Sunday, July 16, 2017


The other day a bunch of us were sitting around talking about books (as you do), when someone asked us each to name our favourite author. The answers were pretty interesting - and quite revealing. Bronwyn said 'Tracey Slaughter,' her sister Thérèse said 'Anne Carson,' Martin said 'Salman Rushdie,' I said 'Guillaume Apollinaire,' and my brother-in-law Greg said 'George Orwell.'

I guess on another day any one of us might have mentioned somebody else ('Stephen King' would probably have been more accurate for me, if the truth be told). But Orwell - that was the name that really struck me, and the response I envied most.

I've been reading his books for forty years, I'm astonished to discover. My second-hand copy of the 'Uniform Edition' of Down and Out in Paris and London cost me 20 cents in 1977, I see on the inside flap, and I acquired copies of The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia not much later. I'm sure I'd already read Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four by then, though it wasn't till I bought the large hardback 'Octopus Books' edition of his complete novels that I read the other ones. Coming Up for Air is probably my favourite book of his, actually.

  • Orwell, George. Down and Out in Paris and London. 1933. Uniform Edition. 1949. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., 1951.
  • Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier. 1937. Uniform Edition. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., 1959.
  • Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia, & Looking Back on the Spanish War. 1938 & 1953. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
  • Orwell, George. Burmese Days / A Clergyman's Daughter / Keep the Aspidistra Flying / Coming Up for Air / Animal Farm / Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1934, 1935, 1936, 1939, 1945, 1949. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Limited / Octopus Books Limited, 1976.
  • Orwell, George, & Reginald Reynolds, ed. British Pamphleteers. Volume 1: From the 16th Century to the French Revolution. London: Allan Wingate, 1948.

Nine books: 6 novels, 3 books of non-fiction reportage, plus a couple of collections of reprinted essays: that was his life's work. Or all of it that was accessible to us for a long time, that is.

There was all the fuss about him when the year 1984 finally dawned, of course. I dutifully went out and bought the facsimile edition of the manuscript of the novel. More significantly, though, it must have been around then that I discovered the Penguin editions of his Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters:

  • Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Facsimile of the Extant Manuscript. Ed. Peter Davison. Preface by Daniel G. Siegel. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Limited / Weston, Massachusetts: M & S Press Inc., 1984.
  • Orwell, George. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume 1: An Age Like This, 1920–1940. Ed. Ian Angus & Sonia Brownell. 1968. 4 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.
  • Orwell, George. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume 2: My Country Right or Left, 1940–1943. Ed. Ian Angus & Sonia Brownell. 1968. 4 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
  • Orwell, George. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume 3: As I Please, 1943–1945. Ed. Ian Angus & Sonia Brownell. 1968. 4 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
  • Orwell, George. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume 4: In Front of Your Nose, 1945–1950. Ed. Ian Angus & Sonia Brownell. 1968. 4 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.

That was an absolute revelation. For the first time it was possible to get some idea of what it must have felt like to be 'George Orwell' - all the ups and downs of his extraordinary life and times, from the slums of the Depression through the Spanish War through the Second World War and out the other side into postwar austerity. I still think this four-volume collection is a miracle of good taste and good editing.

It did, though, have the effect of making me feel that I now knew the man inside out. I did buy the volumes of hitherto undiscovered War Broadcasts which appeared in 1985, but it was with a certain reluctance. They were - to tell the truth - a little tedious taken out of context, and the great thing about Ian Angus and Sonia Orwell's tapestry had been the discovery that Orwell almost never wrote a boring or superfluous word.

  • Orwell, George. The War Broadcasts. Ed. W. J. West. 1985. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.
  • Orwell, George. The War Commentaries. Ed. W. J. West. 1985. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.

That's where I stopped. For the past thirty years I've refreshed my memory of his work from the collected edition from time to time, but I haven't read each of the successive Orwell biographies, full as each of them has been of hitherto unsuspected 'facts' (that he was an exhibitionist, that he wasn't an exhibitionist, that he calculated his public persona carefully, that he stumbled into his public persona, etc. etc.) I was aware that there was some monstrous multi-volumed beast called the Complete Works, but I assumed that it mostly repeated what I already knew.

  • Buddicom, Jacintha. Eric and Us: A Remembrance of George Orwell. London: Leslie Frewin Publishers Limited, 1974.
  • Stansky, Peter, & William Abrahams. The Unknown Orwell. 1972. A Paladin Book. Frogmore, St. Albans, Herts.: Granada Publishing Limited, 1974.
  • Stansky, Peter, & William Abrahams. Orwell: The Transformation. 1979. A Paladin Book. Frogmore, St. Albans, Herts.: Granada Publishing Limited, 1981.
  • Crick, Bernard. George Orwell: A Life. 1980. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
  • Coppard, Audrey, & Bernard Crick. Orwell Remembered. Ariel Books. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1984.
  • Wadhams, Stephen, ed. Remembering Orwell. Introduction by George Woodcock. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.

That is, until the other day when I ran across a second-hand copy of Orwell's Diaries, edited by a certain Peter Davison (not the Dr. Who actor, in case you were wondering), which claimed on its blurb to be the closest thing to the 'autobiography he never wrote.'

I bought it, of course, and in the process of investigating its introduction and apparatus, chanced on the extraordinary saga of Davison's own forty-year struggle with Orwell's work. (You can read his fascinating 2012 essay "The Troubled History Behind George Orwell's Complete Works" here).

  • Orwell, George. Diaries. Ed. Peter Davison. Harvill Secker. London: Random House, 2009.
  • Orwell, George. A Life in Letters. Ed. Peter Davison. 2010. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2011.

The critical response to Peter Davison's self-imposed task has been, to be honest, a little mixed. Quite a few reviewers have criticised him for his 'boots and all' approach to Orwell's work, preferring the more nuanced approach of Ian Angus and Orwell's second wife Sonia. But when I read in one of these pieces that the latter had attempted pretty systematically to expunge his first wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy (who died in 1945) from the record, I began to think that there might be something to be said for the wholesale approach after all.

And so it has proved. I'm steadily working my way through the eleven volumes of what Davidson describes as "his and his wife Eileen’s letters (some 1,100), 265 articles, 380 reviews, lecture notes and research materials, diaries (apart from one or two still believed to be held in the NKVD Archive in Moscow), his hundreds of BBC broadcasts to India and the arrangements for making those, together with a selection of letters written to him." True, some of the juvenilia is a bit lame, but pretty much from the publication of his first pieces of journalism in Paris, the authentic voice is very much in evidence.

Does anyone deserve to be documented on quite this scale? Well, I'm sure that it would horrify Orwell himself, but if anyone merits it, he does. Even his most hurried reviews are always sensible and interesting - and have the effect of providing a potted history of two decades of English intellectual life, as well as their many other virtues. The letters and diaries are also fascinating. Reading it is really like discovering a whole new Orwell: not the careful craftsman of the nine books, or the more expansive - but still rigorously controlled - journalist of the Ian Angus / Sonia Orwell selection, but a warts-and-all portrait of the artiste engagé.

  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 10: A Kind of Compulsion: 1903–1936. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2000.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 11: Facing Unpleasant Facts: 1937–1939. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2000.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 12: A Patriot After All: 1940–1941. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2002.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 13: All Propaganda Is Lies: 1941–1942. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 14: Keeping Our Little Corner Clean: 1942–1943. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 15: Two Wasted Years: 1943. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 16: I Have Tried to Tell the Truth: 1943–1944. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 17: I Belong to the Left: 1945. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 18: Smothered Under Journalism: 1946. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 19: It Is What I Think: 1947–1948. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2002.
  • Davison, Peter, with Ian Angus & Sheila Davison, ed. The Complete Works of George Orwell. 20: Our Job Is to Make Life Worth Living: 1949–1950. 1998. London: Secker & Warburg, 2002.
  • Davison, Peter, ed. The Lost Orwell: Being a Supplement to The Complete Works of George Orwell. London: Timewell Press Limited, 2006.

I'm astonished that I didn't think to investigate these 11 volumes (plus supplementary volume) before. In a sense, though, I'm glad. Now I can savour the treat fully, and at my leisure: rather than waiting for each new volume to appear in a fever of impatience.

There is, of course - given Davison's mania for completeness - more to it than that. The first nine volumes of his edition provide critical texts for each of the novels and books of reportage (texts more readily available now through Penguin Modern Classics). He has also edited four volumes of selections from the edition, each focussed on a particular book of Orwell's:

  • Davison, Peter, ed. Orwell and the Dispossessed: Down and Out in Paris and London in the Context of Essays, Reviews and Letters Selected from The Complete Works of George Orwell. Introduction by Peter Clarke. Penguin Modern Classics. London: Penguin, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, ed. Orwell's England: The Road to Wigan Pier in the Context of Essays, Reviews and Letters Selected from The Complete Works of George Orwell. Introduction by Ben Pimlott. Penguin Modern Classics. London: Penguin, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, ed. Orwell in Spain: The Full Text of Homage to Catalonia with Associated Articles, Reviews and Letters from The Complete Works of George Orwell. Introduction by Christopher Hitchens. Penguin Modern Classics. London: Penguin, 2001.
  • Davison, Peter, ed. Orwell and Politics: Animal Farm in the Context of Essays, Reviews and Letters Selected from The Complete Works of George Orwell. Introduction by Timothy Garton Ash. Penguin Modern Classics. London: Penguin, 2001.

Simon Schama's classic TV series on the History of Britain concludes with an episode entitled "The Two Winstons," contrasting Orwell's Winston Smith (from 1984) with that other Winston, Winston Churchill, as a way of exploring the UK in the twentieth century.

Simon Schama: A History of Britain (2002)

It works quite well, really. While I demonstrated in my previous post that I have spent quite a lot of time poring over Winston Churchill's literary remains, there is, I'm afraid, no comparison with the interest I feel in Orwell's. He really is one of the greatest writers of the last century, and it's nice to be able to see his work whole and entire at last, thanks to the largely thankless labours of that culture-hero Peter Davison.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Churchill on Screen

Ivor Robert-Jones: Winston Churchill (1973)

So who, so far, has played Winston Churchill on screen? Just about every portly British actor of a certain age, that's who. Nicholas Asbury, Brian Cox, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Robert Hardy, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, John Lithgow, Ian McNeice, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, Simon Ward, Timothy West - even American comic John Lithgow. Do any of them look at all like the man himself? No, not particularly. But on they come, scowling and spitting, nevertheless.

Churchills (2017)

They've certainly come at the problem of how to represent him from virtually every angle, one must admit: as a schoolboy and young adventurer in Young Winston; as a WWI Cabinet Minister in 37 Days; as a prophetic outcast in The Wilderness Years and The Gathering Storm; as wartime PM in Into the Storm, Churchill and the Generals, and now Churchill and the yet-to-be-released Darkest Hour; and then as a dithering old monument of the Tory party in Churchill's Secret and The Crown. Apparently, according to the IMDb, there have been no fewer than 208 such screen impersonations so far.

Why do I keep on watching them? Am I insane? (Don't answer that). It's not that there's much to be expected from each new growl-athon, and yet I find myself drawn to them for some odd reason. It's certainly not that I approve of his Conservative, Empire-building politics - and as for that statement at the end of Churchill, one of the very worst of these films, that he is 'often acclaimed as the greatest Briton of all time,' what does that even mean? Was he a better writer than Shakespeare? A more important statesman than Cromwell? A more visionary strategist than his great ancestor the Duke of Marlborough? Clearly not.

And yet ... It's impossible for someone of my generation, at least, to listen to those 1940s speeches of Churchill's - even soundbytes from same - without emotion. Just those little phrases: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" - "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" - and, above all, "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour."
You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
That's the true Churchillian music. That was the moment when a lifetime of poring over maps and old books, and practising his orotund oratorical skills in parliament and on the hustings paid off, and the world suddenly stopped, and listened, and liked what they heard.

What they heard was defiance, and that was what was needed then - but there was more to it than that. It was how he put it. It was the difference between the vicious ravings of Dr. Goebbels - Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg? - and the warlike speeches in Henry V. It mattered, somehow.

Maybe that's why I keep on coming back to these films. After watching the deplorable spectacle a couple of days ago of President Trump introducing his cabinet of dullards and losers, each one of whom said what an "honour" and a "privilege" it was to serve their pitiful Dark Lord - shades of the compulsory standing ovations after each of Stalin's speeches ("Never be the first to stop clapping, Comrade") - it's refreshing to hear someone expressing such honest defiance against all the shopsoiled tyrants of the world ...

So here's my own list. I've seen all but one or two of them, I think. And I fear I'll be trotting along dutifully to watch Gary Oldman add his bit of cigar-puffing and wheezing to all the others in a few months time:

  1. Young Winston: feature film, dir. Richard Attenborough, writ. Carl Foreman (based on Churchill's memoir My Early Life) - with Simon Ward as Churchill & Anne Bancroft as his Mum, Lady Randolph Churchill (née Jennie Jerome) - (UK, 1972)
  2. Great stuff. Hugely entertaining. It also had the effect of putting me onto My Early Life, which is probably Churchill's most entertaining book.

  3. Churchill and the Generals: made-for-TV film, dir. Alan Gibson, writ. Ian Curteis - with Timothy West as Churchill - (UK, 1979)
  4. Haven't seen it. It sounds pretty good, though. I presume it's based - at least partially - on Field Marshall Alanbrooke's very revealing diaries about his time with Churchill.

  5. Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years: 8-part TV Series, dir. Ferdinand Fairfax, writ. Ferdinand Fairfax & William Humble (based on Martin Gilbert's biography) - with Robert Hardy as Churchill & Siân Phillips as Clementine Churchill ('Clemmie') - (UK, 1981)
  6. Love it. A lot of detail, and a genuine sense of the complexity of his personality. Siân Phillips plays a sinuous and rather distant Clemmie (a lot like her Livia in I Claudius, actually).

  7. World War II: When Lions Roared: 3-part TV miniseries, dir. Joseph Sargent, writ. David Rintels - with Bob Hoskins as Churchill, John Lithgow as Roosevelt & Michael Caine as Stalin - (USA, 1994)
  8. Haven't seen it. The prospect of seeing Michael Caine, of all people, play Stalin makes it tempting to hunt it down, though. It's funny to think of John Lithgow going full circle from Roosevelt, here, to Churchill in The Crown - with a quarter of a century in between.

  9. The Gathering Storm: feature film, dir. Richard Loncraine, writ. Hugh Whitemore - with Albert Finney as Churchill & Vanessa Redgrave as 'Clemmie' - (UK / USA, 2002)
  10. Rather repetitive of The Wilderness Years, but still very dramatic and entertaining. Vanessa Redgrave is a rather more affectionate but distinctly more tempestuous Clemmie than Siân Phillips.

  11. Into the Storm [aka Churchill at War]: feature film, dir. Thaddeus O'Sullivan, writ. Hugh Whitemore - with Brendan Gleeson as Churchill & Janet McTeer as Clemmie - (UK / USA, 2009)
  12. A shame they couldn't keep the same cast as in The Gathering Storm, but still a good overview of the war years, focussing on 1940 as a flashback from election defeat in 1945. Brendan Gleeson is a lot less loveable and definitely more of a pain than Albert Finney, but Janet McTeer's Clemmie steers a steady course between the Scylla of Siân and the Charybdis of Vanessa.

  13. The King's Speech: feature film, dir. Tom Hooper, writ. David Seidler - with Timothy Spall as Churchill - (UK, 2010)
  14. I guess it was inevitable that he'd get to do it sooner or later: somewhere between his bestial Turner and his suave and manipulative David Irving comes Timothy Spall's Churchill.

  15. Dr Who: Victory of the Daleks: TV series, dir. Andrew Gunn, writ. Mark Gatiss - with Ian McNeice as Churchill - (UK, 2010)
  16. Not a subtle impersonation, perhaps, but then the modern version of Dr Who doesn't really do subtle.

  17. Fleming: The Man Who Would be Bond: 4-part TV miniseries, dir. Mat Whitecross, writ. John Brownlow & Don Macpherson - with Toby Jones as Churchill - (UK, 2014)
  18. Just a cameo, really, but rather a good show on Toby Jones's part, I thought - making a nice change from the tedious bedhopping of the protagonist and the future Mrs. Fleming.

  19. 37 Days: 3-part TV miniseries, dir. Justin Hardy, writ. Mark Hayhurst - with Nicholas Asbury as Churchill - (UK, 2014)
  20. Churchill is played here as a knowing politician, alert to all the complexities of a question which apparently evade his superiors. Whether - to one, like myself, who's read his 5-volume World War I memoirs The World Crisis - this is accurate or not is questionable, but it makes for good drama, at any rate.

  21. Churchill's Secret: made-for-TV film, dir. Charles Sturridge, writ. Stewart Harcourt (based on the book The Churchill Secret: KBO by Jonathan Smith) - with Michael Gambon as Churchill & Lindsay Duncan as Clemmie - (UK / USA, 2016)
  22. Kind of a pointless piece of mystification. Churchill's advisors cover up how unfit he is for office, all of which plays some part in making Anthony Eden so frustrated that he takes it out on Nasser. True(ish), possibly, but not exactly earth-shattering.

  23. The Crown: Series 1: 10-part TV Series, writ. Peter Morgan - with John Lithgow as Churchill - (UK / USA, 2016)
  24. This I haven't yet seen, but I'm rather looking forward to doing so.

    Churchill (2017)

  25. Churchill: feature film, dir. Jonathan Teplitzky, writ. Alex von Tunzelmann - with Brian Cox as Churchill & Miranda Richardson as Clemmie - (UK, 2017)
  26. While I have to confess to enjoying it overall, I do think the multiple inaccuracies and exaggerations of the film do make it a very unfortunate version of Churchill. Certainly he was a pain around the office. Certainly he opposed the frontal assault in France (proposing, according to Alanbrooke, a diversion to Portugal at a very late stage in proceedings). Certainly he demanded to go over himself on D-Day - but all the Gallipoli references completely belie his own view of that campaign. Of course it was a disaster, but his point (as expounded very thoroughly in volume 2 of The World Crisis) was that this was inevitable given the piecemeal and futile way the idea of a landing was stumbled into. To give it as the main reason why he opposed the Normandy landings is sentimental tosh and plain wrong: and putting in all those stupid details designed to show how "out-of-date" he was in terms of contemporary tactics is also very misleading. Nor is the choice of Montgomery as the visionary commander putting him straight a particularly happy one, given the latter's blunders in Normandy and after ... Still, there are some pretty moments here and there. Miranda Richardson plays by far the most terrifying and contemptuous Clemmie to date.

    Darkest Hour (2017)

  27. Darkest Hour: feature film, dir. Joe Wright, writ. Anthony McCarten - with Gary Oldman as Churchill & Kristin Scott Thomas as Clemmie - (UK, 2017)
  28. I presume - though I don't know - that this will be about the period when Churchill was fighting Lord Halifax in cabinet to prevent the initiation of peace-talks (brokered by Mussolini) after the fall of France. Subsequent historians have suggested that this was a more vicious and no-holds-barred battle than anything that followed it in parliament, let alone the country at large. Hitler still had many friends and admirers in the British establishment at that point, and they would have done virtually anything to prevent a shooting war. That's the context where those speeches, quoted above, come in. Is it better to die on your feet than live on your knees? That's not, and never has been, an easy question to answer.

And here's a list of my own Churchilliana. I do find his books very readable and well expressed (if a trifle tendentious at times), and certainly indispensable to any student of the great European Civil War (1914-45). Some, though, are genuinely illuminating. Having read both G. M. Trevelyan's classic England Under Queen Anne trilogy (1930-34) and Churchill's four-volume Marlborough biography in very close succession last year, I can tell you that the latter certainly complements the former very well, and (almost) made it possible for me to understand the morass of late seventeenth / early eighteenth century European politics for the first time.

    Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill

    Frontiers and Wars (1898-1900)

  1. Churchill, Winston S. Frontiers and Wars: His Four Early Books, Covering His Life as Soldier and War Correspondent, Edited into One Volume. ["The Story of the Malakand Field Force" (1898); "The River War" (1899); "London to Ladysmith via Pretoria" (1900); "Ian Hamilton's March" (1900)]. 1962. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.

  2. Churchill, Winston S. The River War. 1899. A Four Square Book. London: New English Library, 1964.

  3. Churchill, Winston S. Young Winston’s Wars: The Original Despatches of Winston S. Churchill, War Correspondent 1897-1900. Ed. Frederick Woods. London: Sphere Books, 1972.

  4. Savrola (1900)

  5. Churchill, Winston S. Savrola: a Tale of the Revolution in Laurania. 1900. London: Beacon Books, 1957.

  6. Churchill, Winston S. My African Journey. 1908. London: Icon Books Limited, 1964.

  7. Folio Society: The World Crisis (1923-31)

  8. Churchill, Winston S. The World Crisis. Introduction by Martin Gilbert. 2005. London: The Folio Society, 2007.
    • Volume 1: 1911-1914 (1923)
    • Volume 2: 1915 (1923)
    • Volume 3: 1916-1918 (1927)
    • Volume 4: The Aftermath (1929)
    • Volume 5: The Eastern Front (1931)

  9. Churchill, Winston S. The World Crisis: 1911-1918. 1923, 1927. Rev. ed. 1931. A Four Square Book. London: Landsborough Publications Limited, 1960.

  10. Churchill, Winston S. My Early Life: A Roving Commission. 1930. The Fontana Library. London: Collins, 1959.

  11. Churchill, Winston S. Marlborough: His Life and Times. 1933, 1934, 1936, 1938. 4 vols. London: Sphere Books, 1967.

  12. Churchill, Winston S. Great Contemporaries. 1937. The Fontana Library. London: Collins, 1965.

  13. Churchill, Winston S. Painting as a Pastime. 1948. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.

  14. Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 1: The Gathering Storm. 6 vols. London: Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1948.

  15. Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 2: Their Finest Hour. 1949. 6 vols. London: The Reprint Society, 1951.

  16. Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 3: The Grand Alliance. 1950. 6 vols. London: The Reprint Society, 1953.

  17. Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 4: The Hinge of Fate. 1951. 6 vols. London: The Reprint Society, 1953.

  18. Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 5: Closing the Ring. 6 vols. London: Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1952.

  19. Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy. 1954. 6 vols. London: The Reprint Society, 1956.

  20. Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. And an Epilogue on the Years 1945 to 1957: Abridged One-Volume Edition. 1948-1954. Ed. Dennis Kelly. London: Cassell, 1959.

  21. Churchill, Winston S. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain. 1956. 4 vols. London: Cassell, 1972.

  22. Churchill, Winston S. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Vol. 2: The New World. 1956. 4 vols. London: Cassell, 1971.

  23. Churchill, Winston S. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Vol. 3: The Age of Revolution. 1957. 4 vols. London: Cassell, 1971.

  24. Churchill, Winston S. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Vol. 4: The Great Democracies. 1958. 4 vols. London: Cassell, 1971.

  25. Randolph Churchill & Martin Gilbert: Winston S. Churchill (1966-88)

  26. Churchill, Randolph. Winston S. Churchill. Volume 1: Youth, 1874-1900. 8 vols. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1966.

  27. Churchill, Randolph. Winston S. Churchill. Volume 2: Young Statesman, 1901-1914. 8 vols. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1967.

  28. Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill. Volume 3: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916. 8 vols. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1971.

  29. Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill. Volume 4: The Stricken World, 1916-1922. 8 vols. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1975.

  30. Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill. Volume 5: Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939. 8 vols. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1976.

  31. Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill. Volume 6: Finest Hour, 1939-1941. 8 vols. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1983.

  32. Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill. Volume 7: Road to Victory, 1941-1945. 8 vols. William Heinemann Ltd. London: Book Club Associates, 1986.

  33. Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill. Volume 8: Never Despair, 1945-1965. 8 vols. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1988.

  34. Martin Gilbert: The Wilderness Years (1981)

  35. Gilbert, Martin. Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years. London: Macmillan London Limited, 1981.

Churchill (1940)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower (19/6/17)

Grenfell Tower Block Fire
We built this city on rock ‘n’ roll
– Starship

Waving two children onto the ride
ahead of youit crashes

what does that say
about divine mercy

or coincidence?
they heard them calling out

from the upper floors
as the flames rose

someone threw out a baby
someone else caught it

the others died

I don't usually write these sorts of topical poems - let alone publish them - but I had a strange dream the night before it happened (the first incident in the poem), and I found myself turning this out without really meaning to. Such a terrible, terrible tragedy! (I was going to say "accident", but from what's come out since, if that's what it was, then it was an accident waiting to happen ...)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Spenser's Ireland

Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599)

My friend and colleague Simon Sigley has requested a follow-up to my Malory post (below) on the subject of Edmund Spenser, author of The Faerie Queene - possibly the most famous unfinished poem in English (after The Canterbury Tales and "Kubla Khan", that is).

As luck would have it, I do possess some rather interesting bits of Spenser-iana - nothing old or valuable, you understand, but a good selection of the best contemporary editions of his works. Here they are, in any case:

    Edmund Spenser: Poetical Works (1965)

  1. Spenser, Edmund. Poetical Works. Ed. J. C. Smith & E. de Selincourt. 1912. Oxford Standard Authors. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.
  2. The standard edition, still. Cramped, and rather hard to read, but very compendious and useful, nevertheless.

    Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Queene (2007)

  3. Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Ed. A. C. Hamilton. 1977. Longman Annotated English Poets. London: Longman Group Limited, 1980.

  4. Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Ed. A. C. Hamilton. 1977. Revised Second Edition. 2001. Text edited by Hiroshi Yamashita & Toshiyuki Suzuki. Longman Annotated English Poets. Edinburgh Gate, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2007.
  5. A wonderful annotated edition, now available in a second, revised edition. (I still remember announcing with an air of triumph having found it in a second-hand shop the day before to an audience at breakfast in my Edinburgh Hall of Residence - only to be punched viciously on the arm by one of them, an Australian girl, who was working on Spenser and Blake and considered such tomes her own lawful prize! I was a little disconcerted at the time, but at least it confirmed the desirability of the find.)

    Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Queene (2003)

  6. Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Ed. Thomas P. Roche, Jr. & C. Patrick O’Donnell, Jr. Penguin English Poets. 1978. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.
  7. A good practical Penguin edition of the epic, with much more readable print, and some annotations also.

    C. S. Lewis: Spenser's Images of Life (1967)

  8. Lewis, C. S. The Allegory of Love: a Study in Medieval Tradition. 1936. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.

  9. Lewis, C. S. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, excluding Drama. 1954. Oxford History of English Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965.

  10. Lewis, C. S. Spenser’s Images of Life. Ed. Alistair Fowler. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967.
  11. You'll note the exclusivity of C. S. Lewis in the section of secondary texts. This is not so much because I think he's said the last word - or even the best - on the subject, but mainly because I have such an extension collection of his works, both imaginative and critical. Nevertheless, it is true to say that the discussion of Spenser in his classic Allegory of Love is what got me interested in The Faerie Queene in the first place.

My first (and, to date, only) reading of the full text of the Faerie Queene, all the way through, was in or around 1983, when I was starting out on my M.A. (the coursework for which mostly focussed on medieval and other early English writers).

Our lecturer in the course, Ken Larsen, was a most ingenious reader of such renaissance texts, and could twist all sorts of meanings out of them. Since I'd been trying - mostly in vain - to make some sense of the Faerie Queene ever since I was a teenager, I gulped down his lessons like mother's milk.

Since then, I've reread parts of it (particularly the brilliant fragments of the seventh canto, on Mutability), but never re-started on the whole thing. To be honest, it was Spenser himself who repelled me. Or rather, the ghastly nature of his opinions on Ireland, where he held a small official role, and took over some property in the English 'plantation' (so-called).

Unfortunately he committed himself to print on the subject, publishing, in 1596, a book called A Veue of the Present State of Irelande, in which he explained the need to wipe out the hat-trick of local laws, customs and religion before the natives could be truly regarded as subjugated. His recommendation was for famine as a good way of accomplishing this, pointing out that after the 1579 rebellion:
Out of everye corner of the woode and glenns they came creepinge forth upon theire handes, for theire legges could not beare them; they looked Anatomies [of] death, they spake like ghostes, crying out of theire graves; they did eate of the carrions, happye wheare they could find them, yea, and one another soone after, in soe much as the verye carcasses they spared not to scrape out of theire graves; … in a shorte space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentyfull countrye suddenly lefte voyde of man or beast: yett sure in all that warr, there perished not manye by the sworde, but all by the extreamytie of famine ... they themselves had wrought
Funnily enough, he wasn't terribly popular with the local Irish, who burned down his castle in another rebellion two years later. Ben Jonson later claimed that one of Spenser's own infant children was killed in the blaze.

Do a writer's politics matter? I know that the contrary has often been argued. Wordsworth's shameless electioneering for a local Tory big-wig in exchange for a sinecure as collector of stamps of Westmorland - after all those radical attitudes he'd struck in his early work - has been said to have no influence at all on his later reams of unreadable verse (not to mention his refusal to acknowledge his illegitimate child with Annette Vallon). I'm sure that much can be said on both side, and to claim that radical poets write better than conservative ones is clearly nonsense. Betraying your own principles is generally a dangerous thing to do for an imaginative writer, however.

With Spenser, the case is quite different. He was a man of his time: subservient to authority, pitiless in his advocacy of force, and quite unable to regard his Irish neighbours as truly human (witness the gloating tone of that description of the efficacy of famine, above). The editor of his wikipedia page tries to argue that his 66,000-word anti-Irish book was more of a pamphlet, really, and should be treated merely as 'war propaganda.' It is, however, hard to think of a parallel in English literary history for such a vile encomium of genocide by a major poet or writer. Even Rudyard Kipling's proto-fascist ravings pale beside it.

But does all this affect our enjoyment of his poem? Well, yes, of course it does. There's a lot of prating about virtue therein, and some very beguiling characters (mostly, alas, demonic: as in Acrasia's Bower of Bliss in book 2). Book 5, published in the same year as his anti-Irish 'pamphlet', is where he really goes to town, however. In it he imagines an iron man called Talus, whose job it is to mete out 'justice': which he does with all the subtlety of a machine-gun or a Tiger Tank. Even fans of the earlier books of the poem find this one rather a bitter pill to swallow. Nor is it really feasible to separate the glee with which he describes this destructive power-fantasy with the dispassionate advocacy of violence in A Brief View of the Present State of Ireland.

All in all, if you're a poet, it's generally best to keep your more reactionary views on contemporary politics to yourself. Wordsworth, too, would probably have been wiser not to publish his rather silly views on the 1808 Convention of Cintra, though there's nothing in his pamphlet on the subject as damaging as in Spenser's book.

Lest you think that all of this is just my problem, and that everyone else is content just to admire the swelling flood of Spenser's mighty verse, consider the following poem - considerably less gnomic than usual - by the wonderful Marianne Moore:

Spenser's Ireland

has not altered;-
   a place as kind as it is green,
   the greenest place I’ve never seen.
Every name is a tune.
Denunciations do not affect
 the culprit; nor blows, but it
is torture to him to not be spoken to.
They’re natural,-
    the coat, like Venus’
mantle lined with stars,
buttoned close at the neck,- the sleeves new from disuse.

If in Ireland
   they play the harp backward at need,
   and gather at midday the seed
of the fern, eluding
their “giants all covered with iron," might
 there be fern seed for unlearn-
ing obduracy and for reinstating
the enchantment?
   Hindered characters
seldom have mothers
in Irish stories, but they all have grandmothers.

It was Irish;
   a match not a marriage was made
   when my great great grandmother’d said
with native genius for
disunion, “Although your suitor be
 perfection, one objection
is enough; he is not
Irish.”  Outwitting
    the fairies, befriending the furies,
whoever again
and again says, “I’ll never give in," never sees

that you’re not free
   until you’ve been made captive by
   supreme belief,- credulity
you say?  When large dainty
fingers tremblingly divide the wings
 of the fly for mid-July
with a needle and wrap it with peacock-tail,
or tie wool and
    buzzard’s wing, their pride,
like the enchanter’s
is in care, not madness.  Concurring hands divide

flax for damask
   that when bleached by Irish weather
   has the silvered chamois-leather
water-tightness of a
skin.  Twisted torcs and gold new-moon-shaped
 lunulae aren’t jewelry
like the purple-coral fuchsia-tree’s.  Eire-
the guillemot
   so neat and the hen
of the heath and the
linnet spinet-sweet-bespeak relentlessness?  Then

they are to me
   like enchanted Earl Gerald who
   changed himself into a stag, to
a great green-eyed cat of
the mountain.  Discommodity makes
 them invisible; they’ve dis-
appeared.  The Irish say your trouble is their
trouble and your
    joy their joy?  I wish
I could believe it;
I am troubled, I’m dissatisfied, I’m Irish.

"I am troubled, I’m dissatisfied, I’m Irish" - whether you're of Irish descent or not (in my case my paternal grandmother was one of their fellow Celts across the sea, from the Western Highlands of Scotland), it's hard not to feel something of that when you read Edmund Spenser, whether his early pastorals or his later epic. It is, to be sure, beautiful, dazzling, beguiling, but so much of it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Irish Famine (1849)