Most reviewers have concentrated on the couple’s wild sexual lives, but their political stupidity arguably ranks higher in the scale of immorality. Until the Second World War, both of these future champions of engaged literature were curiously uninterested in politics. During a stay in Berlin in 1933, Sartre managed to totally ignore the rise of Nazism. Neither of them cared less about the Spanish Civil War or the election of the left-wing Popular Front government in France in 1936.
“Books can contain all sorts of dire and dour information, opinion, behaviour, and not be pessimistic themselves. I hold with Sartre who wrote that we can write about the darkest possible things and still be optimistic, inasmuch as those writings prove that these dark things can be thought about – which to him was saving. And more practically, I think novels are all inherently optimistic, anyway, since they presume that a use will be made of them by a reader in some yet-to-arrive future.”
From McGovern through Dukakis, Kerry and perhaps now the junior senator from Illinois, the Democrats have never found a way to counteract Nixon’s characterisation of them as effete, unpatriotic liberals soft on crime and security and opposed to the sovereignty of the group he ingeniously dubbed “the silent majority”.
The liberators of two hundred years ago had as their sole aim to move out of the commercial and financial shadow of Spain and to trade wherever in the world they liked. It was not their ambition to bring a new life to the indigenous people, the Maya, Aztecs, Incas and Guaranís, who were immediately enslaved on the arrival of the Europeans in the years after 1492.
In a recent radio interview, Barry linked the character with that of a great-aunt who had been committed to an asylum in the 1920s and was subsequently hardly ever mentioned. When she was mentioned the comment was that “she was no good”. “Not that she was mad, but that she was no good.” Barry considered that the writing of the story might offer “some meagre recompense for the fate she suffered at my family’s hands”.
Many see Casement in a negative light; Séamas Ó Síocháin does not. He is both neutral and sympathetic. Ever avoiding judgment and letting the facts speak for themselves, he remains intrigued by Casement and in awe of his attainments. And why not? He is a citizen of a model European state whose very existence and current formation owe much to the man.
Language organisations that pitch the language to this audience as part of Ireland’s valuable cultural heritage are on a hiding to nothing. The little Englander attitude towards languages – that they are all redundant in the face of English spoken loudly – “Another coffee, per favor!” – is all too common. There is little mileage to be gained from extolling the beauty of language as language when the ultimate badge of identity is the physical commodity – the car, the second home, the designer clothes.
In January 1947 Britain’s severest winter weather of the twentieth century hit, in tandem with a coal shortage. On location in Cardiff, Ronald Reagan shivered when the coin-operated heater in his Cardiff hotel ran out on one of the chilliest nights of 1948. Christopher Isherwood, on a rare visit back from America, summarised it thus: “Two or three of my friends said to me then: ‘Believe us, this is worse than the war!’”