Someone was accusing me the other day of losing objectivity.
Quite right too. Accusing me of lacking objectivity is like suggesting that World War 1 was a bit noisy. I don’t like objectivity. I can’t, in fact, be objective about it. Give me passion any time.
What this person specifically said was that my latest book – called God’s Dangerous Book; a History of the Bible – read at points like a 21st century Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and, especially, that I was not objective about Thomas More. Which is true. I am not objective about Thomas More. The man was a sly, conniving, hysterical, slightly insane, lying monster. And those were his good days. Somehow he has become associated in the public’s mind with saintly wisdom, but believe me, there was nothing saintly about Thomas More, except, perhaps, his death. Being objective about Thomas More is like being objective about Jack the Ripper.
But that is a matter for another time, for the moment it made me wonder about whether I was in fact letting my anger get the better of me. Which, as I’m sure you realise, is unusual for me.
History does make you angry at times; especially when you see how the powerful have treated the poor and vulnerable. Or simply those who believed different things. Some years ago I read an excellent history of the Albigensian Crusade, where the church routinely lied to and slaughtered thousands of Heretics. I finished the book in an utter fury and was spluttering about it to Claire.
‘When did this happen?’ she asked.
‘Around 1250,’ I replied. There was a pause.
‘Shouldn’t you have got over it by now?’ she said.
But no, we shouldn’t get over these things. I’ve come, more and more, to realise that it is often anger of various degrees that fuels my writing. Whether this is entirely a good thing, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not in a frothing rage all the time, I rarely lose my temper, but I do spend a lot of time grumpily snapping at the TV while my children laugh at me. At it’s best it’s a righteous anger, which is, I hope, expressed reasonably. At its worst I know I descend into tub-thumping ranting.But you’ve got to be fuelled by something haven’t you? Being a writer is a pretty paltry existence at the best of times, but if you’ve got a chance to right a few wrongs, then go for it. Even if those wrongs were done eight centuries ago.
And then this morning I read this in George Orwell’s Why I Write:
My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.
There you go. Be angry. Be righteously grumpy. But do it with style.