Rosemary Dinnage

Rosemary Dinnage is a writer on literary and psychoanalytical subjects who lives in London.

Big Thinks

Rosemary Dinnage, 22 June 2000

Rebecca West died 17 years ago at 90, in a comfortable flat overlooking Hyde Park. She was a Dame Commander of the British Empire, to her amusement and gratification. Will she be remembered more as a character, thoroughly damely and commanding, or for her writings? Eleven novels, of no outstanding literary merit; nine other books on general subjects, of which the most admired (and especially relevant today) is Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, on Yugoslavia; a mass of articles on the public affairs of her time. She was an oracle, a pontificator, and unclassifiable; had she written only fiction or only political analysis, she might have left a more settled reputation. She was chagrined to know quite well that she would be remembered for her private life: her affair with H.G. Wells – girl, 21, meets bounder, 47 – and the birth of their son. The story is not gossip fodder, but tragic and central to her life. When Wells is properly reassessed as a writer, it will be known which of the two leaves the greater literary reputation.

Diary: Remembering (and Forgetting) 1943

Rosemary Dinnage, 18 May 2000

In 1943, victory for the Allies being in sight, I was in Princeton, after three and a half years in Canada as a wartime evacuee, waiting for a passage home on a safe neutral ship. My temporary host was principal of the Institute of Advanced Study; he and his wife lived in one of those 19th-century clapboard houses that are the pride of American suburbia. Down at the end of the straight path to the Institute buildings, Einstein could often be seen shuffling gently about, distinguished by his wearing of sandals with no socks and, of course, by the wild white hair. The socklessness seemed to amaze Americans, though one might think that socks underneath hot-weather sandals took away their point. I wore very clean white socks, for I was a bobby-soxer, a Frank Sinatra fan who brought his very earliest records back to England in my trunk unchipped, to my family’s derision. (Would that I had them now! He was never so good again.)

Streamlined Smiles: Erik Erikson

Rosemary Dinnage, 2 March 2000

Psychoanalysts and psychologists have always done it: construct the final theory about human nature around their own problems in life. Few did so more strikingly than Erik Erikson, ‘identity’s architect’ as he is rather grandiosely titled by Lawrence Friedman: he made identity his key concept because it was something he was deprived of in a dramatic way. To the end of his days, he had no idea who his father was.‘

Diary: evacuees

Rosemary Dinnage, 14 October 1999

Everyone knows the pictures: ranks of small children, smiling ones pushed to the front, the boys with Just William socks and the girls with brutally chopped hair, and each one with a luggage label on the collar and a gas-mask over the shoulder. Few people can have missed all the recent media stories about the evacuation of more than a million city children as soon as war was declared in 1939. Immediate bombing was expected, on the pattern of the Spanish Civil War, and probably gas attacks. Distribution to foster homes in the country was haphazard (‘I’ll take a girl, please – curly hair and no lice’), and mixed in outcome, for both children and hosts. But the bombing didn’t start for another year, after the ‘Phoney War’ had ended. At that point, in 1940, there was further evacuation, overseas to the Dominions.’‘

Like a Retired Madam: Entranced!

Rosemary Dinnage, 4 February 1999

‘What is it that makes the lodestone attract the needle? What is the secret of electricity?’ asks the heroine of a popular novel published in 1845:‘

Brute Nature

Rosemary Dinnage, 6 March 1997

In 1843, the artist Richard Dadd murdered his father and was put away in Bethlem Hospital, Britain’s oldest lunatic asylum; his portrait of the alienist Sir Alexander Morison stares from the cover of Masters of Bedlam, gauntly silhouetted against a mottled sky. He seems to be looking at something he finds hard to bear. The brief biographies of 19th-century alienists through which Andrew Scull, Charlotte MacKenzie and Nicholas Hervey tell the story of the century’s dealings with the mad make it clear that Morison’s haunted expression could have been that of any of the seven ‘mad-doctors’ described here.

Happy you!

Rosemary Dinnage, 21 July 1994

Reading the passionate letters of Janácek and Pirandello, two elderly men writing to two much younger women, one is led to wonder whether relationships quite like this would be possible today – even assuming the telephone did not exist and letters were still written. The Twenties were not so extremely long ago, not a period of fans and fainting fits and cabriolets. But we are accustomed now to think of inconsolable yearning at least as a more feminine than masculine habit, and a rather neurotic and undesirable one at that. If an eminent sixtyish man today fell hopelessly for a girl forty years younger, would he reveal it in letters? Would she herself be flattered, embarrassed, brisk, amused? We shan’t, in the telephone age, have the chance to find out in any case; letters like those in the books reviewed here must be, along with Kafka’s to Felice Bauer, some of the last to document how it is to live for and feed off the image of an absent person.’

I want to be real

Rosemary Dinnage, 27 May 1993

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, kept in her New York apartment in the 1870s a stuffed baboon with a copy of The Origin of Species under its arm, along with a platonically infatuated colonel, a golden Buddha, and piles of esoteric books. The baboon represented the science and materialism which were creeping up on the late l9th century and which Blavatsky and many others felt to be threatening and arid. At the end of his survey of a century of cults and gurus, of sincerity and fraudulence, of hopes and disappointments, Peter Washington detects the faint sound of Blavatsky’s baboon having the last laugh.

What did Freud want?

Rosemary Dinnage, 3 December 1992

The sharpest comment in Freud’s Women – a huge book, but consistently readable – comes at the end. It would be eccentric, say the authors, to conclude after five hundred-odd pages that Freud’s significance for women lies in his having been the first equal-opportunities employer. Eccentric, but rather tempting because, in his famously ambivalent way, he left such a paradox behind. Grossly demeaning, even by the standards of his time, in his various theories about women, he maintained relationships with them as fellow-analysts and friends which were much more cordial and straightforward than his relationships with male colleagues. And over the years 1920 to 1980, when the figures for women in medicine and law were 4-7 per cent and 1-5 per cent respectively, that for women analysts was 27 per cent. Yet ‘What does Woman want?’ he fatuously asked. A woman wants a bit of sense. What on earth did Freud want?’

Diary: In Paris

Rosemary Dinnage, 2 February 1984

Love: popular music, schmaltzy tunes, have always told us this was what Paris was for. But ‘en France maintenant, les intellectuels ne baisent pas,’ says Lucienne. She has four children by her French professor husband, nevertheless, and one by her English lover, and leads a busy commuting life. Husband and lover are friends and child care is shared. Is this the new pattern of life for the once so bourgeoise Parisienne who spent her time boiling up bones for stock and squeezing fruit in the market? ‘I’ll suggest it to my husband, but I don’t think he’d be keen,’ says my train acquaintance Josette; nevertheless, she is radiantly travelling back from a solo package weekend in Venice, leaving three teenagers with her husband. Liberation of varying degrees is under way among Parisian women. But it seems there is a Sloane Ranger stratum as well. The Figaro carries a piece about jeunes filles. At a ball they wear white tulle from couture houses to dance with uniformed boys from the Polytechnique. Bridge lessons, single-string pearls, Maman’s cocktail parties, engraved invitations, an engagement ring by 20 at all costs. The difference now, says the writer, is that the plain ones are not content to retire with their embroidery: they go in there and fight and win.

Holy Roman Empire

Rosemary Dinnage, 3 November 1983

If Greeneland is the most famous sex ’n religion territory, its next-door neighbour must surely be Mooreland. Brian Moore has staked out a very specific American-Irish, Catholic subject-matter and has rightly earned high praise. Unlike Greene, he usually makes his central, guilt-ridden character a woman, and he is more inclined than Greene to take off into the fantastic or supernatural. The idea behind Cold Heaven is neat and unsentimental. Suppose an authentic, impeccable vision of the Virgin were to appear to someone who clung to the ordinary, who dreaded piety, and was only reluctantly a Catholic. Instant conversion? Or rage and rebellion?

Seeing things

Rosemary Dinnage, 4 December 1980

The jacket of The Story of Ruth is adorned with praise from the famous: Edna O’Brien, among others, found it ‘disturbing and quite fascinating’, and Doris Lessing ‘a valuable book, an original’. It is a pity it comes in the kind of packaging that will repel the averagely fastidious reader. Duckworth have printed it in type about one size smaller than that of a Janet and John reader, and sub-titled it ‘one woman’s haunting psychiatric odyssey’. Morton Schatzman, who is the author of an interesting book on the 19th-century lunatic Daniel Schreber, has written it in fruitiest Reader’s Digestese, replete with remarks I doubt were ever remarked and dreams I doubt were ever dreamed. Nevertheless, if the style can be stomached, there is plenty of interest in this case-history.

Vile Bodies

Rosemary Dinnage, 18 September 1980

Prostitution is not going to disappear for a long time, says one of the six women who tells her story here, so it is time people accepted prostitutes. ‘They could at least be ready to look them in the face and acknowledge them,’ she says; and so say the other five, and the heads of the prostitutes’ collectives who have contributed chapters, and the male journalist who edits the book; fair play, both legally and socially, is what they ask for, for working women who have simply struck a private bargain with another individual. How could one disagree? But the looking in the face, the sorting out of disgust, sympathy, blame, envy, is horribly difficult. The book’s spokespeople are clear where the blame lies (in male-dominated society), and what the remedy is (much larger allowances for single women with children); the women who tape-recorded their stories seem more muddled and honest.

Wanting and Not Getting, Getting and Not Wanting

Rosemary Dinnage, 21 February 1980

The 19th century loved George Sand: the Brownings, the Carlyles, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Ruskin, Whitman all read her; Arnold preferred her to Dickens; George Eliot and Charlotte Brontë were influenced by her; G.H. Lewes in a rash moment called her the most remarkable writer of the century. Henry James, of all people, loved her ‘serene volubility’. It is not likely, he wrote, that posterity will travel with her novels in its trunk, but when they have gone out of fashion and are rediscovered in dusty corners of old libraries, the discoverers will say: ‘What a beautiful mind! What an extraordinary style! Why have we not known more about these things?’ He could not have guessed that in the 1970s the dusty corners of libraries would be almost bare of her books and that her rediscovery would come about, not on account of her ‘charming, improbable romances for initiated persons of the optimistic class’, but of her life and ideas.

De Mortuis

Christopher Driver, 28 June 1990

If the Sixties were the decade for penis power, the Nineties are already designed for turning up one’s toes, and at the risk of proclaiming myself as the Fiona Pitt-Kethley of the...

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