THOSE who find it difficult to forgive David Starkey for his
many crimes against intellectual courtesy and tolerance may have
found helpful the former historian's contribution to The Essay:
Forgiveness (Radio 3, Monday to Friday of last week). One
well-turned, provocative turn among five delivered by assorted
writers, Starkey's contribution demonstrated a more reflective
persona as he discussed Cordelia's forgiveness of Lear.
Neither Starkey nor the other contributors were great advocates
of the forgetting part of forgiving, as expressed by Lear at the
end of his life. To forget an evil actwas both unchristian and,
Lady Neuberger said, un-Jewish. Indeed, Lady Neuberger's piece
devoted itself to debunking the idea of "getting over it".
Of the attempts to define exactly what forgiveness is, Madeleine
Bunting, to my mind, came closest. Forgiveness did not magic away
pain and anger: it was a choice about how one went about dealing
with a trauma. It was a process, a way of seeing the world and
narrating a relationship with it. And the Lord's Prayer reminded us
that we must gain forgiveness in order to forgive.
In our secular age, Bunting went on, that initial forgiveness
was sought not from God, but from oneself, and could be delivered,
at a price, through a variety of self-help therapies.
The fact that forgiveness requires compassion may lead us to
speculate on the neurological infrastructure involved. As
Science in Action (World Service, Thursday of last week)
reported, there has been some advance in the study of autism, and
its heavy predominance in men: a ratio of four to one, which
increases to seven to one for Asperger's syndrome. In short, brain
development in girls appears to be more robust than in boys, so
that it takes more genetic mutations to affect the operation of a
girl's brain than that of a boy's.
One might have expected there to be an Asperger's patient on the
roster of Paul Whitehouse's series Nurse (Radio 4,
Wednesday of last week), since almost every other variety of
psychiatric disorder features in this uneasy late-night drama. The
premise of Nurse involves a fictional community
psychiatric nurse doing her rounds; each 15-minute programme
consists of a sequence of dramatic vignettes.
In last week's episode, we met Herbert, a gentleman of the old
school, whose courteous discourse is suddenly cut short by filth.
There is an Alzheimer's sufferer, a bipolar motor-mouth, and a
Christian (it was not explained what else afflicted her).
Immediately unsettling is the sense that dramatic licence may
topple into caricature, particularly since Nurse comes
from the same team as delivered the mock phone-in show Down the
Line, with its parade of eccentrics.
But the main problem with the format stems possibly from the
opposite impulse, and a conscientiousness about mocking the
vulnerable. For this is more scripted than Down the Line,
and is delivered with an earnestness that never enables lift-off
from the page.
If it is going to shift to a more mainstream slot, there is some
work to be done.