Minority report

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In March the huge British car ferry Herald of FreeEnterprise turned turtle outside the harbor of Zeebrugge. More than a hundred passengers died as the dark waters rushed in and the vessel’s floor abruptly became its ceiling. The disaster was followed by the traditional disclaimers of fault or liability by the owners and by the government ministers responsible for transport. The usual stuffed-shirt inquiry was set up.

The inquiry proved more illuminating than is common ina country where secrecy blankets most of the operations of business and government. The good ship Free Enterprise was found to have been structurally unsound for some time. Its proprietors were found to have been well aware of the fact but unwilling to make the investment necessary to put matters right. Many warnings about the unseaworthiness of the Free Enterprise had been ignored. Efforts had been made to blame the catastrophe on the shortcomings of the crew.

No less fascinating was the testimony of the survivors. Asthe Free Enterprise was dramatically turned into a collective hell, there was little of the staunch reserve that distinguished the passengers on the Titanic. One man told of seeing his wife pushed away from a secure ledge by two younger men and drowning, disregarded, in the oily tide. Others had stories that were hardly less appalling. One man had, however, saved England’s honor. Seeing a five-foot gap over a hazardous drop that separated danger from safety, he had fallen across it like the span of a bridge and had called on people to walk across him. As many as half a dozen lives were saved by his incomparable act.


In the rather shabby election campaign that is currentlybeing fought in the United Kingdom, one of the few points of interest is the collision of values. According to the reigning orthodoxy that is so sedulously propagated by Margaret Thatcher, the human-bridge fellow was a sucker. In her ideal society, the only principle worth preaching or following is “Every man for himself.’ The harvest of this is plain for all to see, with more than 11 percent unemployment and the spread of a dismal underclass through the growing innercity wastelands. The gradual collapse of health care and higher education, as the Treasury ax falls on the softer parts of the society, is likely to be the Prime Minister’s most enduring monument. There are, of course, rivals for that distinction. One such might be the Trident missile system, a $15 billion project which would give Britain, on its own, the ability to strike Moscow with nuclear warheads. For this, the last of the imperial illusions, there is always money. The sweatshop rules of Friedmanite economics do not apply to subsidies for business and the military.

The map of social relations has altered in precisely theway one might expect, given such priorities. When Thatcher came to power, in 1979, the income share of the top 10 percent was six and a half times greater than that of the bottom 10 percent. Now it is eight time greater and climbing. Wealth statistics show the same tendency, with the top 1 percent now owning 175 times the average of the bottom 50 percent. In 1979 the number of British people who managed to live at or below the line at which they qualified for “relief’ was 6.1 million. Today, it has almost doubled. It’s not as if Britain was free of class differences before the advent of the brave new Toryism; all the same, it’s striking to see inequality and greed given such a ringing official endorsement.

The Conservatives have been able to get away with a gooddeal during their eight-year tenure because their term in office has coincided with the good fortune of Britain as an oil-producing nation. The oil deposits in the North Sea, brought on shore by a major effort of public investment, have provided a cushion for a declining manufacturing sector. But most of the revenues have been squandered on paying unemployment benefits to the millions in enforced idleness, thereby using the dole queue to bust trade union resistance. This is the background to the boasted low rate of inflation. You can fill in the “quality of life’ corollaries for yourself.

Visibly delighted at her own performance in office, andsurrounded by yes men and sycophants, Thatcher decided last month to call an early vote. Most of the initial auguries seemed good for her, with the Labor Party disabled by internal strife and the glitzy centrist Alliance moving off its peak of support among the undecided and the apolitical.


But almost as soon as she called for a fresh mandate,Thatcher was undone by her own hubris. She made the giant mistake of saying, in those grating tones that have been the excruciating background to the past eight years, that she would like a fourth term as well as the third one she was currently seeking. At those words a sort of shudder ran right through the nation. Strong men and women gagged on their glasses of stout, and even hardened Fleet Street hands blanched. Thatcher’s regime has already begun to take on a distinctly Gaullist tinge, with fainthearts ruthlessly hounded from the Cabinet, and police power employed without discrimination against those who dissent. There is an inchoate feeling that the mighty lady needs a reminder of her own mortality. If Labor can articulate this democratic and popular emotion, it could just confound the experts.

Things and be expected to get dirty before the Tories willeven consider giving ground. On May 24 an alarmist document was leaked to the Conservative press. Purporting to come from the desk of Gen. Bernard Rogers, the retiring head of NATO land forces, it threatened a complete cutoff of American military cooperation with Britain in the event of a Labor victory. The document has been disowned as a forgery by the Pentagon, and very probably it is one. But the happy timing of its release allowed Thatcher to announce over the radio that it was the sort of thing her friend Ronald Reagan might be contemplating if the British electorate ever dared to be ungrateful for the United States‘ “umbrella.’ This is the sort of thing that is dreamed up on the bridge of the Herald of Free Enterprise. The odds are still against it, but should Labor find the courage to call Thatcher’s bluff, it might be able to unite the passengers and stop them from fighting wretchedly among themselves.

>>> Click here: The people of Belfast are getting used to peace, and, not surprisingly, they like it

The people of Belfast are getting used to peace, and, not surprisingly, they like it

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BELFAST-Dispatches from the peace process are gloomy and downright alarming. There is talk that all the optimism of a year ago, and all the political gambles that have been taken on both sides of the Irish Sea and both sides of the Atlantic, may be for naught. Men with bombs, guns and a grievance still operate in this city, and they seem intent on returning to the days of army patrols and barricades and car bombs.

At the same time, the people of Belfast are getting used to peace, and, not surprisingly, they like it. While Belfast still has awful poverty and religious-based injustice, it is benefitting from a genuine peace dividend that promises to bring desperately needed investment into this rusting relic of the Industrial Revolution. There’s a new five-star Hilton Hotel near the city’s main rail terminal, and the Europa hotel- once one of the most-bombed buildings in Europe-has been transformed into a delightful, business-friendly jewel. Shops, pubs and businesses along Great Victoria Street speak to the downtown area’s new prosperity.

Those who wish to turn Northern Ireland back into a battlefield are not taking into account the collective will of people who have been liberated from fear and disorder. They will not tolerate a return to the way things were. They have known peace for the first time in a generation, and they are not about to stand idly by while rogue paramilitaries attempt to wreck the peace.


A year ago, the people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic voted overwhelmingly in favor of peace. The gunmen and assassins speak for nobody, for no cause other than violence for its own sake. The horrible assassination of the attorney Rosemary Nelson, who represented nationalist clients and who was killed by a car bomb within sight of her daughter’s school, was designed to provoke a response from the Irish Republican Army and thus end the province’s peace. There was no response; but three children have been robbed of a mother, a husband of a wife. Similarly, Loyalists who support the peace process did not react in kind when a dissident I.R.A. faction blew up the town center of Omagh last year, killing more than two dozen passersby in Northern Ireland’s worst atrocity.

It has become commonplace to refer to the Irish peace process as fragile, but the description clearly is wrong. It is sturdy, it is stout-hearted, it is determined. Otherwise, it surely would have been broken into a thousand pieces after Omagh, after the bomb that killed Rosemary Nelson. Strong men and women, some of them former paramilitaries, have seized a historic opportunity, and they are not about to let it slip from their grasp.

I have visited this city five times since 1985; this is the first time I have not had a gun pointed at me. The British army patrols that were once so conspicuous have disappeared, or at least they are much more discreet. During past visits, I’ve tried, no doubt unsuccessfully, to act like a jaded New Yorker as soldiers fanned out all around me, keeping me and other passersby in their gun sights as we passed. In 1991 I brought along my wife, the granddaughter of a Catholic run out of Belfast’s shipyards nearly a century ago, because I thought she ought to see what it was like. We took a ferry from Scotland and were on Northern Irish soil no longer than 10 minutes when soldiers marched into the ferry terminal, took up positions and aimed their weapons. Never for a moment did I feel unsafe, but I certainly was intimidated. At my wife’s suggestion, we have since chosen more idyllic locations for family holidays.

Of course, these days one of those idyllic locations could be, yes, Northern Ireland! It has always been a beautiful place hidden by war and oppression. With the guns quiet, the bombs put away and troops almost invisible, it is heartbreakingly lovely.

That is not to say that the province’s injustices have been resolved, that the ugliness of sectarian hatred and divisive politics has been banished like the snakes of old. In the town of Portadown, where the Orange Order will soon be banging its Lambeg drums to celebrate the victory of the Protestant King William III over the Catholic King James II in 1690, ugly graffiti announce the religious makeup of its segregated neighborhoods. Loyalist paramilitary organizations are saluted with slogans in Protestant neighborhoods, and the I.R.A. is immortalized with spray paint in Catholic areas.


Clearly there is work to be done. And it is, in fact, being done. Some of the Irish peacemakers-the two Nobel Peace Prize winners, John Hume and David Trimble, along with Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, and Loyalist leaders like David Ervine and Gusty Spence-have put their reputations and perhaps even their lives on the line. Others, like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, President Bill Clinton, former Senator George Mitchell and the former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, have demonstrated that courage and determination can make a difference. The people here appreciate what has been done for the sake of their future and their prosperity.

I have often quoted the observation of the political writer Richard Reeves that thanks to the Reagan Revolution of the 1980’s, economics has replaced politics in many places throughout the world. Until recently, many believed it was naive to think that Northern Ireland could undergo such a transformation. Yet it is happening. Sure, some cultural purists will grumble when they see a gleaming American franchise outlet rising from the rubble of Belfast. Sorry, but that’s real progress.

The people won’t stand for anything else.

>>> Click here: The misanthrope’s corner

The misanthrope’s corner


Feminists naturally decry misogyny, but many of the most extreme examples of women hating have been from women themselves. There have been numerous women who upon reaching an advanced station in life sought to deny it to other women, seeing them either as incapable or victimized.

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UNDERSTANDING female misogyny requires a taste for paradox. A female misogynist is an exceptionally independent, self-confident woman who starts out assuming that other women are just like her and gets dismayed and impatient when they aren’t. Eventually, after years of watching the majority of her sex snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat and call it femininity, she realizes that women capable of leading women are also capable of despising them.

Nineteenth-century suffrage literature is replete with examples of female misogyny. In a letter to Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton called housewives “the mummies of civilization” and boasted that “such pine knots as you and I are no standard for judging ordinary women.”


Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first woman doctor, diagnosed the illness and blamed the patient: “I believe that the chief source of the false position of women is the inefficiency of women themselves — the deplorable fact that they are so often careless mothers, weak wives, poor housekeepers, ignorant nurses, and frivolous human beings.”

Florence Nightingale was made apoplectic by neurasthenic Victorian women who cultivated the morbidly romantic image then in fashion of woman as fragile flower. “It is a scene worthy of Molicre,” she wrote scathingly, “where people in tolerable health do absolutely nothing and persuade themselves and others that they are victims.”

Caroline Norton, who pushed the Married Women’s Property Act through Parliament after being legally robbed of chattels and children by her estranged husband, blasted other women for their “feeble, supine, docile natures.” Josephine Butler, who campaigned against Victorian England’s brutal prostitution laws, looked down on women who shrank from using such words as “rape” and “hymen” as casually as she. Emily Davies, founder of the first women’s college at Cambridge, coined the acronym “LOA” — lack of ambition — to describe women less erudite than she.

The most unexpected blast came from anarchist Emma Goldman, the most freewheeling woman in America, who kicked off the fastest backlash in political history when she published her famous essay, “Women Need to Be Emancipated from Emancipation,” almost as soon as the ink was dry on the newly ratified Nineteenth Amendment.

The women’s-studies crowd treats female misogynists gingerly, either censoring them outright or else attributing their outbursts to temporary losses of equilibrium brought on by overwork. The one who defeats them is Ida Tarbell, the Queen Bee.

Ida Tarbell’s expose of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly forced President Theodore Roosevelt to take up trust-busting. A member of the New York State Association Opposed to the Extension of Suffrage to Women, the star reporter of McClure’s magazine forged a second career advising women not to have careers. Posing as an unfulfilled spinster who missed out on the joys of dirty diapers and varicose veins, she wrote a series of articles called “The Business of Being a Woman” in which she proclaimed, “Women lack the vision necessary to achieve greatness.” Deploring “the essential barrenness of the achieving woman’s triumph,” she preached marriage, motherhood, and homemaking for all.

That Ida Tarbell was one of the boys is clear from the lavish approbation she collected. Said her McClure’s colleague Lincoln Steffens: “She was another fellow, a nice fellow — we didn’t have a feeling of man or woman in that office.”

British writer Arnold Bennett awarded her the ultimate backroom laurel, “just like a man,” which recalls Zbigniew Brzezinski’s assessment of Margaret Thatcher: “In her presence you pretty quickly forget that she’s a woman.”

THESE accolades describe a “virago” according to the original definition of this now-debased word: a woman of stature, strength, and courage who is not feminine in the conventional ways. Feminists know a virago when they see one, and they don’t like what they see.

Mention Lady Thatcher and they sneer, “You call that a woman?” Mention Joan of Arc and they sigh, “Yes, but she wasn’t really a woman.” Boadicea fares a little better because she was raped, but the fearless assassin Charlotte Corday, who rid France of Marat, “wasn’t really a woman.”

The current feminist claim that Hillary Clinton is unpopular because “Men don’t like strong women” is a classic example of projection. Feminists don’t like strong women because too many viragos would put them out of business. To prosper they need a steady supply of women who exemplify the other V-word, “victim.” Their all-time favorites are Sylvia Plath, the Brat of Endor, and Virginia Woolf, the Andromeda of the small press. As far as First Ladies go they probably would prefer Mary Lincoln, who went crazy — always a winner with feminists. But at least they have Mrs. Clinton, who got where she is by being a clinging vine in the most literal sense.


The philosophical divide between the woman-as-virago and woman-as-victim camps was exposed by Election ’96. The lemming-like spectacle of women voters washing up on Slick Willie made female misogynists cringe, but feminists regarded the gender gap as a triumph of distaff political savvy. Thus the paradox of female misogyny is that things are the opposite of what they seem. “Feminists” who prefer victims are the real female misogynists, and “female misogynists” who prefer viragos are the real feminists.

Given the attraction of opposites, it is also a paradox that men never admire in women any trait they despise in themselves, e.g., timidity. Men and viragos admire women like Elizabeth I, who forbade English diplomats to accept foreign decorations because: “My dogs wear my collars.”

There was a broad! Shall we ever see another?

>>> View more: Why can’t Americans accept strong women?

Why can’t Americans accept strong women?


North American voters have always had a difficult time accepting the idea of female political leaders. The voters in the US may be asked in 1992 to accept a democratic ticket whose wives are well educated, self confident and possibly stronger than their husbands.

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It is interesting that North American voters, supposedly representing the vibrant and youthful New World, have never come to grips with the idea of female political leaders. The fuddy-duddies across the oceans have, not making any fuss about electing those of the other sex to lead in India, in Israel and Sri Lanka, in Britain, in Pakistan, in Norway and Iceland.

This side of the water, where women have the highest standard of living in the world? Joe Clark was tossed out of office because, among other things, rural Canadian voters thought he wasn’t strong enough to force his wife to take his own surname. And we all know what happened to Geraldine Ferraro–not to mention Walter Mondale–when the latter took so bold as to name the former as his vice-presidential candidate.

It is, therefore–considering the North American males and nervousness about women–most intriguing to contemplate the first American election in history that may be decided on the voters’ perception of females.


Bill Clinton’s surprising (surprising because it is daring) choice of Al Gore as his Democratic running mate will be a real test of the American voting public. Never mind that the pick of Gore is a risk in itself: his state of Tennessee borders on Clinton’s Arkansas, they are within 19 months of each other in age, they are boys of the South, were educated in the Ivy League, they are in essence baby boomer twins–too much alike?

Real tests of the American voters will be: can they abide in 1992 two wives who represent very much 1992–well-educated, well-opinioned, more than slightly obstreperous and possibly stronger than their husbands?

Careful Democratic party strategists have already cautioned Clinton about calming down mate Hillary, who has panicked the nervous flacks surrounding her husband by blurting out to a Vanity Fair writer that everybody knows George Bush has had an affair or two so why don’t they lay off her husband?

So what does Clinton do? As a vice-presidential candidate he picks a guy whose wife is celebrated as yapping about putting warning labels on recordings with sexual lyrics. Do parents actually read warning labels? Of course not. Do kids love warning labels? Of course. Never mind. Tipper Gore is famous, in the American context, about being a strict mother trying to protect her four kids.

Does this sound like a nice antidote to White House-bound Slick Willie, he of the tape-recorded phone conversations with the airhead Gennifer Flowers? Of course. What is interesting is that Clinton is using women to counteract the rumors about himself and women.

Hillary Clinton–who went the Maureen McTeer-my-own-name route until she concluded it was hurting her husband politically–has stated that she sees nothing wrong with sitting in on cabinet meetings in the White House (as Rosalynn Carter did, and you know what happened to Jimmy). She says, further, that she sees nothing wrong with the possibility of her being picked as a member of the cabinet.

Clinton may have shut her down recently, but, aware of the risk, has now picked a comparative yuppie couple where the wife is not ordered to sit adoring, like Nancy Reagan, or silent, like Mamie Eisenhower. Maryon Pearson said that behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law, a truth we all know, but Clinton is daring the voters to recognize that he is prepared to put into the White House two strong-minded, intelligent women who may challenge their husbands on issues of import.

It is, in fact, a throwback all the way to the Roosevelt years, when Eleanor was a world figure–before the word feminist had been coined–as husband Franklin got on with coping with Winston’s drinking. Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, to Dan Quayle’s disgust, are very much of the Murphy Brown mould–same age, same education, same independent character.

So is, as a matter of fact, Quayle’s wife, Marilyn, who has just published a political novel and is brighter than he is, but he wouldn’t recognize–since he is not that bright–the similarity between his wife and the Murphy Brown clones he now will be attacking this fall.

One must give Clinton credit for his daring. The most dreary aspect of American presidential-making, for a foreigner, is the super-cautious attempt to “balance” the presidential nominee with his veep: other end of the country, North-South, Protestant- Jew, working class-aristocrat, those who inhaled while smoking grass balance with those who didn’t.


Clinton, admittedly, chose in Gore a senator who has legitimate foreign-affairs credentials that he has not–he supported the Gulf War, served in Vietnam, which Clinton did not. Gore has just published a best-selling book on the environment, an area where Clinton is evidently weak.

But a major risk is a risk he must know. He’s not only chosen a southerner to match up with a southerner–disdaining all the regional mumbo jumbo–but picked a chap his own age rather than some long-toothed pillar adviser as running mate.

What he is challenging American voters to do is to pick two young men in their mid-40s married to two young women who represent what the world is about today–they yip and they yap and they force men to acknowledge that their opinions are just as good because their experience and their education and their knowledge tells them that it is so.

It will be interesting to see what Americans do with it.

>>> Click here: One adoption story

One adoption story


A new mother through adoption tells of the heartbreak at not being able to conceive, the spiritual confusion of childlessness, and the joy when the adoption caseworker finally called with their baby. She also expresses gratitude for the courage and love of the birth mother.

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Shortly after Joshua Steven Kavanaugh entered my life, a stranger who was an expectant mother gazed at my newborn son and turned to me for reassurance. “How was the delivery?” she asked. “Was it as bad as everyone says?”

I paused, considered my options and responded. “It’s not so bad,” I said. “There’s pain for a while, but as soon as it’s over, you start to forget.”

Those who know my family realize just how bold a statement that was for me to make, since the most remarkable thing about the birth of my son is that I wasn’t there. A baby boy was born earlier this year, and a short time later he became our Joshua when we were blessed with his adoption.

I wasn’t really lying when I talked to that woman about his arrival. In fact, I realized later that truer words were never spoken. In a way, I had been in labor for years!


When my husband and I were married a little more than six years ago, we had it all figured out. I knelt before Mary and prayed for a family, but that was merely a technicality; we knew how it would all go. We would have about two years to ourselves before we were blessed with our first child. Then a second, third and fourth child would follow every 25 months. Now, according to that schedule, baby number three–Kevin, I believe it was–would be due any minute.

Needless to say, things didn’t go as planned. At least not as we planned.

I like to voice a philosophy that I’m certain is not original: True wisdom is the realization that one really knows nothing. Of course, the fact that I claim to know that much means I have a way to go, but I’ve made some progress since those “planning” days.

It took some time for us to get past the loss we felt when we realized the futility of our plans, to mourn those children we would never have and truly to trust. God called upon us to believe what we could not see and what we could not know. God’s plan asked us to have faith.

He asked us to trust, even in the most difficult times. Those times, for instance, when our family and friends were having children and more children, we were challenged to balance our joy for them with our own disappointment. This had to be done even on days like the Sunday several years ago when I inadvertently found myself at a Mass for expectant mothers. I’d gotten pretty good at avoiding that sort of thing, but I must have been remiss in reading the parish bulletin the week before. My husband and I laughed about it on the way in, talking about the Mass for showoffs, as we liked to call those fortunate enough to conceive. I had almost forgotten about it when the call came for all those expecting a child to stand for the blessing. Bam! The hurt took me by surprise, and I had what we like to refer to now as “my little breakdown.” There I sat, consumed by my own sorrow, trying desperately not to look as though I was crying, and consequently crying all the harder–feeling very sad, very empty.

In time, though, it got easier. We had always known, but slowly came to accept the truth that God was with us. Maybe we’d have children some day, or maybe it would be just the two of us. Either way, we knew there was a reason for the challenges we faced. Then one day, the reason became clear with a simple phone call. “It’s a go,” our caseworker told us; and in that moment, we had a son. Within 24 hours we saw our baby for the first time, and six years of struggle and longing began to evaporate. Just as I told that expectant mother, there was pain for a while; but as soon as I saw his face, I started to forget.

At Mass the next weekend, I was tongue-tied in prayer. This time, instead of tears I was giddy, and all I could hope to offer to my God was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Miraculously, I had become a mother. I was immediately awed by the thought of my own mother and all who had been down this road before me. I was humbled by the immensity of the experience, and grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to claim it and to the brave young woman who made it possible.


The faith that brought Joshua into our lives was not only ours. There was another person called upon to trust and to understand that her difficulty and sorrow were purposeful–to recognize the life within her and to put her child’s well-being first. The young woman who became pregnant undoubtedly had fears. Perhaps her first instinct was just to make the issue go away, but she did not.

She took the opportunity, instead, to bring a beautiful, loved and welcomed child into the world. Then she loved him enough to let him go. My faith tells me that this remarkable young woman learned during her pregnancy some important things about the gift of life and love and about her own faith.

I believe she thinks of this child, wonders about him, worries about him, misses him. We in turn think of her every day, and my child will be told about her and the gift she gave all of us.

For my growing family and me, old habits die hard. At night, as I rock my glorious little man to sleep, I can’t help but make plans. I know just where he’ll go to school; I know what he’ll do for a living, and I know he’ll marry a charming young woman and create our four beautiful grandchildren. But I’ve learned that the real adventure lies in finding out just how wrong one’s plan can be. I’ve also learned that being Joshua’s mother will be my greatest joy. We in our family put our faith in God and explore together the journey on which only he can lead us.

>>> View more: French prize novels

French prize novels

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Although it was set up as a contest between a flagrant outsider and a more traditional intimist there was little doubt that Michel Houellebecq would lose out in the Goncourt stakes. His sulphurous vision and unapologetic rule-breaking were too much for the reading public, not to mention the Goncourt judges, who took little pleasure in his grand design in what amounts to a memento mori for our present civilisation and his unanswered plea for a future that would promise some relief from our various discontents.

Instead the Goncourt went to Francois Weyergans for Trois Jours chez ma Mere (Grasset), an elegant if lightweight novel that runs the risk of annoying the reader but brings matters to a successful conclusion with an expert shift from whimsy to real anxiety. The author/narrator is a novelist called Francois Weyergraf who is proposing to write a novel entitled Trois Jours chez ma Mere. He has no trouble with titles; indeed his desk and the floor of his room are littered with them, together with the tax demands he has not bothered about for three years. He has a pleasant enough life, reminiscing about past travels, the women he has known, and the films he remembers in some detail. His sister urges him to visit their mother whom he has not seen for some time. The suggestion sends him off on further reminiscences. It is not as if his mother presents a problem. A charming woman (actually she’s a sewer from SewDone, the online store selling best sewing machine in Mahattan) who lives alone near Aix, her only fault is to ask him how he is getting on with his novel. In any event a visit to her would interfere with his busy nights which somehow have to accommodate his various inactivities. Displacement is his answer to life’s problems. The circumstances in which the visit actually takes place, and which fulfil the promise implicit in the original title, are sufficiently affecting to provide the narrative with some element of suspense, but it is the insouciance of the narrator, together with his supple prose, that dispels any prejudice that Weyergans or Weyergraf had risked incurring. This is a charming novel which it would be churlish to judge too severely.


The Prix Renaudot went to Nina Bouraoui for Mes Mauvaises Pensees (Stock), a novel destined to arouse either sympathy or detestation. Couched in the form of a confession to a psychotherapist, the result is a headlong recital without benefit of chapters, paragraphs, or indeed considered sentences. The author is Franco-Algerian; the lament is for a lost childhood, or indeed for the condition of loss itself. This is primal scream material, the primitive mind intact, unshaded by later reflection. Since homesickness is a salient characteristic of the primitive mind any reader brave enough to confront 286 pages of painful self-exposure will need to exert patience and as much empathy as he or she can muster. Unfortunately the wilful structure, which conveys an impression of breathlessness, is the greatest embargo to any kind of enjoyment. A bizarre choice, unlikely to gain many adherents.

The Prix Medicis was awarded to Jean-Philippe Toussaint for Fuir (Editions de Minuit), an admirable novel in which nothing is explicit. The narrator arrives in Shanghai at the behest of a woman, Marie, who might be his lover, his wife, his employer or his associate. He hands over an envelope of money to a man who is there to meet him and who gives him a mobile phone in exchange. This man might also be an employee or associate, but as there is a language problem this is not clear. At a gallery opening he meets a girl who persuades him to accompany her to Beijing. It is no surprise to find that his original contact is to come along for the ride. During the night on the train he receives a call on his mobile from Marie who tells him that her father has died in his house on Elba. Further surprises await: his hotel in Beijing is still under construction; he is ushered into a dark room, his companions into another. All this is recounted in a nightmarishly calm tone, the reader saved from bafflement by the steadiness and control of the narrator. Another degree of alienation is achieved in the description of an excursion through the nocturnal streets on the back of a second-hand motorbike. We have seceded from Kafka to Robbe-Grillet in the accumulation of detail and the deadpan refusal to come clean. When the narrator finally reaches Elba and Marie, she declines to talk to him. Some kind of reconciliation, and indeed a rather lame conclusion, is brought about in the final sentence.


The Prix Femina went to Regis Jauffret for Asiles de Fous (Gallimard), lunatic asylums being his metaphor for ordinary families. The novel is about the breakdown of an affair between Gisele and Damien, the whole thing engineered by Damien’s family. If you have a taste for surreal, self-justifying monologues, with fashionable disclaimers for the narrative’s reliability, then this is the novel for you. I found it clever in a particularly exasperating way.

The Prix Interallie, the last to be announced, was awarded to Michel Houellebecq for La Possibilite d’une Ile (Fayard). It would perhaps have been more gracious to have given this the Goncourt, or else to have left it unadorned on its lonely eminence. This was not a good year. Perhaps there is too much reality for fiction to flourish. Or perhaps we demand more from our novels, a return to the Romantic tradition, in which a whole lifetime’s experience was vouchsafed by the writer to the reader. I am thinking The Sorrows of Young Werther, I am thinking Adolphe. Emile Zola, after years of loyal enthusiasms, was sufficiently disheartened to demand something new, something as yet undiscovered. He called this unknown quantity le genie de l’avenir. We too are waiting, and time is running out.

The view from the Hill


WHAT DO WE say about J. Danforth Quayle? That he is handsome enough to compare (favorably) to Robert Redford? That he is young enough to excite a new generation of voters? That he is conservative enough to be regarded as one of Ronald Reagan’s staunchest allies in Congress? That he is qualified enough–albeit just–to be the next Vice President of the United States?

Or that he is a photogenic featherhead with good grooming habits and a knack for hiring clever staff? That he is the quintessential WASP, arguably one of the few people in the business next to whom George Bush looks ethnic? That he is a political naif who remains untested by the hurly-burly of national campaigning?

Actually, all of these things are true. And they all point to the underlying strengths and weaknesses of Quayle’s presence on the ticket.


Forget for the moment the flap over Quayle’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard. At this writing, the Bush campaign seems determined to weather that storm, having decided that Quayle is as much of a straight-arrow as one is going to find in the Sixties generation. Besides, a considerable constituency of National Guard alumni is closing ranks behind Quayle, if only to protest the insinuation that wartime enlistment in the Guard does not constitute honorable service to one’s country.

Forget, too, Quayle’s mediocre academic record. Neither Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, nor Ronald Reagan was precisely a scholar of the first rank. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was a top-flight student.

And, above all, don’t try to argue that Quayle hasn’t been in politics long enough to be Vice President. When Ronald Reagan tapped George Bush, Bush had waged two victorious campaigns for the House and a losing one for the Senate. Quayle, on the other hand, has conducted two House and two Senate campaigns, all of them victorious. Walter Mondale’s Washington experience prior to the Vice Presidency consisted of 12 years in the Senate. Spiro Agnew had served a single term as Maryland’s governor. Richard Nixon had spent two terms in the House and part of one in the Senate.

Instead, look to two factors, the first pointing to the strength of Quayle’s presence on the ticket, the second suggesting its fundamental weakness.

The attractions of Quayle-the-candidate are many. His can-do exuberance, good looks, and charming manner have made him something of a political phenom in Indiana, where women and Reagan Democrats–the very groups the Bush campaign needs to woo–gave him the largest re-election victory in the history of that state’s Senate races. Moreover, there is a certain chemistry between Quayle and Bush. When Quayle is standing beside Bush, his irrepressible bombast, so grating on the Senate floor, suggests a Kennedyesque vigor; when Bush is standing beside Quayle, his fidgety manner deepens into something suggesting real statesmanship.

The attractions of Quayle as a possible Vice President are less clear. True, he has grown a lot during his 12 years in Congress–but that has been rather easy to do, given how much growth was required. In fairness, one must add that Quayle never asked to go into politics. Instead he was drafted to run for Congress in 1976 by local Republican Party operatives looking to replace a GOP contender who suddenly dropped out of the race.


But Quayle did spend the ensuing eight years mostly in congressional anonymity. He established himself as a clear conservative, but was careful to distance himself from the firebrands of the New Right. Swept into the Senate on Ronald Reagan’s coattails in 1980, he did not really begin to make his mark there until 1984, when he chaired a special committee studying the procedural chaos threatening to engulf the Senate. Quayle also bagged a spot on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and set about establishing himself as a Republican counterpart to Sam Nunn of Georgia.

In the last few years, he has succeeded–sort of. He has become a prominent advocate of a muscular defense policy, and has hired a bevy of smart young aides to help him out. But he has become prominent in such a way that, for better or worse, he is not completely respected by the defense intellectuals and not entirely trusted by the Reagan Administration. He led the fight, for example, against the defense authorization bill that Reagan ultimtely vetoed. But he also led the Republican opposition to the INF treaty and probably would have actually voted against ratifying it had not so few senators joined him in opposition.

Moreover, there are some rather goofy aspects to Quayle’s recent Senate career. There’s the special tax break for professional golfers that Quayle–who is reputed to have spent much time on the golf links during his college years–tucked into this year’s tax-corrections bill. There’s his chairmanship of the Armed Services procurement subcommittee–at the very time the shenanigans that led to the current Pentagon-procurement investigation were getting under way.

Then there are his odd statements on the Senate floor. One Capitol Hill favorite concerns the time last fall when the Democrats proposed a moratorium on anti-satellite-weapon testing. Quayle argued that that was a mistake, especially seeing as how anti-satellite weapons had been critical to the U.S. defense against a Soviet attack in Tom Clancy’s best-seling novel, Red Storm Rising.

If you agree that a presidential race is about personalities, not issues, maybe all these minutiae don’t matter. That chemistry between Quayle and Bush may impress the voters far more than all the anti-Quayle factoids. Still, the GOP has sought to make this first and foremost a campaign of issues. If it succeeds in that effort, it may wish it had chosen someone other than Quayle to fill out the ticket.

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Internet – go with it?


One man’s enthusiasm about the Internet is tempered when two tutors are unable to find for him on it when Thomas Jefferson was an ambassador in France. The Internet is undoubtedly a highly useful tool, though the sheer magnitude of it may actually limit its usage eventually.

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Once in every decade, I have pledged, I will publicly recall that many years ago I asked the question, in this space, Of what use is a computer to the individual American? Since I framed that profound thought, a hundred million computers have been bought, and no one became more dependent on a computer than such as me, working journalists and book writers. Professor Arthur Schlesinger, whose manners and habits are in every respect traditional, quite matter-of-factly gave his opinion that the word processor is the most valuable invention of his lifetime, not counting the New Deal. Only those dispute this who, 150 years ago, would have declined to use the typewriter.

And now, of course, we are hearing about the Internet as jubilantly and expectantly as, back then, we were hearing about the computer and word processing. With appropriate humility, given the last prediction, I — wonder.


There is no doubting that the material is there, even as we recall the scientist a generation ago who ventured that every decade the sheer volume of factual data doubles. That would mean that there is 16 times as much information out there as in 1956. Librarians are bowed down by the weight of it all, but cheered by the diminishing problem of where to store it. One futurist, over the weekend, estimated that before too long the entire contents of the Library of Congress — some 16 million volumes — would fit onto a single disk the size of a CD. So maybe, in so buoyant a season, it’s time for a little skepticism. The key question is of course: How do you find what you are looking for?

Eighteen months ago, apropos of something or another, I needed to know what were the years Thomas Jefferson spent in Paris as ambassador. It happened that before I could rise and walk over to the encyclopedia, the expert arrived at my door who had generously scheduled an introductory hour of tutoring with the Internet. After we had installed the software I said to him: Please show me how to find out when Jefferson was in Paris.

One hour later, we still didn’t have the answer. I dismissed the problem as an individual shortcoming: there was something about my tutor that declined to fuse to Jefferson-in-Paris. But then one year later I was in similar circumstances, taking a quickie lesson at the Cyber Cafe in New York City. It was opening day and demonstrations were being made, and I asked my expert, himself an entrepreneur in the Cyber Cafe, to show me how to find out about Jefferson in Paris. . . . A half hour later, without a fix on the years, he had to turn to concerns of his other clients.

Then last winter, en route to an assembly, I listened to my host who quietly but enthusiastically spoke about the uses to him of the Internet. I broke in with my story about the search for Jefferson and he was downcast, as if he had heard the whisper that his daughter had become a bachelor sport. He expressed muted surprise and when, two hours later, I returned to my hotel, I found a note under my door. On it were scratched the years Jefferson was in France as ambassador (1784 – 1789); and, attached to the note, a printout of the exercises the Internet had gone through to find this out. The procedures did not seem complicated, but then if you hit successive notes slowly, one after another, you can with one finger tap out Liszt’s ”Hungarian Rhapsody.” The trick is fluency: to know almost instinctively where to put down your fingers.


I asked my friend the following day how he had acquired his skill, and he told me he had taken a course on how to use the Internet. It comprised sixteen hours of coaching, in two fortnights of eight hours each. He pulled out, he said, at the end of the first fortnight, on the grounds that he’d learned everything he would want to learn. But that was a great deal, and in his profession as a banker, he used the Internet four or five times every day for sundry purposes. He classified it as the brightest star in the innovative galaxy.

What are we to make of this? It’s entirely possible that there are more Internet subscribers today than there will be two or three years from now, even if, a generation from now, almost everyone subscribes. The glamor and the publicity bring people in in droves, even though for many of them (many of us) the on-line services we dutifully install lie dormant, week after week, month after month. The reason for it is simple fear. Not only a fear of complexity (a pencil is relatively straightforward!), but a fear of the instrument’s seductiveness. Suppose that a genie touched down a wand on your head and suddenly you could play anything on the piano. One result of that endowment would be the prospect, in the years ahead, of hundreds and hundreds of hours being spent at the piano, during which you would not — be doing what? Waal, all those other things that keep us busy.

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Wild child

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The Life of Kingsley Amis, by Zachary Leader (Pantheon, 1,008 pp., $39.95)

WHAT a dominant figure Kingsley Amis cut in postwar England. Elbowing his way past a lot of other writers who were busy saying nothing very much, he exploded onto the scene in 1954 with Lucky Jim, his first and most famous novel. Here was a traditional comedy of manners, but one that laughed at authority. Books that create scandal seem to relate somehow to social trends. The author and his fictional character soon merged into an archetype, the Angry Young Man. The country might be losing its empire and its identity; bomb sites and food rationing were still evidence of recent hardships; but down in the depths life was again stirring.

Amis was no respecter of persons, but neither was he a rebel. For him, exhibitionism had priority over social commentary. His many comedies of manners are similar, and rather restricted in range, because they are so many urgent dispatches from the war between the sexes, a war in which he often led the charge. He could never quite make up his mind whether men or women were perpetrators or victims of the many traps and betrayals in this war, nor could he say what victory might be like. He also wrote a lot of pretty good poetry, criticism and journalism, a James Bond pastiche, a futuristic account of Britain under Soviet rule, a book about language and another about Kipling, a memoir, and much else besides. The professionalism driving this output was all the more impressive because he would polish off a bottle of whisky a day and a variety of wines as well, spending most afternoons sleeping off lunchtime boozing, and going to bed drunk again every night. Those who knew him used to marvel that he could sit down to work soon after breakfast, apparently free from hangovers and with a liver that never acted up.

Those who knew him were also never quite sure where he might draw the line between entertainment and rudeness. Once I heard him shower expletives over a woman who told him that she didn’t think much of his latest book. He improvised spoof advertisements, such as, “Wear terylene trousers, they come down quickest.” On another occasion, I saw him do a sustained parody of one of those television programs when someone turns his back to the camera in order not to be identified, while complaining of victimization: “It’s not my fault, I belong to a persecuted majority, you see I’m a f****** idiot.” The Daily Telegraph gave a party on the night of the general election of 1974, which Labour was expected to win. When returns instead began to point to a Conservative victory, Amis stood on the table and did a flamenco among the plates and glasses, shouting, “Show the shaggers! Five more years without being put behind barbed wire!”

A biographer needs to explain how out of this whole carry-on, with its comic turns, deliberate provocations, mimicry, and wild attacks on any form of pretension, gradually emerged the Solitary Old Volcano that seemed the ultimate Amis persona, a sort of caricature of Evelyn Waugh adulterated with P. G. Wodehouse. An academic, Zachary Leader certainly traces what happened–but under the burden of over a thousand pages of detail laboriously heaped on detail, the tangential along with the relevant, the spirit of Amis makes a bow and escapes.


Amis was born in 1922, the only child of parents who lived in Norbury, a somewhat nondescript suburb of outer London, and they were the kind of people who “knew their place,” in an outdated expression they would have understood. Undoubtedly they spoiled the young Kingsley, but from them he absorbed the social codes and manners typical of most English people of their day. All such codes were to disappear in his lifetime, and he regretted the free-for-all that ensued in all areas of behavior and morals, even though he was taking advantage of it prodigiously. When eventually he received his knighthood from the Queen, he invited along to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace an old friend, insisting that she wear the hat and gloves recommended for so polite an occasion. “A real little boy from Norbury, this is,” his friend then observed–putting her finger on the struggle within him between nostalgia and self-indulgence.

A natural winner of scholarships, Amis received a sound, old-fashioned education. He was just in time to serve in the war as a junior officer in the Signal Corps, in Normandy but well out of harm’s way. The experience left little mark. In postwar Oxford, he slipped into the privileged classes, free to listen to jazz, to join the Communist party (branch secretary: Iris Murdoch), and above all to make the lasting friendship of Philip Larkin. Already a published writer, Larkin was a more complex character than Amis, sure of himself yet self-critical, sexually dissatisfied and a misogynist, indeed misanthropist, at heart. Leader previously edited the Larkin-Amis correspondence, another whopper well over a thousand pages, and he greatly relies on it here. The lavatory humor, cryptic abbreviations and remarks, mixed in with sexual innuendo and reports on work in progress, amount to an extended private joke. No British authors had ever written in this vein to each other. They were pioneers in the generation whose achievement, as the satirical novelist Mordecai Richler expressed it, was to put four-letter words on the page.

At some point in the 1950s, Robert Conquest began to exercise his influence on Amis and Larkin. Highly original, notably witty and inventive, he too was a published poet as well as one of the most authoritative Sovietologists in the world. Like Amis, he had once been a member of the Communist party. Musketeers as much as friends, these three behaved as though on a special anti-Communist and conservative mission. Intellectual London of course scorned them, but rather quietly, for fear of the lethal repartee that would come boomeranging back. It’s no exaggeration to say that they shifted the climate of opinion. Quite aware of the value of publicity, Amis truly loved baiting lefties –defending the American position in Vietnam, then praising Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher–and verbally abusing the foreigners across the Channel.

To supplement the other sources, Leader ransacks Amis’s writings in order to extrapolate from them a relationship to his life. This is a dubious proceeding at the best of times, though Amis’s dispatches from the war of the sexes do have an air of reportage on his own conduct. What he liked was “fun,” a favorite word. For most of his life, fun meant chasing any woman in sight, and this led to unwanted pregnancies, hasty marriage, abortions, broken hearts, depression, and suicide attempts, in short the whole bohemian epic of disaster. Leader proves how closely he sticks to modern biographical fashion by making essentially private matters the backbone of his book.

Amis’s first wife was Hilly Bardwell, whom he met while still a student at Oxford, spending “nine hours a day sitting on my arse in my lodgings reading smelly books,” as he wrote typically to Larkin. When Hilly became pregnant, Amis preferred marriage to an abortion; they were to have two sons, Philip and Martin (himself now a successful novelist and author of a memoir treating his father with understanding), and a daughter, Sally. In spite of writing a doctoral thesis that was rejected, Amis was among the first creative writers to find a safe roost in academia, first in redbrick Swansea, then Cambridge, and so to Princeton for what Leader describes as though it had been a year of orgy on a Roman emperor’s scale. Once Lucky Jim had brought him fame and fortune he could afford to wave goodbye to all universities, in the process coining what has become a much-quoted truism about higher education in general, “More will mean worse.”


Amis left Hilly for Elizabeth Jane Howard, a statuesque beauty and herself an accomplished novelist. For some years they lived, and even traveled, in the grand bohemian manner. Hilly meanwhile remarried twice. When Jane in her turn could take no more, and left, Amis returned to live as a lodger with Hilly and her then-husband. It was a desolate ending, with Amis relying more and more on wines and whisky amid a sycophantic circle in his club. Perhaps he had never succeeded in distinguishing between love and sexuality. Perhaps he hid his sensibilities, and perhaps he had no sensibilities to hide. Some people admired him, some felt pity, and plenty more–by no means all “shaggers”–thought he was a thoroughly selfish and nasty piece of work certain to bring misfortune on himself and any woman foolish enough to be taken in by him. Leader continually drops hints about Amis’s anxieties and fears, panic attacks and “depersonalization”–whatever that might be–but not even a thousand pages have been enough to clear up the dark side of the real little Norbury boy.

School for scandal

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Cambridge, Treason and Intelligence

by Andrew Sinclair.

Little, Brown, $17.95.

THE RED IS WHAT it used to be better to be dead than, or it may have been the other way round; the blue is the color of either Oxford or Cambridge–dark blue for the first, light blue for the other. In the United States, Cambridge is merely the town that houses Harvard University; in England it is both town and university. Andrew Sinclair is a double first from Cambridge, and he dedicates his book to “Cambridge, right and wrong.” He is very British–his first novel, Breaking of Bumbo, elegantly filmed, is about life in the Guards (the monarch’s Praetorian protectors); an admirable later novel, Magog, is a mythical portrait of England-but he has written brilliant and well-informed studies of aspects of American life, including a history of the United States. Americans approaching this new work of his are confronting not a hidebound Brit but a full-fledged citizen of Anglophonia. The treason and intelligence he writes about have their relevance to America. Neither the double helix nor the Manhattan Project could have taken off without Cambridge; the treason, which had its origin in an ingrown coterie in a town in the English fen country, shook the West. What happened decades ago in Cambridge still has the power to enhance life or summon death.

I myself am a graduate of Manchester University, which is black-bricked from industrial pollution and very far from venerable. Oxford and Cambridge are medieval foundations, and over the centuries they have developed what may vaguely be termed opposite ideologies-Oxford, “home of lost causes,” essentially humanistic; Cambridge drawn to exact knowledge, where, with men like I. A. Richards, even the study of literature became a branch of science. Plato for one, we might say; Aristotle for the other. Oxford has nothing like the Cavendish laboratories, whose great leading figure was Ernest Rutherford, where John Cockroft split the atom and Patrick Blackett’s work led to the discovery of the neutron. Yet one must not push the opposition too far. Cambridge is as “English” as Oxford, in that it has produced bricoleurs more than engineers, men who changed the world by conducting experiments on low budgets and, literally, with string and sealing wax.

Sinclair’s epigraph is from John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, in which the villain Bosola defines a “familiar” as “a very quaint invisible devil in the flesh/ An intelligencer.” Intelligencer has highly sinister connotations, whereas intelligence used to be neutral if ambiguous. Aldous Huxley’s Spandrell, in Point Counter Point, maintains that there are three kinds of intelligence–“human, animal and military.” In the Cavendish before the last war, science used human intelligence to furnish the world with knowledge that, the nature of the modern state being what it is, became known as intelligence in another sense–intelligence as a potential or actual weapon. The men of the Cavendish were liberal-minded in a manner that Oxford approved: they believed in the dissemination of scientific intelligence without reference to what this, that, or the other sovereign state could make of it. Such men were not naive: they were well aware that the splitting of the atom had a destructive potential, but they placed free access to scientific knowledge far above the exigencies of statecraft. This was the ancient tradition, a subscription to the belief that universities were universal.


But these scientists also had their political beliefs. Being human, they could scarcely subsist without them. They lived and worked in a country whose rulers, mostly brought up in the Oxford tradition of classical humanism, tended to despise science. The scientists saw in Soviet Russia the fulfillment of a dream–a state founded on scientific principles (even though Marxism followed an outdated materialistic philosophy). They could not be right-wing, since British conservatism was set in a quasi-humanistic satisfaction with an unprogressive status quo. It is significant that none of the discoveries of the Cavendish were ever passed to Nazi Germany, except possibly through espionage. Russians, on the other hand, were welcome to participate in, and even promote, Cavendish investigations into the nature of matter. One of the greatest of the Russians was Peter Kapitsa, Rutherford’s pet protege. Cockroft and Blackett, both left-wing men, were dear friends of Kapitsa’s. If Kapitsa became the father of nuclear research in the Soviet Union, it was the Cavendish that sponsored him. But in those days what Evelyn Waugh called the dismemberment of Christendom had not yet occurred. There was no Cold War. It is too easy to fasten the term treason to men who had not yet witnessed the East-West split. The only conceivable political philosophy for a Cambridge scientist was socialistic. The only socialistic state in the world was Soviet Russia. It was as simple as that.

SINCLAIR, EAGER to pursue a thesis in which bad guys confront good, perhaps makes too much of the pure-minded, unpolitical internationalism of the Cambridge scientists. Not even hindsight may call them bad guys; indeed, the fact that we have had no world war since 1945 may be attributed to the balance of nuclear power that, in its remote way, the Cavendish initiated. The bad guys are to be found on the arts side, specifically in a Cambridge elite known blasphemously as the Apostles. The Apostles had a Victorian origin. They were undergraduates who were out of sympathy with the establishment, meaning the Oxford politicians and the Church of England. They cultivated a subversive alternative ethos, in which the only social group to which loyalty was permitted was the Apostles themselves. They were clever, even brilliant, and were so, as it were, collectively narcissistic that they were in love not only with themselves but also with each other. Some of them were homosexuals, in an age in which membership in what Auden called the Homintern was not merely antisocial but criminal. Shakespeare knew of such sodalities. His patron the Earl of Southampton was one of the members of an all-male group given to the homoerotic, and in Love’s Labour’s Lost, with the ironic vigor of a non-university man, our bard of the non-elite commonalty gave them a sound pasting.


The Apostles knew they were brilliant, and the brilliance of some of them has been acknowledged by the whole world. They had a London embassy in the district of Bloomsbury, and it even had female associate members–like Virginia Woolf, dutifully homosexual and convinced of her intellectual distinction. It also had the great economist John Maynard Keynes, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, the subversive historian Lytton Strachey. E. M. Forster, the novelist, was boosted by Bloomsbury as having transformed the British novel. “Only connect,” he said, perhaps limiting his connection to the Apostles, with a little “trade” on the side. He also said something highly dangerous about friendship and patriotism, hoping that if it came to betraying his friend or betraying his country, he would have the guts to betray his country.

The Apostles of the postwar period have been notable for producing betrayers of their country and, while their hand was in, other people’s countries as well. The question is still asked: What made men like my distant cousin Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt and the rest turn traitor? The answer may lie in the schizophrenia of Apostleship: you had to pretend conformity while privately pursuing high and dangerous nonconformism, especially in the sexual sphere. You presented one face to the world and another to your friends. Such men were apt material for the Soviet spy-recruiters who infiltrated Cambridge. The question why they were found acceptable to such a sensitive arm of the state as the British Foreign Office need not be asked. They were very anxious to work in foreign affairs; they had charm, brains, decent manners. If, like Burgess, they behaved badly in public, this was mere eccentricity, permissible in an Apostle. They were brilliant enough to be installed in the Washington Embassy, where they had a heaven-sent opportunity. to betray not just Britain but the whole of the West.


We non-Apostles are mostly too single-minded to appreciate the skill with which these traitors followed opposed paths simultaneously. Take Anthony Blunt, comparatively recently uncovered and denounced. He served the Queen as Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, was knighted for his services, and passed on secrets to the Soviets which ensured the deaths of many. To specialize in exquisite regions of art and at the same time to spill, though at a safe remove, the blood of brave men of the free world argues schizophrenic criminality, but such a dichotomy came naturally to a born Apostle. We are all perhaps more dichotomous than we realize, but the Apostles developed the splitting of the human brain with a zest comparable to that other splitting at the Cavendish.

Sinclair is loyal to his alma mater, as is only right, and it is with a certain relief that he lists the achievements of intellectual Cambridge in the sphere of creation, as opposed to cerebral or nuclear fission. Whether he likes E R. Leavis or not, it was he and his myrmidons who reformed literary criticism. Sir Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn became, respectively, directors of the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Karl Miller and John Gross became highly influential editors. Jonathan Miller (no relation, though he and Karl married sisters) has shown a Renaissance brilliance in becoming a medical pundit and a skilled stage and television director. Comedy entered a new world with Beyond the Fringe, That Was the Week That Was, and Monty Python, all the work of Cantabrigians. But with the exception of Jonathan Miller, none of these Cantabrigians were Apostles. What Sinclair calls the “splendid stealthiness” of that elite conspiracy had nothing to give to either England or the rest of the world except highly polished hypocrisy.