Vol. 17 No. 22 · 16 November 1995

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Late Call

In her review (LRB, 2 November) of Sally Festing’s Barbara Hepworth, Rosemary Hill implies that Barbara Hepworth, like Christopher Wood, committed suicide. Can I make it absolutely clear that this is not true? At the inquest after her death it was accepted that the sculptor fell asleep while smoking a cigarette and set fire to her bed. Her death was accidental. In her last years Hepworth had become a committed Anglican, and suicide would have been totally against her principles. She lived surrounded by her sculptures and by the paintings of Ben Nicholson, and she would never have put such works of art at risk.

I am afraid that although your reviewer recognises the weaknesses of the book she nevertheless seems to accept Sally Festing’s portrayal of Hepworth in her later years as a true one. Mrs Festing did not know Hepworth, and she does not give a picture of the artist as her family and friends remember her. She did not ‘quarrrel with nearly everyone’ in St Ives, neither was she the lonely person painted by Mrs Festing. She admittedly suffered severe ill health in the last ten years of her life, and began to drink whisky in the evenings to assuage the pain of cancer of the mouth. Her work was the most important thing in her life: like most artists she felt she had a God-given talent which she was obliged to express to the best of her ability, and she continued to work to the end. After a long struggle when her art met almost complete indifference and hostility she took a natural satisfaction in late recognition and had a proper pride in her own achievement.

The reputation of artists usually suffers in the years immediately after death, and Hepworth is no exception. The warm reception that the recent retrospective exhibition at Tate Liverpool, Yale and Toronto has received suggests that this is changing.

Your reviewer talks about ‘the battle that continues to rage posthumously between Hepworth and Moore’, forgetting that for most of their careers they were allies as much as rivals, and that each recognised the essential differences of the other’s art. I was fortunate to be close to both of them, and now that the Henry Moore Foundation is well established I am no longer its director but am working full time on my book on Hepworth.

Alan Bowness
London SW13

Who’s quaint?

Benedict Anderson has allowed his imagination to run away with him – at least in regard to that part of his review of Clifford Geertz’s After the Fact (LRB, 24 August) which refers to the Committee for the Comparative Study of New Nations. Since the initial idea for the Committee was mine, and I was instrumental in its founding, I would like to put the record straight.

To my knowledge, virtually everything he says about the New Nations Committee is wrong. Take just one comment: ‘Geertz’s arrival at Chicago did not occur through conventional disciplinary channels: he was initially recruited and financed by a typically grandiose Kennedy-era operation.’ In fact this‘Kennedy-era operation’ was conceived of and started up in the Eisenhower era. At the time, 1958-9, Clifford Geertz, Edward Shils, Lloyd Fallers, Morris Janowitz and I were at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Shils and I on leave from Chicago, Geertz and Fallers from Berkeley, and Janowitz from Michigan. What drew us together was a common interest in ‘new’ countries struggling to create states, civil societies, and induce development while trying to control the consequences. We believed that to understand what was involved required interdisciplinary work, something to which, at the time, the University of Chicago was peculiarly and institutionally sympathetic. As well, it had vacancies in the several disciplines we regarded as the most relevant.

I suppose a $250,000 grant for five years from the Carnegie Corporation was in those days a substantial sum, but ‘grandiose’? As for ‘operations’, they took place in two basement rooms which served as a Committee common room for students and faculty whose primary activities consisted of talking and discussing over coffee, holding seminars, an occasional conference, i.e. what one normally considers the stuff of academic life. As far as I knew no one had anything whatever to do with anything other than teaching, analysing and research. Since I never engaged in spying, either for my country or on my colleagues, 1 cannot say more than that. All faculty had regular departmental appointments made in the normal way. In Geertz’s case, I went to the chair of the anthropology department and asked if there might be interest in considering him for an appointment along with Lloyd Fallers. While regular procedures were different then from what they are now, they were followed. Nor would it have occurred to anyone to do otherwise. Neither Geertz nor any other scholar except graduate students and visitors was ‘financed’ by the Committee.

The reference to Edmund Shils as a ‘Parsons-derived sociologist’ is laughable. Whatever else Shils was – opinionated, politically reactionary, cranky, fussy, perverse – he was also brilliant, idiosyncratic, provocative, stimulating, and above all extraordinarily literate. If he ‘derived’ from anyone it was Weber, some of whose work he had translated. While it is true that Shils collaborated with Parsons, he regretted it and said so, often, loudly and clearly. His own work had nothing to do with the latter’s schemas, which he regarded as hopelessly entangled (and entangling) webs of categories, ambitious beyond measure and impossible to work with.

As for ‘preaching, exhorting and manipulating’, there may have been individuals so inclined, as in any academic body, but as far as I could tell, it certainly did not characterise the Committee as such. Other faculty of distinction joined it, like Harry Johnson in economics, Max Rheinstein in law, and Leonard Binder in political science. It drew together a very diverse body of graduate students. And when it had nothing more to say it was terminated. To ‘reinterpret’ the Committee as simply a Cold Warrior shop both underestimates the integrity and the scholarly commitment of those engaged in its work and casts doubt on the integrity of the re-interpreter. Certainly some of its work looks pretty quaint today, but so does a good deal of the so-called Marxism that succeeded it; not a few of whose more arrogant and pious practitioners were pretty adept at preaching, exhorting and manipulation – as this review illustrates.

David Apter
Yale University


I was extremely puzzled by Peter Clarke’s description of Dahrendorf’s ‘masterly German understatement’ in his history of the LSE (LRB, 21 September). I have been living in Germany for fifteen years, and have never heard a single understatement yet. Surely what Professor Clarke is praising is Dahrendorf’s Teutonic hyperfulfilment of the German conception of Britishness.

Michael Robertson


The case for the importance of female bonding in Jane Austen’s novels could have been made far better if Terry Castle (LRB, 3 August) had only looked at the right kind of evidence – not descriptions of dresses, which were ironic, for heaven’s sake. I would like to offer this as a dictum: that admirers of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights or Gone With the Wind fall in love with Mr Rochester or Heathcliff or Rhett Butler; but admirers of Pride and Prejudice fall in love with Elizabeth Bennet. The focus is on the heroine, just as in Rebecca, or My Cousin Rachel the erogenous focus is on the heroine. The reader falls in love with the dashing Rebecca or the silken and treacherous Rachel, not with the heroes who are (like Jane Austen’s heroes) really rather dull. Two very different species of book. Jane Austen certainly had a highly-developed narcissism, if nothing more.

Elizabeth Bennet never finds Darcy attractive until she has met his sister (a female version of him perhaps?) and never wants to marry at all until both her closest women friends, Charlotte Lucas and her sister Jane, are married or engaged and so taken from her. The conclusion of the book spends longer telling us about the ‘love’ which grew up between Elizabeth and Georgiana, her sister-in-law, than it does describing Elizabeth’s happiness with Darcy. The 1980 TV production was so right in having Elizabeth played by the light and bright and sparkling Elizabeth Garvie, while Darcy was portrayed (apparently) by a shop-window dummy. He should be.

Julia Gasper
Open University

Loraine Fletcher (Letters, 19 October) is quite right to slap my wrist. My unclarifying contribution to the current debate was written as a passing remark, not a proof-armoured essay. Truly, ‘the warm bed Marianne shares with Elinor and leaves to write her last miserable letter to Willoughby is of Aasten’s imagining, not Castle’s’; but what could be happening in that bed can only be approached as among the range of possibilities invoked by Castle’s imagining, not Austen’s, which remains (as far as I can tell) silent on the subject. I have absolutely nothing against Castle’s definition of homoeroticism and how it may find its first model in the physicalities of family affection. This seems to me plain enough sense. My ‘nothing at all to do with’ may have been too strong – yet even if we somehow knew for sure that the relationship between Cassandra and Jane Austen did have what Castle calls ‘its unconscious homoerotic dimensions’, and therefore could bring our knowledge to bear on Elinor and Marianne, the question would be whether our understanding of the fictional as against the real-life sisters was altered by it. Very little, I’d guess; perhaps not at all.

J. Woolley
North Yorkshire


In my review of Jill Wentzel’s The Liberal Slideaway (LRB, 2 November), a reference to the Government having, remarkably, legislated to amend the Constitution with retrospective effect came out meaninglessly as ‘without retrospective effect’.

R.W. Johnson


John Bayley found culinary sources not helpful to him in identifying Pommes Anna, a dish Barbara Pym’s diary records her having served to Philip Larkin when he visited her in Finstock in 1977 (LRB, 19 October). The problem, I believe, is that the dish is usually referred to as ‘potatoes Anna’, under which heading a trip to our kitchen bookshelves revealed it in the following indexes: Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, Beard’s Fireside Cookbook, The Settlement Cookbook, Gourmet Cookbook and House and Garden Cookbook, to say nothing of Nora Ephron’s novel, Heartburn. In none of these sources did I find a footnoted traslation, explaining that ‘potatoes’ were pommes. I do not know if the failure to translate words from the English is as flagrant an offence as the failure to translate them to the English.

Donald Schwartz
Santa Ana, California

In Praise of Ulster-Scots

James Orr, the Bard of Ballycarry (1770-1816), has been dragged out of the Ulster-Scotch briar patch by your deft-handed diarist Tom Paulin (LRB, 24 August). This is an exercise which normally gies mair scrabs an skelfs nor thinner-skinned husbanders of Anglo-Irish literature would thole. Michael Longley (himself slightly scathed by the exercise), however, agreed that Orr’s ‘Donegore Hill’ was probably the finest poem to come out of the 1798 rebellion (Letters, 7 September). Peter McDonald lakes Longley and Paulin to task for squabbling about the linguistic use of Ulster-Scots as a fertiliser for modern Anglo-Irish writing (Letters, 5 October).

Orr would have loved the irony of all this. He reserved his ‘braidest Scotch’ not only for folksy subjects but also to disguise his radical and controversial politics from the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy: ‘My rude Scotch rhymes the tasteful justly slight,/The Scotch-tongued rustics scorn each nobler flight.’ On the linguistic front, Jim Fenton (Letters, 5 October) is absolutely correct. The good folk of present-day Ballycarry would have great difficulty understanding much of Orr’s Ulster-Scots vocabulary. However, the most obvious reason for singling out ‘Donegore Hill’ as Orr’s best political poem about the 1798 rebellion is a failure to penetrate the language, not to mention the historical and cultural context, of the rest of his poetry. In ‘Donegore Hill’ Orr presents the 1798 rebellion as a hopeless shambles. It is an almost despairing and penitential poem about the hopelessness of rebellion. It contains little sting, and no satire or hidden meaning.

I hesitate to challenge the combined claim of Paulin and Longley that it is Orr’s best poem about the 1798 rebellion. However, I must suggest an alternative: ‘To the Potatoe’. This innocuous, humorous ‘Scotch-rhyme’ addressed to Ireland’s national dish is surely Orr’s most radical work. The Anglo-Irish Ascendancy is the clear target: ‘Waeworth the proud prelatic pack, wha Point an’ Prataoes downa tak!’ The poor ‘deels’ living on bogs and braes, are never able to taste fine foods, ‘Nor pit new clais on; while a’ they mak’ can har’ly please, Some rack-rent messon.’ The choice for the poor is either to steal food like a fox, or to turn out with the landlords in ‘hungry hun’ers’ in order to flush out their weaker neighbours:

What wad they do without Do-blacks
Their weans wi sarkless wames to rax?
They boost to forage like the fox
That nightly plun’ers
Or wi the ’Squires turn out an’ box
In hungry hun’ers.

Although the penultimate verse is well disguised (towards the end of an apparently innocent poem) its radical message involved a considerable risk for Orr. Fifty years before the Potato Famine, he was calling for a general strike of potato-pickers. His express purpose was the completion of the failed mission of the ’98 rebellion:

Upsettin’ England sudna ding
Thee just sae sair – she’s no the thing
Gif thou’d withdraw for ae camping,
Thy brow-beat callens,
Whaever pleas’d cud clip her wing,
An’pare her talons.

Not all of Orr’s poetry will be pleasing to Anglo-Irish sensitivities, or to 20th-century perceptions of who the Ulster-Scots are, were and ought to be.

Philip Robinson
Ulster-Scots Language Society

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