I realised that I had neglected this event after my post on the first two talks I attended. So to make amends I will report on the remaining two talks. These were by Richard Davenport-Hines who has recently written a new biography of John Maynard Keynes, one of my intellectual heroes, and Sir Christopher Frayling who talked about Chinaphobia through the medium of popular culture, especially in the between wars period when the figure of Dr. Fu Manchu stalked the dark and sinister streets of London’s notorious Limehouse – da, da, da, daaaaa!
The first point of interest with this talk was the splendid green wool suit that Davenport-Hines was wearing set off by truly eye-catching, matching braces and socks in a vivid mauve. So delightfully English. Something that you would never, ever see in Australia. Brilliant.
And the talk was quite brilliant too. Mr Davenport-Hines had a charming self-deprecatory delivery and his talk was full of delicious anecdotes about Keynes, especially his early predilection for young working class rough trade proving that one can be a great intellectual and pursue rather more earthy pleasures without compromising either. In fact we learned that Keynes considered himself a thoroughly physically unattractive person and compensated by being a great flirt, something which he excelled at as he had such tremendous powers of persuasion which reminds me that he wrote a book called Essays in Persuasion. He also considered hero-worship to be good for a person and was nostalgic for Edwardian gentleman’s values. Despite his unashamed early homosexuality Keynes eventually met and married the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova with whom he had a very sexually active and happy heterosexual relationship.
In an entertaining conversation between Frayling and his interlocutor the focus was largely on the feelings and reactions of the actual Chinese in Britain to the casual racism experienced during the heyday of the “Yellow Peril” especially as portrayed in the music halls and in the novels of the twenties and thirties when all Chinese were either opium addicts or sinister and inscrutable master criminals. Very entertaining but also a bit disconcerting given the current phobia for all things Muslim. Plus ca change and all that.