Letter from Dora Russell (neé Black) to Anne, Sarah, and Lucy Russell



Letter from Dora Russell (neé Black) to Anne, Sarah, and Lucy Russell


Dora Russell writes to her grandchildren in the spring of 1964, a time when Bertrand and Edith Russell were attempting to revisit the terms of their 1961 custody agreement to prevent John Russell, Dora and Bertrand's son, from seeing his children. Russell and Edith made this move following receipt of a series of packages from John containing obscene language (Monk 488). Lucy became heavily involved in the family conflict which followed, and in the same year began to experience difficulties at school (Monk 492).


Dora Winnifred Russell (neé Black)


6 April 1964


Lucy Russell fonds, Box 2, File 4


Carn Voel
nr Penzane.

April 6th 1964

Dearest Ann and Sare [sic], also LuLu, though I am sending a separate note to her in answer to the one she wrote to me in London.

I think that I told you many times that both John and I, and especially John, always wanted, and tried, to keep you out of quarrels between adults. John made a very great sacrifice in giving way about you to do this. And I have tried myself, as John got better, to bring him and his father together, showing him any good notes about his father in the press, and suggesting that they meet, indeed, I wrote only lately to his father about that.

The refusal to meet, which Lulu mentioned in her letter, is not on our side, nor the wish to keep old quarrels going. I would be only too glad to meet Grandpa and/or Edith and talk about John and his problems, related to what are now, through their action, becoming yours.

Grandpa really does not understand schizophrenia. John sending him those papers was an attempt to get in touch with him, to make him take some notice of him, John. Incidentally, did Grandpa not tell you that a section of them was poems which John copied carefully from the Listener of Feb. 27th and sent because he thought them good and thought his father would like them? They all seem to have assumed that these were part of John’s “ravings”!! until I pointed this out to the lawyers. If anything it proves how much John must “be with it” as regards modern literature!! Perhaps he may even presently write a book like the nonsense one now being acclaimed by one of the Beatles, whose haircuts are even more fantastic than John’s used to be.

However, John is aware that Grandpa does not love him—otherwise he would write to him on his birthday or at Christmas or otherwise act towards him in a fatherly way. And this is part of the trouble between them. But, it does not concern you, in the sense that you should be dragged into it.

But I have to write this letter, because Grandpa showed you those papers, which were not intended for you, but only for him and he should never have done that.

They do not indicate that John is worse or that his illness has changed, for Grandpa knows well that more involved and worse writings were produced by Grandpa to the Court at the time when the order that you should see John was first made. If it was all right for you to come then, it cannot not be right now, when John is better and making increasing social efforts.

Being schizophrenic means being two persons. These outpourings are part of the unconscious, stirred up, as I think, unfortunately, by the analysis which John had before his breakdown. They represent the fantasy world from which we are all trying, as he is trying himself, to escape. And you know this from what you have seen of him. The people who can help are those close to him or who care for him and he has had help from you, Harry, Roddy, Lily, David, Brenda, Vera, Dolly, Kate and her family, Chris, Harry and Roddy’s friends and mine. No help of a personal kind ever came from Wales, and how glad I would have been of some kindness and understanding these past weary ten years of struggling to bring John back. And now when he is so near it, what do they do? Try to push him back again.

It is no use saying that he ought to be in a home. Read the Observer of this last Sunday, to see what would have happened, and was happening, to him there. People need love and care and parents owe that to their children always, whether they are good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, useful or useless.

When Grandpa received that package from John, he could so easily have written to me and said he was worried. I did not even know it had been sent, you realise. If he would have had any confidence, I could have reassured him completely. Instead, the first I heard of the thing, was the lawyer’s letter and the summons to the Court. What a way to behave!! To your own son and his mother. And now, having not succeeded by the Court, an attempt is being made to undermine your feeling for John and your confidence when you are with him.

It is not, dear Ann, a question of who is right or wrong, this is the field into which Russell would like to drag it. It is a question of John’s and your elementary rights as human beings and father and daughters.

I will not endure that you should be made the victims of a vendetta that has cursed my life for more than thirty years and that has contributed to John’s illness. Thank goodness, you are all nearly grown up and can presently turn your backs on the whole business. But I do hope that you will remember that John has really been the one who has suffered most, that he is, as Ann wrote, gentle and lonely, that he is as you have always seen him and not some sort of newly formed monster created by Grandpa’s imagination.

I just have to write this, because I can tell from your letters just what pressure is being put, of which you will scarcely be aware. But all measures to try and get contact with those two seem futile, so I have to speak out.