Learning

whistling in the dark

The author is having lunch with C. V. Wedgwood, 52, at London’s Plato’s, a “quiet Greek restaurant whose glass front looks out on Wigmore Street.”

“Women are very sensitive and self-conscious about what is said about them,” she went on. “I think the mansion of history has enough rooms to accommodate all of us. I mean many sorts of history can be illuminating—and by ‘illuminating’ I mean you can show things by the way you relate them. When I was young, I was Left Wing and intolerant, prepared to damn many books and many ways of doing things. Now that I am a little older, I can tolerate many points of view and many types of books.”

Over her moussaka, Miss Wedgwood told me that she had lived in London ever since she came down from Oxford, and had made ends meet by writing successful history books, by reviewing, by “being on every prize committee,” and by doing a lot of work for the B.B.C.

I asked her if she had ever felt the lack of a university connection and a secure income.

“I haven’t, because I really can’t teach,” she said. “Once, I did teach for a bit, and found that most of the pupils I thought were brilliant failed their examinations.” She laughed.

The waiter brought her a cup of coffee, and also a Turkish delight, which she unwrapped slowly and carefully, as though she were peeling an orange. “By temperament, I am an optimist,” she said. “But I am very gloomy about the uses and lessons of history. The whole study at times seems to me useless and futile. I give lectures now and again about the uses of history, but I always come home with a sinking feeling of whistling in the dark.”

Mehta, Ved. Fly and the Fly-Bottle: Encounters with British Intellectuals. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962. 200–201. Print.

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