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Lady Chatterley's Defendant

Lady Chatterley's Defendant & Other Awkward Customers by Horatio Morpurgo - Just Press ( (2011) £8.00

Having recently reviewed for Tribune, Paul Goodman - A Reader, I remarked on what a revelation Goodman's writings were, having been ignorant of him up to that point. I resolved to delve further but, as so often happens, I got caught up in other things - until I came across Horatio Morpurgo's first collection of essays. Published by the independent Just Press it includes an essay on Goodman, entitled Unblocking the Future. It opens with a focus on a key incident in Goodman's first novel - The Grand Piano (1942) - in which the main character cycles through Harlem, intending to ride alongside the Hudson River. Yet the boy finds himself unwillingly carried along in a stream of traffic on a road network not designed for kids, or anyone else on bikes. The boy, another Horatio, finally swerves off the road in order to escape being carried along even further, and in doing so, causes a collision between the vehicles behind. This terrifying fictional episode foretells Goodman's own theoretical writings about urban space and how it was fast becoming pedestrian-unfriendly. Goodman later explored what this meant to urban citizens - physiologically, psychologically, politically. The title of the essay, whilst apt for the cycling boy's predicament as he has become 'road-blocked' into the future, refers also to Goodman's role in the founding of Gestalt therapy. In this the Gestalt practitioner does not view the 'patient' as an isolated case but, as synonymous with the boy on the bike, one in a complex relationship with her environment.

Morpurgo has cast his net far and wide in these essays, which also cover Samuel Butler, or the Art of being funny about Religion. Here the author reminds us of the young Orwell's immersion into Butler's writings, and who Orwell credited as a major influence. Morpurgo highlights the fact that previous biographical works on Orwell overlook this - the most recent being Christopher Hitchens. It is logical, then, for Morpurgo to compare today's New Atheists - Hitchens being a key member of this group - with Butler's own approach to atheism, which he asserts rests in the camp of humour.

The last essay shouts contemporaneity as it recalls the author's own view - and presence - at the student fees demonstration in November 2010, whilst he was at UCL. On the day in question the BBC economist Paul Mason turned up at the students 'war room' to interview the activists. Mason quickly eyed a battered copy of Edmund Wilson's book on European socialist thought, To The Finland Station, and proceeded to 'flick fondly through its yellowing pages', clearly disappointed when the book's owner - a history student - admitted he hadn't yet read it. The reply elicited a flash of disappointment across Mason's face because he had been denied the opportunity of a good old chinwag. The reader is taken on a journey through that day's march, in which Morpurgo naturally links into Goodman's role in the 1960s US student movement.

This is a compelling collection of essays from a highly intelligent writer who demonstrates the interconnectedness of his subjects - and the contexts in which they lived - the then and the now.

It seems perverse to begin a review with the last essay of the collection, and then end it with its first - The Lady Chatterley's Defendant, from which the book gets its title. However, it is here the readers stops for a second as we learn that the author's grandfather was the Penguin founder, Allen Lane. We are given an intriguing snapshot of the Penguin pioneer, a man who apparently knew less Greek than his chauffeur. Morpurgo also revises the romanticised notion that Penguin paperbacks was anything like the reading revolution amongst the working-classes that many believe. I was, however, surprised to learn that - whilst Allen was no socialist ideologue - one who was, George Bernard Shaw, gave enthusiastic input into the enterprise. Shaw helped Penguin find the direction for which it would become known. Shaw's Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism was the first book commissioned by Penguin.

Despite Allen's alleged intellectual deficit, which was given over instead to commercial acumen, it can only be concluded that his grandson has certainly redressed the balance. This is a compelling collection that holds an intriguing dialogue between the eras.


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