State Three religious traditions, other than Christianity, in Great Britain.
Explain Two reasons why the Trinity is important to Christians.
Explain two ways Christians respond to the problem of evil and suffering.
In your answer you must refer to a source of wisdom and authority. (5)
Atheists believe in NO GOD
AGNOSTICS believe it is impossible to Know
he promises to comfort his servants (Psalm 119: 66-76)
Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field’ (Genesis 3: 17-18)
‘inasmuch as ye do it unto one of one of the least of these… ye have done it unto me’ (Matthew 25:31-46)
on creation and arguments for God:
I am alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Revelations 1:8; 22.13
Genesis 1-2 God creates in 6 days (some people take this literally – see my drawings for this)
Koran 79:27- Allah constructed it
All humans descend from Adam
Isaiah 42: 12: It is I who made the earth
Maimonides (Jewish scholar): “If it is created in time, it undoubtedly has a creator”
Proverbs 22:6: Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
325 AD The Nicene Creed (written) at the council of Nicea and recited in Church services especially on Sundays (Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican)
and the Council of Constantinople in 381 defined the concept of the TRINITY
John 14:16-17: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
Genesis chapter 2 (slightly different story:)
Design argument: the classical design argument for the existence of God and its use by Christians as a philosophical argument for the existence of God; divergent understandings about what the design argument may show about the nature of God for Christians, including Romans 1:18–24; Christian responses to non-religious (including atheist and Humanist) arguments against the design argument as evidence for the existence of God.
Many Christians believe in the design argument- this proves the role of God in the universe.
The universe does not exist just by chance- there (a) is a purpose to everything or (b) a rule that governs everything
Surah 2:164 “the creation of the heavens and the earth, night and day, winds and clouds are a sign for people who use reason”
Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
Two main ideas of design argument: 1) by Aquinas- the rule argument. (inanimate things still are governed by “rules”; today this still works if we think of the universal rule of “gravity”)
2) purpose or complexity: idea of William Paley (the watch metaphor on the heath. Every part of the watch was designed) even the smallest items in the universe seem to have a purpose. Think of the way climate change has spiraled out of control because we used fossil fuels.
William paley thinks of the complexity of a watch and compares this to the complexity of the human eye (many parts combine to support a single function)
Could not happen just by chance!
(think of the fibonacci sequence in spiral shells and the arrangement of petals on a flower. They follow a RULE)
(Fine tuning theory of science: the existence of water, the goldilocks region where the earth is situated in the solar system.. the conditions of earth are uniquely suitable for sustain human life)
BUT: This is not the God of religion:
But even if God were a divine watchmaker or rule-giver, he does not need to exit now, and does not need to be a single God. Could be a factory of watchmakers…
Some people are not convinced. CHARLES DARWIN puts forward the theory of evolution (the survival of the fittest)
In 2009 a survey found that 37% of people in Britain accepted the principle of evolution. (is beyond reasonable doubt”)
Some people think that evolution can be reconciled to the design principle: God started off the process (maybe he no longer exists)
Everything has a beginning. Nothing comes from nothing (Parmenides)
2.7 Cosmological argument: the cosmological argument for the existence of God and its use by Christians as a philosophical argument for the existence of God; divergent understandings about what the cosmological argument shows about the nature of God for Christians, including Thomas Aquinas’ First Three Ways of showing God’s existence; (Cosmological argument) Christian responses to non-religious (including atheist and Humanist) arguments against the cosmological argument as evidence for the existence of God.
The Cosmological argument has its origins in ISLAM:
Kalam, argument by al Ghazali
actual infinite cannot exist
Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
The universe began to exist.
The universe has a cause of its existence. (so, the universe ‘s existence proves the existence of God)
Ghazali wrote: Kitab al-lqtisad fil’ltiqad =moderation in belief
He believes in the dignity (sharf) of knowledge
If All knowledge comes from God (God created us as thinking beings) then we can use our knowledge to get to the point where we can understand revelation. Religion and reason should be in harmony.
(1) Thus, all knowledge or science must lead towards reaching the ultimate reality of God, to the extent possible given human capabilities.
(2) The potentialities of human knowledge are affirmed by Islam in its recognition of various registers and abilities, including external and internal senses, reason, intuition, and revelation.
(3) Moreover, all knowledge must be established with certainty,
knowledge. the rational and logical method, independent of intuition and revelation, could also lead to a level or a form of certainty
Surah 79 27-33
The Mediaeval scholars in Europe like Thomas Aquinas were influenced by Muslim thought (because of the Muslim population in southern Spain)
Aquinas (13th Century 1225-74) defined 5 ways to philosophically prove the existence of God. The first three form the COSMOLOGICAL argument
-argument from Motion (everything is in motion(Heraclitus). Something started all that motion)
Argument from Cause (everything is caused in a long chain of cause and effect. There was an original first cause)
Argument from Contingency
(Everything we know is dependent on something else. At some point there was therefore nothing. As nothing can come from nothing, and as there is clearly something now, them must be a being on which everything else depends. So that non-contingent/ necessary being is God)
There is also a 6th way invented by Anselm of Canterbury (11th century) called the Ontological argument which tries to prove the existence ofn God by simply defining what God is (that than which nothing greater can be considered, or in 17th Century, God is perfection, a re-boot of the argument by Rene Descartes)
1) BUT: If everything has a cause, why is there an exception for God. (God is the uncaused first cause. Why could we not say the universe is the uncaused first cause?)
2) no evidence that the first cause is actually “God”
3) some people think the big bang is the first cause. Some other people ask what caused the big bang – In fact, this is a silly question. The big bang creates TIME and SPACE so we cannot ask what is before time and space…
Big bang first defined by Georges LeMaitre (Belgium catholic priest)- so religion and science do not have to be in opposition)
2.8 Religious upbringing: Christian teachings about raising children to believe in God, including reference to Proverbs 22:6; features of a Christian upbringing and why they may lead to belief in God; Christian responses to non-religious (including atheist and Humanist) arguments about why a religious upbringing may result in a rejection of God’s existence
Atheism assumes an initial belief in God
Atheism is about a rejection of THEISM
Principles of the family:
Ideas of modesty and the role of women may be rejected by some people today
Ideas of gender equality may be more emphasised today than in Bible
Traditional role of the marriage may be questioned by development of legally recognised gay marriage
Laws that redefine marriage:
Same sex marriage legislation: Marriage (same sex) couples act 2014
Adoption and Children Act 2002 –allows single parents and gay couples to adopt
In UK, in 2011 only 1 in 3 marriages involves a religious ceremony and 33% end in divorce (society has become more secular)
St Paul to Ephesians: 5.21-22: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Galatians 3: 28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Pope John Paul II: Men should truly esteem and love women with total respect for their personal dignity, and society should create and develop conditions favouring work in the home.
Genesis 2:8: The Lord God said ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’
1 Timothy 5:8: If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Children, obey your parents…Parents, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the instruction of the Lord.
Passing on traditions:
Deuteronomy: 6:5-6: These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
I did a small film over the weekend about Plato and power. It was a bit of a rethink of the “How to Be Boss” film but the principles are the same. At what point is power invested in someone and at what point is someone grabbing at power.
The theatre, politics and education are worlds that attract a lot of aggression. People love to create their own empires without necessarily doing anything of value. Sadly, there are always casualties.
Animation started, in a way, with the invention of Faraday’s Wheel in the 19th Century: from this came the zoetrope (1834) – the spinning wheel with slots, through which one looks to see a galloping horse or a man on a trapeze. Whilst still, the wheel shows only single images, yet when in motion the pictures pasted inside the wheel flow into one moving scene. This concept was taken (to great effect) to the camera upon its invention – Muybridge was the first, setting up a line of cameras each with their individual tripwires. Upon walking across his tripwires, each camera would photograph that split-second of his walk – when these pictures are all placed in series, a walking scene has been created or a person’s walk minutely examined. This concept was played with in true artistic fashion by George Méliès, the creator of various silent films featured in Hugo in 1890 – by fiddling with the sequence, Méliès could make a character disappear and re-appear ten steps away, creating the illusion of magic and demonstrating a primitive form of animation. As such, animation is as focused on timing as it is on drawing.
However, it was McCay, from across the pond, who introduced the portrayal of emotion through animation: the task of the animator is to portray characteristics in a purely visual sense, and McCay’s Gertie the Trained Dinosaur was one of the first to achieve this characterisation showing a drawing that seemed to be thinking as well as moving. The animator, drawing in 2D, must think in 3D – it is here Wilson introduces the concept of the hyper-cube. When we think of 2D, we think of the square; 3D the cube, and 4D is the melding of two cubes into one amalgamation and another dimension. In a way, the animator must switch between different dimensions, and the example given was one of punching: though the animator draws the effect in 2D, the punch is thought of in circles or arcs due to the punch’s path of motion.
It is with these foundations laid down that we come to Walt Disney who introduced believability and genuine emotion into animation with feature films. Budget was a big deal for Disney, as shown by their first production of Alice, which was a mix of live-action (cheaper) and animation (more expensive). In today’s film, there are 24 frames per second, and to reduce the cost and time of animation Disney decided to reduce the drawings to 12 per second. The iconic character of Mickey Mouse was introduced first in Plane Crazy, a silent movie. It is here Wilson claims that the design of Mickey was taken from Ub Iwerks not Disney. Continuing on to the famous Steamboat Willie, Disney tied a musical soundtrack directly the animation – the same formula for Fantasia. With the intersection of music and motion one can look at tap dancing. Fred Astaire was notorious for dancing off-beat, only to occasionally switch onto the beat to great effect. Disney tended to do the visual image on the beat (less exciting, and called “mickey mousing”), using music as both characterisation and aesthetic. There is also the fact that every action in Disney has a corresponding sound: the pulling of Clarabelle the Cow’s tail resulted in a musical ‘moo’. Today, lip-syncing in Disney is often relaxed, as the animators keep the lines of the lips and face vague – both the economise and allow easier dubbing into other languages.
There is, of course, the question of Mickey’s gloves – they held a practical reason (during black and white films, if an object was black Mickey’s hand would disappear upon holding it) but they also link to Mickey’s function as a public figure. It is with this that one could claim Mickey a problematic figure – his gloves and mannerisms mimic the characteristics of the minstrels, last seen in the 70s BBC; minstrels would wear white gloves and often tap dance and sing for entertainment. It was a staple of American Vaudeville entertainment. This characteristic is the only one that Disney cannot sanitise today, as the white gloves are iconic to the character. In other areas, however, there is (and always has been) ongoing sanitisation – potentially offensive sections of Fantasia, for instance, have been quietly redrawn to remove the offending sections, though not the crows in Dumbo. Films like Song of the south have all but disappeared from the Disney canon. As a business, family entertainment is the goal of Disney- and this explains both the sanitisation and the fact that the character of Mickey has changed from the troublemaker in Steamboat Willie to the wholesome soul in modern day films. This was the goal as it (along with another factor) would guarantee Disney success and money. The first way was shown by Snow White: it was the first film to release a soundtrack and related merchandise. The second method is one of morality: most animation that Disney creates holds a didactic function – the films tell stories that reward good behaviour and punish the bad, though Disney claimed he was not in the business of “preaching a message”. There are 5 Disney virtues: the first is kindness (such as Cinderella’s kindness to the animals), the second is perseverance (the prince in Cinderella, for example). The third is faith, with its obvious connotations of religion – the only overtly religious piece of Disney, (overlooking Christian imagery at the end of Fantasia) is Hunchback of Notre Dame but this pushes kindness combined with faith, and if Disney is interested in Belief, it is belief itself- and not a belief in a specific person or thing. Belief in self is allied to belief in a higher power. The final one is family: Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians, for instance, display the ethos that the meaning of family can still be extended, and is not just about blood relatives. There is, moreover, a heavy Protestant work ethic that is present in Disney films, and the most recent Frozen emphasises the dimension of not trusting appearances, first glimpsed in Gaston in Beauty and the Beast but maybe hinted at in the magical witches of both Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks who promote family values and patch together relationships that have gone wrong.
The gospel according to walt.
So just to kick off, is there a reference to adam and eve in the fact that snow white eats a poisoned apple?
Is there a reference to Christ in the initials of Jiminy Cricket?
Jonah and the whale. (Pinocchio)
The Disney gospel is part of most chidren’s earliest teachings.
Young impressionable minds
The amount of time children spend in church or synagogues of temples is dwarfed by the amount of time children spend in front of Disney films.
“One of the most significant shaping forces in the 20th Century.”
“A sacred destination of the first trip to the movies.”
Calvinist paradigm of hard work- rewarded with upward solical mobility/ walt’s rise to prosperity
Disney boycotted by the Washington DC Traditional values Coalition in 1990s (“they’re not fair to the Christian message of life death and eternal life” Revd Clark Whitten of the Calvary Assembly church in Orlando. “they have a gospel- it’s to make money”)
Humanism: when Disneyland opened in Anaheim in 1954 Time magazine called Disney “the poet of the new American Humanism” and says the common symbol of humanity in the struggle against the forces of evil is Mickey Mouse”
It’s not what you believe that is important, but the fact of believing itself is important.
Disney is the perfect example of the protestant work ethic divorced from religious moorings.
Disney choice of magic over religion
VALUES: Good triumphs over evil a consistent set of moral values throughout the movies. Disney personal values and commercial goals
Optimism as a creed (pinoccho)
Miracles (Pinocchio as Jesus: the puppet comes to life and resurrected as boy,)
WALT: didn’t want to single out any single religion . But always designed as a “message” He tells reporter: “we like to have a point of view in our stories not an obvious moral but a worthwhile theme” in 1962: Children are people and they should have to reach to learn about things, to understand things just as adults have to reach if they are to grow in mental statue. Life is composed of lights and shadows and we have to be untruthful, insincere aand saccharine if we are to pretenbd there were no shadows. Most things are good and they are the strongest things; but there are evil things too and you are not doing a child a favour by trying to shield him from reality. The important thing is to teach a child that good can always triumph over evil and that is what our pictures attempt to do.”
Sam Goldwyn: Pictures are for entertainment- messages should be sent by western union.
FAITH: Faith in something greater than self? Combined with faith in self
Magic allows you to see a better life and apply the vision to real life.
An agent of transformation. The ordinary becomes extraordinary
The little mermaid: challenge of intermarriage
The lion king:the hindu circle of life
MECCA: Disneyland: a place of pilgrimage (parents reconnecting with their childhood) a cartoon fantasy mecca?
RACISM: Racist representation esp in DUMBO and fantasia (censored in Fantasia but not in Dumbo) song of the south and the three caballeros
DEUS EX MACHINA: No obvious judeo-christian iconography but Greek magic: universal device from ancient greece
Censorship: note the general anxiety about racism: song of the south, dumbo fantasia- cleaning up of Aladdin’s anti-muslim jokes and the toning down of homophobia (see the beginning of Der Fuhrer’s face) to the extent that the remake of Beauty and the beast contains a genuine gay subplot.
The akedah: snow white dispatched to be killed in the forest. Sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham
The huntsman returns with the heart of a boar. (Abraham sacrifices a ram)
Whistle while you work: the work ethic during the great depression
The dwarfs are also hard workees, singing while the work.\snow white- just like an angel. See Rhapsody in Blue in Fantasia 2000
Cleanliness- next to godliness?
There was a sequence where Snow white teaches the dwarves how to pray- abandoned. But snow white prays- she asks for blessings on the seven little men who have been so kind to me and please make grumpy like me” next day when grumpy gets a kiss, she says” why grumpy you DO care”
Escapist and androcentric.
PINOCCHIO- fate not god steps in when things get bad: the blue fairy
As reward to Gepetto for bringing happiness to others
But the outcome will be entirely up to you. (Good works)
Jiminy cricket became an alternative exclamation to Jesus Christ in the US.
He is the still small voice.
The blue fairy as the Virgin mary?
Her appearance in the film is like the appearance of Mary at Fatima and La Salette BLUE and WHITE!
It’ll take a mira le to get out of here (says Jiminy in Stromboli’s caravan, then the blue fairy arrives. (A lie keeps growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face”
Jiminy Cricket defines temptation as The wrong things that seem right at the time.
They like him he’s a success. Gosh. Maybe I was wrong. I guess he won’t need me anymore. What does an actor need with a conscience?”
“Give a bad boy enough rope and hell soon make a jackass of himself.”
The essence of the Disney religion is not theology but morality: prove yourself brave truthful and unselfish and someday you will be a real boy. Resurrection. Awake Pinocchio awake!
NB: difference between snow white and Pinocchio is that Pinocchio is active in his salvation and snow white is entirely passive.
FANTASIA: Dancing toadstools- racist presentation of chinese figures probably intended to be amiable not malevolent. It is still a brilliant piece of animation
The sorcerer’s apprentice: work-shy mickey gets his comeuppance. (work ethic)
The image has been taken by Disney and turned mickey into a high priest of magic in the Disney kingdom. (Disney’s mecca)
Ave maria; the most explicit reference to religion until hunchback of notre dame
The text is an odd interperattion of the latin: the prince of peace your arms embrace while hosts ofdarkness fade and cover, Oh save us mother full of grace in life, and in our dying hour ave maria.
DUMBO: Mother love
Note the workers putting up te circus sing while they work: they “slave until we’re almost dead”
In the parade, dumbo slips and a boy laughs at him. The boy ALSO has improbably big ears.
BAMBI: man in the forest song at the beginning: “love is a song that never ends”
Carefree childhood and dependence on mother is finished with the greatest tear-jerker in the history of cinema:
Your mother cannot be with you anymore. Earlier they had been told of “Man in the forest”now it seems there is a man shooting out of season. Two shots and the second one is fatal.
It is man.. he is here again. There man be many this time. We must go deep into the forest. Hurry. Follow me”
An unspoilt eden is destroyed by man.
Cinderella: if you keep on believing, the dream you wish for will come true.
Cinderella has friends- birds mice etc.. her kindness in helping small rodents explains why the animals are so keen to help her wit housework
Elsa in FROZEN, BEDKNOBS and POPPINS- all autonomous witches, (perhaps it’s a witch. Don’t be sily witches have brooms) and spinsters. establishing world order rather than destroying it. Actually both Poppins and Eglantine are outsiders reestablish family values. And the sisters in Frozen are estranged …
A magical nanny and a reluctant nanny
(above: Milt Kahl images from Mary Poppins)
Religious iconography in Mary poppins;
1) mary poppins is Mary the mother of jesus, practically perfect. The immaculate conception. Above all other women etc.
2) 2) a spoonful of sugar: the Franciscan nod: Mary talks to the birds (feed the birds song with encircling chorus of doves)
3) 3) George banks gives tuppence to the bank chairman- render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s- capitalist banker to family man/ charity… the widow’s mite
4) Alternative view: a scurrilous interpretation
nanny shows up and changes a married man’s life but has to leave because she is pregnant. And no, she doesn’t change “the family” since the wife and kids are still the mindless dimwits at the end of the movie that they were in the beginning. And how do we know that Mary is pregnant? Because of the way she hold hers hands folded over her stomach [at the top of the staircase] when Mr. Banks finally emerges from the basement with the mended kite. So, while most of us think that Mary is misty eyed over Jane & Michael as she stands on the doorstep, the truth is: she is affected by having to say goodbye to Mr. Banks.
Other religious imagery in Disney:
Fantasia ending (ave maria triumphs over Chernabog. But it is nature that is triumphant as also in the end of Fantasia 2000)
Bambi and the Lion King– the role of the father figure, in the Lion king is actually a voice from the dead.
Self sacrifice as a form of redemption: – Baloo, the great dane in lady and the tramp, King Triton in The little mermaid, the beast in Beauty and the beast, and Pinocchio
Brahms above – Here are a few more pictures
After writing about St Theodore, I was sent a copy of an icon of St Theodora, whose feast is on 11th September, a very different saint, though, to the Empress found in mosaics around the Church of Agia Sophia in Istanbul. There are very few images of this Theodora. This is my version here-
A few years ago I was in Northern Albania searching for the women who dressed as men in local villages. Maybe they no longer exist, but that tradition goes back some way and seems, from this story, to have Christian precedence. (in contradiction of Deut 22.5 and maybe of 1 Tim 2.9) I think St Theodora is a model for the Twenty-first Century!
St Theodora was an early ascetic from the Fifth Century, during the reign of the Emperor Zeno. She was among 10 women who lived and dressed as men in Oktodeka, one of the many monasteries surrounding Alexandria. The abbot simply assumed she was a eunuch.
At some point, she was accused and presented with a child that she was supposed to have fathered with some serving wench. Together they were expelled from the Monastery. Now, the hagiography makes a great point of telling us that the child was not hers and that the tales were fabricated; it is also not at all clear at thispoint that any of the other monks actually realised she was a woman. However, there is also a story of an adulterous affair that she had while she was still married to her god-fearing husband, Paphnutios. She seemed to have been told by a fortune-teller that if a sin was committed during the dark and that if no one else could see, then God would not see it either. She was distraught and sought the advice of an abbess who heard her confession, and reminded her that Mary had washed Christ’s feet with her tears. It was repentance for this affair that drove her into the monastery in the first place.
A period of repentence passed while she and the child wandered around the desert and they were then readmitted to the monastery. She had brought the child up as her own and while he seems unnamed, he is recorded to have been a godly and good boy in all respects. When she died, the abbot was astonished to find that Theodora was a woman and not a man after all.
What happened to Paphnutios? After his wife’s death, he seems to have been inspired to become a monk as well. Oh! And her “son” ultimately became abbot.
While the story is riddled with holes, it nevertheless makes very good reading and St Theodora emerges rather well as an early Christian version of Victor/Victoria or Mulan. Whether she had illicit sex once or twice does not seem to matter much- she took responsibility for the child who had been given to her (think of the teacher in “the Corn is Green” by Emlyn Williams- do you remember Toyah Wilcox as the naughty girl who leads Morgan Evans astray?) and seems to have kept herself to herself so much that even her supposed gender remained unknown.
It is tempting to see in St Theodora some sort Patron of the modern age, perhaps more clearly than the highly colourful and embellished story of the soldiers St Sergius and St Bacchus (or of Juventinus and Maximus martyred about 50 years’ later). Their story is improbable and the actual text (the passion) is full of anachronisms. Their humiliation when they refused to sacrifice to Jupiter was to be paraded in women’s clothing and beaten to death – that happened to others too. A “John Boswell” from Yale fairly recently suggested that Sergius and Bacchus were in fact lovers, described in a martyrology as erastai. He argues that before their execution, they were married in a rite called adelphopoieis and had received some form of Church blessing. All this is a bit spurious. John Boswell’s claims, nevertheless, make fantastic reading, but that, I am afraid is where it ends. He describes a civil ceremony for the emperor Basil I and a mass gay wedding taking place in the Lateran. Even if his claims were about a Wagnerian-style “Blut–Brüderschaft“, I find it odd that it should ever have taken place in the Lateran. But as the present incumbent of the Lateran might now say, “Who are we to judge?” Indeed!
I have been making some videos about poetry, some for British schools and some for a Russian university. I was asked this morning whether one of the poems I have recited is a great poem or not. It made me think.
There are certainly great poems in the anthologies I am using, but, to be frank, there is also alot of rubbish. When it comes to Stephen Spender’s poetry, I am really not sure what to say. He was one of two poets I met while I was an undergraduate- the other was Elizabeth Jennings with whom bizarrely I shared lodgings down winchester road. She was nocturnal, peculiar, deeply religious and also a film fan. There was a time when the two of us went repeatedly to see Attenborough’s “Gandhi”- at one point she was astonished to be tossed out of the cinema by an usher who thought she was a tramp. I rented a converted conservatory in the garden, and Elizabeth Jennings used to come into the garden and watch my rabbits. We also gossiped about John Gielgud and Daniel Day Lewis who was her godson and was about to take over from Rupert Everett in “Another Country”. What an interesting lady, and, of course, when I read her poetry today, I can still hear the cadence of her own voice, and her writing, thus, is coloured by a starry-eyed memory.
Spender brings with him some of the Elizabeth Jennings’ baggage in so far as he was also linked to many people in the arts’ world, and meeting him was a bit like touching literary divinity. Or was it minor sanctity?
The problem with Stephen Spender is that he is not really very good. Even in his day, he was regarded as second-rate, a cheap Rupert Brooke. So much so that Cyril Connolly pulled him up over his “bad writing”. But he enjoyed “being a poet”. There is a story which he quotes in his own memoir “World Within World” where he meets TSEliot for lunch and Eliot asks him what he plans to be in life-
I said: “Be a poet.” “I can understand you wanting to write poems, but I don’t quite know what you mean by ‘being a poet,'” he objected.
His was, I fear, the pose of “being a poet” rather than actually doing the job. He wrote a good deal (again in his memoir, he confesses that he wrote four poems a day while Auden managed only one in three weeks, but the quality control was different). He enjoyed the image- so much so that the leader of the communist party apparently said that the best thing Spender could do for the cause was to follow Byron and die. There is even a link between Elizabeth Jennings and Stephen Spender- Cecil Day Lewis was one of Spender friends!
Like the current Minister of Education in Russia, Spender also admired Stalin. “Forward to Liberalism” is evidence of his gullibility, stupidity, naïveté. But it is the way he seems to have treated his lovers that really gets my goat. I don’t have alot of time for people who indulge in open relationships- in the end someone always gets hurt, but Spender seems to have gone on and on with this – leaving his first lover to tend to his garden, abandoning his first wife Inez Pearn, and cheating on his second. To judge from the account given by his sculptor son Matthew, Natasha Litvin was determined to brazen it out. When his mother died, Matthew opened up a can of worms that was an open secret anyway.
“Her take on her marriage is that my father, when he met her, had put his former homosexual life aside and become totally straight and faithful to her. This is a myth that meant a great deal to her, even after Dad had died. But she knew that I didn’t really go for it, and she knew that I felt that once Dad was dead his life should be reinterpreted in a different way. For a start, my father left hundreds of indiscreet letters all over the place. But there was never a confrontation; we just simply didn’t mention it, either of us.”
In the end, I think we read Spender only because he lived so long and knew so many people. Even his exposure in a portrait by Hugh David and then in the Leavitt book “While England Sleeps” that makes it quite clear he never took his parents’ advice to avoid the company of “rough” boys, adds to his image. It is that image, rather than any of his actual writing that will be remembered.