Boyd Tonkin: Literature and the banks

Share
Related Topics

This Saturday, the Edinburgh International Book Festival begins, cramming into its temporary tent village in Charlotte Square Gardens a 700-event programme that trounces in both range and quality almost every other literary jamboree on earth. This time, however, the identity of one stalwart main sponsor may attract more than the usual passing glance: the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Since last autumn's bail-out, any such RBS support should count as taxpayer-funded arts expenditure – and no good cause could possibly be worthier than the EIBF. Especially as festival director Catherine Lockerbie, soon retiring after a glorious decade, has scheduled plenty of debates about the sorry mess that our now-nationalised bankers helped to make. How delicious to see the sainted Vince Cable, scourge of the follies of finance in the City of London and Edinburgh's New Town, slated to talk in the RBS Main Theatre. He should spare a choice word or two for his sponsors.

Like any bank that seeks a presence in the marketplace of ideas, RBS should hold its nerve and ride the blows. Part of the problem behind the hysterical frenzy of bad bets and dumb deals that preceded the crash of 2008 was the insulation of high finance from the wider cultural world. For far too long, the bankers escaped any imaginative scrutiny by outsiders with no professional axe to grind.

But the crisis of the past 12 months has opened several breaches in the wall of omerta around their secretive affairs. HSBC chairman Stephen Green – head of a comparatively clean and sober group, which already has a far-reaching portfolio of cultural sponsorships – has just published a frank and thoughtful book, Good Value. It looks to history, literature and even scripture to assess the virtues and vices of modern globalised capitalism.

In the artists' camp, leading British novelists have been rushing to incorporate recession-related business themes into their latest works. William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks release their post-crisis novels next month, with others in the pipeline. Even Ian Rankin's forthcoming thriller, The Complaints, has some sardonic nods in the direction of Edinburgh bankers and their woes. In the theatre, David Hare's new play The Power of Yes will tackle boom and slump in his peerless docu-drama style.

Better late than never. The mysteries of big money and its deep social impact look set to occupy creative minds as they seldom have in Britian since the Edwardian heyday of John Galsworthy, Bernard Shaw and Harley Granville-Barker. Yet, Mr Green apart, most of the brightest thoughts and sharpest words on the sources of our plight have come from the artistic – or journalistic – side of the fence. Except when hauled up before a parliamentary committee to utter a formulaic mea culpa, many major players in the crunch have kept up a virtually Trappist silence.

The showpiece "RBS Event" at Edinburgh will involve Jeremy Paxman talking about his beloved Victorians. Let's hope he has a lot to say about 19th-century banking scams and their lessons for today. No doubt the gig will sell out fast. But if Paxo ever had the chance to interview the shy and retiring Sir Fred Goodwin, the queues would surely stretch all the way to Leith.

b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions