Thursday, 9 May 2013

How the NCCL lobbied for Paedophiles!

Athough many of the early novels of the English writer Evelyn Waugh, are  exquisitely funny, many people have also found them rude and in bad taste. Had he been writing today, it is doubtful whether a modern-day publisher would  have printed some of his works because of their overtly racist nature. Even in his own day, Waugh was considered a risk in certain quarters. When he offered his first novel 'Decline and Fall' to the publishers 'Duckworth', they rejected it on the grounds of 'indelicacy'. The book was eventually published in 1928, by 'Chapman and Hall' whose Managing Director,  Arthur Waugh, was the author's father.

Although in the first edition of the novel, Waugh wrote: "Please bear in mind throughout that IT IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY", anyone who has read 'Decline and Fall', would have no difficulty in recognising why some people considered this book 'indelicate' at the time of its publication. The novel is replete with such terms as 'nigger', 'chink', and makes rather unflattering remarks and observations about the Welsh. Take this, as an example:

"I think it's an insult bringing niggers here" said Mrs Clutterbuck, "It's an insult to our own women."

"Niggers are all right" said Philbrick, "where I draw the line is a Chink, nasty inhuman things. I had a pal bumped off by a Chink once. Throat cut horrible, it was, from ear to ear."

"Good gracious!" said Mrs Clutterbuck the governess. "Was that in the Boxer rising"?

"No", said Philbrick cheerfully. "Saturday night in the Edgware Road. Might have happened to any of us."

In the early novels, this sort of racism coupled with anti-Semitism, is fairly typical stuff from the pen of the author of Brideshead Revisited. But what some people find particularly objectionable about 'Decline and Fall', are the themes of 'pederasty' and 'prostitution' and the way in which, Waugh deals with these issues, throughout the novel. Although the writer, Christopher Hitchens, consider the novel " a miniature masterpiece", in an essay that he wrote on Waugh,  he said of the novel:

"I remember being quite astounded when I was first introduced to the novel at the age of twelve, by a boarding-school master who later had to be hastily taken away."

The novel tells the story of Paul Pennyfeather, a theological student and 'innocent abroad', who is sent down from Oxford for indecent behaviour, when he's found without his trousers in the quad of Scone College after being debagged by members of the 'Bollinger Club'. Disinherited by his guardian, Pennyfeather is forced to look for work as a school teacher. He's interviewed by Mr. Levy, of the Church and Gargoyle scholastic agents, who says to him:

"Sent down for indecent behaviour eh? Well, I don't think we'll say anything about that. In fact officially, mind, you haven't told me. We call that sort of thing 'Education discontinued for personal reasons'."

At Llanabba Castle school in Wales, Paul is interviewed by Dr. Fagin, who says to him: "I understand, too, that you left university rather suddenly. Now, why was that?" Paul replies: "I was sent down, Sir, for indecent behaviour." "Indeed, indeed?" replies Dr. Fagin. "Well, I shall not ask for details. I have been in the scholastic profession long enough to know that nobody enters it unless he has some good reason which he is anxious to conceal. But again to be practical Mr. Pennyfeather, I can hardly pay £120 to anyone who has been sent down for indecent behaviour. Suppose we fix your salary at £90 a year to begin with."

A character in the novel, Captain Grimes, is a one legged tutor at the school, who is also a pederast and a drunk. In his diaries, Waugh says that Grime's 'monotonously pederastic' prototype, was one William R.B. Young - 'Dick Young', a tutor who worked with Waugh. In the diaries, Waugh explains that Young had been "expelled from Wellington, sent down from Oxford and forced to resign his commission in the army. He had left four schools precipitately, three in the middle of the term through being taken in sodomy and one through his being drunk six nights in succession. And yet he goes on getting better and better jobs without difficulty."

Nowadays, people might find it quite astonishing that the subject of child sex abuse could be treated so lightly and humorously by an English novelist writing in the late 1920s or that a pederastic teacher, could move from one job after another, after being dismissed for sexual abuse. Yet social attitudes and perceptions do change over time and many people reading the novel for the first time, may not have batted an eyelid about the racism or the awful underlying themes of pederasty and prostitution. Certainly, racism was commonplace at the time and both the novelist Graham Greene and John Buchan, have been accused of anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the physical or sexual abuse of children can never be justified no matter how long ago it took place, on the grounds of historical relativism, or that it furthers some discourse on sexual liberation.

Yet at a time when the police are conducting the Jimmy Savile inquiry and there are investigations taking place into child sex abuse in children's homes throughout the country, it may seem shocking that as recently as 1976, the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), now known as Liberty, petitioned Parliament's criminal law revision committee and argued for incest to be decriminalised and that sexually explicit photographs of children, should be legal unless it could be shown that the subject had suffered harm. Harriet Harman (pictured), the then legal officer of the NCCL (and now Deputy Leader of the Labour Party), argued that it would "increase censorship".  In their petition the NCCL stated that the 'Protection of Children Bill', would lead to "damaging and absurd prosecutions" and stated:

"Childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in with an adult, result in no identifiable damage...The real need is a change in attitude which assumes that all cases of paedophilia result in lasting damage."

At the time the NCCL made its petition to Parliament that "caused barely a ripple", both the 'Paedophile Information Exchange'(PIE), and the 'Paedophile Action for Liberation' (PAL), were active members of the NCCL. In the 1970s, when there were campaigns around the theme of 'sexual liberation', both organisations campaigned to have 'paedophilia' (defined as a person who has a primary or exclusive sexual interest in pre-pubescent children) classified as a sexual orientation in much the same way as homosexuality is accepted today. Yet, many professionals working within the field of child protection, regard paedophilia as acquired behaviour rather than innate behaviour - something which is learned and can be unlearned. Chris Wilson, of 'Circles UK', who works with released offenders, is dismissive of the idea that paedophilia is a sexual orientation: In a Guardian article about paedophilia, which was published earlier this year, he told the newspaper:

"The roots of desire for sex with a child lie in dysfunctional psychological issues to do with power, control, anger, emotional loneliness, isolation."

Although there are considerable differences of opinion regarding clinical definitions of paedophilia or what causes it,  The 'American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders', classifies it as "a sexual deviation, a sociopathic condition and a non-psychotic mental disorder." However, sociological studies that have looked at paedophilia, do suggest that not all paedophiles are child molesters and vice versa and that not all paedophiles, act on their impulses. Likewise, many people who do sexually abuse children are not exclusively or primarily sexually attracted to them. It is also known that the vast majority of sexual violence, is committed by people known to the victim.

Sarah Goode, who has written two major sociological studies on paedophilia, says that "1-in-5 adult men are, to some degree, capable of being sexually aroused by children." She also adds: "Even less is known about female paedophiles, thought to be responsible for maybe 5% of abuse against pre-pubescent children in the UK."


P.V.E. Wood said...

How silly. Decline and Fall is not racist at all. The words chink and nigger do not make it racist. The people using them are being laughed at. Nor, had it been racist, would this have stopped it being published - the indelicacy was the references to sex especially to the stationmaster pimping his sister. PveW

Agatha Runcible said...

Oh, how deluded you are! If you don't think the words chink and nigger are racist, I wonder what you would find racist. The station master pimping his sister, is the least offensive thing about this book, even if Duckworth's found otherwise.

Let's face it, Waugh was a good writer but he was also a racist and a conservative by instinct. He disliked Jews as is clear from his novels, celebrated Mussolini's conquest of Abyssinia, defended Franco's invasion of Spain as a stand for tradition and property, and admired the Croation fascist Ante Pavic, during his wartime stint in the Bakans. Orwell, identified 'snobbery' and 'Catholicism' as Waugh's driving forces.

P.V.E. Wood said...

Waugh's characters use the words chink and nigger. By the way is chink very offensive? I said it had it been racist no-one would have minded in that age but they did mind about the pimping. A happier era in some respects. Waugh was certainly a conservative by instinct but is this bad? And a snob and an admirer or Mussolini before the war. So what? Most Catholics backed Franco who was better than the Communists with whom Orwell fought. Reading Waugh in Abyssinia it is hard not to think that italian fascist rule was not better in many respects than how things went under Haile Selassie but we have moved far from the silly subject of racis. Yes Waugh often criticises some jews but I am not aware that he was an anti-semite on principle - but he was a snob. Remote Places has some wonderful pro-colonial sentiments and is very critical of Indians.

bammy said...

Relativist attitudes to race and sex are also demonstated in George Orwell's work. Peter Davidson in his 'A Note on the Text' which is published in the 1989 edition of the Penguin Modern Classics' version of Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' writes that 'partly for social reasons: for instance, the American text changed "thick negroid" (page 88, line 10) to "protuberant".' In that part of the book Winston is describing the features of Rutherford who had 'once been a famous caricaturist' but who had by 1984 fallen foul of the authorities. Elsewhere in his 'Note', Davidson writes that Orwell's agent Leonard Moore wrote to Orwell that the 'Argentine publishers wanted cuts made of some 140 lines because "the Spanish language is cruder than the English" and the authorities might be induced to ban "Nineteen Eighty-Four" on "some quite irrelevant point of morality".'

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow 6 June we will be remembering the men who in 1944 were asked to risk their lives to free the world of the Nazis. I have little doubt that by our present day standards the overwhelming majority of these men would be regarded as racist, sexist and homophobic.

I have no idea what those men were thinking as they sat in their landing craft waiting to hit the beaches. But I am confident that none of them thought they were being asked to fight to bring about a world in which we are all expected to self censor on the off chance that someone might be offended by what we say and write.

Harriet would wants us to be sacked if we don't.