Leonard Woolf is nowadays perhaps better known as the husband of Virginia Woolf and member of the (in?)famous “Bloomsbury set” of more than a century ago – but he was an important “Fabian”, founder of the journal Political Quarterly and publishing firm and
at nearly eighty, began to publish an autobiography that was immediately hailed by reviewers, won an important literary prize, and, in the almost half century since the first volume appeared, has seldom been out of print.
So, in the meantime, I take up Robert Hughes’ 2007 autobiography Things I Didn’t Know whose acerbic tone reminded so much of his compatriot Clive James who indeed wrote a powerful vignette of Hughes
It’s a bit like reading a travel book of your hometown; reassuringly familiar, with extra titbits of seasoned observations. On arrival, no one really acknowledges the stray, docile dogs of Istanbul that sleep unflinching in the middle of a thoroughfare, the high-pitched girly hubbub of fashionable Turkish women drinking in Nişantaşı, or why overly personal questions are the norm from perfect strangers. Scott explores all of this and more, with superb style.
She is refreshingly candid about her impressions of her countrymen and more, importantly, its women — especially a certain husband-hunting cohort. “Somehow, rightly or wrongly, Turkish women have decided that men like them to act like little girls, and they are playing that part as best they can.” But Scott addresses feminism in Turkey head-on and goes well beyond the much discussed headscarf debate, exploring the treatment of women in the workplace (in liberal Istanbul), female entrepreneurs and trailblazers in the poorer and more conservative South East as well as the government’s contentious curbing of a woman’s right to choose. But beyond political observation, Scott’s book is a truly personal discovery of modern Turkey. Her experience of modern Turkey is infused by both her mother’s memory of Turkey and Scott’s own comparisons to British culture, producing a highly entertaining tapestry, backed by sharp observations and a witty pen.