreated in your house and by your daughter; and I have also a feeling that you are going to sympathize with her, and let her tell you what a beast I am, and all that. Well, you know that my memory is fairly sound on detailed conversations; and I here promise and swear that such fragments as I can’t remember I won’t set down at all.

To begin with, Miss Whipple asked Helen to telephone me where I was with Sabra, to tell me that she wanted to talk to me. And so I came. Naturally, we couldn’t launch immediately into that conversation, and so at first there were only a few friendly remarks. And then—

W. You see, Barbara, I think he would be happy and contented with me; and you wouldn’t object to his being happy and contented, would you?

B. You think you can make him happy?

W. I do.

B. Well, but is that a very honourable sort of happiness?

W. I don’t know; you see, I suppose I’m in love with him.

B. Well, then I think you ought to try and get out of love just as quick as ever you can. Besides, can’t you be on friendly, happy terms with him, without taking him away from his family?

W. People in love just don’t do that–that’s all.

B. Then what do you want; what do you expect?

W. I want to marry him.

B. Yes; but I might raise objections to that.

W. You see, your mother told me that if I married him I’d ruin your whole life, smash all your ideals, and all that. Well, I don’t want to do that; you may not believe it, but I don’t. Would it ruin your whole life?

B. I don’t see how I can tell whether it would or not. It might not ruin the whole of it; but don’t you see–it isn’t that–it’s simply the fact that it’s dishonourable and unfair, that’s all. Good heavens, Miss Whipple–don’t you see what you’re doing? Can even you, “in love,” as you say, think that it is fair to take a man away from his family as you’re doing? You can realize that you are not in the right of it, can’t you.

W. Unfortunately, I’m not.

B. Indeed, and I think it’s extremely fortunate that you’re not. Besides, do you want to know what I think? I suppose you don’t, but here it is, anyhow: I think you’ve taken an unfair advantage of him when he was and is in a physically low condition–exhausted with work, powerless to resist your “love,” as you call it. Because I can tell you I am absolutely sure that, if he were in his right mind, he would never think of such a thing–never even listen to it for a minute.

W. (shrugs her shoulders; enter H.) Well, Barbara’s been trying to give me advice.

H. You can’t blame her; she’s only fourteen and she’s having her father taken away from her.

(Here follow scraps of conversation; among them H.’s definite assertion that there will be no divorce.) [Enter Taxi, shortly.]

B. (advancing menacingly upon W.) Besides, I have another thing to say to you, and it’s this: If I were in the painful position you’re in; if I were doing what you are trying your best to do, I wouldn’t stand up there, so extremely unashamed of myself.

W. (mockingly) Thank you; –that’s all I can think of to say.

B. Goodbye, Miss Whipple; I’m going to swear at you behind your back when you’ve gone.

W. Mm-hm;–all right.



Now, there remain only a few general remarks. (a) You told me, over the telephone, Monday afternoon, to “hold my horses; and everything will be all right.” Naturally I believed you (must I begin to train myself not to?) Did you want my horses held so that they (my horses) wouldn’t get in your way–interfere with your plans? I cannot think of any other explanation; especially if this is the “all right” that you promised. (b) I never realized that my whole life has been simply a jumble of two persons “poisonous” to each other. I won’t believe it, that’s all; I won’t. ( c) I can also tell you that in the conversation between Helen and Miss Whipple, there were no dramatics at all, which was very fortunate; all that got out of Helen’s system on Sunday. It was a cool, calm, deliberate conversation–and, as I said before, “non temere rem incognitam pronuntio.” (d) Consider Sabra, among all the other things you have to consider. Can’t you see that she is not possibly able to grow up decently in the midst of this whirlpool? Why, she will have to spend all her time struggling to keep herself from being sucked down into it–and, as yo know, she can’t quite swim yet. And besides, you can see–can you not?–that she can’t in any way get along respectably with only two out of the three of us? It wouldn’t matter which two you picked, she needs the third–she needs us all.

Well, I think that’s all–every detail–every scrap. I depend very much on you; and I trust you to give another heave at the capstan bars, to get the family anchor started toward the surface again. After all, you have the strongest shoulders for heaving of us all! And, really and truly, you don’t want the family anchor to remain forever at the bottom, do you?


My mother’s second birthday

L-R: Wilson Follett, Margaret Follett, Jane Follett, Grace Follett, Barbara Follett

I apologize for the poor quality of the image (it’s from a faded 35mm slide from my mother’s collection), but for the Follett family this photograph is gold. (L-R): My grandfather Wilson Follett (1887-1963); his third wife (my grandmother) Margaret Whipple Follett (1907-1992); my mother Jane Follett (1935-2010); Grace Parker Follett (1911-1995; the only child of my grandfather’s first marriage to Grace Huntington Parker, who sadly died about three weeks after Grace was born); and Barbara Newhall Follett (1914-???), daughter of Wilson and his second wife, Helen Thomas Follett. The  photograph was taken at the Follett home in Bradford, Vermont, on February 9, 1937, probably by Barbara’s husband Nickerson Rogers.

My second birthday was not as formal..