Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 20 Jan 2016

I Hate Everything About You – Except Your Writing....

Is there any greater conundrum for a reader than to have to come to terms with an author whose views on politics, society and life in general are despicable but who writes with undeniable style, brio or seductive wit? This is something that I’ve tried hard to come to terms with but over which I still really struggle.

The other day I was shifting some books around and I found I’d moved my collection of Evelyn Waugh alongside the short run of Virginia Woolf novels and essays that I seem to have accumulated. In general I hate everything Waugh stood for – the self-satisfied, complacent, conservative aristocratic sense of entitlement – but there was something inside him that also made him not only able to satirize his social class but to do it with a dark and piercing humour. So there he sits on my shelves and I’m occasionally discomforted by his presence and I imagine his knowing smirk as he instinctively senses my unease. Now he’s joined by Virginia Woolf with her hooded eyes and her absurd nose, peering out at me with her supercilious Bloomsbury snobbishness and hatred of the working class. How could this terrible woman fascinate and repel in such equal measure?

Then there’s Kingsley Amis ( and now his son too) who drank himself into a right-wing stupor, Ezra Pound who loved the idea of a Fascist leader and P.G. Wodehouse who was stupid enough to think the Nazis could be accommodated. Everywhere you turn there’s some right-wing knucklehead who happens to write like a dream. T.S.Eliot, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Antony Powell, Roy Campbell and, of course, Philip Larkin. God, it’s depressing........

Possibly the most insidious of all these right wing writers are those that lure you in, tempt you into thinking you’re sharing an insight with them until the mask slips and the monster peeps out. P.J.O’Rourke is very much in that tradition – his slick, acid humour can turn on a moment into a hurtful vitriol.

So do these people deserve a place on my shelves next to all the progressive and radical writers I so admire? In my strongest moments I think the answer is, of course, yes. All ideas are welcome here and my own politics and world view is strong enough to see through these reactionary views to the beauty of the writing underneath and, after all, know thine enemy. other times I’m less certain. Do I really want these authors hanging around polluting the intellectual environment - how will I explain their presence  when I’m called to account?

So, ok – I flip flop. What was it Walt Whitman said :

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself!

(I am large, I contain multitudes)”


Terry Potter

January 2016