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Ruth’s Words

SIR: I am writing in reply to your review by Rosemary Dinnage of my book The Story of Ruth (LRB, 4 December). I have read other reviews by Ms Dinnage and regard highly her opinions and learning. Therefore I am particularly stung by some remarks in this review of hers. She dislikes the style in which the book is written, but this is not what bothers me. I wrote it in the awareness that its style was unusual for a psychiatric case-history, but I had a reason for choosing that style, which I still think is valid. I wanted the book to be accessible to a wide audience, hoping that people who had had experiences similar to Ruth’s would read the book and find it reassuring, and might then present themselves to doctors for therapy or to scientists for research. A reader’s response to an author’s style depends upon the reader’s taste, and other people whom I respect like the style of the book: Dr Anthony Clare in New Society said it was ‘skilfully written and immensely readable’, and Dr Charles Rycroft in the Times Literary Supplement called it ‘compulsive reading’.

What does bother me is that Ms Dinnage questions whether some of the dialogue and dreams that I relate actually happened in just that way. The answer is that indeed they did. Before publication, I gave the professional people who had participated in the story those parts of the manuscript that dealt with their participation. Everyone felt satisfied that what I reported conveyed accurately what they remembered had happened. Ruth read the whole manuscript and expressed satisfaction with its accuracy too. Ms Dinnage doubts that some of Ruth’s dreams were ever dreamed. Most of the dreams I report were written down by Ruth upon her waking up from sleep, and in the book I present them in those very words of hers. Here and there I inserted additional remarks she made in conversation with me about the dreams. I still have Ruth’s written dream accounts, and anyone, including Ms Dinnage, who wishes to see those accounts and compare them with what is in the book is welcome to do so. Possibly Ms Dinnage is simply unaccustomed to someone expressing herself in Ruth’s raw unsophisticated manner.

Support of a different sort for the authenticity of the story comes from Dr Theodore X. Barber, an American psychologist and one of the world’s leading researchers into hypnosis. Barber is engaged in a long-term study of excellent hypnotic subjects whom he has discovered through large-scale screening procedures. After reading The Story of Ruth, he wrote to me: ‘Our data corroborate your data with Ruth and seem to show that about 4 percent of the (female) population may have many of the characteristics that Ruth has.’ A recent paper of his, published with Sheryl C. Wilson, documents that allegation in detail: ‘Vivid Fantasy and Hallucinatory Abilities in the Life Histories of Excellent Hypnotic Subjects (“Somnambules”): Preliminary Report with Female Subjects’.

Morton Schatzman
London NW5

France’s Favourite Criminal

SIR: I have not read Carey Schofield’s Mesrine: the Life and Death of a Super-Crook, so do not know whether the author or the reviewer. Douglas Johnson, is responsible for a cocktail of gratuitous prejudice and misinformation ( (LRB, 7 August). The socialist leader (whom Mr Johnson, perhaps wisely in the circumstances, leaves unnamed) did not ‘lie down on the pavement not far from the Bibliothèque Nationale’ and pretend to have escaped an assassination attempt. He knocked on the door of an apartment near the Jardin de l’Observatoire. His life was among those repeatedly threatened in the closing stages of the Algerian War. It is now widely accepted that he believed in the plot to kill him, lost his head and lent himself to a foolish masquerade. This gives no one a licence to make out his behaviour as more ridiculous than it was. Moreover, he no more ‘continued his career unharmed’ by this farce than did Senator Kennedy after Chappaquiddick.

The reviewer appears to believe that a consensus exists that the careers of a motley collection of Frenchmen ought to have been ruined by certain ‘chastening and humiliating experiences’, instead of which they ‘emerged unscathed’. Among these, figure ‘nuclear scientists arranging their power supplies’. This appears to be a case of wobbly syntax superimposed on muddled thinking. France’s ambitious and controversial nuclear programme is hardly chastening to the scientists responsible – who do not ‘arrange’ power supplies (whatever that means), their own or anyone else’s. The Pompidou Centre (whose architects were British and Italian) is not, as Mr Johnson appears to imagine, universally despised. Like atomic energy, it is controversial: a lot of people are against it, but a lot of people are for it, finding it visually stimulating, a courageous rising to a challenge. On what does Mr Johnson base the assumption that the schoolteacher who said he was glad Mesrine had been killed, because of his influence on the young, ‘doubtless’ and ‘avidly’ read all about the crook and regaled his young charges with an eye-witness account of his death?

I return, finally, to the opening sentence, which at once established the kind of thing the reader was in for. ‘The great annual reshuffle of the social norms, which [the French] have turned into a ritual with all the characteristics of a cult’, seems to be just a pretentious way of saying that the French enjoy their long summer holiday. Perhaps after this one should not have read on.

Anne Sington

Douglas Johnson writes: Miss Anne Sington is quite right. I should have mentioned Mitterrand by name when I was recalling the ludicrous role which he played in the days of the Poujadists, the memory of which does not seem to have affected his political destiny (the likelihood of being defeated for the third time in a presidential election). I have heard the Pompidou building praised. One French person expressed pleasure that even though they had no petrol, they now had an oil refinery in the centre of Paris. I had always thought that the French had a cult of holidays, especially in the summer, but I could be wrong about this, at about Mitterrand’s prospects or the Pompidou Centre’s aesthetic qualities.

Translating Frege

SIR: No doubt it was careless of me to rely on the result of a spot check to conclude that there were no changes in the translation other than those recorded in the glossary; it was certainly careless to have overlooked the Prefatory Note: but it ill-becomes Professor Geach (Letters, 4 December) to make abusive remarks about carelessness when the first edition contained frequent omissions of phrases and of whole sentences, which might have gone uncorrected for much longer but for the labour undertaken by me of checking every line, and which, in my original review, I recorded, but did not castigate.

Professor Geach knows perfectly well that, in the Grundlagen, Frege was not yet using the word Bedeutung in the quasi-technical sense which prompted the original rendering of it as ‘reference’ in the Geach/Black volume: his mention of Austin’s translation is therefore quite irrelevant. I do not believe that the word ‘reference’ has been used in such divergent senses as to make it more misleading now as a rendering of Frege’s term than it was when the translation was first published: rather, it is now much less misleading, having become standard in discussions of Frege in English. I happen to think both that it would have been better to use ‘meaning’ in the first place, as I said in my review, and that it is now better to go on using ‘reference’. These are matters of opinion: what is hardly a matter of opinion is that it was unfair to leave readers in ignorance that previous editions used the rendering ‘reference’, so giving it general currency.

Michael Dummett
New College, Oxford

In Hiding

SIR: In her review of Leon Garfield’s completed version of Edwin Drood (LRB, 6 November), Brigid Brophy refers to one of Dickens’s own notes, possibly for a chapter or the book’s title, ‘Edwin Drood in hiding’, and conjectures whether Drood might have turned out to be alive and ‘in hiding’ after his disappearance. I feel it would be characteristic of Dickens to intend some play on words. Drood could be dead and yet very much ‘in hiding’ if his body was hidden in, for instance, the monument to Mrs Sapsea. I wonder if an even more morbid thought occurred to Dickens when at the same time he toyed with the phrase ‘The flight of Edwin Drood’. Buried in quick-lime, the body would indeed soon be fled.

Michael Levey
London SW5

Christian Soldiers

SIR: A.J.P. Taylor’s remark, ‘The early Christians refused to serve in the Roman armies, but this sprang from their refusal to accord divine honours to the Emperor. Once they could serve under the sign of the Cross the Christians fought vigorously enough’ (LRB, 2 October), does him little credit. For one thing, the senatorial aristocracy served in the army without according the Emperor divine honours. For another, if by ‘early Christians’ Taylor means those prior to the fourth century and therefore before the rule of the Cross, the evidence is against him. The Roman historian Dio Cassius wrote that Hadrian esteemed the Christians, which he would hardly have done if they refused military service. Xiphilinus’s 11th-century supplement to Dio Cassius says that in the second century the Romans had Christian divisions called the Thundering Legions. Galerius, the arch-enemy of the Christians, depended for his best soldier material on Asian provinces that were strongly Christian. Among the benefits restored to the Church when persecution abated was military standing.

If A.J.P. Taylor is referring to first-century Christians his argument is not much sounder. Paul’s journeys, going by the places he visited, suggest a shrewd strategical interest. The very term apostolos by which he is known has a naval ring. Many of the New Testament books appear to have been created in Roman military centres. Hebrews has an unmistakable soldierly flavour.

Records of Christian history suggest far too close a military relationship with the principate for even a casual student to take seriously a claim that ‘early Christians refused to serve in the Roman armies.’

Neil Hirschson