Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Elaine Morgan : 1920 - 2013

Elaine Morgan, feminist, socialist, TV playwright and evolutionary theorist died this month at the age of 92.

Despite her success in writing such early popular TV series as Dr Finlay's Casebook, Maigret, The Life And Times Of David Lloyd George and an adaptation of How Green Was My Valley, she lived most of her life in the south Wales valleys.

Born in 1920 in Telelkebir Road, Hopkinstown, at the Rhondda end of Pontypridd she grew up in the Hungry Thirties. She was an only child with parents and grandparents living under the same roof - two doles and one child was not as bad as some, she recalled.

She had a resourceful mother and her father was a colliery worker who in the hard times was in demand for his DIY skills.

After working in adult education in Norfolk she married Morien Morgan, the "commie" French master at Pontypridd Boys' Grammar School and ex-International Brigader who had spent time in Franco's prisons.

Early years of married life with two sons were spent in a remote cottage with no mod cons in the hills of Gwent. Morien taught French at Abertillery Grammar School while Elaine wrote stories for women's magazines, articles for the New Statesman and plays for the emerging medium of television. Kitchen-sink drama began with live TV drama made in Wales and Elaine flourished, showing a remarkable facility to churn out single plays, adaptations and the occasional series.

Her international reputation was established with books popularising a theory suggested by Sir Alister Hardy that a key moment in the evolution of mankind happened when the sea level rose and we spent a period splashing in the shallows. The idea, in spite of popular interest, was ignored or rubbished by the scientific fraternity.

What right had a housewife from the south Wales Valleys with an Oxford degree in English to write about such matters? Nevertheless, The Descent of Woman (1972) was followed by The Aquatic Ape. The theory has been gaining acceptance only in the last decade or so.

In 2002 she was incensed by The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature by Steven Pinker.

She responded with Pinker's List, putting a left-wing spin to Pinker's data. Natural selection by aggression, she argued, had been discredited. Successful selection comes from the ability to learn by experience.

No publisher would take it, so in 2005 she published it herself. Nobody reviewed it either except the Morning Star, which Elaine would always refer to as the Daily Worker.

But on her travels around the world, lecturing and participating in conferences - she was still doing that in her late eighties - she found that everyone was aware of the book.

More at Morning Star

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