Best of Brit Lit
A look at great reads from the author of the Times Literary Supplement. This week: Simon de Beauvoir’s lover speaks, a scandalous British poet is remembered, and the story behind “frankly, my dear…”
Liberated Memories From De Beauvoir’s Lover
“Maoism was Jean-Paul Sartre's Viagra,” writes the novelist and screenwriter Frederic Raphael reviewing the new memoirs of an intimate from the “Temps Modernes” family of 20th-century Paris. Claude Lanzmann was one of Simone de Beauvoir's “contingent lovers,” a role officially approved by Sartre. His own best-known work is the nine-hour Holocaust film, Shoah, "a bulky rock thrown into the pool of post-war forgiving and forgetfulness" according to Raphael, and a reply to the uneasy preconceptions about Jewishness of the philosopher who dominates these memoires as he did Lanzmann's life. Both men were transformed into sentimental softies by Brief Encounter. “Egotistic verve” was a quality of which neither had a lack.
Scarlett O’Hara on Set
A reappraisal of another epic tear-jerker, Gone with the Wind, is discussed in the TLS this week by Paula Marantz Cohen. The title is Frankly, my Dear and the author, Molly Haskell, describes how the rest of the line had to be saved from the censors by the tactic of elevating Margaret Mitchell's novel to the status of “America's bible.” The movie may, however, be the “most culpable” of all the great films that have “used the oppression of African-Americans to build a heroic narrative for their white characters.”
A Century After Swinburne
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Algernon Charles Swinburne, whose addiction to the “English vice” of flogging and other sexual predilections ensured him a scandalous notoriety in Victorian England. Jonathan Bate argues in the TLS that Swinburne was a master metrician as well as a pioneer in changing sexual attitudes. As a critic he was ahead of his time, too. But it remains the case that the first edition of his Poems and Ballads can be bought anywhere online for a song, while his The Whippingham Papers will cost any admiring collector a small fortune.
Peter Stothard is editor of the Times Literary Supplement. He was editor of The Times of London from 1992-2002. He writes about ancient and modern literature and is the author of Thirty Days, a Downing Street diary of his time with British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the Iraq war.