The Foolish Gentlewoman by Margery Sharp

Jane Austen + Anne Tyler =…?

I wasn’t sold on this until the dominant character makes her entrance, which is after quite a long scene-setting. Suddenly the malevolent Tilly appears, whose only pleasure in life seems to be putting spokes in those of others. Even the most well-meaning and delusional of characters can see how utterly ghastly she is. But how to get rid of her? And what of the title-character’s idiotic intentions to even the score?

Having read my second Sharp, it’s tempting to compare her with Tyler – in the first instance because they both care about their creations and in the second because the endings are never happy. Sorry for that spoiler. They aren’t high tragedy either, but are simply of the ordinary level of unhappiness which might be expected to prevail upon very ordinary lives. In this novel there is the possibility of an extraordinary event which could entirely change everybody’s life for the best – but it never happens. Sharp has no choice but to mention it – it is the elephant in the room, it can’t be ignored – but that’s as far as it goes. It remains at some Tyler level of the mundane.

But at the same time, where Tyler is entirely soft, Sharp’s wit and barbs are always at the fore. She comments as well as records and that puts her more in the camp of Austen etc.

Jane Austen + Anne Tyler = Margery Sharp. High praise indeed.

For more on The Foolish Gentlewoman see here.


Human Nature, Human Survival by Brian Medlin

Lately I seem to be reading philosophers who live by their sword. Medlin spent the part of his life that most academics use to collect citations and increase their h-indices, living philosophy. He brought philosophy to his work in restoring bushland.  He was a primary leader in the anti-Vietnam war movement in Australia, going to gaol as a consequence.  He fought university administration. He insisted that philosophy courses should bear direct relevance to life: politics, art, feminism. He appalled his employers and no doubt some students, whilst inspiring many. He has been written out of the history books, but now sufficient time has passed that he will be written back into them. A nice little earner for an academic or two.

Presciently he said:

Even intellectual liberty has failed to be a totally liberating force. Confronting bourgeois ideology, in the face of bourgeois authority, it has failed to deliver a general objectivity, a determination to think and act well and effectively about the whole of life. It has tended towards a purchased and partial objectivity, a servile scientism. A remark made in this city illustrates the failure: “I’m an ecologist, not a breast-biting conservationist”. This tendency can be expected to worsen as the concept of private intellectual property gains ground, as universities get tied tighter and tighter to the tail of market forces and become increasingly enslaved by private funding.

A yet darker prospect opens before us: that the large capitalist enterprise should eventually find itself able to dispense entirely with academic research. From that time on the concept of objectivity will be a mere ideological bauble, beads for the natives. The bourgeois philosopher will have joined the Sioux Nation and the Nez Perces on the shrinking reservation.

Going on for three decades later, it is as Medlin predicts here. But he was most certainly not of this corporate slave academic elite.

Although he could write philosophy, he generally chose not to, preferring instead the intimacy of the letter and the poem. A man unmoved by the h-index, if ever there was one. Nonetheless, he did write this small work towards the end of his life and if nothing else, one can see in it the energy, arrogance, the devilish attractiveness and the passion that dictated his philosophical life – for philosophy was his life, not his career. He was a wonderful talker and speaker, and this shines through Human Nature, Human Survival.

It is engaging from the start.

The following essay, though not meant to be beneath the notice of
philosophers, is aimed first at a general audience rather than a specialist one.
It is offered as a serious piece of philosophy, yet I am sure that it can be
followed by any cultivated reader, even by one without philosophical
· training. This doesn’t mean that every such reader can expect to understand
perfectly every word from now on. Here and there I assume a bit more than
general culti'{ation. Mostly I have indicated these places and invited you to
press bravely on. And even where I have not, you may give yourselves the
same excellent advice. I hope that in the end you will be rewarded with a
pretty good understanding of the work as a whole and with something worth
either your acceptance or rejection.

After a brief set of examples of what philosophy is considered to be by others, he sets out his own thoughts. ‘Let me take a rough stab’, he says. ‘Take me seriously enough, but not too seriously.’ Like all good teachers he insists that he should be questioned and doubted. For him, however:

  • Philosophy is the commitment to thinking about the whole of life, the whole universe animate and inanimate, the whole of living nature, human and non-human, about fact and value, about what is and is not, about what might and might not be, about what may and must be, about what ought to be and ought not:
  • All this (and more) together with the commitment to uncompromising rationality:
  • This latter commitment being to rationality in action as well as in thought, the two being not rationally separable:
  • The commitment extending further to the rational ordering of desire and feeling: for
  • The philosophical life is not cold, unemotional, dehumanised; only a passionate, compassionate person could hope to achieve it:
  • Philosophy is not a trade, a craft, a skill, though it involves craft and skill, though people are paid to profess it:
  • Philosophy is a way of life, a passion, an obsession – for those in its grasp, a duty and a right.

In the course of discussing the relationship of science to society, he keeps in mind throughout his keen, but not necessarily philosophically ept audience. After bringing Social Contract theory into the discussion, his aside: ‘(If you haven’t heard of Social Contract theory, don’t worry about it. Allow me to be the first to congratulate you.)’ and on the Invisible Hand ‘(And if you haven’t heard of the Invisible Hand, again don’t worry. Just think of it as the doctrine that if dog eats dog, all dogs grow fat.) ‘

This small monograph must really be imagined as a living thing, being presented to an audience. The point is simply to get human beings to understand that it is necessary to act to save the world in the face of environmental catastrophe. In the end everything always comes down to the earth and what we are going to do about it. The only rational thing we can do is to act, to assume that we can be successful. Nothing has really changed since he wrote, if anything it gets worse. We must, nonetheless, like Medlin, be energetic optimistic activists. To be anything else is irrational.

I have also argued elsewhere (1991) that the Principle of Rational Action requires us to assume as well, what we don’t know for certain, not only that successful social revolution is possible, but also that we can indeed and will indeed find ways of resolving the ecological crisis and of preserving the human species.

First mooted by the bourgeois philosophers, transformed by the disappointment of great hopes, now promulgated as scientific truth and formidably opposed to this enterprise, stands the bourgeois view of human nature. This view would imply that, by our very being, we are too aggressive, say, or too selfish, too greedy, to save ourselves. Even too stupid or too irrational – for it has been the rationalist tradition that has disappointed us.

These claims are not known to be false. But neither are they known to be true. Nonetheless, our agnosticism ought not to paralyse the will. Assuming these claims to be true is the surest way of making them true, the surest path to extinction. Assuming them to be false is the best first step towards making them false. Hence, by the Principle of Rational Action, the rational practical assumption is that these claims are indeed false.

That none of these claims about human nature is known to be true is a large claim itself and not to be established here. I can render it plausible though not here as thoroughly as by S. A. Barnett (1988). I select a couple of positions and examine their support. I shall ask you to consider for yourselves, perhaps after reading Barnett, whether similar positions are not just as lamentably supported.

Apart from the utterances of John Keats, my cases are drawn from popularisations of science – at least in the sense that they come from documents addressed to general audiences. This is because I want to indicate how pervasive are the views I challenge.

We shall only evade extinction by setting about evading it. That we shall never do if we are not bright enough to see through rotten argument claiming to establish our invincible stupidity.

We are not going to evade our peril without careful thought. Not without setting our philosophy in order, without rethinking and refeeling our own nature and our relation to the rest of the world. Nor without strenuous and disinterested scientific enquiry yielding a sensitive technology.

I can’t offer you a philosophy of art. That would be too hard a job for a mere philosopher. I wouldn’t go all the way with R. K. Narayan (1985, vii) for whom all theories of writing are bogus: I do know that the usefulness of literature depends largely on the large fact that intuition is often the better road to truth.

We see now the urgent practical importance of philosophy. Unless enough of us get our philosophy right enough and quickly enough, we are all dead. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living (Plato, 38A). That’s false and you can ask any dog out for a walk. But for us, now, the unexamined life is no longer an option. (It never really was.) For us, henceforth, the examined life is the only life on offer. Finally, I hope that I haven’t given you the impression that we are likely to achieve a human life without aggression, selfishness, greed, stupidity, irrationality… That would not be human life. We live by standards, moral, aesthetic and intellectual. This is not a casual, incidental matter. Standards are needed because they are needed, because we frequently fall short of them. That is what it is to be moral, rational animals. Show me reason, I’ll show you unreason.  The saint and the sinner are shackled together by their common humanity. Wisdom and folly are Siamese twins. Imagine a human life without praise and commendation, without sense of achievement. That would be the cost of life without ugliness, wickedness, foolishness and stupidity. The Christian heaven is possible only to lobotomised automata, dehumanised social insects. Angels are merely souped-up flying ants. The enterprise before us is not to achieve heaven on earth. Yet it would be daft indeed to let the unattainability of heaven condemn us to our present hell. The question is not whether we can eliminate our vices. The question is whether our virtues will allow us to survive by carrying us into a better world. Not a question to be answered by speculation about human psychology. To be answered, not by canvassing the possibilities, but by setting about what is necessary. It is a question demanding action. If we want to know whether we are equipped to survive, the best way of finding out is to make sure that we do.

This is a manifesto and we could do worse than read it and take it to heart and mind.

Amnesia by Peter Carey

I don’t understand why people are down on this, I thought it was a cracker. First Carey I’ve wholeheartedly enjoyed for many years. I am only uneasy because it reads like a movie. When you can see the movie reeling along as you turn the page – it makes me wonder whenever I read a novel which seems like it’s waiting to become a movie. If the author wrote the novel aiming for the screen is this okay? Are we reading a movie pitch or a novel?

If you want a book to read on a plane which is well-written, a nicely evoked picture of Australia starting at WWII and ending when children are computer hackers, stereotypical characters whom we all know – really well done, I thought – this is it. I won’t read it again, but I’m glad I’ve read it once.

Dürrenmatt: an anecdote by Feyerabend

Feyerabend was referring to a seminar series he ran while teaching at Zurich university. One of the invited speakers was Freidrich Dürrenmatt. He

…came to speak on Platonic entities, and used a chair instead of a bed as an example. His conclusion: the Platonic chair is nothing but the idealised hind end of the sitters. Dürrenmatt had been warned that there would be other talks and that he had to restrict himself to twenty minutes. ‘Oooch’, he replied. ‘I won’t know what to say anyway, I won’t talk for more than ten minutes.’ He was late, and we started without him; when he arrived, he produced a huge manuscript and would have gone on forever if he hadn’t been stopped after twenty-five minutes. (Mrs Huber, who was chairing the meeting, hestitated to interrupt, but I, sitting next to her, egged her on: ‘No exceptions for big shots!’) Dürrenmatt didn’t say a word. He came to dinner with us afterward, tried to get me drunk, told me he had read Against Method, and entertained us with stories about himself and Hohler. But he refused to come again. ‘You don’t let a person finish!’ he yelled at the organiser when he next rang him – and hung up.

It’s time to talk about Brian

It’s time to talk about Brian

Brian Medlin optimised

Prompted by Never Mind about the Bourgeoisie: The Correspondence Between Iris Murdoch and Brian Medlin 1976-1995 edited by Gillian Dooley

On a certain Sunday in 1970, I was still at primary school and we were still devout Roman Catholics, though all this was about to change. The day before had seen a huge demonstration in the city, the first in my town of the famous Moratorium marches against the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands of people in cities across Australia marched against the idea of the war, and in particular against the conscription of young men like my father and his friends to provide cannon-fodder for the Americans.

On this certain Sunday we went to church and the priest started a usual sermon about the usual subjects. We were there with various friends of my parents who had marched the day before and slept on the floors of our house in order to watch what was going to happen now. My father stood up in church and interrupted the sermon. How could it be, he called out, that a priest would talk about anything that day except the momentous events of the day before? I recall the drama of the moment, the confusion of the priest, but nothing more.

The day before, Brian Medlin, a philosopher who saw no boundaries between philosophy and life, a radical leader of the anti-war movement in Australia, was arrested and spent some weeks in gaol. Although he had nothing but good things to say of his treatment while there, one might point out that this was the same police force which was infamously stained for its brutal murder of homosexual academic George Duncan shortly after. Not surprisingly, ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) saw Medlin as a person of interest. He was watched in this period, his files released some years ago.

In the US, France and Australia, the student unrest of the sixties and seventies was intimately connected with the Vietnam War. However, it spread in many directions. Barbara Ehreinreich in her important account of the early stages of the demise of the Middle Class – Fear of Falling – was one of those students. She recounts the fact that academic staff were mostly conservative and reactionary in their fearful and angry attempts to deal with the students in this period. One can even suppose that when the military and the police shot and killed student demonstrators in the US, academia might have given it the nod.

In Australia, without that level of bloodshed, the same things happened: radicalisation of students at university level in particular (though schools could be involved too) leading to serious conflict with academic and administrative staff. By far the most radical was the newly established Flinders University where Brian Medlin taught Philosophy. At its high (some will say low) point, the students occupied the administrative headquarters of Flinders for an entire month. In this period, they were able to establish the CIA connections of the (American) Vice Chancellor.

Teachers could be for or against the students. Medlin, unlike most teachers, was generally speaking on the side of the students. He was without doubt an inspirational teacher. He introduced political philosophy – the study of Marxist-Leninism and Maoism. He insisted on a politics in art course. He introduced ‘women’s’ studies. His content and ways of teaching were radical and above all were about the real world. Philosophy for him could not be separated from the real world. Nothing was abstract.

All this had real consequences. NOT citations. If you want to measure the man in metrics, you will find him sadly lacking. But if you want to understand, for example, the important mainstream interaction of politics and folk/rock/pop music as is still ongoing in Australia, it comes from one person. Brian Medlin, who inspired students through the politics in art course to take this as their lives. Red Gum was the start. Many others were to follow.

We have here a man whose country origins, in the middle of the edge of nowhere, a town on the Goyder Line, never left him. As soon he could read, he became a poet and we see in Medlin an important type of character in white Australian history, the bush poet. And this poetry is not the stuff of dusty slim books, it is true poetry, to be spoken, shared around a camp fire while swatting flies. Drunk. As blokey as it gets. No matter how hard I try, I cannot imagine a female in the setting.

He had no need to be important, he was important if there was need to be. Flinders University saw him as a total disaster and generally speaking, his colleagues wished they had never set eyes on him. Yet he was larger than all of them combined. He suffered fools not at all. In 1957 he wrote “Ultimate Principles and Ethical Egoism” an essay against objectivism. I’m guessing it’s the only thing he is cited for. His real work was for the environment, and that in a small, personal non-polemical way. He simply took land and healed it. Made it what it used to be. What better occupation for a philosopher I wonder?

I see a connection between Feyerabend and Medlin here. Neither was really interested in the business of being an academic, the paper work, the course work, none of it. Despite this (or because of it?), they were inspiring teachers. However, Feyerabend was a lost soul, spending his life on the road, being famous in one place and then in another. Feeding off that. The adulation, the money, the faux insistence on seeking solitude. Medlin on the other hand had no need to prove his cleverness, he took it in his stride. He absolutely knew every moment of every day that his home was the Australian bush.

In his reminiscences of Medlin after his death, David Armstrong recalled the poem written by the philosopher Charles Martin about Brian.

Some of his bones
Were broken by others
But most
Were broken by himself.

He loved
Far more
Than he hated
But the fight
He fought
Called more
For hate.

To make up the rest
Anger, feeding anger
Would have to do.

And thus Armstrong had to admit that despite the ferocity of their antipathy for its many years’ duration, it was never Hate.

It was a strange period for children of parents who were questioning society, the rules, how they should live in that period. A year or so after the Sunday of the Questioning of the Priest, I found myself in a school with one of Medlin’s sons. The school was a place for people who could afford to, to lodge their misfit kids. I didn’t know that at the time. My parents asked me if I wanted to go there, it was a Summerhill inspired place, and I, knowing no better said yes. I found it depressing to discover that in a school of misfits I did not fit in. Even amongst them I was a misfit. I don’t know how Brian’s kids managed, it must have been terribly hard having such a man as one’s father. Fortunately, in the end, we are able to grow up and escape our childhood homes.

I gather somebody is going to write about Medlin and I hope it isn’t too late. I confess, I’d love to do it myself. I hope they understand the idea of the sort of person Medlin was. A country boy whose brilliance took him to Oxford. They have to understand the Goyder Line and moving animals across Australia, which is something Medlin did pre-Oxford. They will have to look at his brother, Harry. This town of Orroroo produced two boys who became prominent academics. Harry was older and I suspect that the experience of WWII prior to his education must have severely challenged his relationship with his brother. Certainly it’s an old story, that one, the boy who goes and the boy who doesn’t in Australia. (Brian was too young to go). Harry spent years of the war in the infamous Changi, went to university after his release and became an important part of the University of Adelaide. I can’t help thinking this would make such a great story, the two boys, so close and not. Harry was no Marxist-Leninist revolutionary, but he was no arch conservative either. When the Adelaide Festival committee in the 1960s refused as a censorship move to stage one of Patrick White’s plays, Harry insisted that the University Play Group put it on and they did such a great job of it that White gave them other premieres. Teaching science he once asked a girl what she thought about something. She said coming from the sexist European background that she did, she’d never been asked that before. What did she think?

Whoever writes this book has to examine this relationship, strangely almost non-existent, as far as I can see, in public, but there must be more to it, surely. How strange it is that Harry’s wiki article doesn’t mention the existence of an important academic brother. Still, at least he has one. Brian doesn’t. Metrics aren’t good enough.

One of the things that struck me as I observed Manny reading this book is that he had no respect for it. This was partly because he saw Brian Medlin as an academic with little in the way of citations – and therefore isn’t worthy of consideration as a thinker – and partly because Iris writes so little back. The most superficial of interpretations is that she was obliged to write back. So he doesn’t even stand up to scrutiny as a ‘real’ friend of a celebrated writer, as Iris was (I feel her standing is steadily decreasing for the moment).

Another issue for Manny was that these letters from Brian were not well written. They weren’t Letters, they were letters. Who could have thought to write like that to the great Murdoch.

It’s not such a hard question to answer. A friend. A friend who loved communicating by the written word, at least if the spoken was not available when words meant more, harder to write and harder to speak to one’s audience. It is precisely the point that he didn’t write Letters. Not pompous literary epistles with a view to their ultimate public unveiling, but a mishmash of this and that which can only derive from real friendship.

I don’t know if I can capture Medlin in a way that will make Manny – or others to whom the culture is alien – understand that he is important. But I will end with this, written by Professor Brian Matthews on the release of this book. Source is Eureka Street.

It was January 1968. In those summer days before the start of my first term as a university lecturer, I’d arrive early in the morning, go into my room and more or less skulk there. I didn’t even go to morning tea. I knew two people in the whole School of Language and Literature at Flinders University and they were both on leave.
After about two weeks of my reclusive behaviour, I was startled one morning when there was what sounded like not a knock but a kick on my door, which then burst open before I could speak, and in walked Brian Medlin, inaugural professor of philosophy.
‘Look, mate,’ he said, ‘if you’ve taken a vow of silence for some reason, then of course I’ll respect it. As a matter of fact, there are a few people round here I wish would emulate you. But if that’s not the case, why don’t you come and have a cup of tea and meet some of your colleagues, for what that might turn out to be worth.’
So I did, of course, and my life at Flinders changed radically for the better under what became a stern, no bullshit but straightforwardly affectionate mentorship.
Though in general, like most of us, Brian loathed meetings and committees, the committee room was one of the many stages on which he gave some of his more memorable performances. I would often sit with him at the meetings and so had a privileged view of the theatre that frequently followed his entry into a debate.
At one meeting, while Brian was speaking I could see that on the opposite side of the table a self-proclaimed Medlin antagonist was becoming quietly enraged and the moment he had an opportunity he launched into an extraordinary tirade. When the chairman offered Medlin the right of reply, he said, ‘Mr Chairman, I did not say what I said with the express intention of driving our colleague opposite into an apoplectic fit. That this has in fact happened I can only regard as a bonus.’
At another characteristically tumultuous meeting, the head of the discipline of fine arts handed round a printed page headed ‘Propositions’. There were 11 propositions but as it turned out not enough of the sheets to go round. When one of them reached me I put it between us and we both read it. Brian, having studied it intently for a few minutes, passed the page on for those who still might not have seen it.
When the item came up for discussion there was a quarter hour of the usual swapping of opinion, outrage, assent and objection. Then Medlin entered the fray. Still without a copy in front of him, he said something like this: ‘If proposition 4 is true then propositions 8 and 10 can’t be; if propositions 8 and 10 are in doubt then proposition 6 becomes redundant, if we scrap Proposition 6 then Proposition 1 becomes …’ and so on.
It was an extraordinary performance and the question of whether or not there was any flaw in his analysis — though no one pointed any out at the time — became secondary to the sheer cavalier daring of his intervention.
Medlin expected such daring of others. In May 1988, having heard that I was going to Sydney, Brian asked me why and I told him it was because I’d won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award. He was genuinely delighted to hear this and asked me if I would have to give a speech. I told him I would but had no idea what to say.
‘The Elder Cato’, Brian said, ‘ended every speech to the Roman Senate with the words, “And furthermore Carthage must be destroyed — Carthargo delenda est.” You should end like that,’ he said as if nothing could be more obvious.
Well, with difficulty and severe contortions of sequence and logic, but with the ameliorating help of a judicious amount of alcohol, I actually did contrive to end my short acceptance speech with Carthago delenda est.
During the drinks afterwards I met Ed Campion, an old friend, Jesuit educated, a fine writer and a priest.
‘What did you think of my Latin conclusion?’ I said incautiously.
‘Delenda est Carthago would have been more elegant,’ he said.
I reported to Brian on my return and quoted Campion’s amendment.
‘Fucking Jesuits,’ he said.
Brian Medlin, on his own admission, left the publication of his life’s work to his last few years, but the passions, gifts and lyricism of this poet, essayist, philosopher, naturalist and storyteller were set free in an extraordinary correspondence he conducted with British novelist Iris Murdoch.
Now published as Never Mind about the Bourgeoisie, edited by Graham Nerlich and Gillian Dooley, their letters cover more than two decades and, with love, wit, subtlety, argument and insight, address an inspiring range of subjects until, with both writers terminally ill, Murdoch’s last letter tapers off tragically, movingly:
‘How much time has passed … Much love dearest Brian, do write —
Also; love, mortality and the meaning of life.’

Killing Time by Paul Feyerabend

Much has been written about Feyerabend. My two cents’ worth.

A striking aspect of this book is that philosophers and scientists, even (or perhaps specially?) the greatest of them walked hand in hand. They listened to each other. Am I incorrect to say that now there is a complete schism? It’s all very well to blame the philosophers who generally avoid science because it’s too hard.

But an equally fair generalisation is that scientists now are culturally ignorant. They don’t read, they don’t go to theatre or engage in philosophical argument. They don’t even do science. They have tiny fragmented parts to play in something which might or might not have a big picture. They refuse to be engaged on some other tiny bit even if it sits right next to theirs, or to the small big picture. That, at any rate, is my overall impression and needless to say there are obvious exceptions, at least on the goodreads site. Clearly if they believe that they can do a good job of being a scientist with nothing even remotely approaching a world view, they are scarcely going to see any advantage in an interdisciplinary education or way of engaging with the world.

Feyerabend is enormously well-read and seems to read anything. I suspect if he seems like an odd thinker it is partly because he takes from so many places. Not much, I’d say, from feminism. I note that he mentions many lays in this book, none of them are attributed with a surname. Why? If it were to protect their anonymity, he could at least have given his wives surnames since they are no chance to remain unknown.

Feyerabend was a lost soul, a person with no purpose, who drifted into everything he did in life. His only love appears to have been for opera and theatre, but that is probably only because he didn’t make it in these areas, though he might have fought to do so at various times. It is clear that he only wants what he can’t have, once he gets it, whether it be a woman or a job, very shortly he is planning where else to be. Added to that, he is easily led to ambiguity.

One can readily imagine how this happened, a difficult childhood followed by army service for the Nazis during which he was seriously and permanently wounded. He seems to have disassociated from it as it happened. The journey back, his gift for his last wife, must have been cathartic and painful. With very few words indeed, he once or twice manages to show his shame at his own behaviour. He never feels sorry for himself, though many would in his shoes. It is not easy for any non-Jewish German to write about their attitudes in the Nazi period. I can’t say I am convinced by his arguments.

From all this, however, towards the end of his life, he came to the conclusion that the only thing that mattered was love. It’s really terribly moving to see him trying to explain this. What a pity he could not read Romulus, My Father, which does it so very well.

The account is matter of fact, but eloquent, regrets contained by humour. Anybody who wants an idiosyncratic, thoughtful, renegade view of Austria from the twenties through to after the war, academia around the world up to the early nineties, and the theatre and opera during all of this period is warmly recommended to this book. Bring some tissues for the denouement.

Seven Years Solitary by Edith Bone

I have a friend who’s a rellie of Edith Bone and as a consequence discovered her story which is truly astonishing, every bit of it that we know and no doubt the parts that will continue to unfold as classified documents from MI5 and Soviet counterparts are made more available.

But for now, looking at only her period of isolated imprisonment, I offer this from wiki:

In 1949, Bone was acting as a freelance correspondent in Budapest, affiliated with the London Daily Worker. She was accused of spying for the British government when leaving Hungary, arrested by the State Protection Authority (AVH) and detained in solitary confinement without trial or a prisoner identification number for seven years. During her detention, Bone managed to avoid the mental instability or insanity that typically accompanies isolation. She developed a series of mental exercises, including reviews of geometry, the several languages she knew and vocabulary. She mentally reconstructed the plots of all of the books she had read, made a comprehensive list of all of the characters in Shakespeare she could remember, and made letters out of the dense black bread she was fed; out of these she composed poetry. Perhaps most stunning was the weeks-long effort she put into to removing a very large nail from the iron-hard oak door of her cell. To accomplish this, she slowly removed single threads from towels and wove them into a solid rope with which to work the nail. After weeks of straining effort to get the nail to begin to wiggle and then loosen, she finally got the nail out. She then sharpened it on the concrete floor and used at as a drill to create a small peephole in her cell door so she could finally see out of her cell. She used these projects to keep her mind stimulated, to fill her time with goal-oriented actions, and to keep her sanity during her long period of extreme isolation.

Bone was freed during the last days of the revolutionary Nagy Government in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. A student group had seized control of the Budapest political prison where Bone was held, and processed political prisoners for release.

I’m sure it’s true that the Hungarians intended her to die as a result of her privations. Apparently they couldn’t actually kill her directly as it was known she had disappeared, though the British did precious little to get her out. Why doesn’t that surprise me.

There will be more of her incredible life to come. I will end by noting that Aung San Suu Kyi gained her inspiration to survive from reading her book as a teenager.

Edith Bone wrote her own epitaph:

Edith Bone (1889-1975)
On Myself

Here lies the body of Edith Bone.
All her life she lived alone,
Until Death added the final S
And put an end to her loneliness.