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Letters

Vol. 9 No. 20 · 12 November 1987

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Men in Love

SIR: Paul Delany’s review of the new Cambridge University Press Women in Love (LRB, 3 September), of which I am a co-editor, has just reached me. Some errors need correcting, and Delany’s misunderstanding of the nature of the publication needs pointing out. Delany is not really interested in texts or in textual derivation. This is a handicap, because the Cambridge edition is is primarily important as a new edition of the text. He has not bothered to understand the derivation of the text: i.e. from the heavily corrected second typescript of the novel, which was retyped by a typist employed by the American publisher Thomas Seltzer. Delany has been misled by the extensively corrupt Penguin edition, which does indeed reprint the American edition (along with many of its disastrous misreadings). Furthermore, TSII is not only emended from manuscript, but from two previous typescripts, both heavily revised. Delany’s simple statement is both wrong and misleading. He also comments that Secker’s English edition’s authorial revisions (done at Secker’s request) ‘are relevant to the history of censorship and libel’ but ‘not at all to literary criticism of the novel’. Editors don’t just choose what interests them, or what is relevant to their own literary-critical purposes. The revisions in question were made by Lawrence himself, and no textual edition can ignore them.

When Delany tells his readers what ‘the major editorial crux of Women in Love’ is, he comes up with this: ‘Did Lawrence’s feelings about homoeroticism change from 1916 to 1919, so that the Prologue became out of date and he freely discarded it? Or did he see that the truth revealed in the Prologue would destroy his career, so that he had to settle for a slanted and diluted version of the story he really wanted to tell?’ This is quite extraordinary. By no even extended stretch of the imagination could this be said to be ‘the major editorial crux of Women in Love’. Editorial cruxes are about choices of text, about the validity of certain readings. The Prologue in question was rejected by Lawrence no later than July 1916, and possibly as early as April; the facts are stated quite plainly in the edition. There is no crux, editorially, about it. Of course, what Delany believes is that Lawrence was running away from his own homo-eroticism: slanting and diluting it. He is not discussing editing or text; he is telling us what he believes the novel is about.

When Delany does turn to textual matters it becomes clear that what he wants is a variorum edition of the novel: of all states of the text, and of all deleted readings. In fact, only photographic reproduction of all the textual artifacts could satisfy him – together with an extensive commentary. It’s a splendid idea: thousands of pages of reproduced manuscript and typescript pages. (Does Delany have any idea of what that would cost?) But it has nothing to do with the edition he is reviewing. The Cambridge edition of Women in Love prints Lawrence’s developed and final text. Isn’t this publication of the first accurate text of the novel rather a cause for celebration, than for an insistent demand for material such an edition cannot provide? It’s not Women in Love that Delany wants to read: it is the novel that satisfies his theories about it; and poor Lawrence’s novel goes on being rejected, seventy and more years after its first rejection.

John Worthen
Oberhausen, West Germany

Poser

SIR: Frank Kermode mentions a few of the minor errors which have understandably but regrettably survived to mar Richard Ellmann’s posthumous Oscar Wilde (LRB, 29 October). A less minor error concerns the wording of the Marquess of Queens-berry’s famous card which was delivered at Oscar Wilde’s club in February and which precipitated Wilde’s prosecution of Queensberry and thus his own downfall. In his Acknowledgments, Ellmann says that ‘R.E. Alton deciphered for the first time the message on Queensberry’s visiting card’; in his Notes, Ellmann thanks ‘R.E. Alton for his study of Queensberry’s handwriting, which enabled him to read for the first time correctly the message on Queensberry’s card’; and in his text, Ellmann says that ‘what Queensberry actually wrote was “To Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite".’ It is true that virtually all commentators, from the trial to the present day, have got the card wrong, reading ‘posing as’ or ‘posing as a’, though all have agreed about the angry misspelling of ‘sodomite’. But Ellmann has also got it wrong. The actual card survives among the trial papers preserved the Public Record Office, where it was found by H. Montgomery Hyde in 1974, and a facsimile of it appeared on the flyleaf of his Oscar Wilde (1976). There is no doubt that the first word is not ‘To’ but ‘For’. There is some doubt about the middle of the message, but the most likely reading is ‘For Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite’. Anyway, this was given in Richard Pine’s Oscar Wilde (1983), so even if Ellmann had been right, he wouldn’t have been the first.

Nicolas Walter
London N1

‘Lenin: The Novel’

SIR: A pity you could not have dished out my first novel, a fictional diary of Lenin’s life from adolescence to terminal illness, to someone with just a little more knowledge of the period and the persons described than D.A.N. Jones (LRB, 15 October). I’m afraid I find it hard to take seriously the judgment of a critic who regrets that my ‘enormous, fact-studded’ tome is not accompanied by some neater work rehearsing Lenin’s career such as, he suggests. To the Finland Station. For Edmund Wilson’s ‘enormous, fact-studded’ tome runs to almost five hundred pages and examines the theory and practice of socialism from 1725 to 1917. It has 30 chapters, and only four deal with Lenin. Could it be that, nevertheless, these 75 pages would provide the ‘neat résumé’ David Jones requires? Unlikely. Wilson only takes Lenin up to his return to Petrograd in April 1917, ending his résumé six months before the Revolution and the founding of Soviet power. He is left virtually unknown to the world outside.

Jones compares my historical adventure tale, meant to appeal to those (like me) who love The Three Musketeers and Robert Graves’s Claudius memoirs, to Hazlitt’s Life of Napoleon. I know as little about this biography as Jones appears to know about To the Finland Station. However, I have consulted Michael Foot, who assures me it is a marvellous work. Henceforth, I shall stick to that opinion. I dare say Hazlitt and I will survive the oddly dyspeptic and distempered disapproval of Jones, the freelance journalist from West London.

Alan Brien
London NW5

‘Familiar Wars’

SIR: I noticed with regret Julietta Harvey’s two complaints (Letters, 29 October) about my review of her novel, Familiar Wars. On her first ‘point of fact’ about the plot I am at fault. The father of the girl Eleni sold his home, not his shop, and I recognise now that this could be seen as an important point about shopkeepers. I made a careless slip. Her second point I regard as a matter of opinion. I suggested that in her book ‘terrible events are … seen through the dreamy eyes of girls,’ who were undergoing (in Mrs Harvey’s words) ‘feminine sensations’. Mrs Harvey argues that ‘the wars are seen through the eyes not of a woman or women but of a child’, with a ‘young imagination’. The girl Eleni makes her appearance one-third of the way through the book. In the last third of the book she seems to be 16-18 (I am only guessing: the reader is not told, but given clues). I saw the girl as ‘feminine’ rather than as ‘a child’. It depends what you mean by ‘girl’. Eleni’s is not the only consciousness in the book. To me all the consciousnesses seemed feminine, including that of Eleni’s father, with his ‘Smyrniot womanishness’, to use Mrs Harvey’s words. Readers of this novel may decide whether the predominant viewpoint is feminine or childlike. It would be odd to describe it as boyish.

D.A.N. Jones
London NW10

Anti-Anti-Racism

SIR: Mr Palmer (Letters, 29 October) and Mr Honeyford (Letters, 15 October) have written at some length in response to my reply to complaints about my review of the symposium Anti-Racism – An Assault on Education and Value. Before answering the points made this time, I wish to emphasise that the issue between them and me is not a dispute over details conducted on shared ground: it appears to me to arise from the authors’ determination to attribute to me views I do not hold, and to ‘anti-racism’ a monolithic and sinister character it does not have, in order to maintain their thesis that ‘anti-racism’ is an organised threat to our society. For example, Mr Palmer’s latest letter asserts that he refuses ‘to support definitions of “racism" which effectively imply that racism can only be committed by white society.’ Well, so do I: my review cited certain Japanese attitudes and acts towards Koreans in support of this view, and agreed with one of Mr Palmer’s contributors, John Marks, in rejecting the belief that all white people, and only white people, were racist and could never be anything else. Mr Palmer appears unwilling or unable to engage with criticism which does not follow the lines he expects.

Mr Honeyford reiterates his claim, which I denied, that the Swann Report recommended extending RAT (Racism Awareness Training). He quotes a paragraph from the report and asks: ‘If this does not mean extending RAT, what in heaven’s name does it mean?’ I think perhaps Mr Honeyford equates RAT with all possible techniques of educating people about racism: in fact, RAT is the name of a specific method originally devised by American psychologists. RAT has been bitterly attacked by A. Sivanandan of the Institute of Race Relations (one of the chief villains in Mr Palmer’s book) and is strongly disliked by many other opponents of racism, including myself. The paragraph Mr Honeyford quotes from Swann distinguishes between RAT and other techniques: it says that ‘the objective of RAT is very much in keeping with our own views,’ but goes on to state a preference for other ways of attaining that objective – ‘a longer and more broadly-based in-service course or school-based activities which set racism in a wider perspective’. One may disagree with these suggestions, but they do not amount to recommending an extension of RAT – quite the contrary.

Mr Palmer asks whether or not I opposed the Swann Committee’s ‘own research into the possible reasons, other than racism, for the under-achievement of West Indian pupils’. In 1982, I spent over four months in Germany, where my husband was doing research, and was away when the committee’s decision on the research was taken. However, I had indeed expressed concern in the earlier stages of discussion on the project. As I remember, the original general proposal was to study successful ‘achievers’ of Caribbean origin or descent to try to determine what factors had enabled them to succeed. This might seem, on the surface, a good idea, but it ignored the following considerations: for over fifteen years many Caribbean parents had been complaining about the low expectations, negligence and sometimes outright racial discrimination they believed their children met in English schools; there was evidence that children in the West Indies did well at school there, and that in the United States Caribbean migrants were well known to do better educationally, on average, than indigenous American black children; it therefore appeared more important to study what factors in the English school system contributed to achievement or under-achievement for any kind of pupil – that is, to start from the schools’ end rather than from the Caribbean children’s. (Such a study has been being conducted by PSI, which encountered difficult methodical problems. Equally complicated difficulties would certainly have arisen if the Swann project had been attempted.) Perhaps I should add that I offered to withdraw from the committee before being away for four months, but was asked by the Chairman to stay. Father Michael Hollings and I both resigned later, at the end of 1984, over a different matter.

Mr Palmer says it is ‘bizarre’ of me to ‘accuse’ Roger Scruton of sidestepping the issue of racism ‘when his task is to examine a thesis that underpins arguments for a multicultural curriculum’. Race and culture are different things: Professor Scruton’s chapter is entirely concerned with culture and he never mentions race once, nor does he at any point identify the advocates of a multicultural curriculum whose views he criticises. It is of course true that many teachers whose objective is to overcome racism advocate some kind of multicultural curriculum as a possible means to this end. There is no agreement among them about what a multicultural curriculum is, and the term covers a host of different theories and practices. Indeed, some of Professor Scruton’s statements have the same sense as statements by advocates of such a curriculum, though the general message of his chapter is concerned with a ‘British culture’ whose character I cannot warm to.

Finally, Mr Honeyford charges me with ‘anti-British pessimism’ and claims that anti-racism attributes ‘a moral and institutional defect to a whole people’. These are misunderstandings. I personally deplore the kind of anti-racism that regards confrontation as an end in itself and resists solutions, but if the authors of this book had really tried to understand how the experience of injustice and insecurity can give rise to such attitudes, and to recognise that there is more to anti-racism than a sinister left-wing conspiracy, they would have done some service to the British people as well as to the moral values they claim to uphold.

Ann Dummett
Oxford

SIR: In seeking to defend his book Anti-Racism – An Assault on Education and Value (Letters, 3 September) against Ann Dummett’s carefully presented criticisms, Mr Frank Palmer makes a completely false accusation which, for the sake of the public record, must surely be exposed. As a member of the Swann Committee on the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups and of its Research Sub-Committee I should like to make it plain that the committee never ‘suppressed its own research into the possible reasons, other than racism, for the under-achievement of West Indian pupils’. The truth is that the research project on under-achievement which it was decided to pursue proved quite impossible to implement for reasons beyond the committee’s own control. On this issue, therefore, we had to base our report on other studies. To accuse Mrs Dummett of being ‘still strangely quiet’ about this imagined ‘suppression’ is to impugn quite unjustifiably the integrity of both the committee as a whole and one of its most valued members.

Paul Hirst
Professor of Education, Cambridge University

Oxford and Labour

SIR: Mr Xavier asserts that I ‘call for Labour to start selecting Oxford graduates as Parliamentary candidates’ (Letters, 15 October). I’m afraid this is quite untrue. The trends in Labour élite recruitment are a sociological phenomenon one could hardly influence by issuing ‘calls’ of any kind, and personally I have no ambition to change the way in which either the Labour Party or Oxford graduates behave. Mr Xavier also seems to have invented his own picture of Oxford in the Sixties, when, he says, the place was all civilised elegance, public schoolboys and moderate politics confined to common rooms. Mr Xavier was not here in the Sixties. I was. When I came up, there had just been major street violence when an anti-apartheid demonstration against the South African Ambassador had got out of control. The Oxford Union was in the hands of the far Left – first Eric Abrahams, then Tariq Ali. Most Oxford economists seemed to be off working for the Labour Government. Very large numbers of students were on the far Left and a student Tory was an unusual thing. Sit-ins and occupations were fairly common. The whole era was the most wonderful fun, enjoyed by large numbers of students who were not English public school products. Mr Xavier wishes to attack Oxford for its present-day SDP-ish cosiness. Well and good – that’s his business. But his criticism might carry more weight if he did not combine it with distortions of what I wrote and of the facts of past history.

R.W. Johnson
Magdalen College, Oxford

Andrea Dworkin’s ‘Intercourse’

SIR: Like your correspondent Parina Stiakaki (Letters, 1 October), I find myself compelled to write on the subject of Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse, but my aim is to counter the gross distortions that appeared in Roy Porter’s review of the book (LRB, 25 June) and your correspondent’s accusations of its ‘narrow-minded, bigoted sterility’ and its ‘warped notions’ that express ‘violent hate and hostility’ towards men. I am amazed that Andrea Dworkin’s careful arguments can produce such reactions of apparent detestation. Your readers may perhaps be surprised to learn that Intercourse offers a detailed analysis of the history of and meanings given to sexual intercourse in the works and lives of writers such as Tolstoy, Flaubert, James Baldwin and Isaac Bashevis Singer; it explores male fears of women’s autonomy through such historical figures as Joan of Arc; it charts the history of the control of women’s sexuality and the denial of their freedom through centuries of religious and secular law. All this Dworkin achieves with scholarly precision and, dare I say it, with compassion and wit. Examples of this last can be found in the aptness of her many quotations: two marvellously funny, and fearful, examples, being George Bernard Shaw on Joan of Arc’s physical unattractiveness and Somerset Maugham on his Professor of Gynaecology’s definition of woman (‘an animal that micturates once a day, defecates once a week, menstruates once a month, parturates once a year and copulates whenever she has the opportunity’). ‘Were she loved sufficiently,’ comments Dworkin, ‘she could not be despised so much.’ I do not think that Dworkin’s comment expresses ‘hate, enmity and vengefulness’.

Roy Porter suggested that this book is an insult to women, and this is echoed by Parina Stiakaki, who, it seems, was so horrified by it that she was forced to recant her feminism (one can assume this was not an issue for Porter). Dworkin’s crime is to politicise sexual intercourse, and to demand that we look at the relationship between intercourse and the low status of women. As she says, intercourse ‘occurs in a context of a power relation that is pervasive and incontrovertible’. Such an analysis poses an enormous threat to the security offered by the belief that sexual relationships are magically separate from the outside world. I am forced to interpret the hatred and contempt heaped upon Andrea Dworkin in the pages of your magazine as a defensive mechanism against such a threat. As a woman, a heterosexual and a feminist, I find no insult in Andrea Dworkin’s book. It may be uncomfortable, some of it disturbing, but I can only admire her passionate concern for women’s freedom and self-respect and feel challenged by her questioning of the most intimate aspects of our lives. I would urge your readers to give Intercourse a fair hearing, and not be put off by the heightened emotionalism with which it has been greeted.

Sarah Lefanu
Bristol

SIR: Intercourse seems to me a brave but too didactic work, written in a tone that in no sense justifies such an egregious ad feminam assault (LRB, 25 June). It seems that in England no more than here can Dworkin’s writing and ideas be responded to. This is a sad loss as she is a challenging and innovative thinker. Having subscribed to LRB since its first appearance during the Times strike, I always look forward to it: I just hope Porter either grows up or isn’t asked to review again.

Mark Hussey
New York

Beastly to Canute

SIR: Something should be done to rehabilitate the reputation of King Canute. Perhaps a ‘hands off Canute’ movement. He was a very intelligent, able and successful king, but the only purpose for which he is mentioned now is to illustrate the sort of ignorant obtuseness, joined with vanity, which he was seeking to combat on that famous tidal occasion. Presumably his courtiers got the message, but no one since seems to have done. The episode has been turned on its head so that to be ‘a King Canute’ has come to mean the opposite of the man himself. Jonathan Raban and Donald Davie (Letters, 3 September) are both educated men, so why do they do it?

In spite of Michael Hulse’s protestations (Letters, 15 October) the words ‘Commonwealth writing’ are as exciting to the average general reader in this country as the words ‘tinned prunes’. If the time comes when Kingsley Amis gives way in the bookshops to the latest offering from Canada or wherever, it will not be because the British have become less ‘sniffy’, or because the ‘residual British superiority complex’ has finally expired, but because they are a better read. It is difficult to determine what Mr Hulse wants. He admits that ‘the situation has improved immeasurably in recent years.’ If it has improved so much that it cannot be measured, what further improvement does he look for? He goes on to write: ‘if the books are to be read, let them be read because they are as good as (or better than) books by other writers, not because they happen to be written in Melbourne or Toronto.’ Exactly so.

C.A. Latimer
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Correction

The price of the paperback edition of Jon Elster’s An Introduction to Karl Marx, reviewed in the issue of 17 September, is £5.95 (not £10.95).

Editors, ‘London Review’

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