Leading Lady

STANLEY WEINTRAUB's review of my Ellen Terry: Player in Her Time (Book World, August 23) is so full of misstatements that I cannot let his remarks lie. To begin with, he obscures the scope and originality of my research while attempting to discredit some of the many sources I do use for alleged "feminist bias." Weintraub describes my own "feminist idyll" (whatever that may mean) more oddly still. I do not say, or imply, that Ellen Terry was a pathetic figure "misused by a rapacious masculine world," that she was heavily persecuted for sexual waywardness, or that she was "a paragon, feminist or otherwise": these caricatures are the reviewer's own. My book does make available a wealth of new information and material about Ellen Terry and her gifted children, Edith and Gordon Craig, but it is also a biography, and a dimensional one, of the changing times and theaters that shaped the Terry family.

Weintraub's own statements about Ellen Terry are often incorrect. He claims that "the 'fallen women' she often played were very much like herself," but Ellen Terry never played unrepentant fallen women: as a star she became identified with Shakespeare's most virtuous heroines. He then announces categorically that she was Henry Irving's partner "before the curtain and between the sheets." Weintraub's own biography of Queen Victoria makes the same bizarre assertion, but the standard biographers of both Irving and Terry insist that they were not lovers.

Other distortions of my ideas and material abound -- for instance, I discuss Shaw's teasing of Ellen Terry with the mature role of Candida, not the young Cleopatra -- but I fear the issue is less one of details than of a book Professor Weintraub attempts to discredit by slapping on it the label "feminist."

Nina Auerbach University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pa. 19104

STANLEY WEINTRAUB replies:

Professor Auerbach is disappointed. So was I. Her text is evidence enough for the statements in my review. Readers can check them out and make up their own minds. Facts often fail to sustain their editorial glosses.

There is no question that Ellen Terry played dozens of "fallen women" as well as Shakespearean heroines. ("Most virtuous" rings hollow when we recall that her most famous role was Lady Macbeth, even pictured on the book's dust-jacket!) There is also no question of the nature of the lesbian-dominated Smallhythe set in which a pathetic and exploited Ellen Terry lived out her last years. It is also clear from their letters (they had not yet met) that Shaw never tempted Ellen Terry with any sort of Cleopatra role, writing her, rather, that he was preparing his play for "Campbell-patra" -- the beautiful and much younger Stella Patrick Campbell. I didn't bring the Cleopatra matter up; Professor Auerbach did in her book, and now shifts to Candida, also too young a role, at 33, for the grandmotherly Ellen Terry in the middle 1890s.

Further, while denying in her letter that Terry and Irving had a sexual relationship, Professor Auerbach writes herself that, "intermittent lovers, they acted the conventional marriage that was alien to them both." Onstage? Although they saw to it that their most intimate letters to each other, with few exceptions, were destroyed, the Henry Irving who wrote to her passionately as "My own dear wife as long as I live," and who spent many nights and weekends together with her, was hardly her lover only while play-acting.

Elsewhere as well I have been careful to read Professor Auerbach's words, not her second thoughts or new inventions, or the spaces between the lines. Doubtless there is new information in Professor Auerbach's book, largely about daughter Edy, upon whom she dotes, but both new and familiar data are used as I reported, which is why the book is more tract that biography.

Out of Africa

THE LATEST review in Britain of my book Jonas Savimbi: A Key to Africa -- in the summer 1987 issue of International Affairs -- said George Orwell would have been proud of me as a disciple. It was salutary therefore to be brought down to earth by your reviewer, John Keegan, who thought the whole effort abysmal and misdirected (Book World, September 20).

Keegan asserts that the only people who really count in southern Africa are the Afrikaners. And therefore the only book worth writing about the region should be about them and their amazing ability to survive in a hostile regional and strategic situation. As for Savimbi and his black Africans in the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), they are no more significant than glowworms flickering in the African dust.

This is interesting coming from Keegan -- whom we know in Britain as a Thatcherite disciple who asssails us with his views of why we are stupid to see Intermediate Nuclear Force disarmament as a good thing -- because the only other truly hostile review has come from Marxist historian Basil Davidson, a longtime supporter of the Cuban- and Soviet-backed MPLA (Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola) government. Davidson too dismisses the people of UNITA with a vehemence that equals Keegan's -- and so, far left and far right eventually meet at the same unsavory point on the political circle.

Far from dismissing the significance of South Africa, my book describes how the South Africans were encouraged to interfere in Angola by a strange constellation of Western and black African states. But I am not as captivated by the powerful of this world as is Keegan. I began in 1976 to research and write about UNITA when the movement had been deserted by all its "friends." It was a time when both East and West would have preferred UNITA dead -- the East because it knew it had underminded the elections promised for Angola's independence, and the West because it knew that all it had done in support of Angolan democracy was to give the green light to South Africa to invade.

In 1976 the decision by Savimbi and UNITA to resist the Cuban- and Soviet-backed takeover of their country was taken entirely alone. For a long time they had no outside support and they suffered many deaths and privations. It was these kinds of personal realities, of a people on the verge of annihilation, which stirred me to write about black Africans who refused to be snuffed out by those demands of strategy which Keegan finds so overwhelmingly important. If South Africa is again now making a stand against the Cuban/Soviet takeover in Angola, it is because the courage of the people of UNITA, and their determination that the elections promised for independence 12 years ago be held, made it possible. The highest South African authorities know and acknowledge that, and if Keegan was as well informed on South Africa as he claims, he would understand it too.

Fred Bridgland London, England