Caute, (John) David 1936-(John Salisbury)
CAUTE, (John) David 1936-(John Salisbury)
PERSONAL: Born December 16, 1936, in Alexandria, Egypt; son of Edward (a British military officer) and Rebecca Caute; married Catherine Shuckburgh, 1961 (divorced, 1970); married Martha Bates (an editor), 1973; children: (first marriage) Daniel, Edward; (second marriage) Rebecca, Anna. Education: Wadham College, Oxford, England B.A., 1959, M.A. and D.Phil., 1963. Politics: Labour Party.
ADDRESSES: Home—41 Westcroft Sq., London W6 0TA, England.
CAREER: All Souls College, Oxford University, Oxford, England, fellow, 1959-65; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Henry fellow, 1960-61; visiting professor, New York University, 1966-67, Columbia University, 1966-67, and University of Bristol, 1985; Brunel University, Uxbridge, England, reader in social and political theory, 1967-70; University of California, regents lecturer, 1974. New Statesman, London, England, literary editor, 1979-81. Writers Guild of Great Britain, deputy chair, 1979-80, co-chair, 1981-82. Military service: British Army, 1955-56, served in Africa.
MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: London Authors' Club Award and John Llewelyn Rhys Prize, both 1960, both for At Fever Pitch.
At Fever Pitch (novel), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1960.
Songs for an Autumn Rifle (play), first produced at the Edinburgh Festival by the Oxford Theatre Group, 1961.
Comrade Jacob (novel), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1962.
Communism and the French Intellectuals, 1914-1960, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1964.
The Left in Europe since 1789, McGraw (New York, NY), 1966.
The Decline of the West (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1966.
(Editor) The Essential Writings of Karl Marx, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1967.
The Demonstration (play; first produced at Nottingham Playhouse, 1969; also see below), Deutsch (London, England), 1970.
Frantz Fanon (monograph), Viking (New York, NY), 1970, published as Fanon, Fontana (London, England), 1970.
The Confrontation: A Trilogy (contains The Demonstration, The Occupation, and The Illusion: An Essay on Politics, Theatre and the Novel), Deutsch (London, England), 1971.
The Occupation (novel; also see below), McGraw (New York, NY), 1972.
The Illusion: An Essay on Politics, Theatre and the Novel (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1972.
(With Ralph Miliband) Nineteenth-Century European Socialism, BFA Educational Media (Santa Monica, CA), 1972.
The Fellow-Travellers: A Postscript to the Enlightenment, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1973, revised and expanded edition published as The Fellow-Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1988.
Fallout (radio play), first broadcast on British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC Radio), 1973.
The Fourth World (play), first produced in London, England, at the Royal Court Theatre, 1973.
Cuba, Yes?, McGraw (New York, NY), 1974.
Collisions: Essays and Reviews, Quartet Books (London, England), 1974.
The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.
(Under pseudonym John Salisbury) The Baby-Sitters (novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1978, published as The Hour before Midnight, Dell (New York, NY), 1980.
Brecht and Company (television documentary), first produced on BBC-TV, 1979.
(Under pseudonym John Salisbury) Moscow Gold (novel), Futura (London, England), 1980.
Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1983.
The Zimbabwe Tapes (radio play), first produced on BBC Radio, 1983.
The K-Factor (novel), M. Joseph (London, England), 1983.
The Espionage of the Saints: Two Essays on Silence and the State, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1986.
News from Nowhere (novel), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1986.
Henry and the Dogs (radio play), first produced on BBC Radio, 1986.
Sanctions (radio play), first produced on BBC Radio, 1988.
The Year of the Barricades: A Journey through 1968, Harper (New York, NY), 1988, published as Sixty-Eight: The Year of the Barricades, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1988.
Veronica; or, The Two Nations (novel), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1989, Arcade/Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1990.
The Women's Hour (novel), Paladin (London, England), 1991.
Dr. Orwell and Mr. Blair (novel), Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1994.
Animal Fun Park (radio play), first produced on BBC Radio, 1995.
Fatima's Scarf (novel), Totterdown Books (London, England), 1998.
Contributor to periodicals, including New Statesman, Partisan Review, Times Literary Supplement, and Spectator.
ADAPTATIONS: Comrade Jacob was adapted as the 1975 film Winstanley, directed by Kevin Brownlow.
SIDELIGHTS: David Caute, an English novelist, playwright, and historian, has consistently dealt with socialism, communism, and the relationship between the West and Third World countries in his writings. His interest in these areas has led him to write several novels dealing with important political events in Africa.
But the author's forays into so many different genres—plays, novels, political theory, and history—"makes one cast about anxiously for some common thread, a unifying theme," said Alan Ryan in Listener. The author defines that thread in his Collisions: Essays and Reviews as "the inclination to walk to and fro across the bridges which join, or can be made to join, history, politics and literature." Thus, the author has striven to write fiction and nonfiction books that deal with themes pertinent to society as a whole. Caute, remarked Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Gerald Steel, "is one of the most intellectually stimulating novelists of recent decades in England—a 'public' rather than a 'private' writer." In the United States, however, his work has received less attention.
Caute draws from his personal experiences in several of his books. At Fever Pitch, his first novel, is based on his adventures as an infantryman stationed in the Gold Coast just before it became independent Ghana. The author parallels soldier Michael Glyn's personal voyage towards sexual maturity with the confrontations between the British and Africans. Merging these two subjects, Caute attempts what Steel called an "exploration of the sexual psychology of militarism." Spectator writer Simon Raven described the novelist's blending of sexual and military themes as "vigorous, intelligent and keen," but some writers have said Caute tries to do too much. The "organization of the book suffers as a result," one Times Literary Supplement reviewer said. Still, At Fever Pitch received the London Authors Club Award and John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize.
Caute has written several more novels set in Africa that address the alleged exploitation of Africans by white colonists. The Decline of the West, in particular, has drawn much attention. Set in the fictional African country of Coppernica, The Decline of the West describes the post-revolutionary turmoil of a newly independent nation similar to that which existed in Zaire and Algeria during their formative years. Some critics have felt that this novel about how Europeans justified their violent acts in Africa by falling back on beliefs in white superiority relies too heavily upon history. One Times Literary Supplement reviewer, for example, wrote that though the premise of The Decline of the West is "politically sound," the "characters are papiermache versions of real public figures." In the New York Times Book Review, Laurence LaFore commented that The Decline of the West "is perhaps better as fictional history than as a work of art, but it is still an important and imposing novel." There have also been critics, such as New Leader contributor Raymond Rosenthal, who believe Caute overemphasizes violence in the novel. There is, Rosenthal wrote, a "hysterical wallowing in violence and torture . . . in almost every paragraph of Caute's book." Rosenthal, however, does not doubt Caute's "sincere desire to help the Africans in their struggle for independence, or at least to illuminate their struggle." And LaFore wrote that "the author's task, an enormous one, has been impressively completed....Hehas advanced an important thesis, conceived an important tragedy and composed a fascinating story."
Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, is the subject of two more Caute novels and his nonfiction work, Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia, which concerns the author's firsthand reports and impressions of the last days of white rule in that country. The K-Factor is a fictional "re-working" of Under the Skin, dealing with racial stratification in Rhodesia, according to Roger Owen in the Times Literary Supplement. As with Caute's other novels, a number of reviewers felt the author gets mixed results by trying to blend complicated personal situations with political events. London Times critic Isabel Raphael, for one, asserted that "Caute tells a good, tense story, and writes sharp, fast-moving dialogue. But he tries to keep too many balls in the air at once." News from Nowhere, about an author and academician who travels to Rhodesia just as Caute had, drew similar remarks. Victoria Glendinning wrote in the London Times that the reporter's "adventures amid the ... fighting and betrayals of emerging Zimbabwe are frankly confusing, as is some of the writing." But she likened Caute's intricate plotting techniques to those of John le Carré as providing a "pleasurable confusion. It never did le Carré any harm."
Like Richard Stern in News from Nowhere, protagonist Steven Bright in Caute's trilogy, The Confrontation, is an academician. Bright resembles his creator in several ways: he has written a book entitled The Rise of the East, which many critics have compared to Caute's The Decline of the West, has strong leanings toward leftist politics, resigned from All Souls College for political reasons, and has taught at New York University. The Confrontation consists of a play, The Demonstration, an essay ostensibly written by Bright, The Illusion, and a novel, The Occupation. "The trilogy indicates that Bright is Dr. Caute's alter ego," a Times Literary Supplement writer observed. "This is not a reader's deduction but an explicit suggestion by the author, repeated several times. These may not be autobiographical works but they are certainly confessional ones."
Alienation and the factors that cause it, such as the difference between art and reality, the generation gap, and the political struggles between left and right, is a major theme of all three books in The Confrontation. The Illusion addresses this subject as it relates to literature, favoring a Marxist/Brechtian approach to writing. As Bernard Bergonzi explained in The Contemporary English Novel, "Bright-Caute argues for an alignment of revolutionary art and radical politics; for a literature and theatre that will be dialectical in the play between art and reality—contra the structuralists, who are scathingly treated in The Illusion, Caute believes in distinguishing between the two—and for an exposure of the essentially illusory nature of fictional and dramatic realism, and the necessity of alienation as Brecht understood it."
The Demonstration, John Russell Taylor explained in his The Second Wave: British Drama for the Seventies, "illuminat[es] many of the problems the dramatist faces if he tries to use contemporary reality as the basis of art." In this play, Bright is a drama professor in England who tries to control his young, rebellious students by redirecting their energies against the establishment into a play called Pentagon 67. But Bright's plan backfires when illusion and reality change places and "he is brought to a realization of his own rejection and impotence." Bright's character is firmly against what he considers the decadence of capitalism, but at the same time he fears his students' extremism. He wants to "keep conscience, comforts and status equally intact," Benedict Nightingale wrote in New Statesman, but he becomes disillusioned when he can't.
The Occupation, which follows Bright's life as a visiting professor in New York in the same era as events inThe Demonstration, involves his personal struggle to understand his place in the world, a personal preoccupation that eventually leads to a breakdown. The plot, according to National Review critic John R. Coyne, Jr., is surrealistic, centering on "scenes occurring either in [Bright's] office or in his mind or both in which he argues with sitting-in New Left students." Bergonzi noticed that The Occupation represents Caute's "rejection of the Old Left" attitudes that are represented by character Hamilton Snout, "an ageing socialist hack writer and editor." Furthermore, Bergonzi surmised that because Snout applauds Bright's The Rise of the East, "Caute may here be ... disowning The Decline of the West."
Caute has written numerous fiction and nonfiction works centering on leftist politics. His second novel, Comrade Jacob, tells of Gerard Winstanley's attempt to establish a collective settlement during Oliver Cromwell's rule. It is an allegory about contemporary communism, and as such, Bergonzi said in a Spectator review, that one "is constantly aware of the Marxist spectacles through which [Caute] regards his subject." Nevertheless, Bergonzi described Comrade Jacob as a "well-written and highly intelligent book." Similarly, a Times Literary Supplement reviewer called the novel "a remarkable, and moving, evocation of a stirring and significant experiment in English history."
Another fiction work, the play Songs for an Autumn Rifle, about the 1956 revolt in Hungary, is also directly concerned with socialism; but most of Caute's books that deal directly with socialism and communism have been nonfiction. Such works as Communism and the French Intellectuals, 1914-1960, The Fellow-Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism, and The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower, have drawn critics' praise for covering new ground about how and why communism has appealed to some and appalled others. New Statesman reviewer Neil McInnes praised The Fellow-Travellers, which is about the travels of André Gide, George Bernard Shaw, Jean-Paul Sartre, and other well-known figures to the Soviet Union and their impressions of communism, for its "rich ... fund of fascinating information." H. Stuart Hughes, writing in the New York Review of Books, also called Caute's study of McCarthyism in The Great Fear, a work "of first-rate importance." Some critics, however, said The Great Fear was too slanted. "The gravest deficiency in Caute's work," Sidney Hook wrote in Encounter, "is its failure to state fairly and come to grips with the arguments and evidence of those whom he denounces." New York Times Book Review critic Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., pinpointed the problem as Caute's "accept[ance of] the fallacy that has disabled many latter-day commentators on that unhappy time: that there was no tenable middle ground; that to oppose Stalinism made McCarthyism inevitable."
Steel said the author has become aware of this tendency. In 1976, Caute wrote, "Nowadays I'm more preoccupied by questions of literary form than I used to be." His novel Veronica; or, The Two Nations, which appeared in 1989, "is more descriptive than prescriptive," remarked Nina King in the Washington Post Book World, "offering no simple solutions for the social ills it depicts." Combining a story of love and incest with social and political themes, Caute tells of the mutual love Michael Parsons and Bert Frame share for Michael's half-sister, Veronica, during their school days in England. Michael, who comes from an upper-class background, later becomes a ruthless, self-serving Tory politician and a prime candidate to succeed Margaret Thatcher, while Bert becomes a tabloid writer. Bert, who grew up in London's poor East End, resents Michael personally and opposes him politically. The novel concludes when Bert ruins Michael's career by revealing that the politician favors legalizing incest because he once committed the act with his half sister.
Sometimes referred to as a conceit of Benjamin Disraeli's Sybil; or, The Two Nations in which Disraeli described England as two disparate nations, one rich and one poor, Veronica; or, The Two Nations has drawn critical praise for its dramatic presentation of England's social ills. New Statesman contributor Richard Deveson, for example, called the novel a "defiantly intelligent and an instantly absorbing read [that] is partly on the state of the nation, self-consciously echoing Sybil: a confrontation of ruler and ruled." But unlike the author's earlier novels, Veronica does not clearly favor leftist politics. Caute, observed King, "seems more than a little ambivalent himself about the working-class leftists of the new era." Mark Wormald added in the Times Literary Supplement, "Caute invites us to question the legitimacy of any extreme assertion, any self which claims to know itself utterly." King noted that although Caute's other novels have gotten little notice in the United States this "should change with Veronica, which in addition to its engrossing plot and political insight, is beautifully constructed."
In The Women's Hour, Caute explores the implications of dogmatic feminism and postmodern ideology in a British university during the 1980s. The novel features Sydney Pyke, a lecherous professor of media studies and former leftist radical, who is accused of raping a feminist colleague in the university pool during women's swim hour. "Despite lurid moments," Nicolas Tredell wrote in the London Review of Books, "this novel has an elegiac, fin-de-siecle quality, evoking, even through its surface energies, the twilight of those hopes raised by the Sixties." Caute's caricatures of militant feminists and paranoid men reveal the absurdity of such stereotypes and the cynicism and divisiveness of contemporary academia. Commenting on Caute's "extravagant satire," Nicci Gerrard said in an Observer review, "I emerged from the experience giggling, reeling and not a little discomfited." Caute also alludes to the ambiguity of fictional truth by hinting at alternative endings and leaving Pyke's fate unresolved. According to Times Literary Supplement contributor Mary Beard, "This clever post-modern slipperiness, however, can turn into a glaringly misogynistic vision of the world." Yet, Beard added, "For all his irritating posing, Pyke engages our sympathies." Neil Berry added in New Statesman, "Caute contrives some highly satisfactory satire here."
Dr. Orwell and Mr. Blair is a fictional account of the story behind George Orwell's inspiration for his novel Animal Farm. Caute's version is purportedly based on Orwell's introduction to a Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm in which Orwell sees a young boy whipping a cart horse as the stimulus to produce his parable on the evils of tyranny and exploitation. The narrator of Dr. Orwell and Mr. Blair is twelve-year-old Alex Jones, who cuts school to save the family farm from foreclosure in the absence of his parents. Alex befriends a man he only knows as Eric Blair (Orwell's real name), who admits to working on a fairy tale about the farm. Though noting structural flaws in the novel's narrative perspective, Nigel Spivey commented in Spectator, "These problems apart, the story retains its force as an act of homage" to Orwell. According to J. K. L. Walker in the Times Literary Supplement, "Dr. Orwell and Mr. Blair is a subtle and complex novel that deserves to be read for its insight into the often murky processes of literary creativity." Colin Ward wrote in New Statesman, "David Caute brings an astringent intelligence to this fantasy, and protects himself from nitpickers by his disclaimer that nothing described in the book ever happened."
Caute again drew on real people and events in Fatima's Scarf, a sort of fictionalization of the events that occurred with the publication of Salman Rushdie's controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. In Caute's version, the protagonist, author Gamal Rahman, has written a book called The Devil: An Interview that angers Muslims, including residents of the town of Bruddersford who burn copies of the book. A "fatwa," or death sentence, is declared against Rahman, and the author, like Rushdie, becomes a marked man. Much of the rest of the book lampoons fictionalized versions of people involved in the Rushdie controversy, including Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Muslim philosopher Shabbir Akhtar. Ziauddin Sardar, in New Statesman, labeled Fatima's Scarf "a collection of character assassinations" and a "long, unoriginal and excruciatingly boring book" that borrows heavily from Rushdie and the work of author Naguib Mahfouz. Several publishers, some wary the book's potential offensiveness, refused to publish Caute's novel. The author then published it himself. Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Nicolas Tredell said, "With Fatima's Scarf Caute has once again demonstrated his ability to engage with large themes, employ a range of narrative techniques, and provoke controversy. He shows no sign of retiring."
Caute has also produced an extensive biography of left-wing American filmmaker Joseph Losey. Based lengthy research, Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life, penetrates the personal life and critical reputation of this acclaimed cinematic artist and Marxist. Joel Siegel wrote in the Washington Post Book World, "David Caute takes a sledgehammer to the Losey legend.... Caute reveals hitherto unexposed facts of Losey's nature: misogynist, paranoid, snob, alcoholic, hypocrite, fop, tax evader, glutton and sadist. It's not a pretty picture."
Though drawing criticism for its structure, this exhaustive biography reflects Caute's skill as a historian and willingness to scrutinize a fellow leftist. Caute's "book is at times knotted and overbearing as its subject," James Saynor said in Observer, but "it is also a hugely impressive attempt to do the unfashionable, and make a person's art accountable to their life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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Taylor, John Russell, The Second Wave: British Drama for the Seventies, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1971.
Tredell, Nicolas, Caute's Confrontations: A Study of the Novels of David Caute, Pauper's Press (Nottingham, England), 1994.
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