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France under threat

SIR: In your issue of January 23 I contributed an article which dwelt at some length on the strength of the racist mood in France and of Le Pen’s Front National, and on the fact that proportional representation made it virtually certain that Le Pen would gain ‘several dozen’ seats. This brought a strong rebuke from M. Jacques Beauroy, of the College de France (Letters, 20 February):

R.W. Johnson’s recent discussion of the current election campaign in France gives too much weight to Le Pen and the National Front, to the press baron Robert Hersant, and to immigration and the ‘racist mood’ … The scrutin majoritaire à deux tours, if it had been kept, would have reduced the PS to a parti-croupion. Unfortunately, the price to pay will, in my view, be a small number (not ‘several dozen’) of Front National members in the National Assembly. In effect, their election, for the first time, will confine ‘racism’ to a handful of extremists in the Assembly and ensure their final discredit. France simply needs a good immigration law.

I hope M. Beauroy will have the grace to admit that he was quite wrong. What has actually happened is that the ‘racist mood’ (I’m not sure why M. Beauroy insisted on inverted commas around this quite tangible reality) was strong enough to give Le Pen a major triumph, with nearly 10 per cent of the vote and 35 deputies (‘several dozen’, I hope it will be agreed). In addition, Le Pen has 135 regional councillors who hold the balance of power for the next six years in nine out of the 22 regional councils. These nine regions include Paris, Lyon and Marseilles and well over half the French population. French conservatives have been visibly shaken by the sheer strength of Le Pen’s push and some – like Jacques Blanc, head of the Giscardian Parti Republicain – have already openly announced their willingness to do deals with the FN. Secondly, it is not true that the retention of the old electoral system would have reduced the Socialists to a particroupion. Calculations inevitably differ, though only between 153 to 210 seats for the Socialists under the old system, as opposed to the 215 they got.

Finally, Robert Hersant has played a critical role. His newspapers kept up a barrage of racist propaganda throughout the campaign, his money helped to fund the right-wing parties, and he and nine of his clients, relatives and employees have been elected. Given that M. Chirac has a wafer-thin majority or even none at all, these ten Hersantistes are in a position to exercise enormous leverage on the new government.

M. Beauroy is still right, of course, to say that the elections need not be a catastrophe for French democracy. But the facts are the facts and it is better not to be too bien pensant in simply trying to wish them away.

R.W. Johnson

Literary Theory

SIR: We in Brazil have followed with interest and amusement the exchange of letters in the LRB occasioned by Professor Terence Hawkes, who – quite properly, in our view – chastised Graham Hough (Letters, 21 November 1985) for disparaging the now not-so-new critical theories that are being evolved, debated and applied throughout the world, though, it seems, resisted by the Guardians of the Kingdom of English Literature. Given the resistance of conservative Britons to anything originating from their traditional enemy, the French, Hough’s highbrow deprecation of literary theorising is hardly surprising if somewhat disturbing.

And Professor Hawkes’s colleague at Cardiff, Peter Thomas, has taken Hawkes to account (Letters, 23 January) for suggesting that interest in theory may be partly due to the lack of scholarly resources at the less posh institutions of higher learning. We should like to say to Professor Thomas that at least in Brazil this is indeed the case. If resources are slim in Wales, imagine what they must be like in Brazil, which for the likes of the Guardians lies somewhere at or about the confines of the known world. Unable to compete in recondite scholarship, our students have embraced theory, with the additional boost of a traditional sympathy toward French culture and ideas. Not that they need any excuses! Theory, as Professor Hawkes put it, has its own integrity and, as Professor John Drakakis (19 December 1985) protested, seeks to provide serious answers to serious questions, an enterprise which is of interest even in these exotic climes and ought to be of interest to anyone dealing with learning, especially when concerned, as the new theories are, with exposing the ideologies behind theoretical positions – or the alleged lack of such positions.

Finally, as to Hawkes’s apparent insult at the end of his letter, which has so disturbed Professor Jochum from Germany (19 December 1985), anyone versed in literary theory would instantly recognise that in employing such a traditional British formula of dismissal as ‘Piss off’ (an American surely would have varied the verb but retained the particle), Hawkes was doing nothing more than altering the level of discourse – varying the code, as it were, in order to undermine the ritual of civilised insults typically exchanged by learned Guardians in their more disputatious moods. Nothing, Professor Jochum, to make anyone ‘quake in his pants’ if everything is all right under his hat.

Thomas LaBorie Burns and Ana Lucia Gazolla
Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil

Nicholas Shakespeare nods

SIR: Nicholas Shakespeare may well be right to have reservations about Ien Ang’s methodology in her book Watching ‘Dallas’: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination (LRB, 20 February). But he is surely precipitate in believing that the anonymous author of Letter 3 in Ang’s survey has come up with the correct explanation for the truly extraordinary popularity of Dallas and Dynasty when he or she argues that the ‘crux of the matter’ lies in their reflecting the daily life of the family, hugely melodramatised. All soaps do this. Afternoon, prime-time, erotic late-night soaps all have the bizarre doings of fractured families as their sine qua non. But it would be difficult to imagine (though not impossible) The Edge of Night or Another World or All My Children having the same kind of appeal for the old woman in Ushuaia in Patagonia as Dallas and Dynasty. D and D are no ordinary soaps. Ordinary soaps do not appear in prime time. Ordinary soaps do not spawn designer clothes, perfumes, ranch holidays and the like. Only these two, the queens of soap, assault our eyes so blindingly with the glamorous images that only big bucks can buy. (Literally, in the case of advertisers.) D and D owe their horrific appeal to the horrific appeal that wealth has for virtually everybody, especially to those who have very little of it like the old woman of Ushuaia.

Michael Taylor
University of New Brunswick, Fredericton

The most popular soap opera in Britain appears at present to be East Enders, where wealth is scarce.

Editor, ‘London Review’

Andante Capriccioso

SIR: Calling attention to some ghastly misprints in a recent edition of the Smollettian translation of Don Quixote – there has been some controversy over how much Smollett actually had to do with it – Karl Miller (LRB, 20 February) attributes them to the fact that ‘the 18th century’s f’s for s’s is a trap.’ Does Mr Miller really think that 18th-century (and earlier) European printers used the letter f in place of the letter s? A glance at any piece of earlier printing will reveal that f, as in modern typography, has a crossbar extending on both sides of the upright, whereas ‘long s’, used at the beginning and in the middle of words, has only a vestige of one, on the left side only. The two characters are no harder to tell apart than, say, a modern lower-case r and t. It seems astonishing that the editors of an expensive modern edition of an 18th-century text (not to mention a reviewer of it) are so unfamiliar with the original as to be unaware of this elementary distinction, which the eyes of readers for more than three centuries were accustomed to. Incidentally, the title of Smollett’s last novel is not Humphrey Clinker but Humphry Clinker.

Donald Greene
University of Southern California, Los Angeles

What I meant to convey, in rapid fashion, was that the 18th-century letter which may be misread as a modern f was so misread by the modern publisher in question, and I do not feel mortified by Donald Greene’s lecture on the subject. I thought I ought to point out what I took to be a recurrent error in the edition, since I had not seen it noticed elsewhere. Such is Greene’s wish to display a hostile superiority at every turn that he seems less exercised by the error than by its correction. As it happens, the theme of my article was errors of one kind of another, some fortunate, some not, and I seize this opportunity to put right a slip of the pen which has escaped Greene’s eagle eye: at one point I referred to Humphrey Clinker (sic) when I meant Launcelot Greaves. It is in the latter work of Smollett’s that a bystander speaks of having seen Hamlet ‘acted in Drury Lane’.

Editor, ‘London Review’

Being on top

SIR: John Ryle’s sexual round-up (LRB, 20 February) was a tour de force. There was, however, one clear error. The article cites the American edition of Michel Foucault’s Use of Pleasure: History of Sexuality, Volume Two. To quote American editions rather than British ones is to invite further inroads into British publishing and British jobs by American competition. To set the record straight: Viking will publish the Use of Pleasure in Britain in June at £16.95 in hardback.

Andrew Franklin
Penguin Books, London SW10

W.E. Henley

SIR: I am currently preparing a biography of the Victorian poet, critic and editor of the Scots Observer, W.E. Henley. I would be extremely grateful for any information or papers concerning him.

David Lancaster
77 Blenheim Road, Mosley, Birmingham B13 9TZ

From the Other Side

The first English translation of Das Prinzip Hoffnung by Ernst Bloch was published on 27 March by Basil Blackwell (The Principle of Hope, 1420 pp., £95 until 30 April, thereafter £120, 0 631 13387 9). This three-volume edition, in a translation by Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice and Paul Knight, introduces English readers to an important work of German philosophy which was written between 1938 and 1947. An extended essay by David Drew on the life and work of Ernst Bloch appeared in two parts in the London Review of Books last summer (LRB, 18 July 1985 and LRB, 1 August 1985).

Editors, ‘London Review’