SIR: V.G. Kiernan’s contribution on treason (LRB, 25 June) states succinctly something that has long needed saying. When the spy-book boom was reaching its height A.J.P. Taylor wrote that it seemed to him these left-wing spies had not much of importance to tell. It is the traitors of the Right – Lord Halifax, the then Foreign Secretary, hobnobbing with Goering in the late Thirties, Ribbentrop’s social success in London ‘society’, support of Franco that culminated in the defeat of France, and so on and so on, up to the present with the Libyan bombings and military support for the rebels in Nicaragua (the list is endless) – who seriously threaten the free world.
SIR: I appreciate the sympathetic review by M.F. Perutz of my book Klaus Fuchs: The man who stole the atom bomb, and his correction of what he indulgently calls some minor errors, but I would like to clarify one point. Professor Perutz says: ‘Moss attributes Fuchs’s reticence to his desire to conceal his Communist past, but Born’s autobiography shows that he made no secret of it.’ In his autobiography My Life, Max Born, who took on Fuchs as a young researcher, said Sir Nevill Mott told him he sent him away from Bristol University because ‘he spread Communist propaganda among the undergraduates.’ But there is a footnote containing a comment by Sir Nevill to the effect that Born must have misunderstood something he said, because he does not remember his doing any such thing. In fact, none of Fuchs’s close friends knew he had been an active Communist in Germany. Fuchs did once defend Russia’s attack on Finland in 1939 in an argument with Born, as Professor Perutz says in his review and as I said in my book.
SIR: I have just read Roy Porter’s oafish piece inspired by Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse (LRB, 25 June). I have read nothing as shameful’, as pompous or as crudely misleading in a literary journal. Its language and form are reminiscent of the kind of hectoring, bullyboy stuff one used to read in Action and which one still finds in National Front periodicals. In their case the insults were directed at Jews and Blacks. Roy Porter seems to feel equally confident in directing his insults at a woman.
I have read Intercourse. I am the only person quoted on the jacket who is not a woman. Apart from Robin Morgan I am the only person not quoted by Porter. The chief part of the book examines the work of five writers (Tolstoy, Abe, Tennessee Williams, Baldwin, Singer) whom Dworkin admires. She discusses with a fair amount of sympathetic understanding the dichotomy these writers felt between, for instance, the morality expressed in their work and the injustice they realised existed in their personal relations with women. At no point does Dworkin suggest there is anything wrong with sexual intercourse. At no point does she express any belief in biological determinism. Her polemics are constantly prefaced with such words as ‘In a male-dominated society …’ She is neither man-hating nor does she in any sense blame women for being subject to ‘male imperialism’. She does quote male writers who equate conventional sexual intercourse with domination of women, who admit that they use sex to control women, who refer to their relations with women in terms of ‘conquest’, ‘occupation’ and ‘invasion’. She discusses male hatred of women (see Male Fantasies by Klaus Theweleit for further discussin and evidence of this). The tone of her book, though angry, is reasoned and it is humane. Dworkin suggests there might be fresh ways of approaching the act of sexual intercourse. Since Porter fails to quote me I shall repeat what I have already said about the book. Dworkin is one of the great radical thinkers of our time. Any man who ignores what she has to say is refusing the possibility of a dramatically better world where women and men may at last find genuine equality – and enjoy an immense and lasting pleasure in their mutual sensuality. Why didn’t it suit Porter to quote that? He quoted virtually nothing from the book and what he did quote was completely out of context.
I believe Intercourse to be a very important book and I think many people will eventually regard it as such. Meanwhile for you to allow space to someone’s panicky and misogynistic ravings is demeaning to the LRB and to its readers. I’m saddened and outraged that you’ve seen fit to publish such a low level of argument. I seriously doubt you would have published so contemptible a piece had it been directed at a male writer and must therefore suppose that you not only condone but applaud the expression of Porter’s mindless bigotry.
Roy Porter writes: Mindless bigotry is indeed the issue. But who is the mindless bigot? The author whose book is full of statements like ‘In the world of real life … men use the penis to deliver death to women … The women are raped as adults or as children; prostituted; fucked, then murdered; murdered then fucked,’ and whose concluding sentence states that men ‘are supposed to slice us up the middle, leaving us in parts on the bed’; or the reviewer who protests against this?
SIR. In his jocund review of Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse, Roy Porter discusses her view of the sexual act as an invasion of bodily integrity, and muses parenthetically: ‘Taken to its logical extreme, it would make dentistry the natural target of her next diatribe.’ In Philip Roth’s The Counterlife Henry Zuckerman the dentist, while beginning to seduce his assistant, says:
Most people, unlike you, will never tell you what their mouth means. If they’re frightened of dental work it’s sometimes because of some frightening experience early on, but primarily it’s because of what the mouth means. Anyone touching it is either an invader or a helper. To get them from thinking that someone working on them is invading them, to the idea that you are helping them on to something good, is almost like having a sexual experience. For most people, the mouth is secret, it’s their hiding place. Just like the genitals. You have to remember that embryologically the mouth is related to the genitals.
Perhaps the dentists among your readership would care to probe further?
SIR: Naive in the ways of English scholars these days, I ask for reassurance: Marilyn Butler is joking, isn’t she, in her review of J.F. Burrows’s Computation into Criticism (LRB, 25 June)? I mean, the whole thing is surely a gigantic spoof – postponed, perhaps, from a cancelled April Fools’ issue because no other entry could match its parodic subtleties or the accuracy with which it hits the targets of rationalisation (‘it’s worth considering why those who put our money into this project seem so triumphantly vindicated’) and truism (‘Surprisingly general conclusions are arrived at by marshalling minute particulars’)? Otherwise, what am I to believe? That J.F. Burrows really ‘proves’ the development of Jane Austen’s characters through a computational analysis of their dialogue? Hence Harriet Smith’s ‘uniqueness’? But I proved that in 1970 when I was a second-year undergraduate at Liverpool and, late with an essay, was reduced under pressure to word-counting and indexing as a substitute for hard thought. Such ‘proofs’ abounded. So she can’t be serious. I may add that tutors were tolerant then and allowed occasional backsliding – I even picked up a B+ (+?) for my efforts. I dread to think how savagely, albeit wittily, Professor Butler would deal with someone like me now. At least, I suppose she would …
SIR: It is not immediately apparent in Raymond Williams’s review of our book Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the 19th Century (LRB, 25 June) that the three unattributed claims for Joachim’s influence with which Williams commences are not by the authors, but by Roger Garaudy, Eric Voegelin and Frank Kermode respectively. It is claims such as these which, as our introduction makes clear, we set out to investigate and to qualify. Nor is the reader particularly helped by Williams’s quoting from Umberto Eco that ‘books talk among themselves.’ What Eco wrote, as we quote – not from The Name of the Rose but from Reflections on ‘The Name of the Rose’ – is that ‘there exist obsessive ideas, they are never personal; books talk among themselves, and any true detection should prove that we are the guilty party.’ Replacing Williams’s quotation back into Eco’s context should help readers to assess the drift of the review.
Warwick Gould; Marjorie Reeves
Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London; St Anne’s College, Oxford
SIR: Please allow me to reassure John Pikoulis (Letters, 4 June) that I did not intend to cause him offence in describing his approach in ‘Edward Thomas as War Poet’ (included in The Art of Edward Thomas) as ‘closely argued, psychological and passionate’. I should also make this statement on the reason why I wrongly added ‘I think’ to the following pair of sentences in John’s essay: ‘That year, he decided to leave home and stayed away from October until the following February. When that failed he decided to divorce Helen.’ Quite simply I saw this as a wholly and specifically biographical assertion which should either be supported by convincing biographical evidence, or expressed as an opinion rather than a fact. The evidence for the divorce argument appears in Lawrance Thompson’s Robert Frost: The Early Years 1874-1915 (1966), and, at my suggestion, John included a reference to this as a footnote earlier in his essay. Thompson’s statement begins: ‘It was also in the spring of 1913 that Thomas became obsessed with the notion that he should divorce his wife.’ On the following page Thompson writes: ‘Thomas made it clear that he wanted to preserve his marriage, that he loved his wife and children; but that he blamed himself for the failure of his marriage and that there was nothing he thought he could do to overcome that failure.’ I concluded, rightly or wrongly, that these statements by Frost’s biographer did not actually prove that he ‘decided to divorce Helen’ at all. Perhaps the couple were experiencing marital difficulties which might be resolved? Nor, to my mind, do the biographical facts indicate such a decision. Why would Thomas return home to Steep in February 1914 and use that as his base until his enlistment in July 1915, even returning home on leave after this, if he had taken such a decision? For the record, I was more convinced by R. George Thomas’s opinion on Edward and Helen’s ten-day holiday together in mid-1914 (Edward Thomas: A Portrait, 1985): ‘If there is any truth in a statement by Frost’s biographer that Thomas talked of nothing but divorce at this time – an untypical piece of Thomas behaviour – these ten days travelling with Helen either refute the suggestion or hint at a renewed attempt at marital harmony. There is no surviving evidence to support Lawrance Thompson’s statement and he does not name his informant.’
I felt I had an editorial responsibility to the biographical evidence, and decided that the least obtrusive way to discharge this, as John apparently had no new evidence, was to add ‘I think’ to John’s statement. Excessive editorial zeal over the biographical point led me to overlook my editorial duty to respect his wishes. I intend to delete ‘I think’ from future reprints of The Art of Edward Thomas, reserving my opinions on the matter, reworded following this exchange, for my introduction.
SIR: Following the correspondence about the Highland Clearances in these columns in February and March, I am writing a book for Seeker and Warburg about the personal experience of the Clearances and the family memories of them that have passed down to this day in the Highlands and Islands. I would be grateful if anyone with relevant material, oral or written, could get in touch with me, including the correspondent from the Highland Study Centre in Canada who wrote me in the early spring.
Hill House, Main Street,