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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Talking the Talk
On a June morning about 30 years ago I was sitting in Worcester College Library revising for one of my finals papers when the philosophy tutor, David Mitchell, bustled into the room in a state of marked agitation. Quite how I'd overlooked the fact that I was meant to be in the Schools taking a paper in moral philosophy I can't really remember, but I had. Short of time,...
Published on 2 Jun 2011 by Roderick Blyth

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rather parochial interest.
This memoir is mainly going to be of interest to those contemporary with Warnock, studying just before and for a few years after the second world war, at Oxford and Cambridge in particular.
The first 30 pages or so give something of a potted life of Mary as wife, scholar. The remaining sections of the book are episodes featuring some well-known figures (in some...
Published on 7 April 2002 by timothya3@yahoo.com


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Talking the Talk, 2 Jun 2011
By 
Roderick Blyth (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mary Warnock: A Memoir - People and Places (Hardcover)
On a June morning about 30 years ago I was sitting in Worcester College Library revising for one of my finals papers when the philosophy tutor, David Mitchell, bustled into the room in a state of marked agitation. Quite how I'd overlooked the fact that I was meant to be in the Schools taking a paper in moral philosophy I can't really remember, but I had. Short of time, and in need of a strategy, I opted for a tone of offhand brilliance - and was promptly marked down 'gamma'. But on the strength of my performance in the papers for which I was more prepared that I was offered a viva, and it was in this context that I met, for the first and only time, the author of this book. Typically, I had no idea who she was until my Roman History Tutor, David Stockton, told me afterwards, and I don't remember much about the viva, other than that this time I opted for a tone of abject submission and that my final observation, delivered, said David Stockton, after an appalling hesitation, was `Well, life isn't a game of tennis' - a remark that apparently enabled the examiners in Ancient History to persuade a still doubtful Mary Warnock that I really did merit a First Class Degree in Literae Humaniores.

So it may not be not surprising that, for me, a uniquely interesting feature of this, Baroness Warnock's Memoir, was what it told me about her own examination technique. She was, she says, `ever a good examinee', and she tells how, in the Logic paper of her own finals, she `made quite ingenious use of... bits of Wittgenstein's `Philosophical Investigations' that she had `managed to commit to memory'. Apparently, Wittgenstein's philosophy was, in those days, guarded with Rosicrucian fervour by Elizabeth Anscombe. Lady Warnock says that Anscombe took her on as a protégé, `believing that she had a duty to rescue me from what she regarded as the evils of Oxford philosophy', and that she lent some sheets of her translation of the Investigations for her pupil `to take back to LMH and copy out if she liked. `So it happened', writes Lady Warnock, `that before many people in Oxford had seen any of the later work of Wittgenstein, I saw some of it directly.' Later, when she did her B.Phil examination, her husband, Geoffrey Warnock wrote `most of my thesis for me. In exchange, I had written his Greek History Essays for him.' This was all delightfully familiar from my own experiences at Oxford, and the author's interesting discussion of phenomenology, logical positivism and linguistic philosophy also took me back to the muddled-headed days of my intellectual formation, making me wonder whether, 30 years on, philosophers at the University are still engaged on laying the foundations for the meaningful discussion of morals by a preliminary analysis of the way in which we use language, or whether, that task having been brought to a happy conclusion, they have now moved on to discussing the real thing.

On first reading, Lady Warnock's lucidly written book of Memoirs gives an oddly disconnected impression, and I still think that the title is somewhat misleading. The author starts with a brief, and severely factual survey of her life, and concludes with a biographical essay on her brother, Sir Duncan Wilson - a distinguished diplomat and later Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. If these two pieces serve for the endpapers of the book, then its spine is an essay on `Rachel Trickett - Novelist, Teacher, [and] Principal of St.Hugh's College, Oxford'. If you have never heard of either Sir Duncan Wilson or Rachel Trickett, then the point of this book may perhaps have been made. On one side of the piece on Trickett are paired essays on three Women Philosophers, namely Philippa Foot, Elisabeth Anscombe and Iris Murdoch; on the other, paired essays on, Peter Shore, a labour politician, whose name is rapidly sliding into the domain of the historical footnote, and Margaret Thatcher, whose name is likely to be the stuff of book titles for as long as there are people interested in the depressing spectacle of post-war British politics. Better, as far as Lady Warnock is concerned, a mute, inglorious Peter Shore, than a loud, self-advertising Mrs Thatcher.

The interesting thing is that Lady Warnock cannot really offer us very much in the way of personal recollections about any of these philosophers or politicians. In the case of Iris Murdoch, this is distinctly odd, since Oxford is a small world, and one would have expected there to have been more than enough in the way of opportunities for Baroness Warnock to have cultivated a deeper acquaintance with a person for whom she appears to have had a qualified admiration. Similarly, Lady Warnock appears not to have known Peter Shore that well, though she clearly admired the ideal of service for which he stood, and seems - if I have read her rightly - to have shared his dislike for 'managerial' politics. Baroness Warnock's contact with Baroness Thatcher was even slighter, and her impressions of the conservative prime minister must be termed the the very opposite of intimate. So what we have is not a `Memoir' in any obvious sense of the term, but a presentation of the author's philosophy of life as mediated by reference to contemporaries whom she takes as summing up the best and the worse of the times in which she has lived.

This first becomes apparent in the author's treatment of Elizabeth Anscombe. It soon becomes clear that Warnock did not much care for Anscombe, whose identification with Wittgenstein she regarded as unhealthy - or perhaps merely ridiculous: it is difficult to tell. Anscombe, she says, `adopted all' the great man's `agonised head in hands, furrowed brow gestures and...even begun to speak with a hint of an Austrian accent [but]...after his death in 1951 she had to become reconciled to people other than herself discussing his work and writing about it as if he was an ordinary philosopher in the public domain, and not a Christ-figure, access to whose thoughts were confined to those who had been privileged to know him'. This is eyebrow-raising stuff, and trying to judge fairly of it is nearly impossible. It is obvious from a number of the anecdotes recorded by her, and the language in which she chooses to couch them, that that there was something about Anscombe that Mary Warnock found repellent. Intellectually and emotionally, this seems to have to do with what Lady Warnock perceives as Anscombe's single-minded self-regard, her intolerance of any but her own ideas, and her refusal to accommodate herself in any way to other points of view - not to mention Anscombe's insensitivity and downright rudeness. But there is also a kind of fastidiousness which is viscerally expressed when Lady Warnock writes, rather unnecessarily perhaps, of the unpleasant atmosphere of Anscombe's house in St.John's Street `because of the intense smelliness of the ambience. In Elizabeth's upstairs study there was a huge hollow column, used as an ashtray, which was seldom, if ever emptied, there were toys scattered on the floor and sometimes even dirty nappies in the room. On one occasion,' writes Lady Warnock', `I had a baby thrust into my arms when I arrived, with instructions to give it its bottle while Elizabeth finished something she was writing. I knew absolutely nothing of babies. All I knew was that this damp and malodorous object was something the like of which I never wanted to see again.'

What the detached reader may conclude is that the intensity of the emotions brought to bear on the sense data with which Mary Warnock was presented in the person of Elizabeth Anscombe is likely to have reflected a deep-seated predisposition of temperament on the former's part. The same thought occurs when Baroness Warnock writes about Baroness Thatcher: apparently, the Baroness cannot think the Lady `without thinking of a particular electric blue suit with fitted jacket, metal buttons and big lapels, a a memorably vulgar suit of which she wears a version to this day' [2000]. `The suit is not a symbol; it is not a flag whose meaning one has to learn. It actually expresses directly, like a language one has always known the crudity, philistinism and aggression that made up Margaret Thatcher's character'. Here, as in the case of Elizabeth Anscombe, what strikes one is the extraordinary way in which sense data are pressed into the service of moral condemnation. In each case, what is objected too is egoism, self-regard and intolerance, but one has, all the same, the insistent suspicion that, whatever the offence caused in the one case by overflowing ashtrays and smelly babies, or in the other by power dressing and `packaging' - what may have been more deeply offended was the author's own sense of propriety.

Writing about her political beliefs, Baroness Warnock says that she knew of herself, `from the age of about 15', that she was `a natural Tory... Yet increasingly during the war, she `felt that' to `indulge her instincts was wrong. I must pull myself together, recognise the unfairness of my privileged and comfortable way of life, and begin properly to aim for a classless society.' This, it appears, involved joining the Labour Party (of which the Baroness was a member until 1965), holding and expressing progressive ideas, and perhaps subscribing to Peter Shore's vision of `a society which shapes its institutions so that men may become self-determining, their own masters...' and a refusal `to believe that men are what they are because they can be no different' - a view of life which has the charm of meaning so little that it could as easily be used by conservative as labour politicians to describe their most deeply held convictions. Under it all, though, one may perhaps sense the conviction of Giuseppe di Lampedusa's Prince that everything has to change so that everything may remain exactly the same - a perception which, as readers of `The Leopard' will recall, the novel's conclusion both vindicates and betrays.

For what strikes one about the world in which Baroness so successfully moved is the culture of co-option. Successful diplomats, such as Sir Duncan Wilson, retire to the university colleges as masters, provosts, and presidents; his sister, who is the wife of the Principal of Hertford, Oxford becomes the Mistress of Girton, Cambridge; there is, everywhere, the strong aroma of plum pudding; the reassuring touch of invitation; the suggestion that a person so touched can be safely charged with this position, or trusted to steer that committee, because, in the end, they would not be where they were unless they shared the same beliefs about the world in which they lived as those who were doing the inviting, and that men, and indeed women, are very much what they are because they can be no different. Without going into whether such structures are inevitable in any society, and whether patronage may not be better exercised within institutions than by politicians, or, indeed, the electorate - the point for the time being is merely that it is on this seemly view of how the world should work that that Baroness Warnock's hostility to women like Elisabeth Anscombe and Margaret Thatcher is based. These are people who don't play the game, who regard themselves as the apostles of principle, and who shine a harsh light into the cosy corners of unspoken understanding.

Under normal circumstances, troublesome people like these can be excluded, ignored, or condescended to. So, writing of her chairmanship of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Committee, the Baroness writes `That committee was given until 1984 to report our findings; and I was determined to finish on time. I knew from the start that if we had sat for six or eight years instead of two we should never have agreed, so we might as well get on with it, instead of prolonging the endless disputes. The disputes were on the whole civilised: we did not have any rampaging pro-lifers on the committee (and were criticised for that, but if we had had members who would not even listen to arguments on the other side, the work of the committee would never have got on)'. Committees, in other words, should be composed as much as possible of people who are like one another in their general approach.

Hence the arrival of Margaret Thatcher - and, another class of people who were what they were because they could be no different - is not more than just unwelcome: it is the equivalent of finding oneself on a committee where the chairman is not only not like you, but does not even want to listen to any arguments but her own. Mrs Thatcher could certainly be condescended to in what turned out to be not-so-private conversations between civilised persons, but when it came to educational policy she and the people like her could not, alas, be altogether ignored. In this context, Baroness Warnock writes feelingly - and correctly - about the narrow, ill-founded and misguided approach taken by the conservatives to education, and the lasting damage that politicians generally have done to education in their characteristic certainty that they know both what it is, what aims it should serve, and how those aims are to be achieved.

But what is one to make of Baroness Warnock's failure to stand up for her principles in the House of Lords? `I blame myself and other like-minded academics' she says ` for not speaking up against' [the Education Act 1993], which, as she rightly says, `in effect nationalised, or at least centralised, the whole of higher education, bringing it... under a single funding Council... with powers to monitor and distribute funds using the same criteria over the whole range of institutions'. So why on earth didn't she? `Because I knew that the response to anything that I or any other peer from the old universities might say against the move would be, roughly, `She would say that, wouldn't she?' The charge against us would be snobbishness or elitism, a wish to retain the title of university for those institutions of which we had always been a part. It seemed useless to protest.' Useless, perhaps - like being on a committee in the principled minority - but courageous, too, and a proper exercise of her constitutional position in Parliament. And I, for one, would have remembered it, instead of feeling, as I do now, that Lady Warnock had lost sight of something rather more important than what other people might think or say about her.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rather parochial interest., 7 April 2002
By 
timothya3@yahoo.com (N. Ireland, Belfast) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mary Warnock: A Memoir - People and Places (Hardcover)
This memoir is mainly going to be of interest to those contemporary with Warnock, studying just before and for a few years after the second world war, at Oxford and Cambridge in particular.
The first 30 pages or so give something of a potted life of Mary as wife, scholar. The remaining sections of the book are episodes featuring some well-known figures (in some cases)of academe or politics - Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch, and unknown to me, novelist and teacher, Rachel Trickett; Peter Shore and lastly, Margaret Thatcher.
This is an academic world of not so rounded-characters, fierce emotions and intellectual lives which come across to the reader as not being that pleasurable. Warnock maintains at all times a critical distance both from her 'mentors', educators or whoever, and from herself. Despite worrying about her egocentricity in the writing of this book, Mary is no more known than anyone else here. For the most part her teachers were formidable as would be expected perhaps of such places and the critical distance not unexpected of a philosopher. Both contribute to making the intellectual life seem terrible dry , even unwholesome. Yet there must have been some pleasure in all those historical philosophical texts, comparatively examined. It is not until p.81 that we come across a 'resonance' with all those books and study. This comes from an incident in Italy and some pastoralists spouting latin!
Rather surprisingly for a married woman with a largish family there is very little intimacy of relationships, even close friendships. This is a group or groups of people given to keeping their privacies, maybe suggestive of the 'role-playing' that intellectuals get up to. In the tooing and froing of argument there seems a general loss of tack and a general lack of graciousness of the characters depicted. P.77 she only had one real conversation with Iris Murdoch. P. 69 Elizabeth Anscombe (Wittgenstein studies)comes over highly strung. Overall the general difficulty with this book is the translating of the life of the mind, the privatised mind of this author reading and encountering her subjects into properly 3-D characters off the page. Warnock does not have the novelist's gift for bringing people's character memorabily to life. What i wonder really matters anyway? The books that these subjects wrote whom we may encounter at first hand by reading them for ourselves? Or, the view given of them when met in the flesh , by Warnock?
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An easy to read entry into the academic world of philosophy, 11 May 2004
By 
Kerouac fan (Torquay, England, UK) - See all my reviews
The best read I had last year. Read every word to the end and enjoyed it. The Beats always had a strong interest in philosophy as a key to what life was all about I guess. And Mary Warnock is a top notch academic and philosophy graduate who like her husband rose to run departments of British Universities, sit on government bodies etc. It’s nice to get a top-dogs view of the world. Mary started politically Labour and ended up soft-centre. Successfully bourgeois the couple were happily married with five children, their family life seems full of sunlight, which is great by me. Mary expounds on philosophical women which is very interesting, she has a way of writing about philosophy that doesn’t loose you. The only chink for me was when her husband got offered the Chancellorship of a University which meant he also had to become the priest there and although an atheist he took the job (and the services) saying “When I don my gown I’m religious in the capacity of the job, but when I’m off work I’m a non-believer.”
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Mary Warnock: A Memoir - People and Places
Mary Warnock: A Memoir - People and Places by Mary Warnock (Hardcover - 5 Oct 2000)
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