Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

Letters

Vol. 5 No. 15 · 18 August 1983

Search by issue:

Masculinism

SIR: The reviews of Martin Seymour-Smith’s book on Robert Graves have all been characterised by a show of studious acquaintance with the work and personal and literary career of Robert Graves that is at odds with the actual distaste for the man and his activities that has prevailed in the general society of writing men of English-language literary orientation. All the reviews of the Graves biography that I have seen speak out of the climate of that society: but, in most, the indurated distaste is smothered in a satisfaction of role-playing as critical forgivers of Graves, as having had a streak of poetic virtue in him justifying the forgetting, in the end, of all the vulgar, personally and literarily specious, rest.

None have been able to resist the bonanza trove of archival material, gilded by Graves to an appearance of historic genuineness, access to which Martin Seymour-Smith makes available with the flattering generosity of the seemingly disinterested scholar: the book enables all to make themselves authorities on the subject of Robert Graves – with the added attraction of enabling them to make themselves authorities on me, and shift the burden of their distaste for Graves to the subject of myself. Paul Delany, who reviewed the Seymour-Smith biography, along with the trailer of selected Graves letters, edited by Paul O’Prey, and, as relevant to these two books, a new edition of my Progress of Stories, in the London Review of Books (LRB, 3 February), tries for the impossible of taking advantage of the men’s-room parlance fostered by Seymour-Smith’s treatment of the subject of myself while leaving himself some room for reservations of fairness towards me and a not entire sell-out of his dignity as one in whom distaste for Graves has had some flourishing existence in past time.

Where reviewers have evinced some nervous uneasiness in their treating of the subject of Graves, they have tended to tie themselves into knots of elaboration on Seymour-Smith’s scandalising depictions of me, yet finding no ease in this simplification of the workings of critical conscience. Mr Delany’s dealing with Graves and myself is awkwardly ambiguous, critically, with a sagging unbalancedness towards the psychological and pornographic banal. It exhibits a disgruntled helplessness of dependence on Seymour-Smith’s lurid depictions of my personal conduct and intellectual predispositions, and dependence on Seymour-Smith’s dependence on the vast hoard built up by Graves of documentary material – the appropriated, the wilfully concocted, the plannedly genuine – in steady anticipation of the eventual literary prominence, the big name of his crude Teutonic vision of victory over the fate of being his not greatly distinguished self.

But did any reviewer have to make do with Graves’s obviously deranged purpose of self-aggrandisement in his management of the literary and personal and archival representations of himself which are the structural substance of Seymour-Smith’s story of the life and works of Robert Graves? Or make do with the obviously deranged purpose of Seymour-Smith, in his centring this story upon myself with a defamatory viciousness not explicable as mere biographer’s dutifulness – sympathetic focusing on an obsessive resentment in Graves towards me, for having terminated an association that had yielded him a character of intellectual and moral seriousness beyond the norms of his native disposition and sensibility? Graves’s handling of the subject of myself of post-association time was malicious, but slyly so, ‘polite’, as Seymour-Smith has himself described it, concerned with covering a trail of thieveries and falsifications with all possible credit to himself. No: reviewers had a grand opportunity, in the offering of all this story stuff and its attendant chaotically juggled-about documentation, of refusing the gaff. They muffed it, every one. They were afraid of being left out of the fun. The joke is on them; and it is all irredeemable nastiness.

Here and there in his review-article, Mr Delany indicated possession of discretion enough to want not to fall prey, entirely, to the prevarications about himself that Graves wove into the story of himself which he put together for public consumption, or to the gross imposition of Seymour-Smith in presenting himself as authoritative guide for a most intimate exploration and tour of the lives of both Graves and myself. There is abundant evidence in Seymour-Smith’s book (and in the trailer of selected letters, with its connecting links of patently pseudo-authoritative narrative exposition) of over-eager effort to make it easier for readers to swallow the great mess whole than to pick and choose, or withdraw in suspicion or outright disgust. The burden need not have fallen upon me of illuminating the false nature of the Graves-Seymour-Smith partnership in literary history-making. There is no glow of truth in anything issuing from it. Nothing could make a reviewer treat the venture as a basis for knowledge and judgment of the persons portrayed in it except the attraction of the publicity spotlight attending it. Probity of taste, and scrupulosity of critical and scholarly standards, are faded virtues in the canons of literary morality – these are times of a new worldly literary realism. For all his wistful leaning to nicety, Mr Delany has not felt he could afford to swim against the currents of the Seymour-Smith and Graves representations, or range outside the pool of the publicity spotlight of their unhealthy storytelling collaboration.

While Mr Delany writes like a man distraught with consciousness of a right and a wrong between which to choose, in his report of the Seymour-Smith book and its letters-trailer, he writes also with the dismal unction of not being above joining in the manly indecencies of chat about myself with borrowed knowing air, and of soft, indulgent slapping of Graves on his back of venerable rascality in the role of poet-piety, maintained to his decrepit last of service to the idea of a Muse that was a reflection of his essential unmanliness. The, Delany review begins with a citing of Graves’s 70th-birthday gift to himself of the lie ‘I always aimed at writing more or less as I do.’ Graves’s course is strewn with lies about himself for the benefit of the reputation he continually laboured to construct for the future view of him – and the ever-coveted present view of him as a man with a future.

‘If he had been more of a poseur,’ Mr Delany has written, ‘his road would have been smoother.’ Mr Delany becomes something of a poseur himself, in his crediting Graves with the picturesque complexity of an exalted poetic self-confidence paired with a bohemian everyday turbulence. Out of self-respect this reviewer mocks the respect he pays to the lies of the legend Graves made of himself: ‘Graves always knew what was owed to Mammon’; Graves had a temperament ‘at odds with common sense and the ideal of “integrity" ’. But this reviewer is careful not to go too far in adverse commentary on either Graves or Seymour-Smith (or on O’Prey’s performance): the self-respecting literary man must not forget what is owed to Mammon, or fear too much the schizoid position of being at odds with the ideal of integrity.

That Seymour-Smith executes, in his book, a mission of his own of all-out vindictive defamation of me, distinct from Graves’s plotting to cover the dishonesties he committed against our comradeship with ever greater and greater ones, ought to be perfectly plain to the moral intelligence of all readers of the book. But there is no arguing with evidence of failure to exercise such discriminatory powers, from one or another cause. I must provide the history of the position Seymour-Smith adopted of narrator for events and circumstances, equipped with wizard witness-presence to them, in which I was centrally or intimately involved – years and years comprised in the span of his narrator offices, although there never occurred a personal meeting between him and myself. The only encounter we had was within the limits of a correspondence of not long duration, initiated by him as someone unknown to me, over twenty years after the beginning of his attachment to Graves – that is, in the mid-sixties. He wanted to free himself from this attachment, and make my work his literary cause, confiding deep unhappiness in comprehension arrived at of Graves’s having awful elements in his moral interior – and regret that he had turned to Graves in the first place, and not to myself. I gave his petition patient consideration. I found reason to judge his project not comfortably acceptable by me. Thence-forth there began to figure signs of resentment in his public references to me; his attachment to Graves settled into a permanence (although for a period another had the name of authorised biographer).

I shall try from the vantage of my peculiarly authoritative position with respect to the misinformation and misrepresentation purveyed by Mr Delany as friendly collaborator with Seymour-Smith and Robert Graves, in their not identical story-shaping and story-telling interests, to touch on features of his review-article that betray his special interest in all this collaborative story-shaping and story-telling. The idea of Graves with which he, as psychoanalytical literary reporter, drapes the scene of his review is a protective device for giving a complex appearance to a subject the actual unobscure simplicity of which calls for unhesitatingly, unmincingly simple characterisation. This ruse of avoiding forthright identification of the Graves wiles of nature, and his scheming literary mentality, has exhausted the ingenuity of Mr Delany: he leaves himself with elementarily low-grade judgment-recourses for the appraisal of my nature and moral and intellectual constitution. Other reviewers have reduced themselves to this condition of coarse dealing with the subject of myself, amidst much finesse of dialectic delicacy in dealing with that of Robert Graves – following not only the lead of Seymour-Smith’s differing treatments of Graves and myself, but the lure of fellow-male feeling in their professionally heightened sense of masculine identity.

Mr Delany is to me one of the sorriest examples of reviewer surrender to what seems best for everyone in the business. At every move to put honour first he panics and reaches for the deadly mouthings of the parlance of the male leer. At the heart of his article he offers as a complete review of the new edition of my Progress of Stories a little paragraph that is a transcendentally prurient achievement of union with the leering mind of Graves behind the display of a self-sacrificial honest countenance. Stealing some brief snatches from here and there in the book-text, he shapes them into a self-made portrait of myself to fit me as author and person into the character of ‘ “Queen Famine", in Graves’s deadly phrase’ – who consumed ‘both her courtiers and her own gifts’. The phrase provides a title for Mr Delany’s article – ‘Queen Famine’s Courtier’. This splashes a gushing sound of men’s room resounding flush over the 3000-word discharge of what is essentially nastiness about Laura Riding used to save the reviewing day from nastiness about Robert Graves.

Mr Delany’s representation of him as involved in persistent quarrels with his friends and fellow writers ‘even before the flagrant scandals of 1929’ is melodramatic swill, to excite vision of a personality of heroic proportions albeit given to erraticisms more banal than quixotic. The actuality is that, up to what the falsification and distortion of circumstances and happenings of 1929 perpetrated by Seymour-Smith out of virulent rage against me allows Mr Delany (out of his opportunistically adopted animus towards me) to refer to as ‘flagrant scandals’, Robert Graves was favoured with, and enjoyed the benefits of, a quite serene adult existence. His marriage to Nancy Nicholson – maligned by Seymour-Smith (with the help of later-life ugly insinuations of Graves’s) in order to excite sympathy for his dramatic portraiture of Graves (a loveless construction) – provided him with a home background of sensible country life, sophisticated to a degree suitable to their temperaments as persons of cultivated interests. The cultivated in her had a natural base. Graves was, in his basic instincts, a lout. Contrary to the smearing characterisation of her as ‘man-hating’, she did her brave and cheerful best to tidy up the lout into a man. She made their home a place of good company for them and their children and their friends.

There were friends, despite Graves’s affected indifference to sociality, masking fear of exposure to probing judgment. And more friends, after my becoming their friend. ‘What have you done to Robert?’ said one old friend of theirs. He seemed remade into a pleasant person, to her. My own kindly, trusting openness with people, with much else natively mine, became a model for Graves, to apply for his own uses. Mr Delany mentions my Americanness and my Jewishness. Perhaps these both have considerable part in what T.S. Matthews, whom Seymour-Smith pretends to despise while drawing freely on his book of slanderous depiction of myself and my late husband, before turning traitor to us both, wrote to me he had said of me to someone who asked him what I was ‘like’. ‘A nice person,’ Matthews said he had said, ‘very good at bringing people into the conversation.’

Seymour-Smith has invested his all of self-confidence in his hold upon an archival miscellany of dubious substantiability in much of its chaotically varied content, and cannot but be haunted by a nervous awareness that the record of his discrepant attitudes to me and my work, and of his correspondence with me, which had serious confidential features, could not be counted out as a potential menace to his security; imagination of me as living in a state of decrepitude and isolation from the world of literary event may have been a relief to the unchasable nightmare of his practical and moral position.

As to the letter from Gertrude Stein to Graves printed by O’Prey, referred to by Mr Delany, in which she vents animus against me as an intellectual Shylock: this is of some interest as belonging to a patch of intercourse between her and Graves that took place years beyond the time when I brought him into the conversation of a friendship sprung between her and myself. The new forced relations between them, centred here in Graves’s having sent her a copy of his King Jesus, exhibit the bluffer element in their personalities. I know by chance that, for his part in this correspondence episode, Graves had lyingly represented himself to her as a victim of material ill-treatment by me (he who had all the Majorcan property for his proprietary own, after the war years, from my offer of it to him of 1940, accepted by him with manifestation of due gratitude). In response to her response of sympathetic condemnation of me, he played the moral nobleman, averring that he deserved whatever had been meted out to him by me, and crowing with bluffer humility that he had been learning from me all the while. Between Gertrude Stein and myself there had been only a fond bringing of her by me into the conversation I conducted in the late Twenties with my intellectual contemporaries to the limit of my human capacity for trust, and an adoption by her of me as a figure of innocence whom it was comforting to have for friend in the suspicion-laden atmosphere of the world of literature and the arts of those years.

There was no least quarrel between Gertrude Stein and myself. Simply, in what she wrote to me after the late 1929 move to Majorca as a work-place for myself and Robert Graves (never, while I gave my good faith of presence and comradely love to making it that, did it acquire the vulgar scent of some place of theatric exile that Graves’s returned presence there, from the late Forties onward, exuded into it), I found myself confronted with postures that could not escape detection as those of personality-play, in the island’s beautiful sobriety of physical disposition and its human sobriety of homely civil calm. I indicated to her that I was not comfortable with how she wrote to me. My motive was not to offend but to desist from countenancing a communication-trend of a less than true ring. Graves had no part in this. The silence that fell between Gertrude Stein and myself had no significance of a rupture between her and Graves – what relations there had been between them were incidental to hers and mine. Their correspondence-relations of later time were, to the extent of their existence, based on a shallow mutuality of discorrespondent animus towards myself.

I will limit myself to a single additional item delivered by Mr Delany with shameless pretence of a right to speak as responsibly informed. This is a description of me as ‘becoming sexually infatuated with other men, in 1929 and 1939’, with comment on Graves’s ‘childlike complaisance’ towards a brute power of mine resting on my ‘ability to exploit Graves’s long-standing idée fixe about sex’. Graves had no idée fixe about anything; he was under the necessity, in his assumed position of superior mind by force of poetic inspiration, of constantly garnering ideas within grabbable reach for his store of wisdom-wares. My relationship with him was one of ministration to what I took for spiritually intense concern with truth (but was an ambition at the service of a congenital addiction to lying). As to the two other relationships of mine cited with the privileged intrusiveness of contemporary liberated male-tongued indecency: they were based on extraordinary sensibility of mind of the other person, in each case. The first of these proved to be an ignis fatuus that dissolved itself in its manifestation. The second proved to be a true mate to my mind: I suffered no deceptions, in this relationship.

Laura (Riding) Jackson
Florida

Martin Seymour-Smith writes: I do not mind what Ms Jackson says about me, but I must point out certain inaccuracies in her account, which I found rather hard to follow. First, her version of our encounter is false; however, as she relies on letters she believes to have been written by me, she may be excused on the grounds that she cannot know the true nature of their provenance. Secondly, none of the evidence I used is in any way ‘tainted’: her description of Robert Graves’s ‘archive’ is fanciful in the extreme. Thirdly, Robert Graves never said a word in criticism of his first wife to me: but I suggest Laura Jackson reread her own published remarks on Nancy Nicholson. I relied on the evidence of others. However, I should like to take this opportunity of saying that I now have good reason to believe that my portrait of Schuyler Jackson, Ms Jackson’s second husband, was not altogether fair or accurate, even though there is certainly truth in it. This will be corrected in any future edition of the book. For certain of my remarks about him I apologise unreservedly to her. Lastly, it ought to be remembered that at one time Laura Riding loved, or said she loved, Robert Graves. Both have an enormous debt to each other. Why should one so dedicated and knowledgeable about the workings of the universe itself be so concerned with affairs so long past? Graves never conducted any campaign against her, and she has been misinformed about what he told Gertrude Stein about her. She would best serve the truth to which she says she is so devoted if she would forgive him for whatever she feels he did for her: support her, help to educate her, defend her ferociously against anyone who criticised her. This would strike a happy note, and I am sure that everyone would be relieved and pleased at such a gesture.

Paul Delany writes: To my review of Robert Graves: His Life and Works Laura (Riding) Jackson has responded with a review of Robert Graves’s life. I did my job as well as I could, but could hardly expect to equal the authority and passion with which she has done hers. I am grateful for the backhanded compliments.

Unfair to Reich

SIR: I wonder what was in your mind when you decided to publish (Letters, 21 July) a letter that asserted that my review of the Reich-Neill Correspondence ‘was pure spite’ and that went on to speculate ‘that Brophy was working off some kind of grudge – that she had been undergoing a more orthodox analysis and vaguely suspected that Reichian therapy would have had far better results.’

I have never been analysed, orthodoxly or otherwise. Now that you have put the supposition into print, over the authoritative-sounding address of a department of philosophy, I expect it will get mistaken somewhere, if only in my obituary, for fact.

The letter writer clearly wanted to record his personal testimony (‘I knew and loved both Reich and Neill’), and I can see you may have felt obliged to publish that. But were you under the same obligation to publish his statement that I (who knew neither of them) was moved by spite?

I see you don’t want to run the sort of letters page that makes it plain that, such is the editor’s loyalty to his reviewers, he won’t publish anything that disputes a review. But is the only alternative a letters page that signals that you will publish any old rubbish you are sent provided it traduces one of your reviewers?

Brigid Brophy
London SW5

Unfair to Young Writers

SIR: I can sympathise with anyone asked to review an anthology of stories by 14 different authors, but I think Mr Horne might have made a better job of New Stories 8 (LRB, 21 July) if he had resisted the kind of micro-textual ploughing that led him into a. creating inferential mountains out of textual molehills, and b. many of the literary faults which he so eagerly spies in various of the anthology authors. As a clear example of the former, apropos his quailing at the supposed violent sensationalism in John Hall’s sentence ‘The pup lay pulped,’ he notes a double queasiness induced in the reader by such ambiguous euphony. Well yes, I can see what he’s getting at, but then I or anyone else could dream up another hundred glosses of that four-syllable sentence if asked. To put it another way, if it had been part of a Ted Hughes poem, I’m sure Mr Horne would have hardly noticed it, much less chastised. Likewise his astigmatic reading of two of Jane Oxenford’s sentences, and his pointless comparison thereof with the work of Beckett, seems as arch and arbitrary as he labels Ms Oxenford. Worse still, this constant quoting of one-word and one-clause snatches of the text makes, for instance, the middle part of his paragraph about David Craig’s story as clotted and bathetic as some book review in the Strathpeffer Examiner circa 1822. In such instances Mr Horne’s critical style reads a damn sight more opaque and confusing than does F.S.’s ‘bewildering Surrealist’ technique in his wartime story.

If you scratch the surface (spear the core, dare I say?) of Mr Horne’s review, you discover the wonderfully monotonous poetics which nearly every critic from Belsize Park to Oxbridge and back again mutely and tacitly cultivates. A suggestive, unlaboured, mono-adjectival prose is the unspoken favourite. Or those two favourite poodles of the British critic, Deftness and Economy (woof, woof). Anything else is apt to be judged ‘tormented’ (John Murray) or ‘overwritten’ (F.S… elsewhere Lawrence Durrell etc). A long time ago the soberly aggressive Orwell castigated the dominance of orthodox snack-bar dialects in English prose. Surely by 1983 it is time room was made for the barbed and idiosyncratic as well as the quiet and unelaborated. I mean, there should be more, should there not, than just grudging, condescending room (‘interesting but overwritten’) for well-written unorthodoxy? Especially in an anthology of largely new and struggling writers?

John Murray
Oxford

Pepys’s Place

SIR: No doubt other readers besides myself were impressed by Pat Rogers’s article on the Pepys Diary, (LRB, 16 June) which extends far beyond the last two volumes (Companion and Index). Two or three matters seem a bit weak. His preference for Evelyn over Pepys is personal (and well illustrated by Evelyn on the deaths of his children), although I doubt that the wicked world will share his choice. Another small matter concerns his discussion of Pepys’s using a version of Shelton’s shorthand. Surely the simple explanation – that Pepys did not wish his wife or relatives to read what he had written – is to be preferred over Rogers’s elaborate and modish talk of ‘the demystifying, deconstructive function of the new scientific styles of thought’.

Above all, he writes as if diaries having some claim to be thought literary are a solely English phenomenon. Peter Boerner’s studies of German Tagebücher show that that is far from the case. And talk of a date ‘becoming an important signifier in its own right’ seems pretentious in the absence of consideration of the world’s greatest tradition of diary literature, the Japanese. These diaries date from the tenth century, were mostly by women in their first flowering, and later included such great male writers as Matsuo Basho in the 17th century along with Kobayashi Issa in the next. Many of his assumptions and much of his modish talk would require material change in the light of that, the world’s oldest and most distinguished tradition of diary literature. Little Englandism or Eurocentrism may have served in Wheatley’s day but are insufficient to any adequate present understanding of the grounds, possibilities, and range of achievement, of diaries we think have literary worth. This is not to detract from Rogers’s highly-informed and generous review, but to suggest that it has limits that he and your readers should know of. Pepys would have been among the first to appreciate the fact, if he had known it, that the Japanese examples contain verse along with the prose, that dates are often not specified, and that the major works are closely related with other kinds of writing, notably poetic collections and stories (monogatari).

Earl Miner
Department of English, Princeton University

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.