Competition no. 216: results

V.S.Pritchett asks us to assume Oedipus has just come across the fact that Freud has been mentioning him in his lectures, and brings an action for defamation of character. He wants up to 500 words of the speech for the plaintiff.


Pritchett says he finds judging this hard, and also says the entries fall into two categories: orthodox and original. The orthodox line says that Oedipus claims he didn’t know that his father was Laius and Jocasta was his mother. But, reasons Pritchett, isn’t the point of the Oedipus complex that it’s unconscious? (There is something slightly astray about this argument, but let it pass – from the point of view of a chooser of better winners, Pritchett is right.)

T.E. Casson, ever the classicist, is mentioned in dispatches for sending in an extract from an Aristophanic play. A new name, ‘Lamentable’, argues for Oedipus that his dignity is liable to be damaged. Pritchett comments that this is going to hold no water in an English court. He gives the first prize to Guy Hadley, who has done what winners do – gone beyond the brief. the The runner-up, Eremita, has Oedipus asking for the right to retire peacefully in Tunbridge Wells. Hmmm.

Hadley’s choice of an American wide guy is interesting in that many of the ‘Scarface’ films suggest an Oedipal motive. Freud himself, of course, was still alive, and still in Vienna – he didn’t come to England until 1938, well after Hitler’s annexation of Austria.




Competition no. 215: results

This is the first competition published in New Statesman and Nation to be judged by Sylvia Lynd. She must have been pleased by the move to the NS&N: her husband Robert, aka ‘Y.Y.’, was its star columnist. She chooses a subject still under debate today – pronouncing foreign place names. Why do we say Paris instead of Paree, but Nees instead of Nice? Answers on a postcard from the appropriately mispronounced place. (Even within England it is a problem. Nobody in Newcastle says Newcastle with a long a, and an emphasis on the second syllable; they say Newcastle with a short a, and an even beat on each syllable.)

She asks for a poem from 14-40 lines on the subject ‘The Discoveries of Foreign Travel’. This is characteristic of Lynd, who tends to give everyone a lot of rope, and then gives herself plenty of rope as well. 40 lines! And there is a specific insistence on the last line: ‘And Guadalquivir called ‘Gwad-al-kee-ver’. She doesn’t give a precise ruling on the weight on those syllables, and even her suggested pronunciation is open to doubt. For instance, here’s Fisher’s account of the river in 1797-8:

Fisher on Gquivir

But here’s Paul Gwynne from 1912 (see the footnote):


These are treacherous waters. But here’s the picture from Gwynne’s edition:


Lynd’s style is as ever chatty and distinctive (very few of the judges can be recognised without seeing the name. Lynd is one; Squire another; the dreadful Agate a third). If Barry, now on the NS&N board had any advice, it would have been to clear an additional column (effectively what happens). A couple of entrants, Palermo and Bow-wow, attempt to impress (e.g. Chicago = Shee-cago), but the latter apparently can’t do Valladolid … Guy Innes sees his whole entry printed but Lynd says it’s too clever for her (she can’t ‘do his eighth or nineteenth line’):


Perhaps the problem here is the switch between new and old (has no/ doth oft). Lynd has a great line in suggesting that she has heard gentlemen fall out when lunching in Soho because one has pronounced the second t in risotto… In her scatty way, pausing to accidentally reveal Pibwob’s name but call him Goldsmith instead of Goldsmid, she winnows her list to four, discards Allan M. Laing, and divides first prize (a guinea each) between H.C.M. and E.J., with W. Leslie Nicholls sneaking in for the half-guinea.






This is the first successful competition to be published in New Statesman, in my view.

Competition no. 214: results

Philip Jordan has the curious idea of asking for a republican anthem for Britain, assuming the monarchy has been tossed out, and also assuming that the republic has nationalist tendencies that the new government has no wish to disguise when commissioning the usual mediocrity to write it. This means entrants have to be cunningly mediocre – always hard to do on purpose, but easy to do without thinking.

‘I asked for mediocrity and I got it,’ he admits. He eliminates all the tunes based on ‘God Save The King’ (a reasonable idea, for, as he argues, if the words went, so would the tune). I don’t really understand his logic at this point. He decides who is going to come second – someone with the sobriquet Joshaway – and then works his way through four candidates for the top spot – Allan M. Laing, William Bliss, Olwen Lawton (note that she’s entered just after winning for the first time, and is presumably enthused), and Trevor Lloyd. He cuts these four down to Laing and Bliss (wouldn’t this mean that one of them ought to come second? Eh? Never mind …).

William Bliss nabs the two guineas (probably because he has sent in a note that says his words ‘are not quite such drivel as Land of Hope and Glory, but as near as I could get’).

Land ofH&G


Here’s Bliss: