Vol. 5 No. 19 · 20 October 1983

Search by issue:

Nature’s Chastity

SIR: Reviewing Barbara Taylor’s study of Owenite feminism, Eve and the New Jerusalem (LRB, 15 September), José Harris traces back the ‘not ignoble’ vision of sexual equality entertained by Goodwyn Barmby, founder of Catholic Communism, to a well-known passage of St Paul: There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female; for you are all one person in Jesus Christ’ (Galatians, 3.28 – NEB translation). Would that Paul’s view of women had indeed been so enlightened: unnumerable women might then have been spared the kind of repression by men that his uniquely authoritative writings have been used to sanction over the centuries throughout the Christian world. In harsh reality, however, the passage from Galatians and the similar one in Colossians, (3. 11 – though this does not mention the sexes) cannot be given this favourable gloss. For, as Geoffrey de Ste Croix has pointed out in The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, ‘they have a purely spiritual or eschatological meaning and relate only to the situation as it is “in the sight of God", or “in the next world" they have no significance whatever for this world, where the relations in real life between man and woman, or master and slave, are not affected in any way.’

Paul Cartledge
Clare College, Cambridge

SIR: Might José Harris be prevailed upon to explain why ‘ “labour-saving devices" such as chains for picking up dishes and cutlery-transporting trains’ were described in ‘Nature’s Chastity’ as ‘characteristically masculine’?

J.F.G. Shearmur
Gordon, Berwickshire

Jacobean Sodomy

SIR: In her illuminating, wide-ranging review of Homosexuality in Renaissance England (LRB, 18 August), Anne Barton expresses astonishment at Marlowe’s open presentation of homoerotic feelings in his work. Could it be that his characteristic manner, the rhetorical striking of attitudes, was itself both a shield to audience susceptibilities and a screen to the author’s self-revelation? When Jupiter, in Dido, Queen of Carthage, addressed his lover/page-boy in the lines,

Come, gentle Ganymede, and play with me;
I love thee well, say Juno what she will,

an Elizabethan spectator might surely think it harmless enough stuff – not only because Gods on Olympus are a law unto themselves but also because Jupiter’s declamatory posturing reassures the audience that there is little danger that intimacy will take place. When, however, Orlando (the ‘fruit’ of Jove) is wooing his Ganymede, the rhetorical variety of the language admits considerably more possibility of realistic feeling. Shakespeare, therefore, it might be argued, made his homosexual references in a much more veiled way. Which is not to deny, of course, that Shakespeare seems by temperament to have been a much more private person, anyway. He undoubtedly had the subtler mind. This being so, the suggestion that Shakespeare didn’t notice the discrepancy between the apparent homosexual disclaimer in Sonnet 20 and his erotic feelings for the young man leaves one uneasy. It is one thing for King James, playing his kingly and paternal role, to forget his own post-prandial behaviour in younger days but another entirely for our greatest love-poet to forget the context in which he was writing. It is a little depressing to find the finest Shakespearean commentator of our day lending even indirect support to the simplistic Rowsian view that Sonnet 20 can be read as a repudiation of any homosexual interest.

Norman Stevenson

Speaking well

SIR: In his review concerning Cyril Connolly and Jack Yeats (LRB, 18 August), in which he pays worthy tribute to the latter, Christopher Ricks opines that Enemies of Promise is Connolly’s best book. He could be right, though some may opt for The Rock Pool or object that Enemies is three books rather than one. My own preference would be for The Unquiet Grave, that beautifully composed compendium in which the original passages are rarely inferior to the quoted ones. It is a sensitive, intimate book, showing a delicate insight, a wistful understanding, seldom other than lucid and moving. The ideal book for the ‘bedside’, it is high time it was reprinted. It should be there to be savoured, a few pages a day, in between earning one’s living. A salute to the light, it is hard to reconcile it, with that drab world of cat-talk with which the first page of Professor Ricks’s article is mostly concerned. But whether or not these persons did or said the unpleasantnesses attributed to them matters little now. What matters is their art. The Unquiet Grave is a beautiful book, as (who would deny?) is The Waves. It no longer matters what their authors said at soirées.

Brian Louis Pearce


SIR: In her review of my book Katherine Anne Porter: A Life (LRB, 19 May), Penelope Gilliatt makes much of the fact that I spent twenty years writing the book She jeers and sneers at this extraordinary time-span. I do not think it is ridiculous for a biographer to spend twenty years researching and writing a book. There might be more accurate and more well-written biographies if this were done. The only thing is that I did not spend twenty years writing mine. I began the book in 1976 just after Miss Porter invited me to do so and when I happened to have a year’s leave from my teaching job. I lost a year because of illness and finally finished the book in 1980. By a coincidence which has never stopped amazing me, the book arrived on my editor’s desk on the day Porter died – 18th September 1980. It sat there for a very long time – excruciatingly long for me. Finally the book was published in the United States in 1982.

I do not know why Penelope Gilliatt made such an odd mistake. It is true that in the years before I worked on the biography I had written articles on Porter’s work and one on her life, as I had written on other authors – Eudora Welty, Virginia Woolf, Hawthorne etc. But I have not been writing on literary subjects for twenty years. I think she must have confused the time I spent on my book with the time that Porter spent writing Ship of Fools. Porter did spend twenty years on that.

There are many other errors in Penelope Gilliatt’s review, such as her statement that ‘Katherine Anne Porter became a reporter, writing stories (short) for a Chigaco newspaper.’ Porter never wrote stories, long or short, or anything else that I have come across (except a letter to the editor) for a Chicago newspaper. These errors are too numerous to list here but will be easily spotted by readers of the biography. Your reviewer seems to have a contempt for accuracy which I find rather strange.

Joan Givner
University of Regina, Canada

Miz Peggy

SIR: One hopes that soon some merciful editor throws a dust sheet over Miz Penny’s typewriter and a damp bath sheet over Miz Penny’s flaming red head, before allowing her to write another such review (LRB, 15 September). It is, in fact, less of a review than a dazzlingly callous catalogue of Margaret Mitchell’s physical disabilities and disorientation. In an article spread across four columns of two-thirds of a page, Anne Edwards’s name is perfunctorily mentioned, she is given a token pat for having written a good biography, but how good is left for your readers to surmise. Her book is used as the structure on which to hang a web of sick fantasy. Penelope Gilliatt has, almost always, been possessed of wit, but equally and unfortunately, deficient in either taste or tact. Nevertheless, one hopes Miz Penny’s new novel sells as well as Miz Peggy’s – then she too can retire to, of all places, a writers’ colony.

Jocelyn Rickards
London NW8

Margery Allingham

SIR: I am working on a biography of the novelist the late Margery Allingham. Should any of your readers possess letters or other documents by her, or be willing to share reminiscences and information, I would be glad to hear from them.

Richard Martin
Locherstrasse 28, D-5100 Aachen, West Germany


SIR: Readers of Gavin Millar’s article ‘The Scandalous Charm of Luis Buñuel (LRB, 1 September) may be interested to know that we are publishing Buñuel’s autobiography, all too aptly entitled My Last Breath, on 26 January 1984.

Liz Calder
Jonathan Cape, London WC1

John Frank

SIR: For a research project I am seeking any information available concerning John Frank, who could be Jan Frankel or Jan Frankl, once a secretary of Leon Trotsky. He is known to have lived in New York City and in Los Angeles, California.

Pierre Broué
Institut d’Etudes Politiques,de Université de Grenoble, Domaine Universitaire BP 45, F38402 Saint Martin d’Heres, Cedex, France

‘The Subversive Family’

SIR: I was particularly interested to see the review of Ferdinand Mount’s The Subversive Family (LRB, 1 September). We in fact publish the Counterpoint paperback edition on 29 September at £2.95.

Philippa McEwan
Unwin Paperbacks, London WC1

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.

Newsletter Preferences