The Guardian from London, Greater London, England on March 1, 1984 · 12
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England · 12

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Thursday, March 1, 1984
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GUARDIAN BOOKS 12 Thursday March 1 1984 The lost rage for justice Christopher Hill reviews a reader on ' the struggle for change in England IN THE nineteen-thirties Edgell Rickword and Jack Lindsay published a splendid anthology called A Handbook of Freedom. Since then the word freedom has been so debased ("the Free World," "Tory freedom") that Mr Hampton wisely avoids it for his successor volume. How long will it he before the radical Right similarly devalues " radicalism "? There is something for everybody in Mr Hampton's 600 pages. So far there have been two great periods of radical statement the seventeenth-century English Revolution and the early nineteenth century. The passionate contempt with which Byron, Shelley and Hazlitt denounce Castlereagh, Eldon and Sidmouth is an eye-opener. Why cannot We write like that today? Has the law of libel changed? Or is it that Messrs Tebbit, Heseltine, Lawson and Boyson hardly seem worthy of such thunders? Milton's Satan lurks behind Byron and Shelley ; our age has learnt the banality of evil. Here is Byron addressing of all audiences the House of Lords on the Luddites: " Are we aware of our obligations to a mob? It is the mob that labour in your fields and serve in your houses that man your navy, and recruit your army that have enabled you to defy the world, and can also defy you when neglect and calamity have driven them to despair. You may call the people a mob; but do not Announcing the publication of THE KISSINGER REPORT OF THE PHESIDEFT'S HATIOMAL BIPARTISAN COMMISSION" OCT CENTRAL AMERICA. Paperback 5.95 CollierMac3niillaii Ms 2M. Ms bast. Put your money on It OUTNOWIN PAPERBACK mPan Books FROM TO The complete guide to Western philosophy now available in companion volumes. A History of Western Philosophy Bertrand Russell 'A 'survey of Western philosophy in relation to its environment, of such sweep and acuteness, alive in every nerve ... a masterpiece of' intellectual energy . ;. the Socrates of our time.' A. L. Rowse . . . may be one of the mosi valuable books of our time.' G. M. Trevelyan Counterpoint Paperback 4.95 Philosophy in the Twentieth Century A. J. Ayer 'In point of clarity Ayer is fully Russell's equal and in its great seriousness and succinctness of expression, his book has a distinctive undemonstrative stylishness of its own. ' Galen Strawson, The Observer . . strikingly well written.' Alan Ryan, Sunday Times Counterpoint Paperback3,9I mm o mm A Radical Reader: The Struggle for Change in England, 1381 1914, edited by Christopher Hampton (Penguin, 7.95). forget that a mob too often speaks the sentiments of the people." And Hazlitt dismissing a Tory journalist: "It costs him no effort to execute his disreputable task : in being the tool of a crooked policy, but he labours in his natural vocation." There is much else of topical relevance. Swift's Modest Proposal that starving Irish children should be fattened up and served as food for "persons of quality throughout the kingdom" reads like a leaked Cabinet memorandum. Wholly practical in tone, it balances profit and loss, taking full account of public relations aspects. Moral issues do not arise. It is the same with Gulliver's account of "the miserable effects of a confined education" on the King of Brobdingnag. On being told of the marvels of gunpowder "he was amazed how so impotent end grovelling an insect as I (these were his expressions) could entertain such inhuman ideas, and in so familiar a manner as to appear wholly unmoved at all the scenes of blood and desolation which I had painted as the common effects of those destructive machines : whereof, he said, u some evil genius, enemy to mankind, must have been the first contriver." What horrified Swift was the moral obtuseness and ignorance of compassion shown by England's rulers. Cobbett felt the same about unemployment. " The man who can talk about the honour of his country, at a time when its millions are in a state little short of famine: and when that is, too, apparently their ' permanent state, must be an oppressor in his heart." Why' does moral insensitivity no longer rouse us to righteous indignation? This volume tells us a lot about Victorian values. Here is a description from 1862 of what child labour meant "My .little sister, now 5i years old . . . used to stand on a stool so as to be able to see up to the candle on the tabid. I have seen many begin stitching gloves as young as that, and they do so still, because it makes them cleverer if they begin young. Parents are not particular about the age if they have work as they must do it." "No. I never see any children crying," said an 8-year-old watercress seller: !' it's no use." William Booth in 1890 compared the fate of " a young penniless girl" in London with victims of slave raiders in Africa. " The blood boils with impotent rage at the sight of these enormities, callously inflicted, and silently borne." Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Mrs Browning, George Eliot and G. M. Exotic gardeners by Nigel Nicolson The John Tradescants, by Prudence Leith - Ross (Peter Owen, 20). " IMAGINE an English garden without a lilac bush. . . . London without its plane trees. . . ." Those are not the first words of this book, but of its predecessor, Mea Allan's pioneering biography of the Tradescants published in 1964. Miss Leith-Ross would never be guilty of suggesting by dots a catch in the voice, nor of carelessly attributing to the Tradescants, father-and-son gardeners in the reigns of Charles I and II, the introduction of the lilac or the plane (or the white jasmine, the Evening Primrose, the Horse Chestnut or the pineapple), for she is too careful a scholar. She is severe on Mea Allan as an historian of botany, and her description of the earlier book as " eminently readable " is not intended to be kind. This is a little ungenerous. Mea Allan did a great deal of research from which Miss Leith-Ross benefits. The two books have most of their documentation in common, the arrangement and use of the. material is much the same, and the two main Appendices more or less repeat each other. Where Leith-Ross scores over Allan is in identifying the patrons who supplied the Tradescants with most of their collection, and in determining how far they were botanical discoverers and innovators. But biographically she has little new. Her search of parish records has been diligent hut the results dull. The Tradescants wrote few -letters that have survived, and only one travel-journal (to northern Russia which Mea Allan also printed in full. This new " biography " scarcely deserves the name. It does not, and cannot-owing to the paucity of material, bring either man' alive. It is solid but awkward, its sentences stubby, its short paragraphs flying like a string of tattered pennants down the ipage. Valuable to specialists, it is not, alas, "eminently readable." None of the Tradescant gardens survive, though two in recent years have been partially recreated, at Hatfield and in Lambeth. They were plantsmen, not garden-designers. They lived at a time when new plants were reaching Europe from Persia and America, but nothing had yet replaced the terraced Top Tudor hack INSIGHT derived from his own work as a journalist fired Charles Nicholl to build a life out of the Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions left by the star journalist of the 1590s, Nashe, putting himself across in outrageous witticisms, always playing downmarket as Piers Penniless, in "a yerking, firking, jerking Satiricall and Poetic vein" became like the famous clowns of the theatre, a public entertainer, and " was the scourge of the Puritan, the guttersnipe antagonist of hypocrisy, pedantry, . moneymadness and officialdom, of ' pdnchfarts ' 'pen-nyfathers ' and ' crusty cumtwangs.' " Nicholl compares him with the satiric liberators of the sixties, with Private Eye and That Was the Week, That Was. "With Nashe it is all unedited, like the rushes of a movie " ; he seems to me closest to contemporary TV, when the roving camera eye changes direction every five seconds. He is not informative; he. offers a "carouse" or " cup of news " alcoho- Hopkins confirm the ' more directly propagandist accounts of Ebenezer Jones, .Buskin, Samuel Butler, William Morris and Jack London. This book reveals some remarkably consistent themes. Something like a labour theory of value extends from John Ball in 1381 through Gerrard Win-stanley to Shelley and Cobbeit. Hatred of the Church as landowner stretches from Wat Tyler through Protestant reformers and seventeenth-century revolutionaries to the Chartists. Women are given a good showing; but it is a sorry tale. Petitioners in 1649 who claimed to have "an equal interest with the men of their nation" in their liberties were told by the House of Commons "to go home and look after their own business, and meddle with their huswifery." Mary Astell if it was she in 1696 defended women's equality against the tyranny of male-imposed standards : " Nothing makes one party slavishly depress another, but their fear that they may, at one time or another, become strong or courageous enough to make themselves equal, if not superior to, their Masters." Even in 1793, William Godwin could assume that "democracy is a system of government according to which every member of society is considered as a man, and nothing more." A most useful, thought-provoking collection. lawns and knot-gardens of the Elizabethans, and they attempted few new methods of display. Nothing bears any longer the original imprint of the Tradescant foot, though they had wealthy patrons, the Cecils, Lord Wotton at Canterbury, the King at Oatlands Palace and the Duke of Buckingham at New Hall. One has to imagine their gardens from contemporary descriptions or their botanical legacies. Their fame as gardeners rests on their importation of exotic plants, few of which they discovered themselves. They had a green-fingered genius for packing and preserving rare plants to survive long salty voyages (the father from Russia, the son from Virginia), and for spreading a knowledge of them to less audacious gardeners by establishing a nursery-garden at Lambeth, partly an experimental plot, partly a museum, partly a commercial venture. It became what we would call today a "garden-centre," the first and only one in the kingdom, to which other serious botanists contributed and from which keen amateurs drew inspiration. It was no mean achievement. They added to their garden a "museum" within two rooms of their Lambeth house. It was the first collection of "curiosities" to be opened to the public for an entrance-fee, and anything odd or exotic was admitted, like a stuffed Dodo. Henry VIII's gauntlet, old coins, tomahawks, fossils or a cherry-stone carved with the faces of 88 emperors. The public was easily astonished. It became internationally famous, and it remains famous today, indirectly, because it formed the basis of the Ashmolean Museum. The last section of this book deals, interestingly, with the methods by which Elias Ashmole acquired the collection and donated it to Oxford. There is a suggestion that he took advantage of John Tradescant, jun by making him sign a Will when he was drunk, and then claimed credit for the collection, but Miss Leith-Ross is careful (as Mea Allan was not) to make clear that he acknowledged the Tradescants as its originators. Ash-mole's name gained immortality by the naming of the museum, but he was after all responsible for the preservation of their collection and hence for the permanence of their fame. M. C. A Cop of News. The Life of Thomas Nashe, by Charles Nicholl (Routt ledge, 14.95). lie but charged with adrenalin ; although his politics and religion are conservative, his irreverence is demonic. Nashe's fountain of " words, words, words " supply material that is indeed raw; the hard facts of his life would go on a postcard, if not a postage stamp; Nicholl discerns a nervy, jumpy, self-consuming pen-addict behind the masks of wild undergraduate, London Bohemian, government hack, repentent sinner, at one time in the employment of an archbishop, later to have all his books against Gabriel Harvey, the Cambridge- don, condemned by the same archbishop to be burnt with those of his opponent, and neither to be Sermitted to resume their sttle. "Forty shillings and a pottle of wine" was the fee Pains in the neck by Emma Tennant The Anatomy Lesson, by Philip Roth (Cape, 8.95). THE LESSON Zuckermann learns in this, the -third volume of the trilogy devoted to the trials of a disgustingly successful writer or, as Zuckermann's novel Car-novsky sold world-wide for more than its fine prose, a successfully disgusting one is that shame, guilt and loss of inspiration make for permanent pain. The body is bent (invisibly)' into a Quasimodo by self-recrimination and doubt. The brain floats on fields of vodka, weed and speedy Percodan where paranoia blooms. Critics get it in the neck. But then, that's where Zuckermann's got it, too. While all the "real" pain takes place elsewhere in the world, the second generation American Jewish success story ends up as no more than a boring, excruciating ache. Zuckermann's last tape ostensibly records a familiar self-questing, "lovable" character, with four girl friends who visit the blocked writer in relays on his pink rubber playmat. Masked Dame by Nicholas de Jongh Margaret Rutherford, A Blithe Spirit, by Dawn Langley Simmons (Arthur Barker, 8.95). MARGARET RUTHERFORD, with her bulky figure and quavering chins, was cherished for her grave, butterfly-minded eccentrics and spinsters living serene in worlds of their own. It comes as a quite theatrical shock to discover twelve years after her death, in this new biography by her adopted daughter, that Dame Margaret's life and personality was dominated by a horrifying family tragedy. Her father, who came from an upper middle class nonconformist family, killed his own father, spent seven years in Broadmoor, and then returned to his wife. When Margaret was six, her mother hanged herself and her father went mad again, spending the last two decades of his life back in Broadmoor. According to Miss Simmons, Dame Margaret throughout her life feared that the acute mental instabilities of her parents would be visited upon her. And at times of stress during her career she would have to retire to nursing homes for treatment for what the author describes as "a form of melancholia." At last she lapsed into a form of senility, almost as if the family inheritance, which did for her parents and for an aunt as well, had indeed finally claimed her. Dame Flora Robson's quoted comment upon Rutherford seems in these circumstances remarkable for its intuition and prescience : Bradbrook on Thomas Nashe for a pamphlet; but Nashe could turn ihis hand to a lively novel, The Unfortunate Traveller, and wrote two of the loveliest lyrics of his time, "Spring the sweet spring" and "Adieu, farewell earth's bliss," up-beat and downbeat'of an after-supper cabaret. He published ah elegy, now lost, on his friend Christopher Marlowe, coauthor with him of Dido Queen of Carthage; he got young Ben Jonson, another co-author, into jail for the first, but not the last time, with The Isle of Dogs. William Shakespeare lifted from him a number of jests, such as Beatrice's "Civil Count, civil as an orange, and something of that jealous complexion", and came near to him with the torrential wit of Petruchio a young man, who like Nashe had come abroad to see the world. (However the notion that Nashe is portrayed in Love's Labours Lost as Moth doesn't find many takers nowadays), Nicholl takes it but in One of the girls, Jaga, is Polish and bitter and wild. Another is the wife of his accountant. (Cheat on the guy who's cheating you.) There's a back-to-nature girl, who contrives to have a snow-covered . shack .in Bearsville. But what would Zuckermann do with nature? His mother just died the neatest, hair - rollered, slacks - and -Florida mother in the world and the last word she wrote was Holocaust. Zuckermann, for all the choices of sex and the double-edged (and painfully funny) jokes, like his despairing trip to Chicago to try to become a doctor, and his impersonations, while there, of a porno-grapher he calls Milton Appel, the name of the critic he most hates is not here on the trail of "finding himself" at all. Nor is Zuckermann at the end of the trail, although there is a bleakness in his imagination dead imagine. Rather, in this intelligent, ruminative book, is the author using the appearance of his character's self-indulgence to ask all the most important questions about cruelty, the roots of guilt, loss and relearning. " I wonder if I am the only one who saw tragedy behind Margaret's brilliant comedy, and I could always see the blue eyed romantic little girl." Romantic and childish in some sense she certainly was. She concealed her family secret assiduously, pretending that her parents had simply died - early. She saw herself as suitable for tragic or serious roles, and at the age of 39 was still dreaming of playing Juliet. Her marriage, from Miss Simmons's account, does not exactly sound erotic and in middle age she seems to have picked up a young musician on the streets, befriended . him and cherished crazy schemes of their running away together. Not surprisingly she had little financial sense and her career which only bloomed when she was in her late 'thirties was haphazard. It must have been her sharp innocence that made her so successful a scene stealer in relative youth she acted that nasty gorgon Marie Tempest off the stage, only to be told "I'm not accustomed to having a play stolen from under my nose." Miss . Simmons, whose father was Vita Sackville West's chauffeur, was thought to be male for many years until an operation made her the woman she really was. There is a daughter to prove the fact. Her account of Dame Margaret's life is written in a style, which fuses" reverent soppiness with cool description of . sensational incident in a style reminiscent of Firbank, Orton and Saki. I do not quite believe everything she says. general he follows the recipe of Fernand Braudel's great Structures of Everyday Life, evoking a career from its context, in this case provided by the nature of the writings, not by confessions. Dead at thirty -three, Nashe was mourned in 1601 in Cambridge and London as an incomparable wit; his brand of sophisticated fooling persisted for the rest of the century,-in the political pamphlets of Andrew Marvell, in Swift's Meditation on a Broomstick and Directions to Servants. At the beginning of this century Nashe was given "the best edition of any English writer" by R B McKerrow; twenty years ago, Routledge issued a careful critical study by Professor George Hibbard. For Nashe has always fascinated scholars; but it is easier to enjoy than to write on him. Here Charles Nicholl, who has' studied his subject meticulously, in this lively and penetrating reconstruction will reach the parts that academics, however eminent, do not touch. Miniature classic Robert Nye reviews new fiction Olt, by Kenneth Gangemi (Marlon Boyars, 3.95 paperback). The Two of Us, by John Braine (Mcthuen, 7.95). The Busconductor Hines, by James Kelman (Polygon Books, 1 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LW, 7.95). THE BOOK that I like best of this week's fiction is barely 50 pages long and was first published -in 1969. This is Olt, a very -curious and arresting novel by an American writer called Kenneth Gangemi. I missed the work first time around, but find it easy to believe its publisher's claim that it has become something of a minor classic since its original publication. 'If originality of vision and structural care count for anything, then here is a book - whose . importance is out of all proportion to its length. I can think of only one recent piece of fiction to compare with it Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, similarly zany in appearance, similarly lasting in its imaginative substance. Brautigan's book made him a cult hero. Gangemi, so far as I know, has been spared that fate, but I can imagine that this particular text must already have an underground cult fallowing, and that its appearance now in paperback will perhaps be the signal for that cult to become more public and overt.. The title of the novel is the surname of its hero, Robert Olt, a young man living in a city which is quite likely San Francisco or some similar place that has a big library, lots of pretty girls, a whole hierarchy of attic apartments, friendly zoo-keepers and a coffee shop that is the best place to watch the world go by. Olt's world is presented to us in three sections, by means of three interludes in which he is seen worrying vaguely that the pain in his stomach may be appendicitis, wandering about the city streets to no particular purpose, and finally watching a small' military parade. These events are unimportant, and their lack of significance is an integral part of the book's humour. Because what this novel really consists of is a beautiful shape or diagram of one man's mind. He has discovered a way of looking at things he makes lists, he reads newspapers and files away all the curious trivia he finds juxtaposed in their pages, without comment and without judgment. With a subscription to Benguin Granla Is extending an Introductory offer to new subscribers. For 1 0 you get four Issues ot Ponguln Granla: each the size ol a paperback book and each normally telling al 3.50. This one-year subscription saves you 4 olt the costol the same Issues bought In the shops. At no additional cost, you will aiso gat two free Penguin books, which you choose from thf thirteen titles below. For 10, you get roughly 1 9 worth ot today's wrrting. Why this offer? Because it demonstrates what we publish. These booka are by Qranta authors: H you are si all Inlsreated In them, H follows that you will be Interested In Grants. engutn Grants, appearing four times a year, has tha flexibility to publtah Uterature wttfi pontics, humour with world Issues, fiction with Journalism: but. Insistently, only the very beat writing. please tJck two books: MARTIN AMIS. Olhor People JOHNBERGER.WeyenlSeeiiQ WILLIAM BOYD, An Ice-Cream Wr ANGELA CARTER. The Bloody Chsnibor BERNARD CRICK, OiyhII JAMES FENTON, Tha Memory ol War NADINE GORDIMER, Burger1! Deixjhtor ' KAZUO ISHIGURO. A Pile View otHm MILAN KUNDERA, The Book ot Ltughlirand FwaeWnfl USA ST AUBIN DE TERAN. Keepers ol the House - SUSAN SONTAG, A Susan Sontag Reader (counts u two books) GRAHAM SWIFT, Shuttlecock D M. THOMAS, The While Hotel THE WORLD'S GREATEST ROBBERY HAS NEVER BEEN SOLVED. UHT1LN0W IAN SAYER WD DOUGLAS IWTTMffl TIMES ILLUSTRATED WITH 16 PAGES I fi I OF PHOTOGRAPHS 1055 I f This may sound silly or pretentious, but in effect it is neither of those things. Gangemi's brilliant little fiction captures a- moment in time it is very much a product of the Sixties, but none the worse for that. It would be difficult to imagine -a book more different in tone and substance than John Braine's new novel The Two-of Us. All that it has in common with the Gangemi is that it is set round about the same time at the end of the sixties. The place here is Charbury in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a locale presented by Braine with his usual sympathy and skill. Two years before tha book's beginning its heroine, Robin Lendrick, has had a passionate affair with a television producer called "Stephen Belgard. Her husband. Clive, the boss of the local woollen mill, has accepted this affair as he has accepted his own heart attack as a fact of life. The uneasy; calm of Robin and Clive's existence together is disturbed by the reappearance of the television man and by a new challenge to Clive's position within the family firm. Braine handles this sort of story supremely well, and even if you find yourself disliking just about every character in it you have to admire the conviction with -which he creates them from the inside out. The book is a sequel to one called Stay With Me Till Morning, but it reads coherently in its own right and its conclusion attains a pitch of feeling not far removed from the power of Room at the Top. It is good to see Braine back in such fine form after a patch when his work seemed strained and arid. No doubt the return to the Yorkshire roots has helped. The Busconductor Hines is a first novel by a young Scottish writer, James Kelman, who has already attracted favourable attention with his short stories. The major attraction here is the style Kelman writes a curious clipped prose which finds a sort of poetry in its pursuit of the rhythms of working class speech. Rab Hines's life as a bus-conductor falls to pieces when he takes his son along with him and is threatened with the sack. Not a lot happens otherwise, but the quality of the writing is always arresting and occasionally distinguished. There is a Glasgow word thrawn meaning hard and real and gritty. That about defines what Kelman is after, and in this text he serves notice that he is capable of achieving it. IvobKisrwoJkiOnttlkxiyMkeueU Ot10Vl(USA) D Irt WUtr.ptomblm AcctsttorcntvpyEunavtf AmniewijpTtn Ovdnctrdno, tt you (tvi In Iht UKJ and und la: dinta, FREEPOST.CtrobrtJgi Cfll 1BH 'If i

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