Vol. 37 No. 17 · 10 September 2015

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‘I’m against it’

Reading Jenny Diski’s judicious discussion of Doris Lessing’s voluntary separation from two of her three children, I was reminded of hearing the topic raised at an event in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the mid-1970s (LRB, 30 July). The speaker was Elizabeth Hardwick, who had just published her book Seduction and Betrayal. Though her talk, like that book, had been shrewd and subtle, the subsequent audience questions were neither. Someone asked Hardwick how she could speak highly of Lessing, a writer who had ‘abandoned her children’. Hardwick replied in just two clauses, one grand and sweeping, the other curt and efficient: ‘Children have been abandoned for hundreds of years – and I’m against it.’

Sarah White
New York

Social Bandits

‘Smugglers were popular figures’ in 18th-century England, Steven Shapin writes, adding that the late Eric Hobsbawm said they were celebrated as ‘social bandits’ (LRB, 30 July). In fact what Hobsbawm said, in Primitive Rebels, was: ‘England, which has given the world Robin Hood, the archetype of the social bandit, has produced no notable example of the species since the 16th century … the miserable village labourers have risen to little more than the modest admiration for exceptionally daring poachers.’ In my contribution to Albion’s Fatal Tree (1975), I challenged Hobsbawm, suggesting that smugglers too, robbers in the eyes of the law, were most often not considered criminals in public opinion, even in such cases as the grisly murders in 1748 of William Galley, a Riding Officer, and Daniel Chater, an informer. The smugglers responsible came from Hawkhurst in Kent. They gained notoriety with their raid on the Custom House at Poole, where they recaptured seized tea. On their return, they ‘breakfasted’ at Fordingbridge, where ‘some hundreds of people were assembled to view the cavalcade.’ They killed Galley and Chater, a witness to the parade, lest they testify against them. It was said at the time that at Hawkhurst ‘five hundred men, armed, can gather in less than an hour’ and that ‘not one person in ten in the countryside would give assistance’ to the Customs men. The smuggler was often seen as a symbol of resistance, to the authorities in general, and in particular to the hated Excise.

Cal Winslow
Mendocino, California

Almost Lovable

Sheila Fitzpatrick’s review of Owen Hatherley’s Landscapes of Communism reminds me of the story of the design of the Moskva Hotel (LRB, 30 July). It is said that when the architect, Aleksei Shchusev, presented two alternative designs for Stalin’s approval, the wave of the dictator’s hand was so imprecise that Shchusev went away unsure which design had been chosen. As a result, the hotel had two orthogonal façades in very different styles, one much more decorative than the other. The hotel was demolished in 2004, but fortunately (or unfortunately) it was rebuilt in replica and can be seen, and stayed in, today.

Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

Weapons Inspections

Rolf Ekéus, the first executive chairman of Unscom, claims that he reported to the Security Council that Unscom had uncovered the ‘full extent’ of Iraq’s WMD programme (Letters, 27 August). Yet in his final report to the Security Council, in April 1997, Ekéus noted that Unscom ‘cannot state that Iraq has accounted for all weapons, components and capabilities proscribed under section C of resolution 687 (1991)’. And in his farewell letter to the staff of Unscom, on 30 June 1997, Ekéus declared that ‘the inability of Iraq to make clean declarations on the substantive programmes points to the obvious, namely that the concealment encompasses the hiding of plans, components, production material and weapons. Our searches constitute important support for the investigation of the weapons programmes and I foresee a continued co-ordination of these efforts.’ Unscom’s inability to fulfil these expectations led to its collapse in 1998.

Ekéus misrepresents my position on Iraq’s ballistic missile accounting. It is true that in November 1991 I assessed that approximately a hundred Scud missiles were unaccounted for. But in March 1992 Iraq submitted a new declaration in which it acknowledged that it had undercounted: my assessment had been dead-on. In November 1993 I briefed the CIA in Ekéus’s presence that in Unscom’s assessment only two of the 819 missiles imported from the Soviet Union were unaccounted for.

Ekéus gives short shrift to the intelligence contributions of member states. It was the British who provided the tip that led Unscom to the Iraqi WMD archive at the Ministry of Agriculture in the summer of 1992, and the Israelis whose intelligence led to the interception of prohibited missile components in Jordan in November 1995. And these are just the tips that were successful: Ekéus seems to discount the intelligence of lesser quality that was used in support of nearly every inspection that took place during his tenure. As a founding member of Unscom’s Information Assessment Unit, I can attest that we developed our independent intelligence collection and analysis capability hand-in-glove with the CIA, British intelligence, Israeli intelligence and others – all with the authority and encouragement of Ekéus. To claim Unscom was somehow an independent agency in this regard is simply wrong.

Scott Ritter
Bethlehem, New York

Corbyn v. The Rest

David Runciman can’t imagine Jeremy Corbyn managing the ‘institutions’ of party leadership: PMQs, the press and the shadow cabinet (LRB, 27 August). He seems to forget that the most important institutional function of a political party is to aggregate societal interests and mobilise the populace behind a political platform. The exclusive and myopic focus on parties’ functions inside Westminster is what has turned Labour into a zombie party. It is also precisely why Corbyn has proved so popular: he is the only candidate with the slightest interest in listening to people and mobilising them for a traditional social-democratic politics.

Lee Jones
Queen Mary, University of London

The Duke of Windsor’s War

Rosemary Hill says of the Duke of Windsor’s wartime activities in Portugal after the fall of France in 1940: ‘Whether this meant that the duke had done some kind of deal with the Nazis, as was implied both at the time and later on, is not clear’ (LRB, 30 July). In fact German Foreign Office files for July 1940 reveal that the duke had made it clear to the German ambassador in Lisbon that he was a firm supporter of Britain making a peaceful settlement with Germany and was urging the Germans to step up their bombing campaign to make Britain more likely to sue for peace.

Patrick Renshaw

Rosemary Hill says it has never been proved that the Duke of Windsor explicitly agreed to replace his brother as king if Britain fell. True. But it has always been rumoured that Anthony Blunt, at the time a Soviet spy, was sent immediately after the war to the Schloss Kronberg, home to the princes of Hesse, to retrieve documents detailing the arrangements between Edward and the Nazis. These have never been seen since, but are said to have been used by Blunt to guarantee his immunity from prosecution for his espionage activities.

Eoin Dillon


Adam Mars-Jones writes that the project of Anne Garréta’s novel Pas un jour (2002) ‘may qualify as a piece of self-disciplined formal choosing (ascèse is the word used), but it isn’t a constraint in the Oulipo sense, lacking … the necessary element of arbitrariness’ (LRB, 30 July). I would quibble with the assertion that Oulipian constraint is necessarily arbitrary. On the contrary, one of the most important and debated concepts within the group is the relationship between constraint and subject matter; Jacques Roubaud declared that the one must follow from the other, a notion summed up in the two principles set out in his Atlas de littérature potentielle:

A text written according to a constraint
must speak of this constraint.

A text written according to
a mathematisable constraint
must contain the consequences of the
mathematical theory it illustrates.

Thus the missing ‘e’ in Perec’s La Disparition is not an arbitrarily missing vowel, but a homonym for eux, or ‘them’, in a novel about a detective who is trying to find some people who have gone missing – a reference to those who died in the Holocaust, including Perec’s own mother (his father was killed in the phoney war). It has been noted that without ‘e’ you can’t spell père, mère or, for that matter, Georges Perec.

Lauren Elkin

Where are the mothers?

Jessica Olin quotes a contributor to Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: ‘Who can name a major novel by a canonical writer, male or female, that takes motherhood for its main subject?’ (LRB, 27 August). One answer is Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children (1940). Henny is the perfect imperfect mother.

Christine Allison
Gold Coast, Australia

Marion Stein

David Edgar describes Jeremy Thorpe’s second wife, Marion Stein, as ‘a refugee from prewar Vienna who had been married to the Earl of Harewood’ (LRB, 30 July). She was also the daughter of Erwin Stein, one of the most important of the editors at Universal Edition, the great Viennese publisher of new music in the 20th century. It was Stein who prepared the piano score of Act III of Alban Berg’s Lulu before its production was halted by the Nazis, and whose correspondence with Berg during 1935 is vital to the documentation of the composition of the Berg Violin Concerto. Those of us working on the critical edition of Berg’s music are anxious to trace the whereabouts of Marion Thorpe’s estate. If anyone can supply us with information we would be very grateful.

Douglas Jarman
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Out of Context

I should like to thank Adam Smyth for his review of my recent book on the early history of the Stationers’ Company (LRB, 27 August). One sentence, however, is regrettable. Smyth quotes me as saying that Cyprian Blagden’s history of the Stationers’ Company has ‘scarcely a paragraph free of factual errors, unfounded assumptions, or both’. The quoted words are indeed mine, but in context (p. xxi) they are clearly and specifically applied only to pp. 21-33 of Blagden’s book. I have never offered, nor would I endorse, a comparable criticism of Blagden’s account of the Company after 1557.

Peter Blayney

Adam Smyth suggests that identification of the titles of many of the works to which Peter Blayney alludes will require access to A short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland and Ireland, and of English books printed abroad 1475-1640. He adds in parentheses, ‘if you’re fortunate enough to have access to it’, implying that ready access is unlikely. In fact, all may now be ‘fortunate’, as every item in the STC is now available via the online English Short Title Catalogue, found easily enough by searching for ‘estc’. Furthermore, the ESTC references for the period covered by Blayney’s book are now incorporated in the Universal Short Title Catalogue – ‘ustc’ – hosted by the University of St Andrews.

John Sibbald

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