Sunday, June 17, 2007

The importance of writing in plain English

I have just discovered the writing of Robert McCrum (right).

He has written an excellent portrait of my favourite man of letters, Gore Vidal (below),


in The Observer.

Some 30 plus years ago, I was besotted with Vidal's writings and I took the opportunity of writing the mandatory dissertation for my English degree at University College, London on Gore Vidal the polemicist.

I was initially assigned Stephen Spender as supervisor but once he realised I was not writing a hagiography I was passed along to the more academic and much more personable Stephen Fender. I had always wanted the man himself to read my now long lost work but really all that my original research amounted to was saying it was decidedly unfair for Gore the storyteller to make loose women in wartime carriers of the clap whilst at the same bestowing a squeaky clean image upon those preferring homosexual acts with one another.

Nevertheless, the late Burke Trend to whom I had passed along a copy at Lincoln College, Oxford wrote me a lovely, complimentary note.

But McCrum breathlessly manages a dead on portrait of Vidal and in so many words passes along Vidal's goodbye to his readers. Just a couple of howlers : having actually read some of them, the works by Vidal under the nom d'argent Edgar Box are only very loosely termed novels. And though his middle name is spelled Gerald , Edmund G. Brown Jr likes to be known as Jerry, not Gerry.

I note that McCrum read History at Cambridge. I found my own limited study of history at Westminster School as a 15 year old under the guidance of the late Charles Keeley the best opportunity for improving my English writing skills.

That it has taken me so long to discover McCrum is quite absurd. We are the same age, spent part of our lives growing up in Cambridge, England, appreciate many of the same authors.

I wonder how McCrum gets along with the academic set for what passes as literary criticism.

I know that when I went back for an English department reunion,
I was quite unfamiliar with the language spoken.

But Gore didn't put much store by going to varsity, either.

1 comment:

Robbie Fields said...

I was somewhat disappointed in Robert McCrum's assessment of the blogoshere as evidenced here :,,2160684,00.html

If you search on the page (cntrl F) for "robbiefields", you'll come upon my comments on his piece.