August 24, 2021

SUCH, SUCH WERE THE GOYS: Xenophobic 1920s novels inspired my lifelong love of literature; they should not be cancelled.

“The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to find him […] A little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just now.”

— John Buchan, The 39 Steps (1915)

Relax: this is not a piece about antisemitism. Nor, though it certainly qualifies, is it plucked from yesterday’s Twitter. It is about one Jew, myself, aged around 12 (1960) and his encounter, life-saving in the context, with the popular literature of the British 1920s and 30s in a prep school library deep in the Lincolnshire fens. And, in a world of “woke” (that doubtless misapplied but convenient shorthand) and its appetite for a censorship that those of us born in the late ’40s would try hard to overturn, the question of just how much such juvenile readingapproved by the new censors or otherwisematters.

The school was named for the local saint, “little Saint Hugh” by rote and the source of one of the riper blood libels. Let’s put it this way: there’s the school song; give me a word that rhymes with Hugh. Yes, exactly. Let us say I was … surprised.

Read the whole thing.

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