MY FATHER BERTRAND RUSSELL by Katharine Tait

MY FATHER BERTRAND RUSSELL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Katharine Tait, daughter of Bertrand Russell and his second wife Dora Black, adds to the current proliferation of Russell literature which includes Ronald Clark's biography (see above, p. 1088) and Dora's memoirs (p. 900). Her book may be read as an act of exorcism--not that any amount of writing could adequately exorcise the ghost of a parent reminiscent of old Prince Bolkonsky in War and Peace. Old enough to have been Kate's grandfather, he thought child-rearing could be approached by the systematic exercise of reason; his version of early behaviorism with its ""austere benevolence"" and ""antiseptic affection"" was a sure recipe for guilt. Kate and her older brother grew up certain that every fault ""must be in ourselves, since the method was foolproof and the parents were perfect."" Yet the sense of inadequacy did not immediately stifle love and trust; in Kate's earliest memories her father is ""the very image of love,"" ""the red-faced, cheerful embodiment of kindness and generosity."" It was the Russells' school, an educational experiment which the redoubtable Dora in her autobiography still sees as a sacred cause, that ""smashed my bright world of childhood happiness and left me to spend the rest of my life searching for a replacement."" While Dora and--more guardedly-- Bertie rejoiced in the untrammelling of young minds, John and Kate were emotionally homeless, taunted unmercifully by the other children, and left to deal by themselves with whatever would not fit into the official ethos of rational expression and democratic participation--a higher barbarism which Kate still regards with bitterness and mistrust. The final psychological barriers against her father went up in Kate's wartime adolescence in America, during his marriage to the glamorous but difficult ""Peter"" (Patricia) Spence. Only in Russell's extreme old age did she gain the emotional confidence to accept his love and realize how deeply she returned it. It is finally in Kate's religious conversion (which he took with surprising generosity) that she feels herself most truly the daughter of the agnostic who once wrote that ""human affection is to me at bottom an attempt to escape from the vain search for God."" A brave and eloquent document.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1975
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich