Also known as Theodore Dalrymple, this man can write! He reviews a biography of Bertolt Brecht by Stephen Parker. Please do follow the link to read about Brecht’s personal hygiene and his relationships with women.
Professor Parker is an unequivocal admirer of Brecht, whom he considers a transcendent genius, both as a playwright and as a poet. We can safely assume, then, that his biography is not written with any destructive intent or in any hypercritical spirit intended to diminish his hero’s reputation, which means that the portrait he gives of Brecht’s character is all the more devastating: for in all the hundreds of thousands of words, there is no account of Brecht ever having done a good, kind, generous, or unselfish, let alone a self-sacrificing, thing. The author’s research has been exhaustive as well as exhausting, and will stand for a long time as definitive. If Brecht had been a kindly man, Professor Parker surely would have uncovered the fact and emphasized it. None of us would claim to be perfect, but I doubt that there are many of us about whom so much could be written without the description of a single indisputably praiseworthy deed. Throughout his life, Brecht absorbed generosity like a sponge, but he dispensed it like a stone.
Still, he obviously had a tremendous personal charm, when he wanted or needed it. But charm detached (or alienated, to use a word he so much liked) from real feeling or concern for others is a sinister rather than an attractive quality, a mere instrument in achieving ends, whatever they might be. Mephistopheles had—or has, in his modern incarnations—charm. That is why so many charming people without such feeling or concern are also capable of the most terrifying ruthlessness. Whether they are charming or ruthless depends upon their estimate of which attitude will better get them what they want. If one can imagine a reptile with a high intelligence and a smooth tongue, that is what Brecht was: fundamentally cold-hearted.