Friday 22 January 2016

German Historian, Adrian Jitschin

German Historian, Adrian Jitschin, from Fern Universitat in Hagen, came to me seeking information about Maurice's relationship with Norbert Elias, the renowned sociologist whose Civilising Process remains one of benchmarks of Twentieth Century sociology. Adrian brought with him a thick pack of letters which he copied from originals of Maurice's correspondence to Norbert which are housed in the German Archive (Deutsches Literaturachiv Marback).

There we sat at my kitchen table in the little terraced London cottage Maurice and I shared, sipping tea and turning over hand-written pages filled with thoughts and recordings of seventeen year old Maurice to Norbert, some twenty years his senior. I sat in happy marvel to meet Maurice thusly, as a very young man, thrilled to have as his friend an elder who excited his already vast curiosity about the world in which he lived. Here was Maurice, already at such a young age, in angst, pondering existential questions that never crossed my mind when I was his age and older.

Adrian and I sat going through the letters trying to decipher just how they had met and we knew that it was most likely the work of Maurice's older brothers John and Leslie and most likely Aubrey Menen, the writer and broadcaster who worked with John, also a writer and broadcaster, in India during the war (and later a documentary film maker). But we couldn't exactly pinpoint when and how they met. Before Adrian's arrival I had gone through several boxes of Maurice's correspondence and had found a small collection of Norbert's letters to Maurice and had copied those for Adrian and the German Archive. Together we were trying to piece together the story of the friendship between these two men.

It was a moving visit for me and once Adrian had gone, I poured over the letters in private. Here was a young Maurice penning to Norbert that he had his mother's permission to join Norbert in London for a theatre production or an opera, or thanking him for a book or writing about his evacuation from London with thousands of other school children during the London bombardments. He wrote of his impressions of Petersfield, of the fascinating people he was meeting there, among them Karl Polanyi, the Hungarian economic historian who wrote The Great Transformation which was published in 1944 to great acclaim, of Polanyi's wife whom he admired greatly and daughter Kari with whom he fell in love. He wrote of going home to London during the bombardments, of the intense study program he had put himself under to win a place at Oxford. The letters progressed on in time, when Norbert was interned during the war. In all they span a period of about thirty-five years until the two men went their separate ways and lost touch.

Adrian and I have been in touch over the last few years. He visited again and together we tackled Maurice's handwritten letters. I understand the correspondence between these two men with figure prominently in a book he is writing in collaboration with Norbert Elias Foundation.

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