Sex, lies and irrational hedonism

Looking for something vageuly new year-ish to post this morning, I came across this curious, gossipy letter (about the sex lives and sexual politics of Communist Party acquaintances) and I can’t resist sharing it – despite the poor image quality, and a few words that I can’t quite work out.

I’m not sure which year it’s from – my vague guess would be 1936 or 1937, and I can’t work out who any of the people mentioned are (Rosemary, Tom and David), nor who “Nobby” (its writer, from Bristol) is. The letter seems to be responding to one from Elizabeth on the subject of the sex lives of Communist Party friends. The chief question seems to be whether Rosemary and Tom’s activities should be classed as “irrational hedonism” – and whether they should be considered “on a par” with David, the villain of the piece (what on earth had he been getting up to? – possibly a divorce, as a “correspondent” is mentioned).

Most interesting are the hints at an ongoing discussion between Elizabeth and Nobby on gender equality amongst Communist Party (and Labour Party?) members. We are often told of how badly the left has historically treated its own women and it sounds like this is something Elizabeth was grappling with even then – realising perhaps that “equality” didn’t extend to women (Nobby quotes a previous letter of Elizabeth’s: “equality of sexes seems to have no meaning to this crowd”). I think (although obviously biased) that the points which seem to indicate prudishness on Elizabeth’s part are in fact a response to this question of sexual/moral double standards – and the poor treatment of various women. Elizabeth was by no means a prude (as I know from my own experience, and as various other letters attest), but she would certainly have had a problem with women being treated callously by men acting in the style of “nineteenth-century seducers”.

It all reminds me of a similar letter dating from Elizabeth’s time at Oxford – again apparently repsponding to her complaints about a lack of gender equality amongst Labour Club members there. I’ll post it if I can find it – and will post more on Rosemary, Tom and the Jack of Hearts (David) if I discover more on them. Meanwhile, here it is – Nobby to Elizabeth, 12th August, 1936 or 1937 (images of original letter below):

If you pass through Bristol before Aug. 21 come and talk a couple of hours and have a meal if you can. I should think it would be best to lose your parents first though.

102 Redland Rd
Bristol 6

Aug 12

Dear E,

Yes Gardens [?]. Shall be in London Sept 2-4, but will write P.C. when nearer.

I am v glad you got to Rhondda.

Yes I think I can identify Rosemary. I don’t quite see the evidence on which Tom and Rosemary is called irrational hedonism and on a par with David: aren’t you considering facts I don’t know? – I don’t see why it must have been irrational hedonism with Tom and Rosemary.

I also am personally worried and consciously deeply ignorant on this question of casual relationships. I have several times read that women are infinitely slower in the uptake and in the put down and I am rather worried at the possibility that my own slender private evidence supports this. There is room for a book on sex ethics by a P. Member thought not a party sanction book. The only vice which I am absolutely confident in branding as such is deceit of any form – I suppose you imply David was guilty of that (remember I do not know the history of his amours). I also think that towards non-P-members one can easily behave like a 19 century seducer and take advantage of ignorance: I should have said that it was fair to assume any female P. member would be wise and strong enough to know roughly where she stood all the time.

No.

I can’t go on discussing this question without getting you to formulate more explicitly what your accusations are. For example you say:

(1) ‘equality of sexes seems to have no meaning to this crowd’
(2) what is wrong with Tom and Rosemary
(3) how did Tom get out of hand
(4) what was the pathos [?] of David’s correspondent
(5) what exactly has increased in the Labour Club (may be covered by 1, 2, 3, 4)

I am sorry to be so pedantic and you may put it down to my new hesitation [?] to discussion of these affairs and perhaps you will say it is obvious my comments would be worthless but please in spite of that explain these 5 points for my education anyway.

I should like to say though that I could not go on if I felt I was not right in calling X Y Z (P-members) bloody bad Communists.

Yours

Nobby.

irrational-hedonism-nobby-1

irrational-hedonism-nobby-2

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redthirties

if you have any thoughts, questions, suggestions - or (even better!) further information - about any of the topics covered on Red Thirties, then please either leave a comment or e-mail me at: redthirties@gmail.com. Thanks for reading, Anna

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