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That was the political satire that was (or wasn’t)

03 May 2013


From the Revd R. O. Gould

Sir, - I beg to differ from James Cary ("Why do the Left have all the best jokes?, Comment, 26 April).

Some fifty years ago, my Greek teacher informed me authoritatively that satire was the preserve of the Right. He was, of course, referring to the treatment of Socrates by the father of satire, Aristophanes, in The Clouds. Not many years later, at the first appearance of Week Ending, another teacher informed me with equal certainty that satire was the preserve of the Left. In fact, both are wrong.

While it is true that much recent satire has been written from the Left, some of the finest satire of the 20th century was Ronald Knox's burlesque of the then current higher biblical criticism, whose methods he used to "prove" that Tennyson's In Memoriam was written by Queen Victoria, and that the "Pseudo-Bunyan" who wrote the second part of The Pilgrim's Progress was a woman of Catholic leanings.

Mgr Knox, like a host of humorists of Eastern Europe satirising the Soviet Union, can hardly be called left-wing. It would seem truer to say that satire is mainly written by those who feel their position threatened by something, whether old or new, which is sufficiently powerful and well-known to make the force of their satire understood.

Should the Left come to power and be seen as such, satire from the Right will flourish, and cease to seem "mean".

33 Charterhall Road
Edinburgh EH9 3HS 

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