Thursday, 7 May 2009

Extraordinary creature

Still dipping into 'One of Us', Hugo Young's superb biography of Margaret Thatcher. In his fascinating discussion of how her sex influenced perceptions of her as Prime Minister, she is described in lyrical, almost moon-struck, terms by a couple of French sources. The second of these is particularly infatuated by the mystery of her sex:

"Le Quotidien de Paris...permitted itself to speak of this political leader in terms it could not have begun to employ about a man, even one it admired to distraction. Mrs Thatcher, it said, should not be called the Iron Lady, 'for that metal is too vile, too obscure'. She was, instead, 'a woman of uranium, with peculiar irradiations. Compared to her, how leaden appear most of our leaders, opaque masses of flesh, austere fortresses without windows, save for the loopholes of deceit and the skylights of hidden pride*. Power corrupts a man but liberates a woman and reveals her for what she is.'"

Of course, being radioactive is not reckoned on the whole to be a good thing. But love her or loathe her, she was clearly an extraordinary creature.

Perhaps one would expect the French to have perceived her in such sexually mythic terms. Besides sex being one of their special subjects (as is power), they may have had a more heightened appreciation of this aspect as their view wasn't occluded by the British obsession with social class. That is, their view was not prejudiced by what a rather frenzied Jonathan Miller once described as her 'odious suburban gentility'.

There's also Mitterand's notorious comment that she had 'the lips of Caligula and eyes of Marilyn Monroe' (lips of Caligula? Never really understood that one, but then I'm not a classicist). On the other hand, Alan Clark's lust-inflected musings are also on record. But then, in so many ways and despite his nationalism, he was no typical Englishman.

I think as time goes by we'll appreciate more and more the very real strangeness of Margaret Thatcher. That is not just her historical but also her personal uniqueness - in a word, her charisma. Boudicca and Elizabeth I are the only comparable figures.

I predict an historical and literary interest in her long after all her contemporaries - with the exception of Churchill - have been forgotten. I say literary for, as with the Icenian and Virgin Queens, the novelists and playwrights will have almost as much to say as the historians, Alan Hollingsworth's 'The Line of Beauty' being one of the first notable essays in this direction. And I don't believe this is a partisan comment in any way: loving or loathing her is really beside the point.

* A disturbingly apposite description of our current Prime Minister, the Bulbous Marauder, don't you think?


Bunny Smedley said...

Brilliant post, as much for the near-asides (the comment about Clark, for instance) as for the elegant and surely entirely correct conclusion.

Gaw said...

You are very kind, Bunny. BTW planning to visit Dulwich on Saturday as a consequence of your appetising review. Will let you know!

Bunny Smedley said...

I'll look forward to it.

Dulwich is always a tough gig for any artist - not much can stand comparison with a permanent collection as strong as that one - but I thought Sickert more or less survived - very much open to contrasting views, though, on that at least!

Gadjo Dilo said...

Alan Clark's was no typical Englishman? I think rather that he was the Englishman we all have liked to have been if we'd had the opportunity and the charm (and lack of consciense, perhaps) to get away with it!

Gaw said...

Alan Clark was like a tweed-wearing Taki, but with a few history books behind him. I don't mean to be dismissive; I just think he had a Continental feel, in the way he thought and behaved. I suspect this was because his father was, above all, a European intellectual.

I wonder whether this aspect would make more or fewer Englishmen want to be like him?

Kevin Musgrove said...

Margaret Thatcher wasn't so unusual once you realise that she was a typical provincial type: The Woman Who Told You That She Was Going To Tell Your Parents When Your Ball Went Into Her Garden. What was unusual was that she took the petit bourgeois ignorant snobbery of the type and imposed it as a political creed.

Hey Skipper said...

I lived near Oxford from early 1981 through 1984, then again from 1988-1992.

The difference was astonishing.