SIR: I do not reply to reviews as a rule, but Brigid Brophy’s silly, carping account of my Life of Jane Austen (LRB, 7 February) deserves some response. Miss Brophy devotes much of her essay to picking apart the jacket, the title pages, the preface and the notes. She cannot forgive me for writing American instead of British English. There is no evidence to suggest that she has looked at anything between the preface and the notes, for, despite her general nastiness, she seems hard put to disagree with anything I say in the book. In fact she doesn’t discuss book at all. I think your readers deserve reviews which tell them something about new books; and those of us who write deserve reviewers less arrogant and trivial than Miss Brophy.
Brigid Brophy writes: How odd of Professor Halperin to suppose that the difference between the title he repeatedly attributes to Mary Wollstonecraft’s book and its true title is merely the difference between North American and British English.
SIR: From up here it seems that writers in the London Review of Books believe some remarkable things. Peter Todd Mitchell thinks that ‘working-class homes’ are ‘bulging with sausages and fat’ (but maybe they are in Spain). Blair Worden seems to think that Jonson ‘has come to be thought of as a cerebral writer’ and that Anne Barton’s Ben Jonson Dramatist is a trail-blazing book (we wonder what he has been reading). Peter Pulzer thinks that university teaching is a ‘hobby’ (which it may be at Oxford, but certainly isn’t at Nottingham).
George Parfitt, Maureen Bell
Department of English Studies, University of Nottingham
George Parfitt and Maureen Bell are guilty of placism. North v. South. Peter Todd Mitchell, who could well be an American, was writing from Spain, not as a contributor to the London Review, but as a reader offended by something written in the paper – by Angela Carter, who lives at present in America.
Editor, ‘London Review’
SIR: I pointed out (Letters, 7 February) that Geoffrey Hartman had quoted two of T.S. Eliot’s most famous lines in his review of The Leavises and said they were by Hopkins. He replies (Letters, 21 February): ‘A lapse is a lapse.’ Well yes: but there are certain lapses that one would not have thought it possible to make: getting one’s own name wrong, for instance, or saying that Macbeth’s most famous monologue begins ‘To be or not to be’. If one commits such lapses, clinical questions, or questions concerning one’s basic competence, arise. I think Professor Hartman’s lapse is of the second kind. Having first used the ‘For Heaven’s sake, it could happen to anyone’ tactic, Hartman moves on to saying that I ‘dignify’ his lapse as a ‘gross misattribution’, thus displacing emphasis from his main concern – to clarify Leavis’s place in a wider context. I didn’t intend to dignify anything, and it seems to me a very odd use of the language to say that my expression did that. I would now like to dignify Hartman’s piece further by saying that it was unhelpful, pretentious and meandering waffle, and that his misattribution must have been overlooked by countless readers because they were too bored, if they had got that far, to notice anything in particular.
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
SIR: Jean MacGibbon (Letters, 7 March) invited readers to put their hands up if they had had to look up the meaning of ‘hendiadys’, used in Geoffrey Hartman’s review ‘Placing Leavis’ (LRB, 24 January). That meaning had been drummed into my head more than fifty years earlier, and I was glad to find that it had stuck there (along with aposiopesis, litotes and anacoluthon), so I did not need to put up my hand. Anyway, what was Jean MacGibbon really saying? That your reviewers should not use long words? Surely not. But if she meant that they should not misuse long words, I would agree. Geoffrey Hartman said of the Leavises, looking at a photo of them on a book jacket: ‘Together they make a painful hendiadys.’ How do they? I cannot see any parallel between Frank and Queenie and ‘grace and favour’ (example of hendiadys in Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 1965), or their relevance to ‘Use of two Substantives coupled by a Conjunction for a Substantive and Adjective’ (definition in Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer, 1921). Hartman might, of course, have said ‘painful Siamese twins’ (Fowler, page 554), but would that be a petitio principii (page 449)?
SIR: Though neither an etymologist nor a corsetier, may I hazard a frivolous suggestion for the origin of Barbara Pym’s ‘trollies’ (LRB, 21 February)? James Laver’s Taste and Fashion (1937) illustrates an all-in-one undergarment of the period which seems to have been called a cami-bocker. It does not look very summery, but its upper-and-lower-deck effect, surmounted by two slender shoulder-straps, could surely have inspired a waggish comparison with the trolley-buses, attached to overhead wires by a pair of parallel rods, that were beginning to supplant the trams in progressive conurbations at this period.
SIR: I think Neal Ascherson (LRB, 21 February) was rather unkind to the Beaver. I don’t think he encouraged stupidity, delusion and complacency. He may not have always got it right, but he really believed that people should read books, and not books for the stupid, the deluded or the complacent. I hope some of the Angry Young Men Beaver-brook encouraged will come to his defence. I must say I always found him kindness itself. He not only serialised my first four books in the Sunday Express (he always took a personal interest in the Sunday, which he founded) but took time to write to me in his own hand a criticism of two of them. I may have put a few thousand copies onto the Irish edition with my lives of the Popes (what other Presbyterian would have published this series by a Catholic?), but he owed me really nothing. He was quirky, would fire people for just saying nice things about Nasser or the Germans, but we all have our prejudices and not all of us go out of our way to help the novice in our own business.
The story told against him which the Beaver liked best was about Sefton (Tom) Delmer. One day Tom turned up at the black glass palace in Fleet Street to find his typewriter missing. He motioned to his secretary, who was sitting hard by Terry Lancaster, and asked her where it was. She said it had been taken away, and that she was no longer his secretary. In fact, he was no longer on the staff. Upset at this communiqué from a slip of a girl, Tom stormed into the office of Pickering (Managing Editor then, if I remember rightly) and asked for an explanation. Pickering mumbled something, then handed over a cheque, the ‘golden handshake’. Nonplussed for a moment, Tom soon recovered his usual poise. ‘Just like that, Pickering, after thirty years?’ ‘Just like that,’ said Pickering. ‘Well, you can tell the Beaver that if I’d known the job was temporary, I’d never have taken it.’
We are not surprised to learn that this was Lord Beaverbrook’s favourite story against himself.
Editor, ‘London Review’
SIR: At the risk of spoiling Michael Hofmann’s terminal joke in reviewing the English translation of Peter Handke’s Das Gewicht der Welt (LRB, 7 March), I suggest that readers puzzled by a squirrel posturing as a unicorn reach for their English-German dictionary.
SIR: As the Pauline in her story, I want to congratulate Norma Kitson (LRB, 7 March) for telling it like it is – or was – and to you for publishing her gripping story. The South African experience needs continuous exposure, for its ugly peculiarity and its unfortunate universality. By giving us her very private story, Norma has succeeded in bringing out both aspects. But I still think she should give up smoking.
SIR: In her review of Margaret Lesser’s Clarkey (LRB, 7 February) Gillian Beer speaks of ‘Mrs Hugo Reid’s work in founding Bedford College’. Mrs John Reid, or, as she preferred, Mrs Elizabeth Jesser Reid, was the founder of Bedford College.
Bedford college, university London