George Eliot writes that if you want to continue admiring your hero never meet him in person. I have usually followed that principle and in fact, if ever, I went out of my way to meet someone whom I admired I inevitably regretted having done so. For example, in 2001 we went on an accompanied tour of France and Belgium only because the person in charge was a famous former Federal Labor Minister. He is usually full of information and we thought that his insights would enrich our trip.
Well, they didn’t and he turned out to be just as George Eliot had warned. We had been deluded that he would want to have deep discussions about the places we were visiting, but we were sadly disappointed in his contribution to the whole trip. It was an expensive lesson. We were left with the impression that he was mainly interested in cheese and we often had to wait for him while he stopped at a cheese place and brought back the very smelly cheese to the tour bus.
So when we heard that Greg Sheridan, the famous journalist whom we respect, was coming to give a talk to the Jewish community, I felt great apprehension. I knew I liked what he wrote because he is one of the few journalists who comments on Israeli affairs without the usual Left-Wing, anti-American and anti-Israel bias prevalent in most Australian reporting.
However, I was afraid that what had happened on that trip in 2001 would happen again and I would be disillusioned about Greg Sheridan.
On the contrary, he turned out to be a great speaker. He was modest, amusing and very insightful. Not surprisingly, he spoke positively about what he had seen in Israel. After all, he was addressing a group of Jewish patrons of the Tel Aviv University. But we had read the same views expressed in his writing for public consumption in the Australian press. So it was clear that he wasn’t playing to the audience among whom were some notable Australians such as Sir Zelman Cowan and a few prominent politicians from both parties.
He answered questions in a clear and thoughtful manner. Usually, when I’m at a lecture it brings back the boring days of University lectures. Everyone will be familiar with those hours of mindless tedium. You could tell that the lecturer couldn’t wait to finish and you couldn’t wait for him to finish either. Some lecturers never even looked up at the class and we could have all sneaked out and not been missed.
One dullard only looked up from his notes once during our lecture in Ancient French to ask if there was anyone in the class who could not speak Ancient German. He did not wait for our reply either and just went on in Ancient German. It made little difference to us as we rarely understood what he was prattling on about anyway.
But I could have listened to Greg’s lecture and to the questions and answers for another few hours. That’s how stimulating it all was. For me, the best part was his reference to Victorian literature. Apparently, Greg had decided to read some Victorian writers during his vacation. Since I am quite partial to Victorian literature and have studied it at post-grad level, I was interested in his views of it.
Greg had been taken aback by the blatant anti-Semitism expressed in it in a matter-of-fact manner– not just by Dickens in “Oliver Twist” but by other authors of the period. The notable exception to this, of course, was George Eliot who was very much a woman ahead of her time.
There are many people who write well but can’t speak well. And there are many more who can’t write well nor speak well (lol)
But Greg Sheridan is accomplished in both fields and I am very relieved that in his case George Eliot was wrong.