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This item is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

Persuading Cambridge


'I wish more academic books were like Virgil in the Renaissance,' Andrew Hadfield writes in his review of David Scott Wilson-Okamura's book (PNR 198). 'It is learned, urbane, full of nice details, perceptive readings, and many more good things that will repay a second, and undoubtedly a third and fourth, reading.' A book to possess, surely. But then I look for the price. £55. Who on earth can afford that much? Even more importantly, why should potential readers of the book be expected to pay so high a price in order to own a copy? Many years ago now, Edmund Wilson raged against American university presses charging the kind of price for scholarly editions that put them far beyond the reach of most readers. Contrast Pleiade's assumption, Wilson said, that all readers, whatever the depth of their pockets, deserved to have access to reliable texts. It isn't an assumption that has found favour either in the USA or in the UK. In 1984, Clarendon Press issued the first of their editions of Clare's Collected Poems with an introduction by the editors which concluded, 'Is it not possible that Clare will be found by posterity to satisfy the requirements of literary excellence demanded by the critic and of simple direct appeal to the heart of the common reader? That is both our belief and our hope.' Well, maybe, though there can't have been many common readers ready to fork out over £70 per volume. The argument in defence of this pricing policy used to be that the setting of scholarly editions was complex, time-consuming, required much expertise, and was thus inevitably expensive. But with new methods of preparing electronic copy that argument goes out of the window. Anyway, Virgil in the Renaissance isn't an edition. And given the recently imposed cutbacks on all libraries, including university and college libraries, let alone the diminishing number of places where classical studies are taught, it's a reasonable guess that not many librarians will be hurrying to order copies of the book Hadfield wants us to read and then re-read. If this is so, it suggests that in future we can expect far fewer books of the nature of Virgil in the Renaissance. Unless, that is, presses as well-heeled as CUP and OUP come to their senses and decide to put out such books at affordable prices. Hadfield hopes that 'Cambridge can be persuaded that we all need to have access to a paperback copy'. But who's to persuade them?

Beeston, Nottingham

Dark Fields


I was delighted to see the marvellous JEB photo of Adrienne Rich on the inner cover of PNR 199; I was a bit less so with David Ward's encomium, which tacitly limits the scope of Rich's work to feminism and feminist separatism, when she has, and this since the American Civil Rights Movement and the war in Viet Nam, been an articulate voice on many issues of social and political justice. Rich was also, early, among the Jewish-identified writers to take issue with US and Israeli policies regarding Palestinian rights. More importantly, the description limits her poetry to her writings previous to the 1990s, thus excluding some of her most important books, such as An Atlas of the Difficult World and The Dark Fields of the Republic.

Though it is the only one the writer mentions, 'the banning of men from her readings at one point' is hardly Rich's most significant public action. Still, those shocked, appalled or condescendingly amused by this might juxtapose the bit of history below:

One story which pops up in the Oxford History's footnotes ... is that of the 'persons' cases, the shaming series of decisions in which the judges, licensed by deliberately feeble parliamentary drafting, repeatedly held that women were not 'persons' for the purpose of exercising the newly enlarged franchise or of accessing professional training.

(Stephen Sedley in the London Review of Books on the Oxford History of the Laws of England 1820-1914).


Stop the World!


Iain Bamforth (PNR 199) has either forgotten or, improbably, doesn't know the origin of the phrase 'Arrêtez le monde, je veux descendre!', which he takes to be a Paris street-slogan of 1968.Stop the World, I Want to Get Off was, of course, a successful musical starring Anthony Newley, written by him and Leslie Bricusse: it enjoyed a long West End run in 1961. The show's big hit song, one which rapidly became a standard, is 'What Kind of Fool am I?' Perhaps, if he reads this, Mr Bamforth will be singing it.


Iain Bamforth responds: Having defended the Fool in 'Catchwords' (PNR 194), I should perhaps accept Sam Doland's censure with good grace and learn a few more songs. In point of fact, 'Arrêtez le monde, je veux descendre' was a Paris street-slogan of 1968, presumably chalked up by somebody who had taken the trouble to visit the West End in the days when it took a full day to go from Paris to London: PNR readers may enjoy consulting the glossary of Odéon and Nanterre graffiti (some very amusing) at The phrase was also used quite recently as a book title by Guy Bedos and by the television channel Arte for a discussion of the documentary film Genérations 68. I was a pipsqueak in an Exclusive Brethren family in the sixties, when the only songs I got to sing came from the Little Flock Hymn Book. But the spirit of Anthony Newley's musical must have surreptitiously taken root among the movement, which spent almost the entire decade speculating about how to 'get off' the world.

This item is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

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