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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Sex, cruelty and antisemitism; by Sackerson

Two more episodes from the 1946 autobiography of E L Grant Watson, looking back on a late-Victorian childhood.

(a) Grant Watson's mother sent him to a newly-established experimental school, Bedales. The headteacher seems to have hung back from imposing the discipline common in standard public schools but unfortunately this merely allowed a culture of bullying to develop among the boys. Attempting to rectify the situation indirectly, the head began to admit girls, but the conventional sexual restraints of the age dominated; the author (who later went through Freudian analysis) thought, harmfully:

'The headmaster, that highly cultured, idealistic and all too pure repressor of desires, was, of course, the father-substitute. He was the 'Old Man', and he, in the unconscious, possessed the girls who were forbidden to us. We, his sons, lived under the almighty power of Taboo. But we were allowed less outlet than were those suppositional sons of the First-father. His sons were driven out into the wilderness to practise homosexuality. But no such relief for us! Smut of any kind, even a hint of it, was the worst of sins, and our naturally developing sexual urges must find other expression: in cruelty, in an inflated idealism, in fantasies of superiority, and every kind of priggishness and prudishness, and in fact in any kind of high-tension absurdities...' (my emphasis)

Does this go some way to explain the rigidity and cruelty of seventeenth century English Puritans, and the modern Islamist Puritans? Perhaps; though human aggression and cruelty seem common anyway. Still, far less dangerous to see ourselves as sinners than as the Elect.

(b) In 1900, he was sent to Heidelberg for the summer/autumn, to learn science because it was not taught well in his English school (perhaps, in many English schools). A German he met on the sea-voyage 

'talked with great enthusiasm about the glories of Germany and the inferiority of England. Germany was going to rule the world. He was indeed a prophet of the Herrenvolk...'

In southern Germany he found the people punctiliously polite, friendly and hospitable, yet one day:

'I was in a restaurant with Fräulein Müller and Herr Burn [a Scottish student at Heidelberg University]. A group of German officers came in; there was something not to their liking; discussion and raised voices. A group of peoplewho were sitting at a table nearby got up abruptly and retired. What was the fuss about? I enquired. The officers had objected to the presence of some Jews. That the Jews had had to go set me wondering. I had not been Jew-conscious before, except in so far that I knew that Jews usually got bullied at school.' (my emphasis)

This was long before the little Austrian corporal made himself felt. I haven't read much about anti-Semitism in both countries during the nineteenth century, but clearly there was a deep and very nasty vein of it.

6 comments:

Paddington said...

Anti-semitism has a long history in Europe.

There were several mini-Holocausts in England around 1100, and the main thrust of the Spanish Inquisition was to attack converted Jews in the belief that they had not really converted.

Hitler didn't invent the idea in Germany either.

Sackerson said...

Yes, but it seems England still hadn't grown out of it by 1900.

Paddington said...

1900? Don't you remember Alf Garnett?

Sackerson said...

Garnett is a parody of thicko working-class man. It's the enduring penetration among the middle and upper classes - and, I've read, some senior Anglican clerics - that is more concerning.

Paddington said...

In 1959, most country clubs in the US did not accept Jews. They were called 'restricted'.

Around that time, Holy Family Church couldn't buy the land to build in Stow, because they were Catholic.

Paddington said...

Right now, one of the Senate races in Georgia is between a right-wing evangelical, and an African-American pastor, who believes in the 'help the poor' kind of Christianity.

The former has declared that he is not a real Christian, because he believes in all of those 'socialist' principles.