Mary Russell’s War, week one

On the centenary of the Great War, a journal has come to light, containing weekly entries from a very young Mary Russell. It begins, appropriately enough, on August 4, 1914, when Russell is living with her parents and brother in San Francisco.


4 August 1914.

I was fourteen when I first heard about the War. Fourteen years and 214 days, with my nose (as usual) in a book as I walked down the stairs.

At least, that’s how Mother says I shall remember it. And Father agrees, that War will be both long and hard, for all the European countries and the British Empire. Flo’s parents—Flo is my best friend, so of course I telephoned to her about Britain’s declaration of War immediately after I had finished my meal, although it was a brief conversation since Mother and Father both wished to use the instrument, yet they would not allow me to go to Flo’s house, oh, when will I be permitted to take a simple walk without a chaperone?—at any rate, Flo’s parents say that’s silly, that England will sweep up the German army in no time. However, since Mother has a dreary way of being right about everything, I thought I might mark the occasion by taking out the Journal she gave me for my birthday 214 days ago, and begin writing in it. If she’s wrong, I shall show her this, as a demonstration of her fallibility.

They’ve all been talking about war for what seems like forever, even before the Archduke and his wife were shot in Sarajevo at the end of June. I have to admit that I have yet to understand precisely what the heir to a Bohemian throne (will I ever be able to hear that name without envisioning Irene Adler?) has to do with an invasion of Belgium. Judging by the conversation of many adults and the cross-purposes of the newspaper editorials, I am not the only one to whom the sequence is unclear.

Still, one thing is clear: the fuse of the powder-keg that is Europe has been set alight.

Looking at what I have written here, I realise that I have yet to introduce myself, the author. My name is Mary Judith Emily Russell, daughter of Charles Russell (of Boston, Massachusetts) and Judith Rebecca Russell (née Klein, of London, England.) In addition to being fourteen years and 214 days old, I am tall for a girl, nearsighted, with blonde hair the same shade as my father’s (although considerably longer) and the blue eyes that so often go with that colour. I have a brother, Levi, who is nine years old and resembles our mother, being dark of hair and eye, and irritatingly right about things. Especially mathematics. He’s something of a genius. I’m merely very smart.

I probably shouldn’t have written that, since if he finds this he’ll take it as an admission that he has the superior mind. If you are reading this, Levi, remember that even Sherlock Holmes, the world’s smartest man, wasn’t as bright as a woman.


  1. Merrily Taylor on August 4, 2014 at 10:28 am

    This is wonderful! How amazing that this historical artifact was discovered just now, on the anniversary of the War that was such a critical element in Miss Russell’s life. I look forward to learning more from her diary and thank her Literary Agent for bringing it to light.

  2. Bill Edwards on August 4, 2014 at 10:31 am


  3. Susan Thompson on August 4, 2014 at 10:56 am

    One’s heart aches, knowing all that the writer, and those about whom she writes, will experience in the coming few months.

    • MJ Lowe on August 4, 2014 at 11:29 am

      Too true, Susan Thompson. That’s exactly what I thought.

  4. Scott M on August 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Ha! If the young Miss Russell only knew, she’s soon to meet the world’s smartest man in person. It’s interesting to see this glimpse of her earlier life, and I look forward to further entries should any come to light.

  5. Mary G on August 4, 2014 at 11:17 am

    How can the 14-year-old Mary Russell write in her journal on August 4, 2014 anything about Irene Adler?

    • Laurie King on August 4, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      Mary: “A Scandal in Bohemia” was published in 1891.

  6. Anne Finnerup on August 4, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Great stuff!
    Thank you 🙂 I hope there will be more entries from the hand of the young Mary Russel.
    Perhaps she will share with us some of her childhood memories? She might even have tried some of Sherlock Holmes investigation techniques in an attempt to solve some mystery or other 🙂
    She knows the books, she’s a very bright child and would have seen many things that adults didn’t…
    Here’s hoping 🙂 🙂

  7. Rachel Brice on August 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Lovely, as always 🙂 Keep it comin’!

  8. Elise K on August 4, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Mary G, I though the same at first. But just because Russell makes reference to the reading she did during her convalescence does not mean that she was unfamiliar with the Holmes stories prior to the accident.

  9. Meredith Taylor on August 4, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Splendid! at least it comes out right eventually, for young MR.

    “Emily?” surprise there.

    Best to all//Meredith

  10. Dolly Joern on August 4, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    How wonderful to know Mary before “Beekeepers”. Thanks.

  11. Mary Toomey on August 4, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you so much. You made my day.

  12. LauraS on August 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    This should be interesting. Thank you Laurie! I do have one question though: our young American diarist has used the British spelling “colour” instead of the American “color.” Foreshadowing perhaps? 😉

    • Meagan H. on August 5, 2014 at 12:38 am

      On the spelling of “colour” if memory serves, her mother taught her to read and write (at a very young age) and would likely have taught British spellings. And those spellings learned young may be hard to drop even after learning the American way in school.

    • Alice Wright on August 5, 2014 at 7:17 am

      LauraS, as we find out later in Locked Rooms, Mary Russell spent ages 6-12 in England, so you would most likely use British spelling having spent those formative years in that country.


  13. Kathy F. on August 4, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    This is fantastic!! Thank you!! (Great, but sad to meet her family…)

  14. Sally Hutsell on August 4, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    I have had the very great pleasure of reading all the Mary Russell adventures this summer. Now that I have finished them, this journal will fill the void nicely. Thank you Ms. King for the great joy these books have brought me.

  15. Storyteller Mary on August 4, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Charming and insightful. Thanks so much for sharing this rare find with us.

  16. Rachael on August 4, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    This is fabulous! Thank you!

  17. Pamela Ossorio on August 5, 2014 at 9:35 am

    How great, can’t wait to read more!

  18. The Bold Flying Officer on August 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I suspect we have a four-year serial … depending, of course, on how diligent the 14yr-and-241-day-old Miss Russell was in writing up her journal. Also, how much time her literary agent has between her other many tasks and responsibilities to transcribe the material. No doubt we may expect periodic commentary and observations for, sadly, it was not “over by Christmas”.
    Back in Blighty, last night we commemorated the start of The War to End All Wars, the lights in the parish church dimming over the hour from 10.00pm to 11.00pm; the congregation holding candles. We filed out of church to the War Memorial, a cluster of 120-odd candles surrounded it. The Last Post was sounded, a Wreath laid and a final silence of remembrance before a silent dispersal to our homes.
    The dimming of the lights were an allusion to the British Foreign Secretary observation the “the lamps are going out all over Europe … we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. I believe that the US equivalent to The Last Post bugle call is “Taps”.

    Mike aka TBFO

  19. The Bold Flying Officer on August 5, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    PS: The British Foreign Secretary in 1914 being Sir Edward Grey!

    Mike aka TBFO

  20. Rayleen Weed on August 5, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Absolutely loved this, thank you so much for a distraction from the wait for Dreaming Spies! I hope to see more soon!

  21. Sharon Svendsen on August 6, 2014 at 12:04 am

    This is so wonderful. Mary’s agent/publisher must know that Mary is incapable of writing anything bad. But I worry. Mary must be very close to her personal tragedy.

  22. Laraine on August 6, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Thank you, Laurie. Love this glimpse.

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