Vol. 46 No. 5 · 7 March 2024

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Apostle of Apostles

Marina Warner notes that Pope Francis ‘declared Mary Magdalene the Apostolorum Apostola, the apostle of apostles’, as recently as 2013 (LRB, 22 February). The title was possibly first used of Mary Magdalene by Rabanus Maurus, the archbishop of Mainz (c.780-856), was current in the 12th century and used by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. Use of the title, reflecting her role as the first witness of the Resurrection, who then told the apostles of its occurrence, has tended to come and go. But it is reflected visually in a handful of medieval manuscripts. A lovely example occurs in the Queen Mary Psalter (made in the 14th century and now in the British Library). Mary Magdalene’s life is summarised in six line and wash drawings. In the fourth of them, she is shown in a preacher’s pose while conveying the news to the disciples, standing firm but advancing one foot, and with a didactic gesture. Such illustrations are rare not least because of St Paul’s injunctions against women preaching, a view that persisted down the centuries. Yet in the much earlier, non-canonical, possibly Gnostic Gospel of Mary, she instructs the other apostles and holds her ground against those who doubt her because of her gender.

Jane M. Card
Harwell, Oxfordshire

D-Day Dodgers

Malcolm Gaskill recounts that in 1944 ‘a myth set in that the soldiers fighting in Italy had it easy: they were, according to a popular song, “The D-Day dodgers”’ (LRB, 8 February). Well, not quite. It was the Tory MP Nancy Astor who had declared in a speech that the troops in Italy (my father was one) were ‘dodging D-Day’. In response a sarcastic song, ‘The D-Day dodgers’, sung to the tune of ‘Lili Marlene’, began to circulate in the ranks. One version went:

Oh, we’re the D-Day dodgers, out in Italy
Always on the vino, always on the spree
Eighth Army scroungers and their tanks
We live in Rome among the Yanks
We are the D-Day dodgers
In sunny Italy.

We landed at Salerno, a holiday with pay
The Jerries brought the bands out to greet us on the way
Showed us the sights and gave us tea
We all sang songs, the beer was free
The artful D-Day dodgers
In sunny Italy.

Most versions ended:

Dear Lady Astor, you think you’re mighty hot
Standing on a platform talking tommy-rot.
You’re England’s sweetheart and her pride
We think your mouth’s too bleeding wide
And we’re the D-Day dodgers
Away in Italy.

Look among the mountains in the mud and rain
You’ll see the wooden crosses, the graves without a name.
Heartbreak and toil and suffering gone
The boys beneath them slumber on.
They are the D-Day dodgers
Who’ll stay in Italy.

‘A holiday with pay’ was another piece of irony. It was part of the advertising slogan (‘Lend a hand on the land’) for the Women’s Land Army, many of whose volunteers, as Nicola Tyrer recounts in They Fought in the Fields (1996), were mocked, harassed, overworked, underpaid, badly fed and overtly resented by the remaining male farmworkers.

Stephen Sedley
Dorney, Buckinghamshire

Always Looking for More

Jonathan Rée, writing about Alasdair MacIntyre’s involvement in ‘the excitable world of British Trotskyism’, mentions that he ‘remained on the board of International Socialism until 1968’ (LRB, 8 February). True, that is when he resigned from International Socialism; by then he was a professor at Essex University, where the authorities had called in the police to deal with militant students, including IS supporters.

But in fact the break with IS had come much earlier. In the summer of 1965, a debate was organised in London between MacIntyre and Cornelius Castoriadis of the group Socialisme ou barbarie. IS members like myself who turned up were disconcerted to hear MacIntyre agreeing with Castoriadis and attacking his own organisation. As far as I know MacIntyre never attended another editorial board meeting or any other IS activity. In January 1966 he wrote to the IS Working Committee to say he didn’t want to receive the IS fortnightly paper, Labour Worker, any longer because of its criticism of Richard Gott’s decision to stand as an anti-Vietnam-War candidate in the Hull by-election (until 1968 IS were Labour Party entrists).

MacIntyre’s period with IS was brief, but it was not insignificant. As a new IS member I encountered him when he was still on the editorial board of International Socialism. His erudition and lucid analysis had a great influence on those of us who were just discovering the complexities of a non-Stalinist Marxism. He was a fine speaker; with his clear, measured Irish accent, he seemed to be a synthesis between a true scholar and a Celtic romantic revolutionary.

But if the Marxism he helped to teach us has remained with me for a lifetime, it did not satisfy MacIntyre, who was always looking for more. As Richard Kuper wrote of MacIntyre’s Marxism and Christianity in International Socialism: ‘MacIntyre has been so successful intellectually that it no longer matters what he is intellectual about. Why bother to change the world when there is so much in it to interpret?’

Ian Birchall
London N9

Which came first?

I enjoyed Barbara Everett’s essay ‘Henry and Hamlet’, but was disturbed by her dismissal of ‘lesser and incidental issues’ concerning Henry VI Part 1, such as ‘authorship, dating and text, style and subject’ (LRB, 22 February). She describes it as ‘Shakespeare’s first history play’, beginning ‘a sequence’ of three or four plays. But no dramatist in the 1590s ever conceived of a trilogy; Marlowe’s Tamburlaine only went into a second part because of its unexpected success. Nor was Henry VI Part 1 Shakespeare’s first history play. That credit goes to his pioneering two-part work dramatising the ‘Wars of the Roses’, performed in 1591, which the Folio editors confusingly presented as Henry VI Part 2 and Part 3. Part 1 was in fact written a year later, and there is good evidence that it started life as a play performed by Lord Strange’s Men at Philip Henslowe’s recently enlarged Rose Theatre in March 1592, with the snappy title harey the vi. Although designed to cash in on the success of Shakespeare’s two-parter, the authors of that play were little concerned with the young king, who is ‘not even on stage until Act III’, as Everett notes, and speaks just 178 lines. The major character, not mentioned by Everett, is the heroic soldier John Talbot, who speaks 410 lines and dominates 16 of the 28 scenes. Talbot, not mentioned in any other Elizabethan play, was an ancestor of Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, whose company performed harey the vi. It is generally agreed that Thomas Nashe, with his distinctive style, wrote Act 1 of the original play, and I have identified Thomas Kyd as author of the remainder. Kyd had long been in Strange’s employ, and Nashe had recently enjoyed his patronage. Their loyal celebration of Talbot’s ‘rare success in arms’ culminated in a ten-line recital of his titles, copied from an epitaph, for which Shakespeare need no longer be blamed. (And it was Kyd who dramatised the degraded Joan of Arc portrayed by the Tudor historians.)

We might now be asking in what sense can this be called a Shakespeare play? The theatre companies again hold the clue. When their patron died in 1593, Strange’s Men disbanded, their playbooks being divided between the Admiral’s Men and the Chamberlain’s, Shakespeare’s company, which received harey the vi. A few years later Shakespeare revised it by adding three memorable scenes, two of them military. The third presents a quarrel between Yorkist and Lancastrian lawyers in the Temple Garden, in which each group plucks either a white or a red rose. The scene has no basis in history, but we can see Shakespeare retrospectively dramatising the beginning of the war that had filled his two-part play. His additions turned Henry VI Part 1 into a stand-alone play by three authors, written later, but serving as a prequel to Shakespeare’s two-part play. Nashe, Kyd and Shakespeare had distinct styles that can be easily recognised, and if verbal analysis is united with theatrical history Everett’s sense of it being ‘packed with uncertainties’ can be cleared up. At least, I hope so.

Brian Vickers
London NW6

Nothing Matters

Terry Eagleton begins his recent piece on Hegel with a deprecating anecdote: ‘The Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle claimed he had once talked a student out of suicide by pointing out to him that the logic of “nothing matters” is very different from that of, for example, “nothing chatters”’ (LRB, 22 February). It’s a story Eagleton enjoys: it appears in his Literary Theory (1983), After Theory (2003), The Meaning of Life (2007), in his Guardian review of Jonathan Rée’s Witcraft (2019), and perhaps elsewhere. But Eagleton never cites a source.

I wonder if he has misremembered the linguistic philosopher R. M. Hare’s 1972 essay, ‘Nothing Matters,’ which begins with a visit from a Swiss youth who laments that nothing matters (after reading Albert Camus) and ends when Hare persuades him otherwise: ‘I had by this time convinced him that many things did matter for him . . . My friend had not understood that the function of the word “matters” is to express concern; he had thought mattering was something (some activity or process) that things did, rather like chattering; as if the sentence “My wife matters to me” were similar in logical function to the sentence “My wife chatters to me.”’

The phrase ‘nothing chatters’ does not appear in Hare’s argument – but that doesn’t really matter.

Kieran Setiya
Brookline, Massachusetts

In Surrey Quays

Owen Hatherley writes that Scandinavian countries, bar ‘some controlled neoliberal experiments’, are still among ‘the most affluent and egalitarian on the planet’ (LRB, 8 February). This is a myth that is no truer of Sweden than it is of the UK. As Andreas Cervenka’s 2022 book Girig-Sverige (‘Greedy Sweden’) – still, inexplicably, unavailable in English – demonstrates, the rapid dismantling of the welfare state that began in the early 1990s, with the government of Carl Bildt, has only been advanced by successive administrations. Sweden no longer has any wealth tax or inheritance tax; property taxes are largely nominal. The country has more billionaires per capita than either the US or the UK. Privatisation of state assets has been rampant, with the effect that the public health service is now difficult to access and hugely inefficient, the waiting lists for public housing in the cities of Gothenburg and Stockholm are many years long, and public rents are increasingly pegged to the ‘market rate’. This last item is especially bad news in a market that saw a million kronor (currently about £76,500) fall in purchasing power from 200 square metres in 1995 to 22 square metres in 2022 – before the latest above-inflation hikes.

Meanwhile, the thoroughness with which the marketisation of state agencies was carried out means that these agencies are not allowed to own their premises, but must pay market rents to other state-owned commercial entities. Universities, for example, move out of buildings they used to own because they can no longer afford the rent. But what should be done with a listed building designed as an Art Nouveau college of crafts in the early 20th century when the college is forced to move out? Even the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, has faced questions over whether it can afford the rent owed to the Swedish Property Board.

The problems began long ago, during the ‘Golden Age’ of social democracy in the 1970s. It’s true that many public housing projects incorporate lots of open space and border on what in Sweden is called ‘nature’: open woodland, for instance. Burcu Yigit Turan of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences talks of ‘greenlining’, a reference to the ‘redlining’ process in the US which prevented Black Americans from accessing loans to buy houses, so that they were unable to accrue wealth in property in the way white families could. While the Social Democrats built a million new high-quality public homes between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, they also deregulated the housing market for the first time, ensuring that new suburbs of detached houses went up at the same time as the large apartment blocks (the Swedish habit of acquiring a sommarstuga, a summer house, took off during this period too). The working classes had their public apartments and the middle classes could speculate on the value of their villas: what separated these parallel worlds were the green spaces, ‘nature’ acting as a planned class buffer. The segregated working-class suburbs were often left unfinished and over the years many started to fall into decline. Once large-scale immigration began in the 21st century, class segregation turned into racial segregation – which, of course, is now blamed on the immigrants themselves.

When I lived in Belfast, the excuse always given for segregated urban space, bad planning and a dysfunctional society was the deeply disruptive effect of a long war. In Gothenburg, a similar city in very many respects, the explanation is that it was actually designed this way. Social democracy in Sweden was consciously planned as a bulwark against full-strength socialism and the most radical plans (worker ownership of factories, for instance, as envisaged under the Meidner Plan) were never realised. It’s high time that the fairy tale of Sweden as a social utopia – then and more especially now – was put beyond use.

Daniel Jewesbury
Gothenburg, Sweden

The UK and Gaza

Tom Stevenson mentions that the UK has supported the attack on Gaza with ‘modest supplies of arms and munitions’ and quotes Human Rights Watch’s call for the UK to stop arming Israel or risk ‘being complicit in grave abuses’ (LRB, 8 February). This complicity has a long history. The UK is home to a number of operations for Elbit Systems, the multinational Israeli company involved in weapons research and manufacture. BAE Systems plays a major role in providing components for the F-35 stealth bomber and other weapons. Since 2015 the UK has licensed around £475 million of military exports to Israel, including components for combat aircraft, missiles, tanks, technology, small arms and ammunition.

A number of groups have been attempting to draw attention to the part the UK is playing in the Gaza invasion by picketing and blockading premises and factories. These protests are rarely covered in the mainstream media. Politicians of all parties, as well as the trade unions, support these companies and others in the defence industry since they provide some of the few remaining decently paid skilled manufacturing jobs.

John Newman
Golcar, West Yorkshire

Why indeed?

Clocks are everywhere in Philip Guston, as Bob Frishman points out (Letters, 22 February). Ubiquitous but perfunctory, often one-handed or handless – because telling clock-time is the least of their concerns. In his memoir Guston in Time (2003) Ross Feld has an anecdote from the 1970s: one of Guston’s students was having trouble with a clock she was trying to include in a mural. She worked and reworked it until Guston, observing, could wait no longer: ‘Grabbing a brush, he loaded it, painted a circle, then two hands within it: “You want a clock? Here’s a clock.”’

Paul Keegan
London NW5

Protest v. Civil Disobedience

Jan-Werner Müller writes of the lack of a right to public meetings in the UK, citing an Act of 1661 designed to prevent ‘the tumultuous and disorderly preparing of petitions’ (LRB, 8 February). More widely used and more general in its application was the Riot Act of 1714, which authorised local authorities to declare any group of twelve or more people to be unlawfully assembled and to order them to disperse or face punitive action. First the following warning had to be read to the assembled gathering:

Our sovereign lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.

The Riot Act acquired some notoriety after the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. It was last read by the mayor of Stockport on 22 February 1967 at the request of the town’s chief constable (I was the town’s deputy town clerk). It was completely inaudible to the furious crowd, assembled to protest over the dismissal of union members and their replacement by non-unionised women at the Roberts-Arundel factory in Stockport. Fortunately the pubs had opened and the crowd faded away without police intervention. The Riot Act was repealed a few months later by Harold Wilson’s government.

Rodney Brooke
Ilkley, West Yorkshire

One Guinea Pig

Lorraine Daston tells us that amid the ark-like abundance of species which made up his family, Linnaeus kept a single guinea pig (LRB, 22 February). It would have satisfied his hated Swiss rival Albrecht von Haller to know that since the beginning of this century Swiss law has forbidden people from owning just one of these highly social animals.

Ian Gowans
Sutton, Greater London

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