Archive for Q-T

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

TEOESet in Hallencourt in the Somme, a small and isolated factory town of 1,300 people where Louis grew up, the book is a stark tale of his life below the poverty line, punctuated by his father’s drunken violence – the rage of the humiliated working-class male: racism, homophobia and casual daily brutality.

Eddy Bellegueule (Louis’s real name, which means “beautiful face” in French) is an effeminate child; as a “faggot”, “queer”, “poof”, as he is regularly reminded, he is even worse than an “Arab”, “Jew” or “black”.

Another oft-repeated phrase – “just who do you think you are?” – serves to remind him who he is, where he comes from and where everyone assumes he is going. Instead, Bellegueule forges a new path, via a scholarship and one of France’s elite university schools, writes everything down and changes his name.

Its unemotional style is similar to Zola’s work, though the author claims not to have read him.

It’s non-stop misery, like Gypsy Boy. It’s vidid, powerful. The writing is violent and there is no escape for the reader. There’s no humour, c.f. Oranges are not the Only Fruit.

He suffers not for doing something but for being something and looking like something.

The shed scene is unbelievable: not because boys don’t get up to this but for the seeming enjoyment of a ten-year-old, getting an erection whilst being raped. However, he seems to have wanted this to happen. On p., 130 he speaks of repressed desire, relishes the smell of the older boys and leaps at the chance of wearing women’s clothes and jewellery.

We wondered why he didn’t avoid the bullies. Well, on p. 25 he says that he didn’t want others to see him being beaten up because they’d then know he was gay. On p. 136 he speaks of fear of retaliation.

It jumps about in time a bit. Then again, people with a traumatic past get confused about chronology.

The only black person in a racist village is seen as OK because different.

There’s a vivid and memorable description of his first orgasm.

Were they really that poor in the 1990s? More like the 1950s. And homophobia was much less marked in British schools then.

Is it novel or autobiography? Was it written too son after the event? Not enough perspective?

One chapter title quotes the King James Bible ‘Stait is the gate’. A postgrad student, of English no less, though this was about sexuality.

Who is Tristan at the end? Is he a positive to balance the book’s negative beginning?

The French title has a different nuance: Doing Away with Eddy.

TEOE2Quotations:

‘Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me. In truth, confronting my parents, my social class, its poverty, racism and brutality came second. From early on I provoked shame and even disgust from my family and others around me. The only option I had was to get away somehow. This book is an effort to understand all that.’

From my childhood I have no happy memories. I don’t mean to say that I never, in all those years, felt any happiness or joy. But suffering is all-consuming.”

“from my eye towards my lips, ready to enter my mouth”

“As far back as I can remember I can see my drunk father fighting with other drunk men leaving the café, breaking noses and teeth,”

“into a plastic supermarket bag” and swinging it against some cement edge “until the bag was filled with blood and the meowing had ceased”.

“the still-warm blood” “it’s the best, the blood you get from an animal right when it dies”.

“Every day I came back, as if we had an appointment, an unspoken contact . . . There was just one idea I held to: here, no one would see us, no one would know. I had to avoid being hit elsewhere, in the playground, in front of the others.”

[S]he was already standing frozen, unable to make the slightest sound or the smallest gesture . . . Her gaze never left mine; I don’t remember what that gaze held. Disgust perhaps, or anguish – I can no longer say.”

“Don’t you ever do that again . . . ”

“Wasting petrol for this theatre shit of yours, really why should I?” Yet he does drive him.

TEOE 3“On the day when the amount of the allowance at the start of the school year was raised, my father, with a joy we rarely saw because he usually played at being the man of the house who could not show his feelings, shouted: ‘Sunday, we’re going to the seaside.’ And indeed we went, six of us in a car big enough for five. I rode in the boot.

It dont make sense, when he says we should kill all the ragheads but then when he lived in the Midi his best mate was a raghead.”

He wasn’t embarrassed, he didn’t feel the violence the prosecutor was exercising, the class violence that had excluded him from the world of education, the violence that had, in the end, led him to the courtroom where he now stood. In fact he must have thought that the prosecutor was ridiculous. That he spoke like a faggot.

There’s a revealing interview with the author here.

Return to the home page

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale – Gerard Reve

TEGerard Reve (1923-2006) is considered one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors, and was also the first openly gay writer in the country’s history. His 1947 debut The Evenings was chosen as one of the nation’s 10 favourite books by readers of a leading Dutch newspaper while the Society of Dutch Literature ranked it as the Netherlands’ best novel of all time. It’s been dubbed ‘one of the finest studies of youthful malaise ever written’

Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – finds life absurd and inexplicable. There is a lack of much to do after the War. Meeting friends, going to the cinema and dancing are the only options, if you have enough money. Otherwise there is sitting at home and listening to the radio. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.

This is the story of ten evenings in Frits’s life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city streets and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.

Some of our group found it quite boring –  but that’s the point! How do you write a book about boredom that isn’t boring? It was a page-turner because people wanted to see if the protagonist did something daring, like kill someone. Was his adolescence (he’s annoyed with and rude to his parents) delayed by war and occupation? Is the obsession with food a result of previous starvation and rationing?

It’s well-written. The descriptions of the weather are vivid. One person found it quite hypnotic.

Is his teasing s form of flirtation?

That the gay author is the same age as the protagonist and this being his first book, is there a suppressed gay element? For example., the bar upstairs where you have to ring a bell to get in – one assumes it is a casino but there’s dancing but only two women. Is it a clandestine gay bar?

He is obsessed with baldness.

Although not a churchgoer, he knows and quotes his bible.

The cover and feel of the book are pleasing.

All in all, people were pleased that they’d read it though one gave up half way through.

Maybe he should join a book group!

Quotations:

“I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is all”

This afternoon is perhaps worse than others,” he thought. “I have four hours to go till evening.”

“It is,” he thought, “only a quarter to three, but still this day will fill itself like any other.”

“If no one else says anything,” he thought, “I have no choice but to keep talking.”

“I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is all”

“‘All is lost,’” he thought, ‘everything is ruined. It’s ten past three.’”

“will be a day well spent.   This will be no wasted and profitless Sunday.”

Oh but you are becoming quite bald,” he tells one man. Listen Joop, without meaning to be nasty your scalp is really almost bare. It will not be long before you can count your hairs on the fingers of one hand… Do you count the hairs in your comb each morning? If you did you would see that there are more of them each day. Slowly but surely. I would be horrified to know that I was going bald. I would lose all desire to live. But please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to discourage you.

A loss,” he mumbled softly, “a dead loss.  How can it be?  A day squandered in its entirety.  Hallelujah.

A pity that I have to leave.”  “But where are you going?” his mother asked.  “Well,” he said, “we shall see.”  “So you don’t know where you’re going yet?” she asked, “but you say that you have to leave.”  “The one does not necessarily rule out the other,” Frits said.  “One may need to leave without having to go anywhere.  Those are the cases in which one must go away from somewhere.”  “Stay and have a nice cup of tea,” she said.

“What is the weather like?”  his mother asked.  “Normal,” Frits said, “not so very cold.  “When it’s cold like this,” she said, “I don’t much feel like leaving the house; father and I were planning to go out this evening to Annetje in Haarlem.”  “That’s true,” Frits said, “you told me this morning.”  “What’s it like outside now?” she asked, “is the wind very cold?”  “It’s blowing, but it’s not a cold wind,” Frits said.  “But what do you call cold?” she asked, “is it that humid cold?”  The air is moist,” Frits said, “but the wind is actually quite sultry.”
“Let’s go anyway,” his father said.

“‘The empty hours,’ he murmured, turning away”

“‘I just sit here and don’t do anything,’ he thought”.

Gritting his teeth he watched as the man speared three potatoes from the platter with his own fork. “That is unclean,” he thought, “a violation of every precept. But we stand powerless.”

I’m only waiting for them to hang themselves or beat each other to death. Or set the house on fire. For God’s sake, let it be that. So why hasn’t it happened yet ? But let us not despair. All things come to those who wait.

“The devil take me,” said Frits, “it is a delight to me each and every time. Those reports like: child killed by exploding grenade. Glorious. Deferred suffering from the war. That is always a joy. They always start of so cosily, those reports,” “the seven-year-old son,” he said in an impassive voice, “of the Karels family, agriculturalists in Breda, attempted on Wednesday afternoon to dismantle a small anti-aircraft shell with a claw hammer.”

“What an evening,” he thought, “what an evening. When is it going to end ?”

“There is no going back,” Frits thought. “Let us adopt an impassive or, if need be, even cheerful expression.”

Things take place around us. Yet we barely notice them. We have ears, but we hear not, eyes but do not see.

“I just wish I could figure out when you’re being serious”.

“‘Don’t pay him any mind,’ his father said, ‘he’s only blathering'”.

“‘And now the moment for tears has arrived,’ he thought. His eyes grew moist.” — breaking the hard shell of indifference he tries to maintain

“All in all, it is dreary,” he thought, “most dreary.”

“It is no disaster to be unhappy,” Frits thought, “but how discouraging must it be to know that there is nothing to pin the blame on, outside oneself ?”

“Help us, O eternal one, our God. See us in our distress. From the depths we call to you. Hideous.””

“Deliver me from baldness,” he said, pushing back his hair and examining the hairline. “It is a gruesome infliction.”

The Year is no more, I am alive, I breathe, and I move, so I live… whatever ordeals are yet to come, I am alive.

‘I just sit here and sit here and don’t do a thing,’ he thought. ‘The day’s half over.’ It was a quarter past twelve.

‘Why do I think that way?’ he thought then. ‘What right do I have to be so blasé?’

‘This day was empty,’ Frits thought, ‘I realize that.’

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Sex training in the home; plain talks on sex life covering all periods and relationships from childhood to old age by Hall, Winfield Scott, b. 1861

stith(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Remarkable for its time though obviously rather dated now. Separate beds and sex no more than fortnightly. It ends with eugenics, much in vogue at the time. No mention of homosexuality, though there is a warning that there can be ‘lewd boys’ even at Grammar School.

Quotations:

From what source would you prefer your child to receive his knowledge of the sex functions of life?

THIS?

From the lips of the parents, toward whom he naturally leans for advice, and from whom he has the right to expect love, care, education and preparation for life’s struggle, or

THIS?

Indecent and vulgar stories; 2. Degenerate companions; 3. Advertisements by quack doctors; 4. Signs in toilets advertising quack cures; 5. Drug-store displays of aids to the sexually weak; 6. Quack doctors’ booklets; 7. Suggestive acts at theaters; 8. Vulgar postals and obscene literature.

the mother must gently bathe away the accumulations which adhere to the inner surface. When she bathes the little boy she must draw back the foreskin and carefully wash away that which accumulates and irritates.

Between the age of ten and fifteen the boy possesses the qualities essential to the barbarism of the race. He is barbarically crude, barbarically rude, barbarically vulgar, barbarically blundering and blustering. He glories in war and the chase. He is a hero worshiper. He has no use for girls, even being restive under the mild restraints of his mother.

At fifteen all this is changed. The boy begins to ^^slick up.” He wishes to impress the girls. His rudeness to the girls now disappears and he becomes a society young gentleman.

stith2The child who learns obedience at home is more easily handled at school, and is still held by a strong power under the influence of his mother. After a child has entered his adolescent period and begins to feel the dawning of individuality is no time to teach him obedience. If by that time he has learned the lesson of obedience the tension of government may be loosened and with his own consent he will follow the advice of his parents. If he has not learned it, extra pressure brought to bear upon him is likely only to make him the more restive. He has then passed the age for learning obedience except with the greatest difficulty.

The best and easiest time to tell a child his origin is when a new baby has arrived in the family, and when one day the older child is standing at the bedside looking at the wonderful new baby. Her eyes are full of wonder at the miracle and her heart full of love. She feels the tiny fingers and laughs at the pretty toes, and then in wonder she asks, ^^Where did you get him?” You reply, ”1 am glad you asked, for it is a story that I want to tell you. He grew in mother’s body. God made a room in mother’s body purposely to hold a baby and this room is so arranged that no harm can come to him, but he can get food and air until he has grown big enough to handle and perfectly ready to live.

‘baby was made out of very precious material that is drawn out of the mamma’s blood. So you see, little daughter, why it is that the mother loves her baby so, because she has given her own life blood for it.”

The mature corn plant furnishes good material for teaching sex in plants because the parts are so large and the process so apparent. The tassel that grows on the top of the cornstalk is the father part, i. e., the male organ which develops the pollen or fertilizing substance. The corn silk at the end of the ear of corn is the receiving part of the female organ. One may speak in a general way of the tassels as the father and the silk as the mother. The wind blows the pollen when it is ripe and has fallen and scatters it in the air where it reaches the corn silk and fertilizes it. Without the pollen there would be no kernel of corn at the end of each thread of silk. The kernels on the cob are the seeds for a new generation of plants, the cob is the ovary, or contains the ovaries in which the seeds develop.

Teach the child that the sex apparatus is sacred to the future womanhood or manhood.

Coming once every month, as it does, it is frequently referred to as the monthly period. When a girl really crosses the threshold from girlhood into womanhood, the experience which marks this change is her first monthly period. It happens about the time of the maturing of the first egg that leaves her ovaries. As this egg passes down the ovarian tube into the uterus the uterus is itself modified — more blood flowing through it and the inner lining changing somewhat. After the girl has developed into womanhood there are a number of years, during her unmarried young womanhood, during which the eggs will come down one each month into and through the uterus, or, as mamma used to call it, when she was explaining to her little girl, the little ^mother-room/ or ^mother-nest/ These eggs, not being fertilized, pass out. They are very tiny, so small that one of them could drop through the eye of a cambric needle without touching the sides, so there is no special loss in the passage of one or two ova per month.

^’Listen/’ said his father, *^this big bass that you have caught is a father fish or a male fish. After the mother fish has laid her eggs in her pebble nest the father fish must deposit over those same pebbles the fertilizing fluid from his testicles, or the eggs will not develop. It’s just as necessary for the father fish to deposit the fertilizing fluid as it is for the mother to deposit the eggs in this nest. Both are necessary if new life is to start.”

“They don’t ever castrate boys, do they, father.?”

“No,” said his father, “not these days, but the time was, two thousand years ago, when they castrated boys. That was an age of barbarism, and it was the custom of that barbaric age that when one nation went to war with another the victorious army would batter down the gates or scale the walls of the vanquished city and having gained entrance would massacre the men that had not already fallen in battle and take away the women and children into captivity and sell them into bondage. The boys thus sold into bondage were as a rule castrated, just as Dick the gelding, and for the same purpose really, because they were slave boys and the men who bought them wanted them to be just docile, beasts of burden, easily managed and controlled, so they had them castrated.

In every school, as for example the grammar school, there are a few boys who, misled by some vulgar minded older boys, are taught by those boys to play with their sex organs, irritating and exciting them. This habit, which we call ‘self-abuse,’ seriously interferes with the boy’s development of the manly qualities. He is almost sure to grow into a little namby, pamby sissy boy if he becomes a slave to the habit of self -abuse.

“While a little boy does not lose any fluid, he will, when he gets about fifteen years of age, begin to lose fluid. This fluid which the fifteen-year-old boy loses when he does this act of self -abuse is the fertilizing fluid or semen, which ought to have been retained in his testicles. After it is lost the testicles must prepare some more, and to do that they draw upon the blood of the youth for material from which to build this fertilizing fluid. This makes the blood of the boy thinner and poorer as the weeks and months go by so that he doesn’t develop as big, hard muscles or as active a brain as he would have developed if he had not been the victim of this bad habit.”

The urinary bladder must be emptied every few hours. These little bladders that I have just described usually empty every few weeks, perhaps the period may be a two weeks’ period or it may be four or six weeks with different men; and in the same man under different conditions of life, the length of the period will differ.

“Now, there’s a curious thing about the emptying of these little bladders. When the urinary bladder empties, we are conscious of it before it empties — we are conscious of a *call of nature’ and we consciously prepare for the emptying of the urinary bladder, but these little albumin sacks empty without any warning, and, curiously enough, perhaps wisely planned for on the part of the Creator, they empty right in the middle of the night as a rule. The young man suddenly awakens from sound sleep or perhaps from a restless, dreamy sleep and finds that something is pouring out of his sex organs. The first time that he has this experience, he may wonder if the fluid is from his urinary bladder, but he usually has no difficulty in making up his mind that it is not from the urinary bladder at all. Then he naturally thinks of his sex apparatus and assumes that the fluid comes direct from his testicles. As a matter of fact, only a small portion of it comes from the testicles, most of it is from these little albumin bladders.

Now, during this day, before the emptying of the bladders relieve the tension in the sex organs, the young man is restless and perhaps irritable and lacking in power of concentration. He feels like a caged lion. It is very important for him to understand about this because at such times he is very likely to have his thoughts directed to sex matters. He may even have sensuous thoughts come into his mind. If he harbors these sensuous thoughts he is sure presently to experience sexual excitement or even sex desire, which the young man in his middle teens or we might say any unmarried young man, should carefully avoid. Now here are two simple and practical little rules, my son, that your father and many other men have put to the test, and we want our boys to have the benefit of our experience in this matter.

^^Control the thoughts. — Do not permit the thoughts under such conditions ever to dwell upon sex matters. Always divert them by sheer will power, if necessary

No chivalrous, honorable young gentleman would touch the person of his girl friend with his hands or in any other way subject her to undignified familiarity. He will always be deferential and courteous, protecting her from danger, if necessary by endangering his own life.

One of these diseases called syphilis has been known and feared for ages past. A young man may catch that disease on his first contact with a lewd girl. She may herself have recently caught the disease and may not realize that she has it. One symptom of the disease is sore throat, a peculiar kind of sore throat with white mucous patches. During the time a person has this symptom, the moisture from the lips is as venomous as the poison of a rattlesnake. If a fellow at a public dance, for example, were to kiss such a girl just in fun and have no other physical contact with her than that, a bit of moisture from her lips gaining access to a weather check or ^’chap” on his lip could easily give him that terrible blood disease, syphilis, which would not only wreck his life but might unfit him absolutely and irretrievably for home building and fatherhood. Such a calamity would of course be far worse than death. The usual way in which this terrible disease is caught is in sexual intercourse, but whether caught in that way or in a kiss, the final result is the same.”

‘Why, father, I should think that a person with the mucous patches of syphilis might contaminate a public drinking glass or a public towel so as to make them dangerous for a well person to use.”

^’That is quite true, my son,” said Mr. Brown. “And in several states of the Union the public drinking glass and the public roller towel have been outlawed. Furthermore, now that we are discussing this point of public sanitation, every person who uses a public water closet should take pains to protect himself against touching the seat. This can be easily accomplished by laying strips of toilet paper upon the seat.

There is always the danger that young people after marriage will be influenced by their intimate relationships and license that marriage gives them, to indulge very frequently in sexual intercourse. Some young people carry this to such excess that in a few months the wife is in a condition of neurasthenia and the husband is consciously depleted in his powers and his business efficiency noticeably decreased.

Nature has pretty definitely set the time for these relationships. It is a law of nature that the female has a period of heat periodically. In women this period comes every twenty-eight days and is closely associated with their menstrual period. It may come just before or just after, perhaps both before and after. Now, there can be no question on the part of anyone who has studied the physiology of all the higher animals, including man, that the Creator when he planned man and woman, planned them for sexual intercourse about once a month. At the very upper limit twice a month.

Dr. Dawson and his wife have even occupied separate though adjoining rooms all these years, but I supposed that was because Dr. Dawson was so frequently called out at night in his practice and that this was a device for enabling him to respond to the night call without disturbing Mrs. Dawson/’

The full text is here

Return to the home page

 

 

Leave a Comment

The Child’s Child – Barbara Vine

tcc

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Homosexuality and illegitimacy were once taboos and it is strange how each party looked down on the other – I suppose an oppressed person has to find someone else who is lower down the food chain.

Life intervened and I had to out this book to one side for as few weeks but it was easy to take up again from where I had left off.

When their grandmother dies, Grace and Andrew Easton inherit her sprawling, book-filled London home, Dinmont House. Rather than sell it, the adult siblings move in together, splitting the numerous bedrooms and studies. The arrangement is unusual, but ideal for the affectionate pair — until the day Andrew brings home a new boyfriend. A devilishly handsome novelist, James Derain resembles Cary Grant, but his strident comments about Grace’s doctoral thesis soon puncture the house’s idyllic atmosphere. When he and Andrew witness their friend’s murder outside a London nightclub, James begins to unravel, and what happens next will change the lives of everyone in the house.

Just as turmoil sets in at Dinmont House, Grace escapes into reading a manuscript — a long-lost novel from 1951 called The Child’s Child — never published, owing to its frank depictions of an unwed mother and a homosexual relationship. The book is the story of two siblings born a few years after World War One. This brother and sister, John and Maud, mirror the present-day Andrew and Grace: a homosexual brother and a sister carrying an illegitimate child. Acts of violence and sex will reverberate through their stories.

The Child’s Child is an ingenious novel-within-a-novel about family, betrayal, and disgrace. A master of psychological suspense, Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, takes us where violence and social taboos collide. She shows how society’s treatment of those it once considered undesirable has changed — and how sometimes it hasn’t.

I found the present-day story less convincing than the story wrapped up in it.

tcc2Quotations:

“By the age I was then I ought to know the truism that things always look different in the morning. As the night comes on and the deeper it gets, the more mad we are, the more prone to dreadful fears and fantasies. In the morning, not when we first wake up but gradually, things begin to look unlike what they looked like at eleven, at midnight.”

Mrs Lillicrap said Hope must go to All Saints to be churched the first time she went out and Maud thought she would abandon Methodism and go at least once to the Church of England. All the Methodists had done for her was be unkind and punishing, so she might as well try another kind of God she no longer believed in

Maud thought, but didn’t know how else to put it, and he had behaved like God to her, a jealous god, punishing disproportion­ately. Reaping where he had not sown, she remembered from her churchgoing days, and gathering where he had not stored. ‘Mother could come here,’ she said, `if she misses me so much.’

Return to the home page

 

Leave a Comment

The Establishment: And how they get away with it – OWEN JONES

teahtgawiAs with Chavs, the author tells us everything we need to know in the forward – the rest of the book fleshes it out.

There’s some repetition of material already in Chavs.

Many reviewers, even in The Guardian, have criticised him for things he never said or even refuted.

He exposes the financial shenanigans of Philip Green long before he came to pubic attention.

The idea of an “establishment” was first popularised in the mid 1950s by the journalist Henry Fairlie, who coined the term to describe how the elite networks at the top of British society closed ranks to protect their own. The particular instance he had in mind was the way the families of the Soviet spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean had been protected by their friends in high places, inside and outside of government (Fairlie’s establishment stretched from the BBC to the Church of England). Fairlie did not think ideology was the glue that held the establishment together: after all, these people weren’t helping out because they sympathised with communist defectors. It was an unthinking allegiance based on personal connections. Social ties trumped political ones. What mattered, Fairlie said, was not what you believe, but “who you know”.

Jones quotes the blogger and inveterate political troublemaker Paul Staines (aka “Guido Fawkes”) talking about the political class: “I hate the fucking thieving cunts.”

Yet on Jones’s account Staines is one of the ins, not one of the outs, because he is fully signed up to the idea that the state needs to be pared back to the minimum. He belongs to the ideological “outriders” of the new establishment, in a tradition stretching back to Hayek in the 1940s. By attacking the self-serving rapacity of politicians, he is doing the dirty work of the economic and power elites for them, since he is making it far harder for any politician to take them on.

Why did they go for the comedian Jimmy Carr and not for the many big figures in the City who have engaged in tax “minimisation”? Because, he argues, Carr has fewer friends in high places.

His solution is a ‘democratic revolution’. The trouble is that the masses would need to be educated to withstand the lies of the media.

Chapter 1 – The Outriders

In this chapter, Jones discusses think tanks and groups which function to push the Overton Window, including the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Adam Smith Institute, the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Jones claims that these are all groups that pose as non-partisan grassroots organisations but that actually have an agenda to push right wing policies. They receive funding from and contain many members with links to the Conservative Party.

Chapter 2 – The Westminster Cartel

This chapter discusses the political system in Britain and how it has changed over the years. It discusses the revolving door between politicians in the UK and big business, quoting for example, that 46% of the most profitable companies in Britain have an MP on their board of directors or as a shareholder. It discusses the Church of England’s relationship with British politics, and claims that many decisions made in parliament financially benefit the MPs that make the decisions, quoting a Daily Mirror report that at least 40 MPs stood to gain financially from changes made in privatising the NHS.

Chapter 3 – Mediaocracy

This chapter discusses the British Media, and its relationship with both the outriders discussed in the first chapter, and the politicians discussed in the second. Jones claims that the wealthy people that control much of the press have interests closely aligned with the establishment, and therefore tend to promote the establishments views, rather than the views of their readers, saying, “The British people are not being served by a media that exists to inform them, to educate them, to understand the realities of the country they live in and the world around them. Instead, much of the media is a political machine, lobbying for the often personal objectives of their owners. The media and political elites are frequently deeply intertwined, sharing as they do many of the same assumptions about how society should be run and organized.”

Chapter 4 – The Boys in Blue

This chapter discusses the British police force and their role within the establishment. It discusses a number of incidents which involved the police including Plebgate, the Hillsborough disaster and the News International phone-hacking scandal, and uses these incidents to highlight the complex relationships the police have with the media and politicians, and how these are often at odds with the ‘policing by consent’ model that the British police adopt. Jones claims that due to recent political changes which effectively privatise and incentivize areas of the police force “Britain faces the prospect of police forces policing by consent of their shareholders rather than their communities.”

Chapter 5 – Scrounging off the State

This chapter discusses the establishment’s relationship with The State. It describes how recent governments have been privatizing previously public services, including the NHS, by following free-market ideologies, whilst at the same time, the establishment demonises benefits fraud and makes cut-backs and imposes austerity measures on those at the bottom of the financial pyramid. Jones points out what he believes to be a contradiction in this position, where big business rely on the state to provide infrastructure, education to their workers, and also to subsidise their low wages with income and housing benefit relief. Jones calls this a form of “socialism of the rich”.

Chapter 6 – Tycoons and Tax Dodgers

This chapter discusses how big businesses in Britain avoid paying tax. It gives several examples of companies who have complex systems set up to avoid tax, and it discusses how the big accounting firms give advice to the government on the drafting of their tax laws and then use this information to advise their clients on how to avoid paying tax. It discusses how these practices are legal but cost the country huge amounts of money. It contrasts this with the other end of the financial scale where people on low income convicted of benefits fraud are jailed, despite the amounts in question being a fraction of those lost to big businesses avoiding tax. Jones also discusses the difficulties in imposing effective legislation to combat tax avoidance in a global marketplace.

Chapter 7 – Masters of the Universe

This chapter discusses the financial sector, which Jones claims is a threat to British democracy. Jones discusses how the role of the City has changed over the years and talks about the bailout of the banks in 2008 and the subsequent quantitative easing employed to revitalise the financial sector at the expense of taxpayers. Jones also discusses the PR companies that represent the financial sector and their close relationship with politicians and the media. For example, he discusses the top financial publicity firm the Brunswick Group, “When Brunswick founder Alan Parker got married in 2007, his wedding guests included then Prime Minister Gordon Brown – whose wife Sarah was a Brunswick partner – and David Cameron. Brown is godfather to Parker’s son, while Parker and Cameron holidayed with each other in South Africa in March the following year. At the beginning of 2008 – just months before financial calamity struck – Brown appointed Brunswick’s CEO Stephen Carter as his Chief of Staff. Parker’s sister, Lucy Parker, is a Brunswick partner who, after David Cameron entered Number 10, headed up the government’s taskforce on Talent and Enterprise. Brunswick has gone fishing for talent in the Murdoch empire, too: one senior partner is David Yelland, former editor of The Sun.”

Chapter 8 – The Illusion of Sovereignty

This chapter discusses the British establishment’s relationship with America and with the EU and how that has changed over time. It discusses historical events which have shaped Britain’s special relationship with America. It also discusses Britain’s relationship with the EU and how that represents a different dynamic with regard to what British people regard as The State and The Establishment.

Conclusion – A Democratic Revolution

Here, Jones gives a broad summary of the preceding chapters and the complex relationships between the groups which make up the establishment, and how through common interest rather than any sort of organised conspiracy, it has become a vehicle to serve the rich and powerful. He then goes on to give a number of examples of groups and ideas which aim to improve the system by challenging the systems described elsewhere in the book, stating that people should be working towards a “democratic revolution”.

For example, he describes the work of think tanks such as Class and The New Economics Foundation; activist groups such as UK Uncut’s work on forcing politicians and media to deal with tax avoidance by big business and wealthy individuals; the Occupy movement highlighting inequality; anti-austerity campaigners such as Disabled People Against Cuts, the People’s Assembly (of which Jones himself is involved) and The Green Party. Jones claims that these disparate groups need to organise to form a coherent and credible alternative to the current status quo which resonates with a mass audience.

Jones then goes on to describe some proposals which he believes would help to reassert the democracy which he claims has been lost in modern Britain. Some of these are: Higher top rates of tax; “Democracy in the workplace”, citing Co-determination – Germany’s model of employee representation within company board meetings; A system of “democratic public ownership” of key utilities such as railways, electricity companies and banks; laws to shut the revolving door of politics including banning MPs from taking up second jobs.

He calls for the government to adopt an “industrial policy based on an active, interventionist state” but explains that this does not represent a “statist” model as has been seen in the past, but rather a new model whereby taxpayers have representation and ownership within the systems they pay into.

Quotations:

It’s important to point out that when post-war Britain had higher taxes on the rich, stronger trade unions and widespread state inter­vention in the economy, it also experienced higher levels of economic growth which was more evenly distributed than today. Today’s Establishment — formed from the late 197os onwards — has presided over a Britain with lower levels of growth, which has been less evenly distributed, as well as the three great economic crises of post-war Brit­ain: the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and post-2008.

Here, it’s worth reiterating that the book is an explicit rejection of the idea that the Establishment represents a conscious, organized con­spiracy. Sure, there are undoubtedly specific conspiracies, from police cover-ups to tax avoidance on an industrial scale. Yet the whole prem­ise of the book is that the Establishment is bound by shared economic interests and common mentalities. There is no need for any overarch­ing planned conspiracy against democracy. The Establishment is an organic, dynamic system.

my deep attraction to the idea of the ‘Overton Window’, a concept invented by US conservatives to describe what is deemed pol­itically possible at any given time.

Governments enter and leave office, and yet the Establishment remains in power.

Developing out of a primary focus on the environ­ment, the Greens offer policies that represent a genuine assault on the Establishment: a statutory living wage, public ownership, workers’ rights, higher taxes on the rich and companies, a clampdown on tax avoidance, a council-house building programme, and so on.

Yet Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system represents a formid­able obstacle to any new party.

Here is what I understand the ‘Establishment’ to mean. Today’s Establishment is made up — as it has always been — of powerful groups that need to protect their position in a democracy in which almost the entire adult population has the right to vote. The Establishment represents an attempt on behalf of these groups to `manage’ democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests. In this respect, it might be seen as a firewall that insulates them from the wider population. As the well-connected right-wing blogger and columnist Paul Staines puts it approvingly: ‘We’ve had nearly a century of universal suffrage now, and what happens is cap­ital finds ways to protect itself from — you know — the voters.’

Bailed-out banks; state-funded infrastructure; the state’s pro­tection of property; research and development; a workforce educated at great public expense; the topping up of wages too low to live on; numerous subsidies — all are examples of what could be described as a ‘socialism for the rich’ that marks today’s Establishment.

“New Labour thought it could keep winning without tackling some of the things that progressive politics should be challenging. They regarded elections as in the bag. They didn’t need to go further or to challenge the Thatcherite settlement. As a result, millions of citizens find themselves unrepresented by conventional politics. Even mild shifts by the Labour leadership away from the establishment’s group think trigger a frenzied response. A narrow consensus is zealously guarded and policed.”

“Future generations will surely look back with a mixture of astonishment and contempt at how British society is currently organised.”

“Private interests are completely dependent upon state largesse if they are to prosper, and thus they should pay up accordingly.”

Chris Bryant, a Labour shadow minister, knows just how frighten­ing it can be to end up on the wrong side of a media baron. Bryant, a blunt, sardonic man, has an odd background for a Labour MP. As a student, he was an officer of the Oxford University Conservative Association; he then became a priest, before deciding it was inconsis­tent with being gay. When he was elected as a Labour MP for the solidly working-class South Wales constituency of the Rhondda in 1997, he was seen as an unwavering leadership loyalist. But his appar­ently uncontroversial politics would not save him from his whole life being turned upside down by media barons.

The Murdoch empire ‘operated by fear and favour’, Chris Bryant tells me in his House of Commons office; he speaks in the past tense because, rather optimistically, he believes its stranglehold over the political elite has come to an end. ‘Whether granting a political favour in supporting you in a general election through your newspapers, or just inviting you to smart dinners to watch the tennis, whilst at the same time having the threat that if you do us over, we can do you over individually or individual members or your Government.’

In 2003, Rebekah Brooks, then editor of The Sun, had been sum­moned to answer questions before the House of Commons Culture and Media Select Committee, of which Bryant was a part. He asked her directly whether she had ever paid police officers, and she responded that the newspaper had. It was an illegal practice, and yet at the time it was barely reported. ‘God knows, I tried to get it cover­age,’ Bryant says. ‘In the end I think it may well be because quite a lot of newspapers were doing it and no newspaper would shoot at another newspaper, it was a code of thieves really.’ As part of the Select Com­mittee, Bryant also criticized other newspapers for the same practice: ‘I did all of them in the course of five weeks and, by the end of the year, all of them took their revenge by doing a fairly hefty attack on my sexuality.’

It was a humiliating experience. ‘I think they bided their time,’ Bry­ant says, ‘they waited, and then they caught me and the stupidity was I let them catch me.’ Newspapers published salacious details of his use of a gay dating website, including the seeking of sexual encounters with other men. Most embarrassingly of all, they splashed a photo­graph of him posing naked except for his underpants. Other prurient stories were dredged up, whether based in fact or not. ‘Apparently I forced seven men to perform fellatio on me at the same time while singing “Things can only get better” on the night of the General Elec­tion in 1997,’ he says with a wry smile. ‘That’s quite impressive.’ Bryant was reduced to a wreck. ‘It was really horrible at the time,’ he recalls. ‘I didn’t sleep for three months. I literally shook for 24 hours after they came and turned up on my doorstep. It felt like I was being violated. I had a stalker, I had people on my doorstep, they pub­lished my address in the newspaper.’ The response to Bryant’s criticism had been ruthless. One former Daily Mail journalist passed on a message to one of Bryant’s friends: ‘We hope you’ll be dead by Christmas.’

[And I bet the photo wasn’t from Gaydar – no self-respecting gay man with any taste would wear cheap, dirty Y Fronts like those.]

You have a fiduciary responsibility as a company director to make sure you do the right thing for the company and there’s nothing in company law about doing the right thing for society.’

And yet this is not an accurate representation of the law at all. The Companies Act 20(36 includes nothing about maximizing profit. Rather, it calls on the director ‘to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole’, including taking into account ‘the interests of the company’s employees’ and, crucially, ‘the impact of the company’s operations on the community and environment’.

Russia has a top income-tax rate of 13 per cent — but there is hardly a stampede of British billionaires heading to Moscow, or to Serbia, say, where the top rate is 15 per cent. The wealthy have other factors to consider: where their friends and family are; their social and cultural life; whether they feel at home; whether they feel safe and secure, and so on.

Large companies have long used the threat of pulling the plug and taking jobs elsewhere in order to blackmail elected governments. But it is bluster. According to research by Richard Murphy, a handful of multinational companies relocated elsewhere after the threat of some changes in tax law in zoo8, but they were barely paying any tax in the first place, so the loss to the Exchequer was negligible. It hardly seems likely that corporations would seek to abandon Britain, one of the world’s biggest and most lucrative markets, if there was a genuine clampdown on tax avoidance. After all, the country has many advan­tages: world-class education, infrastructure and a highly functioning legal system, as well as a national language that happens to be the international business language.

as Francis Beckett, the biographer of Labour’s post-war Minister, Clement Attlee, put it. ‘If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.’

One City stockbroker and energy analyst, Peter Atherton, put in plain English what the Big Six were threatening: brownouts and blackouts.

If trade unions had been issuing such threats, there would have been a tsunami of outrage from the right-wing press. But now there were no tabloid headlines along the lines of ‘Energy Barons Hold the Nation to Ransom’ or ‘The Enemy Within’….. they suffered no blackouts as a result. EDF, effect­ively run by the French state, had to abide by price restrictions back at home.

Return to the home page

 

Leave a Comment

Specimen Days – Michael Cunningham

sd2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Three stories, past, present and future, depict three central, semi-consistent character-types: a young boy, a man, and a woman. Walt Whitman’s poetry is also a common thread in each of the three stories, and the title is from Whitman’s own prose works.

In the Machine“, set in mid-to-late 19th Century New York, begins in the aftermath of a wake. Simon, a young man working in a factory had been accidentally sucked into a factory machine which crushed him to death. Due to the poverty present in the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution, Simon’s family sends Lucas, Simon’s disfigured younger brother, to work at the factory in Simon’s place.

Lucas has a strange affliction in which he intermittently and uncontrollably spouts the poetry of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ (Lucas’ favourite book). Walt Whitman was a contemporary of the time and Lucas meets him during the course of the story. Lucas is also concerned Simon has become a ghost and inhabits not only the machine that killed him but all the machines that are becoming commonplace in the city as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

This concern leads Lucas to fear for the life of Catherine, Simon’s bereaved girlfriend. Lucas believes Simon’s ghost may try to inhabit the machines at the factory where Catherine works as a seamstress with a view to take Catherine to the afterlife by killing her through the machine’s function. Lucas embarks on a mission to save Catherine by preventing her from going to work. .

Lucas’ fear of Simon’s ghost is, at the same time, a fear of the Machine and, on a larger scale, the Industrial Revolution in New York City itself. The machines replace humans, even kill them, and the industrial revolution has demeaned the importance of each human individual with its positioning of people as cogs in its own giant machine. In this light, Lucas’ fears and Whitman’s transcendental poetry represent the affirmation of humanity and each individual’s importance.

“The Children’s Crusade” takes place in post-9/11 Manhattan, where Cat, a hardboiled police psychologist who deals with cranks and wannabe assassins, is horrified to discover a secret “family” of pre-teen suicide-bombers. The children blow up their victims at random, using Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as their rationale. When Cat bonds with a 12-year-old bomber who reminds her of her own lost son, Luke, her shallow relationship with futures trader Simon is undermined by yearnings for a pre-industrial utopia.

“Like Beauty” takes place in a post-nuclear future, when New York has been turned into a tawdry theme park. Simon, an android whose programming makes him recite Whitman whenever he’s in danger of feeling human emotion, goes on the run with Catareen, a reptilian alien. Teamed up with Luke, a 12-year-old street kid, they are finally offered escape to a paradisal new planet, but Simon risks losing his place in the spaceship to stay with the woman – or lizard – he loves.

Certain themes recur in each of the three stories in “Specimen Days”: class differences, the difficulty of feeling authentically, quasi-Buddhist notions of rebirth and the afterlife, the exhilarating nightmare of New York City, the dream of escaping New York City.

DonaldTrump is mentioned  – this was written in 2005 before most of us had ever heard of him.

sdQuotations:

Fear not O Muse! truly new ways and days receive, surround you,

I candidly confess a queer, queer race, of novel fashion,

And yet the same old human race, the same within, without,

Faces and hearts the same, feelings the same, yearning the same,

The same old love, beauty and use the same. —Walt Whitman

“Only at these subdued moments could you truly comprehend that this glittering, blighted city was part of a slumbering continent; a vastness where headlights answered the constellations; a fertile black roll of field and woods dotted by the arctic brightness of gas stations and all-night diners, town after shuttered town strung with streetlights, sparsely attended by the members of the night shifts, the wanderers who scavenged in the dark, the insomniacs with their reading lights, the mothers trying to console colicky babies, the waitresses and gas-pump guys, the bakers and the lunatics.”

“I feel like there’s something terrible and wonderful and amazing that’s just beyond my grasp. I have dreams about it. I do dream, by the way. It hovers over me at odd moments. And then it’s gone. I feel like I’m always on the brink of something that never arrives. I want to either have it or be free of it.”

“He wanted to tell her that he was inspired and vigilant and recklessly alone, that his body contained his unsteady heart and something else, something he felt but could not describe: porous and spiky, shifting with flecks of thought, with urge and memory; salted with brightness, flickerings of white and green and pale gold; something that loved stars because it was made of the same substance.”
“She’s had a long life. Now she’s going to the Lord.”
“Frankly it creeps me out a little when you say things like that,” Simon said.
“It shouldn’t. If you don’t like ‘Lord,’ pick another word. She’s going home. She’s going back to the party. Whatever you like.”
“I suppose you have some definite ideas about an afterlife.”
“Sure. We get reabsorbed into the earthly and celestial mechanism.”
“No heaven?”
“That’s heaven.”
“What about realms of glory? What about walking around in golden slippers?”
“We abandon consciousness as if we were waking from a bad dream. We throw it off like clothes that never fit us right. It’s an ecstatic release we’re physically unable to apprehend while we’re in our bodies. Orgasm is our best hint, but it’s crude and minor by comparison.”
sd-3“Catherine thought Simon was in the locket, and in heaven, and with them still. Lucas hoped she didn’t expect him to be happy about having so many Simons to contend with.”
“A sensation rose in him, a high tingling of his blood. There came a wave, a wind that recognized him, that did not love him or hate him. He felt what he knew as the rising of his self, the shifting innerness that yearned and feared, that was more familiar to him than anything could ever be. He knew that an answering substance gathered around him, emanating from the trees and the stars.

He stood staring at the constellations. Walt had sent him here, to find this, and he understood. He thought he understood. This was his heaven. It was not Broadway or the horse on wheels. It was grass and silence; it was a field of stars. It was what the book told him, night after night. When he died he would leave his defective body and turn into grass. He would be here like this, forever. There was no reason to fear it, because it was part of him. What he’d thought of as his emptiness, his absence of soul, was only a yearning for this.”
“I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end. But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.”
“In heaven, Lucas would be beautiful. He’d speak a language everyone understood.”
“She’d never been religious. She hadn’t allowed grief to send her crawling to the church.”

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

The Confessions of AUBREY BEARDSLEY: A Novel by DONALD S. OLSON

tcab2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

How self-indulgent. If I was his priest I’d insist ion a maximum of one side of A4.

I liked the idea hat he took up drawing as it was subversive his aunt’s puritanism.

But did they have polytechnics in those days?

Quotations:

Mother is merciless. ‘You gave up a headmistress-ship at the Polytechnic ?????

…was our time for fanciful reverie; finally we would see the red-tiled spire of our beloved church high on the hill, and sometimes would even run there.

Yes, there was something slightly illicit about the Annunciation, which of course only added to its charm. Though it was very High Anglican, it reverberated with that quite peculiar and almost aristocratic sympathy one associates with English Roman Catholics.

One felt almost an outlaw going there — an impression heightened by the situation of the church: it was built into a road of small brick and flint houses, and one entered directly from the street, without the hallowing prelude of a porch. The noticeboard outside had for me the glamour of a theatre bill; it listed all the mysterious ceremonies that took place within — nones, compline, confessions.

A sense of renegade superiority reigned within. The church was not old, but the steady chant of an ancient liturgy made it seem so. Architecturally it was eccentric, with a heavy wooden roof like an inverted ship’s hull, and exposed beams and plastered walls that betrayed affinities with the Aesthetic Movement of the sixties and seventies. We loved it, I’m sure, for its beauty — or what we saw as beauty then. The Pre-Raphaelites had left the artistic stamp of their respectability in the east window, where a dusky blue panel of the Annunciation by Rossetti was flanked by a couple of Burne-Jones designs executed by William Morris. I would direct my gaze towards those panels with their lead outlines and stare until I seemed to merge myself with them. Father Chapman considered the windows as ‘necessary luxuries’, splendid examples of Art serving the greater glory of God.

Father George Chapman, now deceased, was the Annunciation’s priest-in-charge, and there was some quality in him that drew people to the confessional like bees to honey. He was a tall gaunt man, who looked as though he were being consumed by his own spiritual fervour; his pale eyes had the feverish sparkle of a confirmed  …, and one believed him to be party to those secrets whispered only between the dying man and his God.

Mabel and I longed to go to confession. It was too tantalizing, the sight of all those people entering a mysterious cupboard where the sins of the world were whispered, revealed and absolved. I’d watch, fascinated, as the sweetest-looking people in Brighton made their way to that dark closet of repentance. What had they done that was wrong? Why did they feel compelled to confess? I wonder if there may not be something in the determinedly bluff and unemotional English character that secretly craves the luxurious darkness of a confessional, and the voluptuous comfort that comes from admitting guilt and casting off an accumulated load of sin.

You may not have known, Father, that Brighton was the home of the Catholic Revival in England. Yes, in churches throughout the town the oath of Royal Supremacy was being questioned and gorgeous Eucharistic vestments flaunted. The more daring churches even adopted the Eastward Position. Low churches, such as Aunt Pitt attended, were appalled, indignant and intolerant of anything that even suggested that Scarlet Whore, Rome, with all her pomp and finery. The converts to Catholicism were called perverts. Fierce words and fulminations on the subject of Popery were hurled from many a pulpit. But there in the Annunciation we would sit, Mabel and I, for hours on end, morning and evening, intoxicated by the solemn mystical odour of frankincense, the chanted refrains of ancient Latin texts, the intricate rituals of the Mass, and Father Chapman himself, who was publicly dying.

Aunt Pitt, as I have already mentioned, did not permit reading unless it was edifying or instructional. Novels and poetry were incomprehensible to her; for us, they were life, and we were aghast to think that from now on we would be without them. Of course, she was perfectly furious when she discovered that I was hiding a novel that Father Chapman had given me to read, and I had a lot to do to convince her of the story’s elevated moral tone

tcoabthat area between the Strand and Regent sing Soho, St James’s and Whitehall, that most at of our dear British Empire, was in fact nothing more than a walking whorehouse. Men, women, children: everyone was openly for sale.

The strange thing about it was not that it existed, but that it was never. talked about, never written about, and never shown in modern pictures. It did not conform to the Official Version of English Life as seen on the walls of the Royal Academy, and so it was ignored as the material of art. Yet there it was, not so far from the sacred portals of the RA itself: filthy, glamorous, lewd, pestilential, flea-bitten, pox-ridden, utterly criminal; an unseen obscene London that set my pulse hammering and my cock throbbing in nervous sympathetic excitement.

Those teeming London pavements, filled with their sweet, stink­ing, garish assortment of human characters, all going about the business of making money and spending it — all of us living in what Shelley called ‘the dream of life’! Those filthy streets, churned to mud by the incessant crush of omnibuses, drays, cabriolets, broughams, landaus, hansom cabs, fire wagons, funeral carriages; whose crossings were swept by wretched ragged children; whose edges were so variously crowded with men wearing shiny top-hats and costermongers hawking their wares; with rich elegant women unable to dress themselves without a servant’s help sweeping past shivering penniless flower-girls; where clergymen encased in starch and broadcloth rubbed shoulders with ruffians wearing moleskin waistcoats! How I loved the stew of London!

My eyes would meet other eyes — those of a smiling child-minx, no more than ten, yet powdered and rouged like a seasoned whore

— ‘Wanting a bit of company, sir?’; those of a drunken gap-toothed harridan, whispering that she’d lift her skirts in a nearby alley for a glass of gin; those of a half-starved seamstress, whose feverish orbs hopelessly cried out, ‘Save me!’; those of a clever unscrupulous maid, searching restlessly for a male conspirator.

I looked, but never bought, storing up memories to fuel my nocturnal cock-chafings. Yes, there in Pimlico, too, urged on by my friend the Fever, surrounded by my family, I continued my copious outpouring of seed; visions of whores and pretty girls from the halls danced in my head as I pounded my insatiable organ to the spurting froth of its inevitable conclusion.

We chose St Barnabas as our church in Pimlico, not because of its convenience, but because it was the most ritualistic and fashion­able Anglo-Catholic church in the metropolis. St Barnabas, where the ethereal tones of ancient Gregorian chants were heard through a fragrant cloud of incense, provided Mother with a tie to Brighton in the person of the Reverend Alfred Gurney, a former curate at one of her favourite churches there.

I suspect Mother was a little bit in love with Alfred Gurney, the vicar of St Barnabas, but who could blame her? He had a long cleft beard, tender blue eyes, and was immensely rich. He was a man of strong and sudden contrasts, a scholar in church ritual who wore riding breeches under his cassock so that he could take a quick canter in the park whenever the mood struck. He was a spiritualist, an occasional poet, a collector of drawings, and a music-lover who could describe a Wagner concert conducted by Richter with the kind of enthusiastic passion that women found irresistible. He also had the great grace to include us — Mother, Mabel and me — as guests at his sumptuous Sunday luncheon-parties. The Reverend Alfred Gurney’s luncheons were far more inspiring, I must say, than his sermons.

These feasts were held in the Clergy House next door to the church after the late service, and provided us with our first entree into London society. The other guests, all relatives or artistic friends of Mr Gurney, might include his brother Willie, his sister-in-law, his niece, the textile Halifaxes, the Reverend Gerald Sampson and his younger brother Julian, an art dilettante. Since these were all potential patrons, I began to carry with me a portfolio of my latest drawings.

One afternoon the talk at the luncheon-table turned to Rossetti, a collection of whose drawings Mr Gurney owned and proudly displayed on his walls. In years gone by, the Reverend had come to know the Pre-Raphaelite artist and his poetic sister; and that afternoon he began to tell us stories of Rossetti’s last hours — how Rossetti’s lifelong fear of being alone, for instance, was exacerbated in his final illness to the point where he would keep a friend with HIm all through the night, begging him not to leave until dawn, when finally he would be able to sleep; and how even in his last days, unable to rise from his couch, he would feebly stretch out his brush and touch a canvas with it. The luncheon guests reverentially murmured ‘How beautiful!’ to every anecdote, but my secret response was quite different. None of it sounded the least bit beautiful to me; awful, rather, pathetic and terrifying. Where healthy people get the idea that death is beautiful and ennobling, I shall never know.

Afterwards Julian Sampson sidled up to me and asked if I would show him the contents of my portfolio. ‘With pleasure,’ I said, and we found a spot some way off from the others.

Recently I heard rumours that Julian Sampson has fallen prey to one of the many devilish cults that seem to be springing up, as the century wanes, like fetid fungi on the trunk of a decaying tree; even then, eight years ago, he evinced a fascinated interest in a sub rosa world that one could only whisper about at Gurneyesque luncheon-parties. A middle-sized man of great elegance, Julian would have been remarkably good-looking were it not for the slightly degenerate Hanoverian cast to his features. The pampered son of a rich colonel and the grandson of the Comte de Meric de St-Martin, his life had been dedicated to useless pleasures of all sorts. He had studied art, and occasionally wrote on the subject, so I was honoured when he directed his gaze at my drawings.

Thanks to Mr Gurney’s collection of Rossettis, my drawings at that time showed signs of incipient Pre-Raphaelitism, and were mostly concerned with beatific subjects — at least, those drawings that I brought with me to the Clergy House. Other subjects, such as the courtesan Manon Lescaut, and the adulteress Emma Bovary, culled from my secret reading, never accompanied me.

`You have a clever hand,’ said Julian, as he examined my various celestial beings strumming lutes and bearing lilies. ‘I wonder . . He pursed his lips thoughtfully. ‘I wonder if you would be interested in a small commission from me — to do a drawing — but not of any heavenly creature.’ He laughed softly at some private joke. ‘Heavens, no, not heavenly — classical, rather.’

Return to the home page

 

Leave a Comment

Older Posts »