Sunday 01 June 1997
The Life of Matthew Arnold by Nicholas Murray, Sceptre pounds 8.99. Whether in poetry or prose, Arnold's voice gnawed conscience-like at brash 19th- century empire-building, seeing through the moral cloak of the Establishment to the greed and cruelty beneath. In another age he might have been a satirist, a Swift or a Waugh. Instead, he became an elegiac poet of the Wordsworth school, a social critic and a conscientious public servant, holding down a position as School Inspector for 35 years. Murray suggests, intriguingly, that Arnold was in many ways the Victorian equivalent of George Orwell. The son of Dr Arnold of Rugby, he was a lifelong opponent of social inequality, a liberal who was passionately in favour of "the free play of thought, the disinterested attempt to see things as they really were". An "elegant Jeremiah", he hated the nation's class structure and commercial mentality, yet he never left the class into which he was born and his spirited attacks on philistinism (a usage he imported into the language) left him in this century covered undeservedly with the tar of elitism and the feathers of a snob.
The Sibling Society by Robert Bly, Penguin pounds 8.99. Praising the "Beatles' affectionate lyrics" at the expense of Kurt Cobain's death-wish, Bly longs for adolescence to get back to where it once belonged. His diagnosis of America's (and, soon, Europe's) problem is a publicist's dream. It is a comprehensive social, psychological and cultural explanation rolled into one easy bumper-sticker formula. Childhood has spread into youth; youth has infected middle age; old age, rouged, facelifted and pumped full of HRT, is a prancing parody of Peter Pan. No one wants to grow up, so there is no hierarchy, respect for experience or comprehension of death. Even the Oedipus complex has been washed away by a wave of single-mother families and community breakdown. Some of what Bly has to say is suggestive. But the folksy way he says it is irritating, a sing-song, tell-you-a-story tone which also masks an underlying authoritarianism. In this reader's mind at least, the warning sirens were wailing.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 Grandmas keep accidentally tagging themselves as Grandmaster Flash on Facebook
- 4 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
- 5 Kanye West halts concert after two fans don't stand up - doesn't realise one is in wheelchair and the other disabled
Fifty Shades of Grey movie: New picture of Anastasia Steele unveiled
Star Trek 3 to begin shooting in next six months
Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
The Walking Dead season 5 air date, trailer and season 4 recap
Robin Thicke’s hit 'Blurred Lines' lands him in court, and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly