(John) David Caute Essay - Critical Essays

Caute, (John) David

Introduction

(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.)

Simon Raven

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.∗

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.∗

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 speaks with pure Joyce Cary accents. But Mr Caute's own instincts have been right. He does not parade any distracting historical detail; and except for an unnecessary reference to 'some young chap called Andre Marvele', he drops no names. By seeming not to explain the age, he makes it live.

V. S. Naipaul, "On St. George's Hill," in New Statesman (© 1961 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXI, No. 1574, May 12, 1961, p. 758.∗

Bernard Bergonzi

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...

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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...

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Time

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...

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Roger Gellert

[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...

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Gordon Wright

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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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LAURENCE LaFORE

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...

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Raymond Rosenthal

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...

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Martin Seymour-Smith

[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...

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Irving Wardle

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...

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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...

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Benedict Nightingale

[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...

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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...

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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,...

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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...

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NEIL McINNES

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...

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Richard Crossman

[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...

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Robert Moss

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...

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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...

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Alan Ryan

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...

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Choice

[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...

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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...

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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...

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Sidney Hook

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...

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Bernard Bergonzi

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...

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Terence Ranger

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...

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Colin Legum

["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...

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Geoffrey Wheatcroft

[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...

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Lorna Sage

['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....

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Isabel Raphael

[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...

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Roger Owen

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...

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