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  1. The Back Pages
2 February 2014

The NS Competition No 4309

By New Statesman


No 4309

Set by Adrian Fry

We asked you to take one line from a poet or novelist of your choice and draw from it completely the wrong conclusions about the writer.

This week’s winners

Superb. A comp popular with readers of this page (“Thanks for your ingenious competition this week”; “I really enjoyed this comp”). Hon menshes to G M Davis (Wallace Stevens’s wilful ignorance of the universe: “The earth, for us, is flat and bare”)and David Silverman (Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love of tantric sex: “Let me count the ways”). The winners get £25, with the Tesco vouchers going, in addition, to Brian Allgar.

“He loved Big Brother”

Research into George Orwell’s powers of prediction has tended to focus on politics and technology. Less well investigated is his interest in television and ability to foresee the kind of programmes that would be popular. In the wake of recent findings regarding his political leanings, studies have been undertaken of the way he envisaged future broadcasting schedules. Transmissions of sports fixtures, public events, propaganda/news and arts programmes – all are detailed in newly available papers; he even foresaw the popularity that would attach to what we call “reality TV”: placing celebrities in unfamiliar and remote environments; investigations into people with extreme tendencies, such as hoarding or eating.

His favourite idea was that of placing several contestants in a custom-built house where they would live in isolation from the outside world, constantly under video surveillance. Each week, one would be evicted by public vote. Orwell’s genius was to recognise this winning formula.

Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead

“And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad”

This is a most revealing line in Tennyson’s poem “Come into the Garden, Maud”. Though we all know that he liked to relax with a pipe, few are aware of his penchant, towards the end of his life, for cheap cigarettes (you will notice that he chose not to capitalise the brand name). He never openly indulged this habit in his own country, for the brand’s image was cheap and “working class”, unsuited to his station, but the people he met on his travels were more broad-minded, which is why he felt he could admit to enjoying his secret vice abroad.

You might think smoking these strong, unfiltered cigarettes would have shortened his life but he lived to a ripe age and the buzz of nicotine undoubtedly fired his creative juices to the end.

Sylvia Fairley

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today”

Generations of readers have delighted in the carefree world created by the author A A Milne without noticing that such seemingly innocent romps as Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are strewn with cries for help from a writer who was caught in the clutches of severe dissociative identity disorder.

Take, for example, the heartbreaking moment when Pooh discloses this to Piglet (see top). Milne is here confessing, through his ursine intermediary, the hallmark of the dissociated personality state. Nor can these symptoms simply be ascribed to substance abuse (Pooh’s ever-growing need for “honey”), imaginative play or attention-seeking behaviour, though it appears that the author frequently resorted to self-medication to ameliorate symptoms of multiple personality disorder, as revealed by Piglet’s telling response to Pooh’s cri de coeur: “There, there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.” [Italics by the author.]

Frank Osen

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”

One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s is a tendency for sufferers to repeat themselves endlessly, not realising that they have just said the same thing. The repetition may take the form of an anecdote, a phrase, or even a single word.

When Shakespeare wrote the great tragedies, it appears he was already suffering from this malady. There is strong evidence in Macbeth (see above) of moments in which Shakespeare had clearly forgotten that he had already used the same word twice earlier in the line.

By the time he came to write King Lear, Shakespeare’s condition had deteriorated further. It contains one line that begins with four occurrences of the word “howl” and another that consists in its entirety of five maundering repetitions of the word “never”. In the words of the afflicted Bard: oh, what a falling-off was there!

Brian Allgar

The next challenge

No 4312 By Ron Bille

What is utopia? How do different people see it? We’d like your suggestions for the utopian vision of anyone – celebrities, politicians, sportspeople – dead or alive, in their own words.

Max 150 words by 20 February

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