LettersDon’t ditch Dutch
Julian Evans’s article, In the Knight’s Footsteps (Review, July 20), on the impact of Don Quixote on western fiction was full of the wide-ranging and stimulating comment that has made Review such a welcome addition to one’s Saturday reading. As a literary translator, I was especially gratified by the well-informed surveys of lesser-known literatures, including my own speciality, Dutch. I should, however, like to point out one minor error regarding the grand old lady of Dutch fiction, Hella Haasse. Evans states that she has not been translated into English, but while it is true that her later work has been largely ignored by English-language publishers, two of her distinguished historical novels, The Scarlet City and In a Dark Wood Wandering, have appeared in translation, the former in fact twice (in 1954 and 1997). Neglect of Dutch literature in Britain and the US may have been (until recently at least) both considerable and apparently arbitrary – it has rarely been total.
London W13 Wodehouse woes
Shashi Tharoor’s splendid appreciation of PG Wodehouse (Review, July 20) is timely, but I hope he is wrong about the lack of appreciation of him in Britain. Sadly, I fear the worst. A few years ago I was buttonholed at a party by a local English teacher who wanted to know why his pupils read Terry Pratchett instead of “great works of literature”. I pointed out Pratchett’s wit, moral seriousness, invention and satirical content and could see that he was unconvinced. I talked about “the line of traditional British humorists” and, in slight desperation, I remarked, “Some people would see him a close second to PG Wodehouse.” Instead of, as I was expecting, treating me like someone comparing Andrew Lloyd Webber to Mozart, he nodded and said something about how that seemed to justify his opinion. I went off to wonder (no doubt unfairly) if a concern for story and language would ever return to secondary school literature teaching.
University of Liverpool
In his brilliant essay Shashi Tharoor refers to PG Wodehouse as “the man Evelyn Waugh had called ‘the greatest living writer of the English language, the head of my profession’.” I have seen the latter half of the quote attributed to Hilaire Belloc in several places, the latest being in The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose, by Frank Muir (1992). Perhaps there is a slight mix-up. Mr Tharoor says “Ours (St. Stephen’s College, Delhi) was then the only Wodehouse Society in the world.” As an Indian and a devotee of Wodehouse I wish I could agree but I have read about such societies elsewhere in the world. The Frank Muir book has this: “There are Wodehouse appreciation societies and clubs in various parts around the world. Denmark’s Wodehouse Society meets in Copenhagen in the ‘Drones Club’ and in Amsterdam there is a bar for Wodehousians called Mr Mulliner’s Wijn Lokaal.” Still, the 1975 Wodehouse Society of St Stephen’s could well have been the only one at that time.
How depressing to learn from AC Grayling’s account of western high culture (A question of discrimination, Review July 13) that its appreciation is not only restricted to those lucky enough to have been born with the requisite powers of “discrimination” and “taste”, but that its agency in people’s lives is merely a genteel “avocation” (to use his extraordinary phrase) rather than the fundamental and inspirational force some of us thought it was.
Stop. It now
I wonder what Eric Griffiths’s English master, Mr Smith (The lavender of the subjunctive, July 13) would have made of articulated. Bad grammar it is the affectation of those who are articulate and should know better (for example, Mark Lawson, whom I admire, incidentally) to mispunctuate in oral discussion putting full-stops in all the wrong. Places and this has the consequence of rendering the listener extremely. Irritated.
Dr Alan Chedzoy’s critique (Review letters, July 13) of Richard Dawkins’s excellent piece on educational methods will not do. One less well-known example of modern educators who adopted imaginative methods is Edward O’Neill of Prestolee, who for more than 40 years (1919-63) nurtured an authentic learning community in an unpromising industrial setting in Lancashire. He abolished anything resembling a timetable, while retaining a strong emphasis on what he called the “Primaries” – literacy and numeracy. The school remained open in the evenings and at weekends, drawing in parents, older siblings, and anyone else in the community who wished to participate.
needs of “ordinary” children – or their parents.
Dr Gina Bridgeland