In a letter dated 1st January 1946, John Reith (1889-1971), a former minister and creator of the BBC, complained to Winston Churchill about his dismissal from government four years earlier: “You can have no idea of the utter shock of your dismissal letter of 21.2.42. You wrote that I had served you loyally and well. I had; and was only anxious for greater opportunity so to do; but I was not a member of the Conservative Party, and I think I know what happened.
“My reply pleased you, and when I declined the Lord High Commisionership [representing the King at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland], ‘being passionately anxious to contribute to the war effort to the utmost of my power,’ you understood. I thought you would soon enable me to do so. After waiting three months I joined the Navy, hoping at least to be busy and fill in the time of waiting. I am glad I did not know I would still be waiting at the end of the war.
“A year later you wrote ‘You may be sure I will try my best to find suitable employment for your well-known energy and capacity… It would be a great pleasure to me that you were pulling your full weight in the war.’ That was in March 1943.
“I am proud of my Admiralty work, and it takes skill to crack nuts with a steam hammer—anyhow for one of my temperament. And I doubt if a day passed that I did not hope for the word from you that never came.
“Incidentally I could not but note that others dismissed had, or were given, sufficient alternative employment and income, or were otherwise recompensed. There was nothing for me.
“I have (like you) a war mentality and other qualities which should have commended themselves to you… You could have used me in a way and to an extent you never realised. Instead of that there has been the sterility, humiliation and distress of all these years—“eyeless in Gaza”—without even the consolation Samson had in knowing that it was his own fault. And that is how and where I still am.”
The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), after he became known internationally in the 1960s, was much tortured, according to his maid Fanny, by the possibility of winning the Nobel Prize. Reporters would gather outside his home every year on the day of the announcement, until eventually he commented: “Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have not been granting it to me.”
When Edward Heath (1916-2005) lost the second general election in 1974, he was challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party by Margaret Thatcher, a relatively junior member of his Shadow Cabinet. Shocked by her success in the first ballot, he soon acquired the nickname “the incredible sulk,” and he took every opportunity to denigrate her subsequent career. According to John Campbell’s biography of Heath, when in 1990 he learnt the news of her resignation as Prime Minister, he rang his office gleefully, telling them to: “‘Rejoice! Rejoice!’ and [Heath] celebrated by buying his staff champagne.”
In 1994 the Tate held a retrospective of the work of the American painter RB Kitaj (1932-2007). The exhibition received many highly critical reviews—Brian Sewell described Kitaj as “a vain painter puffed with amour propre, unworthy of a footnote in the history of figurative art.” Kitaj was deeply wounded by the reviews and his wife Sandra Fisher died suddenly of a brain aneurysm two weeks after the exhibition opened. Two years later he left London for good and moved to California. Kitaj committed suicide in 2007. In an interview in 1996 he said: “Never ever believe an artist if he says he doesn’t care what the critics write about him. Every artist cares. Those reviews of my show were by pathetic, sick, meagre hacks. They were about small lives and lousy marriages. They were after me but they got Sandra.”
In 1997 Kitaj produced a large canvas entitled The Killer-Critic Assassinated By His Widower, Even, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy. From the right hand half of the picture two male figures with rifles are firing at an enormous, multi-headed monster that dominates the left half of the canvas. Both figures, painted red, also have erect, blood-red penises. When later asked to identify the main characters in the painting Kitaj replied: “The good guys are myself and Manet, both of us (Manet the far greater, Kitaj the lesser) among those many fools who have exposed themselves, not to art criticism but to warlike hatred and thuggery, with sometimes tragic results. So we shoot back in this painting as those attacked in war or those who encounter evil sometimes do. This picture is my little gift to Manet in heaven because he is one of my favourite artists.”