o The Diary of Beatrice Webb Vols 1 and 2 Edited by Norma and Jeanne MacKenzie (Virago £7.50 each). The vivid. insightful and anecdotal journal of the Fabian bluestocking. from her comfortable childhood to work in London's East End. through her abortive amour for Joseph Chamberlain and her happy marriage to Sidney. to the founding of the London School of Economics and the rise ofthe Labour movement. The cast includes HG. Wells. Churchill. Lloyd George and G. B. Shaw who loses a by-election after proclaiming that though a teetotaller. he would force every citizen to imbibe a ‘quartern ofrum‘ to cure any tendency to intoxication. Would that Edwina Currie had such imagination.
0 Class Struggle: A Probationer’s Diary John Mitchell (Polygon £3.95) Morris Simpson embarks on his teaching career as the EIS teachers‘ union play their opening gambit in the blackboard war. Shades of Mr Wentworth BA. but no less well done. But why do teachers always compare themselves to the police during pay negotiations?
Now it‘s over to Archie McPherson with the sports news: ‘An while Rangers is haein‘ a sairiechttae regain their European Cup form, their fees in the neest roun, F.C. Cologne, had a dawle o' a gemme the nicht, blouterin' lower goals past Eintracht Frankiurt.‘
It’s a sobering thought but according to Robert McCrum, proselytiser and progenitor of the weekly BBCZ series ‘The Story of English’, and the book of the same name (Faber and the BBC, £14.95) such a scenario would have been entirely plausible had the 1707 Act of the Union not taken place. But there‘s no pointcrying over spilt milk. Even A. McP. is inured in Broadcasting House speak now and for most of us it‘s the ‘lingua iranca’. Yet Robert McCrum
readily acknowledges Standard English is the preserve of only 3% of the English-speaking population. Nor is it impossible, says He Who Won't Have the Last Word, to imagine Edinburgh as the capital of England. ‘Then’, says McCrum, ‘I would be speaking a rather quaint dialect and you would be speaking Standard English. It‘s purely accidental that I speak the English of the South and that happens to be the dominant variety.‘
O Footsteps Richard Holmes (Penguin £3.95) Holmes goes where others — Stevenson. Wordsworth. Wollstonecraft. Gerard de Nerval and Shelley— have gone before. recreating their journeys and the past and in the process fashioning a phantasmic travel autobiography.
0 Beyond the Limit Naomi Mitchison (Scottish Academic Press £4.95) Selected short fiction from the nonegenarian's remarkable oeuvre, decorated with drawing by Wyndham Lewis.
0 New Writing Scotland 4 Edited by Alexander Scott and Carl Macdougall (Association for Scottish Literary Studies £3.95) Stories and poems from writers familiar and unfamiliar. Poems by Iain Crichton Smith. Robert Crawford. Dilys Rose and Norman Kreitman. stories by Dorothy Haynes. Ian Rankin. Mary Gladstone and Janet Caird. Worthy. o Nine-Headed Dragon River Peter Mathiessen (Collins Harvill £12.95) Zen journeys by the author of The Snow Leopard. For fellow travellers. 0 Still Life AS. Byatt (Penguin £3.95) A dense. intellectual. arty novel redolent ofthe Fifties and
reminiscent ofMargaret Drztbble
5,4, ‘I". /’1 .“M
That ‘dominant variety' has, to judge by the globe-trotting series, conquered the world in the course of which the ‘MotherTongue‘ has undergone several rebirths, substantiating McCrum’s belief that ‘English is not a language of dictionary-makers. lt bubbles up from below ratherthan from abovef
In an effort to illustrate this McCrum and his fellow film-makers have given
and Iris Murdoch. Ambition v domesticity. confinement v self-fulfilment. Adagio.
o Sorley MacLean: Critical Essays Edited by Raymond Ross and Joy Hendry (Scottish Academic Press £16) A paean ofpraise for the bard on his 75th birthday. beautifully decked out and with invaluable critical and biographical essays by (among others) Seamus— ‘the famous‘ — Heaney (the last word of whose introduction is mis-spelt) Aonghas MacNeacail, lain Crichton Smith. John Maclnnes. Ronald Stevenson and James Caird.
O Time-Slip Graham Dunstan Martin (Unwin £2.95) An exercise in inverted history set (parenthetically) in post-holocaust Edinburgh and environs in which the Highlands are repopulated. Leith, Bonnyrigg and Pilton become ghettos or mutants and the Old Town survives. Not on the Samaritans' recommended reading list.
0 Rough Wooing Nigel Tranter (Hodder and Stoughton £10.95) Volume 3 of Nigel Tranter‘s James V trilogy spans 1536—1550. England‘s ‘Rough Wooing‘ ofScotland. A widening rift between the two Davids — Lindsay and Beaton - illumines the struggle for power and reform in church and nation. For Beaton. political action must precede spiritual reform while Lindsay favours the reverse. Tranter‘s writing is most vivid when least instructive: I relished Marie de Guise's arrival in weather reminiscent of 1986’s equinoctial gales: the voyage to Orkney and the
_ PROPERLY SPEAKING
all the varieties of English equal billing. Perhaps that’s whythe film crew invented the alternative title ‘Speaking Funny in Foreign Places'. McCrum affirms that it was not planned this way, ‘it emerged.‘
But if it has taken a safe ethnic line the series is decidedly permissive in its attitude towards the language. Any day now the wrath of Kingsley Amis is expected to descend. Robert McCrum is unrepentant. For him the programmes live up to (fade in the Royal fanfare) ‘the highest ideals of the BBC’, being both educational and entertaining.
English is ever in flux and he is rather sceptical of dogmatists who wish to lay down the law. We talked, in the pukka Caledonian Hotel, about Shakespeare and how he might have felt about the modern state of the language. Robert McCrum feels that the Bard, not to coin one oi his own phrases, would be as happy as a Sandboy. ‘lle‘d be thrilled by the potential of English.‘ And he would have a fair start on the rest oi us. McCrum estimates ‘You orl have a vocabulary between 15,000 and 20,000 words. Shakespeare‘s was around 34,000.‘ (Alan Taylor)
Hebrides; Lindsay’s encounter with the malignant Henry VIII; and the intriguing matter of Henry‘s sale of plundered altars to Catholic foundations overseas. But attempts to separate truth from fiction are unsatisfactory. Did René. Marquis d‘Elbeouf (b 1536) really achieve that tricky mid-sea transfer in 1538? Was ‘Lady Sensuality‘ in the cast on the first night of The Three Estates? Contemporary records are regrettably fragmentary. Unfortunately. by trying to cover too great a time-span. Mr Tranter sacrifices development of his characters. already hampered by unconvincing dialogue. A curate’s egg. (Chris Ashley)
0 Something Understood: An Autobiography (ierald Priestland (Andre Deutsch £12.95) A few years ago. Priestland‘s weekly radio talk Yours Faithfully could send irate fundamentalists scurrying to the pillar-box and cause intending suicides to flush their pills down the 100. Here Priestland recalls the events and people that shaped him for the role ofcounsellor-by-post that his listeners wished upon him. Fascinating though adventures of a BBC foreign correspondent are. the book‘s real power lies in the final two chapters. Bedevilled by recurrent depression since childhood. the author tells now a perceptive analyst. the awakening of ‘experimental‘ Christian faith and the discovery of self-forgiveness led to a cure. His massive mailbag testified to the popularity of his broadcasts — but for Priestland himself the peak of his achievement was not Yours Faithfully. nor that pilgrimage through Christian doctrine, Priestland's Progress. It was The Case Against God (provocative title!) which explored ‘through the figure ofJesus into the nature of His Father‘ and tackled the problems of unmerited suffering and the purpose ofthe universe. (Nicholas Whitehead)
o The Adventures of Goodnight and Loving Leslie Thomas (Methuen £10.95) ‘Dedicated to Paul Gaugin and other men who have run away — and discovered the consequences‘. So begins Leslie Thomas’ latest. possibly wistful novel. and the challenge that is to take hero George Goodnight and his lascivious alias, Oliver Loving. around the world in 400 days. is set at the start, when a stranger laments that these days ‘there is no room for ordinary men of destiny.’ George, stamp-collector and lawyer, goes on, in 500 pages. to prove him terribly wrong. informing his wife that ‘sometimes men want to scream too’ before heading offinto the unknown.
He begins with Cornwall (Molly) and ends in California (Francesca) via France (Janine). India (Fanny), Delhi (Charmaine) and New South Wales (Clementive). Not surprisingly amid all this choice he finds a resurgence of vigour. true love. and a gnawing sense of loneliness as he drifts between continents. a catalyst among the
42 The List 14 — 27 November