HG Wells, Attenborough, Martians and Tasmanian genocide


BRITISH MADE GENOCIDE: The last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right

This photo shows the last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, December 6, 2019

Alien invasions and meetings with Stalin

The BBC TV adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds has finished. PETER FROST reminds us what a great socialist the author was

LAST SUNDAY saw the screening of the third and final episode of the BBC’s magnificent, if controversial, adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds.

Wells’s classic tale of Martians invading Earth has long been a favourite of mine. It is a beautifully ironic analogy of British imperialism’s invasions of foreign lands. Gun in one hand, a bible in the other the British invaded so many places in order to colour the globe pink.

Soldiers and missionaries carried a whole arsenal of fatal secret weapons. Viruses and bacteria of diseases like influenza and even the common cold. These were endemic back home but unknown and deadly among folk who had never built up immunities to them.

By coincidence before I watched the first episode of War of the Worlds I watched David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet documentary on the animals of Australia.

Attenborough focussed on two Tasmanian species. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial. Once widespread, today it is fighting hard in just a few Tasmanian locations to avoid total extinction.

He also showed amazing black and white footage of the very last Tasmanian tiger, or Tasmanian wolf. The Thylacine, (Thylacinus cynocephalus), was a marsupial wolf and the largest carnivorous marsupial of recent times. That film showed the very last survivor in a private Hobart zoo before the species became totally extinct in 1936.

The documentary however didn’t mention another Tasmanian species that was wiped out by the arrival of the white man. They were the indigenous people of the island — the Tasmanians — a population of Aboriginal people known as the Palawa.

It was the tragic fate of the Palawa that inspired HG Wells to write War of the Worlds. Wells told his brother Frank about the catastrophic effect of the British invasion on indigenous Tasmanians. What would happen, he wondered, if Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians?

So what of the BBC adaptation? I’ll leave most of that to TV reviewers more erudite than me. One widespread complaint was that the BBC adapters had added — horror of horrors — a woman hero.

The series opened with a hero, a journalist called George having left his wife, his cousin, to live with a woman called Amy in a small cottage called Lyndon near Woking, Surrey. Not one fact of the above can be found anywhere in the original book.

However H George Wells, a journalist, did marry his cousin and left her to live with a woman called Amy in a cottage called Lynton in Woking, Surrey.

It was at Lynton that Wells wrote the book and set the start of the Martian invasion in the countryside around the cottage.

What I want to do here is to remind readers what an incredible man HG Wells was. He always described himself as a committed socialist and wrote a wide variety of political writings — pamphlets, political books, newspaper and magazine articles — as well as novels and stories.

He was never afraid to use his novels and stories to advance his political opinions. Wells saw that socialism would abolish class barriers and foster equality of opportunity. Other writers such as Virginia Woolf berated him for using the novel as a vehicle for delivering his political ideas.

His novels took up diverse individual political issues. For instance The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) examined the fierce debates over vivisection. Ann Veronica (1909) deals with the struggle of the suffragettes for the vote for women.

In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), he explained his political thinking was motivated by an awareness of the “incompatibility of the great world order foreshadowed by scientific and industrial progress with the existing political and social structures.”

For him the question was: how could politics and society catch up with the advances of science and technology? How could social and political institutions become more scientific, more efficient, more ordered?

As early as 1905 he described his ideal socialist society in his book A Modern Utopia. In it he paints a picture of a highly regulated world state where all property is state-owned, and where sexes are equal.

The Fabian Society were keen to have Wells on board. Despite some earlier differences with George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice and Sidney Webb he accepted an invitation to join the Fabians in 1903.

It would not be a happy time for the Fabians. They quickly realised that Wells could be a loose cannon. Openly criticising the Fabians from the beginning, in 1906 he shocked them with a paper called, unambiguously, The Faults of the Fabian.

In the paper Wells called the Fabian Society a talking shop for middle-class socialists, which lacked the appetite for real change. He argued Fabians should aim for mass membership and more radical reforms.

Wells’s love life and his reputed advocacy of free love didn’t go down well either. When In 1908 he advocated a wage for all mothers and the Fabians refused to adopt this as a policy, he left.

What Wells wanted was a single, socialist world state, a great world order, and it was no doubt to study this kind of development that he visited and championed the young Soviet Union repeatedly.

Wells visited Russia in 1914, 1920 and 1934. During his second visit his old friend and fellow writer Maxim Gorky arranged for him to meet and talk with Vladimir Lenin.

In July 1934, on his third visit to what had become the Soviet Union, he interviewed Joseph Stalin for the New Statesman. The interview lasted three hours.

He told Stalin how he had seen “the happy faces of healthy people” in contrast with his previous visit to Moscow in 1920 but he also raised some serious criticisms. Stalin, we are told, enjoyed the conversation.

During the second world war, Wells drafted a Universal Rights of Man that was published in the Times. This document and the advocacy he did around it led to the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times but never won.

He suffered for much of his life from diabetes and in 1934 co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association known today as Diabetes UK.

Winston Churchill was an avid reader of his books, and after they first met in 1902 they kept in touch until Wells died in 1946. Prime minister Churchill famously described the rise of Nazi Germany as “the gathering storm”. He actually took the phrase from War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds has never been out of print since its original publication in 1897. Films, radio dramas, comic-books, video games, and many television series have been based on it.

The most famous, or infamous, adaptation is the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles. Presented as a live, realistic set of news bulletins interrupting normal programming, supposedly terrified listeners had heart attacks and even committed suicide, though recent scholarship has suggested this is an urban myth.

Perhaps the greatest and most surprising tribute to the author and the book is that of Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry. Goddard says his interest in rockets and space travel was first inspired by reading War of the Worlds aged sixteen.

Goddard would invent both liquid fuelled and multi-stage rockets that put men on the Moon and sent robotic probes to Mars — HG Wells would have wanted no finer tribute.

New novel about fascist dictator Mussolini


This video shows Italian fascist dictator Mussolini, speaking in German in the Berlin Olympic stadium, at the invitation of his ally Adolf Hitler.

Translated from Belgian weekly Humo, 2 December 2019:

Benito Mussolini, godfather of modern populists:

Sigh … When will journalists stop abusing the word ‘populist’ for neo-fascists?

“Adolf Hitler adored him”

“M.” is a three-part novel about the life and works of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The first part, about how fascism came into existence exactly one hundred years ago and took barely five years to gain power, has just been released in Dutch. The 850 pages read like a machine gun and are just as burningly topical as an asylum seekers’ center that is on fire. “We have to compare right-wing populism today with fascism, because there are important similarities“, says author Antonio Scurati (50). Fortunately, there are also differences.

Antonio Scurati’s book is called “M. – The son of the century“. He has won the Premio Strega, Italy’s most prestigious literature prize, and more than one hundred thousand copies have since been sold. That’s a lot, because Italians prefer to watch “Gomorra” or “Il commissario Montalbano” than to read the books on which those TV series are based. The translation rights of “M.” have already been sold to forty countries. According to the author, there is only one possible explanation for this: “Because Mussolini is the archetype, the original with which almost every right-wing populist leader today can be compared.”

United States Americans will also be able to get to know his epic version of Il Duce. Scurati, besides being a writer also a professor at the IULM University in Milan, laughs sourly: “My book will only appear after the 2020 presidential election, because publisher HarperCollins wants to prevent parallels from being drawn between Mussolini and Trump during the election campaign.”

Translated from Dutch weekly De Groene:

And, really happened: on May 4, [Italian far-right politician] Salvini stood on the balcony of the town of Forlì, constructed by Mussolini, to face a small crowd in the pouring rain. In Piazza Saffi, a paragon of fascist architecture, where four resistance fighters, including a girl [Iris Versari], were hung on August 18, 1944 to show the crowd what happened to resistance fighters. Salvini looked out at the memorial plaque.

Salvini under fire for address from notorious balcony used by Mussolini to watch executions: here.

Ukrainian nazi vandalism against Jewish author’s statue


A monument to Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem is seen vandalized with swastikas in Kiev, Ukraine

From CNN in the USA, 25 November 2019:

Ukrainian police are investigating a case of anti-Semitic vandalism after a monument to a prominent Jewish writer was vandalized with swastikas. …

Images on Ukrainian social media showed the monument, located across from the Brodsky Synagogue in central Kiev …

Ukraine has a large and thriving Jewish community, but community activists also report frequent cases of anti-Semitic vandalism. …

Born in 1859 in Russia, Sholem Aleichem was a Yiddish author and playwright known in the United States as the “Yiddish Mark Twain“, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Americans would know his writing best from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. His works were adapted into the script surrounding the musical numbers.

Several of his other works were adapted and instrumental in the founding of the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York City.

Before his death in 1916, Aleichem published more than 40 novels, stories, and plays in Yiddish.

Last November, a man caused a commotion in a Baltimore theater last week by yelling “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!” during a “Fiddler on the Roof” performance.

UKRAINIAN courts were today condemned for upholding a ban on the only newspaper opposing the country’s “oligarch-nazi regime.” Founded in 1897, Rabochaya Gazeta was banned earlier this year under Ukraine’s reactionary anti-communist laws after it published articles quoting Karl Marx: here.

Prince Andrew’s Epstein scandal, musical parody


This 17 November 2019 musical parody video of the Prince song ‘When doves cry’ from Britain says about itself:

Prince Andrew – When Dukes Lie

Prince Andrew’s Prince tribute act.

LYRICS:

“Explain, if you, will this picture”
Said BBC’s Emily Maitlis
“Is that your hand around her waist?
Can you, Your Highness
Can you explain this?”

I said, “Well, it could be a fake
Not been upstairs at that address
The only thing I clearly remember
Is the time I ate at Woking Pizza Express

“How come you stayed there for four days
With someone who preyed on the vulnerable?”
Well, I only went there to unfriend him
Maybe I’m just like my father: too honourable
That’s not how I dressed in the city
I’d wear a suit and a tie
I couldn’t sweat ‘cause the Falklands
This is what is sounds like when Dukes lie

Oscar Wilde’s twice stolen ring found again


This video says about itself:

Friday, November 15, 2019

A golden ring once given as a present by the famed Irish writer Oscar Wilde has been recovered by a Dutch “art detective” nearly 20 years after it was stolen from Britain’s Oxford University. The friendship ring, a joint gift from Wilde to a fellow student in 1876, was taken during a burglary in 2002 at Magdalen College, where the legendary dandy studied.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

The Dutch art detective Arthur Brand has found the lost ring of the famous writer Oscar Wilde. The Irish author donated his ring in 1876 to the University of Oxford, where he studied. The ring was stolen in 2002 and had since been considered lost.

But thanks to Arthur Brand, the ring has surfaced again and will soon return to Oxford. “I have to admit that I did wear it for a while with pride,” says Brand. The art detective is a big fan of the writer. When he searched for something about Wilde seven years ago, he came across the story of the stolen ring. That is how a long search began.

The ring was stolen in 2002 by a university cleaner. He was looking for evidence that his wife, who also worked at the university, was having an affair. He did not find that proof, but he did find the ring and he took it. The man was sentenced, but the ring remained lost: he claimed he had it melted down.

“I didn’t believe that. Most thieves say something like that, so they don’t have to betray to whom they’ve sold something,” says Brand. The art detective was convinced that the ring still had to be somewhere. “I have quite a few contacts in England so I started asking around, but unfortunately nothing came out.”

Senior citizen robbery in 2015

In 2015, a group of mostly elderly men broke into a locker business in the London jewellery district of Hatton Garden. They stole jewellery for 20 million euros. The theft is seen as the biggest robbery in British history. “Soon after, rumors arose in the criminal underworld that things had been found that had been stolen before. Eg, it was said that there was a Victorian ring with a Russian text,” says Brand.

Brand actually already knew that it had to be Oscar Wilde’s ring, because the description almost corresponded exactly with what the ring looked like. “Only there is no Russian on Wilde’s ring, but a Greek text. The criminals couldn’t tell apart Russian and Greek and they didn’t know it was the famous writer’s ring. The ring was therefore stolen twice.”

Through various intermediaries, the art detective finally managed to find the person who owned the ring. “By now, almost all of London was looking for the ring, because Oscar Wilde is so famous that even criminals knew who he was.”

The person who had it was shocked when he heard that it was Oscar Wilde’s ring. “He or she, because I don’t know who it was, would probably have bought that ring as an ordinary Victorian ring. For perhaps a few hundred pounds. If they had known at that time that it was Wilde’s ring, that price would have been sky high.”

It still had to be checked whether the ring was ‘real’. Then Brand finally got hold of the ring. He couldn’t resist wearing the ring for a while. “I certainly put it on my finger a couple of times. I don’t normally wear jewellery and it is not my style at all. Wilde was, of course, the prototype of a dandy so that ring is a bit over the top. But I think he would really like it if he knew that a big fan had worn his ring.”

The ring is now in a safe place in England and on Wednesday, December 4 he will be presented with a ceremony at the University of Oxford, the rightful owner. “I miss it a bit. You got a kind of bond with it”, says Brand.

It is not the first time that Arthur Brand has been able to find a great art treasure.

Earlier, Mr Brand discovered that the theft of 17th-century paintings and silverware from the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, the Netherlands, had been done by the secret police of Ukraine, jointly with the neofascist Svoboda party.

Irish revolutionary Constance Markievicz, new theatre play


This December 2018 video says about itself:

Constance Markievicz. 100 Years

Constance Markievicz was the first woman elected to the British Parliament in 1918. As an Irish Republican she would never take her seat there. Instead, her party Sinn Féin elected to form their own government in Dublin on 21st January 1919, commonly known as the First Dáil. Constance was born into a well off family. She sacrificed her wealth, including selling off her possessions, to help the poor of Dublin and to support the revolution taking place there against the British Empire.

By Gavin O’Toole:

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Theatre Review: Antidote to imperial amnesia

GAVIN O’TOOLE sees a timely reminder of the life of Constance Markievicz, titan of revolutionary history and female equality

Rebels and Friends
Touring

THE PROBLEM, observed Oscar Wilde, is that the English can’t remember history, while the Irish can’t forget it.

There is a reason for this, of course, residing in the collective trauma suffered by the Irish during 500 years of colonial oppression that eventually tore the island asunder.

But Wilde’s refrain could have been written about Constance Markievicz, who is largely overlooked in Britain yet revered in Ireland.

Her role, as an awkward reminder of Britain’s imperial past, undoubtedly helps to explain her relative invisibility during the centenary commemorations of the suffrage movement in this country last year as the first woman to win a parliamentary election.

Fortunately, Jacqueline Mulhallen’s play Rebels and Friends comes with superb timing, given how Brexit reminds us how little England remembers about the border it manufactured in Ireland.

It subtly explores the many contrasts that defined Markievicz’s life and that of her equally remarkable sister, Eva Gore-Booth.

Eva was a pacifist but “Con” — an artist who married a Polish count — was a revolutionary spared the firing squad for her commanding role in the [1916] Easter Rising.

She was the the first woman elected to Britain’s Parliament and the Dail’s first labour minister, while Eva was a suffragette and trade union activist in England, a poet who formed a committed relationship with another woman.

Originally performed in 1989 and revived for a new tour in Britain with the support of the Irish government and – to its credit – Arts Council England, Rebels and Friends is a thoughtful exploration of one of the 20th century’s great sibling relationships.

Mulhallen tells the sisters’ story in this two-woman show through letters they exchanged during Markievicz’s spells in British jails and there’s an explosive sibling chemistry between Dolores Devaujany as Con and Marianne March as Eva, well choreographed by Sian Williams.

They’re expertly directed by William Alderson, who magically creates an entire era without props.

Tours until November 25, details: lynxtheatreandpoetry.org.