The Spectator

Feedback | 26 February 2005

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Miller’s genius

Attention must be paid’ to Arthur Miller (Mark Steyn, ‘Death of a salesman’, 19 February) quite simply because he was the greatest dramatist of our lifetime. Briefly to answer Steyn, it was hardly Miller’s fault that his biographer failed to locate Norwich accurately; and having survived the McCarthy witch-hunt, it seems a little unfair to condemn Miller simply because he declined to join the far Right, where sadly Steyn now seems to belong. The fact that Castro and Gorbachev recognised Miller’s genius doesn’t necessarily mean that he recognised theirs. Nor was he even remotely unpatriotic — he just didn’t always care for the way his beloved country was being run.

If Mark really fancies a musical of The Crucible, as he seems to imply, let him write one. And if Arthur’s ‘sin’ was to demand a decent royalty out of Dustin Hoffman, do we assume that Steyn now writes for free?

Sheridan Morley

London EC2

Mark Steyn accuses Arthur Miller of being anti-American. Well, perhaps he was for a time. At the height of the McCarthy hysteria in the 1950s he was nearly imprisoned for refusing to name names. This would have been a crime in Stalin’s Russia but not in any Western nation. Miller could not have been very anti-American or he would have gone into exile along with other McCarthy victims. It is true that he attacked some aspects of American society, but that is not the same thing.

In fact, Miller seems to have been a very decent fellow, but even if he was not, that would not detract from his achievement. T.S. Eliot was anti-Semitic, W.H. Auden fled to America, Dylan Thomas was a drunk, Bernard Shaw openly admired both Hitler and Stalin. But those of us who lived in the 20th century had our intellectual lives enriched by these great men.

So with Arthur Miller. With the possible exception of J.B. Priestley, Miller is the only mid-20th-century playwright whose work does not sound dated.

It will be time for American neocons to jeer at Arthur Miller when they can produce from their ranks a playwright half as good.

Dennis Outwin

Gorleston, Norfolk

Much ado about nothing

I was relieved to discover that the ‘Goodbye England’ on the cover of your 19 February issue does not, in fact, refer to al-Qa’eda detonating a nuclear warhead in Crouch End, but rather to the discontinuation of fox-hunting.

On the other hand, if indeed your country has become so starved of national symbols that some of you equate ‘England’ with the act of bouncing around the countryside chasing a small, frightened animal, perhaps a true calamity or two might serve to shake some of the silliness out of your heads.

Anthony Famularo

Toronto, Canada

Pigs, Jews and Muslims

Rod Liddle claims that Labour politicians are deliberately offending Jews in order to curry favour with Muslims (‘Why Labour does not need the Jews’, 19 February).

As a Jew, I do not believe Labour intended its recent ‘flying pigs’ and ‘hypnotist’ posters to be anti-Semitic. Jews do not actually regard pigs as offensive animals — according to Jewish law, they are not permitted to be eaten, but this does not mean they are viewed with abhorrence. The ‘hypnotist’ poster may have unconscious echoes of Svengali or Fagin, but does not seem to have been consciously intended as anti-Semitic.

Mr Liddle concludes, ‘There are no opinion polls which show that Muslim voters, moderate or less moderate, leap up and down with glee when Labour politicians gratuitously offend the Jews. But my guess is that they do.’ My guess is that they don’t, and would not even if the offence had been intentional.

Deborah Maccoby

London E5

Aid and loot

On the day I read Rod Liddle’s splendid article on the folly of writing off Third World debt (‘Make naivety history’, 12 February), the Financial Times reported that the Swiss Supreme Court has ordered Swiss banks to return $500 million to Nigeria; this out of an estimated $2.2 billion looted by the former president Sani Abacha from state coffers.

Patrick Wye

Sierra Madre, California, USA

Otiose superlative

Michael Henderson (‘Time to rescue BBC English’, 12 February) looks to the director-general of the BBC for help. One of Mark Thompson’s first utterances following his appointment as director-general was on Radio Four after attending the memorial service for the late Alistair Cooke, when he described the great man as ‘very unique’. Not much hope there, then!

Martin B. Vallance

Brompton-on-Swale, North Yorkshire

Waterloo blues

In case any of your readers are bursting with curiosity to know which greyhound won the final Waterloo Cup (Peter Oborne, ‘The dogs have had their day’, 19 February), it was the dog Shashi, who beat Hardy Admiral in a very convincing manner in the final course at the Withins. Hardy Admiral had vanquished Sir Mark Prescott’s dog, Equal Status, the previous day.

Perhaps your readers would also like to know that it was not only Sir Mark who found it difficult to control his emotions throughout the meeting.

Sophie Dugdale

Axminster, Devon