Alice B. Toklas – an American in Paris

The Star Tribune has an interesting little write up of a new book on Americans in Paris who went on to popularise French cooking in the United States. Six authors are discussed, including Alice B. Toklas:

There is Alice B. Toklas — bereft at the loss of her twin soul and lifetime partner, Gertrude Stein — living penniless among kerosene fumes in a Paris flat, surrounded by priceless Picassos, but unable, for personal and estate-related reasons, to sell them. In order to pay some bills, she writes “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook,” the first cookbook-memoir, a gentle, idiosyncratic celebration of cooking and of life with her great love.

You can find out more about The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook here.

“A classic work of popular history” – The Strange Death of Liberal England

We were delighted to see Counterfire’s review of George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England – a book that seems never to lose its relevance…

“What does a crisis of the existing political order look like? What causes such a crisis, and how can it be resolved? In a period like our own, George Dangerfield’s re-issued book on the turbulence and drama of pre-World-War-One Britain is well worth revisiting. It’s a classic work of popular history, first published in 1935, that documents the beginning of the disintegration of a long-established political and social order….”

Read the full review here.

Remembering Chenjerai Hove

Two years ago today, poet, novelist, and essayist Chenjerai Hove passed away in Stavanger, Norway. One of Zimbabwe’s leading writers, Hove was born in 1956 in what was then the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. His novels include Bones, which won the 1989 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. The author of four collections of poetry, including Rainbows in the Dust and Blind Moon, he  also wrote many essays on politics and life in Zimbabwe and a number of radio plays. A strong critic of Robert Mugabe’s regime, he was a founder member of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association and president of the Zimbabwe Writers Union between 1984 and 1992.  Hove was living in exile at the time of his death as a fellow at the House of Culture in Stavanger, as part of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN).

Serif were proud to be the publishers of Hove’s Shebeen Tales: Messages from Harareand to mark Chenjerai Hove’s death we’re offering this short extract from the book, in which he reflects on Zimbabwe’s “masked democracy” under Mugabe.
Continue reading “Remembering Chenjerai Hove”

In Search of Lorca

In 1949, Gerald Brenan returned to Spain for the first time since the Spanish Civil War. Determined to see what had become of the country he loved, on his travels in Andalusia he searched for the grave of his friend, the great poet and playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca. Below is an extract from Brenan’s The Face of Spain that finds Brenan searching for Lorca’s grave in the El Albayzín district of Granada…

Yes, this was the Albaicín as it used to be – yet why did it seem
so changed, so different? As I sat listening to the cock-crows, the
answer came to me. This was a city that had killed its poet. And all
at once the idea entered my mind that I would visit, if I could find
it, García Lorca’s grave and lay a wreath of flowers upon it.
Continue reading “In Search of Lorca”

World Orders in Decline – then and now

With the election of Donald Trump, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the rise of populist movements across Europe, and the increasing assertiveness of Russian foreign policy there has been much talk about the possible end of globalisation and a return to great power rivalry. In this extract from The Strange Death of Liberal England, George Dangerfield recounts the beginnings of The Great Labour Unrest of 1910-1914 in a world where (rather like ours) a hegemonic power was in decline, wages for many were stagnating or declining, and wealth was concentrating in fewer and fewer hands…







The date of the Unrest’s beginning is, by general agreement, January 1910; and the most obvious cause of it was the continued drop in real wages . . .

Back in 1890, with the opening of new fields in South Africa, the world’s stock of gold began to increase at an alarming rate; by 1909 it had been swollen by a quantity very considerably greater than the total amount of bullion and coin previously existing in Europe, America and the Colonies, a quantity more than half as much as the world’s total previous stock in all forms. The mysterious metallic tide, flowing into England year by year, trickled into even the poorest houses; but – such was its nature – the shape it took there was scarcely an aureate one. It became a halfpenny more on the pound of tea, or three-pence more on a pair of boots; it became a general price rise. By 1910 the purchasing power of the pound, steadily declining, had shrunk to 16 shillings and 11 pence.

This was the effect of cheap gold upon the workers of England, and it was an unavoidable effect. But there should have been a compensation. For an increase in prices means an increase in productivity, and an increase in productivity means an increase in wages. Yet wages, though they had risen a little, had not risen in proportion; in 1910 the English worker was a poorer man than he was in 1900. What was the reason for this? Were businessmen, filled with a joyful confidence, investing too much of the nation’s resources in worthless undertakings? Were they growing careless? Were weak men remaining in the field, who, in less prosperous times, would have sold their concerns to more ruthless competitors? Any one of these reasons would have resulted in a lessened productivity and a consequent fall in real wages.

Or was capital discovering more attractive fields for investment than the field of British industry? The Boer War and the Russo–Japanese War had absorbed their share, and more than their share, of the national resources; and by 1910 one and a half billions of private capital were sunk in North and South America, and perhaps two billions were profitably scattered to the foreign ends of the earth. Was there consequently less capital available to co-operate with labour in the home field?

These questions lead us deeper into the sad mazes of the investing mind, which at each turn becomes more careless, more greedy, more vindictive and more feeble. The rate of return to capital was visibly increasing, but where was that capital invested? What uncouth toilers, in what remote corners of the world, sweated and starved to bring to some comfortable little householder in Upper Tooting his pleasant five per cent? The comfortable little householder probably asked this – not of his conscience, however, but of his prospectus and balance sheet, which always returned the most reassuring answers. And, besides, what else could he do with his savings? They were not his to control. The independent small entrepreneur – that dream of Liberal economics – had vanished from the earth; the great illusion of the middle classes was over; wealth was in the grip of other and fewer and more formidable hands.

Indeed, that tide of gold, rolling up out of South Africa, had deposited in the boardrooms and drawing-rooms and palaces of England a preposterous and powerful flotsam, which, arriving casually like seaweed, established itself with the instinctive adroitness of a barnacle. The new financier, the new plutocrat, had little of that sense of responsibility which once had sanctioned the power of England’s landed classes. He was a purely international figure, or so it seemed, and money was his language, like a loud and glittering Esperanto; it was a language, moreover, which England’s upper classes seemed unable to resist. Where did the money come from? Nobody seemed to care. It was there to be spent, and to be spent in the most ostentatious manner possible; for its new masters set the fashion and the fashion they set was not likely to be a reticent one. Society in the last pre-war years grew wildly plutocratic; the middle classes became more complacent and dependent; only the workers seemed to be deprived of their share in prosperity.

The picture is hardly a pleasant one, yet it has to be rendered even more unpleasant by the added colours of fear. The British industrialist was definitely afraid. The infinite interacting veins of credit, which seemed to knit the world up into one vast organism, gave a specious promise of peace and co-operation; a radiant promise. And the world’s financial map, studded with the inevitable concentrations of capital, was radiant indeed; but it was the radiance of acne. It was a creeping disease, and the first of its victims was British industrial supremacy. Already inhuman hostilities had been proclaimed; foreign tariffs, foreign bounties, the restrictive commercial policies of foreign governments. The old world-empire of Free Trade had long since tottered to its fall. American Trusts and German Kartellen controlling their own home markets were dumping their products in non-protected countries; and though the influence of this was hardly yet felt in England, the very existence of such tactics bred a secret terror. Wherever the English industrialist looked, he could not escape the presence of America and Germany. Technical inventions were now their speciality; they were admirably organized; they had discovered within their borders vast resources of iron, coal and oil. In ’95, England was the leading coal-producing country; now she was far behind the USA, and only just ahead of Germany: in the relative production of iron-ore, pig-iron and steel she was an ignoble third. Where was it all to end?

True, in her exports of domestic produce she still led the world, but by an uncomfortably narrow margin, which dwindled every year. And she still had almost a monopoly of the world’s sea-borne trade. Almost, but not quite. Japanese shipping, leaving its particular hunting ground in the China Sea and the Pacific Islands, was creeping across to the Pacific coasts of South America, and even supplying parts of the Indian Ocean. Germany was becoming a menace. Even America, no longer content with her modest coal exports to Cuba and Mexico, was making shipments to Mediterranean and South American ports. Scarcely had the thunders of Gettysburg and Sedan died away than this new and more sinister warfare declared itself, whispering at last into the farthest corners of the seven seas. Its first effects upon England had been the depressions of ’75 and ’84; and now – and now – why were economists prophesying another depression, perhaps in 1916? Well, there was no use thinking about it; times were unusually prosperous, England was still the leading industrial nation. But steadily and irresistibly the fear grew…

Read more about The Strange Death of Liberal England here.

Lorca — Voyage to the Heartland

Published back in September, we were pleased to see author Nicolas Lalaguna’s review of Lorca’s Sketches of Spain in The Morning Star:

“Sketches of Spain lets you bear witness to the 18-year-old folk musician Lorca discovering the poet inside. In his prologue he tells us that every book is a garden and how “lucky the man who can plant it out and blessed the man who cuts its roses and feeds his soul.” He begs the reader to look beyond the set horizons, to dream and “experience in myriad shades” the garden he is planting out before us.

For many this book will be an ongoing source of wonder and insight into the development of a beautiful mind.

For those who don’t have the opportunity to read Lorca in his own language, trust in Bush’s unpretentious and welcoming translation not to sully the melodic metaphors, along with Bell’s illustrations which act as a visual echo of the world the musician describes.

Sketches of Spain is a welcome addition to any library, doubly so for those who wish to see Spain’s past and all of our future a little differently.”

Full review here.

The Strange Death of… Everything

Not a week goes by it seems without an article or a book being published that adapts the title of George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England. Examples abound – from the obvious such as The Strange Death of Tory England and The Strange Death of Liberal America to more obscure examples such as The Strange Demise of British Canada and The Strange Death of Social-democratic Sweden. Indeed the latest edition of the London Review of Books promises an article entitled ‘The Strange Death of Municipal England’.

Yet it’s not simply the title of George Dangerfield’s classic work that retains its relevance. In an era where all political certainties seem questionable and where the dominance of traditional political parties across Europe seems to be breaking down, now is the perfect time to revisit Dangerfield’s chronicle of the collapse of the Liberal party in the face of radical popular movements and resistance in Britain’s colonies. As investigative journalist Paul Foot wrote back in 1997:

“There are, of course, many history books about this period… even after 61 years, however, George Dangerfield’s book is supreme.”

We are inclined to think that the same is true now, more than 80 years since The Strange Death of Liberal England was first published.