Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When Maynard met Naomi.


Ariadne Birnberg writes "Most Beautiful Maynard", the story of her grandmother, Naomi Bentwich, and her lifelong, unrequited, and presumably platonic love for John Maynard Keynes.

Given the differences between its protagonists -- the naively idealistic Jewish woman, and the anti-Semitic gay/bisexual man; Naomi, of middle class extraction, acting as secretary for Keynes, Eton alumnus, elitist, financial speculator, bureaucrat, academic, eugenicist and member of the cultural avant-garde -- the tale Birnberg relates could have easily turned into a farce.

Instead, Birnberg delivers a fascinating and humane account, where the unavoidable absurd is balanced by Birnberg's respect for the subject: Naomi in the foreground, Keynes in the shadow (the brief appearances other notables make, particularly Keynes' biographers, are somewhat less flattering).

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In our times of instant celebrity, it would be easy to dismiss Naomi's story as another star-struck fan's harmless eccentricity. It would be deeply short-sighted, too.

She wasn't the only one falling for Keynes' spell. And she wasn't the last one worshipping that hero. There must have been something especial to the man, something evident to many -- then and now -- but unfathomable to me.

In this sense, Birnberg's story works wonderfully as a metaphor for Keynesianism.

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A promising first delivery by Birnberg, and a great read for Keynes' fans.

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