In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

John SturrockMary-Kay Wilmers
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

It​ was John who had the idea that I should say something about his professional life at his funeral. It was a very nice idea and I’m glad – not to say flattered – that he had it. But I found it a spookily hard thing to do. ‘Spooky’ because every time I thought I had a point to make I heard myself checking it with John – ‘Is that right?’ ‘Can I say that?’ ‘Does that make sense?’ – and then I began to understand what had happened to all of us.

John Sturrock

I first heard of John in the late 1960s when I was working at Faber and we were thinking whether or not to publish a translation of one of Alejo Carpentier’s magical realist novels. My boss told me to get in touch with someone called John Sturrock, who worked at the TLS and knew Spanish and knew about magical realism; he would advise us. I think John said we should and I know we decided not to. Faber was quite stick in the mud in those days.

John was not that at all. His good fortune, he wrote in The View from Paris, his collection of essays on postwar French intellectuals, was to have entered on his professional life in the mid-1960s when Sartre was ceding the territory to Roland Barthes; when, as John put it, ‘the first rustlings of Literary Theory’ – he gave it capital letters – ‘were to be heard’, and the quarrel between those who took to theory and those who took against it was just starting up. John had no doubts about which side he was on – I’m not sure he ever had doubts: he had questions – and the argument for theory was all the more enjoyable (his word) because it had to be made, as he described it, in a country such as Britain, ‘so gruffly unreceptive to anything even faintly theoretical’; or foreign.

John’s working life divides easily: a little more than thirty years on the TLS, a little less than thirty years on the LRB. I’m probably projecting more than I should when I say that he was known and admired among his colleagues above all for two things: the severity of his judgment and the playfulness of his intellect, and I can’t think of a more likeable combination. Sadly, it’s a combination one is more likely to find on the political right, in the Spectator, for example. John’s version was staunchly of the left. Not the wild left or the utopian left so much as the dissenting left; or the left it’s a pleasure to read. Here he is, in August 2003, on one minor aspect of the war in Iraq:

The delusional cast of mind of those who ordered our armed services into action on a false prospectus appears to be spreading, no doubt being seen in high places as a sound qualification for anyone who may now be angling to land a job sorting things out in Iraq itself. The man who has been put in charge of a body called the Iraq Industry Working Group was quoted last week as saying that within quite a short time – as little as three years, he thought – Iraq could be turned from the unhappy scene of murderous disorder and deprivation it currently is into a tourist venue, containing … such recently overlooked destinations as the ‘birthplace of Abraham’ and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, even if these particular sites might need a spot of making over by the people you see on television doing that sort of thing in the English suburbs. Why, on the other hand, wait even three years to open the country up to tourists, when you could start easyJetting them in straight away and offer them their own weight in air miles if they manage while they’re there to do what no one else has done and finger the missing weapons.

The LRB piece that caused the most hoo-ha among the paper’s readers, and elicited the largest number of indignant letters, was written by John. Alan Sokal, a professor of mathematics at UCL and physics at NYU, had gone into battle against the postmodern theorists whom he accused – I’m simplifying but not greatly – of having no understanding of the concepts they borrowed from science, and no respect for truth either. John’s response was to call Sokal a ‘bigot’; far better, he said, ‘wild and contentious theses’ than the ‘stultifying rigour’ which Sokal ‘inappropriately’ demanded. Rigour of course has its place. John himself was rigorous and often demanded more rigour from others. But unlike any editor I’ve known, he saw it as his obligation to ‘encourage adventurism in ideas as the way to keep the intellectual pot boiling’.

John Sturrock

In fact there was a great deal that John favoured which conventional wisdom disapproves of: ambiguity is one, contradiction another. He did a good line in oxymorons. Who else would have found Céline’s sarcasm ‘refreshing’? How often was Michel Houellebecq’s first novel, Whatever, praised for being ‘impressively bleak’, and his next for being ‘boldly out of tune with the times’? Would anyone else have thought to describe the Dreyfus Affair as ‘that inspirational episode of injustice’, though it plainly has been precisely that. Only a very few occasions allowed John to lower his guard. The death in Auschwitz of Georges Perec’s mother elicits a hint of sentimentality, but time spent in the Gulag is no excuse for sloppy thinking and, as John puts it, Andrei Sakharov’s discussion of Derrida isn’t ‘guaranteed to be totally coherent by his courage in resisting persecution’. John was a keen if disappointed follower of the British political scene; after Blair’s speech in Sedgefield announcing his intention to step down, John described him as ‘our first ever ex-prime minister in waiting’. He had played, and liked to write about cricket, and welcomed its ‘benign colonisation of English summers’. Yet his writing is all of a piece: his thoughts, his sentences, the words that he chooses follow a route of their own. One thing the TLS and the LRB have in common is the trace left by his headings: ‘Feuds Corner’ for a review of a novel about Albania; ‘Dr Livingstone, I infer’ for Jerry Fodor’s sense of what Stanley might have been thinking; ‘Springtime for Robespierre’ for Hilary Mantel’s piece on the French Revolution.

I didn’t meet John in person until I went to work at the TLS in 1974, a few years before Murdoch acquired the paper. John was the deputy editor, John Gross was the editor. Gross referred to John as the ‘sea-green incorruptible’ and you get the picture; it wasn’t a happy place to work in those days, though the friction between the two principals – the severity of one and the worldliness of the other – worked to the benefit of the paper. John was definitely happier at the LRB – you could see it on his face – but then no one minds being treated like a sage.

I haven’t spoken about aspects of John’s professional life that I should have spoken about: his translations – Stendhal, Victor Hugo, Proust, Georges Perec and several others. Or his books: on structuralism, on autobiography; the guide to the Pyrenees. But then he hasn’t been there to advise me.

Letters

I was very sad to learn of John’s passing. The loss of another link with Oxford days. Although we were both at Lincoln our paths mainly crossed in talk at dinner – he was a linguist and I an agronomist, however we did both defend the college’s reputation on the hockey field, he as a skilful centre half and I as a pedestrian fullback (I expect the terminology is quite different now). But it was later that we came together more, because in 1955 (I think) he and Charles Hodgkinson (sadly gone from us) and I shared a very comfortable flat on the top floor of a house in Chalk Farm owned by an editor of the Times. John I recall as an account executive in some advertising agency which seemed to allow him ample time to go shopping. Charles and I were having to work much longer hours. John would arrive home and have supper organised and beautifully cooked – he was a very accomplished cook and we, Charles and I, became very accomplished at washing up! Happy days together broken by my getting married in later 1956 (and still getting cooked for). John had a marvellously dry sense of humour and always a pithy comment, ever an academic.

Nigel Bell

John and I had worked together, off and on, for I suppose more than twenty years both at the TLS and the LRB and I grew to admire him hugely for his learning, wit and humour. First I was his editor and then he was my editor and I enjoyed both relationships, and both papers benefited so much from all that he brought to them. I loved the drawl and chuckle with which he would cut down some overmighty academic to size and his countervailing enthusiasm for writers who were not well known or had fallen out of fashion. When I arrived at the TLS from the rougher world of political journalism, I was so grateful for all the help he gave me and it is so sad to think that I shall never hear his confidential voice over the telephone again.

Ferdinand Mount

I joined the TLS straight out of university in the 1990s, so only overlapped briefly with John, but he left a very deep impression on me, as he did on all who were lucky enough to meet him and work with him. When he decided to move to the LRB, I was one of several deputed to take up a part of his role at our paper – the editor correctly assuming that one person wouldn’t be able to do all that John had taken in his stride for so many years. He very generously compiled an annotated list of likely reviewers of history books, which I took as my bible for years. I have it in front of me now, dog-eared with over-use, but it reminds me that, even in pretty sober documents like this, flashes of John’s wit pierced through. One contributor is ‘eccentric’, another ‘abrasive’, a third (John didn’t know that this one had been my tutor) ‘weighty’. I remember puzzling over the apparent instruction by one man’s name, ‘Peel. Now old’, until I realised that the first word referred to a biographical subject – but I rather suspected that John had meant for the note to raise a smile. We would often cross paths at literary events, and he was always ready with the smiling inquiry about his old paper: ‘How are you all getting on?’

David Horspool

I did not know John well personally but I did know him as an editor of great distinction. He brought out the best in me. His wit and taste and high standards made me better than I am. I am grateful to him and mourn his death.

Thomas Laqueur

John was one of my oldest friends, indeed I can’t think of any older. We met very soon after our simultaneous arrival at Lincoln College in 1951. There he introduced me to the Ximenes crossword competition in the Observer: he was something of an aficionado even then, and went on to be a regular solver and occasional winner of the Listener puzzles; a premonition of a literary career was his entertainment for the JCR, ‘The Murders in the Rue Barbe’, some way sub-Simenon, it has to be admitted. In 1956 I moved into the Hampstead flat where he was already living. That was when he was working as an advertising copywriter: he was particularly pleased by his slogan for a towel rental company: ‘You’d think they’d be using Towelmaster by now.’ Other memories are of his passionate denunciation of the Suez campaign and, more happily, of his introducing me to Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, to which I keep returning.

Later he lived in the house on Windmill Hill in Camden that belonged to my cousin, John Willett, who became deputy editor of the TLS and was doubtless responsible for John working there.

George Willett

Friendships are a kind of conspiracy between like minded people against what the rest of the world thinks and I was lucky enough to have John as a fellow conspirator for over fifty years. I knew that we would be friends from the moment he pulled a face as he sipped the first (and last) cup of Nescafé we ever gave him. ‘Oh dear’, my wife said. ‘Is the milk off?’ ‘No, no,’ said John. ‘But you did invite me to coffee.’

We quit teaching on the same day, both of us square pegs in round holes. Thereafter we met occasionally to drink expensive red wine and eat cheap pasta within a stone’s throw of the LRB offices, and when he was translating Volume Four of In Search of Lost Time for Penguin, he called on us in Cambridge. A colleague luckily asked me exactly the right question, ‘And what brought John Sturrock to your house?’, enabling me to reply: ‘Sodom and Gomorrah.’

I admired John hugely. I liked everything about him, his sense of humour, the way he deflated the pompous and challenged the entitled. He was such a talented man, such a good friend, and I am so sad that we can have no more harrumphs together.

Bob Finch

John was a serious influence on so many; less, I’d say, on beliefs than in the rigour and clarity of expression he expected of each of us. We had been friends since early 1958, sharing an office in our Mayfair advertising agency, before he took himself off to Hurtspierpoint to teach French. Never out of touch, he always stayed with me when in town. We shared a villa in Majorca one year, rented from his perceptive friend Polimani, who nicknamed John ‘Ming’ believing him to possess an unknowable or mysterious nature beneath the linguistically-polished, attractive surface we all admired. Much of his restraint was in fact simple shyness, partially shed over the years. When I quit agency life to freelance in 1963 we travelled to the US, lugging portable typewriters and writing a wishful TV sitcom script for Hancock. Though we shared much, I never, over almost sixty years, found John less than a natural contrarian. John’s singular tangle of quirks, drives and lowland Scottish cautions produced someone totally fearless in thought, argument and debate.

Séan Gallagher

I didn’t know John very well though I met him a long time ago because I reviewed French books for the TLS when I first began. I always admired him and learned so much from him, and felt so braced by his curiosity and defence of the Theorists. He had such a quizzical, witty expressive face, too.

Marina Warner

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 39 No. 19 · 5 October 2017

Mary-Kay Wilmers mentions that John Sturrock ‘played, and liked to write about, cricket’ (LRB, 21 September). In the only cricket match in which he and I both played, I batted one place above him. Having made my highest-ever score, I was glowing with happiness, and as he passed me on his way out to the wicket, I looked up, expecting congratulations. ‘Not before time!’ he grunted.

Bob Finch
Cambridge

Vol. 39 No. 20 · 19 October 2017

Over the years I have often wondered if the John Sturrock listed as the LRB’s consulting editor was the same John Sturrock who was senior French master at my old school, Hurstpierpoint College (only eight miles from his last home at Lindfield), in the early 1960s. The photograph accompanying Mary-Kay Wilmers’s memoir shows that it was (LRB, 21 September). In a staff-room replete with characters straight out of the works of Hilton and Delderfield, he belonged to a small group of exotics who seemed to have wandered in inexplicably from a wider and more exciting world. His open-top Sunbeam Alpine (I think it was) was considered very racy, as indeed were his trouser legs, which were much narrower than those we boys were allowed. While other teachers would bustle across, gowned up for action, from the main school to the classroom block when lessons began, J.A.L. Sturrock would approach at a dignified amble, hands in pockets and apparently deep in thought, his gown thrown casually over one shoulder. In class, his imperturbable seriousness and air of languid authority were relieved by an occasional wry smile.

My special memory is of a last-lesson-of-term talk he once gave my sixth-form Subsidiary French class on the Dreyfus Affair: lucid and compelling, delivered without notes, visual aids or hesitations for nearly forty minutes, either leaning on the lectern desk before him or half-sitting on the windowsill at his back. It comes as no surprise to learn that this keen, cosmopolitan intellect was destined not to remain buried in the depths of the Sussex countryside, but to enjoy an illustrious career in journalism, translation and authorship. I don’t regret becoming a classicist, but I have always regretted the impermeable barrier between ancient and modern languages that existed at my school fifty years ago.

Anthony Turner
Norwich

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.