In 1890, two years after his father’s death, Edmund Gosse published a detailed and sympathetic 387-page memoir of his father, The Life of Philip Henry Gosse FRS. If the readers of Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, published 17 years later, had had access to this work, they would have been in possession of all the other ‘facts’ which Dinah Birch educes to claim that ‘Philip Henry Gosse was not a gloomy monster. He was a courageous and innovative scientist and a thoroughly likeable human being’ (LRB, 19 September). This ‘likeable human being’, however, ‘according to one who knew him well in the later part of his life’ (viz his second wife, quoted in the son’s first book), ‘believed “all that the prophets have spoken” and could not tolerate any departure therefrom, either in himself or others’. It is not surprising that his son, in his account of his liberation from his father’s dogmatism, should have evinced something other than his earlier filial sympathy.
Jacob de Villiers
Italians and Their Mothers
I can set Thomas Laqueur’s mind at rest about the residential practices of the postwar Italian middle classes (LRB, 5 September). My husband comes from the Modena bourgeoisie (his father and grandfather were lawyers) and his parents moved in with his father’s family following their marriage in 1952. It seems to have been largely a matter of course at the time, and things were very much the same in the countryside, as both landowners’ and sharecroppers’ sons brought their wives to live under the family roof. Things haven’t been so quick to change: young marrieds no longer live in the same flat as their parents, but they are unlikely to live very far away. I seem to recall Paul Ginsborg, in Italy and Its Discontents, stating that 90 per cent of Italian men live within 50 km of their mothers. I suspect that the figure is little different for women and their fathers, since people generally marry, and live, close to their roots. The lack of university grants and the ‘open door’ policy on university admissions has certainly played a part in this – as people don’t necessarily shift around the country on leaving school – but it’s also simply a social preference.
Ospitale nel Frignano, Italy
A secret addendum to the Yalta agreement, first published in February 1946, revealed that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed in February 1945 that ‘in two or three months after Germany has surrendered, and the war in Europe has terminated, the Soviet Union shall enter into the war against Japan on the side of the Allies.’ The war in Europe ended on 8 May, so that the three months envisaged at Yalta were due to expire on 8 August. On 29 May Harry Hopkins reported to Truman that Stalin ‘left no doubt in our minds that he intends to attack during August.’ The Soviet Union promptly declared war on Japan on 8 August, with the Red Army ‘properly deployed on the Manchurian positions’ as promised to Hopkins on 28 May. The US dropped its atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August, respectively. Japan surrendered forthwith. Peter Calvocoressi has remarked that this clinching of the imminent American victory deprived the Russians of all but a token share in the postwar settlement in the Far East. Thus Bruce Kent’s view that the decision to drop the bombs was motivated in part by a desire to demonstrate to the Soviets where power lay may be an overgenerous understatement, rather than a fanciful myth as suggested by Martin Watts (Letters, 19 September).
In her book Auto da Fay, Fay Weldon is careful not to claim that she coined ‘Go to work on an egg’ (Letters, 19 September). She merely uses the phrase as the title for an account of her work on the TV script for an egg commercial. In fact, it was Francis Ogilvy, then managing director of Mather and Crowther, later Ogilvy Mather, who coined ‘Go to work on an egg.’ He showed it to Harry Ballam (creative manager), who then asked me (group head) what I thought of it. By the time Fay Weldon took over egg advertising the slogan was a given. Her job was to go to work on the egg campaign and come up with entertaining TV commercials on this theme. And she did.
Ian Thomson (Letters, 19 September) asks about the Italian composer Azio Corghi's opera Gargantua. The opera premiered in Turin in 1984 at the Teatro Regio; sheet music is offered for rent by MusiGramma.com; no recording of it appears to be available via music search engines, though a CD of the 1993 opera Divara – Wasser und Blut, whose libretto Corghi wrote with José Saramago, is currently on the Marco Polo label. Corghi himself (1937-) is very much alive, having appeared here in the United States in June at a music festival at the University of Cincinnati.
Deep, Deeper, Deepest
David Lindley’s footnote (Letters, 5 September) to Robin Holloway’s masterly Tovey piece makes a nice distinction that will be as welcome to German scholars as it’s puzzling to persons preoccupied with musical matters. Lecturing musicians about the semantics of Innigkeit versus Innerlichkeit is all very well. But once the Germanists have done their job, in what respects are previously misinformed pianists (for instance) to revise their readings of (say) the first of Schumann’s Phantasiestücke, a piece Holloway must have played countless times to himself and his students over the past thirty years? More important for the reception of his history-making essay: is Holloway now to return to the drawing-boards of 1971 and ‘correct’ his own Fantasy-Pieces op.16 wherever he’s ‘misinterpreted’ the Innigkeit of Schumann’s Heine Liederkreis and succumbed to an excess of Innerlichkeit? The point about the ‘Empathy’ of his title is already being made in his first paragraph’s tart reference to ‘career musicology’; and it’s resoundingly confirmed by a phrase in his Brucknerian final sentence (18 lines of it if you ignore an unnecessary fermata). it’s there that he openly acknowledges how far Tovey’s exceptional feats as writer and teacher were prompted by ambitions that were primarily creative. That so fluent and outgoing a piece as his for the LRB achieves such exceptional intimacy with its profound and wide-eared subject is surely a related phenomenon. Inwardness is of course implicit throughout. But if the piece deserves to be remembered as long as any of Holloway’s own compositions, and if we reread it as often as we should, it’s because in our present, shifting and shiftless musical culture it rings out like some mighty carillon.
Peter Conradi (Letters, 19 September) is at a loss to know who compared Iris Murdoch to a ‘water buffalo’. But it was none other than John Bayley. He uses the term in Iris and the Friends to describe what had become her characteristic way of moving in relation to him.
She is transcultural
I find myself perplexed by Paul Strohm’s review of my book, Pagans, Tartars, Muslims and Jews in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ (LRB, 11 July). Strohm mentions ‘applying contemporary theory to earlier periods’, but nowhere says that the point of the book is to explore Chaucer in the light of Habermas’s idea of ‘discourse ethics’. Instead, he gives us two pages of his ideas about two of Chaucer’s tales that are discussed in the book: they are interesting in themselves, but highly repetitious of the book’s own arguments. And though he clearly knows postcolonial discourse, he hasn’t yet learned that ‘Muhammadan’ is a term that immediately reveals his own stereotyped thinking: it is, in fact, a classic example of ‘saming’, in which Muslims are made like Christians, who follow a person, not a law.
It’s unfortunate, too, that Strohm thought it appropriate to make remarks about North American academics. He should have found out who the author is. The book is dedicated to Anna Friedman and Nasir Din, the author’s Jewish mother and Muslim father, who married in London in 1942, both immigrants, but British subjects. The author is hardly a North American academic: a multicultural and multiracial British subject, educated in England and the United States, she is transcultural and epitomises the ‘post-colonial’ self that Strohm so ardently wishes had been the subject of the book.
Brenda Deen Schildgen
University of California, Davis
Implosion in the Glens
It wouldn’t be hard to throw together a piece like Christopher Harvie’s (LRB, 5 September) on ‘crises’ in England. In place of the overburdened social services in Scotland, and the crises in Scottish public agencies, one might refer to the recruitment haemorrhage in health, education and emergency services in the South-East; the racial tensions in the North; the lack of vision behind the Dome; and the vulnerability of land too densely settled beside rivers as a result of short-sighted planning policies. Every reader would observe – rightly – that such a piece ignored everything good about England.
Water on the Brain
Jerry Fodor (LRB, 5 September) objects to David Papineau’s use of the distinction between water and H2O as an analogy for the mind/brain distinction. This cannot hold, he says, because we can see perfectly well that there is identity in the case of the former pair, while the mind/brain opposition remains stubbornly distinct. But he is in error about water and H2O. He happily identifies water’s transparency, liquidity, and no doubt also the feel of it, its coolness and all the rest of our sensory acquaintance with H2O, as part of what water is. But this is to establish the pair water/H2O in such a way that it is an analogy for the mind/brain distinction – phenomenal properties are clearly on the left-hand side and the physical description on the right.
My own view is that we get confused about mind/brain ‘identity’ because we forget that in this case it is a part of our own being that is under investigation. Just as we cannot identify ‘H2O’ with the being of water, so, for example, whatever we propose about the neurons that give us the experience of colour could never be an identity statement – for any explanation, however successful in its description, is patently not what it explains. If there is an ‘explanatory gap’ between some future neurophysiological theory about sensory colour and the experience of colour, that gap is the harmless one between language and the real.
In Short Cuts (LRB, 19 September), Thomas Jones cites Kevin Warwick’s prediction that, courtesy of microchip implants, we will soon be ‘able to relive memories that we didn’t have in the first place’. But I have been doing exactly this all my adult life. It is an instance, I have always believed, of all Art and no matter.
All Mouth and …
Sorry, Sanford Gabin (Letters, 5 September). John Connolly, late former governor of Texas, described Bush père as ‘all hat and no cattle’, not ‘big hat, no cattle’. Connolly was the quintessential Texan, so one must go with his version.
Bridgehampton, New York