May 2010


When Rudd was just six, his beloved father and mother abandoned him and his four year old sister, Trix,  in a boarding house in Southsea and went to India.

Trix later described it thus; ‘I think the real tragedy of those early days sprang from our inability to understand why our parents had deserted us.  We had no preparations or explanations; it was like a double death or rather an avalanche that swept away everything that was happy and familiar.  This incomprehensible act of cruelty could never be forgotten.’ 

Life in the boarding house was mean.  Rudd was accused by the landlady and her bullying son of cheating and forced to walk through the streets of Southsea with a placard on his back bearing one word, ‘Liar!’ 

‘When young lips’, Kipling wrote at the end of this life, ‘have drunk deep of the bitter nature of hate, suspicion and despair, all the love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge.’

When after six years, his mother finally arrived unannounced to the boarding house in Southsea, Rudd was in bed.  As she bent to kiss him, he held up his arms to ward off the expected blow from the adored mother who had hurt him so deeply. 

So an emotional vacuum dominated Rudyard Kipling’s life and was most likely the fount of his creativity.  Art always represents the artist’s life.  It carries the hope, the meaning and the pain of it all.  Rudyard Kipling never got over his parents abandonment.  It features in all his work; Mowgli, the jungle boy, abandoned and brought up rough by the wolf pack;  Kim, running crafty in the streets of Lahore, carrying secret messages, needing to be needed.  It explains his preoccupations with India, the family of soldiers, and his need for a refuge and a protector.   

Kipling lived just seven years in India.  He served as a reporter first for The Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore and The Pioneer in Allahabad.  He met Carrie when he returned from India; she worked for a publisher.  They married and went to live in Vermont, where their girls, Josephine and Emily, were born.  But there were family problems with Carrie’s brother, Beatty. They returned and lived in Rottingdean for a time; Jack was born there.   But on a voyage back to America to see his publishers, Kipling and 7 year old Josephine caught a chill.  Carrie’s hands were more than full with Rudd’s illness that she could not properly attend to Josephine.  So, in a decision that at this remove seems scarcely intelligible, she took her daughter even at the height of her fever, 21 blocks across Manhattan to the house of a family friend on the lower East Side.  As Adam Nicolson comments, ‘this was a moment of conscious agony to stand out from the average.’   Josephine died.  Carrie and Rudd never quite recovered from that; they just lived on with the pain.    

Kipling bought Batemans in 1902.  It is, a substantial manor house, set in a damp secluded valley near Burwash in West Sussex.  He stayed there until he died 34 years later.  It was his refuge.  His reputation for being rather anti-social after his son Jack was reported missing in action in Loos in 1915, was probably misplaced.  A look at his guest list indicated that they always seemed to have house guests.  These included his cousin Stanley Baldwin, T.E. Lawrence, Rider Haggard, the Shaws and many others. 

If Batemans was Kipling’s refuge, Carrie was his watchdog.  That was probably why was regarded as the hated wife.  She could be stern, domineering and controlling, and was seen as a bounty hunter, who married Kipling for his prospects, a ruthless employer, a cold mother and later a drudge and a moan.  In his small book, entitled ‘The Hated Wife’, Adam Nicolson suggests that Kipling was nothing like the image portrayed in If.  He could be charming and impish, genial and compassionate, joshing his way through life and quite content to leave Carrie to take responsibility and avoided conflict.  Carrie was a very capable, masculine woman in a pioneering American mould; she was born to carry the burden.  When she was young, she had to cope with her father’s fecklessness and early death, her brother Beatty’s naughtiness, Wolcott’s dictatorship, and her sister, Josphine’s  delicacy.  She was always the capable one. Even when Rudd and Josephine were so ill,  Carrie maintained a business correspondence.  It was what kept her going, but in the end it  wore her out.  She put on weight, developed arthritis and became depressed and poured out her feelings in her diary, the sump for her despair.  Her dour, rigid, manner was a means to survival.  She was the buffer between Rudd and the rest of the world.  She was devoted to him, not out of some great affection – she felt abandoned by the more sociable Rudd.  No, her devotion was a matter of survival. She had to keep the house, the servants and Kipling’s affairs together because if she didn’t, she would fall apart herself.    

Nicolson exposes the detachment at the heart of the Kipling marriage.  Carrie provided the backbone that her husband preached but privately lacked.  But she was not the bullying harridan intent on controlling her genius husband, but more a lonely survivor in the face of a serial family tragedy. 

Kipling’s reputation took a plunge from which it never quite recovered after being awarded the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature. Oscar Wilde, perhaps the greatest ever exponent of the devastating put down, called him ‘our best authority on the second rate’.   Nevertheless, a hundred years later, If is the nation’s favourite poem,  Kim one of the best novels ever written about India.  The Jungle Book is still one of the best loved childrens books, has been made into a one of the most popular Disney films, and  Akela and Bagheera are enshrined as the names of troop leaders in Baden Powell’s Wolf Cubs.  He may not have been the greatest, but he has lasted.

 

Adam Nicolson wrote an excellent booklet on Bateman’s for The National Trust and is the author of The Hated Wife, published by Short Books in 2001.

Emily, Kipling’s one surviving daughter spent a year restoring Batemans to how it was when Rudyard and Carrie lived there and then sold it to the National Trust in 1939

‘If’ was inspired by Dr Jameson, who led the Jameson raid to capture the South African President, Kruger.

The film, My Son Jack, starred David Haig, Carey Mulligan and Daniel Radcliffe and first appeared on ITV in 2007.

‘Have you news of my boy Jack?’
Not this tide.
When d’you think that he’ll come back?’
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

‘Has any one else had word of him?’
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

‘Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?’
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind –
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

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Dimbola Lodge, home of Mrs Julia Margaret Cameron, lies just a mile from Freshwater Bay at the foot of the chalk ridge that rises high above the sea and extends all the way to the Needles.  Alfred, Lord  Tennyson, the poet laureate, who lived just down the road at Farringford, was her neighbour; their estates were connected by a private gateway. 

The Tennysons had moved to Farringford Lodge to escape the attentions of celebrity, but people followed him there.  It became a place of pilgrimage.  Tennyson affected not to enjoy the attention he attracted; he even had a bridge build over the road so he could walk up onto his beloved High Down without being seen.  But he disliked the lack of attention more. Bad reviews would cause him to fret for weeks, so much so that Emily, his wife, took pains to hide bad reviews from him, and Julia even wrote good reviews which were published anonymously.  It was largely due to the eccentric energy of Mrs Cameron that there was a constant stream of visitors (pilgrims) to her Tennysonian  salon, where guests feasted on Indian cuisine and erudite conversation with the laureate.  West Wight attracted the luminaries of the day including  Charles Darwin, the repressed pre-Raphaelite painter GF Watts and his child bride, the actress Ellen Terry,  Elizabeth Barrett Browning,  The Reverend Dodgson (Lewis Carroll,  who had a thing about little girls), the astronomer John Herschel, Thackeray, Charles Kingsley, George du Maurier, Edward Lear, Anthony Trollope, Henry Longfellow.  Julia even got Alfred to send an invitation to John Ruskin but received this dusty reply,  ‘Thank you, you’ve got nothing there but chalk and sand.’   Ruskin was not a man to indulge in frivolity and humour          

 Julia was in love with Alfred,  but he was faintly amused by her ardour, which he regarded as quite understandable though he thought her photographs made him look like a dirty monk.  She arrived at Dimbole Lodge shortly after the Tennysons and stayed on when her husband, who was much older than her returned to India.  Julia was a woman of great impulses and enthusiasms.  She came from a large family with connections in the East India Company.  The three sisters were known as Dash, Beauty and Talent.  Julia was the most clever but the least beautiful.  She was always trying to please, but never quite hit the mark.  When Alfred said he liked white roses, she had all the roses in her garden painted white, but the great man failed to call.  Spurned by Tennyson and neglected by Cameron, Julia devoted her formidable energies to the developing art of photography.  She mastered the techniques for coating glass plates with a colloid of light sensitive chemicals and would capture romantic images featuring strong bearded men, like Tennyson and Watts, striking pre-Raphaelite women and cute children.  Julia almost single handedly invented the art of photographic portraiture.  She liked the natural, not to say wild look and by skilful combination of camera angles and lighting, could emphasise the personality etched into a person’s face.  She even washed Hershel’s white hair and made it stick up to create a perpetual air of astronomical surprise.   

Tea parties at Dimbola tended towards the eccentric.   There was the brooding presence of Watts, the histrionic Terry, the strange Reverend Dodgeson and Tennyson, who was quite oblivious to everything except his own eminence.  Many a time her guests were alarmed by screams and a photographic plate would come skimming over the grass and smash against the wall.  People didn’t communicate very much and strange things tended to happen.  It seemed an ideal setting for Alice’s adventures in Wonderland.    

Now Dimbola is a local art gallery, staging frequent exhibitions as well as displaying a permanent collection of Julia’s work.  A statue of Jimi Hendrix, who died just three weeks after the 1970 Isle of Wight pop festival dominates the strip of lawn in the front of the house. I asked the man in the bookshop, a member of the local Tennyson society, what Mrs Cameron would have thought of the statue He was in no doubt. ‘Oh, if she could cope with a Victorian pop star like Tennyson with all of his antisocial and insanitary habits’, she would have had no problem with Hendrix.  She supported creativity, no matter what form it took. He would have been a welcome guest to her island salon. There would have been a clash with His Lordship the laureate though. He couldn’t tolerate rivals and he hated noise and crowds.’

It was 75 years ago today that he crashed.  Returning from camp on his motor bike, no doubt going much too fast, he didn’t see the two delivery boys over the brow of the hill until it was too late.  He swerved, lost control and hit the tree head on.  He was not wearing a crash helmet of course.  It was 1935 and anyway, that was the nature of the man. 

A simple stone dwelling, two up, two down, hidden from the road and the heath by rhododendrons,  Clouds Hill is his only personal memorial.  It represents T.E. Lawrence;  private, scholarly, a lover of music, open fires and fast motor bikes.  I like it. It is dark and cosy; a refuge, a safe place, a place of peace.  Freudians would say a womb; well sometimes a room is just a room!

Downstairs is a library, dark wood panelling, pictures, books, mementoes, a model plane, the motor torpedo boat he was helping to design, prints of Arabia, a boxy arm chair with a reading stand, a large bed, the mattress covered with light brown leather.  To the right of the door is the bathroom, the walls panelled with cork, an abundance of hot water. Lawrence loved hot water. 

Upstairs is  the music room; leather door, leather settee,  paintings; Allenby on the landing, Prince Feisal propped up against the wind up gramophone with an enormous horn.  I ask the guide if he could play it.  He does and Elgar conducts his violin concerto with Yehudi Menuhin as the soloist.  The sound is tinny and the motor runs down after a few bars.  The other upstairs room is like a cabin, the window a porthole from a ships chandlers, a bunk bed high on the chest of drawers, the walls covered with tin foil to stop condensation, cheese under glass. 

E.M.Forster stayed there, but was disturbed by the Nightjar that settled on the roof and churred all night.  He threw a stone at it and broke a slate. Lawrence never mended the slate; he liked his visitors to make their mark.      

‘Clouds’ Hill is a very masculine place’, the guide comments.  He’s right.  It’s the refuge of a private man;  a bachelor pad, a den, a place to shut the world out.  Lawrence never actually lived there; he ate and slept down at Bovington Camp.  It was more a ‘pied a terre’.  Every day at 4.30pm, he would get on his bike and drive the mile to Clouds Hill, relax, read, listen to music and write. 

Literary friends; the Hardys,  the Shaws, E.M.Forster used to visit him.  There is copy of one of GBS’ plays inscribed ‘To Private Shaw from Public Shaw’.  Private Shaw was very hospitable to his friends, but never fussy. He served tea in mugs without milk and food had to be eaten with a spoon out of tins.  There is no kitchen and the toilet is at the back of the garage where he kept his motor bike.  It was a Spartan, ascetic, hermit-like existence, but Lawrence liked the luxury of books, music and hot water.   

The Greek inscription on the lintel above the door is loosely translated as ‘Why worry?’   Lawrence of Arabia had left the anxiety of celebrity, relinquished the myth and become the very  private TE Shaw.  One guessed he was homosexual; he certainly enjoyed the simple companionship of squaddies and often invited them down to Clouds Hill, but the reality may have been that he was asexual and still deeply traumatised by his experience in Damascus.   

Clouds Hill is, for me, a place of pilgrimage.   It is not easy to find, only open a few days a week and does not  even merit a sign on the A35. I am glad.  Let the crowds pass by to the competing attractions of  Monkey World and The Tank Museum and leave Lawrence to enjoy his friends in peace.         

From Clouds Hill I drive south, turn right by the dramatic stumps of Corfe Castle and find my winding way through Church Knowle to Kimmeridge.  The ladies at St Nicholas Church ask me to stay for the Ascension Day service, but I decline. Organised religion feels too political, too intrusive to me.  So as soon as I can, I leave to find solace by the sea, where the nodding donkey still pumps up the oil from the shale beds and Reverend Richard John Clavell’s tower stands sentinel on the cliff edge. 

It was in Clavell’s Tower that Thomas Hardy courted Elizabeth Bright Nicholls. 

Sigmund Freud was born 156 years ago tonight;  Mike Brearly a hundred years later.  Freud never played cricket and regarded women as the dark continent.  Brearley led several successful test matches against teams from the Dark Continent.  Nevertheless, they were both leaders of men, though Brearley rates his tenure as President of the British Psychoanalytical Society a far more dangerous undertaking than being  England cricket captain.    

It was the night of the general election, and the topic at The Freud Museum was ‘Leadership’.   Leaving aside who might make the best Prime Minister, Brearley  took up the theme that the qualities of leadership depend as much on the leader as those being led.  People tend to get the leaders they deserve; they project their own attitudes onto the leader.  A warlike people will get a warlord as leader.  A narcissistic society will tend to get a celebrity leader.  Televised debates favour the best performers: game show hosts. 

The narcissistic leader may be able to project all the charm and charisma of leadership; he (it tends to be he) is so conscious of how he appears and well able to change his style and presentation to appeal to his audience.  Politicians are so good at this; they have to be.  They must represent a point of view, present an attitude of conviction while making it all seem so reasonable.  They must be people we can trust.  They must be actors.  But espousing a particular cause means not seeing other points of view. This type of leadership encourages splitting, defensiveness, paranoia and ultimately conflict.  It bolsters group identity in a paranoid way.  The narcissist cannot acknowledge ambivalence and weakness, must deny dependence and must project all their fears, their envy onto others. 

But a certain degree of narcissism is important in a leader.  You have to be pushy, confident, to state your point of view and get things moving.      

Situations create certain types of leader.  The aggression of Adolph Hitler needed a robust response.  Winston Churchill was there.  His life had prepared him to lead the country through the threat of invasion to victory.  Clemmie commented that it was what he was made for.  Lord Halifax may have been a much better leader in peacetime, but in war, he was seen as a ditherer, a supporter of appeasement. 

Leaders of sports teams tend to be Churchillian in nature; every match is a war, but they are not always the best.  Kevin Petersen and Ian Botham were disastrous.  Brearley was never that kind of leader.  He was not the best player in the team, but he was the most successful captain, England has ever had.  He didn’t lead by example.   He tried to get his players to work as a team, identifying their individual strengths and bringing out the best in them. He could delegate, be empathic and make his followers feel good.  Leaders are not born; they are made. Their parents instil confidence and self sufficiency, which allows them not to be fearful in the company of others . They hone their skills in the playground.  A recent study in children indicated that those who were accepted as leaders tended to act with generosity.  Brearley was in that mould.  Good leaders get others to do what they are good at.  In that way they get the best out of their team. 

But how does a leader deal with the narcissist, the prima donna who needs special attention, the propagandist who disagrees and evacuates his doubts to pollute the whole team, the sophisticated bully, who undermines with deviousness, or the manipulations of the seductress?  This is the real challenge.  Brearley never felt envious or threatened by the player who was doing well.  He was happy to follow, encourage and support, but when necessary, he could state his views quietly and firmly, without being defensive or sadistic.    The leader who struggles with roles projected onto him, who feels pulled in both directions loses power to think and risks a loss of self esteem.  Leaders must have the self confidence to protect themselves from excessive attack; they mustn’t lose too much face, otherwise the group has to replace them in order to survive. 

Gordon Brown must resign now.  Any thought that he could possibly lead a party of those who had lost the election is a serious delusion.  So who is the best person to lead the country?   I voted Clegg because I wanted to see a real collaboration in crisis, but does Cameron have the maturity to lead a coalition government?

As luck would have it,  Leadership; theory and practice was the most appropriate topic The Freud Museum could have staged on the evening  of the general election – and Mike Brearley the best discussant. 

The seventeenth century was a bad time for women.  They had no autonomy, no rights.  They were treated as the property of men; they had to obey their husbands and fathers.  Fathers would promise their daughters to men they didn’t love for political advantage. Husbands would keep their wives locked away from temptation. Lords and wealthy landowners could seize anybody they fancied whether they were married or not. Rape was commonplace; men were rarely punished for it, but for women, it was disastrous; they were ruined.  Adultery and lust were just about the worst  sins a woman could commit; the penalties could be dreadful, whereas it was taken for granted that boys would be boys.

 A woman had to be sharp to survive,  she had to be adaptable, use all her feminine wiles to exploit the susceptibilities of men.  There was a lot of pretence.  Men feared this.  Seductive women were often accused of witchcraft.  In 1620, King James issued instruction to his clergy to ‘inveigh vehemently against the insolence of our women’.   

Thomas Middleton was a contemporary of Shakespeare.  His play ‘Women Beware Women’ explored this fear of women.  So when Bianca is raped by the Duke, she quickly sees advantage in this and abandons Leantia, who allows himself to be Livia’s toy boy and is richly rewarded for it.  And Isabella quickly learns to pander to the lusts of the fool she is betrothed to while all the time continuing her passion for her uncle, Hippolyta.  And Livia pulls the strings.  It is she who convinces Isabella that she is not really related to her uncle and removes the restrictions on her passion.  It is she who invites, she invites Leantia’s mother and her daughter in law, the newly-wed Bianca to her house, where she is taken by Guardino and shown erotic sculptures before being locked in and raped by the Duke.  It is not for nothing that Leantio’s mother, playing chess,  observes that Livia is cunning at the game. She finds it exciting and is favoured by the Duke.     

Accused of lust by his brother, the Cardinal, the Duke tells Hippolyta that his sister has been dishonoured by Leantia, who must be killed, freeing Bianca for marriage.  In her grief, Livia reveals Isabella and Hippolyta’s incest.  In a grotesque masked ball to celebrate the Duke’s marriage, Isabella is raped and dies, Hippolyta is murdered.  The Duke drinks the poison meant for his brother, the Cardinal.  Bianca drains the cup and dies.   The Cardinal is the only one left standing.  Good prevails in the end and the Cardinal inherits the throne. 

 Sexual politics in the seventeenth century is more about lust and greed, compromise and corruption.  Love doesn’t come into it, but fear does; the fear of condemnation by the people and excommunication from the church.  The moral of the play is simple.  Greed and lust never work, even if you are a Duke.   Even today, those with power and money, cannot get away with everything they want.  John Terry found this out.  So did Tiger Woods. 

‘I convinced myself that normal rules did not apply.  I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted.  I felt I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me.  I felt I was entitled.  Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them’. 

Linda Davies, a former investment banker, draws parallels with the financial crisis.  The Bankers were able to exploit their investors’ greed and lust for power to create an illusory wealth and politicians, reluctant to kill the golden goose, turned a blind eye.  The result; disaster on a global scale.

Women Beware Women is currently playing at The National Theatre.  Not a must-see!   

Do writers tend to write more about themselves as they get older?  I guess they do.  Art, literature, musical composition is projection; an expression of aspects of the self.  This applies to all creative activity; the world seen through the filter of personal experience.   It tells us more about the artist than the image. 

Alan Bennett’s latest work, The Habit of Art is currently playing at The National.  The overworked metaphor of Russian Dolls comes to mind.  It is a play within a play.   It is about creating a production about the relationship between  Wystan (WH) Auden and Benjamin Britten.  Set in a rehearsal space, which has been designed to resemble Auden’s grace and favour flat at the Brewhouse in Oxford, where he lived for the last year of his life, it deals with the artifice of creating a play.  This explains and fills out a plot that never was, allowing Bennett to explore the chaos of creativity, the competing voices, the author, the absent director, the stage manager who fills in, the biographer,   the vanities and fragilities of the actors.  Bennett argues that the actors are the foot soldiers; they have to go over the top every night; it’s  important they understand their roles. So queries about the text could be put into the mouths of the actors.   It’s a clever device; too clever by half, one feels. Maybe Bennett has become unassailable.    

Actors bring their own experience to a play.  For a few, it’s a job of work, but for most, the role is  something they have involved in, to live.   Some contemporary directors, Robert Goode, for example, lets the actors determine the way the play turns out.  Art, laziness, bad habit?; one senses Bennett has sympathy with this attitude. 

 So Fitz, exasperated, asks, ‘Why is it all about dicks?  Why so little poetry?’   Maybe homosexuality still has the ability to generate tension.  But isn’t Bennett exploring his own attitudes to being gay. Doesn’t he identify with Britten, who was always somewhat reticent and ashamed of his homosexuality?   Britten was the boy who never grew up; his operas were all on the theme of innocence corrupted,  Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, even Death in Venice, but who was being corrupted, was it the Professor or the boy, or was in more a collaboration?   Isn’t there something of this in The History Boys and in the relationship between Wystan and Stuart?     

Britten’s pleaded for constraint as far as sexuality was concerned.  Maybe Bennett feels the same. He feels the abolition of censorship in the theatre takes away the tension of the plot.  

Auden was much more open and more cynical; he would pay his rent boys and was very matter of fact about what he wanted them to do.  He didn’t seem to care what people thought of him; he just wanted his poetry to be noticed.  Both Britten and Auden had lost the meaning of what they were doing; it had become a habit; the habit of art, in much the same way as their sexuality. Neither could deny their art or their nature.  Auden became a pedagogue and a bore towards the end of his life.  He tended to repeat himself.  It was said that you could never tell Wystan anything, just remind him of it.  Britten and Pears were notorious for their defensiveness, for cutting people out of their lives.  Real artists are not nice people.  All their best stuff goes into their art. 

Bennett has become a National Treasure.  People love his whimsical imaginings, his cosy reminiscences;  his diaries, ‘The Lady in the Van, ‘The Uncommon Reader’, ‘The History Boys’.  In this bitter sweet play, Bennett brings out his dark side.  For all his self deprecation, he has an acerbic wit; he can be bitchy and cutting.  There is more than a bit of Wystan in him, as well as Britten. 

The Habit of Art is currently playing at the National Theatre with Richard Griffiths as Fitz playing Auden and Alex Jennings as Henry playing Britten.

‘It’s still the same old story; a fight for love and glory; a case of do or die.’ 

It is 1885 and there’s  trouble in the Balkans – as usual!  Sergius, so ambitious for glory, leads a foolhardy cavalry charge against the Serbian machine guns.  He’s not to know that the Serbians had been issued the wrong ammunition and could not retaliate.  So his glorious charge scatters the enemy, who disperse into the countryside.   The population are advised to keep their doors and windows bolted, but Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary , shins up a drainpipe into stumbles into the bedroom of Raina, who is not only the daughter of the Bulgarian commander , Colonel Petkoff, but is also betrothed to the heroic Sergius. 

Raina is moved by Bluntschli’s fear.  She gives him chocolate creams to eat and hides him.  He falls asleep on her bed.  Raina and her mother, Catherine, then help him escape by disguising his uniform under their father’s old coat. 

A few months later,  peace breaks out and Petkoff  and Sergius return from the war.  Bluntschli, who has been promoted captain, calls to return the coat.  It’s the stuff of farce.  Petkoff and Sergius must not know their wife and fiancée concealed a deserter, but how can the return of the missing coat with Raina’s signed photograph,’ to my chocolate cream soldier’, in the pocket.  But Petkoff and Sergius are more  bluster than brain.  They welcome Bluntschi  as an honourable foe and use his practical abilities to help them organise the demobilisation of their troops and horses.  

Bluntschli is a professional.   For him, war is a job of work.  He keeps his head down, does his duty and waits for the peace.  By comparison, his erstwhile opponents appear ridiculously pompous.  Petkoff is actually scared of his troops and wants nothing more than to retire to his country house.  Sergius is a liability. He would sacrifice the safety of his troops in his desperate quest for personal glory. So much for honour! 

But what of love?   Sergius is not in love with Raina; he does not know or understand her.   Besides, he can’t keep his hands off Louka,  Raina’s wily, cynical maid, who sees the little boy inside and is more of a challenge.  Raina, meanwhile, has developed a soft spot for her chocolate cream soldier; he understands her and makes her laugh.  Even her parents are won over when they learn of his inheritance. 

In ‘Arms and the Man’, George Bernard Shaw points a satirical Irish finger at the ridiculous hypocrisy of honour and romance.  As Bluntschli explains, sensible people are frightened, they lie, they deceive, they pretend.  They may like to think themselves honourable but faced with  mortal danger, they will do all they can to stay alive.  Only the mad will sacrifice everything for love and glory.

What Shaw is writing about, in cold psychoanalytical language, is narcissism.  Sergius doesn’t love Raina;  he is merely in love with the reflection of his own image in her eyes.  The beautiful and spirited Raina makes him feel much more of a man than he knows he really is.  He lacks confidence and can only gain self esteem by exciting the admiration of others.  He lives in the regard of others.  It is his life blood.  Without it he dies.  His need is so desperate, he will risk everything, even the lives of his men, the future of his country.    

He even feels compelled  to seek regard in the cynical arms of Louka, though he knows that she will be the one to destroy him.  An overweening desire for fame and celebrity is always accompanied by a tendency to self destruct.  Think of George Best, Gary Glitter, Paul Gasgoine,  Jade Goody.     

And for Raina, the commanders daughter who cannot go to war herself, Sergius is the embodiment of her own inbred projections of bravery and honour, the only man worthy of her love;  it’s glory by proxy.   The  narcissistic love object has to be impressive; it doesn’t work otherwise.  Raina is in love with how the attentions of so brave a man can make her feel adorable, admirable, desirable, loveable; all a self centred woman could even want.       

So are we to believe that romance and glory are but the delusions of a fragile psyche,  make believe; the stories we tell ourselves in order to conceal a reality we can’t accept.    Bluntschli explains that humanity is never that wonderful or glorious,  but he’s an administrator, the son of a hotel owner.  But do we always want to be that sensible?  There’s no meaning in that and life without meaning is not worth living.  Don’t we need make believe too?   If not, what would be the point of literature, music, the visual arts?   The moments of madness, falling in love, crazy projects, bring us life and permit change.  Banish them and we become depressed and die a little more.   But contain them,  allow our healthy narcissism, our self confidence and esteem to receive nourishment  of novelty  from friends and family and who knows, we could even be happy.     

‘The world will always welcome lovers.  As time goes by.’