Essays on Politics and Literature

By Bernard Crick | Go to book overview

Nine
Reading The Observer as a complex text

From The Political Quarterly, April 1985. The editors rejected my original title ' Deconstructing The Observer' and substituted sadly ' The Observer'. Some of the features have changed considerably since I wrote, especially the Review Section; but overall la plus change le meme chose.

'I have spent a most dismal day, first in going to church, then in reading the Sunday Times which grows duller and duller . . . then in reading through the rough draft of my novel which depresses me horribly. I really don't know which is the more stinking, the Sunday Times or the Observer. I go from one to the other like an invalid turing from side to side in bed and getting no comfort whichever way he turns.

(From a letter of Eric Blair written on a Sunday in 1932)

In the October 1984 issue of this journal, Hugo Young began this occasional series on newspapers with a most interesting inside account of the internal politics of the Sunday Times, the struggle for control between owner and editor and its changing policies. All this could be done for the Observer, indeed But I want to essay something simple but rare and difficult, to read the newspaper as a product, to read it closely and externally as an entire and selfcontained text. The proof of the pudding is in the eating -- as our mothers taught us before the colour supplements' cookery inserts: just for once to look at the thing in itself and not how it came to be, or what it should be doing. And to look at it in its entirety. Hugo Young created the impression that the Sunday Times is composed of political matter! Did he ever read the whole astonishing artefact?

My quotation from Orwell is a little self-indulgent and external to the text, but it does serve to bring out two basic structural factors. The first is that for most educated, thoughtful, lively and wellinformed people, there is only the choice of the one Sunday or the other -- or both. 1 No wonder that, hunting for the same market, the two rivals look so like each other, embodying the same kind of 'improving consensus' as the two main political parties used to do in pre-Thatcher days -- and for much the same reason. 'Like Tweedledum and Tweedledee', it was often said, which still looks

-106-

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Essays on Politics and Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vi
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Foreword ix
  • One - Literature and Politics 1
  • Two - The Political in Britain's Two National Theatres 20
  • Notes 47
  • Three - Young Writers of the Thirties 48
  • Four - Koestler's Koestler 62
  • Five - Hannah Arendt: Hedgehog or Fox? 72
  • Six - Beatrice Webb as English Diarist 78
  • Seven - Words 85
  • Notes 92
  • Eight - My LSE 93
  • Nine - Reading The Observer as a complex text 106
  • Notes 116
  • Ten - On the Difficulties of Writing Biography in? General and of Orwell's in particular 117
  • Eleven - Reading Nineteen Eighty-Four As Satire 133
  • Notes 163
  • Twelve - Animal Farm For Schools 166
  • Thirteen - Orwell and English Socialism 192
  • Notes 207
  • Fourteen - On the Orwell Trail 209
  • Notes 224
  • Fifteen - Wedekind's 'Spring Awakening' 225
  • Sixteen - Horvath's 'Tales From the Vienna Woods' 231
  • Seventeen - Pinter's 'No Man's Land' 239
  • Eighteen - Polly By Gaslight 245
  • Nineteen - David Edgar Catches Peter Jenkins' Ear at the Barbican 251
  • Twenty - Barrault at the Barbican 254
  • Index 257
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