Bestselling Author Wilbur Smith Has Died


Bestselling Author Wilbur Smith Has died in South Africa, aged 88. He wrote some 49 books, including the Courtney series and one that I have only just finished, ‘River God,’ the first in his Ancient Egypt series.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/nov/14/bestselling-author-wilbur-smith-dies-aged-88

I translated the Marquis de Sade’s only gothic novel into English


Wikimedia

Will McMorran, Queen Mary University of LondonIn 1813, a year before he died, the Marquis de Sade wrote his last published book, The Marquise de Ganges. The novel is based on a 17th-century true crime that Sade – notorious aristocrat, libertine and pornographer – probably first heard of as a young boy, and later read about while locked up in the Bastille. According to the accounts of the time, this is what happened.

On the afternoon of May 17 1667, Diane de Joannis, Marquise de Ganges, better known in her time in Louis XIV’s court as la Belle Provençale, is faced with a terrible choice. Standing before her are her two brothers-in-law – the Abbé (the abbott) and Chevalier de Ganges. The Abbé is holding a pistol in one hand and a glass filled with poison in the other. The Chevalier’s sword is drawn. “Madame,” the Abbé tells her, “you must die: you may choose fire, steel, or poison”.

The next few hours pass in a blur. Poison swallowed, then furtively disgorged; escape through a first-floor window; brief sanctuary amongst the women of the village; frenzied blows from the Chevalier’s sword, its blade snapping in her shoulder; and finally, the Abbé’s pistol, pressed against her chest … misfiring.

This is not the end of the Marquise’s ordeal, but there is some respite at least. The women of the village come to her aid once more, driving back the Abbé and the Chevalier, who take flight, never to return – and never to face justice.

Her wounds are dressed, and she is taken back to the Château de Ganges. Despite her extraordinary courage and resilience, however, the damage has already been done. She dies 19 days later – the autopsy confirming poisoning as the cause of death.

Book cover for The Marquise de Gange featuring woman in period dress and powdered white wig.

Oxford University Press

It was one of the crimes of the century, and immediately became a récit sanglant or bloody tale, one to be told and retold by one generation to the next.

Now Sade’s version of this tragic episode is now available in English for the first time, in my new translation for Oxford World’s Classics. Sade scholars have always labelled it a “historical novel” but when I was translating it, I realised that’s not the right genre. It is, instead, Sade’s first and only truly gothic novel – inspired by English novelists like Ann Radcliffe, who wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Mathew Lewis, who wrote The Monk.

Sade and the gothic

Sade today is probably best known as the man who inspired the term “sadism”, and for his works of violent pornography – novels like Justine and The 120 Days of Sodom, which he described as “the most impure tale ever written since the world began”. Until now, he’s not really been considered a gothic novelist – although he is often quoted as an early commentator of this new genre, which he called “the necessary offspring of the revolutionary upheaval which affected the whole of Europe” in an essay in 1800.

Gothic novels thrived in Britain from the 1790s to the 1820s and were highly popular across Europe. The writer Madame de Staël described these as stories whose “aim was to inspire terror with night-time, old castles, long corridors and gusts of wind.” They were stories of horror and suspense, of lust and love, with darkly violent and erotic undertones.

In the early 1790s, Radcliffe was the most influential and successful writer of this popular genre. Lewis’s The Monk, a supernatural tale of murder, incest and religion, saw the gothic take a turn from polite terror to the more shocking – think bleeding nuns and lecherous monks making pacts with demons.

Sade’s pornographic novels do share some features with the English gothic in terms of characters (virtuous heroines, debauched aristocrats and monks) and locations (isolated castles, dark forests, and even darker dungeons). Until now this has seemed a matter of coincidence rather than influence. When he wrote them, Sade hadn’t read Radcliffe or Lewis, and there’s no evidence that they ever read Sade either. And although The Monk was considered scandalous at the time, English gothic novels never come close to the graphic and often crude depictions of sex we find in Sade.

Portrait of the Maquise de Ganges
Diane de Joannis de Chateaublanc, the Marquise de Ganges.
Wikimedia

But The Marquise de Gange is a very different work to Sade’s famous – or infamous – pornographic fiction. Written years later, Sade’s retelling is clearly inspired by novelists like Radcliffe and Lewis. It is his first attempt at a gothic novel – complete with its forbidding castle in keeping with “that Gothic style of architecture”.

Like so many other gothic novels, The Marquise de Gange is at its heart a story about predatory men and innocent women. In Sade’s part-fictionalised account of this historical murder, that violence is sexually driven, as the Marquise’s brothers-in-law take revenge for her rejection of their advances. Throughout the novel, male desire is a constant danger, a constant threat.

So far so gothic. But reading this novel is not quite like reading any other gothic novel, because it is impossible to forget who wrote it. Sade’s life, like his fiction, is a tale of repeated acts of sexual violence against women, from Jeanne Testard and Rose Keller, to the teenage girls he hired as servants in his castle in Lacoste one winter. As American radical feminist writer Andrea Dworkin put it, Sade’s “life and writing were of a piece, a whole cloth soaked in the blood of women imagined and real”.

Beneath the novel’s respectable surface, and behind its moralising narrator, the reader can’t help but look for glimpses of an amoral author. One wants to look for the mask to slip, as it seems to when the narrator lingers over the heroine’s “bosom of alabaster, covered only with her beautiful, dishevelled locks” in the climactic scene, or when the narrator forgets whether he should be impressed or outraged by the evil Abbé’s plotting: “Everything had been judiciously, or rather, maliciously calculated in the Abbé’s plans,” he corrects himself. Sade teases the reader, playing cat and mouse throughout this highly self-conscious and subversive version of a gothic novel.The Conversation

Will McMorran, Reader in French & Comparative Literature, Queen Mary University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Private Eye at 60: the prime ministerial parodies that tell a history of modern Britain


Martin Farr, Newcastle UniversityThe fortnightly magazine Private Eye turns 60 this year. When it launched, it helped initiate the “satire boom”, and, more profoundly, the increasing lack of deference those in positions of authority could expect from the press, television, and, consequently, the public.

One of the magazine’s most popular and longest features has been the prime ministerial parody. Commenting on the state of politics, it provides a potted political history of Britain.

The life and times of a Downing Street housewife

Though Harold Macmillan was prime minister when Private Eye appeared in 1961, and Alec Douglas-Home soon succeeded him, the first to become the subject of a regular satirical column was Harold Wilson.

Labour had won the 1964 general election invoking a “new Britain” to replace the old establishment constraining a country on the cusp of a technological revolution. Rather making the point for him, a new prime minister conspicuously northern of provenance and accent found himself immediately patronised by the Oxbridge public-school boys in London behind the magazine.

Harold Wilson smoking a pipe, and his wife Mary.
Harold Wilson and his wife Mary.
Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

Mrs Wilson’s Diary was the idea of Peter Cook, the most prominent of them, partly inspired by the radio soap opera Mrs Dale’s Diary. The Wilsons’ 10 Downing Street was a household of mundane domesticity, of spam garnished with brown sauce, accompanied by Wincarnis sweet wine. In skewering Wilson’s provincialism, the column also connoted Britain’s rapidly diminishing international status.

In this way, Private Eye is, among other things, a unique example of conservatism and iconoclasm. It was born of the very establishment it was created to debunk. Its defining characteristic was to parody whoever is in power.

Wilson, who cultivated a pipe and a pint persona in public despite being a cigar and cognac man in private, could hardly complain – though complain he did, even intervening to censor the script when Mrs Wilson’s Diary was adapted into a West End play.

Tetchy Ted’s memo to Heathco staff

The Conservatives unexpectedly won the 1970 general election, and the new prime minister Edward Heath’s intention was to replace Wilson’s tired government of gimmicks and cronies with a gleaming, modern, almost corporate, administration.

But Private Eye presciently rendered Heathco as a struggling medium enterprise which duly collapsed alongside the increasingly tetchy managing director’s authority.

Callaghan: a blank space

A case can be made for the 1970s parodies being the best because it was the dottiest decade, replete with singular scandals and improbable conspiracies, many of which were brought to light in the Eye.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of Jim Callaghan’s beleaguered premiership was that it, alone, went without a parody. The comic strip The Brothers had to suffice, depicting the breakdown between the Labour government and the trades unions, the end of the post-war settlement and of corporatism.

The gripings of a golf-obsessed husband

The landmark incarnation of the parody began in 1979 with the landmark prime ministership of Margaret Thatcher.

Dear Bill, in which Thatcher’s spouse Denis wrote to his friend Bill (Deedes, a prominent conservative journalist), allowed for the comic exaggeration of a certain commuter-belt conservatism, centred on gin, tonic, golf, and reacting against all manner of modern norms. Private Eye could characterise the husband as comic because his wife was far from funny.

Suitably enough, it was the 1980s incarnation that was the most commercially-minded. The Dear Bill books were bestsellers, while audiences for the stage version Anyone for Denis? included the Thatchers, smiling unconvincingly.

Major growing pains

The shift in scale from Thatcher to her unprepossessing successor in 1990 had Private Eye cast him as an overgrown, and equally dynamic, Adrian Mole in The Secret Diary of John Major (aged 47¾).

With the widely-ridiculed Cones Hotline, which provided the public with means of redress about local traffic calming methods, a flagship policy, and the government descending into a pit of endemic corruption, the long Conservative era that was clearly ending was not unlike that of the early 60s which had occasioned the satire boom in the first place.

New Labour arrives in the parish

After 18 years of Tory rule, the column shifted from the stale to the sanctimonious in 1997, when Tony Blair’s proclivity to play guitar in overly-tight jeans inspired his depiction as a trendy vicar addressing his congregation in the St Albion Parish News.

Reverend Blair issued updates from officials such as church warden Peter Mandelson, in charge of the Millennium Tent on the village green, and from his American friend George Bush’s “Church of the Latter-Day Morons”.

Ten years later, the Prime Ministerial Decree presented Gordon Brown as a Stalin-like dictator. It was effective for no other reason than that his hapless regime showed him to be anything but Stalin-like. An appropriately narrow, joyless, iteration.

2000s: Dave and Theresa’s school days

The 2010s was a decade of scholasticism. The first multi-party government since 1940 had David Cameron as headmaster of the New Coalition Academy, the fortnightly newsletter of which foregrounded his voguish headline educational reform.

When Cameron happily shed his Liberal Democrat partners after the 2015 election, the magazine appointed him head of the even more voguish Cameron Free School, penning another newsletter.

Mr Cameron was unfortunately soon made to resign by a disaster of his own making (Brexit), and his successor, Mrs May, took over as headmistress of St. Theresa’s Independent State Grammar School for Girls (and Boys) for two painful years before she was unfortunately made to resign by a disaster of hers (Brexit).

The Johnson years: beyond a joke?

In its sixty years, the parody has taken the form of private musing or public communication. But to work it had to be plausible.

The best that can be said of the latest version, in which the Prime Minister responds to questions from the public on social media, is that Boris Johnson’s Live on Fakebook is so like its subject that, depending on one’s disposition, it’s either unmissable or unreadable.

The purpose of the Private Eye prime ministerial parody was to render its subject unserious. When the subject manages that all by themselves, satire might be seen to have died.The Conversation

Martin Farr, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary British History, Newcastle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Book review: Sean Kelly’s The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison


Joshua Black, Australian National University“How can you tell if a politician is lying?” It is a favourite joke of my grandfather’s, and the punchline is all too obvious: “His mouth will be moving.”

The joke gives succinct expression to a cynicism that has shaped Australian politics since the introduction of self-government in the 1850s. The implication, of both the joke and the culture informing it, is that the politician’s lies reflect solely on their kind and reveal nothing about the rest of us.

In his newly published profile of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Sean Kelly flips this way of thinking on its head. The Game offers many powerful and revealing insights into Morrison’s career and the tricky political tactics that have characterised it. But the most important revelations in this book are about the society that created our prime minister, and the structures and cultures that facilitated his path to the Lodge.

Kelly explains, for example, that Morrison worked hard to be a “blank canvas” in the public eye until perhaps 2015, at which point he became the more recognisable suburban “good bloke down the road”.

This persona, replete with the “ScoMo” nickname, has characterised his public performances ever since. But the performance only matters because it finds in the Australian community “a willing audience” who, recently at least, like to have what novelist E.M. Forster called “flat characters” (or instantly recognisable “types”) in their newspapers and their parliaments.

Formerly a self-described “spin doctor” for both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Kelly studies Morrison’s public persona not just with the eye of a Canberra insider, but also with the lens of a cultural critic. In this “land of extremes”, he says, Australians are

always splitting ourselves in two, then ignoring the half that discomfits us.

For Kelly, this mentality explains why the so-called “quiet Australians” have indulged “the game” that Morrison plays, while the others have rejected him entirely (“I am completely different”).

Given Kelly’s Labor connections, cynics might expect a partisan hit-job on the prime minister. This portrait is no hit-job, but it is, unsurprisingly, unflattering.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: If the government is re-elected it may be in spite of Scott Morrison rather than because of him


Kelly gives Morrison the benefit of the doubt with respect to the early stages of the pandemic, “a situation unlike anything those involved had dealt with before”. There is recognition, too, of the burdens that Jenny Morrison and her daughters have borne in service of public life. But the portrait of Morrison himself is a study of duplicity and hollowness.

There are criticisms of Morrison’s more tone-deaf and morally dubious performances, none more so than the forced handshakes with reluctant bushfire survivors and firefighters during that black summer of 2019-20.

But the most important conclusion about Morrison in this book relates to the way he thinks. Kelly suggests Morrison’s mind does not think in narratives, but only in images or snapshots (think of the punchline of the tourism ad he commissioned, “Where the bloody hell are ya?”). This, Kelly reasons, is why he can say one thing with such apparent conviction today, and the opposite with equal fervour tomorrow.

For a public figure, this inconsistency would be impossible “if it were not a central aspect of their experience of the world”. The psychological analysis here is sweeping, its inferences devastating.

There are many praiseworthy qualities in Kelly’s study. Serious issues, from asylum-seeker policy to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine roll-out, are given ample coverage. But this is no traditional biography, and these debates are not its central concern.

The main subject of this book is the performance of politics itself, and the narratives that mediate the public’s relationship with its representatives. The idea of “performance” seems resurgent in political theory and history, and its capacity for revelation is rich.

In some ways, Kelly’s book builds on an older tradition of political profiles that took performance as their main subject. Graham Little’s Strong Leadership (1988) and Judith Brett’s Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People (1992) stand tall in that tradition, using psychosocial theory to unpack the hearts and minds of Australian liberals from Menzies to Malcolm Fraser. Don Watson’s Recollections of a Bleeding Heart (2002) is equally important, part-memoir, part-meditation and part-psychological study of Paul Keating as prime minister, written from the intimate perspective of a prime ministerial speechwriter.

In each case, the biographer’s goal was to explain not just who the prime minister was, but how their way of thinking engaged with the world around them.

Kelly does not try to discover the “real” Scott Morrison, a task rendered almost impossible by the vacuousness of the prime minister’s performances and the role of the media in presenting him to us.

Instead, he evokes the divided community to whom Morrison performs, and the social and cultural processes that allow those performances to take place and, at least sometimes, hit their mark. Kelly’s method is to home in on public speech, its sounds and cadences, as well as the often elusive messages and impressions that Morrison seeks to convey with his words.

The chief limitation of The Game is that, relying largely on public material, it cannot take us into the institutions that empower Morrison, other than the media.




Read more:
‘I don’t think, I know’ – what makes Macron’s comments about Morrison so extraordinary and so worrying


We don’t learn much about the Prime Minister’s Office, other than that it failed to respond to Brittany Higgins’s alleged rape in Parliament House in an appropriate fashion.

Parliament itself is a stage here, but scarcely recognisable as an institution that makes laws. The public service is invisible. National Cabinet is, according to Kelly, little more than an “aesthetic change” from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that preceded it.

It says something about the condition of contemporary politics that it is hard to say whether these absences are a flaw in the author’s approach, or inevitable given the style of leadership it so astutely anatomises.

In the end, The Game invites us to look toward the next election. That poll will, Kelly implies, reveal something more of ourselves, or at least those “quiet” Australians who are supposed to have voted for Morrison in 2019. Like most of us, Kelly is unsure who will have the last laugh.The Conversation

Joshua Black, PhD Candidate, School of History, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Damon Galgut’s Booker-winning novel probes white South Africa and the land issue


Damon Galgut at a photocall for this year’s Booker Prize in London.
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Sofia Kostelac, University of the WitwatersrandSouth African writer Damon Galgut has won the UK’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize, for his work The Promise. It was Galgut’s third shortlisting for the career-defining award, which has evaded him until now. In 2003 he was shortlisted for The Good Doctor and in 2010 for In a Strange Room. So what is it that makes his latest novel The Promise so special? We asked Galgut expert Sofia Kostelac to fill us in about the writer and his tale of a white South African family’s reckoning with a racist past – and why the book is important, especially in South Africa where it is set.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.


Who is Damon Galgut?

Damon Galgut is a South African writer born in Pretoria in 1963. He now lives and works in Cape Town. He made his literary debut at the age of 18, with the publication of his first novel, A Sinless Season, in 1982. The Promise is his ninth novel, and the third to be shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize. Although best known for his novels, Galgut has also authored several plays, screenplays and short stories.

Like many readers, I was first made aware of Galgut’s writing when The Good Doctor was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003. That novel encompasses many of the themes that Galgut has become best known for, including his searching meditations on the devastating legacies of apartheid and white-minority rule in South Africa. Yet his literary range also extends well beyond forms of politically engaged realism. It includes experiments with fictionalised memoir or ‘autrebiography’ (In a Strange Room), biographical fiction (Arctic Summer) and metaphysical crime writing (The Quarry and The Impostor).

What is The Promise all about?

The Promise is a carefully layered novel that spans just over three decades in the lives of the Swarts, a white South African family living on a farm just outside of Pretoria. The promise of the novel’s title refers to the commitment that Manie makes to fulfil his wife Rachel’s dying wish: to give their domestic worker Salome, who has worked for the family for decades, the house on the Swart farm in which she lives. The promise remains unfulfilled for the next 31 years as successive inheritors of the land refuse to cede the property to Salome.

The novel is divided into four parts, each focused on the death and funeral of a member of the Swart family. The deaths occur roughly a decade apart from each other. This is a structuring device that allows Galgut to hold three decades of South African history – from the violent state of emergency in the mid-1980s to the tumult of contemporary times – in view. While the dramatic socio-political changes of these years are apparent in every aspect of the Swart family’s lives, little changes for Salome, whose wait for the dignity and safety represented by land and property endures.

Why does the book matter?

At the heart of the novel – and the unfulfilled promise to Salome – lies the question of what sort of restitution is possible in the context of South Africa’s brutally iniquitous history? The bitter irony on which the story rests is that Salome’s house is entirely undesirable, consisting of “three rooms and a broken roof. On a tough piece of land.” It holds almost no material value for the Swarts, yet the family is torn asunder by their disagreements over its fate.

What would it take, the novel implicitly asks, for a family like the Swarts to give up a modicum of their privilege to nudge us towards a more equitable society? The Promise attends, with meticulous detail and insight, to the pathologies of racism, pride and fear that make such acts unlikely.

Galgut has rightly been praised by reviewers and the Booker judges for the formal skill with which he handles these vexing themes. The narrative voice is a remarkably inventive one that ranges between diverse characters with apparent ease, and delivers a rare combination of irony and empathy that wryly critiques the novel’s deeply flawed and afflicted characters without dehumanising them.

Does the Booker Prize matter and what will it do for Galgut’s career?

The Booker Prize is almost unparalleled in the attention and esteem it affords its winners. The prize has played a significant role in shaping the South African literary canon, and Galgut is now likely to take up a well-earned place alongside pantheons like J.M Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer as among the most recognised, studied and anthologised of the country’s writers.The Conversation

Sofia Kostelac, Lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.