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Letters

Vol. 20 No. 18 · 17 September 1998

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Crosland Aloft

Ben Pimlott omits to mention one of Anthony Crosland’s major contributions to the thinking of his day. At a time when the Labour Party believed in public ownership on moral and economic grounds, he argued that the aims of socialism could be achieved by controlling industry without having to own it. It has taken a long time for (most of) Labour to accept this argument. Today, some of our industries are among the most highly regulated in the world, don’t have full control of their own prices and have constantly to justify themselves to consumer watchdogs. I refer of course to the public util ities, privatised by a Conservative Government. The point is that we had to wait for Thatcher to vindicate Crosland. How very English.

David Tipping
Sherborne, Dorset

Ben Pimlott (LRB, 3 September) refers to Lord Hattersley as Anthony Crosland’s ‘own disciple’. In fact, Hattersley deserted Crosland in the 1976 leadership election and was told by him, with 1st Airborne Division vigour, to fuck off when he went to explain himself. With disciples like that … It was not, as Pimlott asserts, ‘a mutual unease’ between Crosland and Wilson which kept Crosland from the plum jobs enjoyed by Jenkins. The latter had a gullible fan club in the Parliamentary Labour Party which Wilson (wrongly) felt it was prudent to appease.

Roy Roebuck
London N1

Somebody Else

In Cyprus in 1968-72 I heard the story of the building of the Governor’s Summer Residence in the Troodos in 1879-81, which followed on from the initial British Survey begun in 1878 after the island’s cession from the Ottoman Empire. The officer in charge of the Survey was Captain Herbert Kitchener, Royal Engineers. Rimbaud, as Jeremy Harding remarks (LRB, 30 July), was on the island at this time, working first in a quarry and then as supervisor on the site of the villa’s construction (according to my Cypriot informant). I am not sure that Kitchener and Rimbaud actually met during those months in 1879-80, but it seems quite possible; Europeans were not so thick on the ground in the interior of Cyprus in those days. If they did, there might have been an interesting interaction, as both were expatriate loners of ambiguous sexual orientation. Does anyone know of any other evidence? It has intrigued me for years, especially as Rimbaud left the island under some sort of cloud.

John Coleby
Crondall, Hampshire

Not the Milkman’s

Catherine Wilson (Letters, 20 August) seeks to cast doubt on the claim of J.M. Good (and others) that spermist beliefs holding that a woman was not related ‘in point of actual generation’ to the children she bore were widespread in the 18th century by pointing to the no less widespread acceptance of incest prohibitions then as at other times. She takes the fact that (virtually) nobody would allow a woman to marry her son (to simplify her example) to imply that no one really believed that the woman and son were ‘related only by convention’. But this argument works only if incest prohibitions were thought of as keeping apart the genetically related and only the genetically related; and that is clearly not the case. For instance, in the Book of Common Prayer there are 30 categories within which marriage is prohibited, 20 of which are of people related only by marriage. The controversy that raged through the 19th century about whether the law should be changed to allow a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister was not fuelled by any belief (however sublimin al) that he was somehow related to her ‘in point of generation’. Indeed, it can be powerfully argued that the main point of incest prohibitions has been precisely to protect ‘conventional’ familial relationships, and that beliefs about generation have little or nothing to do with it.

Peter Morriss
National University of Ireland, Galway

Gobsmacked

I was sorry that my account of a whole batch of recent books on Shakespeare and wonder (LRB, 16 July) couldn’t fit in more than a paragraph or so and a few general remarks about Peter Platt’s Reason Diminished, so I’m quite pleased that its author has compensated for this by reviewing the book much more fully himself (Letters, 20 August). While I’m not surprised that Platt found so much more to say on this subject than I did, I was a little puzzled by some of the views he attributed to me, and especially puzzled by his apparent conviction that most of my article consisted of a sermon, addressed solely to him, about the paramount importance of politics, popular culture and social context over anything even resembling the appreciation of Shakespeare’s artistry. I must thank Platt, though, for pointing out to me that ‘there are a variety of ways in which Shakespeare means’ and that ‘delight and pleasure (and even horror) are as important as instruction to literary, dramatic and visual art.’

Michael Dobson
Roehampton Institute
London SW15

Terminological Illness

In her account of her struggle to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Sarah Rigby (LRB, 20 August) suggests that a recent article of mine in the Guardian ‘silently contradicted’ the views of Elaine Showalter. In fact there is no contradiction between the research I described in the Guardian and the position taken by Showalter in her book Hystories or in the Diary she wrote for the LRB. Our work showed that the majority of those who come to a specialist clinic such as the one I run at King’s College Hospital do indeed come from the professional classes. Nearly all believe they are suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), and many do not fulfil established international criteria for CFS. An illness which preferentially affects the successful middle classes is inherently implausible, and provides the basis for Showalter’s critique. However, when we looked outside the clinic, we found the opposite. Operationally-defined CFS was more common in lower socio-economic groups, but most of those affected did not use terms such as ME to describe their illness. There is thus no discrepancy between our epidemiological studies of CFS and Showalter’s historical analysis of ME – we are describing different constructs and concepts, so it is not surprising that we reach different conclusions.

Simon Wessely
KIng’s College School of Medicine, London SE5

Excessive Guffawing

The Very Reverend Alfred Jowett (Letters, 20 August) is quite right to be amused at my confusion of Elijah and Elisha but the rest of his letter left me smiling at the assumptions which underlie it. One is that the New International Version’s translation of the Elisha story is the right one. The Hebrew phrase in question is na’ar koton: na’ar means ‘youth’ or ‘lad’, koton means ‘little’; and the NIV translates the phrase elsewhere as ‘young boy’ (2 Kings 5.14), ‘small boy’ (1 Samuel 20.35), ‘little child’ (1 Kings 3.7 and Isaiah 11.6) and ‘only a boy’ (1 Kings 11.17). In short, because it wants to dilute the savagery of the Elisha story, the NIV mistranslates and turns the children into ‘youths’; and because he wants to dilute it even more, Jowett turns the youths into ‘yobs’ and makes it a tract for our times, a bear only doing what a bear has to do. As for Abraham’s great distress at sending his son off to certain death rendering him any less guilty – all I can say is that in my book that puts him, and those who argue in such a way, at the moral level of the Walrus.

Gerald Hammond
University of Manchester

The Great Accumulator

John Sturrock suggests that W.G. Grace had the most charismatic beard of the 19th century. Such revisionism in the pages of the LRB will not do. The honour surely goes to Karl Marx.

Keith Flett
London N17

Referring to the local teams of 22 players against which W.G. played in his early years, John Sturrock asks (LRB, 20 August): ‘did they all field?’ The recommendation shown here for the placement of 22 players appears in the ‘Hints for Players’ section of John Lillywhite’s Cricketer’s Companion for 1872. The title on this map does say enigmatically at the commencement of a match, a phrase not used in any of the other five field placements for elevens. Maybe some of the 22 used to drop out as the match progressed, back to the haymaking or whatever?

Richard Penney
Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire

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