‘Always treated in a gentlemanly way’: a reductio ad absurdum in the City of London

Shock, disbelief and erudition in a City sex discrimination case

For ordinary mortals, it’s hard to know what is most jaw-dropping about the Nomos Capital sex discrimination case. The allegations are shocking for a start, confirming our reasonable prejudice that the love of money is indeed the root of all kinds of evil and those greedy blighters truly are a different species. Except, of course, that they are merely a worse version of much of the rest of mankind in their arrogance and bullying.

Then there’s the claim by ‘multimillionaire financier Mark Lowe’ that he ‘always treated’ his employee, Jordan Wimmer, ‘in a gentlemanly way’. His use of ‘gentlemanly’ seems rather stretched when his conduct included emailing jokes which ‘compared women to dogs, expensive cars, sheep and corrosive chemicals’. Perhaps Lowe (described, rather bizarrely as ‘erudite’) was using the word in the first, archaic, definition given by the OED: ‘properly, one who is entitled to bear arms, though not ranking among the nobility’ (‘now chiefly historical’), though I rather suspect he may have been trying to lay claim to be ‘a man of chivalrous instincts and fine feelings’. Yet the report continues: ‘He admitted referring to Wimmer as “only decorative”, but he said it was a joke.’ Is it gentlemanly to jest about a young lady in that way, even in London?

Mix this in with the information that Miss Wimmer, at the tender age of 29, was paid £577,000 a year ‘to introduce rich individuals to hedge funds’. Ah, the etiquette of introductions is so expensive, isn’t it? All that money merely to be decorative! Add to the brew her claim that he’d hired a hitman to kill her and Hugh Muir’s revelation in Friday’s paper that this ‘erudite’ man was known at Balliol College Oxford as ‘Markedlylowgrade’. Which might explain Mr Lowe’s unconvincing riposte that the accusation that he thought of women as objects was ‘reductio ad absurdum through false syllogism’. Such language might be material for Word of the Day but it rings hollow, particularly when read in the light of Hugh Muir’s story on Thursday. This has Mr Lowe look in on the Balliol College law library. ‘This is just like a gentleman’s club,’ he said. ‘In that case you’d better leave,’ came the reply.

The humble wage-earner might also enjoy a moment’s schadenfreude when reading that, in a reductio ad absurdum, Lowe’s firm was brought low, nay liquidated, after being burned by the Bernard Madoff Ponzi fraud. Unfortunately (as much for him, I feel, as for natural justice), Lowe still has an estimated wealth of £100m. As we’re being jocular, we might consider it appropriate that ‘to be a gentleman’, the OED tells us, is ‘to have no work to do’. Even more appropriately, perhaps: ‘in contemptuous or humorous uses; esp. old gentleman = old fellow, spec. the devil’. The devil, after all, also took pride in false syllogism – but that’s another story, involving, as Oscar Wilde reminded us, ‘a man and a woman in a garden’ and ending ‘with Revelations’. Revelations enough in the employment tribunal for now.

Carol Ann Duffy marks the passing of the First World War generation

Statue of Great War soldier on War Memorial at Horseguards Parade, LondonToday’s Service to Mark the Passing of the First World War Generation at 10:50 on Radio 4 (Long Wave only) will include a poem by the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. It’s called ‘Last Post’ and if you miss the programme you can find the text on the Times site. There’s more about today’s service on the BBC site.

Earlier this year, The Guardian printed some of the results of the new Laureate’s commission of war poetry for today under the title ‘Exit wounds’. At the time, she wrote: ‘Such lines are part of the English poetry reader’s DNA, injected during schooldays like a vaccine.’ In recognition of this, she opens her poem with words from Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est‘.

Humour in Great War poetry?

An email from a school this week asked for ‘poetry which expresses the humour of the infantry during the Great War’.

Poetry of the First World War by Tom Rank - York Notes AdvancedAn email from a school this week asked for ‘poetry which expresses the humour of the infantry during the Great War’. I pointed out that though there are many books of war poetry, humour doesn’t get much coverage in the standard anthologies. There is of course the sardonic humour of someone like Sassoon in ‘The General‘. Kipling’s ‘Epitaphs of War’ are often sombre but also contain some sarcastic outbursts. (It would also be very illuminating for students to find out about Kipling’s personal involvement in the war effort and its aftermath.) You can read all his ‘Epitaphs’ online in the brief selection of poems I’ve put online here; they include background notes based on my volume in the York Notes Advanced series.

Poems of TodayThere is a good range of poetry in Martin Stephen’s anthology Never Such Innocence. He includes a lot of material that isn’t otherwise readily available in print, such as the anonymous ‘When this blasted war is over’ (to the tune of ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’). As for ‘fun’, try Rose Macaulay’s ‘Many Sisters to Many Brothers’ – she wasn’t a soldier but that’s the point. She writes: ‘Oh, it’s you that have the luck, out there in blood and muck…. But for me … a war is poor fun.’ It also features in Stephen’s collection, though I first came across this in a friend’s Second World War utility edition of Poems of Today, shown here, which indicates how popular this anthology for ‘boys and girls’ had remained since it was first published in 1915. You can find the text online at Project Gutenberg.

The Pity of WarThere’s plenty more online, of course. A good place to start is The Muse in Arms from 1917, ‘for the most part written in the field of action’, which is on the First World War.com site. A recent CD The Pity of War contains both music composed during the First World War by Elgar, Janacek and Debussy and a second disc of Wilfred Owen letters and poems read by Samuel West, interspersed with wartime songs – both sentimental and, at times, comic. (If the Amazon copies seem expensive, try the Orchid Classics site, where you can also find out how to download the album.) There are many more Great War links on the Literary Connections First World War pages.

Caesura: it’s not the end of the line

Is the afterlife just the second half of a line of verse?

I came across an interesting use of this word in a Media Guardian article about the death of Reinhard Mohn, the owner of Europe’s largest media group, Bertelsmann: ‘Mohn’s death has been described by German commentators as a “caesura”‘.

So is the afterlife just the second half of a line of verse? And if so, from which poem? Paradise Lost or Paradise Regained? ‘Futility’ or ‘Easter Wings’? Or is this some deeply existential statement about life imitating art?