I write as a close relative of a seven-year-old girl who was murdered in the 1960s by a stranger (not Myra Hindley), but I hope I can avoid the ‘hysterical reactions’ and ‘self-pity and … undirected pouring forth of meaningless … emotion’ seen by John Upton as characteristic of ‘victims’ (LRB, 21 September). Upton pours scorn on the Law Lords’ description of Hindley’s crimes as placed ‘in terms of wickedness in an exceptional category’. According to him they have ripped off their ‘mask of objectivity’ and ‘tossed it to the tabloid press like a knight presenting a favour to his lady’. My view is that the torture and murder of children for adult pleasure is a crime against humanity, and that even if the public’s unique loathing and condemnation of this crime has been appropriated by media and politicians, it is at bottom perfectly valid and legitimate, and the law does well to reflect it. These views do not mean that I have a ‘faulty washer on my sentiment tap’; they make me a human being. I understand that Upton writes as a lawyer.
In view of the recent interest in both A.J.P. Taylor and E.H. Carr in the LRB and elsewhere, it may be worth my putting on record what the second of those eminent historians once said to me about the first: ‘He started by believing that the Germans were responsible for everything; then he decided that the Germans were responsible for nothing; then he decided that nobody was responsible for anything.’
Trinity College, Cambridge
William Golding’s The Paper Men is a tense narrative of the relationship between a novelist and a biographer who stalks him up to the final sentence. That sentence, in the voice of the biographer, is incomplete: he has been shot by his subject. I did not stalk Brian Moore in the years during which I worked on my biography, The Chameleon Novelist, but now it seems that Patricia Craig, who is writing an ‘authorised’ biography, has attempted to shoot me (Letters, 7 September). Craig signed a contract to write Moore’s biography in early summer 1996, when my work had been underway for some years. In fact, it was Brian Moore who phoned to let me know: he seemed happy that there were going to be two books about his work.
Second biographers usually claim their right to exist by making loud declarations that they will significantly correct the record, but Patricia Craig’s insinuation that I was responsible for making ‘the last months of Brian Moore’s life more agitated than they need have been’ is pitiable ammunition. I was not aware in early 1998 that I was requesting permissions from a seriously ill man, and it was only then that he acted in any way to indicate anxiety about what I might write.
I can guess that he was upset by the chapters which discuss his successful career as the author of seven thrillers, most written under pseudonyms; he made it clear that he did not want me to refer to them, nor did he want me to discuss unfinished novels. He refused permission to quote from manuscripts. I could understand why he would wish to be known as the novelist who began his career with Judith Hearne and wrote only literary novels, but I could not concur.
I know Moore was annoyed by the misspelling of a name, and his relatives have told me that I got a few family details wrong. I treated Moore’s work, his career and his personal life with the greatest respect; in fact, some reviewers criticised my reticence.
In her review of Jeanette Winterson’s The.PowerBook (LRB, 7 September) Jenny Turner quotes from the book’s blurb – ‘Intense, erotic, incandescent in the power and beauty of its prose, The.PowerBook is an astonishing achievement’ – and then goes on to say: ‘Jeanette Winterson generally writes her own jacket copy. If you hadn’t already guessed.’ Before this becomes yet another Winterson legend, to be repeated in every newspaper profile from now on, may I say that if you had so guessed you would in fact have been wrong. I wrote those words. And I meant them.
Jonathan Cape, London SW1
In the attempt to distinguish between a prologue, a preface, an introduction, a foreword, an epilogue and sundry other tops and tails of a book, William Gass (LRB, 5 October) gives as an example of a prologue ‘the narrative aria that opens Tristan und Isolde’ and ‘tells us the story up to the point at which the curtain rises’. Wagner in fact wrote an orchestral prelude to this opera which, because of its constant chromaticism, has been called a prolonged moan, but that doesn’t make it an aria. The only example of a vocal introduction in his work (albeit after the curtain has risen) is in Götterdämmerung, where the three Norns tell us again what we have already spent 11 hours finding out from the preceding three operas of the Ring cycle. Wagner himself described Das Rheingold, the first of the four operas in the cycle, as a prelude, but that’s another story.
Norwood Green, Middlesex
I was astonished to see the superb new Longman edition of Shelley’s poems, edited by Kelvin Everest and the late Geoffrey Matthews, dismissed by Laura Quinney (LRB, 21 September) in a footnote as ‘intended primarily for the use of college students’, while the Reiman/Fraistat Johns Hopkins edition reviewed is described as ‘the definitive scholarly edition’. The bizarre truth is that after a century of neglect, two scholarly editions of Shelley’s complete poems are simultaneously underway, one in America, one in Britain, both meticulously edited and exhaustively annotated. Neither can claim to be definitive, because it is in the nature of scholars, editors, and even ordinary readers to disagree. And at £58 for Vol. I of ‘several’ (Johns Hopkins), or £95 for Vol. II of three (Longman), neither is within reach of college students or the general reader. But both editions should lead to cheap, reliable and comprehensive reprints, free from the errors and omissions that have plagued all editions since 1839, when Mary Shelley defied Shelley’s father and presented the complete works of this great radical poet to a still unawakened earth.
Editor, ‘London Review’ writes: Laura Quinney was asked to review Reiman and Fraistat’s edition, and wrote her piece, before the Everest and Matthews volume made itself known to the LRB (Longman didn’t send a copy here, or alert us to its publication). When the Longman edition came to our attention, we sent it to Dr Quinney in the belief that it would be better to mention it briefly than not at all. Putting Dr Quinney’s remarks in a footnote was an editorial decision. As to whether or not the Johns Hopkins edition is the ‘definitive scholarly’ one, it may be worth quoting from Kelvin Everest’s acknowledgments in his (very fine) Longman edition: ‘Like all students of Shelley, I am indebted to Donald Reiman, whose depth of Shelley scholarship is without parallel.’
Editor, ‘London Review’
The last paragraph of my letter (Letters, 5 October) in response to Peter Berkowitz’s review of my book Virtue, Reason and Toleration says that ‘the basis for ascribing certain views to the many or the wise varies with the solidity of the institutions themselves.’ Berkowitz might well think that this is a view no less bizarre than the one I attribute to him: ‘institutions’ should (and in the submitted version did) read ‘intuitions’.
University Center for Human Values, Princeton
I can report to Marcus Short (Letters, 21 September) that no self-respecting hobbyist in my part of the world would glue his plane to the base. To do so would foreclose the possibility of live-action display, using the figures usually provided with the kit, or demonstrating flight manoeuvres, or indeed, as Short suggests, hanging the planes from the ceiling. I always preferred this form of display, especially for my favourite World War One specimens, and it had the advantage of giving a useful place to damaged and incomplete pieces – they could be posed as victims of the fight. My collection remained suspended in mid-flight for many years until my mother recently sold her home, whereupon I videotaped the display and took the dusty veterans down to storage.
I always thought it rather naff to use the little translucent base provided with the kit. I preferred to display my models on shelves, or hung from the ceiling by a fine thread. Today, they are suspended from my study ceiling, since all the vertical spaces are filled with bookshelves and all the horizontal surfaces with books.
Paul Pfalzner is clearly right about James Joyce and the word ‘quark’ (Letters, 21 September). Every self-respecting grocer’s shop in Zürich, during Joyce’s time here, would have had quark on offer, pronounced to rhyme with ‘mark’, as Pfalzner says. This cheese is still a favourite dish of the burghers of Zürich, mixed with chives, in this land of milk and honey.
Paul Pfalzner asks whether Murray Gell-Mann took the word ‘quark’ from James Joyce. According to Gell-Mann in The Quark and the Jaguar (1995), he had the sound ‘kwork’ in his head, and later noticed the line in Joyce: he liked the spelling, and invented a reason why one might be able to pronounce ‘quark’ as ‘kwork’ instead of the ‘kwark’ that Joyce’s rhyme requires.
LRB readers may be interested to know that a further outcome of Victor Klemperer's experience of Nazi Germany (LRB, 21 September), The Language of the Third Reich. Lingua Tertii Imperii: A Philologist's Notebook, is available from Athlone Press.
Jamie Wetherall wonders if ‘sad’ has become a putdown because of the have-a-good-dayness of McDisney (Letters, 5 October). My recollection of what happened is this: in the 1980s some sad reactionary not a million miles from Private Eye decided to counter the widening use of ‘gay’ for ‘homosexual’ by calling homosexuals ‘sad’. This was picked up in teenage slang, the great and glorious engine of linguistic innovation. The fact that the word was now an insult was registered by teens who were not especially homophobic, and who thus collectively decided that it should become synonymous with ‘pathetic’. The latest example of this process is the replacement of ‘cool’ (for ‘good’) by ‘rude’, which, incidentally, echoes prenominal usage such as ‘in rude health’.
University of Bath
I wonder if Stephen Greenblatt’s memory of the football song his father’s cousin wrote (LRB, 21 September) is based on seeing the written lyric. He has it ‘I’m a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech, and a hell of an engineer.’ My Jewish father sings ‘heck of an engineer’, which rhymes better.