Storm as Raphael defends rapist Koestler

David Lister,Arts News Editor
Tuesday 23 February 1999 00:02

THE NOVELIST Frederic Raphael has provoked outrage by suggesting that the author and film-maker Jill Craigie "may have been excited by the risks" of being with Arthur Koestler, the author and philosopher who raped her.

Defending Koestler after the recent revelation that he raped Ms Craigie, wife of the former Labour leader Michael Foot, Raphael claims that "abuse of women was (if it is not still) a certificate of virility in many great men".

Yesterday a shocked Jill Craigie said: "The man doesn't know what he is talking about. I didn't know Koestler's character at all. I was very young and naive. I just thought he had gone mad. I never knew he could do such a thing.

"I remember sitting on my steps with my clothes torn for what seemed like hours."

In one of the biggest literary controversies of last year, a new biography of Koestler by Professor David Cesarani revealed him as a serial rapist and disclosed how one of his victims had been Jill Craigie in 1951.

Following the biography, students at Edinburgh University successfully demanded that a bust of Koestler, a benefactor of the university, be removed.

But in an article in the political journal Prospect this week, Raphael leaps to Koestler's defence, saying Ms Craigie and the writer Elizabeth Jane Howard whom Koestler is said to have treated callously, demanding she have an abortion after making her pregnant, "were not foolish virgins."

Both, he says: "have a right to their grievances, but both were ambitious and experienced women who liked the company of the powerful and the famous. Both had enough intelligence to read Koestler for a dangerous man. Is it any disparagement to suggest that they might, at the time, have been excited by the risks they were taking?

"They did not deserve what he did, or is said to have done, but they were not foolish virgins and they knew Koestler's character. We are entitled to wonder - as Cesarani did not, but should have - what they were doing with him."

Frederic Raphael, whose novel about Oxbridge life The Glittering Prizes was a best seller, is particularly provocative about the incident involving Ms Craigie.

He writes: "As for the rape of Jill Craigie (Mrs Michael Foot) which has made all the headlines, we need not doubt that force was used or that understandable shame explains why the facts have taken so long to come out. Without being ungallant, however, I was reminded of a judge who told me that the crucial questions in such cases were: `Did you bite him? Did you scratch him?'

"I dare say that fear and embarrassment and even a sort of generosity led Michael Foot's wife to file no loud contemporary complaint. But the limitations of biography, especially when one witness is alive and another dead, are obvious here... We may have had the facts; we do not, and cannot, have them all."

In an interview after publication of the biography last year, Ms Craigie told how Koestler had abused her hospitality when she invited him to lunch and raped her while banging her head against the floor. "This was all about power," she said. "I tried to forget about it.

"Everyone kept going on about what a wonderful man Koestler was. One day, our friend Anthony Crosland said, `You know he's a rapist'. Michael was shocked. I was relieved. I'd always thought there must have been others. But I still couldn't admit he'd raped me. Then, years later, I got rather drunk at a dinner party and it suddenly came out."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Women's Aid Centre, which took a keen interest in the removal of the Koestler bust from Edinburgh University, said yesterday: "Mr Raphael's remarks are extremely unhelpful. Rape is a crime and it is the rapist's responsibility. The blame is on the perpetrator of the crime."

In his essay castigating Professor Cesarani's biography of Koestler, Raphael expands on his theme: "Cesarani deplores his subject's phallocratic behaviour towards women, just as we might deplore the acquiescence of the noblest Romans and Athenians in slavery. Do we not, therefore, admire the Parthenon or read Catullus?

"The abuse of women was (if it is not still) a certificate of virility in many great men, of whom Bertrand Russell is, in many respects, a more lurid and despicable example. If we are to dispraise famous men, who is to be spared?"

Raphael says that Koestler "was a hallowed figure in my youthful literary pantheon... My only personal contact with him was when I edited Bookmarks, a volume of essays compiled to raise funds to campaign for Public Lending Right. Already shaken by Parkinson's disease, he contributed punctually, although he had warned that writing in English was still a labour. This non-sexual act of altruistic solidarity was, of course, too trivial to warrant mention by his biographer."

Prospect's editor David Goodhart said yesterday: "Frederic Raphael's essay is a polemical piece and I'm happy to publish it. It is provocative and we don't have to agree with every piece we publish."

Glitteringly Successful Controversialist

FREDERIC RAPHAEL lists one of his recreations in Who's Who as "having gardened." It could just as easily be "having caused controversy". The 67 year-old author and screenwriter is best known for his comic novel on life at Oxbridge and beyond, The Glittering Prizes. But he has a number of other successful novels to his credit and has written the screenplays for a series of hit movies ranging from Darling and Far From the Madding Crowd in the Sixties to the latest, still to be seen, Stanley Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut. But in recent years he has become celebrated as an instigator of literary spats. He publicly accused A.S. Byatt of giving a book a good review simply because he had given it a bad one. He also launched a vicious attack on theatre director Jonathan Miller noting how he always moved in "more exalted circles" when the two of them were friends at Cambridge. Dr Miller's wife claimed that Raphael's venom stemmed from Miller refusing a dinner invitation back in 1957.

David Lister

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