Seven years ago I had a wake up call says Arianna, when she opens her Saturday evening session in conversation with Georgina Godwin. “I was burnt out, I passed out and came round in a pool of my own blood”. I’m supposed to be successful but coming round in a pool of your own blood isn’t a mark of success.
Society has brought the definition of success down to just two metrics – money and power. It’s a two-legged stool that’s bound to fall over so she decided we needed a third metric. The Huffington Post founder argues that a successful life is achieved by including a third metric: personal care, health, and fulfilment. She also talks a great deal about the need for sleep. Bill Clinton said the biggest mistakes he made in life were when he was tired. He didn’t specify which mistakes.
Arianna Huffington is a highly intelligent and engaging individual. There was much humour; she recalled a headline from The Onion that said ‘death rate remains steady at 100%’. She had an anecdote about the British who she said allegedly have no spirituality and invented cricket so they could experience eternity.
All that said, her polemic feels personal rather than universal, it’s about her own journey. It’s also framed in a kind of Californian world view, the view of someone who in a spiritual sense has gone from Wall Street to Haight Astbury – Huffington lived in California for a period in the nineties.
If her new book is as engaging on paper as she is in person then it will be a great read whether or not it serves as a useful and universal design for life.
‘The wobble gets people’ said Tom Hollander, comparing Dylan Thomas to….Adele, of all people. She would probably appreciate that, not sure about him. Thomas’s unique voice was a big topic of discussion today: Hollander said he had to tone it down as it was too ‘fruity’ for modern ears.
Hollander has just played Thomas in ‘A Poet In New York,’ scripted by Davies. Clips from the film were shown during the talk, and the podgy, retching, pasty Thomas on-screen was hardly recognisable from the tanned real life Hollander. He tried to put the weight on sensibly to avoid getting diabetes but in the end just gave up and ate chips.
It’s hard to dramatise the descent of an alcoholic which is basically dull as well as horrible to watch so Davies had to contrast the beauty of his words with the ugliness of his actions. Dylan is well known for being the great poet of mortality, but he was also described as one of the best writers on being young, falling in love and getting drunk. Hollander said his favourite line from the film was in response to a doctor who told him to stop drinking or he would die. Thomas’s answer (in Davies’s line) was ‘but we’re all dying aren’t we.’ True of course but as Hollander also said, ‘it’s not too long and easy to remember.’
Kate Adie should now be renamed Kate Hay-die, Queen of the Festival. She was here to talk about the home front in World War One, but her views were very much informed by her time as a war correspondent in the Balkans, where many of the first British women fought on the front line. These women – like Flora Sands – are remembered and celebrated in Serbia today though all but forgotten at home.
Kate tried to get into the mindset of the minds of people entering the war in 1914 in ‘a world run by men for men’. The suffragettes had made their mark but not achieved their goal, and it was still legitimate for an MP to claim that ‘making decisions may overheat their brains to the point at which they may boil.’ But the war simply could not have been won without the contribution of women. They not only ran hospitals, joined the army corps, worked in factories and put up posters, they also – horror of horrors – wore trousers. They proved what they could do: but attitudes did not catch up, and there was still serious concern about what women should do.
Television doesn’t do justice to Kate’s facial expressions, ability to perform or comic timing and the audience could happily have sat listening for another hour. Interestingly, Adie doesn’t want statues, memorials or monuments to our lost heroines – instead she argued for endowments made in their name to train women in order that they can become living tributes. I hope there is already a Kate Adie scholarship bringing up the next generation of thoughtful and passionate journalists.
‘The bad guys are every bit as interesting as the good guys and often more historically significant’ said Lucy Hughes-Hallet, explaining why she has spent seven years of her life working on the life of Gabrielle D’Annunzio, poet, politician and seducer of more or less any woman who met him.
Mussolini called him the ‘John the Baptist of Fascism’, Hemingway admired his work but called him a jerk, and he called himself ‘the greatest Italian author since Dante.’ He certainly seems to have had one of the all-time greatest egos: what is more surprising perhaps is that so many women loved him and so many men admired and followed him when he seems, for want of a better word, just horrible.
Small and rather ugly, he was also charming and charismatic to an unbelievable degree, ending by running the city of Fiume as his own personal city-state, or as Hughes-Hallet said ‘a stage for political theatre performance.’
D’Annunzio is fascinating as well as grotesque and Hughes-Hallett enjoyed making fun of his ludicrous side while not shying away from his dangerous and repulsive actions. She said she ‘knew him from the inside as well as from the outside’ and it was very interesting to hear from a biographer who didn’t love and admire their subject for a change.
Crace and Sutherland, a.k.a ‘The Two Johnnies’ ponder the question, “what of today’s literature will still be being read in 100 years time?” This enjoyable session featured the thoughts of the ‘Superprof’ Sutherland and the hilarious ‘Digested Reads’ of Crace.
Sutherland’s book, ‘How to be Well Read’ takes 500 novels; his own recommendations, as well as his pastiche on Victorian writing, proving, according to him, that just because he has a Phd in Literature doesn’t mean he can write. The questions “why do books survive from long ago?” and “what would be the Howard’s End of the 21st century?” were pondered, and we were treated to Crace’s version of Wolf Hall hoping that Hilary Mantel would get the joke as it underwent the ‘Cracian Digestion Process’. He attributes her presence in his version to her strong authorial voice in the novel.
Finally we heard the Digested Read version of Pippa Middleton’s party tips, hilarious for both audience and reader. Not sure if this one will be in Sutherland’s book. I suspect not…