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(John) David Caute Biography

David Caute comments:

Nationality: British. Born: Alexandria, Egypt, 1936. Education: Edinburgh Academy; Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire; Wadham College, Oxford, M.A. in modern history, D. Phil. 1963; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Henry fellow), 1960-61. Military Service: Served in the British Army, in Africa, 1955-56. Career: Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 1959-65; visiting professor, New York University and Columbia University, New York, 1966-67; reader in social and political theory, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, 1967-70; Regents' Lecturer, University of California, 1974; Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor, University of Bristol, 1985. Literary and arts editor, New Statesman, London, 1979-80. Co-chair, Writers Guild of Great Britain, 1981-82. Awards: London Authors' Club award, 1960; Rhys Memorial prize, 1960.



At Fever Pitch. London, Deutsch, 1959; New York, Pantheon, 1961.

Comrade Jacob. London, Deutsch, 1961; New York, Pantheon, 1962.

The Decline of the West. London, Deutsch, and New York, Macmillan, 1966.

The Occupation. London, Deutsch, 1971; New York, McGraw Hill, 1972.

The Baby Sitters (as John Salisbury). London, Secker and Warburg, and New York, Atheneum, 1978.

Moscow Gold (as John Salisbury). London, Futura, 1980.

The K-Factor. London, Joseph, 1983.

News from Nowhere. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986.

Veronica; or, The Two Nations. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1989;New York, Arcade, 1990.

The Women's Hour. London, Paladin, 1991.

Dr Orwell and Mr Blair. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994.

Fatima's Scarf. London, Totterdown Books, 1998.


Songs for an Autumn Rifle (produced Edinburgh, 1961).

The Demonstration (produced Nottingham, 1969; London, 1970).London, Deutsch, 1970.

The Fourth World (produced London, 1973).

Radio Plays:

Fallout, 1972; The Zimbabwe Tapes, 1983; Henry and the Dogs, 1986; Sanctions, 1988.

Television Documentaries: Brecht & Co., 1979.


Communism and the French Intellectuals 1914-1960. London, Deutsch, and New York, Macmillan, 1964.

The Left in Europe since 1789. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, McGraw Hill, 1966.

Fanon. London, Fontana, and New York, Viking Press, 1970.

The Illusion: An Essay on Politics, Theatre and the Novel. London, Deutsch, 1971; New York, Harper, 1972.

The Fellow-Travellers. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and NewYork, Macmillan, 1973; revised edition, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1988.

Collisions: Essays and Reviews. London, Quartet, 1974.

Cuba, Yes? London, Secker and Warburg, and New York, McGrawHill, 1974.

The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower. New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1978.

Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia. London, Allen Lane, and Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1983.

The Espionage of the Saints: Two Essays on Silence and the State. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986.

Left Behind: Journeys into British Politics. London, Cape, 1987.

Sixty-Eight: The Year of the Barricades. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1988; as The Year of the Barricades: A Journey Through 1968, New York, Harper, 1988.

Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life. London, Faber, 1994; New York, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Editor, Essential Writings, by Karl Marx. London, MacGibbon andKee, 1967; New York, Macmillan, 1968.


Critical Studies:

Article by Caute, in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series 4 edited by Adele Sarkissian, Detroit, Gale, 1986; Caute's Confrontations: A Study of the Novels of David Caute by Nicolas Tredell, West Bridgford, Paupers' Press, 1994.

(1996) My novels are (perhaps) about: how people interpret the world to make themselves better and larger than they are; the helpless guilt of the self-aware; and the strategies of fictional narrative itself. Every private life is touched, or seized, by a wider public life.

* * *

In his novels, David Caute has always been concerned to dramatize and explore the complex relations between political commitment, the urge for power, and sexual desire. His fiction vividly portrays characters caught up in a range of struggles: African decolonization in At Fever Pitch, The Decline of the West, News from Nowhere, and The K-Factor ; the attempt by the seventeenth-century Diggers to establish a free community in the England of Oliver Cromwell, in Comrade Jacob ; the campus revolts of the 1960s in The Occupation ; the social conflicts of 1980s Britain in Veronica ; feminism in The Women's Hour ; anti-communism in Dr Orwell and Mr Blair. Caute's sympathies are with the left, but never, in his novels, in an uncritical or dogmatic way; indeed, he is sharply aware of the bad faith and vanity that may be bound up with left-wing commitment, and he can present a sympathetic portrait of a right-wing figure, as he does in Veronica.

Caute's first four novels were primarily realistic, but showed signs of strain, as if another kind of writer were trying to get out. In the context of English fiction in the 1950s, At Fever Pitch was notable for the variety of narrative techniques it employed, from interior monologues to attempts to imitate the style of African folktales. At moments, Comrade Jacob moved into caricature and deliberate anachronism. The Decline of the West went further in the direction of caricature, and its exuberant style, endlessly generating similes and metaphors, was a distraction from the narrative and from the impact of specific scenes. The Occupation, however, triumphantly resolved these strains: here Caute found a form and style well suited to his talents, and to his concerns at the time.

The protagonist of The Occupation is a radical English academic, Steven Bright, working in the USA at the height of the 1960s' student revolts. Roused by the tumults of the times, challenged by his students to live up to his radicalism, embroiled in fraught relationships with a range of women, Bright finds himself, and the novel he is in, falling apart. But this breakdown is a breakthrough for Caute: The Occupation mixes realism, fantasy, caricature, expressionism, and self-reflexive commentary in a way that vividly dramatizes its themes, but it also achieves aesthetic coherence through its skillful overall structure and the sustained pace, precision, and wit of its style. It is Caute's most frenetic but most assured achievement.

The Occupation was part of a trilogy that also included a play, The Demonstration, and a work of literary theory, The Illusion. This trilogy, which bore the overall title of The Confrontation, both advocated and sought to demonstrate a practice of politically committed writing that challenged and disrupted representation. Caute did not follow this up, however, and for the next thirteen years produced studies of modern history and politics. It was Under the Skin, his documentary account of the death of Ian Smith's Rhodesian regime, which heralded his return to fiction in The K-Factor ; this short, fast-paced novel dramatized the identity crisis of Rhodesia in its last days, as definitions of reality were hotly disputed—were the black guerrillas, for example, to be seen as terrorists or freedom fighters? The K-Factor was followed by News from Nowhere, a long, serious, and absorbing chronicle of the fortunes of Richard Stern from his heady years as a Young Turk at the London School of Economics to his troubled existence as an ill-paid journalist in the twilight of white Rhodesia. Veronica explores the incestuous love of a Conservative Cabinet Minister for his half-sister, and The Women's Hour sharply and comically portrays the plight of an ageing, left-wing university lecturer who is accused of sexual harassment by a feminist colleague. Dr Orwell and Mr Blair offers a fictional memoir, supposedly written by a boy whom "Mr Blair" befriended, of George Orwell as he was developing the ideas for Animal Farm. All these novels are largely realistic, but they do sometimes highlight their own artifice, and call into question the veracity of representation in supposedly factual as well as fictional writing. They show neither the strain of Caute's early realist work nor the controlled frenzy of The Occupation ; they are the work of a mature writer, skilled in his craft and balanced in his attitudes, who combines humour, scepticism, and clarity.

Caute's novels now comprise a significant body of work, but they have suffered some neglect. This is partly because they are difficult to classify. In their challenge to realism, they can be seen as postmodernist; in their political and ethical engagements, they subvert postmodernist playfulness. But it is precisely in this confrontation—between postmodernism and realism, politics and play, commitment and critical detachment—that their power and pleasure lies.

—Nicolas Tredell

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