Vol. 40 No. 15 · 2 August 2018

Search by issue:

Good Governance of Wives

Barbara Newman claims that while medieval mirrors for princes offer advice on virtue and self-control, ‘no conduct book expressly instructs men on their duties as husbands’ (LRB, 19 July). One important exception here may be Giles of Rome’s De Regimine Principum (‘On the Government of Princes’) of c.1280, which was one of the most popular mirrors for princes in the later Middle Ages and which was translated from Latin into many vernaculars, including French and Middle English. Giles’s work is divided into three books, which examine the good rule of the self (ethics), of the household (‘economics’) and of the realm (politics). The good rule of the household involves the governance of wives, children and servants, with Giles following Aristotle in arguing that marriage is the most natural of all forms of human community: man is a domestic creature before he is a political one. In particular, Giles argues that a king (who should be a model for other men in his virtue) should not treat his wife as a mere servant, as happens in barbarous lands, but rather be loving and faithful, acting towards her as a friend, companion and peer who has her own sphere of control. Thus, while a husband, with his supposedly superior rationality, should be set over his wife as her ‘master’ or ‘lord’, his power is nonetheless ‘political’ in nature, i.e. contractual and limited, as opposed to the absolute or ‘regal’ power a father should have over his children. So perhaps, medieval readers did not, as Newman puts it, have to flee into the ‘fantasies’ of adulterous and ritualised courtly love in order to imagine a deep and noble love?

Steve Rigby
University of Manchester

After the Fall

John Lanchester describes the lack of real structural change in the finance sector since the 2008 crash, with most measures amounting to non-change change or simply no change (LRB, 5 July). He also points out that one of the most radical policy responses, quantitative easing, may have been necessary at the time but has also been a disaster. The more than £445 billion created thus far has increased asset and property prices and boosted financial markets, but has done little to support investment in businesses that create jobs, since QE relies on the myth of the ‘trickle-down’ effect. It has thus been a huge driver of inequality. According to a report from the Bank of England, the least wealthy 10 per cent of households are estimated to have seen a marginal increase in their real wealth of around £3000 between 2006-8 and 2012-14, compared to £350,000 for the wealthiest 10 per cent.

Since the government and the Bank of England are apparently willing to experiment with radical monetary policy, why not use such tools differently? Instead of pumping money into financial markets, the government could spend it on infrastructure or green technology, or to increase household finances directly. With the right safeguards, this ‘QE for the people’ could sustainably boost the productive economy, reduce rather than increase inequality, and provide us with much needed investment. This would help make the slope of the elephant’s head in Branko Milanović’s graph a little less steep, rather than just lengthening the trunk.

Paul Delaney
Positive Money, London EC1

Lawrence Paulson mentions a recent study in the journal BMJ Open which estimates that because past improvements have stalled, by 2020 there will be an additional 152,000 deaths in the UK (Letters, 19 July). On 18 June the Office for National Statistics reported a further annual 5 per cent absolute rise in mortality in England. This was after they had taken into account the effects of ageing, and is in addition to the estimated 152,000.

Most of these deaths occurred before the weather turned very cold in February and, as the ONS reported, ‘influenza activity remained at medium levels throughout the whole of January and February 2018.’ On 20 March Jeremy Hunt had incorrectly stated in the House of Commons that mortality rates had ‘remained broadly stable over recent years’. As his error became widely apparent, he sanctioned an inquiry by Public Health England. No deadline has been set for the inquiry’s report.

Danny Dorling

It’s the cold that’ll get you

Malcolm Gaskill is worried about global warming, but his piece on the Little Ice Age (LRB, 19 July) should instead serve to remind us of the vastly greater danger we would face were the world to become substantially cooler. As late as the 1880s, we experienced another mini ice age, this time caused by the eruption of Krakatoa; we would simply have no response if, say, the Yellowstone Caldera were to erupt. Perhaps the threat that the Siberian or Deccan traps might unleash massive amounts of lava has gone away, but suppose there are other such natural dangers lurking? We do not know enough about the interactions between solar activity, ocean currents, volcanic activity, planetary motion etc to be in a position to make definitive judgments as to whether we are causing catastrophic climate change or helping to avoid another cooling period. Extreme cold weather, whatever the cause, remains a far greater threat to civilisation and health than the rise in global temperature. Another ice age, with mile-high glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere, isn’t something that can be ruled out.

Stephen Essrig
New York

Powell v. Proust

It is a pity that Perry Anderson felt it necessary to present his appreciation of Anthony Powell through such an invidious comparison to Proust (LRB, 19 July). The template of the argument, that a very good writer who builds on the achievement of a great writer and adds some important touches of his or her own, could also be written up to argue that Dryden is better than Milton, Trollope is better than Austen, Wharton is better than James, and Pinter is better than Beckett. Powell’s achievement can stand on its own.

Jacob Sider Jost
Dickinson College

Perry Anderson writes that Anthony Powell was the ‘longest-lived of all significant novelists of the last century’. Of course, opinions will differ as to significance, but Naguib Mahfouz, author of the magisterial Cairo trilogy among other works, lived a few months longer than Powell. Perhaps Anderson’s focus was limited to novelists from the imperial metropolis?

Christopher Bertram

Annabella and Ada

Rosemary Hill’s review of two books on Annabella Byron (née Milbanke) and her daughter Ada Lovelace paints a sympathetic portrait of the former, tending towards the enlightened in her maternal relationship – educating her daughter in mathematics for example (LRB, 21 June). This obscures the tendency she had to exercise strict control over her daughter. She didn’t allow Ada even to see a portrait of her father until she was 21; when Ada was dying of (presumed) uterine cancer she tried to prevent the use of painkillers (laudanum) in favour of ‘phrenomesmerism’; and she controlled access to Ada in her last weeks, barring her from seeing her old friend and collaborator Charles Babbage – whom Ada wanted to be her executor. That did not happen. After her painful death, her mother proceeded to spend sums to buy back her daughter’s correspondence in case anything untoward were to come to light.

Philip Welch


Eric Banks writes about ‘dehorsification’ (LRB, 5 July). As his piece suggests, the transition from horse-powered agriculture to mechanisation was not without disruption. My grandfather Lewis Doxtad in eastern Nebraska allocated about one quarter of his farm to grazing and the production of oats to feed the horses that drew the plough and the harvester. In the late 1920s tractors became available that could plough twice as deep as a horse-drawn plough, bringing up the rich fertility in his loess soils, so fertility-building crop rotation wasn’t necessary. But the droughts of the 1930s dried out the soil exposed by the deep ploughing, leading to the Dust Bowl and mass migration from the Midwest to industrial towns or California. With oil at ten cents a barrel, the farmers who remained borrowed heavily to mechanise. Land that had been used to feed horses was turned over to food production, which increased by a third. The resulting glut of food drove down prices and caused extremes of poverty. Banks foreclosed on farmers when they couldn’t repay their debts. When, during the Second World War, Europe’s wheat fields became battlefields, US farmers’ incomes rebounded. After the war, across the world fully mechanised farming became dependent on chemical fertility inputs and, as the vitality of the soil diminished, fungicides and pesticides. It has been estimated that the world has lost a third of its arable land in the last forty years.

Craig Sams
Hastings, East Sussex

Around the turn of the last century, my great-grandfather Herbert Layzell co-owned with his business partner, Jack Mallet, a livery yard in Chelsea of fifty Hackney horses for Hansom carriages. Mallet was well thought of by Earl Cadogan, who gave him a mad but very fine grey stallion, with which he struggled along the Embankment, throwing the halter round each lime tree in turn to the laughter of his fellow cab drivers, who didn’t believe he would ever calm it down, still less nurse it to health. He proved them wrong, until one day in 1914 a requisitioning officer insisted, against Mrs Mallet’s protests, on taking the horse to war, as his own steed. She shot it rather than letting it suffer the Great War.

Dominic Rushbury
Lewes, East Sussex

No Second Acts

Alex Harvey makes the common error of treating F. Scott Fitzgerald’s aphorism ‘There are no second acts in American lives’ as if it referred to second chances or comebacks (LRB, 5 July). Fitzgerald could not have meant this, as American life is full of them. He was referring to the structure of a traditional play, in which the three acts organise the statement, development and resolution of a problem. Fitzgerald was saying that success and celebrity in America could be achieved in one’s youth, without any time being devoted to spiritual and intellectual growth beforehand, and no need felt for them afterwards. These abrupt, superficial lives, therefore, were like a play whose second act had dropped out.

Harvey states that in The Last Tycoon a Danish prince in Hollywood registers Monroe Stahr’s ‘extraordinary quality’, thinking: ‘This then was Lincoln.’ No. The prince thinks this while watching an actor costumed and made up as Lincoln eating lunch in the studio commissary.

Rhoda Koenig
London SW2

The African University

Mahmood Mamdani has assigned me a cameo appearance in his story about the development of universities in Africa (LRB, 19 July). He contrasts Ali Mazrui’s view of the university as the home of the scholar ‘fascinated by ideas’, which he associates with Makerere University, with my alleged view that ‘ideological orientation was everything,’ supposedly associated with the University of Dar es Salaam.

I have two comments to make on this. First, Mamdani’s timeline is wrong. I was principal of Kivukoni College in Dar from 1961 to 1962, not in 1967 as Mamdani says (and it was not then ‘the ruling party’s ideological school’ but a local version of Ruskin College, created by a Ruskin graduate, Joan Wicken). The university at Dar had not yet opened its doors, so it is a bit of a stretch to see my views at that time, real or invented, as epitomising it. By 1967, when Mazrui criticised the expatriate left in Dar (and by implication also me) in his ‘Tanzaphilia’ article in Transition, I was back in England. In the interval I had moved to Makerere, immediately searched for an African successor (no ‘pressure from government-appointed senior administrators’ was needed or exerted), and had the exceptional luck to discover that Mazrui was writing his doctorate at Oxford and was willing to succeed me, which he did in 1965.

Second, one has to ask why Mamdani’s argument is so difficult to pin down. The connection between the parts is obscure, and whole dimensions are missing: for example, the Cold War context, which conditioned Nyerere’s efforts to chart a path out of neocolonialism and avert the risk of the kinds of civil conflict that would later cause devastation in so many African countries, including Uganda (it was this, not an abstract idea of what an African university should be, that preoccupied most of the left academics at Dar). And as for the larger story of the evolution of African universities, a great deal seems to be missing – from the influence of different school systems and different external models (e.g. the US land grant college, the French polytechnic) and sources of external funding, to the widely differing impacts of globalisation on national fortunes. That would certainly have made an interesting story. Instead what we have from Mamdani in this instance somewhat reminds me of Ali Mazrui’s characteristic style, in his role as public intellectual: a ‘mode of reasoning’ which Mamdani contrasts with ideology, but which was itself profoundly ideological. Ali’s ‘Tanzaphilia’ article in Transition (indeed a brilliant magazine, which turned out to have been funded by the CIA) was a good example: sometimes entertaining but rather rambling, relying on undefined terms, artificial oppositions, and casually selected (or absent) evidence, making serious discussion unrewarding.

Colin Leys
London N4


In his excellent defence of 1968 Jeremy Harding writes of a gulf between radicalised students and the organised working class in both Britain and France (LRB, 19 July). Doubtless true in general, but the gap was sometimes bridged. Here I will recall just two individuals usually forgotten in accounts of 1968. Harding mentions the London dockers who marched in support of Enoch Powell. But not all dockers backed Powell. Terry Barrett was a London docker and, like David Widgery, a member of the International Socialists. He had worked closely with LSE students in IS during the 1967 dock strike; I recall seeing him at one of the LSE occupations. When the dockers voted to march for Powell, Barrett, with incredible personal courage (he was totally isolated and other dockers threw coins at him), gave out a leaflet, written by Paul Foot, which inquired: ‘Who is Enoch Powell? … He lives in Belgravia … Again and again he has argued that the docks are “grossly overmanned".’

Harding says that in France ‘student protest found an echo in the factories.’ But it was not some spontaneous contagion; it required leadership. Not many have heard the name Yvon Rocton. Rocton had been a conscript in Algeria and was sent to a punishment battalion for opposing torture. On returning to France he joined the Trotskyist Organisation Communiste Internationaliste, where he doubtless met many student activists, and returned to work at the Sud-Aviation factory in Nantes, where on 14 May he led the first factory occupation, which sparked off the whole wave of occupations.

Ian Birchall
London N9

What to Do with a Quarter-Acre

Rod Edmond suggests Hera Lindsay Bird is pulling my leg when she claims not to know of ‘New Zealand’s old Labour Day custom of digging a hole in one’s back garden’ (Letters, 5 July). I reckon it’s Edmond who’s doing the leg-pulling. I’ve never seen mention of such a custom in any literary or historical context, and none of the New Zealand writers with whom I have discussed ‘The Hole that Jack Dug’ has heard of it either.

Jack was based on a friend of Sargeson’s called Bill Anso. ‘Anso used to dig holes everywhere,’ the poet Kevin Ireland wrote to me. ‘He would see a spade and he’d grab it and dig. If all men shared Anso’s compulsion, the planet would be like gruyère cheese.’ Anso’s obsession was briefly normalised in the early years of the Second World War, when fears of a Japanese attack drove many New Zealanders to dig bomb shelters in their gardens.

Another ‘Son of Sargeson’, Maurice Duggan, wrote vividly about Labour Day on the North Shore in the postwar era:

Up and down this crumbly hill the lawnmowers are whirring, the radios are chanting comments, winners, prices, from the ‘tots’; the glare strikes up, the dust blows: the air is rich with the smell of all those roast dinners eaten at high noon; “dad" is undoubtedly off somewhere, sleeping with the newspaper over his face: the pubs, like any football scrum, one knows, are packed tight.

So no hole-digging.

Contrary to Edmond’s further suggestion, Sargeson’s garden was far from the norm. Quarter-acres in up and coming suburbs like Takapuna were typically laid out to lawns, with only limited flower and vegetable beds. Sargeson was extremely unusual in cultivating every square inch for food production. His garden literally kept him alive at many points. So desperate was he to wring every ounce of goodness from the land that he even treated the council-owned berm between the front of his section and the roadway as an opportunity to grow long grass for scything and composting. This was yet another irritation to his tidy-minded neighbours, who felt that New Zealand’s greatest writer was lowering the tone of Takapuna.

Duncan McLean
Stenness, Orkney

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.

Newsletter Preferences