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Letters

Vol. 22 No. 17 · 7 September 2000

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Unfair to Carr (again)

Anatol Lieven (LRB, 24 August) does not present a fair picture of E.H. Carr. Having failed to mention some of Carr’s most important and influential work – The Romantic Exiles, Bakunin, Conditions of Peace and The New Society – he goes on to engage in amateur psychological speculation about what he detects as a connection between the ‘slipperiness’ in Carr’s personal life and his views on Stalin’s annexationist policies towards the Baltic states. Carr did not need to be leading a slippery personal life (and wasn’t) in order to justify Stalin’s unjustifiable takeover of Eastern Europe. Nor is there any concrete evidence, as far as I know, that he was a wife-chasing Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth in the 1940s, as alleged by Lieven. For one thing, he was hardly ever there after 1939 – much to the chagrin of the university’s president, Lord David Davies. By then, his first marriage was breaking down and he became involved with a woman who had fallen out of love with her husband, who happened to be the Professor of Geography. This hardly makes Carr the Don Juan of West Wales.

Lieven gets one or two other things wrong as well. Carr did visit Germany during the Nazi period: in fact, he gave a revealing lecture on the subject to Chatham House in 1937. He was also a serving diplomat in Latvia in the 1920s – not, as Lieven says, in ‘the 1930s’ – where, by the way, he did not much like the ‘expats’ or the Russian exiles with whom Lieven says he associated. He spent most of his time in Riga learning Russian, studying the Russian classics and reading Dostoevsky – the subject of his first book, published in 1931. Then there is the vexed question of Carr’s much criticised views on the Soviet Union. These were far more complex than Lieven implies. He clearly believed that great economic strides had been made in the USSR; he also defended the country from its critics during the Cold War. But he was not an apologist for the Soviet system, and, as he grew older, became increasingly critical of the USSR – from a left-wing perspective. Furthermore, though he agreed with de Tocqueville that revolutions often changed less than they set out to, he did not think the Soviet Union was ‘merely the geopolitical extension of imperial Russia’, as Lieven argues. If he had, why would he have viewed the 1917 Revolution as the most important event of the 20th century and spent more than forty years of his life analysing the USSR? Why, moreover, would he have spent too much of that time analysing that most Soviet and not ‘Russian’ of institutions, the Communist International? Finally, his views on appeasement were undoubtedly questionable (though standard fare in the Foreign Office) but this hardly makes his observations on the interwar period worthless. The briefest flick through his extensive writings on these years reveals that he was a most punctilious and fair-minded observer.

Michael Cox
University of Wales, Aberystwyth

Gaelic Gloom

I am surprised to find Colm Tóibín (LRB, 10 August) describing as ‘definitive’ Denis Sampson’s The Chameleon Novelist, a biography which was written without its subject’s approval and which, indeed, made the last months of Brian Moore’s life more agitated than they need have been. Before I explain why this was, I should quickly confess to having a whopping axe to grind: for the last three or four years I have been working on the authorised Moore biography, which I hope to complete shortly. If this means nothing else, it does mean that I am in possession of a good many facts about which The Chameleon Novelist is wildly astray; it was, indeed, the catalogue of errors, with their cumulative effect, which really got Brian Moore’s goat and caused considerable chagrin to him and his relatives. It would be tedious to list these, but they start with ages and dates, continue with family history, go on with inaccurate assumptions about people’s attitudes and states of mind and include wrong assertions about how things happened (for example, the meeting between Brian Moore and the young woman who became his second wife).

Patricia Craig
Antrim

Colm Tóibín writes: In his acknowledgments Denis Sampson says: ‘I made a decision at the beginning that I would not ask for [Brian Moore’s] co-operation beyond the permissions that were necessary for accessing and reproducing materials in the archives and in published form. That decision reflects my recognition of his discomfort with a biographical approach to his life and work, although – as is the case of many other writers – he did not seem to act in any way that indicated disapproval of what I was doing … Although he has not seen the text I have completed, he has generously granted me permission to quote from published and unpublished sources as indicated in the notes.’

The edition of the biography I used was the Canadian paperback published by Doubleday a year after the hardback. I presume that Moore’s relatives thus had plenty of time to clear up any problems they may have had with the book. Since Patricia Craig does not list her problems, I cannot comment on them. My problem, I suppose, is that I don’t believe that a biography has either to be authorised or to please its subject to be definitive.

Colm Tóibín

The Black and the Red

In his overview of the Harlem Renaissance (LRB, 24 August), Lewis Nkosi says that Claude McKay ‘knew a great many people, including Shaw and Trotsky’. As far as I know, McKay had one unsatisfactory meeting with Shaw in London in 1919, when he arrived at his door with a letter of introduction from Frank Harris. Shaw was evidently bored, gave McKay a lecture on cathedrals, and told him to put aside poetry and take up boxing. Likewise, McKay had one interview with Trotsky: at the end of a discussion of the problems of African Americans, Trotsky, sublimely, suggested training a cadre of black officers in the Red Army as the way forward. McKay went to Moscow in 1922 as an unofficial delegate to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International. He apparently went to raise the race issue because he did not believe the official delegation wanted to do it. Although he later denied it and muddied the traces in his past, it is fairly certain that McKay was a member of the newly formed Communist Party in the United States, as were other prominent Harlem figures, such as Cyril Briggs and Richard Moore. The Party was a significant presence in Harlem in the 1920s, whether it was mobilising activity on its own account, or forcing black organisations to consider where they stood. Sadly, the absence of any mention of this in Nkosi’s panorama is another sign of how completely the Communist Party is being erased from the history it helped to shape.

Leonard Pepper
Oxford

Fit to Be a Street Urchin

Alison Jolly’s review of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s Mother Nature (LRB, 10 August) suggests that humanists and others in dispute with sociobiologists misunderstand the sophistication of the latters’ reasoning. But their objections are based on rather more than a crude misconception of the nature/nurture dichotomy. Humanists are, in the first place, sceptical of arguments which make indiscriminate forays into the disciplines of history, anthropology and sociology, and which postulate unexamined social assumptions as fact. An example of this is Jolly’s assumption that human nutritional self-sufficiency is achieved around fifteen years of age, whereas an orang-utan becomes independent at eight. In both human and animal species, self-sufficiency can precede puberty and mating by several years. A human eight-year-old is intelligent, clear-sighted, fleet-footed, a good climber and manually dextrous: as fit for life as a hunter-gatherer as for industrial employment or a career as a street urchin. For Jolly to equate human nutritional self-sufficiency with puberty is both to ignore the historical record and to project the social assumptions of our own time onto the functioning of human groups which predate that record and even predate the evolution of language.

Humanists also distrust sociobiologists’ tendency to explain every social and biological phenomenon in terms of genetic advantage. Anthropologists and sociologists abandoned crude functionalist arguments when they realised, decades ago, that an explanation for everything ultimately explains nothing. For example, the capacity of the human female to live for twenty years beyond the menopause poses intriguing questions, but attributing it to the genetic advantage of childminding seems somewhat facile. Other mammalian species, such as wolves, have childminding strategies in which the menopause is not implicated. The issue needs to be examined in the context of studies of group behaviour and hierarchy, and of the relative longevity of species, rather than by reasoning back from the practices of a human community which happen to fit the bill.

Anne Summers
London NW3

Alison Jolly notes that attempts by males to control female reproduction ‘show no sign of abating’. In Australia, the Federal Government proposes to change the Sex Discrimination Act in order to restrict access to in vitro fertilisation not just to heterosexual women, but to married couples. The announcement seemed to come as news to many of the female members of the Government (who of course do not include the Prime Minister or Attorney General), not to mention its (female) Sex Discrimination Commissioner. We need more bonobos in public life.

Gordon Kerry
Sydney

Sounds like Eva Braun to me

Thomas Jones expresses understandable doubts about the authenticity of The Diary of Eva Braun (LRB, 6 July). I bought a paperback edition of Hitler et les Femmes: Le Journal intime d’Eva Braun in a local second-hand bookshop last year. The book was published in 1948, under the ‘authorship’ of Douglas Lawrence Hewlett, who prefaces the diary with a lengthy history of Hitler’s love life. The copyright of the diary allegedly belongs to the publishers, La Société Française des Editions du Cheval Ailé. I have yet to see the Spectrum edition, which Jones wrote about, and would be interested to read Alan Bartlett’s commentary. In the 1948 edition, the question of authenticity is investigated. Hewlett claims that Eva Braun’s family confirmed she met the film-maker Louis Trenker in the course of the winter of 1944-45 in Berlin and later at Kitzbühel, and that she gave a sealed envelope containing her private diary into his safe-keeping. The envelope, marked with her initials, was opened in the autumn of 1945 at Bolzano, in the presence of a notary, Max Fioresi, who apparently kept a record of the event. The manuscript (without the envelope) was subsequently inspected by someone in the American War Department, who is said to have declared that the diary ‘avait toutes les apparences d’un document authentique’. Perhaps Douglas Hewlett was one of the Americans who inspected the diary. He admits that it is impossible, in the absence of a signed affidavit from Eva Braun herself, to prove the authenticity of the document. He adds that the style and ‘esprit’ of the contents sound like Eva Braun’s voice, but admits that the lively details, though ‘criants de vérité’, could be the work of a forger.

It would be unfair to the edition I have to dismiss the diary as mere pornography (of the ‘feeble’ kind Jones describes). There is a great deal of interest in its pages, though the lack of consistent dating is irritating, and there are huge gaps in time when nothing seems to have been recorded. The episodic and gossipy nature of the writing seems perfectly in keeping with the character of the alleged diarist, who confesses herself more interested in the affairs of the Italian Ambassador Alfieri and his farcical escape from an enraged husband in his pyjamas than in the planning of the Russian Campaign. The faux diary is a recognised literary form, and many of the famous modern ones have assumed an authenticity which has deceived the critics. As a schoolgirl I bought The Household of Sir Thomas More from a barrow outside a bookshop in Edinburgh. It purports to be the diary of Margaret Roper, More’s favourite daughter. (The book is written in English, which should have alerted me to its fictional origin: the More household were unlikely to have written in the vernacular when Latin and Greek were their preferred literary languages.) It was years later that I discovered the book was written in the 1860s by a lady novelist.

In the case of the Eva Braun diary, there seems to be a lack of the persuasive detail that characterises other ‘diaries’ of doubtful authenticity. Indeed, the diary’s lack of corroborative detail may be its greatest claim to an authenticity that can’t be proved. It doesn’t appear to have been written either for posterity or for publication: it contains the preoccupations of a woman who would clearly have been happier partying and having affairs with handsome officers of the Reich than being caressed by their Führer, whose psychological and physical problems caused her frustration and misery. The consequences of the one affair she describes outside of her relationship with Hitler are the subject of one of the book’s most chilling episodes.

Eleanor Cooke
Market Drayton
Shropshire

So Close to the Monster

Esther Allen (Letters, 10 August) says that José Martí held contradictory views of the US. I said the same thing in my article. But Allen seems to want to resolve the contradictions in a certain way. She suggests that the strong anti-American sentiments expressed in Martí’s last letter, from which I quoted, shouldn’t be taken too seriously because that letter was addressed to a Mexican friend and intended as an appeal for Mexican help in the Cuban War of Independence. As Allen would have it, Martí didn’t really mean what he said about the ‘monster’: look at his advice to his daughter in New York to start a bilingual school in Brooklyn. But it was politically, not personally, that Martí felt the US was a monster. His appeal to the Mexicans should be taken very seriously and the Mexicans should have heeded it. An independent Cuba, free from Spanish rule and from American dominance, would have benefited all of Latin America. Martí’s personal feelings about the US, mixed as they were, are not the issue.

Gilberto Perez
University of Missouri
Rolla, Missouri

Right to Reply

Stephen Sedley claims (LRB, 10 August) that there is ‘no way in the developed world of making the media carry the other side of an argument if they don’t want to’. In Austria, however, media legislation includes a ‘right to reply’, which allows any individual to request that a factual correction be published or broadcast. The medium need not comply, but then risks being sued for slander. In practice, Austrian media tend to comply (sometimes attaching snide riders), if only for a quiet life. The right to reply is thus open to abuse and often ineffectual – but it does exist.

Edgar Ernstbrunner
Stockport

Still a Winner

The Caravaggio painting that Nicholas Penny finds ‘especially disturbing’ in reproduction wasn’t ‘destroyed in the Second World War’, as he puts it (LRB, 10 August). Love the Winner, or Victorious Cupid, is still hanging in Berlin, intact and insolent, ‘aggressively common’ and still a winner. When Penny’s feeling a little stronger he might like to have a look at it.

Peter Robb
Sydney

What Foucault Surely Knew

John Bossy wondered whether Foucault knew that Cardano invented the universal joint. Roger Jones (Letters, 6 July) and Timothy Stunt (Letters, 10 August) differ on this, but none of them has pointed out that Cardano did not in fact discover it, but merely described it in De Subtilitate (1550). The joint appeared in Europe as early as the ninth century AD; but it was invented in China by the second century BC at the latest.

John Hort
Nottingham

Acrimony

The heading ‘What Do You Mean “We", White Woman’, of which Sally Minogue provides an earnest interpretation (Letters, 10 August), is unlikely to refer, as she claims, to Lorraine Bethel’s poem. Bethel, like Susan Gubar, was surely alluding to the joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto that circulated widely in the US two or three decades ago. It culminates with the two of them surrounded by hostile (American) Indians. The Lone Ranger says: ‘What shall we do?’ Tonto replies: ‘What do you mean “we", white man?’

Peter Dear
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

The joke was old when I heard it more than thirty years ago. I commend it to Minogue, not just for its wry appreciation of contextually sensitive identities and solidarities, but also for what it has to say about the pleasures of piling on.

Rick Livingstone
Columbus, Ohio

Me Generation

The aircraft involved in the events described in Tom Paulin’s poem ‘The Mechelen Incident’ (LRB, 24 August) was a Messerschmitt Me 108, not an Me 109. The Me 108 was ‘a virtual fighter’, designed in the 1930s as a four-seater touring aircraft. It was similar in appearance to the Me 109, possibly built as part of its development programme: the Me 109 was a single-seater fighter, one of the best produced by any nation in the Second World War. ‘Me’ was the British designation for the planes: in Germany they were called the ‘Messerschmitt Bf 108’ and ‘Bf 109’ after the manufacturer, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. Willi Messerschmitt was head of the design team.

J.G. Owen
Caerphilly

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