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Letters

Vol. 8 No. 14 · 7 August 1986

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Life of Melanie Klein

SIR: I feel compelled to reply to Paul Seabright’s review of my biography of Melanie Klein (LRB, 3 July), in which he questions, not only my interpretations, but events I present in connection with Klein’s early life.

Seabright speaks of a ‘brief’ autobiography left by Klein, but informs his readers that I do not mention ‘how brief’ it is. He goes on to speak authoritatively of a certain 22-page autobiography. I understand that such a document is circulating in England, but I worked from a 32-page version, although I have a rambling account that ends at page 48. Seabright says the autobiography is ‘rambling enough … to be of limited value as a source’, yet Hanna Segal accepted it unquestioningly as the basis of her account of Klein’s life. I also possess a copy of a letter (dated 7 March 1962) from one member of the Klein Trust to another in which the former says that she has reduced the length of the autobiography from about 16,000 words to 14,000 words. In addition, she adds that she has ‘censored one passage about Hug-Hellmuth’. Incidentally, in the 32-page version the following passage in the handwriting of the same trustee is inserted: ‘When I abruptly finished my analysis with Abraham there was much that had not been analysed and I have continually proceeded along the lines of knowing more about my deepest anxieties and defences.’ Mr Seabright says that on page 9 of his typscript Klein refers to the death of her son Hans. Sorry, but it is not in my version; and he cannot fault me for misquoting other sections when he seems to have a ‘sanitised’ one of his own. In the light of these discrepancies, and in view of the fact that we have nothing to go on but typescripts, I am assailed by a disturbing thought: how much of any of this was written by Melanie Klein herself?

Mr Seabright also speaks confidently about early letters, but I cannot believe that he has actually examined the two hundred-odd letters covering a ten-year span (plus fictional material) or he would not dismiss them so lightly as ‘a bundle of family letters’. From a passage on page 62 of my book Seabright concludes that I have inferred Melanie Klein’s envy of her sister Emilie from a single reference in one of the letters. In actual fact, my conclusion was based on a number of sources, including information supplied by relatives. Seabright totally ignores a passage on page 250 of my book where I quote Klein’s autobiographical fragment saying that she saw her sister die ‘full of anxieties and persecution’. At the time of Emilie’s death in 1940 Klein was in Cambridge, her sister in hospital in London. According to Emilie’s daughter-in-law, Hertha Pick, who was with Emilie during her last illness, Klein never visited her sister before her death.

I much appreciated Mr Seabright’s later reflective remarks about my book, but I feel that he himself has succumbed to some rather gullible speculations about Klein.

Phyllis Grosskurth
University of Toronto

Paul Seabright writes: n the light of the fact that Professor Grosskurth and I were supplied by the Melanie Klein Trust with different versions of the Autobiography, I unreservedly withdraw my remarks about misquotation. The Trust did not inform me of the discrepancy, and by telling me that the fragment had not been published because it ‘would need a lot of editing’, implied that it had not previously been tampered with. I concur with Grosskurth’s ‘disturbing thought’: this makes the Autobiography all the more questionable as a source, whether Hanna Segal accepted it or not. I don’t see how the remark about ‘anxieties and persecution’ constitutes evidence of envy; Grosskurth herself says Klein dreaded the thought of dying in a state of anxiety, and attributes Klein’s failure to visit her sister as due to fear of tuberculosis. It may be that other evidence supports Grosskurth’s judgment, but if so it is not cited in her book.

Memories of Malamud

SIR: Philip Roth’s palimpsest of his relationships with Bernard Malamud (LRB, 8 May) will be more useful when reprinted if matters institutional and geographical can be clarified.

Understandably, after about thirty years, Mr Roth places Malamud at the University of Oregon (U of O) in Eugene, whereas Malamud’s Oregon years were at Oregon State College, now University, OSU, in Corvllis. Then as now the two towns and institutions were fifty miles apart; in character, tone and educational burdens the differences are significant. Within a tax-supported system, U of O emphasises the Arts, Humanities and pre-professional training; on campus are Schools of Law, Architecture, Journalism, and institutes of theoretical science. By contrast, the former ‘Agricultural and Mechanics’ campus emphasises pre-technical training: at OSC there are Schools of Forestry, Veterinary Medicine, Applied Engineering, and institutes or programs in aquaculture and food chemistry. At the time Eugene was Oregon’s ‘second city’ (to Portland); Corvallis was and remains a market town of nice proportions and charm.

These comparisons and contrasts, however, are misleading. If U of O officially sponsored all advanced work in the Arts and Humanities, in fact OSU had in residence the most interesting artists, especially painters, sculptors and printmakers. Moreover, OSU had a lively town-gown artistic community; by comparison U of O seemed traditional, stuffy. On both campuses and in both towns there were small, sometimes vital Jewish communities; prejudice was by no means unknown. At that time both campuses were exceedingly small and the main thrust was to expand science and engineering programs; ‘creative’ writing was not of the first order of importance. There were, however, fiction writers, the odd poet and dramatist, cartoonists, non-fiction writers – including Sylvan Karchmer, myself, Malamud, and the ‘Poet Laureate’of Australia. A mixed bag. If the State of Oregon enjoyed a purely lumber economy, we were its high-grade sawdust.

Bernard Malamud’s attitudes on all this were suitably complex. If he taught much Composition to pre-engineers, the routine nature of the courses permitted time for his own writing; if he resented being on the less prestigious campus – and he did – he enjoyed an intimate circle of friends, on campus and off. His teaching was more the truncheon than the rapier: Composition courses could be reduced merely to the mechanics of expression and Malamud’s personality had its pedant side. He worked very hard, usually in a very dark office; he was neither engaged nor excited, nor knew much about the enormous technical advances taking place all across the campus – such was my impression.

Although his Corvallis years were by no means totally unsatisfactory, Bernard always emphasised – as he did with Roth – the ‘exile’ nature of his post and assignments. This was largely for Back East, New York City consumption. Much as Faulkner exploited his bohemian pose, and the South, Malamud used his Jewishness and Oregon. These things, happily or no, may well help us to write.

Malamud said more than once that his initial hire at Oregon was a fluke, by chance, his ‘fate’. Locally, however, it was said that the then OSU faculty wished Malamud on campus for his different, East Coast point of view, including, one presumes, his Jewishness, and his ‘interest’ in writing. Probably so: Malamud had only the MA degree, little or no relevant teaching experience, and little or no publication. It is not unkind to say that one order of provincial outlook invited another. Immediately Bernard began to publish his early, distinctive prose fiction, his talents were recognised where it counted most at OSU. Eventually he enjoyed ‘star’ status; he made appropriate demands. In fact, he became a valued faculty person and, among other things, activated a Great Books Program, a thing much needed by the student body at large. Those who knew him best saw clearly certain traits: he was a complex, driven man able to make few concessions to domestic life, friends, colleagues, or to a neutral – if not always benign – university. At once he could be abrupt, dismissive, kind, obsessional, devious, rigorous, loyal, proud, thankless, and, more often than not, generous. For example, although OSU had done much for his career, immediately upon leaving he published A New Life. This novel is a roman a clef, settled old scores, was retaliatory, doubtless actionable, and surely an embarrassment to some persons who had been kind to a then unknown writer and his family. By intention the novel is comic; it focuses entirely on Malamud’s first year or so in Corvallis. As such it is a self-serving book, a revealing, marginal artistic success – and yet something the author very much felt compelled to write. After leaving, he often went back to Corvallis for visits, a respected and welcomed guest.

As a literary artist, Malamud’s practice is ‘conservative’: he wrote ‘tales’, relied on allegory, and was not adventuresome in matters of structure. In prose style and selection of detail, he was of the naturalistic persuasion, with strong moral and moralistic tinctures. In many ways he was an irregular writer, and attempts at technical innovation were often strained. Save for a rich middle period, he did not grow much as an artist. While always a distinctive practitioner, intelligent, and with immense drive, the negative implications of some of these characteristics are all too apparent in his last, not very readable novel, written when he was in ill health, and terribly extended. But he finished the work: a fine, right thing to do. I am inclined to think that his originality lies in tone and diction, especially dialogue, and has less to do with the larger issues of theme (e.g. point), or with subtlety of characterisation within recognisable types.

Authentic as Mr Roth’s memories of his friend may be, I think he overwrites the vellum, places too much the best face on things. If we credit the tale, as against the teller, then Mr Roth’s novel Ghost Writer must dramatise his true feelings and judgment of Malamud, his work, and his later reputation. Possibly that somewhat cruel, mildly comic novel is Mr Roth’s A New Life and served some of the same purposes.

James Hall
Santa Cruz, California

Friends of Mine

SIR: I shared a couple of items from your 3 July issue with some friends, thus demonstrating that LRB reaches the parts that other journals cannot. The anarchist was amused with Alan Bennett’s response to his two critics in the Letters columns: ‘When the next lot comes I hope Messrs Latimer and Wright will be around to tell us why we did the proper thing there too. Bags not be in the same cave.’ The ecologist was amused by Bob Geldof’s critic, Amartya Sen, disclosing that ‘on the other side, there has rarely been a famine in a country with a free and active press.’ If that is so, then there has rarely been a famine, the anarchist countered. The famines are caused, explained the ecologist, by deforestation and consequent droughts, floods and soil erosion. A press dependent upon wood pulp is not going to report the fact that their industry, directly and indirectly, is in no small way responsible for the environmental disasters that it reports. Nor is pacifism going to rise up through the ranks of the Armed Services, pointed out the anarchist.

The cynic observed that the ‘stunning $70 million’ raised by Live Aid is less than a pound from each person in this tiny island, and as in most ‘developed’ (into what?) countries, each family in Britain involuntarily spends £17 per week on technology and resources adapted specifically to kill people as quickly and completely as feasible. ‘The economic causes of hunger are quite diverse, and the common predicament of the hungry does not indicate a common causation.’ Oh, but it does, pleaded the hippy: the earth is our mother and while our common environment is monopolised by a minority who seem bent on its exhaustion, then we cannot know peace. ‘Indeed the causes of famines and starvation are now technically much better understood.’ Of course they are understood, droned the ecologist, but where’s this free press spreading the word about how the ‘rich, donor countries’ lend funny money to poor countries while bleeding them of their natural resources and buying the land from under their feet and renting it back to them to grow cash crops for export to earn foreign exchange to service the loans which were made to provide arms to deter the philosophy that the land monopoly should be operated by the state through the cold mechanism of bureaucracy? What a load of bollocks, sighed the hippy, taking a long toke on what tasted like a joint. The American Indians had it sussed: how can you buy and sell the sky, the warmth of the land? We are all in the same cave, sighed the Jesus freak: wars, famines, earthquakes, nation against nation, the end of trees and thus our habitat next century. We are consuming the furniture and winter outside the cave is fast approaching.

John Esmond
Oxford

Conor Cruise O’Zion

SIR: Your edition of 19 June, with the lengthy and illuminating review of Conor Cruise O’Brien by David Gilmour, has just appeared on the newsstands here. I hope I am not too late to make three comments on Mr Gilmour’s review. First is with reference to the remarkable statement: ‘since 1967, Israel has attacked or invaded six Arab countries … during that time no Arab country has attacked Israeli territory.’ This is equivalent to saying that in 1939 Britain attacked Germany although Hitler had invaded no British territory. In 1967 General Nasser of Egypt closed the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aquaba to Israeli shipping. A blockade is an act of war. In 1973 the Syrians attacked Israeli positions on the Golan Heights, precipitating the largest tank battle in history. Of course Mr Gilmour has decided that the Golan Heights belong to Syria. If the Syrian armour had broken through on the Golan Heights, they could have been in Haifa in two days. Presumably the Israeli tanks should have pulled back, in the Gilmour view, and awaited the Syrians there. The next time Mr Gilmour visits his beloved cesspool of Lebanon, I urge him to make a detour and visit Degania, the largest kibbutz in Israel, which lies some forty miles south of the Golan Heights. There, right in the middle of the kibbutz, he will find a Syrian tank that was immobilised after it burst into the kibbutz in 1948. Just think, if the Israelis take Gilmour’s advice, this scene can be repeated in the next Syrian-Israeli War.

Secondly, Gilmour is very concerned about the Jewish Problem. I hear that many intellectuals in Britain are these days just like the good old days of T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and Sir Oswald Mosley). He finds the Zionist solution unacceptable because allegedly it hurts Arabs. He thinks ‘the assimilationists were right.’ I question the assimilationist solution to the Jewish Problem: too long and too messy and too unpredictable. You never know when assimilating Jews might take to reading the Hebrew Bible – or Gilmour’s columns – and the whole process will fall apart. I have a better solution, indeed the Final Solution. I hear there is a village near Munich where there are currently unused gas ovens and a President of Austria who has had experience in shipping Jews to be processed in them. This seems far more effective than the assimilationist approach to the Jewish Problem.

Finally, sir, I want to tell you that the heading you gave to Mr Gilmour’s review (‘Conor Cruise O’Zion’) is not only hilariously funny. It merits for your journal the 1986 Julius Streicher Award.

Norman Cantor
Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, New York

David Gilmour writes: How kind of this gifted historian to remind you that it was I who ‘decided that the Golan Heights belong to Syria.’ Some of your readers had probably forgotten how T.S. Eliot and I arranged the matter with Balfour and Lloyd George during the war. Later, of course, we managed to fix Woodrow Wilson and old Clemenceau as well, and from then on it was too easy. We were so successful that the League of Nations, the UN and, eventually, every country in the world – including Israel for a while – accepted our decision. Subsequently, we felt a bit embarrassed about having organised such a spectacular fraud. After all, as I think Ezra pointed out at the time, the Syrian Arabs had been living in the area for only about fifteen hundred years.

Socio-Economic

SIR: I could not agree more with P.N. Furbank’s assessment of recent Defoe criticism (LRB, 19 September 1985). With all our indebtedness to Ian Watt, how refreshing to associate him with Max Weber’s ‘genius for getting things wrong’. Even when recent critics turn away from Watt’s socioeconomic interpretation, they tend to keep up his kind of approach. To be told that Defoe’s novels are ‘narratives … designed to divert and quietly inform those classes with seriously restricted leisure time’ (= the lower classes) does not account for these novels’ enduring fascination.

Eva Shorr
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Butterflies

SIR: David Pears (LRB, 5 June) identifies Berkeley’s philosophy as a form of ‘perceptual idealism’. This, Pears states, leaves Berkeley quite unable to give any account of himself as a ‘finite mind among others’, and the problem is then traced to Berkeley’s attitude about physical space. The underlying dispute between Pears and anyone who takes Berkeley seriously is about what must be counted. Pears insists on objects and physical space; Berkeley’s analysis requires only reliable predictions. To ask therefore how the flight of the butterfly may be traced does not demand a preliminary account of the structural properties of butterflies, unless the question is about the structural properties of butterflies. Like every other observer, Berkeley’s starting-point must here be the colours seen. Their several relationships can then figure in a descriptive system determined by the questions which follow. Berkeley’s ideas remain the sine quibus non of any observation claims whatever.

Désirée Park
Wolfson College, Oxford

Early English Texts

SIR: It was good to see a review of an Early English Text Society book in your pages (LRB, 19 June) and to find your reviewer praising Curye on Inglysch both for the modesty of its price and for the excellence of its editing. But the genial Victorian founder of EETS, Frederick Furnivall, would have grieved to see his society described as a ‘forbidding’ institution which caters only for the ‘delicate [should that be ‘gross’?] appetites of language specialists’. Furnivall himself lectured at the Working Men’s College in London; and his intention when he founded the society, in 1864, was to make the work of English writers before the Renaissance available to more than language specialists. EETS is still not an esoteric body – in intention, at least. Indeed, we are happy that it should be treated as a book club by anyone interested in reading such things as the Mystery plays, The Cloud of Unknowing or the poetry of John Gower in proper editions at little expense. Any of your readers who may wish to join should write to the Assistant Executive Secretary for particulars. Her name and address is: Mrs Rachel Hands, 35 Beechcroft Road, Oxford OX2 7AY.

John Burrow
Director, Early English Text Society

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