Archive for Uncategorized

Death In Venice And Other Stories – Thomas Mann

DIV 2Some found it depressing, its style tiresome – why can’t it get to the point without all this long-winded Greek stuff? Or is the Greek stuff a justification for the lust?

Others, however, found it contemplative.

In the film, Visconti loses the philosophical content of the Thomas Mann work.

This book reflects many of the most vital ideas discussed in literature during the time of its composition. At the turn of the century, many European writers expressed a biting awareness of cultural and personal decadence, and social and moral decline

Literature of the era also focused to a large extent on issues of homoeroticism: like Death in Venice, Dorian Gray uses a fictional character to serve as a mask for its own homosexual author; Andre Gide’s novel The Immoralist (1902) represents the extreme identity crisis experienced by many European homosexual artists of the time.

Largely inspired by actual events in the life of its author. Mann had been on an island near Venice in 1905 during a cholera outbreak, and he later traveled to the city in May 1911, because, like his character Gustav von Aschenbach, he was exhausted by a difficult stage in his writing and felt the need for escape. On May 18 of 1911, Mann read the obituary for composer Gustav Mahler, who had died at the age of fifty; Mann based Aschenbach’s facial features on Mahler’s. Like Aschenbach, Mann was also homosexual: Although he was married and had six children, his wife is reported to have said that she married simply to have a family, and the publication of Mann’s diaries in recent years have illuminated his many homosexual relationships. Moreover, in 1965, it came to light that the story owed even more to fact than previously suspected: A Polish baron named Wladyslaw Moes identified himself as the boy whom Mann fictionalized as Tadzio. Upon reading the Polish translation of the book in 1923, Moes recognized himself in the portrayal of the boy: Moes’ family had gone to Venice for the sake of his health, and he must have appeared quite sickly; like Tadzio, Moes had slept late and engaged in carefully monitored exercise; Moes’ striped linen suit, red tie, and blue jacket with gold buttons are faithfully rendered in the novella; Moes had played with a rowdy boy nicknamed “Jasio,” echoing Mann’s Jashu. Moes even remembers seeing an older man staring at him raptly in the hotel elevator. Moes waited to publicize his story until after Mann’s death.

A storm begins to brew, and the writer turns homeward; he passes through empty streets past the stonemasons’ yards, where the headstones for sale constitute a sort of graveyard, and stops to read the gilt lettering on a Byzantine mortuary chapel referring to the afterlife.

The descriptions of the dire political situation, the storm, and the menacing-looking stranger (his red hair suggesting the devil) foretell impending dangers. Specifically, the gravestones and mortuary introduce thoughts of death. The Byzantine architecture with its Greek lettering introduces the motif of the classical world, which will pervade the novella. Mann is famous for his economical writing: It is important to realize that there is hardly a wasted word in his text

Mann based the character of Tadzio on a real boy he saw while staying in Lido (Venice) at the Grand Hotel des Bains, where Aschenbach also stays in Death in Venice. The boy was the Baron Wladyslaw Moes, who went by the nickname “Adzio.”

He was a sickly child, kept off school

Gustav Aschenbach, is a combination of two artists’ names from Mann’s time.  Gustav Mahler was a composer who died on the 18th of May in 1911 while Mann was on his vacation in Venice.  The name Aschenbach comes from Andreas Aschenbach, an inventive painter of the time who broke from the popular trend of painting romantic landscapes.  This last name also has a great significance in that “Aschenbach” translates to “ash creek,” and is a reference to both death and the canals of Venice.

He led a life of duty. While Aschenbach was headstrong and intellectually radical as a youth, he now considers his greatest achievement to be his attainment of dignity.

According to Freud, whose works Mann had read, repressed psychological drives soon rise to the surface; we can safely assume that it will not be long before Aschenbach must face the rearing head of his own reigned in nature. Nietzsche explained what he saw as being wrong with late 19th-century Germany: He believed that the Germans were too “Apollonian,” too stiff, too restrained, too cerebral to create truly great art. He predicted that the Dionysian forces would soon erupt if held in check too long and that the result could be devastating. Aschenbach’s psychological repression stands as a symbol for bourgeois Europe’s repression; his overly Apollonian characteristics correspond to an excessive privileging of control and cold formality in the European sensibility. The parallel also extends to the fates of both the writer and his culture: Aschenbach’s death will serve as a prediction of the death of the old hierarchy in the coming war.

So is the old man trying to reconcile his id With his super-ego?

And is tHe comment about Venice being best entered by water some sort of allusion to rebirthing?

He liked Sebastian in art and he wrote a story about a wife who leaves her husband for a youth.

“You will pay” is exceedingly ominous. The journey in the gondola also suggests the voyage to the Underworld taken by many classical heroes, such as Odysseus, Theseus, and Hercules: These heroes entered the realm of the dead by crossing the River Styx at the hands of the skeletal boatman Charon. The episode is only one of a multitude of references to Greek myth, and, as with many of these references, it functions as parody: while the classical heroes’ crossings were proof of their strength and determination,

Although in previous trips to the city he has always been greeted by sun, Aschenbach finds the sky over Venice to be heavy with clouds, making it appear to him a “different Venice” than before.

The city of Venice can be seen as a symbol for Aschenbach himself: Venice is unique for its daring construction; it is a city built in the middle of a lagoon, built and maintained by sheer will over the forces of nature. Similarly, Aschenbach considers true art to be the victory of the will over physical needs and natural impulses, and he considers himself to have accomplished such victories. Yet it is also well known that despite its mask of glory, Venice is gradually sinking, literally rotting from within; again, the same might be said of Aschenbach.

Venice much like we might describe Aschenbach toward the novella’s end: Someone whose days of artistic glory are over, but who longs for a vision of pure beauty even when it has become polluted by age, sickness, and depravity

The black boat is likened to a coffin and linked with death, “the last journey.” Seating himself, however, Aschenbach feels not a sense of dread, but rather one of lulling luxury; he yields to a drowsy languor.

Is Tadzio a symbol of the carefree youth that he never had?

Aschenbach’s initial interest in the boy Tadzio is something he himself does not understand. From the very beginning, Tadzio represents pure artistic beauty. At first, Aschenbach believes that he can admire this beauty dispassionately, from a purely intellectual, aesthetic standpoint. Later, he will try to convince himself that he desires the boy only as an inspiration for more of his principled, dignified writing. By the end of the novella, however, Aschenbach will admit to himself that beauty and art, as represented by Tadzio, are corrupting: Tadzio will lead Aschenbach to abandon all morals and dignity, to surrender himself to decadent passion, as the gesture of “calm acceptance” here foretells.

In the dialogue Phaedrus, Plato imagines Socrates and a beautiful boy named Phaedrus sitting under a tree discussing what the most ideal form of love. They conclude that love is necessary for mankind, and the most pure love can only exist between a man and a boy.

A vision comes to him of Socrates wooing Phaedrus beneath a tree in Athens, teaching him about desire and virtue. In the vision, the elderly, ugly Socrates tells the young and beautiful Phaedrus that Beauty is the only form of the spiritual that may be perceived by the senses, and is, thus, the lover’s path to the spirit. Having this access to the spirit renders the lover even more divine than the beautiful beloved, Socrates slyly explains.

In Greek myth, Hyacinthus is a handsome Spartan youth loved by Apollo, the god of the sun, and Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. According to differing versions, he was either killed accidentally by Apollo or deliberately by Zephyrus, who was jealous of the boy’s love for Apollo. The comparison between Tadzio and Hyacinthus hints that Aschenbach’s love for Tadzio may be ill-fated and harmful to the boy, especially since, according to Nietzche’s philosophy, Aschenbach could be described as overly Apollonion. Aschenbach’s likening of Tadzio to Narcissus has the same effect: Narcissus is a mythic character whose great beauty attracted the nymph Echo; when Narcissus cruelly rejected her, she died from grief, leaving behind only her voice. To punish Narcissus, the gods made him fall in love with his own reflection in a pool, and he pined away on the shore. Thus, the allusion to Narcissus again hints at an ill-fated love, this time more harmful to the lover than the beloved: will Aschenbach die of his love for Tadzio and, like Echo, leave behind only his writings, his voice?

Chlorotic teeth (leaves produce insufficient chlorophyll. As chlorophyll is responsible for the green color of leaves, chlorotic leaves are pale, yellow, or yellow-white, insufficient iron); A form of primary anemia affecting mostly girls at the period of puberty or early womanhood, and characterized by a marked deficiency of hemoglobin in the red corpuscles. The disease is confined almost entirely to females. Noorden, Eichorst, Jurgensen, Hayem, Luzet, and Liebermeister hold that chlorosis never occurs in the male. There seems to be a close relationship between tuberculosis and chlorosis

The spreading sickness in Venice, while important to the story’s plot, is also symbolic of the sickness of passion overtaking Aschenbach. The fact that the Italians deny the severity of the health hazard augments Mann’s portrayal of Venice as a place of artifice, deceit, and corruption.

The pomegranate juice that Aschenbach sips during the performance is symbolic: its red color, the standard color of passion, links it to the strawberries Aschenbach eats upon first seeing Tadzio and to the possibly infected strawberries he will eat closer to his death; so, too, are the recurring devil-like figures characterized by red hair (the musician here is one of these), and when Aschenbach dresses up for Tadzio at the end of the novella, he will wear a red tie. Red comes to symbolize not only passion but also depravity. The pomegranate also has mythical significance: in Greek myth, Persephone is abducted by the god of the Underworld. While in the underworld she unthinkingly eats a seed of a pomegranate, which is known as the food of the dead, and which binds her to spend at least half the year in Hades. Aschenbach’s journey to Venice could also be seen as a journey to the Underworld

The disease is also directly referred to as the cause of moral debauchery: The authorities’ attempts to deal with it have been immoral, and that immorality has reaped further immorality. Immorality itself is here shown to be not only an isolated sin but also a self-propagating entity: Immorality breeds immorality. For a society, or a person, unused to dealing with passion, when that passion escapes it is here portrayed as escalating out of control. Aschenbach has entered a state out of which there is no escape; his initial unrestrained taste of passion has proven inescapable, his own personal pomegranate seed.

The dream sequence definitively links Aschenbach’s descent into passion with the worship of Dionysus. And whereas Aschenbach originally worshipped Tadzio, as a sort of Apollonion statuesque symbol of intellectual beauty and art, he is now the “god” that Aschenbach worships. Tadzio is Dionysian in the way he is feverishly, wantonly, uncontrollably worshipped by Aschenbach. The shift from Apollonion to Dionysian is entirely the progression of Aschenbach. Tadzio himself remains a kid who likes playing on the beach.

In dressing up and wearing makeup, Aschenbach becomes the very image of the grotesque old man he saw on the boat in Chapter 3. The barber’s remark again evokes the question of truth vs. artifice; despite what the barber says, it is clearly the rouge, face powder, and lipstick that are artificial. They represent the vain and deceitful side of art, art intended to conceal truth and seduce others.

The scene in which Aschenbach loses his way in the city streets is representative of the state of his soul; the garbage and overgrown weeds symbolize decay. The strawberries are also symbolic; although Aschenbach has heard the warnings not to eat fruits or vegetables, as they may be infected, he gives into his overwhelming thirst and indulges anyway. Thus, the berries are the “forbidden fruit,” like the taboo love for Tadzio in which Aschenbach indulges in order to satisfy a “thirst” but against his better judgment.

The speech by Socrates in this chapter voices a concern central to much of Mann’s work, that art corrupts morality. Clearly, because Mann was a writer, an artist with words, he must also have felt that art had redeeming qualities. However, Mann uses his novella to show the dangers that art’s sensual side poses, even while the artist must be awake to sensuality in order to achieve true art.

The final passages are extremely mythically imbued. The tussle between Tadzio and Jashu symbolizes the struggle of opposites that takes place throughout the novella; Tadzio is blonde while Jashu is dark-haired (see Chapter 3), Tadzio is delicate while Jashu is sturdy. Jashu has long held a subservient position to Tadzio, just as Aschenbach’s instincts had previously been repressed by his conscious will, just as the Dionysian had been repressed by the Apollonian forces. The novella traces how those forces that are always kept down eventually rise up and break free; this has been the source of Aschenbach’s tragedy. Standing out on the sandbar, having been almost suffocated by the suddenly violent and powerful Jashu, Tadzio appears as the messenger of death, beckoning Aschenbach toward the afterlife.

Ceath’s head or Grim Reaper figure – A death’s head is a human skull or a more subtle representation of death. The death’s head is the dominant leitmotif in this novella, with different representations of the same ominous man appearing in closer and closer proximity to von Aschenbach. First, while in the graveyard, he spots a strange foreigner who bares his teeth ferociously. Next, the frightening gondolier in Venice (who steers a boat that reminds von Aschenbach of a coffin) shares many of the same characteristics as the teeth-baring stranger, including a distinctive hat, reddish hair, and prominent teeth. The gondolier is physically closer to von Aschenbach than the stranger had been, but is still unavailable for conversation. The final appearance of the death’s head occurs symbolically in von Aschenbach’s hotel garden in the form of a singer. The singer again has similar characteristics to the other two symbolic men, including red hair and an important hat, and he pays special attention to von Aschenbach.

His allusions to the composers Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler, the musicians in the gondola and the street, and Tadzio’s name, which sounds like a musical description (adagio means “slowly”), all suggest that art can arouse dangerous emotions. The demonic tempters and messengers of death all have the same physical features and bad teeth; the black gondola, blackened corpses, and snapping black cloth of the camera symbolize death.

Day after day now the god with the flaming cheeks soared upward naked, driving his team of four fire-breathing horses through heaven’s acres, his yellow ringlets fluttering wild in the gale of the east wind.

It’s emphasized that the “god” is “naked,” and that his “yellow ringlets” are “fluttering wild.” Does that remind us of anyone? Well, Tadzio is also described as having a face “ringed by honey-colored hair.” (3.40). And while Tadzio might not appear naked in the novella, certainly this erotic image is in line with Aschenbach’s motives.

In Plato’s Republic, one of the most famous works of ancient Greek philosophy, the sun appears as a symbol for Truth and the Good. The metaphorical “light” of Truth gives form and meaning to all things, just as the sun reveals the shapes and forms of earthly things. But there’s a catch: Like the sun, looking right at the Truth can blind you, so sometimes the best way to access Truth is by considering its many reflections in beautiful forms.

Tadzio, in addition to appearing like the sun god Helios, is described as Aschenbach’s “effigy and mirror” (4.8), perhaps suggesting that his physical beauty, in the Platonic sense, reflects and embodies some philosophical Truth or Higher Good. The question then is whether Tadzio reflects too much of the Truth, becoming, in fact, a mirror in which Aschenbach confronts his own dark, lustful, and self-destructive impulses.

He too had served; he too, like so many of them, had been soldier and warrior, for art was war, a grueling struggle that people these days were not up to for long. A life of self-domination, of “despites,” a grim, dogged, abstemious life he had shaped into the emblem of a frail heroism for the times—might he not call it manly, might he not call it brave? Besides, he had the feeling that the eros which had taken possession of him was in a way singularly appropriate and suited to such a life. Had it not been held in particular esteem amongst the bravest of nations?

“bravest of nations: ” among them is Ancient Greece. Greeks condoned relationships between older men and young boys, something that scholars call pederasty to distinguish it from paedophilia, which is the crime as we know it today. Pederasty plays a role in Homer’s Iliad and in Plato’s Phaedrus, for instance. However, Tadzio’s 14 but doesn’t yet have armpit hair so can’t be ‘excused’ as being a young man; just a child.

Aschenbach makes sense of his attraction to Tadzio by imagining himself metaphorically as a Greek “soldier and warrior,” who leads a disciplined, “abstemious” existence, struggling to make art in an age when “people […] were not up to [it] for long.” Those warriors practiced pederasty, so why can’t he? Right? Right? Or so Aschenbach insists, anyway.

Death in Venice is not celebrating paedophilia. Here, as elsewhere, the novella is using the example of the ancient Greek ideal in order to reveal its apparent perversity. As with Mann’s use of mythological imagery (read up on that elsewhere in this “Symbols” section), ancient Greek imagery enters into Death in Venice ironically, showing the way its idealism conceals some pretty disturbing things. So Aschenbach can call his desire pederasty all he wants—Mann makes sure we know what it truly is.

Death in Venice could very well be a headline in a newspaper bannering across the front page? Newspapers and news play a pretty important role in Death in Venice. News of the epidemic is alternately disseminated and covered up in the international papers Aschenbach reads in his hotel. For the most part, death is exactly what is not being reported on in Venice. And in the final line of the novella, it’s not just Aschenbach’s death that we read about; it’s the fact that his death is news for the “world” that knew him

Tonio Krögerison the same theme but the man here is almost he opposite of the one in Death in Venire as he is not obsessed with duty.

DIV 3Quotations:

personally speaking too, art heightens life. She gives deeper joy, she consumes more swiftly. She engraves adventures of the spirit and the mind in the faces of her vota­ries; let them lead outwardly a life of the most cloistered calm, she will in the end produce in them a fastidiousness, an over­refinement, a nervous, fever and exhaustion, such as a career of extravagant passions and pleasures can hardly show.

he asked his own sober, weary east if a new enthusiasm, a new preoccupation, some late adventure of she feelings could still be in store for the idle traveller.

a solitary, unused to speaking of what he sees and feels,_, mental experiences which are at once more intense and articulate than those of a gregarious man.

“This was Venice, the flattering and suspect beauty–this city, half fairy tale and half tourist trap, in whose insalubrious air the arts once rankly and voluptuously blossomed, where composers have been inspired to lulling tones of somniferous eroticism.”

“passion paralyzes discrimination.”

Such was Venice, the wheedling, shady beauty, a city half fairy tale, half tourist trap, in whose foul air the arts had once flourished luxuriantly and which had inspired musicians with undulating, lullingly licentious harmonies. The adventurer felt his eyes drinking in its voluptuousness, his ears being wooed by its melodies; he recalled, too, that the city was diseased and as concealing it out of cupidity, and the look with which he peered out after the gondola floating ahead of him grew more wanton.

He too had served; he too, like so many of them, had been soldier and warrior, for art was war, a grueling struggle that people these days were not up to for long. A life of self-domination, of “despites,” a grim, dogged, abstemious life he had shaped into the emblem of a frail heroism for the times—might he not call it manly, might he not call it brave? Besides, he had the feeling that the eros which had taken possession of him was in a way singularly appropriate and suited to such a life. Had it not been held in particular esteem amongst the bravest of nations?

For several years now Indian cholera had displayed a growing tendency to spread and migrate. Emanating from the humid marshes of the Ganges Delta, rising with the mephitic exhalations of that lush, uninhabitable, primordial island jungle shunned by man, where tigers crouch in bamboo thickets, the epidemic had long raged with unwonted virulence through Hindustan, then moved eastward to China, westward to Afghanistan and Persia, and, following the main caravan routes, borne its horrors as far as Astrakhan and even Moscow. But while Europe quaked at the thought of the specter invading from there by land, it had been transported by sea in the ships of Syrian merchants and shown up in several Mediterranean ports simultaneously.

Day after day now the god with the flaming cheeks soared upward naked, driving his team of four fire-breathing horses through heaven’s acres, his yellow ringlets fluttering wild in the gale of the east wind.

 There he sat, the master, the eminently dignified artist, the author of “A Wretched Figure,” who had rejected bohemian excess and the murky depths in a form of exemplary purity, who had renounced all sympathy for the abyss and reprehended the reprehensible, climbed the heights, and, having transcended his erudition and outgrown all irony, accepted the obligations that come with mass approbation, a man whose fame was official, whose name had been made noble, and whose style schoolboys were exhorted to emulate—there he sat, his eyes closed, with only an occasional, rapidly disappearing sidelong glance, scornful and sheepish, slipping out from under them and a few isolated words issuing from his slack, cosmetically embellished lips, the result of the curious dream logic of his half-slumbering brain.

 Never had he experienced the pleasure of the word to be sweeter

 The way he stood in the belted white suit he sometimes donned for dinner, inexorably, innately graceful—his left forearm on the parapet, his feet crossed, his right hand on his hip—looking down at the minstrels with an expression that was not so much a smile as an indication of aloof curiosity, of courteous acknowledgment. From time to time he drew himself up and, puffing out his chest, pulled the white blouse down through the leather belt with an elegant tug of both hands. But there were also times when—as the aging traveler noted triumphantly, his mind reeling, yet terrified as well—he turned his head over his left shoulder—now wavering and cautious, now fast and impetuous, as if to catch him off guard—to the place where his admirer was seated.

 “an intellectual, adolescent conception of manliness”?

“For beauty, Phaedrus, mark thou well, beauty and beauty alone is at once divine and visible”?

“Observing all this and much more of a like nature, one might well wonder whether the only possible heroism was the heroism of the weak”?

“His steps followed the dictates of the demon whose delight it is to trample human reason and dignity underfoot.”

“It was the smile of Narcissus bending over the water mirror, the deep protracted smile with which he stretched out his arms to the reflection of his own beauty […].”

 “Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily – no hourly – and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”

“The observations and encounters of a solitary, taciturn man are vaguer and at the same times more intense than those of a sociable man; his thoughts are deeper, odder and never without a touch of sadness. Images and perceptions that could be dismissed with a glance, a laugh, an exchange of opinions, occupy him unduly, become more intense in the silence, become significant, become an experience, an adventure, an emotion. Solitude produces originality, bold and astonishing beauty, poetry. But solitude also produces perverseness, the disproportionate, the absurd and the forbidden.”
“A lonely, quiet person has observations and experiences that are at once both more indistinct and more penetrating than those of one more gregarious; his thoughts are weightier, stranger, and never without a tinge of sadness. . . . Loneliness fosters that which is original, daringly and bewilderingly beautiful, poetic. But loneliness also fosters that which is perverse, incongruous, absurd, forbidden.”
“Solitude produces originality, bold & astonishing beauty, poetry. But solitude also produces perverseness, the disproportionate, the absurd, and the forbidden.”
“It is as well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not also its origins, the conditions under which it came into being; for knowledge of the sources of an artist’s inspiration would often confuse readers and shock them, and the excellence of the writing would be of no avail.”
“(…) nearly all the great things that exist owe their existence to a defiant despite: it is despite grief and anguish, despite poverty, loneliness, bodily weakness, vice and passion and a thousand inhibitions, that they have come into being at all.”
“The observations and encounters of a devotee of solitude and silence are at once less distinct and more penetrating than those of the sociable man; his thoughts are weightier, stranger, and never without a tinge of sadness. Images and perceptions which might otherwise be easily dispelled by a glance, a laugh, an exchange of comments, concern him unduly, they sink into mute depths, take on significance, become experiences, adventures, emotions.”
“Because man loves and honors man as long as he is not able to judge him, and desire is a product of lacking knowledge.”
“The observations and encounters of a man of solitude and few words are at once more nebulous and more intense than those of a gregarious man, his thoughts more ponderable, more bizarre and never without a hint of sadness. Images and perceptions that might easily be dismissed with a glance, a laugh, an exchange of opinions occupy him unduly; they are heightened in the silence, gain in significance, turn into experience, adventure, emotion. Solitude begets originality, bold and disconcerting beauty, poetry. But solitude can also beget perversity, disparity, the absurd and the forbidden.”
“For an important intellectual product to be immediately weighty, a deep relationship or concordance has to exist between the life of its creator and the general lives of the people. These people are generally unaware why exactly they praise a certain work of art. Far from being truly knowledgeable, they perceive it to have a hundred different benefits to justify their adulation; but the real underlying reason for their behavior cannot be measured, is sympathy.”
“This yearning for new and distant scenes, this craving for freedom, release, forgetfulness — they were he admitted to himself, an impulse towards flight, flight from the spot which was the daily theatre of a rigid, cold, and passionate service.”
“Because passion, like crime, does not like everyday order and well-being and every slight undoing of the bourgeois system, every confusion and infestation of the world is welcome to it, because it can unconditionally expect to find its advantage in it.”
DIV 4“His love of the sea had profound roots: the hardworking artist’s desire to rest, his longing to get away from the demanding diversity of phenomena and take shelter in the bosom of simplicity and immensity; a forbidden penchant that was entirely antithetical to his mission and, for that very reason, seductive-a proclivity for the unorganized, the immeasurable, the eternal: for nothingness.”
“To find peace in the presence of the faultless is the desire of the one who seeks excellence; and is not nothingness a form of perfection?”
“It is probably better that the world knows only the result, not the conditions under which it was achieved; because knowledge of the artist’s sources of inspiration might bewilder them, drive them away and in that way nullify the effect of the excellent work.”
“you must know that we poets cannot take the path of Beauty unless Eros joins us and sets himself up as our guide; indeed, though we may be heroes after our fashion and virtuous warriors, we are nevertheless like women, for passion is our exaltation, and our longing must remain love-that is our bless and our shame.”
“…which seemed to hover in a limbo between creation and decay…”
“His yearning for new and faraway places, his desire for freedom, relief and oblivion was as he admitted to himself, an urge to flee-an urge to get away from his work, from the everyday site of a cold, rigid, and passionate servitude.”
“The happiness of writers is the thought that can be entirely emotion and the emotion that can be entirely thought.”
“his steps were dictated by the demon who delights in destroying manfs reason and dignity.”
“…nearly everything great owes its existence to “despites”: despite misery and affliction, poverty, desolation, physical debility, vice, passion, and a thousand other obstacles.”
“Nothing is more curious and awkward than the relationship of two people who only know each other with their eyes who meet and observe each other daily, even hourly and who keep up the impression of disinterest either because of morals or because of a mental abnormality. Between them there is listlessness and pent-up curiosity, the hysteria of an unsatisfied, unnaturally suppressed need for communion and also a kind of tense respect. Because man loves and honors man as long as he is not able to judge him, and desire is a product of lacking knowledge.”
“Like any lover, he desired to please; suffered agonies at the thought of failure.”
“He loved the sea for deep-seated reasons: the hardworking artist’s need for repose, the desire to take shelter from the demanding diversity of phenomena in the bosom of boundless simplicity, a propensity—proscribed and diametrically opposed to his mission in life and for that very reason seductive—a propensity for the unarticulated, the immoderate, the eternal, for nothingness. To repose in perfection is the desire of all those who strive for excellence, and is not nothingness a form of perfection?”
“a noble and active mind blunts itself against nothing so quickly as the sharp and bitter irritant of knowledge. And certain it is that the youth’s constancy of purpose, no matter how painfully conscientious, was shallow beside the mature resolution of the master of his craft, who made a right-about-face, turned his back on the realm of knowledge, and passed it by with averted face, lest it lame his will or power of action, paralyse his feelings or his passions, deprive any of these of their conviction or utility.”
“Only incorrigible bohemians find it boring or laughable when a man of talent outgrows the libertine chrysalis stage and begins to perceive and express the dignity of the intellect, adopting the courtly ways of a solitude replete with bitter suffering and inner battles though eventually gaining a position of power and honor among men.”
“Some minutes passed before anyone hastened to the aid of the elderly man sitting there collapsed in his chair. They bore him to his room. And before nightfall a shocked and respectful world received the news of his decease.”
“It is as well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not also its origins, the conditions under which it came into being.”
“Solitude favors the original, the daringly and otherworldly beautiful, the poem. But it also favors the wrongful, the extreme, the absurd, and the forbidden.—Thus”
“Greatness! Extraordinariness! Conquest of the world and immortality of the name! What good was all the happiness of people eternally unknown compared with this goal?”
“Who can understand the deeply bonded alloy of order and intemperance that is its foundation?”
“He loved the ocean for deep-seated reasons: because of that yearning for rest, when the hard-pressed artist hungers to shut out the exacting multiplicities of experience and hide himself on the breast of the simple, the vast; and because of a forbidden hankering—seductive, by virtue of its being directly opposed to his obligations—after the incommunicable, the incommensurate, the eternal, the non-existent. To be at rest in the face of perfection is the hunger of every one who is aiming at excellence; and what is the nonexistent but a form of perfection?”
“He had…regarded travel as a hygienic necessity, which had to be observed against will and inclination.”
“That was one of the advantages of his age, that he could be sure of his mastery in every moment.”
“He was young and had been rough with time, listening to its bad advice he had made mistakes, had compromised himself, had trespassed against good behavior and prudence, both in his words and works.”
“He sat there, the master, the artist who had achieved his dignity, the author of “A Wretched Man,” who, employing a form of exemplary purity, had renounced bohemianism and the dismal chasm, had broken with the abyss and reviled all vileness. He had risen high, transcending his knowledge and outgrowing all irony, he had adjusted his responsibilities toward the public and its trust in him-he, whose fame was official, whose name was ennobled, and whose style was a model for schoolboys.”
“The power of the word, with which the cast away is cast away, pronounces the turning away from all moral uncertainty, from every sympathy with the abyss, the reneging of that phrase of compassion, that “to understand all is to forgive all”, and what was beginning here was that “wonder of the reborn impartiality”, which was briefly mentioned in one of the author’s dialogues with not a little mystery. What strange coherence!”
“But he immediately felt he did not really want to take that step. It would lead him back, give his soul back to himself; but when one is frantic, the last thing one desires is to be oneself again.”
“Jewelry, a hot bath, and rest have often made a difference.”
“Nothing gladdens a writer more than a thought that can become pure feeling and a feeling that can become pure thought.”
“Aschenbach stated outright that nearly everything great owes its existence to “despites”: despite misery”
“Because beauty, Phaedo, is the only thing that is divine and visible at the
same time, and so it is the way of the artist to the soul. But do you believe, my
dear Phaedo, that the one who reaches the intellectual through the senses can ever achieve wisdom and human dignity? Or do you believe (and I am leaving this to you) that it is a lovely but dangerous road that leads nowhere? Because you have to realize that we artists cannot take the path of beauty without Eros joining us and becoming our leader; we may be heroes in our own way, but we are still like women, because passion is what elevates us, and our desire is love — that is our lust and our disgrace. Do you see that poets can be neither sage nor dignified? That we always stray, adventurer in our emotions? The appearance of mastery in our style is a lie and foolishness, our fame a falsehood, the trust the public places in us is highly ridiculous, education of the young through art something that should be forbidden. Because how can someone be a good teacher when he has an inborn drive towards the abyss? We may deny it and gain dignity, but it still attracts us. We do not like final knowledge, because knowledge, Phaedo, has no dignity or severity: it knows, understands, forgives, without attitude; it is sympathetic to the
abyss, it is the abyss. Therefore we deny it and instead seek beauty, simplicity,
greatness and severity, of objectivity and form. But form and objectivity, Phaedo, lead the noble one to intoxication and desire, to horrible emotional transgressions rejected by his beautiful severity, lead to the abyss. Us poets, I say, it leads there, for we are unable to elevate ourselves, instead we can only transgress.”

“Aschenbach stated outright that nearly everything great owes its existence to “despites”: despite misery and affliction, poverty, desolation, physical debility, vice, passion, and a thousand other obstacles.”

Return to the home page

 

Leave a Comment

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince – Ridley, Jane

THA(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

I got this book because I was doing research into the Cleveland Street scandal so most of it is incidental to my purpose but interesting nevertheless. Eddie, who was suspected of involvement ion this, was ‘a delicate child, quiet, apathetic and a slow developer.’ Supposedly, he ‘dawdled’ when dressing in the morning, was ‘a good boy at heart’ and reminded his father (who kept his portrait over his bed after he died) of his own younger self.

Where the author mentions homosexuality, she either dismisses it or moralises about it.

It is well-researched, with 99 pages of footnotes.

King Edward the VII, affectionately called Bertie, was fifty-nine when he took the throne in 1901, upon the death of his mother Queen Victoria. To everyone’s great surprise, this playboy prince sobered up and became an extremely effective leader and the founder of England’s modern monarchy.

Then again, his mother had become such a recluse, in her obsessive mourning for Albert, that anything could have been an improvement.

 You’ve heard of ‘Edward the Confessor’. Here’s ‘Edward  the Caresser.’

The royal world into which Prince Albert Edward was born in 1841 was one still scarred by the mad, bad Hanoverians of the 18th century. Their legacy of illegitimate offspring, inherited insanity and vicious familial power struggles haunted both Queen Victoria and her cousin and consort, Prince Albert — a fascinating, domineering figure in Ridley’s telling, who was raised in a decadent minor German court and became obsessed with purifying the palace. Albert invented the phrase and concept of the “the royal family,” grasping presciently the power that the new house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha could hold as a “beacon of bourgeois domesticity” rather than as a byword for debauchery.

Unfortunately for his children, this meant a stringent policing of behaviour and a rigorous program of private education, under which Bertie — who never willingly read a book — stumbled and suffered. His bride, the Danish princess Alexandra, known as Alix, was chosen for him before he was 20 in a match masterminded by his older sister Vicky, newly married to the future German Emperor Frederick III. Theirs was still a Europe governed by dynastic alliances and insistent upon the (outward) sexual purity of royal children at the time of marriage. Although Bertie protested that he was too young, his parents made haste, knowing that the pretense that the union was “a love match” rather than an arranged, political marriage “depended upon keeping him in a state of pent-up sexual frustration so that he fell madly in love at first sight.”

One can’t help feeling sorry for ‘Bertie’. Thick and lazy he may have been but to have his mother breathing down his neck like that.

And one can feel sorry for royalty as a whole, trapped in a life of duty in the public gaze that they didn’t ask for but which is merely an accident of birth.

Victoria didn’t like to confuse monarchy with religion – didn’t she know she was supreme governor of the established church?

Bertie was one of the few of the aristocracy not to be anti-semitic.

I didn’t realise that many customs emanate from him, e.g. leaving a waistcoat’s bottom undone was his practice after putting on weight.  So too rolling up trouser legs. Group photos started at Sandringham.

And very few readers will have known what Catherine of Aragon’s closet is. I was lucky to have a guided tour.

I had to look up ‘camarilla’ = a group of courtiers or favourites who surround a king or ruler. Usually, they do not hold any office or have any official authority at the royal court but influence their ruler behind the scenes.

And find out who Dorothy Hodgkin was = advanced the technique of X-ray.

Quotations:

Exiles from the imperial court were royally entertained at Marlbor­ough House. Among them was Blanche, the half-American Duchess of Caracciolo, who scandalized London society that winter, going out shooting in a kilt and smoking cigarettes. Her ailing husband was cru­elly teased by a prankster who dressed up as a doctor and told him he was dying, while his valet disguised himself as a priest and heard his last confession. Soon the duchess was pregnant, and she gave birth to a daughter named Alberta Olga, in honor of Bertie, who was the ba­by’s godfather and rumored—probably falsely—to be her father, too.

For a man as sexually rampant as Bertie, a celibate marriage might seem a cruel mockery. But, as the dean perceived, Bertie was “deeply attached to the Princess, despite all the flattering distractions that beset him in society”; he genuinely wanted to “be more careful about her.” At first, the death of their baby son strengthened the marriage. “What my angelic blessed Bertie was to me all this time no words can de­scribe, a true angel!” wrote Alix. “If anything could have bound us closer together, it is this, our first great sorrow.”

Ever since the Mordaunt case, the rad­ical Reynolds’s Newspaper had voiced a strident republicanism. The paper was the publication of G. W. M. Reynolds, an ex-Chartist dedicated to fighting the class war and exposing royalty as an undeserving burden on the taxpayer. It cruelly recorded the death of the baby Prince John thus:

We have much satisfaction in announcing that the newly born child of the Prince and Princess of Wales died shortly after its birth, thus relieving the working men of England from having to support hereafter another addition to the long roll of State beggars they at present maintain.

“Many of the women with whom he began relationships …refused to go quietly. Blackmail, pregnancy, even a court case were to return to haunt him. There was no such thing as a relationship without consequences.”

“King Edward, who “smoke cigars, was addicted to and entente cordials, married a Sea King’s daughter and invented appendicitis,” pursued a policy of peace that “was very successful and culminated in the Great War to End War.”
“which his Holiness recently received me in Rome.” Wyndham noticed”

“A 1970 survey of dreams about Queen Elizabeth II found that people continued to dream about Queen Victoria seventy years after her death, so deeply was her narrative encrypted in the subconscious of the British people. (Brian Masters, Dreams About the Queen, Blond and Briggs, 1972, pp. 83–84.)”

“Money and sexual scandal have been the twin demons of the monarchy since the 20th century….as Bertie’s successors were to discover, projecting monarchy as a ‘family firm” placed an unreasonable pressure on its members to lead exemplary lives.”

The chain-smoking Eddy was aimless and lackadaisical and distress­ingly prone to put his foot in it. He was remarkably sweet-natured, however, and Alix’s favorite. Bertie, though, was infuriated, and teased him for his dandified clothes and the tall “masher” collars he wore to hide his abnormally long neck (“Eddy-Collar-and-Cuffs”). To stiffen his son and keep him out of trouble, he resolved to send Eddy on a six-month tour of India.

Bertie had a meeting with his equerry Lord Arthur Somerset, the superintendent of his stables, and instructed him to see that Eddy was properly equipped with saddlery for his Indian tour, arranging for him to meet the prince on 30 September 1889. At the last minute, Somer­set wired to excuse himself from the meeting, as he was obliged to leave “on urgent private affairs” for Dieppe.

Lord Arthur Somerset was the third son of the Duke of Beaufort. Known as “Podge,” he was a major in the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues), a tall bachelor with luxuriant ginger facial hair. “He was in­clined to fat; his small eyes were on the watch.” No one would have guessed that he was in the habit of visiting a homosexual brothel on Cleveland Street. Podge’s vice had come to the attention of the au­thorities in July 1889, when a postboy apprehended for theft had been found with the princely sum of eighteen shillings in his pocket. Ques­tioned by police, the boy confessed that he and two others had re­ceived the money as payment for “indecent acts” with men at number 19, Cleveland Street, near Fitzroy Square. Under Section 11 of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, “gross indecency” between two men, whether public or private, was a criminal offense. Policemen kept watch on the house in Cleveland Street and spotted Lord Arthur, who was identified by the postboys and then interviewed by detectives.

Podge waited uneasily during the summer, as the case against two men who had procured the boys came to court. He attempted to bribe a young male prostitute, a waiter from the Marlborough Club, but this led him straight into a police trap. By the end of September, the case against him was complete, but the government hesitated to issue a warrant. A homosexual scandal at Marlborough House was the last thisig Lord Salisbury wanted.

Lord Arthur Somerset’s movements and conversations are docu­mented in the letters he wrote to his friend Reginald (Regy) Brett, later

Lord Esher, a married man and closet homosexual. Brett preserved these letters and bound them into a volume he entitled “The Case of Lord Arthur Somerset.” This forms one of the chief sources for the tangled events that ensued.

In London on 5 October, Lord Arthur saw his commanding officer, Oliver Montagu. They agreed that the prince must be told, and Podge wrote a letter confessing his sins. Montagu undertook to go to Fre­densborg, where Bertie was on holiday with Alix’s extended family, to see the prince, “so as he may hear the right story first.”

“I don’t believe it,” Bertie told Dighton Probyn, the eccentrically bearded comptroller and treasurer of his household. “I won’t believe it any more than if they had accused the Archbishop of Canterbury.’

From Fredensborg, Bertie ordered Probyn in London to clear up Lord Arthur’s case. “Go and see Monro [the police commissioner], go to the Treasury, see Lord Salisbury if necessary.”81 On the evening of 18 October, Probyn saw Lord Salisbury for a few minutes on King’s Cross station before he caught the 7:30 train home to Hatfield. On the same night, Lord Arthur Somerset fled the country.

Later, in the House of Commons debate on 28 February 1890, Salis­bury was accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The case against him turned on the fact that Arthur Somerset escaped to France on the same night as the King’s Cross meeting. Salisbury denied the charge, but doubts have always lin­gered. Might Probyn have hurried around to the Marlborough Club, where Somerset was staying, and tipped him off? Salisbury’s biogra­pher considers that the prime minister felt justified in warning Somer­set, out of a sense of class loyalty to his father the Duke of Beaufort.”

Bertie wrote to the PM to say how glad he was to learn that “no warrant is likely to be issued against the ‘unfortunate Lunatic’ (I can call him nothing else) as, for the sake of the Family and Society, the less one hears of such a filthy scandal the better.”85 On 12 November, how­ever, the warrant was issued at last, charging Lord Arthur Somerset with “gross indecency” with other male persons contrary to the Crim­inal Law Amendment Act. By then, he was living in a villa in Monaco. He never returned to face charges.

Lord Arthur Somerset always maintained that his refusal to stand trial was more than a mere matter of saving his own skin. His real rea­son he explained in the letters he wrote from abroad to Brett. These documents reveal a sensational story: that Arthur Somerset was a scapegoat who went into exile in order to shield the name of Prince Eddy, who had also visited the Cleveland Street brothel.

Soon the rumors about Eddy’s involvement in the scandal were cir­culating in London, and an article in The New York Times (10 November 1889) actually mentioned him by name. This caused a “great pother” in the Prince of Wales’s household, and when Bertie returned to Lon­don in mid-November, Marlborough House swung into action to sup­press the gossip. Oliver Montagu implored Lord Arthur Sotherset to return and stand trial in order to clear Prince Eddy’s name.86 Somerset refused. Nor did he make any attempt to protest the prince’s inno­cence. He explained his predicament in a letter to Brett:

I cannot see what good I could do P[rin]ce E[ddy] if I went into court. I might do harm because if I was asked if I had ever heard anything against him—whom from?—was any person men­tioned with whom he went there etc?—the questions would be very awkward. I have never mentioned the boy’s name except to Probyn, Montagu and Knollys when they were acting for me and I thought they ought to know. Had they been wise, hearing what I knew and therefore what others knew, they ought to have hushed the matter up, instead of stirring it up, as they did, with all the authorities. I have never . . . ever told any one with whom P[rin]ce E[ddy] was supposed to have gone there. I did not think it fair as I could not prove it & it must have been his ruin. I can quite understand the P[rince] of W[ales] being much annoyed at his son’s name being coupled with this thing but . . . it had no more to do with me than the fact that we (that is P[rin]ce and I) must both perform bodily functions which we cannot do for each other. . . . If I went into Court and told all I know no one who called himself a man would ever speak to me again. Hence my infernal position.

Bertie was furious with Arthur Somerset. He wrote to Carrington on 2 January 1890: “I hardly like to allude any more to the subject of AS as it is really a too painful one to write about—and his subsequent conduct makes me wish that he had never existed.”

It’s possible, as one account suggests, that the rumors about Eddy visiting the Cleveland Street brothel caused such consternation to Marlborough House “not because they were false but because they were true.” An alternative scenario suggests that the rumors about Eddy and Cleveland Street were slanders that were deliberately spread and embroidered by Lord Arthur Somerset. In his letter to Brett, quoted above, Somerset concedes that he cannot prove the rumors about Eddy visiting Cleveland Street. After his ignominious flight, he needed to vindicate himself and show he was a man of honor. What better way than to claim that he had voluntarily gone into exile in a chivalrous bid to throw his cloak over the young prince?

Whether or not Prince Eddy did, in fact, frequent Cleveland Street—or whether he was gay or, more likely, bisexual—is perhaps not the issue. The real point is that Eddy had become the story, and that made him a liability.

Lord Arthur Somerset was exceptionally well placed to damage Eddy because of his family connections. His sister, Blanche, with whom he kept in close contact throughout the drama, was married to the Marquess of Waterford, older brother of Lord Charles Beresford. In his attempt to damp down the scandal, Oliver Montagu wrote to Blanche Waterford complaining that some female members of her family had been “insinuating things about Prince Eddy.” The woman he had in mind was her sister-in-law: Mina Beresford. Mina had given Daisy Brooke’s incriminating letter to Lord Waterford for safekeeping. She must have known about the Lord Arthur Somerset/Eddy story, and she had every motive to spread damaging rumors. The Cleveland Street scandal was intimately linked to the Beresford affair. Both were fueled by the fury of Mina Beresford.

No doubt Bertie was unaware, but Archbishop Benson was an unfortunate example to choose; his wife, Mary Benson, was a lesbian, and his three sons were homosexuals.

Knollys was accused of leaking against Salisbury. During the debate on 28 February 1890, the Liberal MP Henry Labouchere, the editor of Truth, was challenged to supply the name of his informant for the allegation that Salis­bury had tipped off Probyn about the warrant for Lord Arthur Somerset’s arrest. He theatrically wrote a name on a piece of paper, and then tore it up into tiny pieces. Afterward, an MP picked up the pieces, and revealed that the name was Sir Francis Knollys. This prompted Knollys to give an explanation to the PM in an interview with Schomberg McDonnell. According to Mc­Donnell’s memo, Knollys admitted that he had seen Labouchere in Novem­ber, but claimed he had told him only one thing: that Lord Arthur had fled on the same day as the King’s Cross meeting. “Sir Francis Knollys assures me that with the exception of the above remark he said literally nothing,” noted McDonnell.

A memo by Schomberg McDonnell, Salisbury’s pri­vate secretary, appears to vindicate Salisbury. It records an interview with a certain General Marshall, who claimed to have been alerted by Colonel Pear­son, the assistant commissioner of police, about the damning evidence against Lord Arthur Somerset. Marshall told Pearson to warn Probyn. This memo is minuted by Salisbury in red ink: “If General Marshall’s impression is accurate Probyn played me an ugly trick for he did his best to make me as­sent to a letter which would have implied that he had obtained his informa­tion from my conversation. He told me that he had no communication with Somerset for several weeks before the flight.”

Bertie had at last concluded that Eddy’s army career was “simply a waste of time.” Eddy was worryingly lacking in energy and self-esteem. Carrington watched him visit Wycombe and make a speech: “When he sat down he turned round and said to me, ‘I have made a rare ass of myself.’ It is pathetic to see how little confidence he has in himself.” Bertie suggested three alternatives. Plan number one was to send Eddy on a long sea voyage to the colonies, out of reach of temptation. Queen Victoria put her foot down. Eddy, she said, had been “dosed” with the Colonies. She urged Bertie’s option two: a Eu­ropean tour.

He has been . . . nowhere but to Denmark in Europe. He is only able to speak French badly and German equally so. He has never, like every other Prince . . . been in contact with any other court but Berlin or seen fine works of Art . . . [He ought] not merely go to young colonies, with no history, no art and nothing but middle class English speaking people . . . If the Prince of Wales is afraid of his making a mesalliance which the Queen is not afraid of, Australia, Canada etc. would be worse in its dangers in this respect.

Bertie, however, was concerned not with Eddy’s education, or lack of it, but with his dissipated behavior, a subject he dared not mention to his mother, as Knollys explained in a note to Salisbury: “Unfortu­nately [the Queen’s] views on certain social subjects are so strong that the Prince of Wales does not like to tell her the real reasons for sending Prince Eddy away, which is intended as a punishment and as a means of keeping him out of harm’s way, and I am afraid that neither of these objects will be attained by his simply travelling about Europe.”

Bertie’s third option was a surprise: to marry Eddy off to Princess May of Teck. Princess May was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s first cousin Mary, the Duchess of Teck, known to many as Fat Mary. The Duke of Teck was the son of Duke Alexander of Wurttemberg, who made a morganatic marriage to a Hungarian countess. The blight of “commoner’s” blood meant that, instead of succeeding to the throne of Wurttemberg, the Duke of Teck was reduced to “vegetating incon­spicuously in England, pruning roses.” Incapable of living within their means, the Tecks ran up large debts; they were pursued by their creditors, and, after the humiliation of auctioning their possessions in 1883, spent two years in exile in Florence.

Perhaps Bertie knew too much about Rosebery. In August 1893, at Homburg, he had helped to rescue him from the mad Marquess of Queensberry. The homophobic marquess, who was the father of Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), the lover of Oscar Wilde, was convinced that his eldest son, Lord Drumlanrig, private secretary to Rosebery, was having a homosexual affair with Rosebery. He arrived in Homburg de­termined to “out” “that boy pimp and boy lover Rosebery.” He was met by the police and interviewed by the Prince of Wales, who told him, “We are quiet people at Homburg and don’t like disturbance.” The scandal took another turn in October 1894, when Drumlanrig was found dead during a shoot. The official verdict was accidental death, but dark rumors circulated of suicide and homosexual cover-up, and Rosebery lived in terror that the vicious marquess would denounce him.

When Rosebery offered himself as a suitor for Princess Victoria, he was sharply rebuffed by Alix. Toria, as she was known, was intelligent—not as pretty as Maud, but very “light in hand” according to Car­rington. Years later, as an old lady, Anita Leslie recalled Toria reflecting that “there had been someone perfect for her but they would no’t let her marry him—And we could have been so happy— The man, Anita later discovered, was Rosebery.65 At the time, the millionaire widower prime minister seemed far from ideal. Not only did his involvement in politics rule him out,66 but he was nineteen years older than Toria, painfully insomniac, and dogged by damaging rumors of homosexual­ity. And the fact was that Alix did not want her daughters to marry.

Daisy’s son was born on 21 March 1898. The child was christened with only one name, Maynard, which was Daisy’s maiden name, and the godfathers were Cecil Rhodes and Lord Rosebery, both sexually ambivalent men rumored to be homosexuals. The child was passed off as Lord Warwick’s, but plenty of clues pointed to another father of this baby born after a gap of thirteen years. Bertie’s name was some­times mentioned, and the “D” symbol does indeed cluster around the Diamond Jubilee in June 1897, when the baby was presumably con­ceived. Bertie took an interest in the “Diamond Jubilee” baby, as he called it in the letters he wrote to Daisy, but this need not imply pater­nity. Daisy herself was in no doubt that the father was Joe Laycock.” Having a child by another man was the exit route that Lillie Langtry had chosen from her relationship with the prince, and in Daisy’s case, as with Lillie, Bertie behaved generously, showing no sexual jealousy. Daisy by now had three children by three different men. No wonder that she made a virtue of sexual freedom, telling Lord Rosebery, who she fruitlessly pursued, that “Far too much fuss, in my opinion, is ma by women about personal morality which, after all, is entirely a ma for the individual.” Of the damage done to her children or other people’s marriages, Daisy seemed unaware.

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

‘The Disappearance Boy’, by Neil Bartlett

TDB(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings, the |Bath group discused it and this review is in a personal capacity.)

This novel gives us a detailed insight into the world of the theatrical illusionist. With a background in theatre, and having done his research, the author seems to know exactly what he’s writing about. The concrete detail with which everything – the act, the theatre backstage, the immediate environs of Brighton and Hove – is visualised and described, giving us a vivid sense of place,.

The central character is Reggie, an orphan, brought up in a children’s home near Brighton, given a limp by childhood polio (c.f. Maughan’s ‘Of Human Bondage’), in his early twenties, gay, with little experience of sex or love, solitary and rather odd. Having lost his mother when young, he ‘talks’ to a gravestone that he’s selected as being hers – a sad metaphor for his desperately lonely self and sense of abandonment. But Reggie is a good-hearted, self-sufficient, quietly attractive character.

He is a resilient young man, without self-pity. In many ways a typical product of the 1950s, he instinctively espouses a “make do and mend” attitude. But Reggie is tired of such restraint. Early on, we gather that his stumbling gait means he risks collisions with others – in fact he welcomes them. Though keen to achieve intimacy of any kind, as a gay man in an age less tolerant than ours he needs to be furtive as he explores his desires.

When Mr. Brookes gets a new slot at the down-at-the-heel Brighton Grand, Reggie finds himself in a strange town, one full of dark and unexplored corners. And it is the arrival of Pamela Rose, a beautiful new assistant, that truly turns his life upside down. As the Grand’s spectacular Coronation show nears, Reggie begins to wonder how much of his own life has been an act—and sets out to find somebody who disappeared from his life long ago.

The story takes place in Brighton, in 1953, against the backdrop of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Brookes, Reggie, and Pam, the latest in a long line of glamorous assistants, develop a new act to celebrate the coronation. Pam and Reggie instantly understand each other and quickly form a strong bond.

As with “Skin Lane”, this book drips with atmosphere. Again, Neil Bartlett must have rigorously researched this book.

Quotations:

 “As you can see, the Lady is indeed missing.”

“How hard can being made to disappear be?”

A Mr Bridges, who in the calm, sunlit autumn of 1939 was living alone in the cottage which then stood next to the tracks at Bishopstone Halt (an unmanned concrete platform on the Hastings to Lewes branch line which had recently been constructed in case it should ever be necessary to get troops to the beach in a hurry), has spotted the tiny figure through his kitchen window. Fortunately, Mr Bridges has a clock above his sink, and he doesn’t need to waste any time calcu­lating in order to know that the next train is due past his window in less than three minutes; they run so close that they rattle his china, and their noise divides his solitary day into such regular parcels of time that he always knows when the next one is on its way. He also knows that this particular train isn’t scheduled to slow down or stop. First he shouts and bangs on his kitchen window; then he wipes his hands on his dishcloth and runs out of his front door, shouting as he goes.

The little boy doesn’t move. He doesn’t even seem to hear.

As Mr Bridges runs, the oncoming train is still so far away from the two of them that it doesn’t seem to be moving at all – east of Bishopstone Halt, the track runs dead straight towards Seaford for nearly a mile, and the distant blurred dot of the engine is barely visible at the vanishing point of the converging rails. It seems to shake slightly, even to hover in the distance, but not to be getting any closer. Mr Bridges knows that this is just an illusion. He knows that pretty soon the rails will begin to sing, the dot to swell, and before you know where you are it will be upon them. That’s why he keeps shouting as -he runs, calling out at the top of his voice and cursing his middle-aged legs for not moving as fast as he needs them to in this emergency. The spacing of the tarred sleepers forces him to clip his stride, which makes him swear even more — they are placed just too close together to let him break into a full run, and he knows that if he misses one and hits the clinker then a turned ankle will more than likely bring him down. Best as he can, he half lopes and half hobbles towards the boy, and, of course, straight towards the train. The dot hovers, and shakes, and begins to swell.

And now, right on cue, the rails begin their dreadful song; that strange, silvered, high-pitched music that can seem sinis­ter at the best of times, and which now makes Mr Bridges want to vomit as he hears it change key and grow louder. He sees that the little boy — still thirty sleepers away,- and with his legs still locked and spread — can also apparently hear or sense this change of key, because as the train approaches the child stretches his tiny arms out to make himself into its target, and his fists seem- to clench themselves into even tighter balls. The pain is starting to tear at Mr Bridges’s sides now His breath is drowned out by the rails. And now comes the whistle ‑

Cut.

Standing on a plinth just outside the entrance to the shop is a dummy made of painted and varnished papier mache, and although Reggie has made the best job he can of ignoring the sight of this unpleasant object for several mornings in a row recently, on this particular morning he suddenly finds himself unable to keep up the effort any longer. The dummy depicts a four-foot-high little boy His hair is an unlikely yellow, his lips a cheery cherry red, and the whites of his turned-up eyes look like they’ve been slicked on straight from the tin. Dressed in just a pair of shorts and a neat blue jumper, he’s wearing a leg-brace – complete with carefully painted-on brown leather- straps – and has a crutch jammed into his left armpit. With his right hand – and this is the point of his whole existence – he is holding out a bright red loaf-sized collecting box whose slot is just the right size for a copper – or even, more optimistically, for a fat half-crown. If you’re a passer-by then this little boy’s blind stare is meant to make you smile sadly and fish in your bag for some change, but that’s not the effect it has on-Reggie. In fact, if he thought he could get away with it, Reggie would have picked up a brick from a bomb site one morning this week and cheer­fully smashed the face off the thing. Yesterday, he’d caught a shopper in the act of dropping her coin and then patting the boy’s head with her gloved hand as if it belonged to a dog or well-behaved pony, murmuring a few well-chosen words of approval. This morning, there is no lady – thank God, other­wise I think there might have been some kind of a scene – but there are some raindrops caught in the boy’s painted hair

In the decade of Reg’s childhood the accepted treatment of infant paralysis was something called casting – the immobi­lising of the afflicted limbs in heavy moulds of plaster of Paris. The process was, thought to encourage recuperation, but often had the effect of wasting the very muscles it was meant to salvage, and sometimes even ended up condemning the child to life in a wheelchair. Reggie was spared this entomb­ment by a simple accident of circumstance. He’d spent the first two years of his life in a ward on the third floor of the London County Council’s National Children’s Home up at Highbury Barn, and as luck would have it, it became official LCC policy at the end of that second year to farm out any child considered unlikely to ever become a suitable candidate for fostering to an independent charity. The now-twisted Reggie fell heavily into that class of unfortunates, and once he was out of immediate danger he was simply sent away. He’d already been given his new name – Reggie because by law every abandoned child the Home received on its wards had to be christened, and because Reginald was a popular

The windows of the church were full of coloured glass, and on sunny days watching their colours come go on the stone floor reminded him of the cellophane wrappers from his favourite sweets. One window was more tly coloured than all the others, and he would always try sit where he could see it. Just like your name, Reg, one of nurses whispered, seeing him staring up at it. He grinned at her, lips closed, and looked back up. Sunday by- Sunday, our by colour, this window taught Reggie a lesson that sn’t directly stored in his body, but which nonetheless was planted so deep inside him that no surgeon’s knife could ever have reached it.

He couldn’t remember when the nurses had told him his mother was dead, but he was quite sure he had always known it as a fact. It never occurred to him to worry about the lack of detail in their story — the why and where and how — but instead he latched on to the good news in the tale, which was that she was now watching over him, and during his seventh summer, when every Sunday morning seemed to be sunny, and his favourite _window always bright, this idea of being continually spied on and cared for began to take a very concrete form in Reggie’s mind. The window featured a pair of bare-armed creatures swooping down from on high on outspread wings, all indigo and violet and parrot yellow — the source of the colours on the floor — and it was in exactly this gaudy and muscular shape that Reggie began to imagine his absent mother. The creatures in the window were smiling as they gazed down at the world, and as he stared up at them Sunday after Sunday it occurred to him that that was what she must be doing too. Admiring their muscular arms, he concluded that -she would be well capable of turning up and carrying him away at a- moment’s notice should a dramatic rescue ever be required

 He recalled in detail the last time when things d gone a bit further, which had been in Bradford last year during the run at the Alhambra; he’d spent forty-five minutes m a thin-walled boarding-house bedroom with somebody who the next morning had let his- eyes slide off Reggie’s face like a knife off a- plate. He wanted to know when one thing was finally going to lead to another, and he was going to actually spend a whole night with someone – spend the night with someone special, as his mother always put it. He wanted to know when he was going to kiss the same person goodnight when the lights went out and then hello again the next morn­ing when the sun came up. He wanted to know how he was ever going to make that happen.

 There were lots of other things that Reg didn’t mention, course – as I’m sure you’ve noticed. He didn’t mention the with the black hair that he had stared at yesterday morn-on North Road – it was the chef from his breakfast cafe, it happened, the Italian one – or talk about what his feel-were now that he was going to be heading back to London pretty soon, back to another single bed in a top-floor room. In other words, he didn’t talk about himself at all. Mothers can do that.

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

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

Jeremy Thorpe by Michael Bloch

jtAre we to believe that if it wasn’t for Norman Scott, Thorpe would have formed a coalition with Heath and there’d have been no Thatcher?

To some of us, 600 pages seemed a bit daunting at first, especially since the subject doesn’t interest some very much and one member had never heard of the subject, but it was so well-written that I on wanting to know what happened next.

It was long suppressed by the subject – until his death, said I was ‘a fair cop.’ A fortnight after Jeremy Thorpe’s death in December 2014, Michael Bloch’s long-suppressed biography of the former Liberal party leader was finally released. Bloch began his research over twenty years ago, conducted hundreds of interviews in 1992-94 with Thorpe’s contemporaries, colleagues and lovers, and had surprisingly amicable discussions with the man himself.

It begins by seemingly dismantling a character for whom the author clearly had a high regard.

His family had coat of arms from namesake but unrelated family. This fed his fantasies at many low points of his life.

He had Irish low church (Anglo-Catholics were a thing of horror to them) forebears, one a policeman, another ordained without a degree but with the gift of the gab, with poor health and who was a windbag in parliament.

Thorpe took advantage of friends and then discarded them

Born in 1929, he was from boyhood an incorrigible show-off. He got a kick out of misbehaving and evading detection; and on the rare occasions when he was caught, perfected the trick of stout denials of his guilt.

He was accomplished at getting out of games at school, then national service

He was not a committee man but brilliant working on his own

Homosexual acts were illegal when Thorpe was coming to prominence and gay politicians ran the triple risk of blackmail, nasty criminal penalties and career ruin. Even when the law was repealed, many more years had to pass before any politician could come out as gay and hope to survive. Yet it was one of the hypocrisies of that era that so long as they were reasonably “discreet” about it, gay politicians could enjoy a successful career, even a glittering one. An influential figure on the Labour benches was the prodigiously promiscuous Tom Driberg. The Tory ranks included the bisexual Bob Boothby who pursued liaisons with characters from the criminal underworld at the same time as having an affair with the wife of the prime minister, Harold Macmillan.

When Thorpe became leader of his party at the precocious age of 37 his secret was already widely known at Westminster because he was far from careful. He was compulsively promiscuous and all classes were represented in his choice of partners “from heirs to peerages to rough proletarian youths”. He boasted to friends that he had seduced TV cameramen, footmen at Buckingham Palace receptions, even policemen on duty at the House of Commons. He played with fire by sending compromising letters, often on House of Commons stationery. At the time of Princess Margaret’s wedding to Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Thorpe sent a friend a postcard: “What a pity about HRH. I rather hoped to marry the one and seduce the other.” His main taste was for men younger than himself and from less privileged backgrounds whom he might dominate in the guise of playing a protective role. When he became leader, he promised anxious colleagues that he would curb himself and get a wife. He did get a wife, cynically telling his press secretary that he thought it would boost the party’s poll rating, but he did not curb himself. During his engagement, he bragged of having sex with “a New York street boy he had picked up in Times Square and taken back to the Waldorf Astoria”. Even Driberg, whose recklessness was legendary, urged Thorpe to take care after hearing gossip about the Liberal leader from rent boys that they both used. Michael Bloch indulges in some psychological speculation about why Thorpe had such a “craving for dangerous adventure” and conjectures that he had “a subconscious longing to be caught and punished”.

Some of Bloch’s new revelations concern the Dorian Gray figure in Thorpe’s youth, Henry Upton. Upton was the sadistic heir to a peerage, with a string of homosexual convictions and tabloid exposures, who disappeared from a boat off the Sussex coast in 1957. An eminent art historian claimed that Upton was killed at Thorpe’s instigation in order to cover up thefts of money. (Bloch is careful to say that the claim was unsubstantiated.)

We thought that the author would blacken Scott’s name but Scott does this all by himself – writing a 17 page letter to Thorpe’s mother ostensibly about lost luggage.

The judge at Thorpe’s trial termed Scott “a neurotic, spineless creature, addicted to hysteria and self-advertisement…. He is a crook. He is a fraud, he is a sponger. He is a whiner. He is a parasite.”

It was thought that a wife should stand by husband with homosexual tendencies

The author’s Thorpe is not all black: credit is given to his political achievements where it is due. He helped found Amnesty International. He was a passionate voice against Ian Smith’s racist minority rule in Rhodesia and the apartheid regime in South Africa. He supported the abolition of the vicious laws against gays, so he wasn’t a hypocrite in that respect. His most significant contribution to history was to help Ted Heath pass the legislation taking Britain into the Common Market. Without Liberal votes, it would have been lost. Bloch also makes a persuasive case that Thorpe, an inventive electioneer, was a pioneer of modern campaigning. For a period before he was ruined, he swept his party off its feet and charmed a fair bit of the country, presiding over a Liberal revival which took the party to a level of popularity it had not seen for half a century.

Hypocrite Cyril Smith refuses to share a stage with Thorpe.

The judge at the Old Bailey showed how the establishment protects its own.

Not for the first time, you wonder what it is, exactly, that the Liberal Party stands for. Chamelions?

Thorpe’s reference to the insularity of the UK is even more relevant now in the light of Brexit.

Empire Jack’s sword means little compared to the sword from the Peterloo massacre carried about by Ramesy McDonald, as recounted in Fame Is The Spur by HowardSpring

Thorpe using money to build a bridge over a duck pond seems like an omen of later expenses scandals.

The book is ingeniously constructed but repetitive – that overbearing mother appears too often and some judicious editing wouldn’t go amiss.

Quotations:

In Ursula’s drawing room there was a table draped with a large damask cloth under which two small boys could disappear and not be seen: Jeremy called this his ‘secret house’ and would sometimes lure a friend there, where they would engage in such intimacies as small boys are capable of. On at least one occasion this happened while a fashionable and unsuspecting tea party hosted by his mother was taking place in the room beyond. Thus from earliest childhood Jeremy experienced the thrill of forbidden pleasure in reckless proximity to a conventional world, with the risk of exposure and disgrace adding to the excitement.

but always aimed to know just enough — an assessment which might apply to the whole of his career.

Nor was he much of a reader, usually preferring to ask a friend what was in a book than look at it himself.

At this critical stage of his emotional development, he fell entirely under the powerful influence of his mother, who drummed into him that he was the most important person in the world, that he could do no wrong, that he should exploit every opportunity to advance his career and that he must succeed at all costs. In years to come, he would often rebel against her pos­sessiveness; but the egotism, ambition and ruthlessness she had implanted would never be far away.

In so far as he exhibited any serious romantic feel­s, it was towards older women such as Megan Lloyd George ther than his contemporaries. If he ever seemed to be getting close to a female undergraduate, as he did to Ann Chesney when they were both involved in the OULC, the relationship was likely to arouse the destructive attention of the one who was long to remain the principal woman in his life — his mother.

for at least some of its aficionados at the time, homosexuality also represented an exciting and conspir­atorial world. The idea of operating clandestinely outside the normal scheme of things lent a bohemian spice to life, and there was an element of thrill inherent in the risks involved, ‘like feasting with panthers’. Homosexual circles, obsessed as they were by secrecy, loyalty and code language, had something of a masonic air. Homosexuality could also overcome barriers between classes: gentlemen traditionally sought pleasure with working-class youths such as guardsmen, often to the benefit of both parties.

(It must, however, be noted that Jeremy was always sympa­thetic to the campaign to change the law on homosexuality in which, as will be seen, he became active after his election to Parliament

At the time of Princess Margaret’s wedding to Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Thorpe sent a friend a postcard: “What a pity about HRH. I rather hoped to marry the one and seduce the other.”

such a “craving for dangerous adventure” and conjectures that he had “a subconscious longing to be caught and punished”. Or maybe he just liked a lot of sex.

In the autumn of 1966, a young man called Bill Shannon was loitering outside an antique shop on the King’s Road when he noticed a tall, saturnine figure in a dark suit. “Looking for anything in particular?” the stranger said. They went back to the man’s flat in the heart of Westminster and had sex. The man then got out a camp-bed and invited Shannon to spend the night, and the next morning handed him £3. A few nights later the man picked him up again. “Do you know who I am?” he asked. “A very nice gentleman,” Shannon replied. The man pointed to the mantelpiece, decorated with photos of himself and various eminent political figures. He was, he explained, an MP. A few months later, he was elected leader of the Liberal party.

Like Jeremy, Bessell was a showman and extrovert, witty and imaginative, an elegant charmer with a theatrical touch who enjoyed intrigue and danger. He indulged in a promiscuous heterosexuality hardly less dan­gerous in terms of career and reputation (particularly among the God-fearing Cornish) than Jeremy’s homosexuality: he kept a wife and family in Cornwall and mistress in London, and was a compulsive and accomplished seducer of women. He was a fan­tasist and in this respect went further than Jeremy: he developed a habit of telling everyone what they most wanted to hear, caus­ing many to regard him as a liar, hypocrite and mischief-maker. As a lay preacher who practised little of what he preached but had a power to hold audiences, he was also seen, by those who knew the truth about him, as a crook of the Elmer Gantry variety. His sense of fantasy was particularly marked when it came to his busi­ness career: he was not without talent, and set up a number of successful small enterprises (including the felt-tip pen and vend­ing-machine companies of which Jeremy became a director), but he overreached himself by launching a series of wildly ambitious transatlantic schemes which he hoped would make him rich but merely landed him in debt. The fact that he managed to hold off his creditors for so long was a tribute to his persuasive powers. (He looked to his political career to help rescue him from his business troubles, writing to a creditor that `the letters MP are worth more than stocks and shares …’)

If you are in public life you are more vulnerable and must not put yourself in a position where you can be subject to blackmail or other pressures. Peccadilloes which might be acceptable for a pri­vate citizen can become a great danger to security with a person in public life.

That day I gave birth to this vice that lies latent in every man.

“Bunnies can (and will) go to France. Yours affectionately, Jeremy. I miss you.”

Had he not done any of these risky things, it is unlikely that Scott could have done him much harm. Jeremy turned the affair into a drama because, consciously or unconsciously, he wanted a drama. It was almost as if he had a psychological need to sustain a threat to his career, which provided him with a challenge and gave him a thrill of fear.

Between (Heath) and Jeremy there had long existed the mutual mistrust of the dedicated plodder and the brilliant lightweight, the repressed introvert and the flamboyant extrovert.

This country has been in retreat since the war — retreat from over­seas possessions, overseas commitments and many of the responsibilities it accepted abroad. There are some who would wish to go further and turn this island into one with a siege economy. The time has come to end that retreat, to reverse it, to advance into Europe.

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

Older Posts »