Vol. 34 No. 12 · 21 June 2012

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Triumphant Amnesia

Prussia was not the only state to be dismantled by the Allies, as Neal Ascherson seems to suggest: Saxony, Baden and Württemberg were treated similarly (LRB, 24 May). Even more unsettling is the claim that ‘West Prussia became Polish’ after 1945. The province of West Prussia ceased to exist as such in 1920 and became part of the newly formed Polish state following the principles of the Treaty of Versailles. Ascherson comes close, at some points perhaps almost too close, to implying a victimisation of East Prussia, thus resembling a discourse still quite dominant in Germany today.

Moving as the fate and political engagement of aristocrats such as Marion Dönhoff may have been, it might be of interest to mention that it was the Social-Democrat chancellor Willy Brandt, a former member of an anti-Nazi resistance group, who recognised the Oder-Neisse line and the loss of the territories in the east. As for Dönhoff, the Gräfin is now commemorated with a huge monument in former East Berlin, at a spot previously named after her Prussian ancestors.

Mirroring this glorification of Prussian aristocracy is the commemoration of another woman mentioned by Ascherson, the great sculptor and printmaker Käthe Kollwitz, whose oeuvre has been successfully depoliticised by the German mainstream. Little remains in the public memory of her numerous works in protest against capitalism and in support of the German Spartacists. Kollwitz’s was not a vague, pacifist protest against all wars (in fact, she produced a series of works dedicated to the peasants’ uprising in the German territories in the 16th century), but against a specific war and specific politics – namely, the Great War, conducted by the capitalist ruling class. It is a painful irony, initiated by Helmut Kohl, that a replica of her sculpture Mother and Dead Son with the vague inscription ‘For the Victims of War and Dictatorship’ now stands in the Neue Wache next to the German Historical Museum in Berlin, epitomising the triumphant amnesia of German conservatism since 1990.

East Prussia is no ‘forgotten land’; its ‘ghosts’ are well financed by the German taxpayer; the Federation of Expellees is highly influential. Alongside the newly established German Historical Museum and the rebuilt Prussian palace demolished by the East Germans, the government is now building yet another museum, dedicated to the flight and expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe. There is evidently still plenty of demand for the ‘ancient Prussian virtues’ hailed by Ascherson.

Avner Ofrath

Neal Ascherson describes Marion Dönhoff as ‘a journalist and editor in postwar West Germany’: she was also one of the founders of the influential weekly newspaper Die Zeit, a significant aspect of her ‘moral authority’. A further instance of it can be seen in the plaque she donated to the cathedral in Kaliningrad (former Königsberg). Situated high up on the interior south wall, it gives the dates of the Dönhoff family’s residence there over the centuries, ending ‘1945’: a message both to Russia and to those voices in Germany which called for a return of the former Prussian territories to German ownership.

Blaine Stothard
London SW9

Old Ham

Andrew O’Hagan remarks that ‘good reporters go hunting for nouns’ (LRB, 7 June). Well of course. Hemingway, like some territorial animal, noun-marks his progressions; and not at all unlike a great many drunks, finds it essential to name his drinks, as if crediting friends or role models. Many drink-at-home-drunks retain loyalty to the empties – ‘absent friends’ – by never throwing them out. Hemingway names his bars and cafés in much the same way.

Sometime in the 1970s I was sitting at the zinc in Harry’s Bar in Paris (sorry), earnestly telling the heavy-lidded bartender how to make a Bloody Mary, while I waited for a friend to finish his day’s labours at nearby Price Waterhouse. The shot of manzanilla is particularly important, I told him, in binding together the other ingredients. Busy polishing glasses as he listened, lids by then lower than Buster Keaton’s, he glanced ceilingwards, silently drawing my myopic gaze to a large pair of blackened hams suspended above. Odd, I thought, a smart Paris joint like this, displaying seasoned hams like some Spanish café. As I slid off my stool to slip downstairs to the bathroom, I came face to face with a sign declaring that the Bloody Mary had been invented in Harry’s Bar by Hemingway in, I think, the 1920s. And what I thought were old hams were in fact the Old Ham’s boxing gloves.

Sean Gallagher

Royal Bullying

Diarmaid MacCulloch asserts that a version of the English Book of Common Prayer was ‘imposed’ on Scotland in the 1630s by the English court (LRB, 24 May). The story is more complicated than this brief account suggests. English prayer books were used by Scotland’s Protestants before 1560 and, according to Gordon Donaldson, writing in 1954, ‘continued to have a place in Scottish worship’ thereafter. Increasingly, however, many Scots regarded ex tempore preaching as one of the central features of their faith. The idea of a dedicated Scottish liturgy was raised by King James VI and I after he had acceded to the English throne and, in 1616, a group of clerics was commissioned by the Scottish General Assembly to prepare a draft. The project was overtaken by James’s misguided attempts to force Scotland to take the sacrament on its knees; the ensuing furore continues to be downplayed by British historians.

Further liturgical innovations were shelved until James’s son, Charles I, resurrected the idea, perhaps as early as 1629. An English liturgy was already in use in the Chapel Royal at Holyroodhouse but, by 1634, the king had been persuaded to allow the Scottish bishops to revise a text personally approved by him. A royal proclamation ordering the use of the BCP was issued in November 1636. This gave the BCP’s opponents plenty of time to prepare for its infamous first public airing in Edinburgh on 23 July 1637.

The fate of the BCP in Scotland perhaps had much to do with the ‘bullying self-righteousness’ of its royal advocates, because hostility to its use wasn’t universal. Presbyterian polemicists wanted their fellow Scots to believe it was, and they succeeded brilliantly. More than three hundred years later, we still regard Calvinism as the natural disposition of the Scot and its ‘proudly Reformed Church’ as a monolith.

Laura Stewart
Birkbeck College
University of London

Diarmaid MacCulloch convincingly describes the interplay between translations of the Book of Common Prayer starting in the 16th century and the increasingly global perspective of an English people in the early stages of international empire. Yet his summary of English attempts to bring the BCP to Ireland in 1560 suggests a breezy flexibility and a readiness to translate – in contrast to his portrayal of a harsh English policy towards the Cornish especially – that hardly existed. On the contrary, the call by the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity (1560) for Latin to be used among Irish congregations who spoke no English was justified explicitly on the mistaken premise that literacy in Gaelic was nearly non-existent, and implicitly by the fact that the Church was in no way prepared to provide the extensive written materials in vernacular translation that were needed. As it turns out, it was the Scots who showed entrepreneurship in this area in the form of a loose Irish translation of the Book of Common Order produced by a churchman of the Scottish Reformed Church, John Carswell, in 1567. Only in 1608 did an Irish translation of the BCP appear, and even after that the established church’s record with regard to the vernacular in Ireland vacillated between accommodation and resistance throughout the late Tudor and early Stuart periods.

Nicholas Wolf
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia

Thomas More Exonerated

Stephen Sedley cites the DNB as saying that Thomas More ‘caused suspected heretics to be carried to his house at Chelsea on slender pretences, to be imprisoned in the porter’s lodge, and, when they failed to recant, to be racked in the Tower’ (LRB, 5 April). This is from the entry by Sidney Lee, published in 1894. The entry by Seymour Baker House in the new Oxford DNB reflects a later, more judicious consensus, and does not mention the allegation of torture. Peter Ackroyd in his Life of Thomas More (1998) says that More can be believed when he invokes God to assert that the heretics he detained and interrogated suffered not so much as ‘a fillip on the forehead’.

Henry Ansgar Kelly
Los Angeles

Less than Meets the Eye

David Thomson has high standards in film stars and he imposes rather firm rules about how they ought to twinkle, but he isn’t being fair to Marilyn Monroe (Letters, 24 May). The actress won’t be confused anytime soon with Abraham Lincoln or Abbie Hoffman, but in her own way she changed the situation, pre-1960s, by making the personal feel like something more political. Twentieth Century-Fox wanted nothing from her but cheesecake and compliance, and, increasingly, as Jacqueline Rose pointed out, she gave them trouble, the kind of trouble that can only challenge the rules of exploitation.

Thomson suggests Marilyn was never as well behaved or professional as Elizabeth Taylor: that’s right, but she was never as happy or as well-spoken as Liz either, or as stable in terms of her family life or education. And yet, unlike every other actress, Marilyn fought for director approval after 1955 and she got it. She never again made a picture with a director she didn’t think intelligent. And on the list of directors she esteemed was Alfred Hitchcock, who expressed a wish to work with her and who clearly, contra Thomson, was fascinated by her talent. It seems Thomson doesn’t wish, as Rose does, to locate Marilyn’s issues with power in a brutal childhood. Men wanted only one thing from her; but she wanted other things from herself, and in this lay her struggle. To imply that her battle was stupid or worthless is to deny her reality all over again.

Nobody said she handled the film industry brilliantly, but she did get Bus Stop made; she did attend the Actors Studio at a time when every journalist in America was scoffing at the notion; and she did make her contempt for Something’s Got to Give so evident that they fired her from the production, and then had to rehire her when her co-star Dean Martin wouldn’t do the picture with her replacement (Lee Remick). Maybe Thomson is just fed up with the whole Marilyn story, and can’t be bothered to seek out the things that matter about her (and mattered to her). But Marilyn’s wish to be a thinking person and a political person is not, for me, undermined by the fact that some of her contemporaries had similar wishes.

Thomson’s point about Anna Christie is daft: Lee Strasberg loved her in the part, but he wasn’t a producer or a commercial director by that point in his life. In fact he didn’t work on a single stage play between 1951 and 1963. He was though, as Rose says in her piece, mad keen to direct her in a television production of Somerset Maugham’s Rain. Again, Marilyn showed her loyalty and exercised her power with NBC by holding out for him as director, because he had done the work with her. She was indeed a democratic being, and Thomson might allow that democracy doesn’t always come out on top, especially when it hangs out with dictators. But Marilyn was her own faltering powerhouse, a small agent of change, and none of the other splendid actors Thomson mentions booked a table every night at the Mocambo to ensure that Ella Fitzgerald got the gig.

Andrew O’Hagan
London NW3

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