Andrew Saint’s mention of literary episodes in the London Underground (LRB, 20 January) reminds me of something in Henry James that has been puzzling me since I was alerted to it by some remarks in a review of the film of The Wings of the Dove in the American quarterly Salmagundi, by the late Walter Kendrick. In Chapter 3 of James’s novel Kate Croy is described as entering a train at Sloane Square to go to Queen’s Road, on her way to her Aunt Maud’s house. Queen’s Road (the street and the station) is now called Queensway; Lancaster Gate station would be slightly nearer to her aunt’s house, which James describes as being in the middle of Lancaster Gate, facing the entrance to Kensington Gardens, but there is not a lot in it. Both stations are on the Central Line, which opened in 1900, two years before The Wings of the Dove appeared; to get to either of them from the Circle or District Line train which she took at Sloane Square Kate would need to change at Notting Hill Gate. On the crowded train she spots Merton Densher, whom she has met once before at a party. They exchange smiles, and at Notting Hill Gate he takes advantage of an empty seat and sits down next to her. The train moves on; ‘on their reaching her station he instantly followed her out of the train,’ and the dramatic action of the novel is underway.
If Kate’s station is in fact Queen’s Road they could not have got to it without changing. There are some possible explanations: Kate, who thinks of herself as ‘strangely affected’, may have been so engrossed by Merton that she forgot to change trains; realising her mistake, she then got out at the next station, which would have been Bayswater. But so significant a confusion would surely have been indicated in the narrative. It seems more likely that James simply got things wrong. He might not have realised that the new Central Line would have been Kate’s most direct way home. Before it opened Bayswater or Paddington were the nearest stations to Lancaster Gate. Because Bayswater station stood in Queen’s Road, James may have thought that was the name of the station (I imagine he did not often travel on the Underground; Kate and Merton do so because they are poor). The fact that by the time he wrote there was a Queen’s Road station on the Central Line adds to the confusion. There may be other explanations. Does anyone have any?
Alan Bennett infers from Iris Murdoch's approval of the Falklands War that she underwent an ideological transformation as radical as Paul Johnson's (LRB, 20 January). I like to regard myself as being the very epitome of liberal values, both personally and professionally, but I, too, approved of the Falklands War (while being vehemently opposed to Israel's invasion of Lebanon which followed shortly afterwards). Approval had nothing to do with defending democracy, striking a blow against dictators, supporting our gallant lads, or whatever other jingoistic propaganda was spouted at the time, but was simply based on the judgment that whenever possible, and having considered the risks involved and alternative strategies, it is better for personal and international relations if we stand up to bullies, rather than let them take what they want by force. If Iris Murdoch reached a similar conclusion, that of itself no more makes her a political reactionary than my observation that Lord Carrington was the last British politician to accept the doctrine of ministerial responsibility makes me a dyed in the wool Tory.
Liberal Jewish Synagogue
In his review of The Holocaust in American Life, Norman Finkelstein (LRB, 6 January) claims that the upsurge in interest in the Holocaust began with the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. In fact, it began with the Eichmann trial of 1960-62 – this is a commonplace in accounts of the historiography of the Holocaust.
Nor is there any demonstrable or obvious link between historians who have presented what might be described as the ‘orthodox’ view of the Holocaust as central and unique, and their views on Israel. For instance, two of the historians whom Finkelstein attacks most directly for their views on the Holocaust, Daniel Goldhagen and Deborah Lipstadt, have no expressed views on Israel or Zionism. Conversely, several historians who have dissented from the orthodox view on the alleged inaction of the Allies in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust, such as Yehuda Bauer, Lucy Dawidowicz and Martin Gilbert, are outspoken champions of Israel and Zionism. The two historians who did most to put the view that America ‘abandoned’ the Jews during the Holocaust, Arthur Morse and David Wyman, are not ‘Zionists’ and are, indeed, not Jewish.
That Finkelstein is liable to exaggerate the use of the Holocaust by scholars defending Israel may be seen – to take one example – in the references to Haj Amin Al-Hussani, the Mufti of Jerusalem, in The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. The Encyclopedia is a four-volume reference work consisting of 1704 pages. The article on the Mufti occupies four pages. One reason for his inclusion was that he was given an interview with Hitler in the middle of the war during which Hitler stated that when the German Army arrived in Palestine, the Jews would be ‘exterminated’ there. It doesn’t, however, present all the facts about the Mufti’s Nazi and anti-semitic connections. For instance, it fails to mention that he was due to present a paper at a giant International Anti-Jewish Conference to be held by the Nazis in Cracow in 1944.
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Norman Finkelstein overlooks the fact that classes in Holocaust Studies in American universities have appeared in the wake of courses in Black Studies, Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies and Native American Studies, all of which were justified in part by appealing to the historical victimisation of their subjects and their under-representation in the history curriculum. As for the tendency for some writers, and many ordinary Jews, to ‘sacralise’ the Holocaust, if a billion or so Christians can find transcendent meaning in the suffering of one individual, surely Jews can be allowed the indulgence of incorporating this great historical trauma into our own tribal story, even to the point of giving it star billing.
Although Norman Finkelstein is right to argue that the American Jewish establishment’s ‘rediscovery’ of the Holocaust stemmed from a defence of Israel’s pride of place in US foreign policy after 1967, public awareness of the Holocaust prior to the Arab-Israeli war had grown to a far greater extent than his reference to ‘a handful of books and films’ suggests. The impact of The Diary of Anne Frank, Resnais’s Night and Fog and documentary archives was felt by the early 1960s.
This had nothing to do with conservative Jewish leaders. Indeed, consciousness of the Holocaust’s significance rose along with political radicalisation. Opposition to the postwar order brought the Allies’ wartime record into question. The employment of Nazi scientists on the space programme, the lack of public reference to the Holocaust, the Allies’ failure to impede the Final Solution, the hasty end of the Nuremberg trials, and above all the continued support for fascist regimes and right-wing dictatorships combined to form part of the Left’s day-to-day polemic.
Royal Holloway College
University of London
I find David Gilmour’s defence of Kipling against Amit Chaudhuri’s charge of racism rather disingenuous (Letters, 20 January). While it may be true that Kipling never formulated an explicit theory of racial supremacy, the usual 19th-century models of racial hierarchy inform his work, along with a set of racial theories peculiar to the British Raj. The poem ‘East is East’ is far from the innocent portrayal of mutual cultural respect which Gilmour opposes to Chaudhuri’s gulf of misunderstanding. Its dewy-eyed narrative of blood-brotherhood between Kamal the Pathan border thief and the English colonel’s son originates in ideas about the racial characteristics of the people of India that were handed down as basic lore to generations of India hands, and for which we largely have the British Army to thank. After the uprising of 1857 it was theorised that a major cause had been the ‘feminine’ racial predisposition to untrustworthiness of the mutinous recruits, mostly Hindus from the North Indian plains. From then on the British were careful to recruit their soldiers predominantly from such ‘masculine’ groups as North-Western Muslims, Sikhs and Gurkhas, all of whom were considered to be more racially suited to service, and therefore less likely to chop up the colonel’s wife in a sudden fit of blood-frenzy. Kamal and the colonel’s son are both representatives of stern martial races, and hence seen by Kipling as jolly good fellows. Effete Bengali babus like Amit Chaudhuri or wily scheming Kashmiris like myself were not generally accorded the same all-boys-together respect.
In my piece on Kipling, I pointed out that Kipling was born in post-Mutiny India, around the time of the first efflorescence of the Bengal, and the Indian, Renaissance. I also said that, because of the profound and long-lasting effects of the polarisation of coloniser and colonised after the Mutiny, the formulation of modernity in India, by Indians – the great intellectual upheaval of the Indian Renaissance and after – remained ‘largely a blank’ in the West in the 20th century, and that, disturbingly, it continues to remain so even now, when so much attention seems to be directed at Indian writing and culture. C.A. Bayly (Letters, 20 January) takes issue with this statement, and provides a list of historians, British and Indian, who have done much valuable research on India, its history, culture and languages. The fact remains, however, that the admirable research done by him and his colleagues is far less influential and widely disseminated than both he and I would wish, certainly in intellectual and popular circles in the West outside the South Asian history departments in which he and his colleagues teach, and, crucially, in the literature departments in which Kipling is read and taught.
Of course, the area is not really a blank at all. Bayly neglects to mention the translators, anthologists and commentators who have repeatedly offered some of the important works of modern India for perusal in the West, and in spite of whose continued efforts its literatures and history remain ‘largely a blank’ in contemporary Western consciousness. Part of the reason for this is surely that post-colonial theory, with its relative lack of interest in Indian self-consciousness as evinced in its arts and elsewhere, with its enquiry into the exercise of power in the colonial relationship, and its questioning of the practice of writing history itself, has provided the most influential paradigms in the recent past for talking about societies and cultures such as India’s. These paradigms have not remained confined to departments of history, as the researches of Bayly and his fellow historians sadly have, but have found a renewed life in departments of cultural studies and literature, where they have somewhat negated the impact of those researches. Nowhere in the piece do I claim, as Bayly seems to suggest, that the matters I discuss in relation to modern India have never been discussed before – it would be absurd for me to do so. But I do claim that Indian history has been brought to bear on Kipling’s life and, more important, his work, too infrequently.
David Gilmour’s information about the Ilbert Bill is of academic interest, but it misses the point. Surely what is important is that not only I, and Harry Ricketts, Kipling’s biographer, and popular opinion have it that the Ilbert Bill was perceived as a threat by English colonials, but that Kipling and his English contemporaries should also have believed it to be so.
As to Gilmour’s protestation that he finds no evidence of any unpleasant ‘racial theory’ at work in Kipling’s writing, I would request him to reread those of Kipling’s letters, stories, poems and the relevant sections of Kim in which the following hierarchy is presented again and again. First, we find the benign, intelligent and masculine English representative of the British Empire; second, there is the simple, robust North Indian or Pathan ‘native’, whom Kipling romanticises and patronises. Finally, the bottom rung is occupied by the Westernised and (in Kipling’s eyes) laughably over-educated Indian, often a Bengali, physically unimpressive but clever. This figure posed the first threat to Empire and is denigrated viciously by Kipling. In constructing this hierarchy, Kipling was following the racial mythologies of his time. Naturally, he rarely presents us with a theory as a lecturer in a university would: instead, wonderful artist that he is, he dramatises the theory, and entertains us with it.
Mike Eaude (Letters, 6 January) takes me to task for my remarks on the relationships between Andres Nin, Victor Serge and Trotsky. Eaude writes that ‘Trotsky was totally on Nin’s side’: in fact, Trotsky repeatedly criticised Nin, then leader of the POUM, throughout the months prior to his murder by Stalin’s agents in 1937. For example, in January of that year, Serge wrote to Lev Sedov, regretting that the POUM was forced to defend itself against ‘a fierce campaign’ launched against it by Trotsky’s Fourth International. In March, Trotsky himself wrote that ‘everyone who defended Nin’s policies against us today carries a share of the responsibility for the defeat of the Spanish revolution’ – if the revolution were to fail, as, of course, it did.
In May 1937, Trotsky continued to denounce the POUM for ‘its indecision, its equivocation, its hesitations, its lack of clear programme’, concluding with a condemnation of ‘the tragic and criminal mistakes of the leadership’. In June, immediately after Nin’s murder, Trotsky wrote of ‘the leaders of the POUM’ that they ‘could only be accused of opportunism and lack of resoluteness toward Stalinist reaction’. In September, after praising Nin’s ‘integrity’ and condemning his executioners, he said: ‘we openly criticised Nin’s policies when he was alive. We did not alter our evaluation of him after he died.’
Eaude also contests my observation that Serge believed the roots of Stalinism could be found in Lenin and Trotsky’s own early policies. However, Serge wrote in his article ‘Marxism in Our Time’, published in the Partisan Review in 1938:
after victory had been won in the Civil War, the socialist solution of the problems of the new society should have been sought in workers’ democracy, the stimulation of initiative, freedom of thought, freedom for working-class groups and not, as it was, in
centralisation of power, repression of heresies, the monolithic single-party system, the narrow orthodoxy of an official school of thought … By the time Lenin and Trotsky realised the danger and wished to retrace their steps … it was too late.
The two major issues about which Serge and Trotsky disagreed were the Kronstadt uprising and the role of Nin, topics which recur repeatedly in their dialogue. I find myself puzzled by Trotsky’s apparent inability to see any parallel between the armed suppression of the Kronstadt rising and the armed suppression of Nin and the POUM. If, as Trotsky clearly stated, killing Nin and his comrades was wrong, then surely the armed suppression of the Kronstadt sailors was wrong, too. Yet in August 1938 Trotsky still wrote, on the subject of Kronstadt:
I don’t know if there were unnecessary victims. On this point, I trust Dzerzhinsky rather than his belated critics … Victor Serge’s conclusions on this point – at third hand – have no value in my view. But I am ready to accept that civil war is not a school of humanism. Idealists and pacifists always accuse the revolution of committing ‘excesses’. But the fundamental point is that ‘excesses’ stem from the very nature of revolution, which in itself is only an ‘excess’ of history. On this basis whoever wants to can reject (in little articles) revolution in general. I do not reject it. In this sense, I accept full and entire responsibility for the repression of the Kronstadt revolt.
Frank Kermode’s remark (LRB, 9 December 1999) that ‘there are passages in Coriolanus that nobody now understands and even allowing for possible textual corruption it seems unlikely anybody ever did’ is not sustainable. The difficulties of the play have two causes. First, Shakespeare practised severe ellipsis. When Coriolanus says to Menenius, ‘That we have been familiar,/ Ingrate forgetfulness shall poison rather/ Than pity note how much’ (V.ii.82-84), he means: ‘Ingrate forgetting of me on your part will poison our old familiarity rather than pity on my part will note how familiar we really were.’ Many passages use about half the words to express an idea than we would want to use to express it. Second, editors have only just discovered what happened to make the Folio text of Coriolanus the odd kind it is. The scribe used some careless forms which the compositors could not always read. The most celebrated crux of the play is the word ‘Ouerture’ (I.ix.46). Shakespeare wrote ‘Ouature’, but by the time the scribe had copied this word, it looked like ‘Ouerture’. ‘Ovator’ is the modern spelling of this rare word. The late Philip Brockbank was especially gloomy about ‘Ouerture’, and Kermode appears to have read him on this crux. The work of Lee Bliss on the text of the play will illuminate the real difficulties caused by scribe and compositor. Her edition came out last month. The New Variorum is still a couple of years away.
Co-Editor New Variorum Coriolanus
Urbana University, Ohio
Perry Anderson (Letters, 20 January) scorns to notice the contradiction between the sources he scrutinises and the conclusion he draws. If Orwell, by conducting his own freelance annotation of contemporary fellow-travellers, was in the ‘service of the secret state’, then why was the dreaded list already prepared in the sinister form of a quarto notebook? And surely, by asking Richard Rees to hunt it out for him on behalf of a former flame, he illustrated the truth of Rees’s later avowal that this was ‘a sort of game we played – discovering who was a paid agent of what and estimating to what lengths of treachery our favourite bêtes noires would be prepared to go’.
What sort of lengths might those have been? Take the case of Peter Smolka alias Smollett, who appears on the list. A Beaverbrook press person and an OBE, he also toiled in the wartime Ministry of Information. He was, it can now be asserted, the official of that ministry who intervened with Jonathan Cape to prevent the publication of Animal Farm in 1944 (which would surely constitute an interference by the ‘secret state’ against Orwell). And he was later revealed, though from other sources, as an agent of the KGB. He is also the only person on the entire list against whom the charge of being an agent is directly laid. And even then the exact words are ‘almost certainly’. Anderson doesn’t care to notice it, but perhaps a third of the entries consist of notes such as ‘Probably not’ or ‘Sympathiser only’, even in the relatively innocuous matter of Communist Party membership. Where round accusations are made – such as J.B. Priestley’s vast earnings from Soviet editions of his works – they are correct. This is also true of the irrelevant details: Anderson invites us to snort at the idea that Hugh McDiarmid was ‘very anti-English’ when, after all, and as Orwell may or may not have known, McDiarmid listed ‘Anglophobia’ as one of his occupations in Who’s Who. To read that Stephen Spender was ‘inclined to homosexuality’ is to earn a free belly-laugh from the past, I admit, but much of the private gaucherie of the notebook holds up surprisingly well, and is also surprisingly lenient. Nobody came to harm from its circulation, and unless Anderson wants to say plainly that Orwell was a racist it is no more bizarre to find a question-mark after ‘Jewish’ in the case of Zilliacus than after ‘Finnish’. (Both incidentally correct.) Louis Adamic is identified – why not? – as ‘born in Slovenia not Croatia’. The entry for Richard Crossman – ‘?? Political climber. Zionist (appears sincere about this.) Too dishonest to be outright F.T. [fellow-traveller]’ – could hardly be bettered for succinctness even now. It was from Perry Anderson, incidentally, that I learned of the relevance and interest of national and ethnic provenance in the cases of Namier, Berlin, Gombrich, Malinowski, Popper, Melanie Klein and indeed Isaac Deutscher, by means of the convenient chart he published in ‘Components of the National Culture’ in New Left Review (1968) and republished in English Questions (1992). I defended him back then from ill-intentioned critics who affected distrust for the necessary taxonomy, and I defend him still.
To the issue of how well Orwell ‘knew’ people, I reiterate that surmises like those above, even when correct, do not denote a list of ‘acquaintances’ in the customary sense. He had certainly met Kingsley Martin, who had suppressed his reports on Stalinism in Spain for the New Statesman, and famously knew him well enough to dislike even the sight of him, but does Anderson quarrel with Orwell’s view that Martin was a ‘decayed liberal, very dishonest’ with nonetheless ‘probably no definite organisational connection’? And does he think this would have come as a dynamite disclosure to Robert Conquest, Celia Kirwan’s colleague in the Information Research Department?
This brings us to the insinuation that Orwell hoped to get his stuff published. Here, Anderson is on firmer ground. State intervention had prevented the publication of Animal Farm in wartime: in the postwar period Orwell was to see copies of it impounded and burned by American occupation troops in Germany. We tend to forget how much the ruling establishment of that period hoped to please or conciliate Joseph Stalin, which was Orwell’s point to begin with. He certainly co-operated with those, in power and out of it, who were prepared to print or distribute his censored work. And so he should have done. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t choosy: he publicly declined invitations to speak on League for European Freedom platforms because the incipient Cold Warriors had nothing to say against British imperialism.
I join with Anderson in finding the continuing bureaucratic and legalistic secrecy to be absurd, though I can’t find that this is Orwell’s fault. But I know some of the unpublished names, as I’m sure does he, and I doubt that there are many surprises. Finally, though, a slight change of emphasis. We now have the benefit of another tranche of newly released documents, concerning Stalin’s preparations for a show-trial in Spain. In these papers, dated 13 July 1937, the names of Orwell and his wife appear as those of ‘pronounced Trotskyists’ operating in Barcelona with clandestine credentials and maintaining contact with opposition circles in Moscow. Had he and Eileen not escaped from Catalonia a few steps ahead of the NKVD, they might well have shared in the fate of many other left oppositionists who were done to death in ways and in circumstances that are no longer – at any rate in point of fact – controversial. Informing, and heresy-hunting, and applause for judicial murder, were political obligations for a large number of the people who feature on Orwell’s list. The obligation was largely observed between about 1936 and about 1952, and in many instances for rather longer. Orwell had lost close friends in that struggle, and was dealing with Celia Kirwan shortly after the Stalinisation of Czechoslovakia, in which many plausible ‘non-Communists’ had also participated. In view of this, it is rather striking to see the absence of malice or misinformation in his notes, and salutary to be reminded of the difference between an alleged witch-hunt that never took place, and the real, bloody, historical thing.
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