It makes you think

An anniversary has just passed: three years ago on 30 July I posted my first entry on Calderonia.

I have just asked my blogmaster to analyse the rather confusing statistics generated daily by WordPress, in order to compile a list of the top six views over the last six months, but that wasn’t possible because of the site migrating to its new address over a year ago. (Posts predating that still get hits.) What he has been able to assemble with accuracy, however, is a ranking for the past twelve months:

1. 29 October 1914: ‘toothache in the ankle’
2. 4 June 1915: The Third Battle of Krithia
3. Guest post: Clare Hopkins, ‘One Man and his College’
4. ‘The errors of democracy’
5. 6-8 May 1915: The Second Battle of Krithia
6. Guest post: John Pym, ‘A bit of fun with Calderon’
7. And the asp jumped over the chimney sweeper!
8. 28 April 1915: The First Battle of Krithia
9. The Nastiness Factor
10. Tahiti: An Imagined World?
11. Guest post: James Miles, ‘Schulz and Peanuts’
12. ‘He was away, far away…’

I find it very interesting. Remember that it does not include you the subscribers, as you ‘hit’ every post, whether you read them all or not… It is a list of the top twelve viewed by people all over the world who are looking for something. Not surprisingly, the battles of Ypres and Krithia score well during this centenary; and my posts of them include maps, so that may help. Similarly, there are an awful lot of alumni of Trinity College out there, they have been told about Clare’s superb post on George the student, and evidently they have followed it up! One can also tell from the little flags that WordPress appends to hits that it is mainly Tahitians who investigate the link between George Calderon, Gauguin and Loti.

It all makes me think about what the blog has achieved, where it is going now, and what is its future.

Calderonia (the name invented by James Miles) was first mooted in 2013, when I had been writing the book for two years. Several people impressed upon me that I must increase George’s Web presence — at that time there wasn’t even a Wiki entry on him — and that a regular blog would help achieve that. You only have to read the recent Comment by Lord Strathcarron, chairman of Unicorn Publishing Group, to see they were right about its ‘marketing’ value. There is no doubt in my mind that Calderonia is responsible for a large part of my comparative success in approaching publishers.

Although I could see the sense of what people were telling me in 2013, I was rather wary at first as I couldn’t see how I was going to present the blog; to be blunter, what I was going to write about. It was the enormous interest in the centenary of August 1914 that simply drove me to the ‘blography’ of George’s (and Kittie’s) first year of the war, i.e. posting almost every day about that until George fell at Gallipolli and 30 July had come full circle. I am proud of having got through that year of blography, but it was so eviscerating at times and such hard work that I was ready to stop there.

But again numerous pragmatic friends, notably Andrew Tatham, author of  the wonderful, told me I would be mad to give up and waste all that marketing potential for finding a publisher and selling copies, especially if I found no commercial publisher and had to self-publish… I hastily took their advice.

In fact, as followers will appreciate, I have found plenty to write about since July 2015, and I have enjoyed it immensely, despite the fact that it has been a quite different experience from ‘1914-15’ when I was living the war from day to day, two-timing writing the blog and the last chapters of the book, and doing goodness knows what else. But it’s now time to ask again where the blog is going and what it’s brought me.

I have written over a quarter of a million words. I have never written so much in three years in my life before. It’s been exceedingly liberating, because I could write about what I liked, and that’s still a major attraction. But…there has to be more to life and letters than marketing? I don’t have anything against journalism; in fact I have an enormous respect and admiration for journalists, their economy with words, the quality of much of their writing, and their ability as professionals to do it perfectly even when they don’t want to. The blog is the nearest I shall ever come to journalism, however, and it’s not my forte. I fear that the blog has had a deleterious effect on my own prose, especially as the social media encourage you to emote onto the screen without exercising proper rational, aesthetic and editorial control. In the last three years, whilst I have been simultaneously finishing George Calderon: Edwardian Genius and composing the blog, I have written nothing else, excepting about three haikus!

Yet I think there are still things I will want to put down on blog-screen, there are still issues with improving the book, with finding the best publisher and doing the deal, and above all there will still be themes and new discoveries about George and Kittie, which I hope followers will still be interested to read about and perhaps (please) Comment on. And that’s quite independent of marketing.

So, unless there is a wave of emails telling me in the kindest possible terms to call it a day, I shall soldier on, with roughly a post a week, until publication day. Is that reasonable? Should one discuss reviews? In the theatre, you are advised to pretend you haven’t even read them. At the moment, I am thinking of a final image of the cover and announcement informing everyone how to buy the book, of always replying of course to comments, but taking a rest then for a year or two until I (might) start up a different blog altogether.

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28 July 1917: A letter to Mrs Calderon

July 28th 1917                                    Havelock Barracks,  Lucknow, India

… we are having some terrible weather out hear, its never stop raining for five days, I don’t think I have ever witnessed it in England to rain, how it does out hear, it comes down heavy to, I hope you like the Indian Rose I am sending you, we don’t often see Roses growing out here, morest we see, is Ants, the land is fairly alive with them, and after it has been raining, and the sun comes out we often have a plague of flying Ants, especialy at night, they always make for the lamps we have hung in the Bugalow, the light seems to attract all the insects there is, what with Grass Hoppers and Moss Keaters, you don’t get much rest…

…you ask me what I mean to do, after I have done out here, well if I have the pleasure of learning Engineering, I think it would suit me up to the Mark, I am saying this as highly interested in anything of that line, so if I am spared to come home, and work till I get a few shillings, and then I can pay to learn. I have wrote to London, to the International Schools for a Book of Engineering hoping I succeed in getting it, I can see I have been a fool to myself in the past, but I’m only young (“prime of life”), but I have learned more this last three years than ever I new, it will be three year’s on the 5th of August, since I listed, of which I am pleased in one way and not in another, as I don’t think I should ever had of joined the colours if the War hadn’t of broke out…

For more about the writer of this letter go here. On the envelope containing ‘Letters from men at the front in the last war’ one of Kittie’s executors, Louise Rosales, wrote: ‘Quinn seems a rare character.’

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Decisions decisions

The most gratifying thing about the whole process of finding the right publisher for my biography of George, which has been going on since January, has been the enthusiasm so many publishers have shown for George himself and his story. ‘So many’ needs qualifying, of course: actually six out of the thirty-one publishers I approached with a letter and synopsis asked to see chapters or the whole thing. But that is far higher than I expected or than my writer friends predicted, because (forgive the refrain, long-term followers) ‘Nobody knows who George Calderon is’… I am truly amazed, then, that relatively many publishers were that interested; I am hugely relieved that several said they were convinced George needed a biography; and I am rather impressed by their open-mindedness.

I’ve now returned from a week away, to a new and unexpected situation.

First — sensationally! — a commissioning editor emails me that she likes my Introduction ‘very much’. This is possibly the first time anyone has said something positive about it since I wrote Draft 1 in 2013. She had just read Draft 18.

Second, having dropped one and a half offers, I now have two good ones and two academic presses waiting in the wings. I really hope to move things on fast with the first two, as time is passing. If I find myself unable in any circumstances to do the things they request, I will have to take up with the academic presses immediately. But I am not sanguine about the latter publishing the book in less than eighteen months, and the absolute latest date it must come out is 2 December 2018, George’s 150th. So I am simultaneously firming up the budgets for the various self-publishing alternatives.

It looks as though there will be some hard decisions over the next three weeks. I am blessed in having such good literary and business friends who give measured, hard-headed advice from their superior experience. In personal terms, after investing six years of my life in this project, there is much at stake.

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Plum pie in the sky

I was intending to post about this subject in February, but my attention wandered and the relevant newspaper cuttings got buried. I am very glad that I put it off, as I have now read this recently reprinted book, which startlingly addresses (answers?) many of the speculations I found myself making five months ago:

Click the cover to find this book on Amazon.

The Times of 28 December 2016 carried a full-page article entitled ‘How Wodehouse answered his critics’. It reported that a copy of P.G. Wodehouse’s account of his wartime experiences had just been deposited in the British Library, and quoted from it his ‘detailed and spirited defence against accusations of being a Nazi sympathiser’.

For those unaware, Wodehouse (‘Plum’) was arrested by the Germans at Le Touquet in 1940, interned for nearly a year in Germany, and shortly after his release into the Reich gave a series of radio broadcasts from Berlin in which he portrayed his experiences of internment with his inimitable epigonic-Edwardian, public schoolboy humour. This provoked outrage in post-Blitz Britain and after the war Wodehouse was investigated by MI5, who concluded he was not a Nazi sympathiser, just ‘naive’. But I have to say, the quotations from the document printed in The Times are not so much a ‘defence’ as a lethally honed attack on some of his denigrators, e.g. A.A. Milne, and on this evidence Wodehouse was not naive in any usual sense of the word.

At the time, it was a cause célèbre (Wodehouse never returned to Britain). I had read George Orwell’s essay ‘In Defence of P.G. Wodehouse’ years ago, and sure enough next day The Times carried a reader’s letter referring to it. The reader called it ‘a well-informed analysis of why Wodehouse was slandered’, but I don’t think Orwell believed Wodehouse was slandered, simply that all kinds of people with their own agendas had generated a witch hunt that had gone on for far too long. Orwell’s essay is a complex masterpiece well worth reading. The Times reader rightly stressed that Orwell had defended Wodehouse’s art and called for the ‘incident’ to be ‘closed’, but he omitted to mention that Orwell believed Wodehouse had demonstrated ‘stupidity’ and that he, Orwell, thought ‘the really interesting question is how and why he could be so stupid’. Orwell was right: this is indeed the interesting question.

I have always found it surprising that Orwell exonerated Wodehouse from allowing himself to be a ‘useful idiot’ (Lenin’s phrase) for a homicidal political system. Of all people, Orwell was the least likely to accept Wodehouse’s defence that he was ‘never interested in politics’. Rather as Chekhov said in the nineteenth century that ‘writers must engage with politics to the extent that it is necessary to defend themselves from politics’, Orwell is renowned for believing every individual must ‘interest themselves’ in the politics of the totalitarian age or soon find themselves its victims. So why, apart from his own humanity and compassion, did Orwell forgive Wodehouse his ‘stupidity’?

Two days later The Times published another letter on the subject, which made me sit up. The reader quoted Evelyn Waugh’s belief that ‘Wodehouse’s world can never stale and he will release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own’, adding from himself: ‘In Wodehouse’s exquisite descriptions of worlds that never really existed, the reader escapes beyond the often bleaker nature of those that do.’ It so happens that I know this to be literally true. In the leaden depths of the Soviet era I asked Muscovite expert on English literature Gabriel Yegorov how he could put up with queuing for hours for potatoes, say, or a pair of pants, and he replied: ‘I just dream of Blandings…’ He explained that he really meant it. He could stand there for hours imagining life in ‘Plum’s’ Blandings and himself taking part in it.

So, I reasoned, Wodehouse’s writing is escapist. Orwell gives a brilliant analysis of how closely it relates to the Edwardian world in which Wodehouse started publishing, but he also emphasises that it hardly developed, so that even in 1936 ‘Plum’ was still writing about the life of the Edwardian man-about-town, the ‘knut’. In any case for Orwell this innocent, sunlit pre-1914 world never really existed, and ‘Bertie Wooster, if he ever existed, was killed round about 1915’. The sheer length, unreality and stasis of Wodehouse’s oeuvre, then, make it not so much an idyll as a Utopia. It is pie in the sky.

This realisation alarmed me. I have never been able to get ‘into’ Wodehouse’s world. I have known so many highly intelligent people who are Wodehouse addicts that I have driven myself to read him several times, but I have never got further than a few pages. He is clever, often hilarious, but I simply cannot relate to his world; it leaves me cold. His language is very precise, but rather one-dimensional. The range of emotion and body language of his characters may not seem small, but it is limited. There is no sense whatever of a physical life outside what you are reading on the page. As Orwell put it, you can’t imagine a love affair in Wodehouse’s world being consummated; I would add that you can’t imagine any lavatories. ‘Plum’s’ world is not just a Utopia, it is a kind of system.

At this point I began to wonder whether Wodehouse was simply Aspergic. I don’t know how far the syndrome was recognised by the 1940s, but I do think it possible that Orwell intuited something clinical like this in Wodehouse and that is the only reason he absolved him from personal responsibility for being a useful idiot. ‘If my analysis of Wodehouse’s mentality is accepted’, wrote Orwell, the idea that Wodehouse consciously abetted the Nazi propaganda machine was ‘untenable and ridiculous’. Wodehouse was not ‘a person capable of understanding the nature of quislingism’ (my italics); he had a ‘complete lack of political awareness’ and seemed unable to acquire one.

Orwell had already investigated the psychopathic mutations of utopianism. In his 1940 essay ‘Inside the Whale’ he wrote that English intellectuals ‘can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything except liberalism’. Of a line in one of W.H. Auden’s fellow-traveller poems, he observed:

Notice the phrase ‘necessary murder’. It could only be used by someone to whom murder is at most a word.  Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. […] To me, murder is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. The Hitlers and Stalins find murder necessary, but they don’t advertise their callousness, and they don’t speak of it as murder; it is ‘liquidation’, ‘elimination’, or some other soothing phrase. Mr Auden’s amoralism is only possible if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.

But there is another way of looking at these (undoubted) facts. It is perfectly excusable for people to have ‘no experience of anything except liberalism’ or to not know that fire is hot, but it is not excusable for them to fail to exercise their imaginations, to fail to make the effort to understand, what genocidal totalitarianism or fire are. In fact their failure is so extraordinary that one is bound to ask, as with Wodehouse, whether such people are psychologically capable of it. Is the kind of lack of empathy that Orwell describes a symptom of psychopathy, or at least autism, or at least Asperger Syndrome?

At this point in my February meditations, I paused. Is it conceivable that imaginative literature, of all things, can be Aspergic? To write, I reasoned, you have got to experience feelings and you have got to extend yourself, for heaven’s sake, to other people’s feelings. In fact fiction is essentially about other people’s feelings, isn’t it? If as a writer you lacked empathy, how would you have anything to write about and why would readers, who we assume largely have empathy, want to read you?

A moment’s reflection, however, suggests that these assumptions are wrong. For a start, the autism spectrum is broad, and so many people lie somewhere on it, that it is highly likely some writers are Aspergic or autistic, can live with the fact, or may not even be aware of it. In any case, when you read a novel or short story, you know nothing about the author, whom you do not see, you only see and read his/her text. So what is it about the text that might be described as Aspergic or autistic?

I gave this some thought. I could not actually think of a creative text, a piece of fiction, that I would call ‘autistic’. In the late 1970s, I think it was, Norman Stone infamously described the voluminous historiography of E.H. Carr as ‘autistic’ because, in Stone’s view, it was a purely abstract account of Soviet history based on official statistics that Carr could not bring himself to accept were lies and it never mentioned the horrific sufferings of flesh and blood Russians; it had therefore lost contact with reality and was Utopian. Personally, I agreed with Stone. But Carr’s History of the Bolshevik Revolution is non-fiction.

However, I can say what it is about someone’s writing that I associate with the adjective ‘Aspergic’. The writing is in some way — perhaps some attractive or even beautiful way — etiolated, unreal, one-dimensional. The language lacks ‘thickness’, emotional allusiveness of any sort. It has, perhaps, a hugely impressive forward-driving ‘horizontality’, but no ‘vertical’ dimension. Similarly, characters have no imaginable life outside the work (within which they may well be lively enough), and there is no reality felt or imaginable outside the world of the work itself. This loss of contact with the real world (the world that readers are still living in) may go unnoticed, as the author’s world may be so vividly realised, but it is a very significant lack; it is bound to make the ‘Aspergic’ text’s world approximate to a detached utopia or dystopia. Writers who always produce a sense of their text being connected to a wider world (for example, I would say, Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Chekhov, Proust), have been described as practising ‘anacrusis’, i.e. instinctively leaving in extra bits and loose ends continuing ‘offstage’, away from the focus of the text into the world outside. If you stop to think of it whilst reading an ‘Aspergic’ text, you realise that it is totally self-contained; it is precise, even ‘exquisite’ as the Times reader put it, but there is no more to it than its literal meaning; it is low on reality’s dirt and roughage; it is remarkably ‘finished’; it is remarkably systemised.

Personally, I feel G.B. Shaw’s work is ‘Aspergic’. Its single-minded concern with ideas and argument does not correspond to my own experience of people or the world. Most of the time his characters’ speech is ‘head-speech’, not ‘art-speech’, to use D.H. Lawrence’s term. This is not to say, of course, that Shaw’s plays are not great and witty polemics, but with a few exceptions I do not feel they are continuous with mucky reality. They hardly move me. It does not surprise me that Shaw denied the Holocaust and the Stalinist purges, insisting that they were figments of British propaganda. And, of course, it is inevitable that comic worlds like Wodehouse’s, or the worlds of children’s literature like those of Ransome and Stevenson, should be reduced or simplified worlds without grime and blood. But I still find the world of Swallows and Amazons creepily unreal — unreadable as an adult — and I sense there may be a connection between that and Ransome’s eccentric belief in Russian communism. Gulliver’s Travels has several features that might be called ‘Aspergic’, but they are perfectly attuned to Swift’s purpose — incomparable satire. Ezra Pound would also be on my list of writers of ‘Aspergic’ texts, and the beautiful constructivist world of Bolshevik Evgenii Zamiatin (see my post of 5 July 2016) seems to me full of traits that match the syndrome. Perhaps it is significant that all these writers are male. I have never ever met a woman who liked Wodehouse.

But enough, I told myself back in February: these are all very good writers! It follows, then, that there can be nothing inherently negative about Asperger Syndrome, despite the fact that you overwhelmingly read about it being bad for you and others. Indeed, I thought, most of the best mathematicians, engineers, physicists and structuralists that I know are blatantly Aspergic, so where would we be without them? At that point I stopped thinking, as I felt I had already exceeded my qualifications in this area.

Simon Baron-Cohen addresses the issue of my last paragraph in his brilliant chapter ‘When Zero Degrees of Empathy is Positive’.  The empathy difficulties of people with Asperger Syndrome are ‘associated with having a brain that processes information in ways that can lead to talent’. ‘People with Asperger Syndrome […] systemise to an extraordinary degree’, they have ‘a brain that is exquisitely tuned to notice patterns’, and ‘spotting such patterns is key to our ability to invent and improve’. Moreover, they are fascinated by timeless patterns (they do not like change). Their ‘systemizing mind steps out of time to seek truths that are not tied to the present’, and ‘at least among the natural patterns, the truths may be eternal ones’. Human society ‘owes a special debt to those who have innovated in the fields of technology, music, science, medicine, mathematics, history, philosophy, engineering and other systemizing fields. The fact that they may be challenged when it comes to empathy is all the more reason to make our society more Zero-Positive-friendly’. I recommend reading the book from cover to cover.

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Punching on

The campaign to publish continues to develop in unpredictable ways.

I have lost three publishers, through no fault of their own. One of them does no real marketing, but saddest of all is the fact that Giles de la Mare, grandson of the poet, is not taking on any more titles whilst he seeks a new owner for his firm. He is a superb publisher of biography, with a distinguished record at Faber before he retired, and I have always thought Giles de la Mare Publishers would be ideal for my book. Incidentally, Walter de la Mare was greatly encouraged at the beginning of his career by Henry Newbolt and the latter’s mistress Ella Coltman, which means he may well have met George Calderon. I confess that I tried every blandishment with Mr de la Mare, including the mantra 80 is the new 50, but I do understand his resolve to retire in earnest.

Simultaneously, an excellent publisher has responded to an approach I made on 5 May attaching Synopsis and three chapters…unfortunately, they have now asked to see the ill-fated Introduction, so I have had to set about ‘improving’ it yet again in the light of swingeing recent criticisms.

The interesting thing about this initiative is that it has taken two months to come about. Since the last approach I made to any of the 31 publishers on my A list was 1 June, I am inclined to think I should wait until at least 1 August before giving up with commercial publishers. I don’t want to do this, as I intended to take a decision about self-publishing by 15 July, but I’ll compromise by making that the 25th.

So at present I am being ‘read’ by only two publishers. I am tempted, therefore, to get on and approach some publishers on my B list. The trouble there, however, is that the best are ‘academic’ publishers and my book has deliberately been written without footnotes, which I compare to caltrops, i.e. those spikey iron things thrown down to stop the progress of horses in WW1. I admit that the book is neither academic nor fictive, so it is possibly too fictive for academic publishers and too academic for commercial ones.

Altogether, the present plan must be to attack on all fronts at once: A list, B list, and self-publishing. As I have said before, the latter isn’t new to me. Three friends of mine have run their own presses since the late 1970s and I have been a partner in the samizdat Anglo-Russian press Sam&Sam since 1980. I am therefore beginning to make plans for a small print run of the book in hardback, like many produced in Russia by Sam&Sam. I won’t say that the reason I don’t want to go down that route is that it takes up so much time and energy, since in my experience dealing with commercial and academic publishers can be just as time-consuming and draining. As many, many people have said to me, if you want the book to come out as you have written it, publish it yourself. If I sold the hardback satisfactorily, I would prefer to sell the paperback rights to someone to coincide with the publication of a fresh edition of my Brief Life of Chekhov (2008).

Thank you, all who emailed me after my last post on this subject. Your advice, recommendations and encouragement are hugely appreciated and all go into the equation. I also thoroughly agree with Ian Strathcarron in his Comment that marketing is the problem for the self-publisher. I thank him again for putting this to me with all the force of his publishing experience. It’s true that we couldn’t get much of a head start with the marketing, but if I went for a Sam&Sam production I would at least get it out before Christmas and could perhaps relaunch for the 150th.

On with the job, then, and I shall next report on 25 July.

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The Petersfield parenthesis

Happy the person who can combine work with a holiday in a lovely place. Definitely in need of such a break, we spent four days in the Petersfield area of Hampshire at the beginning of the month. We had not been down there since September 2011, when I was trying to establish where Kittie had lived during those ‘lost’ years 1923-33 and I visited some of the places associated with her time in Hampshire.

Of course, the chapters dealing with her life after George’s disappearance at Gallipoli were written over a year ago; but it is still not too late to tweak them. I had come to my own conclusions about why she left London for the village of Sheet in late 1922, why her residence there was so broken, and why she basically abandoned it in 1933, but I thought that with all my knowledge and mulling since, I might be able to clinch the answers by revisiting the place and meeting more of today’s inhabitants.

To see how stressed Kittie was about leaving London to live on the edge of Sheet, and how stressed by living in Hampshire generally, you only have to look at her ‘Fragment’ that I posted on 7 June.

We made straight for the National Trust property of Harting Down, which Kittie mentions in her diary as being a place of particular solace to her:

View from Harting Down on 3 June 2017, with South Harting below and Sheet in the distance left of mound (Torberry Hill)

It was a beautiful hot day, bees and burnet moths were whirring through the chalkland flora around us, a buzzard sailed through the valley below… But what you can’t see is the thirty or so other people sitting around us also having their lunch! Presumably, in Kittie’s day it was wilder and less visited, not to mention the time when the Calderons’ friend Thomas Sturge Moore had written ‘On Harting Down’, the only poem of his to make it into The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. If I tell you that this remarkable poem begins ‘Once, when their hearts were wild with joy,/They bedded on the downs’, I probably need say no more.

We tried to work out how Kittie would have got to Harting Down, which is about seven miles distant from Sheet as the crow flies. There were footpaths, of course, but the evidence is that she could not walk more than a mile or two. We looked at the old railway tracks on maps. She could have got nearer by rail, but there would still have been a long plodding climb. Most likely she hired a car to take her there, or her godson Alan Lubbock took her in his. On one occasion, she seems to have been driven to Harting Down by her god-daughter Lesbia Corbet, aged twenty-one. She could actually see the Downs from her back bedroom and take short walks on their lower slopes.

At Sheet itself, little seemed to have changed (the village itself is firmly enclosed within three ancient streets), but the London Road (A272) separating the Old Mill area where Kittie lived from the village proper, is busier than ever, and the Lane on which Kittie’s house ‘Kay’s Crib’ was situated has morphed into the B2199. When I took the photograph of Kay’s Crib below in 2011, I could stand in the Lane and I don’t recall there being any traffic at all. In 2017 that was impossible: an unbroken stream of cars roared along it.

View of the Victorian cottage ‘Kay’s Crib’, taken 29 September 2011

The hedge in the photograph above is probably the remains of the one you can see in the photograph below, which is the only picture we have of Kittie at Sheet. She is holding her Cairn terrier Bunty and may be wearing a Russian embroidered linen shirt brought back by George. The person on the left is Sophie Malcolm (‘Ess’), the wife of a retired surgeon, who had bought the biggest house in Sheet in 1929. When Jack Malcolm died in 1937, Kittie, who was then living near Ashford in Kent, ‘went suddenly to be with Ess’ (diary).

Sophie Malcolm (left) with Kittie Calderon and Bunty, c. 1930

Behind Kay’s Crib it was as quiet and idyllic as ever:

The Old Mill at Sheet, 5 June 2017

Kelly’s Directory tells us that in the 1920s the Old Mill House was lived in by the Misses Malet. Kittie seems to have been on good terms with them; judging from the war memorial in Sheet’s church one of them may have lost a husband in the First World War, like Kittie.

The church of St Mary Magdalen, Sheet, 4 June 2017

Although it meant having an early B&B breakfast and driving sixteen miles, I was determined to attend the ten o’clock service at St Mary’s for a variety of reasons. First, we had not been inside it on our 2011 visit, although we had been hugely impressed by its spickness and garden outside. Second, Kittie had been an active member of St Mary’s and it would be interesting to see whether it is as important a part of village life as it was in her time. Third, I hoped that if we were invited to coffee afterwards I might be able to pick up informed gossip that would help me clinch my answers to the vital questions: 1) why did Kittie come here? 2) why did she not really enjoy it? 3) why did she leave?

The church was full, the service a really appealing blend of ‘happy clapping’ and traditional elements, and there was a fantastic sense of community in the congregation. Most people, I think, went off to the adjoining hall for coffee. Here we were introduced to everyone.

A lady apologised to me for the length of the sermon. I said that I hadn’t noticed as it was so spontaneous and sincere, unlike the half-hour tracts of my youth, and I added that everything about the church, including its website, seemed so well-run. ‘It should be,’ she replied, ‘there are seven naval officers on the church council.’ This was interesting. She herself was the widow of a naval commander.

Although ‘a building of stone in the Early English style’ (Kelly’s, 1927), the church was erected only in 1868. Like George Calderon, then, its 150th is going to be celebrated next year. A number of events are planned in this connection and I met the energetic archivist who is heading a team to research the funding, construction and early activity of the church. I explained who Kittie was, that she had been a parishioner, on the Fabric Fund, and collected for the Clothing Club, but I forgot to mention that she also taught in the Sunday School and her lesson notes have survived. The archivist asked me if I would give a talk about Kittie during the 150th celebrations. Would I!

A place that we had not visited in 2011 was Adhurst St Mary, a seven-bedroom Victorian pile about half a mile outside Sheet. I had not at the time realised that it was lived in by Kittie’s godson Alan Lubbock, who had married the owner, Helen Bonham-Carter, in 1918. However, when I caught up with this fact in 2013 I Googled on the place and found that it was up for sale. It looked pretty derelict. Talking to people over coffee at Sheet, I heard that it was now being renovated, but in formidably acrimonious circumstances. On 5 June we took the wrong turning down its private road, reversed immediately we realised our mistake, and just had time to take this photograph:

Adhurst St Mary, built for John Bonham-Carter in 1858

The rest of Sunday 4 June we spent at Steep, a village about a mile and a half from Kittie’s cottage. It seemed appropriate to start an afternoon’s walking with lunch at ‘The Harrow’, as this popular pub prides itself on its unreconstructed 1920s style.

Thomas Sturge Moore and his family left 40 Well Walk, the house next door to the Calderons, in 1919 and settled at Steep. His main motivation, it seems, was to enable his children (great favourites of George’s) to attend Bedales School; when they had completed their education there in 1927, the Sturge Moores moved back to London. We walked up Church Street past Bedales to ‘Hillcroft’, number 29, which has a plaque on its front commemorating Sturge Moore’s stay.

‘Hillcroft’, Steep, 4 June 2017

It seems that Edward Thomas and his wife Helen also moved to Steep to enable their children to attend Bedales, where Helen taught in the kindergarten. They lived there on and off between 1909 and 1916. Thomas’s poetry and his reasons for joining up in July 1915 have been one of the backgrounds to ‘Calderonia’. Some of his finest poems and prose were written at Steep. We therefore devoted ourselves now to the four-mile Edward Thomas literary walk.

Following it as numbered on the map, rather than being tempted at point 2 by the sight of the waterfall to head straight for the Poet’s Stone commemorating Thomas, has a significant advantage: you ascend relatively gently through woodland and along metalled roads to a magnificent view of the valley from the top of Shoulder of Mutton Hill, and then descend to the Poet’s Stone halfway down the hillside. The spectacle of those toiling up to it from the waterfall brought home to me vividly why the place is called Steep.

Memorial to Edward Thomas erected on Shoulder of Mutton Hill, Steep, in 1937

When we were walking along Church Road in Steep, we were struck by the number of houses in the Arts and Crafts style. Indeed, it turns out that Bedales itself was designed by Ernest Gimson, one of the leaders of the Cotswold School of A&C. A bonus of the Edward Thomas trail, however, was that as we walked along Cockshott Lane we came upon the workshop of Edward Barnsley, another key A&C man, who specialised in furniture:

The entrance to the Edward Barnsley Workshop, Froxfield, 4 June 2017

For more information on how Edward Barnsley came to end up here, go to the Edward Barnsley Workshop website. The point is, I knew Kittie had viewed his furniture in London, but I did not know that by the time she moved to Sheet Barnsley was already at Steep. I have now found his address there in one of her address books. Almost certainly, I would think, she visited the workshop. Like the painter Arnold Pienne, Barnsley was in his early twenties, and she liked to encourage such young talent.

Next day, Monday 5 June, we set out in the morning for somewhere totally different: Hayling Island, which is about twenty-five miles south of Petersfield.

Various people we know had cast aspersions on the place, and I daresay at the height of the summer holiday season it isn’t seen to its best. But the drive down the eastern side is very pleasantly rural: a bit like Romney Marsh. The ‘Inn on the Beach’ and bathing huts on West Beach were in excellent nick, I thought, and Sinah Common, stretching westwards to the closest point to Portsmouth, is not only a popular golf course but a very rich nature reserve. The Common was actually our main destination.

During the First World War the island was taken over by the School of Musketry. Every home with a spare bedroom had a soldier billeted on it, including one George Calderon, and the military took over the Royal Hotel (built in 1825):

The restored Royal Hotel, Hayling Island, today ‘luxury apartments’

Already in the autumn of 1914, two impressive ranges were being set up on Sinah Common: one with targets on the southern shore, the other on the north side firing, it seems, towards Langstone Harbour. The musketry course sought to convert soldiers from the ‘Bisley style’ of deliberate shooting to the rapid fire of the First British Army that helped check the German advance in the first months of the war. The other course for which Hayling was famous was its Machine Gun Course, which George took in the spring of 1915. It seems to have lasted at least a fortnight.

As far as I and three extremely helpful advisors at the Tourist Information Office could work out, very little remains of the School of Musketry’s presence 1914-18 compared with the Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery and Mulberry Harbours that played such an important role in World War II. However, this is a view at Gunners Point on the south shore of Sinah Common, where the Machine Gun Course probably operated:

Gunners Point, Hayling Island, 5 June 2017

On our last morning in Petersfield, 6 June, we had a meeting with Vaughan Clarke, whom I had never met before but who had helped me enormously after our 2011 visit in establishing the history of Kay’s Crib. Vaughan is now Chairman of Petersfield Museum. He and his team are managing a fantastic project to expand and diversify the Museum after taking over the old Police Station. They are able to add all this new space to the premises that they previously occupied at the back, preserving the original Police cells, exercise yard etc as historical attractions in their own right, increasing storage space for collections by 85%, creating a fifty-seat lecture hall in the old Courthouse, and setting up a new Edward Thomas Study Centre to house the Museum’s archive collection and library relating to the poet’s time at Steep. The work involves an army of volunteers and has been made possible by a major local benefaction and support by the Heritage Lottery Fund. As the brochure puts it: ‘A fully re-imagined Petersfield Museum will open its doors in 2021.’

The new frontage of Petersfield Museum, 6 June 2017

Meanwhile, Vaughan gave us a personal tour of the Museum. We lingered particularly long over the display of wedding dresses and suits from the Bedales Historic Dress Collection housed at the Museum, the Flora Twort Gallery, and the extraordinary recent finds made at Petersfield’s Bronze Age barrow cemetery. This is already a local Museum not to be missed, with an amazing range of temporary exhibitions, family events, talks, town walks, and forms of educational and community engagement.

As one would expect, Vaughan Clarke has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Petersfield past and present. He is also a great raconteur and told us some hilarious true stories. For my part, of course, I had one or two specific questions to ask Vaughan, which he was more than able to answer. He filled out for me my vague impression of Petersfield as a cultural centre long before the Petersfield Arts and Crafts Society was founded in 1934. In particular, I had not been aware of the musical dimension. The Petersfield Musical Festival was revived after WW1 and Adrian Boult became its conductor and lifelong supporter! Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst also conducted for the Festival and there were some very eminent local musicians. The artist Flora Twort, whose family lived not far from George and Kittie in the Vale of Health, had also opened a bookshop and craft workshop on the market square as early as 1918.

I cannot thank Vaughan Clarke warmly enough for his tour and Q/A session, as well as the curators of the costume and Edward Thomas collections, and volunteer attendants, who gave so freely of their hard-pressed time. It was one of the most varied, vivid and satisfying of the many research trips my wife and I have made in the course of the whole Calderon project. I thoroughly recommend the area for a healthy and enjoyable break!

*               *               *

I drew the following conclusions:

(1) By 1922 the Arts and Crafts movement was more active at Petersfield and Steep than I had thought. Kittie not only knew the Lubbocks at Adhurst St Mary and the Sturge Moores at Steep when she decided to move near them, she probably knew of Flora Twort’s activities at Petersfield even if she did not know her personally (which she might well have). Moreover she already knew Edward Barnsley, which I had not appreciated before, and would have been attracted by the musical element in Petersfield’s cultural life, of which I had been ignorant. The answer to the question ‘why did she move to Sheet?’, then, is confirmed as being a mixture of her extended family and of culture, with more emphasis on the latter than I had previously understood. There was probably an element of fashion about it, too, and she felt she would be mixing with people like herself.

(2) But in the latter she was not entirely correct. Until I spoke to people in the Petersfield area today, I had not realised that the naval officers who populated the area were not all retired officers (the next two owners of Kay’s Crib, in fact, had high naval ranks). They lived there, and still do, because they work at Portsmouth. I knew that Kittie had had an early run-in with an army officer, but I now think it more likely that she had difficulty socialising and working with the great preponderance of naval officers, who ran such things as church committees and village fêtes, and ran them Bristol fashion and with an emphasis on pecking-order. She was a Hamilton, after all, the widow of a man who had insisted on joining up and giving his life for his country, and she retained a Bohemian-liberal streak from living twenty years in Hampstead amongst writers and artists…

(3) As well as serving navy and army officers, there was a contingent of retired professional people at Sheet in the 1920s who might also not have been as flexible as Kittie was used to, and I can’t believe there were that many native villagers. Sheet society, then, was socially top-heavy. Even today, one senses that in this part of Hampshire there is perhaps above-average potential for conflict — which is doubtless amicably resolved long before it gets out of hand. For Kittie in the 1920s, though, the phenomenon turned into what she called ‘the idiot kink in village socialities’. She could not reconcile herself to it, spent long periods away from Sheet, and eventually put her house on the market.

On my return to Cambridge, I tweaked my final chapter a bit in those directions.

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Publication: the state of play

Contrary to my original dread, I can’t possibly claim that the process of approaching commercial publishers has been dull and predictable…

I explained my strategy in a post on 18 January. I had just sent the advance party out and was waiting for an answer before working down the publisher-list in descending grandness, aiming for a decision willy-nilly by 30 June about whether we would have to publish ourselves in order to get the book out by Christmas. Unfortunately, we were well into February before it was clear that the advance party had been, er, exploded. I could see myself having lost a month, then being unable to reach that decision by 30 June, and if I hung on for replies after that it would be difficult to get the book out ourselves by Christmas. But completely unexpectedly, I appear to be back on track.

In March I started sending proposals over the top in tens and by 1 June I’d tackled all 31 publishers on the short list. I have had 7 rejections, 5 of which were after asking to see samples; 3 requests to read the whole typescript; 1 publisher is still reading the sample they asked for; and the other 20 haven’t yet replied. Presumably some will reply (they can take up to three months), but to have the whole thing being read by three publishers now means that the publishing future of the biography might be settled by mid-July.

There is, of course, an infinitude of things that can go wrong… Two developments, concerning the publishers currently ‘reading’, are so unexpected and unusual that I can’t possibly describe them here. However, one’s worst fear is always that a contract will be offered conditional on massive cuts. That, certainly, would mean adopting the advice of various writer-friends to self-publish ‘because you get what you want’.

I don’t think I’m inflexible in the matter of publishers’ editors requirements/demands, but I’m more used to cuts in the theatre, where you accept them pronto because you see they are pragmatically necessary; and move on. I don’t feel that way about the 450-page George Calderon: Edwardian Genius that I have spent the last six years writing…

I hope I shall have a positive decision to announce by the middle of July about publication in 2017. If not, may I point out that 2018 is the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of George’s birth. That’s got to be a good marketing opportunity, hasn’t it?

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Fragment of Kittie

Life once more whisked me away from the Sussex Downs — they had made me learn a lot about England & these Islands all of them each in there [sic] particular way – Ireland – Scotland – England – – and yes London[.] London stands alone demanding like the the [sicLand does some vital response from her children – I learnt that when I stepped into that train waving my hands to my friends on the platform desparingly [sic]- I wept salt tears into my coffee cup that first morning in Hampshire. My beloved London I had left forever – of course I would go back into those streets – to visit my friends – to shop – to go to the theater [sic] – theatres perhaps hold hand out to me because of George’s plays – – but it was London Herself I was leaving forever – – –  & for two whole years I had loathed living there – – & this Hampshire was to be my prison – – I did not know that I was going to thank God fasting [?] for that Glimpse [of the South Downs] each morning from my bed – & the shortest walk in any weather to such a panorama of them as lifted one’s soul to extasy[.]

This is one of fifteen fragments of memoir written by Kittie during World War 2. She was then in her late seventies and suffered from poor sight and a chronic illness. My reason for quoting it will be clear from my next post but one. She knew the ‘Sussex Downs’ from lengthy visits during and immediately after World War 1. She was born in Donegal, spent her early teens in St Andrews, and moved to London with her widowed mother in about 1885. She left at the end of 1922 for the village of Sheet in Hampshire, following the publication of George’s selected works under her editorship and the death of Nina Astley (Corbet).

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A slight hitch, aaargh!

I fell in love with this picture the moment I saw it in 2012:

‘The Family at Tea’
Reproduced by kind permission of John Pym and the National Trust

I had come across it on the website for the National Trust’s property of Emmetts in Kent. It is no longer available there, but actually it is an illustration to a superb article by Richard Wheeler, National Specialist in Garden History at the National Trust, entitled ‘Frederic Lubbock and Emmetts: Stereoscopic Views of an Edwardian Plant Collector’, which appeared in the Trust’s Historic Houses & Collections Annual 2010, pp. 26-33.

The article explains how John Pym, a great-grandson of Frederic and Catherine Lubbock, who owned Emmetts 1890-1927, made available to Wheeler a staggering collection of nearly two hundred colour and black-and-white photographs taken on glass with the Autochrome process and illustrating the singular specimen gardens that Frederic Lubbock had created at Emmetts. These plates were of invaluable use to the NT in restoring the gardens to how they had been during the Lubbocks’ residency. I cannot recommend warmly enough a visit to Emmetts (near another NT gem, Chartwell) to enjoy the achievement: .

What wowed me about this photograph?

Well first, it has to be admitted, that mellow, early autumnal light that we (daftly) associate with the Edwardian era, and the Seurat-like grainy texture that we also (mysteriously) associate with Edwardian England but which is merely a product of this ingenious early colour photography process. Then the scene, the clothes (those hats and white shoes!), the wicker chairs, the style and distinction of it all, seem quintessentially Edwardian…and there in the middle I instantly recognised George Calderon.

However, it is no exaggeration to say that my relations with this photograph have been as misguided, obsessive and fictive as some of Alexander Masters’s theories/assumptions in pursuit of the heroine of A Life Discarded (see previous post).

Naturally, I put the picture straight on my list of twenty-five illustrations to my book. But these have to be arranged chronologically. Where did it go?

With brainless ease, I dated it as September 1904, when George had raced back to England from Cap Gris Nez to meet Kittie at Emmetts, and indeed told her what clothes, cigarettes and pills to pack and take there for him. George is undoubtedly the man in black tie and boater sitting left of the hostess in the big hat, who is undoubtedly Catherine Lubbock. But where was Kittie? She was thirty-seven in 1904 and therefore could hardly be the demure figure sitting right of the young man extreme left, who is pretty certainly Percy Lubbock.

At this point I must explain that in 1972 I was standing in the yard of the Chekhov family rented property in Moscow discussing with an expert the famous Chekhov family photographic portrait taken there in about 1888. I mentioned in passing that Chekhov’s youngest brother, sitting next to Anton in the front row, was holding under his arm a large chicken that he had somehow got to look straight at the camera. Deafening silence and perturbation. No-one, it seemed, had ever noticed this before.

Unconsciously applying this talent for apophenia and pareidolia (see my post of 25 June 2016), I convinced myself that the blackness in front of the lady third from the left was Jones, the Calderons’ Aberdeen terrier, sitting on the lap of Mrs Mary Hamilton, Kittie’s mother. Even so, where was Kittie, who was not known to be photophobic? Well, obviously, she had been sitting in the empty chair in the middle, but had vacated it to improve the staging and had been the person who pressed the shutter… The figure right of Mrs Hamilton and Jones is undoubtedly Charles ‘Evey’ Pym, the man right of Catherine is Frederic Lubbock, the young man extreme right must be a son. I thought. So the photograph went into the Illustrations list in the 1904 position and was referred to by that Fig. number in my text.

Alas, at the time I had not read the whole of Richard Wheeler’s article, a copy of which has been very generously donated to me by Mr Pym. The penultimate paragraph of the article explains that the Autochrome process was ‘invented by Louis and Auguste Lumière in 1903, and first marketed in 1907’ and everything I have read since confirms that. There were no colour processes before 1907 that could have produced the quality of ‘The Family at Tea’. This cannot be a photograph of George before 1907, therefore. I had misdated it (not to mention misidentified Mrs Hamilton, who died in 1906) and misnumbered it in my list of illustrations to the book, which means that I have to change the text in the book referring to the photograph, and renumber all the other Fig.’s from 1905 to 1911 in subsequent chapters. Aaargh!

So when was the photograph taken, why isn’t Kittie on it, and who might the unidentified persons be?

If the old lady in black is not Mrs Hamilton with Jones (who died in 1909), then the photograph could have been taken when Kittie was not staying at Emmetts but George was. There were many occasions when Kittie stayed there on her own, as she was related to Catherine Lubbock by her first marriage, but there’s only one documented occasion when she was in Kent with George but left a day earlier than him. This was in 1912, when they both in fact stayed at nearby Foxwold, where Evey and his wife Violet Pym (the Lubbocks’ only daughter) had recently taken up residence. They arrived together on 30 September 1912, Kittie left on 7 October, probably to attend to their recent purchase of 42 Well Walk in Hampstead, and George left the day after with Percy Lubbock. The photo could therefore have been taken in the afternoon of 7 October 1912…

By then, however, Evey and Violet had been married seven years and had two children, so could the figure right of Percy really be his sister? And the only son of the Lubbocks who would be the right age in 1912 for the man extreme right is Roy (born 1892), who because of his technical interests, John Pym suggests, may have been the family’s Autochrome photographer. How, though, did he manage to be in the picture as well? Again, whose was the empty chair? Was that where the person who pressed the shutter had been sitting? What did Roy Lubbock actually look like in 1912? Was he that tall? Did he have black hair?

Myself, I have gone fictive like Alexander Masters and decided to call the lady in black ‘Mrs Mortley’. I already imagine her life story. Before long, that is who she will ‘become’…

I am deeply indebted to John Pym, Richard Wheeler, and Annina Lubbock, for their unstinting assistance in reading this picture correctly.

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A skipped life

For my taste, this book is the most innovative biography since Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey: My Own Life (see 15 October 2016). Although reviewed positively when it appeared last year, it is so original that I defy anyone to get their head quite round it. But equally, I defy anyone not to be grabbed by it:

Click the cover to find this book on Amazon.

A further complication in my case is that when I read it I discovered that I have known four of the real-life characters who appear in it, one pretty well. It has taken some effort to block out the interference from that, but I think I have. I must try and concentrate on the the essentials. I will attempt to make this a low wall of words.

Like Masters’s previous two ‘lives’, Stuart: A Life Backwards and Simon: The Genius in my Basement, this is the biography of an ‘unknown person’, as Masters calls them, but the subject here is even more unknown. 148 diaries were found in a Cambridge skip. They started in 1952 and ended in 2001, but there are about 800 missing covering periods between 1965 and 1999. They were written at a rate of approximately 2000 words a day. Masters calculates this means they totalled forty million words.

Reviewers expressed frustration that it was difficult to describe the narrative of  A Life Discarded because that would be to ‘give the ending away’ (although there are several endings, in fact). But I think it is necessary to commit this spoiler in order to get a grip on what Masters is doing. So: three quarters of the way through, he discovers that the writer of the diaries is still alive, aged 73, and living on an estate in Cambridge.

However, he has hitherto fought against finding this out. He begins by thinking the writer is dead and is convinced it was a man. He resists for as long as he can putting the diaries in chronological order. All the bleeding described at one point is not from a knife fight: the diarist is a woman. She makes much reference to ‘Whiters’ and Masters imagines a complete persona for this butler-like figure. It turns out that ‘Whiters’ is a grand house outside Cambridge. Masters visits the site, but the house has been burned down. He makes no attempt to investigate its past through Kelly’s Directory, say, and he absolutely refuses to look at electoral rolls. He prefers to consult a graphologist and private detective (there are beautifully told chapters on each). The graphologist points out the diarist’s date of birth in a diary, which Masters has missed. Someone in another diary blurts out the writer’s name: Laura. The dominating and belittling male with whom Laura has an unconsummated affair between the ages of fourteen and forty, turns out to be a woman pianist fifty years older than her… And so on.

What is clear is that Masters enjoys imagining who the diarist is and what is going on in her diaries infinitely more than he would enjoy the prospect of  factually researching them. Every biographer will recognise this: the elated extrapolation…the delayed forensic gratification…creative fantasy…the excitement of the pursuit of the unknown…the pleasure of spinning a fiction…the temptation to believe that you know the truth about your subject better than any facts could. And this process, in Masters’s hands, is suspenseful, absorbing, hugely entertaining. You are driven along by the desire (his desire) to find out who the diarist is and yet not arrive there.

The life of Laura, the failed librarian, failed great writer, failed great pianist, failed great painter, failed great Shakespeare scholar and failed housekeeper, who buys cauliflowers in sevens because that is practically all she eats, then reheats the stalks, and who was almost psychologically destroyed by a schoolgirl crush that lasted twenty-six years, is utterly mundane and utterly weird. Apart from her diary, she has achieved nothing; in her almost complete solipsism, she has succeeded in skipping life. Like Masters himself, you may well sob, roar with laughter, rant and despair over this woman, but you will keep turning the pages. He wanted to ‘keep reading Laura’s diary entries, even when they are agonisingly tedious’, and realises it’s ‘because they are true. […] She has absolutely no awareness of your presence. Her drama is that she is not fiction’.

She is not fiction… ‘Everything that this woman locked up in her bedroom late in the evening writes, and by writing makes interesting, could be replaced by a single, endlessly repeated sentence: I am alive. I am alive. I am alive.’

The pressures to consult the online electoral register eventually become too great. The first three-quarters of the book, entitled ‘Mystery’, end, and factuality breaks in for the rest (‘Crisis’). He discovers her full name: Laura Francis. ‘Ten minutes later I was looking into her living room on Google Earth.’ They meet and she approves the publication of his book. For many readers, I imagine, this last quarter will be an anticlimax. But Masters now produces a series of slim, elegant prose pieces that in my view avoid that: we have two parodic academics ‘interpreting’ for him what he has done in this book, we have the climax of the sub-plot (the death and funeral of his literary collaborator for twenty-five years), a transcription of the recording of his first meeting with Laura Francis, a formal four-page ‘Biography’ of her, a very short ‘PS’ with a further twist in it, and four pages of ‘Acknowledgements’ in a smaller font that are practically a story in themselves.

And literally at that moment, it occurs to you that ‘Laura Francis’, for a host of reasons, cannot be the diarist’s real name. It is fictitious. A Life Discarded is the biography of a fictitious person. The whole Shandy-esque narrative is enclosed in a fictitious identity. Masters has written, then, what he always really wanted to write: fiction…

A Life Discarded seems to have sold well, but it evokes a wide fan of responses from readers. If you have read it, I would be very interested to hear from you through the Comments column.

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Empires end like this…

There are two reasons that obtaining Permissions has taken so long, in my case at least (see 17 April and 20 April). First, although I rapidly earmarked the sixteen ‘major’ sources of quoted unpublished material in my biography, e.g. William Rothenstein, Grant Richards and Laurence Binyon, and secured the permission of their current copyright holders pretty quickly (plus approval from the relevant archival institutions), I soon realised I had forgotten lots of shorter quotations and lesser folk, as it were. So the first thing I had to do was re-read the typescript meticulously. I stress ‘meticulously’, because it was thanks to reading my typescript too fast the previous time that I had missed these people. There is an almost unstoppable urge, when you are reading your own work for the umpteenth time, to get carried away by it and miss things. So this second time I read at the rate of 100 pages a day and it took me four days.

It produced twenty more sources of quotations for which, according to our risible copyright law, I have to obtain permission to publish from a ‘current copyright holder’ (I am beginning to doubt whether that expression really means anything at all). Admittedly some of these quotations are only fifteen or so words long, but some of their authors turn out to be significant, e.g. Charles Villiers Stanford, Rupert Brooke, Mary Cholmondeley… Some, however, e.g. clubland friends of Archie Ripley’s, are not.

At this point, the second decelerating factor kicks in: you have got to find out who is the institution or descendant who officially owns the ‘rights’ to this unpublished material, even though it was usually written over a hundred years ago. Obviously, in the case of Stanford or Brooke, this is not difficult. In the case of semi-famous correspondents of George or Kittie, it is more difficult and time-consuming. For instance, William English Harrison, the eminent barrister in whose chambers George ‘read’ after graduating, has a clear single female line of descent to a great-great-granddaughter, a Mrs Annette Gough, born 1939, but where does one even start to look for her (or her nearest descendants)? I have half a dozen cases like this. Even archives that possess the papers of Harold Dowdall, say, or Dr Albert Tebb, don’t know who their current copyright holders are.

Fortunately, I have a fantastic genealogical research assistant in Michael Welch, who performs miracles. But it all takes us both time. I should think between us we have so far spent three weeks on Permissions, and we still have thirteen cases to crack. All the feelers are out for these, and in eight of them approaches have been made to the people we believe ‘own’ the copyright. However, it would surprise me if it took us less than another ten days to mop up all thirteen (the original sixteen have been resolved).

This could be regarded as the nadir of the whole business. Five unpaid weeks work on something cooked up by the British Government and an EU Directive! In the name of a Gogolian and Kafkian irrationality! And the prospect of it going on forever as one chases the descendants of Edwin Lankaster in Java…the collateral descendants of Kittie’s gardener…George’s batman… It’s enough to make you lose the will to live.

But life begins the other side of despair!

This whole exercise has produced something that, if I had thought about it more, I might have suspected, but which I find incredibly heartening. Indeed I would go so far as to say that my recent discovery has made this ghastly business all worth while.

When I first blogged about the idiocy and Dullness of a copyright law that insists we trace the descendants of King Alfred or Dr Albert Tebb if we are to be ‘allowed’ to quote from their unpublished works, I suggested that it had all the hallmarks of totalitarianism: a po-minded Utopian belief that it should forbid everything that wasn’t explicitly permitted, a determination to control the past, and a formula for exponentially expanding bureaucracy. But a ray of light has appeared!

I intimated that I believe the way to oppose this law is to assert one’s libertarian belief against its totalitarianism. (As Berdiaev said, ‘love is attained by loving, freedom is attained by acting freely’.) In other words, to ignore it and pursue Permissions only for, say, unpublished material whose author died less than seventy years ago, as I and numerous of my literary correspondents believe is sensible. But I decided not to assert my freedom this way for two reasons: 1) six years work on George Calderon: Edwardian Genius is too much to put at stake, 2) as a feeble Englishman I of course believe in observing the law, be it never so stupid howmsoever, as Lord Denning might have said. I have therefore plodded on into the desert created by this UK/EU legislation known as the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, faithfully pursuing mirage after mirage…

But I find that many of the institutions and persons I approach, like oases of hope, about specific persons’ copyright, do not deign to reply. They are prepared to let me expire in the Act’s Taklamakan Desert; and they are our salvation from the Act’s totalitarianism. They have said to themselves, to me, and to the Act: ‘Get lost!’ They are not prepared to perpetuate this madness. And thank you to them wherever they may be! They have called an end to it, they have given me an excuse for claiming I have made ‘all reasonable efforts’ with this lunacy! They have unwittingly brought me peace.

It is people like these who bring empires to a close. They decide to ignore, or fudge, the dictates of empire, and those empires start to die from the edges. It is what happened to the Russian and Soviet empires. As an Englishman I feel an obligation to obey Parliament/EU Directives, but I think many EU member-states have never felt that…

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‘All shall be well’ really?

The text of my biography is now as ready, I think, as it’s ever going to be, my approaches to publishers are roughly on course, but I am far behind with my Permissions, and that means with writing my voluminous and hugely important Acknowledgements. (More next time.) We also have to assemble the twenty-six illustrations digitally.

The reason for the delay is that, as I wrote a few weeks ago, I am also working on another book; so altogether, I’ve been working overtime for more weeks that I can now remember. The ‘other’ book I am working on has come about as a result of this one:

Click the cover to find this book on Amazon.

I was in Waterstones, doing my monthly survey of the biography industry and its publishers, when this small volume caught my eye (the cover is from Rogier van der Weyden’s ‘Portrait of a Woman with a Winged Bonnet’). I’d long been intrigued by Eliot’s quotations from Julian of Norwich in Four Quartets, I thought it was about time I learned more, and I have been impressed by Janina Ramirez on television, so I bought a copy.

It’s a truly fascinating piece of writing. Dame Julian, who is rather convincingly identified here with the noble Norwich lady Julian de Erpingham, may have been an ‘anchoress’ who had died to the world and could only communicate with it from behind a curtain across a window onto the street, but out there, literally only yards from her cell inside the Church of St Julian, the Black Death raged, Lollard ‘heretics’ were burned, and an army of peasants pillaged Norwich. Julian knew medieval reality as deeply as anyone, yet held fast in the midst of it to her vision of God’s love. ‘All shall be well, all shall be well,’ she wrote, ‘and all manner of thing shall be well.’

It will be some time before I read her Revelations of Divine Love, which has been described as the first great work of English prose, but in the meantime I have read Ramirez’s book twice and that should be recommendation enough.

But what particularly struck me was that although a short book (97 pages), S.P.C.K. have published it in hard covers, attractively, and marketed it very well. It suddenly occurred to me that I could shape and hone the transcripts of my recent interviews with John Polkinghorne, 86-year-old mathematical physicist, theologian and Templeton Prize winner, into a narrative of roughly the same length and try it on S.P.C.K. myself. John rose to the challenge (we had previously had a journal publication in mind), so since January we have held six more interviews and I have been labouring away moulding the twelve into five chapters that move somewhere.

The interviews derive from my reading of two books edited and written by John Polkinghorne about ‘eschatology’, i.e. the future of the universe and ‘the doctrine of the last or final matters, such as death, judgement and the state after death’ (Chambers). John, who is a neighbour, suggested I read these books some time ago, and at first I found them ingenious but provocative. It is a matter of different temperaments and, probably, different brain types. But the opportunity to argue with one of the finest minds of the day is never to be turned down. I have about another fortnight’s work to do on this short (30,000-word) book, which has been provisionally entitled What Can We Hope For? Dialogues about the Future.

Someone asked me what our conversations were about. ‘Eschatology,’ I said. ‘Escapology?!’ she exclaimed. Er, well, may be..!

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Letter to a publisher

Not surprisingly, I suppose, at my time of life I feel more confident about tackling publishers with a proposal than I have before. I know more about the publishers out there and the books they are producing, I understand better how publishers work, and I know more people who actually work in publishing. By and large, publishers’ websites and the Web enable one to hone a proposal for a particular publisher better than ever. It is also appreciably easier to express myself to a publisher now that the book exists, than in 1998 when I could only present ‘structures’ for two books about the Calderons, and 2013 when I had less than a quarter of the text to show people.

But there are still unpleasant surprises. For instance, the other day I suddenly realised that one of my top priority publishers has a reader who is a notoriously competitive, aggressive, counter-suggestible Russianist who would probably not only rubbish my book on ‘principle’, but ransack it for material! Too risky to approach that publisher, then… Another problem is very reputable ‘academic’ publishers who I have been published by before but who would assume I was writing an academic book and find I hadn’t succeeded. If they cannot think without footnotes, they are not for me.

The biggest stumbling block, however, is the phrase ‘no unsolicited submissions’. You know a publisher’s recent books, you admire them, you think your book could be right for them, you think they could be right for you, you investigate them in the handbooks and on the Web, you identify who to write to, you investigate the person on the Web, then you are dealt this ‘no unsolicited submissions’ card.

What is so frustrating is that you literally do not know what it means. Obviously, you would never dream of sending them even a chapter ‘unsolicited’, let alone the whole manuscript (‘no unsolicited MSS’ is a variant), but can’t you even send them a one-page proposal? I have known a one-page proposal get through this armour and elicit an invitation to submit a sample, but usually it doesn’t even earn a reply. You see, the publisher wants to deal only with an ‘agent’, not with you.

I was self-employed for nearly forty years, ran three businesses, and unfortunately never found a wholly competent agent, accountant or solicitor in all that time. I felt justified, therefore, in pounding out the following to a distinguished publisher the other day:

Dear Mr X

You may, or may not, be aware that [your] website contains the following:

How to get your book published

You need a literary agent. Like most publishers, we’re unable to accept direct submissions from authors, as we don’t have the resources to evaluate them. We work with many great agents. Here are our tips for finding the right one for you: [Etc.]

The tips you give following the above are sensible, but the above itself is grossly offensive to any original writer and guaranteed to put him/her off approaching you, for these reasons:

Even one of the ‘greatest’ literary agents can take up to five years to find a publisher. The writer him/herself can do better than that, provided he/she can make direct contact with publishers.

Submissions’ is vague, but if you mean a one-page approach-letter or a brief synopsis, your claim not to have the resources to evaluate them is ridiculous. In the theatre one person can evaluate a dozen scripts a day and respond the same day to their authors.

Your statement implies that you have no critical or aesthetic values of your own.

We work with many great agents’…but not with any great authors, is the implication, because you don’t work with authors at all! How insulting is that? It invites me, as an author, to say ‘I work with many great agents’…but with no great publishers. That is like saying: ‘Wellington rode a great horse’.

I don’t say I am a ‘great’ biographer, but I have certainly written an innovative one, Edwardian Genius: The Case of George Calderon, and have fifty years experience of working with publishers. Unfortunately, although your entry in Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2017 (which your own website recommends using) says that you publish ‘biography’, I find no trace of any on your website.

Yours &c

Yes, it probably comes over as arrogant and Meldrewish, but every twenty years or so you have to give it to people straight — for your own mental health, you understand. I am also comforted by the excellent article ‘How to get an agent’ by Philippa Milnes-Smith in this year’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which asks seven questions of an author and says ‘if you can answer a confident “yes” to them all […] you  might not need an agent’. (I can.) Nevertheless, I don’t entirely rule one out if all my own approaches fail. A certain non-fiction agent is repeatedly recommended to me, but when I wrote to him less than two years ago I never got a reply…

I have so far tackled twenty-six publishers, received six rejections, been invited to submit material by six others, and not heard yet from the remaining fourteen. I probably have thirteen more to approach. The most hilarious thing is the number of rejecting publishers who are ‘confident your book will find a good home soon’!

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Guest post: Laurence Brockliss, ‘Journalists in Victorian and Edwardian Britain’

George Calderon was a playwright, essayist and translator as well as a journalist. There was nothing unusual in this as journalism before the First World War did not exist as a distinctive career. In 1911 individuals who described themselves as journalists on their census form were subsequently lumped together by the enumerators for the purpose of analysis with authors and editors of all descriptions and people working in advertising. Only newspaper editors were recognised as a separate occupational category.

What was exceptional, however, was that Calderon the journalist had been to Oxford. He was not the only journalist of his generation to have done so, albeit the only one to record his experiences in a novel. The much older C.P. Scott (1846-1932), long-standing editor and owner of the Manchester Guardian, had attended Corpus Christi in the late 1860s, while Calderon’s contemporary, Geoffrey Dawson (1874-1944), who went on to edit The Times, was up at Magdalen. Both though were exceptional, and Dawson, like Calderon, had been to a top public school. Most journalists and the editors and proprietors of journals and newspapers had had no experience of higher education in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Over the last three years, I have been heading an ESRC-funded prosopographical study of members of the professions in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. We have studied the family history of 1,000 members of the professions recorded in the 1851 census across four generations, beginning with their parents and ending with their grandchildren. Our database, now closed, contains information on about 16,000 men and women ( As our sample was drawn from eight distinctive British provincial towns, it has been possible for the first time to construct an account of middle-class professional life which embraces the country at large and not just the capital. The number of journalists, editors and proprietors in our dataset is not large, about 45. But it is a robust enough sample from which to gain a valuable insight into the chief characteristics of the members of this nascent profession. Some of the 45 belonged to a dynasty of journalists; some were solitary representatives of the occupation in a family that embraced a variety of middle-class careers. Some died very rich; most died poor. Some had literary pretensions and were leading lights in local cultural societies; others were simple reporters. But only one or two, whatever their broader profile, had had an extensive education. Their London avatar was George Bernard Shaw not George Calderon.

Two contrasting examples of the successful provincial journalist among our starting sample of professionals were the Leeds newspaper men, Christopher Kemplay (1804-72) and Sir Edward Baines (1800-90).

Sir Edward Baines, 1870s

The first was editor and proprietor of the Tory and Anglican Leeds Intelligencer. The other edited and owned the Liberal and Non-Conformist Leeds Mercury. Neither had had higher education – Kemplay went to Ripon Grammar School while Baines was sent to New College, Manchester, a school for Protestant dissenters where the chemist John Dalton taught mathematics. Both died rich — Kemplay left £35,000 and Baines a staggering £166,000; both wrote books and pamphlets; and in the third quarter of the nineteenth century both met together frequently at the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, Mechanic Institute and Conversation Club. However, their family background and career trajectory were very different.

Christopher was the son of Richard Kemplay who ran a successful private academy in Leeds teaching Latin, Greek, mathematics and modern languages.

When his father died in 1830, Christopher took over the school, but he did not stay in teaching for long. In the course of the 1830s, he moved into finance, which was easy to do in an unregulated age, and became a director of the Leeds Commercial Banking Company. Banking too cannot have been to his taste, for in April 1842, shortly after he married, he resigned his directorship to become owner of the Intelligencer, founded by Griffith Wright in 1754. This was a big concern and he was a hands-on proprietor. In the 1851 census he called himself a printer and journalist as well as a newspaper editor and owner and claimed to be employing 80 people. He ran the newspaper until 1866, when he sold it to the newly formed Yorkshire Conservative Newspapers Company which started the Yorkshire Post. He then retired to live off his investments for the last years of his life. Baines in contrast was born into a newspaper family. His father, also Edward (1774-1848), had bought the Leeds Mercury in 1801 and Baines Jnr worked under his father as a cub-reporter from 1815. He was editor three years later (at the age of eighteen!) and co-proprietor from 1827. As he lived until 1890, he unsurprisingly tired of the newspaper business in his middle-age and like his father and elder brother before him was elected to Parliament for Leeds in 1859 as a Liberal where he served until 1874. He never let go of the Mercury, however. He retained the controlling interest until he died and left the paper to his children.

Neither Christopher nor Edward sired a prolific progeny. Christopher had two sons and two daughters. Only Caroline (1843-1915), who married Thomas Clarke Tatham (1839-1914), a Cambridge-educated London barrister with South American business interests, had children of her own. Neither of his sons became a journalist: one was an artist and the other studied for the bar. Edward had three sons and four daughters but they were no more fruitful. Only John William (1839-75) and Anne Catherine (1841-1924) left offspring. John William was the only son to follow in his father’s footsteps and run the Leeds Mercury. He had two elder brothers: one became a corn flour and seed merchant, the other a barrister who went to London University. Through Caroline, Christopher had two grandchildren, Christopher Kemplay Tatham (1881-1970), a barrister, and Geoffrey Bulmer Tatham (1882-1918), an ecclesiastical historian, who died on the Somme.

Geoffrey Bulmer Tatham, 1917/18
Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Both, like their father, attended Trinity, Cambridge. Through John William, Edward had six grandchildren, two sons and four daughters. One of the two sons, Herbert Stanhope (1868-96), also became a newspaper man: he was the fourth generation of Baines to edit the Mercury. The other, Edward, b. 1866, became a physician. John William, like his father, grandfather and virtually all journalists before 1914, had not had a higher education, but both Herbert and Edward went to Caius, Cambridge, after attending Leeds Grammar School. Herbert had apparently been brought up to be a newspaper man, so perhaps it was simply felt that he should not be denied the opportunities given his elder brother. Herbert, who married Elizabeth Graham, one of the first women to attend Newnham, was the last direct descendant of Edward Baines to be associated with the newspaper trade. His own son, John (b. 1894), grandson and great grandson all went to Winchester College, then served in the army as sappers. In 2015 Andrew Baines, Sir Edward’s great-great-great-grandson, and his sister Joanna Palmer published the letters their grandfather sent home from France and Salonika during the Great War.

Click the cover to find this book on Amazon

It is possible that Calderon would have heard of the Kemplays. Christopher’s daughter Caroline was not the only member of the family to move to London. His younger brother, James, who died in 1882, was a prominent London QC, based in Leinster Gardens Paddington, who had been 4th Wrangler in the Cambridge Tripos of 1833. It is certain Calderon would have heard of Sir Edward Baines. Sir Edward was one of the great journalists of the nineteenth century who had sprung to national fame early in life when he exposed the government provocateur, Oliver the Spy. Baines moreover was a lover of Italian Renaissance art whose collection of engravings, lithographs, copies and some originals was mainly left to the Yorkshire College, in 1890 part of the Victoria University. The majority of the other journalists and their families in our database, Calderon would certainly have never encountered. They were too poor and obscure or too solidly provincial to have crossed his horizon. Nonetheless, he and they belonged to the same parvenu tribe that was slowly evolving into our modern conception of the fourth estate and their lives, like his, deserve to be better known.

Laurence Brockliss is Fellow and Tutor in History at Magdalen College, Oxford, and Professor of Early Modern French History at the University of Oxford. He works on the history of education, science and medicine in Britain and France between 1500 and the present day. His books include French Universities in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: A Cultural History (Oxford, 1986); [with Colin Jones] The Medical World of Early Modern France (Oxford, 1997); Calvet’s Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford, 2002); and The University of Oxford: A History (Oxford, 2016). He is currently involved in an ESRC-funded study of the professions in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

© Laurence Brockliss, 2017

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The U.K./E.U. copyright chimaera: a postscript

Following my last post, I began to wonder if, after all, I hadn’t overdone it. But I soon received a number of emails approving of my copyright ‘polemic’, ‘evisceration’, ‘logical deconstruction’, as they called it. From details in these emails, I surmise that their authors did not want to commit themselves to a Comment for fear of the copyright police!

All of these correspondents are themselves writers. Their gist is that they want a copyright law that is rational. For instance, that limits copyright in both published and unpublished works to 70 years after the death of their author and also makes permission obligatory only when a writer wants to quote more than 50 words. I agree. Last night I received permission by email from an American archive to publish 38 words from a letter of George’s that they physically possess, but do not own the copyright in. This took me a number of emails, completion and signature of a form, and despatch to the U.S., to negotiate, plus…a commitment to send them a copy of my book, which they have reminded me about in their permission. This is grasping, exorbitant and ridiculous. I had to sign that I would do it, but I would actually like to know what basis in law an archive has for insisting you have to ask their permission to publish when they don’t own the copyright. It is civilised and polite to acknowledge the archive that owns an item, of course, and I would always want to do it, but I am tempted to say that they have no right to demand we ask them for permission to publish. If the copyright-owner gives their permission, I think the person who conserves the item has no further claim.

No, on reflection I don’t feel I have overdone it in attacking this law. The fundamental tenet of authoritarian empires and totalitarian societies has always been everything is forbidden that is not permitted and that is the principle this U.K./E.U. copyright law enshrines. It is a devastating comment on the people who framed it. I for one cannot contemplate going this way again. Either the law on unpublished manuscripts changes or I shall observe only my own rules based on rational, libertarian principles.

One of my e-correspondents has written to his M.P. drawing attention to my post.

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The triumph of…what?

Given that my post about George’s 1913 visit to Madeira was up for over a fortnight, that Alison’s guest post (which was another in the ‘new biographies’ series) has been up for ten days, and on 21 April Laurence Brockliss’s guest post Journalists in Victorian and Edwardian Britain will also go up for ten days, it may reasonably be asked what I myself am doing with my time…

The answer is, three things: pursuing Permissions, researching and writing batches of six proposals to publishers, and creating another book (admittedly only 30,000 words long and with a co-author). This and my next two posts, then, will fill you in on these different activities, which together are employing me for about thirty-five hours a week. Meanwhile, positive and negative responses dribble in from the publishers I approached in the previous two months.

‘Permissions’ are what you have to get from the owner(s) and copyright holder(s) of works that you want to quote from in print, when these works are still in copyright. So that is the first complication, or multiplication of effort: each permission for an unpublished manuscript item requires two separate and parallel applications. Naturally, I would never have started writing George Calderon: Edwardian Genius without having already been given permission to quote from George and Kittie’s writings by the owner of the manuscripts and owner of George and Kittie’s copyright, which happen to be the same estate. But there are dozens of letters etc sent to George and Kittie between about 1880 and 1946 that I want to quote from but whose copyright is owned by someone else.

‘What,’ you exclaim, ‘copyright lasts only to seventy years after an author’s death, the overwhelming majority of the writers of these letters etc must have died before 31 December 1946, so you don’t need to get copyright-owner permission!’

Ye-e-e-e-s, that would be the sensible, pragmatic assumption. In fact some institutions that own works and the copyright therein believe that is the case, and blithely tell you these works are out of copyright and you can go ahead and publish them. But the truth is more Byzantine and bizarre, as this little masterpiece will make clear: 

An unpublished letter to George dated 1888 from a known person who died in 1898 will cascade down the right hand side of the algorithm to the bottom right hand box, which tells you that copyright in it ‘expires 31 December 2039’. ‘What? How? Surely some mistake?!’, you exclaim again. No, no mistake: that is the current legal position. Not only is an unpublished letter that was written by someone over a hundred years ago who died over a hundred years ago (a letter owned by someone related or not to the addressee but probably not to its author) copyright until 2039, any unpublished text written by someone who died whenever before 1969 is still in copyright. Thus if an unpublished manuscript of Shakespeare, Chaucer or Boudicca suddenly surfaced, it would still be in copyright and the ‘owners’ of that copyright should be traced and permission to publish sought from them. In fairness, the Writers Artists and Their Copyright Holders (WATCH) database tells us that there seem to have been no cases so far of ‘copyrights persisting from much before the period of Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge’. But please do not feel relieved: if you think about it, the latter statement is quite surreal enough.

I am not going to attempt to explain how this situation came about, or the mathematics of it. This page of WATCH’s website gives as accurate an account of the events as you will find anywhere:

However, I doubt very much whether you will actually be able to make more sense of how the various acts (particularly the EU Directive on Term of Copyright, which we adopted in 1996) combined to produce the current situation, than I can. One has the impression of a series of committees each of which produced impeccably logical and rational decisions about copyright, but which were not joined up, never talked to each other, and had no umbrella or lateral vision. When their decisions were simply lumped together it inevitably produced something entirely irrational; a monster. As the WATCH account testifies, plenty of people out there regard the present law as ‘absurd’, but the British government has spent five years ‘actively considering amending it’ without doing so.

If the British rules on copyright are currently ‘absurd’, the implementation of them is, I believe, clinically insane.

Most institutions who own authors’ archives do not know who owns those authors’ copyright. One archive of an eminent figure tells me that they ‘never managed to get to the bottom’ of who owns this person’s copyright today, so they, the archive, have arrogated it, which must be legally impossible (another Gogolian absurdity). The WATCH database is a superb amenity for tracing copyright owners, but of course it only covers a fraction of authors. As you can see from its link, if you can’t trace a copyright holder through WATCH you are recommended to set off down the path of fourteen other methods. I estimate that to complete this procedure would take you at least a day and a half for each author. You might, of course, have anything upwards of twenty such authors you want to quote. Just to reiterate: we are not talking about published works, but unpublished ones stretching back to the dawn of time…

At this point, perhaps, it may seem that reason reasserts itself. After months have passed whilst you wait for responses to each of your copyright initiatives as recommended by WATCH, you might reasonably conclude that it’s impossible to identify who owns the copyright in the particular letter, and WATCH tell you you can go ahead and publish ‘in cases where the copyright holder is unknown’. You may also have heard the oft-repeated view that ‘if you have made all reasonable attempts to locate a copyright owner, and failed, you may reasonably go ahead and publish’.

But you would be wrong. It is at this point that the procedure definitively moves into the realm of delusion and lunacy. The government has set up from public funds the Dickensianly named Orphan Works Office (OWO):

If, after months of labour, you can’t track down the copyright owner of that signed laundry list, you have to apply to OWO. You ask them, at a cost of £20 per ‘work’, to issue you a licence to publish a work that is ‘orphaned’ because its copyright owner is unascertainable — a licence to publish a work that OWO cannot possibly own the copyright in. Your application, moreover, for a permission they cannot actually give, may or may not be ‘successful’, as they put it. Truly, this is a trade in dead souls. Moreover, as with WATCH’s ‘fourteen steps’, one can imagine the bureaucracy behind it rivalling that of the Gogol story in which an application is ‘processed’ for three years by lying in an office cupboard which ‘acquired so many spatters of ink it became marble’.

For connoisseurs, the combination of the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act with the EU Directive on Term of Copyright is folly of the very finest bouquet, viz. that produced by the exhaustive, inexorable, implacably ‘logical’ implementation of utter nonsense. They haven’t heard of Viktor Shklovsky’s famous saying that ‘the too literal carrying out of orders has always been a form of sabotage’.

But actually, I don’t think it’s funny. It’s a sinister case of state dementia. It’s the sort of thing that massive empires like Russia or Austro-Hungary produced in the past and that crushed their subjects with inanity. It’s the stuff of the most rivetingly boring novel ever written: Kafka’s The Castle. It is enough to make you lose the will to live. Imagine if you set off down the WATCH-OWO path: as you wandered in the bureaucratic desert, you would get further and further away from the book you had written and that all this idiocy was ostensibly about; you would forget the book; you would lose sight of all creativity, literary excitement, verbal relish, imagination, art. To quote Joseph Conrad on Tsarist Russia, current British pseudo-legislation on the copyright of unpublished works is ‘simply the negation of everything worth living for’.

Of course, it was devised with the best intentions. There is not the slightest doubt that authors’ copyright always needs defending. But seventy years after their death seems good enough for both published and unpublished works. When you have tracked down the obscure relatives who ‘own’ unpublished copyright under the current law, they often do not want to know, are bemused, or only interested in whether they can make some money out of this flattering greatness thrust upon them. The law may have been conceived with impeccable ‘liberal’ intentions, but it has achieved the triumph of…well what, actually?

As I have said, it is essentially the triumph of lunacy, of an official psychosis. But on reflection, there is a far better English word for it, as used by our greatest satirists: ‘Dullness’.

Still her old Empire to restore she tries,
For, born a Goddess, Dullness never dies.

(Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, Bk 1, ll. 17-18)

*               *               *

Having over the past two months succeeded in tracking down the copyright owners of fifteen authors of unpublished material 1880-1946, I am going to re-read my whole typescript this week to check that I haven’t missed any. I am sure I will have. Presumably in another month or so I might be able to write my ‘Acknowledgements’.

Seriously, though: are we bound to obey bad laws?

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