Register Wednesday | September 19 | 2018

Dear Maisonneuve, Issue 38

Letters from our readers.

HARD-DRINKIN' HONG KONG

The building used in the film Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing was the third, not the first, site of the Foreign Correspondents' Club after it moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong ("Good Night and Good Luck," Issue 37). In 1951 I arrived in Hong Kong, where I was heartily welcomed to the FCC, a centre of animation, gaiety, gloom and sometimes even insight into China, which was absent elsewhere. I was also president in 1960, if I recall the date correctly, following a major theft from the FCC, in which much cash, as well as—astonishingly—the Encyclopaedia Britannica were stolen. At any rate, this piece only deals with very recent history, if even that far back. It ignores much of the history of the club in Hong Kong, not to speak of Shanghai and Chongqing.

—Robert Elegant

The FCC is a complex place, inspiring almost religious devotion in some members. When Diane Stormont suggests that there weren't many places to drink in Hong Kong until the 1980s, she may be talking about places to drink for women. The city was then (and is now) awash in booze, although in those days a lot of it was downed in girlie bars, which have largely evolved into, uh, freelance gathering places.

—Olaf Swedeman (online)

Contrary to the implication here, the Asia Sentinel is very much still alive and kicking. It runs stories that Reuters et al. dare not touch from places like Malaysia and Thailand, as well as analysis of China by the likes of Willy Wo-Lap Lam and Bao Pu.

—Philip Bowring (online)

HOW NOT TO WRITE ABOUT HOW TO RUN A PARTY SPACE

Lab Synthèse was created and run by several people—not just the Cowan brothers ("How to Run a DIY Party Space," Issue 37). I myself was one of those people, and I lived and worked there for two years. This article gives a false perspective of the way this loft came to be and how it was run.

—Emily Kai Bock (online)

ALPHABET SHITTY

What offensive horseshit ("Alphabet City," Issue 37). It was bad enough when this rubbish was printed the first time around in Le Devoir a few months ago. "Germany invented Bauhaus and the swastika"—how dare you? Berlin's standardized signage respects international norms that were developed to ease communication across cultural and national barriers. The fact that you've twisted and perverted its origins in this manner reveals more about your provincialism than it does about the people of Berlin.

—William Raillant-Clark (online)

THE LAST WORD ON 'LAST LETTER'

Ted Hughes' poem "Last Letter," in my opinion, doesn't appear to be an attempt to score points or pass judgment on Sylvia Plath ("Why Does Ted Hughes Get the Last Word on Sylvia Plath?" October 20, 2010, maisonneuve.org). It reads as a frank portrayal of a man's reaction to his wife's death. But whatever the context, Hughes, as a poet, had the right to express how he felt when his wife died, whether or not he played a part in that death. He was wrong to commit adultery, but for anyone to infer that it caused her death is unfair, because he did not foresee her suicide.

Ted Hughes was treated for thirty years as if he were already dead. Books and articles—written about him while he was still alive—painted him as a thoroughly disagreeable man. But these are not the recollections of those who knew him best. He was flawed, yes, but not a villain. At no point in his life, as far as I am aware, did Hughes write anything that either justified his actions or blamed Plath for her own death. Instead, he maintained a dignified silence.

—Dave (online)

Helen Hajnoczky: Thanks for your reply, Dave. What I meant to convey was not that Hughes himself intentionally appropriates or diminishes Plath's poetry, but that his work changes how we read Plath, sometimes for the worse. Instead of seeing Plath as a powerful poet in her own right, we focus on her biography, fact-hunting for the sordid details and turning to Hughes to confirm or augment what we find. In particular, I was thinking of the 2003 movie Sylvia, in which Plath is portrayed less as an innovative writer and more as Hughes' troubled wife.

What I take issue with is not whether or not Hughes did right by Plath, but whether or not we forget her significance as a writer because of Hughes' poetry and fame. Of course, I don't criticize his desire to write about Plath's suicide—he allegedly didn't publish the poem because he found it too personal. It's more how these poems frame Plath and make us see her as a suicidal wife instead of as a poet.