William Emrys Williams, one of Penguin’s earliest editors and a longtime colleague of Frost’s, wrote to Lane that her nervous collapse was partly characterised by the fact that she became ‘more and more unable to distinguish between the important and the trivial’ and scattered her thoughts between ‘sundry scraps of paper’.
When I read this, I realised Williams was describing what I was holding in my hands – and that these recipes and phone numbers and newspapers and letters and poems and torn-up envelopes covered corner to corner in near-illegible autobiographical scrawls were not just the traces of her life. They were the symptoms: the actual manifestation of her fast-fragmenting mind.
There is a feeling that comes from handling anyone’s personal papers – the thrilling, almost guilty sense that you’re prying, reading their love letters and carrying the dust of them on your clothes when you leave. It is a modern cliche that our own era of deletable technology will prevent us from leaving such a legible legacy. But Eunice Frost’s rich and troubled literary remains beg a different question, one that may even allow us to live a little differently. The question is not what will be left of us, but what have we accumulated – of love and experience, of art and words?