Friday, February 12, 2021

Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness, 1921-1970 IV

Russell's older brother, Frank, died in 1931, making Bertrand the 3rd Earl Russell and a member of the House of Lords. Monk doesn't say much about Frank's life, but it was at least as chaotic as Bertrand's. He was married three times, and his first marriage lasted only three months. That divorce was ugly and took ten years to resolve. Frank established residence in the U.S., got a divorce in Reno, and married another woman there in 1910. However, the divorce was not recognized in the U.K., and in 1911 Frank was arrested and convicted in the House of Lords for bigamy. Frank's first wife had accused him of sodomy, echoing the suspicions of homosexuality from his university years. However, Frank's life was a little simpler than Bertrand's, because he had no children. I think that Monk could have used Frank's history to explore Bertrand's psychodynamics, but chose not to. Given the mountains of documents that Monk had to sort through already, I don't blame him.

Prior to Russell's divorce from Dora, Dora moved the Beacon Hill School out of Telegraph House, and over the next few years she moved it to several different locations due to financial difficulties. Under agreement with Russell, John and Kate no longer attended the school, and they were transferred to the Dartington School, a snobby, upper-class school. Dora never stopped supporting ordinary workers, and when she showed up at the Dartington School to visit John and Kate, Kate was embarrassed by her shabby clothing. During this period, Dora also befriended a slightly seedy man named Pat Grace, who had been a friend of Paul Gillard. Russell and Peter moved into Telegraph House, and Peter exhausted herself converting it from a school into a comfortable family dwelling. Peter was not always happy with Russell's company and had an affair with Richard Llewelyn Davies, the son of Russell's lawyer. This put Russell on edge, but eventually Peter married Russell in January, 1936. Peter had a background in history and assisted Russell as a researcher and a secretary. One of their first projects was The Amberley Papers, which were drawn from his parents' letters and diaries. By all accounts, the two-volume set is boring to read, since the Amberleys lived in a calm part of the Victorian period, led uneventful, pampered lives and had no impact on their contemporaries.

Peter had difficulty adjusting to Russell's friends, who were about forty years older than she was and were starting to die off by the late 1930's. Bloomsbury-style conversations strained her, because they required exceptional conversational skills, which she did not possess. Furthermore, Peter came from a humbler background than most of them. Even Dora, who was upper-middle-class, had been better prepared. Dora had also done very well at Oxford, whereas Peter had dropped out.

Russell and Peter made some new friends, Gerald and Gamel Brenan. Gerald was a British writer with Bloomsbury connections and had a house in Churriana, Spain, near Málaga, where they spent part of the year. Russell and Peter went on a holiday there shortly after their marriage. Although they remained on friendly terms with the Brenans, the Brenans noticed Russell's faults, and his spellbinding ability as a conversationalist didn't exonerate him. Besides being self-centered, he could be vicious when he disagreed with someone or something, and he lacked empathy. Thus, when Russell became attracted to Gamel, an American writer, and followed his usual pattern of seduction, she was alert to the risks and didn't succumb.

Monk sporadically comments on Russell's writings from different time periods. He points out inconsistencies in Russell's ideas even in the same book. Sometimes the writing is just plain sloppy. By his sixties, Russell regretted not having pursued a different field, such as physics or biochemistry. People like Albert Einstein got far more attention than he did, and he seemed to recognize that philosophy was not a terribly important subject as far as most people were concerned. I think that it was practically a dead subject when he entered it, and that his attempt to resuscitate it with mathematical logic was a naïve idea that failed. In my view, the so-called analytic philosophy that Russell helped originate evolved into an academic dead end even during his lifetime. Although Charles Darwin wasn't much of a philosopher, his ideas opened the only sensible way to think about humans: as animals. For me, the terminology now used by analytic philosophers is just a fancy, distracting way of saying nothing and is unintelligible outside a specialized academic setting. The sciences, on the other hand, continue to provide useful insights, and Russell probably sensed that. Nevertheless, I don't think that Russell was cut out to be a scientist, because he tended to inject his opinions into everything and did not typically have what would be considered an empirical approach. He was far too restless to carefully accrue knowledge over a long period of time.

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