Caute, (John) David
(John) David Caute 1936–
English novelist, historian, essayist, dramatist, and critic.
Caute's interest in political philosophies and their ramifications informs his novels and histories. His novels are considered intellectually stimulating but have been faulted for their thinly veiled political theorizing. They have involved such topics as imperialism in Africa, an early communal settlement in seventeenth-century England, and student unrest in America during the 1960s. Caute's historical nonfiction works have dealt with the responses of the Western world to communism.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, the son of an army dentist, Caute attended reputable British public schools and studied modern history at Wadham College, Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of All Souls College in 1959 and later taught as a visiting professor at Harvard, New York University, and Columbia. Caute wrote his first novel, At Fever Pitch (1959), as an undergraduate student, and it draws on his experiences in the army in the African Gold Coast colony. Caute uses various stylistic techniques, including stream-of-consciousness, interior monologue, and poetic evocation, to tell the story of a young soldier growing to manhood amidst the turmoil and chaos of an African revolution. Although the criticism was generally favorable, some reviewers felt Caute had attempted too much for one novel and that the personal and political situations were inadequately resolved.
The subject of Caute's second novel, Comrade Jacob (1961), derives from the works of Christopher Hill, renowned for his studies of seventeenth-century England and Caute's tutor at Oxford. It tells the story of Gerard Winstanley and his followers, the Diggers, in their attempt to establish a collective settlement. Caute has described the book as an allegory, "essentially about communism now." The Decline of the West (1966) returns to Africa for its setting. Caute's newly independent African nation in this novel is based largely on the Belgian Congo and he attempts to show how Africa's politics have been shaped by Western imperialism. A long and complex novel, Decline of the West received mixed reviews, exemplified by Laurence LaFore, who faulted Caute's "recurrent, feverish attacks of rich, poetic English," yet applauded his "intellectual subtlety and emotional vitality…." In 1971, Caute published The Confrontation, a trilogy consisting of The Demonstration, a play; The Illusion, a critical essay on literature; and The Occupation, a novel. Steven Bright is the protagonist of the play and the novel and the fictional writer of the essay. Like Caute, he is a university professor, and he has written a book called The Rise of the East, similar to Caute's The Decline of the West. Critics contend that Bright's personal anxieties and preferences reflect Caute's own, and that Bright is a personification of the middle-age intellectual.
Caute gained a reputation as a respected political historian with the publication of Communism and the French Intellectuals, 1914–1960 (1965). This book shows many of the characteristics of Caute's later historical studies: exhaustive research, treatment of a subject often neglected by other scholars, a generally objective approach, and a refusal to draw specific conclusions. The Fellow Travellers (1973) is Caute's attempt to define the character and motivations of influential writers and intellectuals who supported the Stalinist experiment in the Soviet Union or traveled there during the years 1928–1956. Caute uses loosely chronologized episodes to portray the political reactions of such well-known figures as André Gide, G. B. Shaw, André Malraux, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower (1978) is a survey of this period in American history. Two features of this study were generally applauded by commentators: Caute's emphasis on the noncelebrities, including schoolteachers and trade unionists, who had suffered under the purge, and his depiction of Joseph McCarthy as a man whose political fanaticism awakened America to the dangers of repression. Caute's recent work, Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia (1983), depicts the last days of Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe. In it Caute intermingles interviews with white settlers, anecdotes, and his own observations. The K-Factor (1983) is a novelization of much of the material in Under the Skin.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol, 1; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 14.)
David Caute, inspired by a spell of National Service in West Africa, has come up with a first novel which, if it attempts far too much, is none the less striking for what it achieves. At Fever Pitch is the tale of a young subaltern serving with a native regiment in an African Colony which is on the verge of independence. The subaltern's sex life is a mess…. All of which, one would have thought, would have kept one young novelist quite busy enough. But Mr. Caute also takes on the political situation in the colony—not just as a background, but as a subject for full investigation—and takes it on with considerable virtuosity at that. He thus has two major themes; and one can fairly say that his handling of both is vigorous, intelligent and keen. For a relatively short novel, however, At Fever Pitch is overloaded: there just is not enough room for either element, sex or intrigue, to be finally and properly worked out. So we end up in rather a muddle. But when I think of some of the wafer-thin confections now masquerading as novels, I bless the name of Caute for this generous first offering.
Simon Raven, "Kinds of Contraband," in The Spectator (© 1959 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 202, No. 6815, February 6, 1959, p. 199.∗
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The Times Literary Supplement
[At Fever Pitch is an] ambitious book, and ranges over a vast field of subjects with a vast number of characters…. But the organization of the book suffers as a result. Also [Mr. Caute] is forced to use a very wide range of different techniques—impressionism, interior monologue, poetic evocation, stream of consciousness, we get the lot. At the same time in Glyn, his central character, Mr. Caute has given us a masterly study of a sensitive young National Service officer doing an utterly alien job in an utterly alien job in an utterly alien atmosphere surrounded by utterly alien colleagues, while at the same time troubled by personal and ambivalent sexual troubles. And the author's insight into the minds of his African characters … is positively uncanny. At Fever Pitch is a sometimes over-heated book—surely no one unit of the Army could ever have contained so many drunks and snobs and fifth-rate riffraff?—but it is a big book in every sense.
"Shades of Meaning," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1959; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2972, February 13, 1959, p. 81.∗
(The entire section is 186 words.)
V. S. Naipaul
Many novels fail when experience and invention are imperfectly fused…. [It is fairly easy to separate the two in] David Caute's first novel, At Fever Pitch…. It would have seemed then that Mr Caute was rash to attempt an historical novel, in which fiction has to be adjusted to fact. The appalling, over-written first chapter of Comrade Jacob confirms one's fears. Then, quite abruptly, all the novelist's instincts seem to come to Mr Caute. Forgetting to write prettily, he sinks deeper and deeper into his subject, and the result is a book which is far better than his first.
The novel tells of the failure of the Diggers to establish a communistic society on St. George's Hill in Surrey in 1649. They are opposed by landlords and the local clergy. Cromwell, fearing the spread of anarchy, sends General Fairfax to disperse the Diggers. Fairfax is unwilling to be brutal; then the Diggers, their numbers growing, become militant, and they are destroyed. Mr Caute suggests that even without Cromwell and Fairfax the cause was lost. This he does by taking us into the mind of Gerard Winstanley, the leader of the Diggers. Winstanley tells part of the story. We see his visions and accept them; we recognise his honesty; but we equally recognise his need for power, his willingness to compromise with the truth for the sake of his colony. This is a Joyce Cary theme and at times, especially when dealing with religious hysteria, Mr Caute...
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David Caute's At Fever Pitch, which came out in 1959, was one of the most remarkable first novels of the Fifties…. This packed account of African politics, army life and sex contained so much material that one wondered if Mr. Caute hadn't utilised all his available experience in writing it. His second book, Comrade Jacob, tends to confirm this fear. It's a political-historical novel, set in 1649, soon after the execution of Charles I, and it describes the rise and fall of the egalitarian community known as the Diggers…. Mr. Caute is concerned primarily with the intellectual and ideological implications of the Digger revolt, rather than with superficial period detail…. Yet there is something shadowy about the substance of this novel: Mr. Caute seems more concerned with debate than with drama, and Comrade Jacob is a roman à thèse rather than a true novel of ideas. One is constantly aware of the Marxist spectacles through which he regards his subject: Winstanley is seen as an embodiment of revolutionary proletarian consciousness; the Commonwealth commander, General Fairfax, is a liberal aristocrat who finds himself uneasily on the progressive side; the sadistic Captain Gladman is the type of Fascist who is thrown up in a revolutionary situation; while the clergyman, John Platt, who becomes the Diggers' implacable enemy, is an epitome of clerical reaction. This is a well-written and highly intelligent book, even though...
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The Times Literary Supplement
[In Comrade Jacob], Mr. Caute, a scholar of some assurance and brilliant representational imagination, has written the heroic, and often cruel, story of the Diggers' community, its persecution both unofficial and official, its perseverance and eventual destruction. The story is told largely through the minds of the main characters, preeminently that of Winstanley himself. Here Mr. Caute achieves a masterpiece of sympathetic personification. To fill out imaginatively the known outlines of an historical person is not so hard, since considerable latitude is left to imagination. But to put breath into an already rounded figure, particularly one so articulate and self-examining as Winstanley, is a more delicate artistic problem, because one may not transgress the constriction of known facts, and yet must fill the crevices which self-portraiture inevitably glosses over.
With some of the other characters … the author's self-imposed constriction of space leaves a feeling of slight dissatisfaction, of questioning whether justice has been done or something has not been subtly contrived to fit a case. (A small point here, of historical integrity: since those characters mentioned above are all real people, should not Mr. Caute provide some documentary justification, for instance, of his peculiarly repulsive picture of Captain Gladman?)… It is signal of the value of this book that the questions it arouses in the mind, political,...
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For obvious reasons, British writers are tops when it comes to describing disintegrating empires. To do the job properly, especially in fiction, there is needed a sense of irony, a sense of loss and a sense of relief…. [In At Fever Pitch, young novelist] David Caute mixes these qualities with the authority derived from his background…. (p. 92)
At Fever Pitch is more than the substance behind the headlines. In spite of a good deal of boyishness (Author Caute seems to think that repetition is a literary virtue), an atmosphere of urgent truth plays over the book. Hopelessness is as pervasive as the debilitating climate. And black victory is as depressing in its consequences as white defeat. Certainly the British army has seldom looked so drearily ineffective, and black Africans have seldom been decked out in such deliberate cynicism. (p. 94)
"Black Mischief," in Time (copyright 1961 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. LXXVII, No. 23, June 2, 1961, pp. 92, 94.
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[David Caute's play Songs for an Autumn Rifle] deals with the impact on Socialist consciences of the Budapest rising of 1956, and it centres round the editorial desk of the British Communist paper Onward. The editor, Robert Hewson, is a man of high character and literary standing (hard to call to mind a comparable Communist editor in post-war Britain), but he is the Party's employee and must toe the Party line—which is no longer easy, as the dispatches from their Budapest correspondent, Paul Manning, are being grotesquely censored and rewritten before publication, and Hewson feels that the truth must be told. He must publish the dispatches intact, or resign….
[When the revolution fails] Manning comes back to London breathing fire and brimstone, confronts Hewson, and at last, with great difficulty, shames him into resigning.
This is the outline of the main, ideological plot, and the moral force of the crisis is such that it should have sufficed to carry the play. But Mr Caute is determined to pile on further agony. He gives Hewson a son doing his National Service, who refuses to go to fight at Suez, but is talked out of his rebellion by a smart young Intelligence officer in a scene parallel with his father's capitulation…. In addition. Hewson's secretary is engaged in a prolonged struggle with his wife for possession of his body and soul. It is too much; what promised to be a serious play by an...
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Remarkably few serious books have been written about communism in France. Yet the subject is both interesting and important, for the French party is one of the largest and most influential in the non-Communist world. Scholars will therefore welcome Mr. Caute's careful analysis [Communism and the French Intellectuals, 1914–1960] of one peculiar aspect of French communism: its persistent appeal to intellectuals, and its use of those intellectuals who have rallied to its banner….
[The] complex structure ensures that nothing really important is overlooked, but it also results in a certain amount of overlapping and repetition. Caute has obviously read almost everything of importance that has been written by French party intellectuals since 1920, and he has maintained an admirably dispassionate stance toward his subject. The effect is a massive rather than a sparkling book, frequently enlivened by a happy phrase, but too detailed and sober to make for easy absorption.
Caute's central purpose is not to explain why communism attracted so many French intellectuals, but he offers some shrewd comments on certain commonly-propagated theories about that appeal. The "aberrational" explanation, he believes, has been too easily accepted—perhaps because ex-Communists have written most of the books about western European communism. He doubts that communism's French adherents have come to it as a substitute for religion....
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J. G. Weightman
The Communist ideal, or myth, or temptation has undoubtedly played an exceptional part in French intellectual life, and it was inevitable that sooner or later a full-scale attempt should be made to chart the phenomenon. It was not so obvious that the task would be undertaken by a post-graduate student well under the age of thirty and that he would make such a remarkably good job of it. [In Communism and the French Intellectuals, 1914–1960] David Caute has assimilated a vast amount of material and reduced it to an intelligible pattern. (p. 96)
[Caute] says that his approach is "historical," not psychological, i.e. he is assembling verifiable data, and he does so very well. But he touches on the problem of psychological causes in his Introduction and again in his Conclusion, and he allows himself certain expressions of opinion in the body of his book. Sometimes he defends the Communists when one might expect him to be against them; at other times, he is as scathing about their behavior as a strong anti-Communist would be. His book might have been better, I think, if he had woven his own political philosophy coherently into the text. One guesses him to be a non-Communist socialist with a strong attraction to Communism. This may be why he hasn't assembled in any one section all the anti-Communist arguments put forward by French intellectuals. He refers to them incidentally, but in such a way that an intelligent...
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J. M. Cameron
Mr. Caute's book [Communism and the French Intellectuals: 1914–1960] is indispensable for the student of our time. It is also, unfortunately, very badly written; indeed, it may possibly be the worst-written book ever produced by a Fellow of All Souls. The following passage sufficiently illustrates the vices of Mr. Caute's style:
"European Communism was born out of the ashes of past revolutionary movements, socialist, anarchist and syndicalist, movements whose harsh threats and brave promises had been drowned and mocked by the disciplined tramp of marching boots. Under the impact of war, theories and dogmas, once so vehemently defended, lost their luster and wilted, before springing to life again with an intensified dynamism."
There is really no excuse for this fustian stuff. Mr. Caute has written a good and useful book. With a bit of attention to the English language he might have written a classic. (p. 260)
J. M. Cameron, "The Intellectuals—a Caste or a Vague Description?" in Commonweal (copyright © 1965 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Foundation), Vol. LXXXII, No. 8, May 14, 1965, pp. 257-60.
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Jeffry J. Kaplow
There is some question in my mind as to whether one ought to attempt a single definition of the European Left since 1789, as Caute does [in The Left in Europe Since 1789]. The problems of society, and therefore the grounds of political identification, have changed so rapidly in the last 175 years that what was "Left" in 1789 was often "Right" by 1793; what was revolutionary in 1848 was conservative in 1871. In the presence of so intense a rhythm of change, what purpose is served by the establishment of a lowest common denominator of the Left?
I would not be misunderstood. There is a Left tradition in Europe, and it is a strong one. (p. 784)
But Caute is not content to note the tradition. He must have a more concrete string with which to tie the Left up into a nice little bundle. The search for that string keeps his eyes riveted firmly to the ground from the very beginning of the book. The so-called characteristics of the Left are examined in turn and rejected as false or inadequate in what seems to me to be a masterpiece of faulty method and confusion.
First of all, what Left is he talking about? Nowhere does Caute make clear his criteria of selection. Is there some standard, or even arbitrary, definition to work from—or is he examming all the groups that have identified with the Left at one time or another? If the former is the case, he should tell us what that definition is; if the latter,...
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The Times Literary Supplement
There are embarrassing similarities between David Caute's ambitious novel [The Decline of the West] and the contemptible tales of Harold Robbins. It is enormously long, dealing in a pseudo-realistic manner with more continents and societies than any man could hope to know intimately; several of the characters are papier-maché versions of real public figures, newspaper clippings pasted together round a damp mould; the stress on torture and maltreatment, though doubtless well-meaning, can provide a shameful erotic stimulus; wish-fulfilment is too overtly in evidence; there is nowhere to go for a laugh. These are bad signs. The best that can be said for it is that it's politically sound—and this verdict, by its nature, can hardly be unanimous.
We start in Coppernica, a French-speaking nation in the African copper-belt. A nationalist revolution (on the Algerian model) has resulted in a government very like the first Congolese administration. The premier is a generous-hearted petty clerk whose liberal, white-Christian sentiments have been embittered by squalid European racism: his charisma is the result of his oratorical flair and the fact that the common people can identify with his firm and simple moral philosophy. There is nothing wrong with an English scholar-novelist attempting a fictional representation of Patrice Lumumba: his distinction and the unspeakable circumstances of his betrayal and death, for the benefit of the...
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It is rare for historians to write novels, rarer for them to write good novels, and rarer still for them to bring historical materials and the historian's view of the world to the composition of their fiction. David Caute has done all three. "The Decline of the West" is perhaps better as fictional history than as a work of art, but it is still an important and imposing novel.
Mr. Caute … knows Africa, France and the United States, and he has used his knowledge to build a dramatic story of the struggle for power in a newly independent African republic—a former French colony whose vicissitudes resemble those of the ex-Belgian Congo….
This is, in one sense, an old-fashioned book of adventure, about diplomacy, ambition, greed and lust in faraway places. It is also an intensely intellectual, even academic, study of the interaction of history and psychology; a close analysis of African nationalists baffled by foreigners' treachery and their own naiveté, of the sadism and effete stupidity of British and French colonialism, and the inanity, chaos and cupidity of American society and policy.
It is a book full of anger, disdain and hatred. Among the best things in it are the tracing of the progressive descent into race hatred of Africans torn between adoration and abhorrence for France—and the matching story of a young American Negro (a Harvard sophomore, emasculated by his attempt to avoid race...
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During the past week men have slogged their way through malarial jungles, sweated in steaming asbestos factories, groaned beneath the burden of their own flesh and the age's injustice. I have spent the same period reading David Caute's novel, The Decline of the West …, and I am sure that my attendant anguish and pain have at the least equalled theirs.
Caute writes a peculiarly thick, heavy-breathing, rodomontade prose, and I am a slow reader. I have thus savored each of his inimitable prose ornaments, his thoughtful metaphors, with the care and intensity which I should imagine every writer would like to receive from every reviewer. I know Mr. Caute, in any case to the extent that he has revealed himself in this very long and prolix book, know him so well that I may presume to resort, I feel with ample justice, to that contempt which is often the concomitant of familiarity.
But first of all there is Caute's story. He has taken the facts of the recent Congo troubles … to fashion a kind of adventure story, full of tortures, sexual escapades, ideological discussions, riots, high-level intrigue, and apocalyptically harrowing death and destruction. Its form falls somewhere between Gone With The Wind and Man's Fate, borrowing indiscriminately from both these novels their feeblest and most meretricious features.
From Gone With The Wind he purloins his glamorous heroines...
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[David Caute's] nihilistic The Decline of the West (1966) was a powerful book, perhaps the nearest we have yet had in English to a genuinely Sartrian work…. [But] is it a novel? The lurid power of some of its scenes arises not from the known commitments of the excellent historian David Caute, but from a savagely destructive urge operating at a more primitive, and more imaginatively interesting, level. So far as Mr. Caute's conscious intentions are concerned, the successful parts of The Decline of the West are accidental, one might say incidental: sometimes, in individual scenes, the characters take over, and behave independently of any theory. But Mr Caute's view of history ultimately proves stronger than his imagination: the result is a series of brilliant cameos, strung too didactically together. You cannot write a novel to prove something: if your novel succeeds, then you will inevitably end by proving something else….
[Mr. Caute] is a subtle and accomplished thinker who dares not surrender to his imaginative impulses, because—I think—their apparently destructive, non-political power frightens him.
Martin Seymour-Smith, "Thinking Pink," in The Spectator (© 1968 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 220, No. 7281, January 12, 1968, p. 43.∗
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Gunter Grass's The Plebians Rehearse the Uprising [is] a study of revolutionary art overtaken by revolutionary events to which [Mr. Caute's] The Demonstration seems much indebted both in its organization and in its main character.
Grass's play shows Brecht failing to join forces with the east Berlin workers while rehearsing a production of Coriolanus which appears to support their cause. Mr. Caute shows a Brechtian drama teacher temporising with his students when they abandon a revolutionary production and take over the university instead.
It is a damaging comparison for two reasons. First, the political realities of the German situation throw the triviality of British student protest into sharp relief: their rebellion is no less a piece of play-acting than the play. This, of course, is a problem for anyone trying to create drama from the British political playground. But it leads to the second objection: that in trying to engineer a conflict between political make-believe and political action, Mr. Caute goes to work under a smoke screen.
He starts by showing the students as a group of dogmatic slogan-mouthing simpletons. However, they have to be given some grievances; so he allows them to present a play of their own satirising the university administration as a crew of puritanical tyrants who drive the undergraduates into revolt. In the next scene this revolt has actually happened, and...
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Irene L. Gendzier
[David Caute's Frantz Fanon] succeeds in providing the interested reader with a rapid account of the life and times of the Martiniquean psychiatrist turned revolutionary in the Algerian Revolution of 1954–1962…. [But] Caute fails to capture the passion and the tragedy that marked Fanon's life…. Fanon's complex combination of anti-western, anti-colonialist attitudes was expressed in the language and historical context of the country towards which he felt such strong and ambivalent sentiments. He formulated but did not resolve that contradiction which is common to other partisans in the same struggle. To Caute, who is an astute follower of the man's political wanderings, it is equally compelling to contemplate the fact that Fanon's following has been largely outside of Africa, in North America and in the Middle East. Events and their interpreters, however, change at uneven schedules. (p. 118)
Irene L. Gendzier, in a review of "Frantz Fanon," in The Middle East Journal (© 1971, the Middle East Institute), Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 1971, pp. 117-18.
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[In David Caute's The Confrontation] we have a latter-day equivalent of the Victorian three-volume novel: one volume of aesthetic theory [The Illusion], one of fiction [The Occupation], one of drama [The Demonstration], and all involving the same character, a certain Professor Steven Bright. The first is supposed to be his manifesto: in the second and third he appears as protagonist. Now, this Bright resigned his fellowship at All Souls for political reasons and explained his decision in Encounter, as Caute did. Like Caute, he went to teach at New York University. He has published a novel called The Rise of the East, which, one feels, cannot be very different from Caute's Decline of the West; and there are other parallels. It would be simple-minded and, in view of Bright's more lurid personal habits, perhaps also libellous to conclude that Steven Bright is Caute. Nevertheless, we may reasonably presume that Bright's preferences and dislikes, his aspirations and anxieties, are particularly close to Caute's heart. The function of Bright, perhaps, is to dramatise these preferences and anxieties in an objective and more general way: we aren't in the presence of one tormented individual, but the detached observers of the problems of 'the middle-aged Hampstead pink'.
'Alienation' is a word much invoked, in both Marxist and Brechtian senses. It must appear an average of twice a page in...
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The Times Literary Supplement
David Caute's project is an ambitious one which deserves critical respect. He has published three books, each independent in itself but together forming a comprehensive work with the general title The Confrontation. This title, like those of the three separate books, has multiple meanings. Among them: confrontation with society; the writer facing himself as a writer; opposition between generations; left versus right.
The first part of the trilogy is a play, The Demonstration; the second, an essay, The Illusion; the third, a novel, The Occupation. The central character of the play and the novel, as well as the supposed author of the essay, is Steven Bright, an English don….
The trilogy indicates that Bright is Dr Caute's alter ego. This is not a reader's deduction but an explicit suggestion by the author, repeated several times. These may not be autobiographical works but they are certainly confessional ones. The relevance of a confession sometimes needs to be examined apart from its achievement as literature. It needs to be judged by what it reveals about the lived life as distinct from the life of the writing. Seen in this way, the trilogy is both original and courageous. Dr Caute reveals to us the circularity of the academic intellectual's life. There is a continual confusion between theory and reality, political opinions and political effectiveness, the pursuit of knowledge and...
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John Russell Taylor
[David Caute's] first play, Songs for an Autumn Rifle (1961), is a complex and ambitious attempt to come to terms with the moral and political issues behind the 1956 Hungarian uprising, not only as they affected the Hungarians and the Russians in Hungary, but as they affected communists and non-communists elsewhere. The structure is very intricate, switching backwards and forwards between Hungary and London, and keeping several groups of characters in play at once—the editor of a London Communist newspaper, confused by the turn of events, his dogmatic mistress-cum-editorial assistant, his son in the army who refuses on principle to serve in Cyprus, the Hungarian rebels, good and bad, the Russian invaders, humane and ruthless. The play finally turns on the editor's decision to resign, and how he will do it, with maximum publicity or bowing quietly to the will of the party (eventually he does the latter). Caute's writing here has been accused of undue intellectualization, but I cannot help wondering if that is not largely because critics know Caute is academically interested in political theory before they come to anything creative he has done; in fact, though not all the characters are equally well realized (the women in particular are not too clearly seen), the play shows real dramatic talent allied to firm intellectual control of its argument.
The Demonstration (1969) is even better, and incidentally characteristic of...
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John R. Coyne, Jr.
At first [The Occupation] seems just another of that depressing ruck of academic novels written to show us what university life is really like. Summarize one and you've summarized them all. The narrator is inevitably a professor of English in the throes of premature male menopause, his world crumbling around his ears, his wife hostile, the coeds after whom he lusts—and unfortunately, after years of prudent chasing finally catches—disillusioned. Nothing makes sense, the SYSTEM is meaningless, the world is meaningless, it's all a bad cosmic joke.
And superficially, that's the way this one seems to be heading. But somewhere along the line you realize that Caute understands all that, and as you penetrate the deliberately obscure surrealistic plot (no academic worth his PhD would be caught dead laying down a straight plot line these days) and the scenic pop pornography, you realize that Caute's saying something important about the nature of academic man and something important about the condition of the contemporary novel.
The central character, like Caute, is a youngish with-it socialist British academic who spends a year teaching at a large university in New York. As he lusts after one of his students, he thinks a great deal, in typical academic fashion, about the meaning of it all and his place in the scheme of things. Constant preoccupation with self, the disease of the academic, finally leads to breakdown,...
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Dozens of talented writers in Western countries (as well as scores of negligible scribblers) declared their sympathy with the Stalinist 'experiment' while it was in progress, without themselves becoming communists. The more eminent of them were taken on Potemkin tours of the Soviet Union and, if their enthusiasm survived the experience (as in some cases, such as André Gide's, it did not), they returned to serve on committees dedicated to pro-Soviet causes and to the justification of Stalinism. They were called fellow-travellers.
David Caute has told the story of the British, American, French and some of the German fellow-travellers between 1928 and 1956 in [The Fellow-Travellers], a bulky but very readable book. The time span is not arbitrary. In Mr. Caute's view there were few examples of the type before 1928 because fellow-travellers generally feared and detested Trotsky, permanent revolution and the idea that communism might one day arrive in the West. What they admired was Stalinism, socialism in one other country. And what they admired about it was orderly scientific government, the submission of society to the philosopher-tyrant. By 1956 it had become clear to even the most enthusiastic, thanks to the Khrushchev Report and the Budapest rising, that Stalinism was not scientific, nor even orderly. A few unrepentant fellow-travellers then transferred their fixation to Maoism, and they get a chapter in Caute's book,...
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[In The Fellow-Travellers] which is stuffed full of interesting anecdotes and character sketches, [Mr Caute] has tried, first, to give a chronological narrative of the phases through which the fellow-traveller movement passed between 1917 and 1956, when he thinks it faded away, and, secondly, by an examination of the fantastic gallimaufry of personalities involved, to discover what are the essential common characteristics of the fellow-traveller. Alas, by seeking to combine the methods of the historian with those of the social psychologist, he has produced a book which is both over-long and extremely confused. The narrative is interrupted by such long analytical digressions that it is difficult to follow. Each chapter contains one or two full-length biographies of the famous, while the character sketches of the lesser fry are frequently chopped off and presented fragmentarily at different points in the story.
Mr Caute has cast his net widely and fished up an astonishing haul of human types….
After studying his haul carefully, Mr Caute reaches the conclusion that the essential characteristic of the species is a common belief in the perfectibility of man, and a faith that the Russian Revolution marked an epoch in the progress towards true democracy (or, in Christian terms, towards the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth). 'In its more serious intellectual aspects,' he writes, 'the phenomenon of fellow-travelling can...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
Fellow-travelling is less a passing fashion than a particular cast of mind. The symptoms of those writers and intellectuals who, never having set foot inside a car factory in their own countries, sang the praises of Soviet tractor production and turned a blind eye to the horrors of the Stalinist purges are by no means confined to the period before 1956, when the suppression of the Hungarian revolt belatedly brought many of them to their senses. A complete compendium of fellow-travelling since the Bolshevik revolution would also have to take account of the apologias that a later, by no means undistinguished, generation of literati have contrived for communist regimes in China, Cuba, North Vietnam and, most recently, for the Marxist experiment in Chile.
No doubt there is a distinction to be drawn between the fellow-travelling of the citified, rational and statistics-conscious Old Left … and the third-worldly, romantic, bring-the-revolution-home antics of the New Left. But it is a pity that Mr Caute confines his study [The Fellow-Travellers] to the period between the late 1920s and 1956, with a quick after-glance at Edgar Snow's visits to China and a few historical allusions to admirers of the French revolution.
It is also a pity that his fairly chunky book reads like a grab-bag of half-assimilated quotations and potted biographies, punctuated by schoolboyish jibes at the foibles of his victims and the...
(The entire section is 586 words.)
The Antioch Review
Beginning with the hesitantly expressed premise that art can affect the way in which people see their societies and the possibilities for social change, Caute attempts to redeem the role of the artist [in The Illusion]. Following Brecht, he argues for a self-conscious art in which the artist's presence and his doubts prevent a therapeutic or cathartic identification with a self-contained and illusory "reality," and instead create sufficient distance between the work of art and the audience to enable critical reflection, possibly leading to thoughtful action. (And yet, isn't some degree of empathy necessary simply to understanding?) As against that curiously undialectical focus of that most dialectical strand of Marxism, Caute emphasizes that the artist is engaged in praxis. Not simply mediators, and even less passive recipients of external stimuli, artists contribute to shaping their environment, and their own understanding of their enterprise is a crucial part of their contribution. Thus Caute, himself a novelist and playwright, would break down the distinction between critic and artist, holding the latter responsible for understanding the social context out of which he creates, and for anticipating, to the extent possible, the social effects of his creations. In attempting to redress the balance, Caute may have polarized the argument, for he ignores the Marxist insight that social conditions pre-define the range of options open to the artist....
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Collisions collects together 19 essays of one kind and another which David Caute has written during the course of the past ten years. The remarkable range of his talents as novelist, playwright, political theorist and historian makes one cast about a bit anxiously for some common thread, a unifying theme. Mr Caute seems to share this anxiety; he suggests that one 'obvious thread linking these disparate pieces is the inclination to walk to and fro across the bridges which join, or can be made to join, history, politics and literature'….
The unifying theme is a 'continual gnawing' at familiar liberal dilemmas—what sort of price is it worth paying to preserve one's freedom from foreign oppression, are freedom and equality compatible, can the writer serve the liberation of his fellows by committing his pen to their political concerns or must he preserve a certain detachment both for his own sake and that of his art? The first three essays making up a section called 'Disputes' really aren't much of a contribution to mankind's search for a solution to these dilemmas. They recount Mr Caute's struggle to organise a teach-in on Vietnam in the Oxford Union, his battle with the forces of immobilisme in All Souls, which ended with his resignation from that curious institution, and his conflict with the BBC over the question of whether he could say 'fuck' on the Third Programme when quoting Norman Mailer's Why are we in...
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[Cuba, Yes? describes Caute's] guided tour through Havana and the provinces. He unravels a good tale. The narrative is enhanced by the author's lengthy observations on historic and contemporary Cuba and by his debates with Cuban guides—which he almost always lost. Caute is cognizant of the innate superiority complex which some Europeans and North Americans exhibit when they visit less economically fortunate countries, and as a consequence he tries to suppress his initial negative image of Cuba. Although the author evidences critical sympathy for Cuba, the reader is left with the impression that Caute prefers capitalist variety to socialist predictability.
A review of "Cuba, Yes?" in Choice (copyright © 1975 by American Library Association; reprinted by permission of the American Library Association), Vol. 12, No. 2, April, 1975, p. 282.
(The entire section is 125 words.)
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
In ["The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower"] Mr. Caute, the English novelist and historian, examines the ravages of the great fear a quarter of a century ago in the United States. It is a story too many Americans have comfortably forgotten. Here it is recorded in pitiless detail—the madness of the times, the fright in Congress, state legislatures and the press, the purges in Government, the professions, the arts, the unions, the reaction in the courts, the awful human price in wrecked careers and blasted lives. It is a shameful story. I trust it will remind us in bad times to come that the Constitution remains a sounder guide than patriotic paranoia. No single work contains so much of the record of a season of national hysteria. We must be grateful to Mr. Caute for putting it all together.
At the same time, one must regret that he did not do a better job of it…. It is not the serious historical study the subject demands. It is mostly written out of secondary works, supplemented by interviews, and these almost exclusively with casualties of the panic and their lawyers. Mr. Caute writes about the excesses of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the Senate Internal Security Committee and the McCarthy committee; but he would have written more cogently if he had looked, as he apparently neglected to do, at the committee hearings. If he had read the reports of the recent Church committee, he could...
(The entire section is 855 words.)
H. Stuart Hughes
For [David Caute], the author of The Great Fear, Truman's executive order of March 1947 launching the loyalty program ranks as the single "most sinister and destructive departure in postwar domestic politics, one which was to ramify far beyond the federal service and poison wide areas of American working, educational and cultural life." The sentence is typical of Caute's downright style…. Caute's [book] lacks both grace and nuance. He belongs to the younger generation of Englishmen who have as much trouble with English prose as the Americans whom their elders used to mock. "Red-bait" appears again and again as a verb; the constitution is "concussed" in the courts; defiant witnesses face the "ruination" of their careers. Such stylistic strictures, however, should not be taken as in any way reflecting on the substance of Caute's work, which is of first-rate importance.
A key to both the merit and the weakness of the book is its organization…. [Caute] organizes most of his findings in two categories: he examines first the "machinery of repression," whether administrative or congressional, federal or state, and then he deals with the victims according to their professions…. The result of this approach is to give us a meticulous account of what occurred in different segments of American society while leaving a number of vital matters unexplored. (p. 4)
Caute's failure to ask why so many intelligent and...
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David Caute's The Great Fear is a massive volume that has the appearance of a scholarly work that has been meticulously researched with more than a hundred pages of notes, references and bibliographical items. The appearance is deceptive. It is an impassioned political attack by a British author against the policy of the United States at the end of the Second World War when with the resumption of Communist aggression against the West and the revelations of the pervasive nature of Soviet espionage, a loyalty and security programme was introduced by the government. The period covered includes the Hiss, Rosenberg, and Coplon trials, and the conviction of the leaders of the Communist Party under the Smith Act, as well as the Korean War, McCarthy's demagogic crusade and the entire era of "the Cold War." The villains are not the Communists, all of whom were staunch Stalinists who supported without qualification every infamy of the Kremlin. They are gently chided by Caute for not standing up on occasion more firmly for their principles. Nor is it Joseph McCarthy and his disciples whose role, for all its irresponsible demagogy, Caute regards as "historically healthy" because its very extremism shocked the public into awareness that liberty was "not easily divisible." The real villains were the "Cold War liberals" or "liberal anti-Communists" who detested both the Communists and McCarthy's methods of combating them. Caute's moral indignation is...
(The entire section is 1043 words.)
The historical novel has often been favoured by Marxists, who claim a particularly intimate relationship to the processes of history, and was the object of a magisterial treatise by Georg Lukacs. In this context it is instructive to consider the case of David Caute, who is both a novelist and a historian, an intellectual of the left, and a former Marxist (one should add that, like Orwell a generation ago, Mr Caute devotes much energy to criticizing his comrades on the left). Early in his career Mr Caute wrote a historical novel, Comrade Jacob (1961), which was set in seventeenth-century England soon after the execution of Charles I. It describes the rise and fall of the egalitarian Digger community set up by Gerrard Winstanley and ultimately suppressed by Cromwell. Caute paints a good picture of the community and the principal characters in its story, but his novel is shackled by a rigid Marxist schema; it is a roman à thèse rather than a genuine novel of ideas, though there is no doubt about its author's intelligence and literary skills. In his next novel, The Decline of the West (1966), Caute tried to penetrate the heart of the historical process in our own day. It is a long, naturalistic work set in contemporary Africa, in an imaginary country which is the setting for revolutionary violence and brutal repression. Here, too, one finds a prominent thesis, about the collapse of imperialism and the final stages of...
(The entire section is 1456 words.)
The publishers of this brilliant book [Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia] tell us that it combines 'a historian's power of analysis with a journalist's eye-witness reporting of events and a novelist's sense of detail'. Of this trinity of virtues analysis is much the least evident. Caute's method of documenting the last days of white Rhodesia is impressionistic, immediate. He reports from within each moment, recording the actions and opinions of people who do not know what the outcome of events is going to be. He does not often make comments that are wise after these events; frequently he makes no comment at all. He matches his reports of white views about black politics with his own much more perceptive and informed contemporary accounts of what was going on in the African rural areas. The reader is largely left to draw the conclusions and this is easy enough to do. We can see for ourselves how ignorant the whites are about the Africans they rule; how fatuous and nasty their statements so often are; we know how the whole business turned out. We hardly need Caute to spell out for us the outlines of the skull beneath the Rhodesian skin….
[The white Rhodesian's] suspicion of overseas journalists was overcome by the sense of solidarity with a fellow white. Unaware of Caute's concealed miniature tape recorder, they expanded before this irresistibly attentive listener with a kind of corrupt innocence…....
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["Under the Skin"] is a brilliant narrative account of the messy end of white rule in Rhodesia. It is authentic, pitiless and yet, in the end, sadly disappointing. Its strength lies in David Caute's gifts as novelist and playwright to capture dialogue and atmosphere. He has no need to create characters, they present themselves—mostly angry, hateful, self-justifying and sadly worried people who, as they go under, still deny any misdeeds or mistakes on their own part; still defy the rest of the world and fiercely blame others for all of their misfortunes….
Although he writes with a fiercely unapologetic bias against the old Rhodesian society, David Caute nevertheless appears to have had closer contact with whites than blacks during the four years, 1976–80, that he spent visiting Rhodesia to witness its death-throes. And although he is clearly on the side of the guerrillas, he appears to have no illusions about the future….
White Rhodesians were, of course, justifiably proud of their contribution to building up the country; but, equally of course, black Zimbabweans must refuse to recognise their contribution because so much of the wealth was hogged by the whites and, much worse, because they insisted on treating blacks as dependent children. The lesser breed was habitually referred to as 'those people,' or simply as 'munts' or 'kaffirs.' Caute repeatedly comes across whites who attribute whatever can't otherwise...
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[Under the Skin] is an odd ragbag of a book, impressionistic, episodic, anecdotal. It does not pretend to give a conventional narrative of the last days of Rhodesia. That has already been done by Martin Meredith in The Past is Another Country, and by other writers also. David Caute's object is to get inside the white settlers, and to describe—and applaud—the end of the country they ruled using a "historian's power of analysis … a journalist's eyewitness reporting … and a novelist's sense of detail".
But a historian, however much his sympathies may be engaged and however recently the events took place, stands back and looks at them critically; a reporter—rather than a polemical journalist—tells the story plainly and untendentiously; a novelist has a feeling for a character and speech. Caute's book fits none of these. It is a sort of jeu d'esprit, a mixture of fine writing and journalese breathlessly striving for effect….
[Caute] does not much like most white Rhodesians, which is a drawback in a writer trying to get under their collective skin…. Like other critics of the Rhodesian whites he seems to dislike them almost more for being common than for being racist—rampant social snobbery?…
Because it is a personal impression the book should not perhaps be judged by rigorous historical or journalistic standards; but the "novelist's sense" is a catch as well as a...
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['The K-Factor,' a novel] set in Southern Rhodesia in 1979, in the last days of white rule, explores the strange forms life takes in a 'vacuum' where 'anything is possible': where the racial divide that on one level simplifies everything, on another level generates self-division and bad faith. Civil war, even between colonists and freedom-fighters, is still, the novel insists, war within the self too, a symptom of 'our' failure to understand 'ourselves' as collectively human.
Mr Caute refuses to produce a documentary. His descriptions of both black and white characters, and the words in which they fail to communicate ('terrs,' 'munts,' 'floppies,' 'Afs,' 'sell-outs') are vivid and meticulous. However, his real interest is in entangling his reader in the psychology of 'transition.' As the violence and paranoia build up, his people decay into peculiar entities….
All of which makes for strenuous and compulsive reading, in the manner of J. G. Farrell novels about the end of Empire. The historical process reveals more of a residue of unreason, the closer you get to it. However, 'The K-Factor' (the title starts off as white code for the inferiority of 'Kaffirs' and ends by symbolising the element of fantasy in real events) doesn't in the end have Farrell's persuasiveness. Mr Caute crams too many competing mental landscapes into too small a space, so that the 'chaos' stays, too often, out of focus.
(The entire section is 253 words.)
[In David Caute's The K-Factor] K stands for kaffir, in Zimbabwe, 1979. Kaffirs, in the eyes of white coffee-farmers Charles and Sonia Laslet, know nothing about their own country, and only take kindness for weakness. Yet, despite their contempt for "munts" and "gooks", the Laslets admit that the K-factor is something they cannot beat. It is the unpredictable element that forces Sonia "afraid most of the time", to isolate herself in a neurotic dream world where she communes with Isak Dinesen, guards a mysterious baby which may or may not be hers, and indulges in a safely sterile lesbian affair. It drives her husband to the opposite extreme of personal indifference and racial brutality. The country they have chosen as their home is a battle-ground for survival, national and individual. Other writers may show war drawing from men unsuspected strength and humanity; in Caute's Zimbabwe it drags them to appalling excesses….
All this makes for uncomfortable reading. Caute's theme is aggression, and his writing is deliberately provocative, even offensive…. The war between black men and white brings the races into conflict with each other as well as their opponents. The terrorist struggle is reflected in the games of musical beds played by Sonia, her husband, her actress lover and journalist brother….
Caute tells a good, tense story, and writes sharp, fast-moving dialogue. But he tries to keep too many balls in...
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The K-Factor is set in Zimbabwe during the violent period between the internal settlement and the election of Robert Mugabe…. David Caute strikes at once that characteristic note of sardonic superiority present in Under the Skin—the Death of White Rhodesia, his blockbuster of impressionistic rapportage which was published earlier this year. The K-Factor is in fact a re-working of much of the material of that book.
The theme of both books is the same, namely "the myths, legends, reifications and strategies of false consciousness". Inevitably the rationalizations and fantasies with which the Whites sustain their view of the world present the larger target, and it is against these that the full force of the author's odium is directed.
The novel tells an action-packed and violent tale with a dazzling display of know-how…. The burden of this information-giving is carried by dialogue. This has the effect of undermining the verisimilitude it seeks to establish, because people keep telling each other things which in reality they wouldn't need to. We are also exposed to some simplified potted history…. There is a good deal of highly schematic political debate.
The plot is complicated. Sonia, a rich grass widow, drinks whisky behind the security fence of her farm. Beyond the fence terrorists and radicalized Jesuits go about their business. Helicopters whirr overhead. Bizarrely, in...
(The entire section is 481 words.)