Lethal White: Ghosts of Aneurin Bevan? Lorelei Bevan, Dodgy Doc, and the NHS

In my post last week about the Dickensian Cryptonyms found throughout Lethal White I neglected to mention or guess at the Cratylic meaning of ‘Lorelei Bevan,’ the girlfriend of Cormoran Strike. The first name is discussed in the text but the last name, Bevan, is only mentioned once (ch 11, p 113).

Lorelei was her real name, taken not from the mythical siren of the Rhine, but from Marilyn Monroe’s character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her mother’s favorite film. ch 11, p 115

I wrote two friends in the UK about the name and both replied it was almost certainly a reference to Aneurin Bevan, the Welsh radical leftist who founded the UK’s Welfare State after WWII. I’d never heard the name before, but it turns out he is something of an iconic figure for liberals in England, Scotland, and especially Wales; one online poll on the subject of ‘100 Welsh Heroes‘ placed him as #1. {Aside: Note that Jack o’Kent plays a part in the life of Owen Glendower, #2 in that poll.}

Join me after the jump for an introduction to this Bevan, the many pointers to him in Lethal White, and my best guess as to why Lorelei, of all people, was stuck with this surname.

Bevan was a coal miner and the son of a coal miner who died of Miner’s Lung. He avoided service in the trenches of WWI because mining was a ‘reserved occupation’ and received a scholarship post-war to a Trade Union college in London. There he was indoctrinated with the Marxist ideas that shaped his political vision of collectivism, socialism, and property redistribution. A professed atheist, he was something of a Soviet stooge before, during, and after WWII, which conflict he only supported as a facet of his “war for socialism.” He famously thought of Tories and conservatives as “lower than vermin” and called for “the complete extinction” of that party; he believed any position not toeing the Labour Party line was essentially treason against the working class.

He is viewed as an “astounding hero,” nonetheless, by otherwise rational men and women in the UK because, as Minister of Health in the Atlee government that swept out Churchill in 1945, he established the National Health Service (NHS) over the objections of the British Medical Association. Americans are about evenly split about government control of health care beyond the monitoring of hospitals for safety and best practices; I have never met a citizen of the UK in contrast who does not think that the NHS is the crowning glory of life in their homeland.

Read this article in The Independent on the 70th anniversary of Britain’s nationalization of health care about how it was the NHS — not the hospital and its doctors — that “saved my baby” for a taste of this zeal. A government agency was celebrated in the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, right? That’s how much our friends “over there” swoon with pride over Bevan’s socialized-medicine brain-child.

To the point of this post, the shade of Aneurin Bevan, Welsh coal miner and Marxist, is all over Lethal White, well beyond the use of his last name for the surname of Strike’s girlfriend, Lorelei. Look at all these pointers to the Welsh coal miner trade unionist and the NHS:

  • Robin playing Bobbi Cunliffe, as an ‘in’ with Flick and CORE, poses as the daughter of a coal miner who died from Miner’s lung disease. The Bevan mask works like a charm on the leftists. 
  • Jimmy Knight, trying to pick-up Bobbi, links his dead mother, who supposedly died of asbestos poisoning, with Bobbi’s father, the dead coal miner.

“Two of a kind,” said Jimmy, clicking his can of lager against Robin’s. “Class war veterans.” (ch 51, p 477)

  • Like Bevan, Knight was unjustly dismissed from his job and, after litigation, received compensation (Knight gets a cash payout while Bevan just got the job back).
  • Geraint Winn reminds Jimmy Knight that he really is the son of a Welsh coal miner, which relationship immediately establishes his unimpeachable proletariat bona fides.
  • Jimmy Knight’s tirades at the CORE meeting and to Sam in private about Tories, Zionists, and the “carnival of capitalism” are cartoon echoes and caricatures of Marxist Bevan’s rabid “lower than vermin” SJW political rhetoric.
  • The NHS focus of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies is derided by Jasper Chiswell (he thinks it should have been a celebration of the “military victories” in WWI and WWII) and later by Izzy; the NHS choice is celebrated by Della Winn, the heroic, blind-from-birth Welsh Labour MP. Strike likes the whole of the ceremonies; we don’t get his thoughts on the specifically NHS theme.
  • Jack, Cormoran’s nephew, receives more than competent medical attention in an NHS hospital; the medicos resucitate him on his arrival there, clean up his infected gut after a burst appendix, and, though patronizing, seem actually, as claimed, to “know what we’re about here.” Strike tells Robin, however, that he will be taking Jack to the Imperial War Museum (with, obviously, its celebration of military victories) when his nephew gets better. She thinks this is “a good idea.”
  • Robin needs help with her PTSD but has to pay for it out of pocket because the NHS waiting list is so long.
  • I think the line for the bathroom at the Real Socialist Party party in Flick’s apartment is a not especially subtle pointer to the agonies of having to wait for the simplest of medical procedures in the Welfare State. Those who can’t “hold it” can always “go outside” and use the bins.
  • And Lorelei has the last name ‘Bevan’…

That’s a lot of Wales, Miners, Labour MPs, NHS, “class war,” and lines waiting, which taken all together raises at least these three questions vis a vis Aneurin Bevan, the NHS, and Lethal White.

(1) What are we supposed to take away about Bevan and the NHS from all these references?

Reading his sympathetic wiki-biography, the historic Bevan still seems a semi-possessed class-struggle Marxist ideologue, the ‘Real Socialist Party’ hack villified in the Lethal White stand-in for the type, Jimmy Knight. 

I suppose that could be read as a critique of the heirs of Bevan being pathetic shadows of the original.

A more obvious interpretation is that Rowling/Galbraith finds postmodern Marxists as least as despicable as gallow-exporting Tories — because they hardly represent the working man and are only acting out of petulant self-interest and longing for power.

And that the line for service at the NHS, Bevan’s legacy, is as shameful and pathetic as the line to the bathroom in the party thrown by Real Socialist Party members. 

Why bother, though? 

I think the NHS (and Bevan by extension) is less Rowling’s target than the primary vehicle for her equal opportunity and across the board take-downs of Conservative clowns, loony Labouristas, and off the wall ‘community organizers.’ She celebrates the NHS, I think, in her portrayal of Jack’s treatment, lampoons it in her description of the lines in front of the bathroom, points to the abortion issue in the pro-life mailing to MPs that disgusts Robin (82% of the almost 200,000 abortions performed in the UK every year are performed with tax payer money via the NHS), and suggests at the same time that the Welfare State failed Robin, who had to pay for her PTSD therapy because the wait for NHS funded help would be too long. Chiswell the Tory, though, is hateful because he is against extended maternity leave for new mothers.

Aneurin Bevan just comes in to the story with all the references because of his iconic presence in the UK Hall of Heroes. If he is a legendary figure to Rowling, he is certainly kept in the shadowy background and the pointers to him are not uniformly or especially flattering. That the Welsh Labor MP in White is heroic but blind and married to a man who abuses women shamelessly is not a positive look.

Or is there something here about the NHS we’re missing? I don’t see in this a clear link with Lorelei Bevan.

(2) What about ‘Dodgy Doc’?

In the background of both parts of Lethal White, the C. B. Strike Detective Agency, on top of its work for Jasper Chiswell to gather “bargaining chips” against his blackmailers and for Isabel Chiswell to find Jasper’s murderer, is pursuing evidence that a cosmetic surgeon is giving away breast enhancement to young women in exchange for sex. Strike calls him “Dodgy Doc.” Robin, Cormoran, Sam, and Andy all take turns trailing the respectable medical professional in the hope that they will be able to catch him making arrangements outside his clinic’s practice with the women eager to get free medical attention. The case haunts the novel and is only resolved on the very last page of the epilogue when Strike tells Robin that Barclay has “got Dodgy bang to rights this time. Another teenager, going in and out of a hotel together” (Epilogue, p 647).

In typical Rowling fashion — think Severus Snape — there is more than one credible way to read this backstage action in Lethal White.

The first is criticism of medical professionals who do not participate in the NHS but who , as ‘Dodgy Docs,’ make their living by offering their services in private clinics for fees paid by customers outside government fees. The poor cannot afford to do this, of course, so their clientele are almost exclusively wealthy, desperate because of NHS queues, or both. [See P. D. James’ A Private Patient where this kind of clinic, a cosmetic surgery operation for the rich, is the foreground of a detective mystery, albeit a Dagleish police procedural drama.] From this view, the dangers inherent to private practices is that, without government control and monitors of health care, doctors will prey on the vulnerable because of the imbalance of power in the doctor-patient relationship. The ‘Dodgy Doc’ back story of a lecherous male doctor using his skills to get sex from young women is a transparency of abuse inevitable without NHS controls.

Equally credible, though, is the reading of this abusive back drop as an allegorical indictment of the NHS. Patients in the NHS, like the women getting breast enhancements from ‘Dodgy,’ are getting their health care seemingly for “free,” but in reality at a great cost to them personally. They become, in effect, prostitutes to the medical establishment and government, mere bodies in submission to the abusive power holders. Like the constituents who call the MP office to cmplain that they didn’t get the Olympics tickets they wanted, say ping pong or dressage instead of boxing, those frustrated and abused by NHS free service are told by condescending elites who, “rolling her eyes,” tell them, “but it’s a lottery, madam” (ch 13, p 135). They are, in a word, screwed in exchange for free health service. The transparency with “Dodgy Doc” is complete.

Remember that line to the bathroom at the party of Real Socialist Party members, the one standing for NHS queues? Why can’t the woman waiting get in for the physical relief she needs? “A plump, red-faced young girl peeked out [out of the bathroom door] finally. Behind her, Robin saw a man with a wispy gray beard replacing his Mao cap” (ch 51, p 448). A girl is being screwed by an old socialist, that’s why. “Someone having a quickie,” as Jimmy puts it, as the “elderly Trotskyist” larry “left the bathroom to a couple of cheers from the young men outside.” When Lethal White patricians have sex in a bathroom, in contrast, it happens in an art gallery where no lines form outside and, though both women are being used by the man in question, their experience is much less squalid and demeaning. At least superficially. 

Which brings us to Lorelei and ‘Bevan.’

(3) Why is Lorelei given the ‘Bevan’ surname?

As noted at the beginning of this post, Lorelei’s first name is “not taken from the mythical siren of the Rhine, but the Marilyn Monroe character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Which is funny because the Marilyn Monroe character in that story is named Lorelei because she is a “mythical siren” of sorts, a gorgeous blonde on the hunt for a rich husband or even just a diamond tiara.

Lorelei Bevan is something of a throwback to the pin-up vixens of post-war popular culture. Galbraith notes that she is the owner of a “thriving vintage clothes store in Camden” (ch 11, p 111), that Lorelei wears her hair in a peak-a-boo style a la Veronica Lake, and “she had the talent, by no means usual, of staging an erotic scene without tipping into parody” (p 116). Her bedroom features “candy pink walls and its curtains printed with cartoonish cowgirls and ponies.” Her email address? Lorelei@VintageVamps.com (ch 45, p 382).

She is not desperate or cloying but she does fall in love with Strike and does try to manipulate him into committing himself to a relationship beyond sex and company over warm meals. The siren fails, of course, because Strike is in love with Robin, though acknowledging that reality has not made it into his conscious thinking.

Marilyn Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee, does not fail. She gets her man.

My first thought about a Lorelei link with the NHS founder was that her failure as “mythical siren,” the “vintage vamp,” to live up to the Monroe prototype is the reason she is given the surname ‘Bevan.’ Lorelei expresses no political opinions in Lethal White and is not told anything about Strike’s investigations of Jimmy Knight or Jasper Chiswell. What she does offer at affair’s end is a long, bitter, and borderline medical analysis in an email of Strike’s psychological condition, “a methodical dissection of Strike’s character, which read like the case notes for a psychiatric case that, while not hopeless, required urgent intervention” (p 382). 

She is no more an Aneurin Bevan, medical hero, than she is Lorelei Lee, “vintage vamp” and “mythological siren.” Lorelei is, however, a good person — even Robin likes her, despite herself — and one who is treated badly by Strike, a man as damaged and as heartless, ultimately, in his intimate relations as she says he is.

The ‘Dodgy Doc’ sub-narrative, however, in which we find the allegory of the NHS ‘screwing’ women in exchange for “free” medical services, suggests Lorelei is named ‘Bevan’ for a different reason. Think of her text to Strike after her email in the period in which he is dodging her attempts for contact. “If you want a hot meal and a shag with no human emotions involved, there are restaurants and brothels.” And hospitals?

Strike, as he has with every woman he has slept with since his break-up with Charlotte, has been using Lorelei Bevan as a vehicle to avoid dealing with his emotional pain; be it Nina, Dominic Culpepper’s cousin, when he learns about Charlotte’s engagement to Jago Ross, or Coco in his grief about Robin going on her honeymoon, Strike consistently substitutes sexual use of women for emotional experience. He uses women by “accepting tea and blow-jobs,” as his conscience tells him (ch 24, p 209), while denying them emotional access to him. Lorelei’s diagnosis is “spot on.”

She is named ‘Bevan,’ though, not because of her psychiatric acumen. It is because she, in the allegorical language of the novel with Bevan’s NHS in the backdrop, is being screwed, willingly, for “free,” that is, supposedly with no strings attached, and getting “no human emotions” or value in return. She acts as his doctor and care giver, moreover, in his time of greatest need and gets nothing in return. She winds up begging in their final exchange for a “memory of the end that doesn’t make me feel disposable and cheap,” ultimately, “with some dignity,” all of which Strike has taken from her (ch 49, pp 418-419).

Lorelei is named ‘Bevan’ because what she gets from Strike is what Bevan’s legacy is in the UK: the cold, antiseptic, clinical medical care of the NHS. Review the doctors’ and nurses’ bedside manner in the Jack-at-the-hospital chapter (ch 26, pp 223-236), an important setting for the revival of Strike’s hope for a relationship with Robin “when all had seemed lost” (p 236). Lorelei is loving and nurturing during Strike’s convalesence from his fall and torn hamstring (chs 22, 24, pp 202, 205-209); hers is the kind of health care that the utopian socialist for whom she is named dreamt the NHS would be. As in Real Socialist party young girl and Troyskyist, Lorelei gets screwed, literally and figuratively, for her free health care. In the chapter subsequent to her telling Strike she loved him and getting only an “I heard” in response, his emotional poverty and loneliness, as she explains in a consequent email, is exposed as he collapses at Jack’s bedside. And Robin appears. Hope returns.

Robin’s experience of therapy, not from the NHS, granted, is equally cold and impersonal. We first meet Robin in the year after her wedding-prologue as she escapes with joy the Villiers Trust Clinic and its “condescending,” “combative,” and so impersonal a therapist that she isn’t even given a name (ch 3, pp 45-56). We learn in that chapter about Matt’s health crisis in the Maldives, the doctor’s misdiagnosis of his condition there as life-threatening celluitis, and Robin’s consequent decision, one she much later describes as “cowardly,” to stay with him contra her previous determination to seek an annulment.

The only sensitive and protective medical people we meet in Lethal White in a book featuring medical care and its analogues right and left are the doctors taking care of Billy Knight in the lock-down psychiatric ward Strike visits in chapter 56 (pp 491-505). The architecture of this place, “the bastard offspring of a ginger bread palace and a gothic prison” is contrasted deliberately with the hospital to which Jack had been taken, “the gigantic rectanglular prism of of concrete and black glass,” a Brutalist edifice in the signature style of Soviet-era socialism.

My chief take-away from this extended exegesis of one Dickensian cryptonym is that Rowling is not a fan of the NHS’ impersonal and often unavailable “free” health care and that she suggests it is primarily vulnerable women who are screwed by the institutional care on offer there. Saying as much directly is taboo, especially for a so-called “center-left” liberal in the UK, but the anti-NHS messaging, especially with respect to the abuse of women is in there.

The NHS-Bevan connections are not obvious, I admit, but they break the story surface in an undeniable way to the serious reader (I mean, Bevan’s name is only mentioned once) and Lorelei is a relatively sympathetic character. Rowling, as most liberals in the UK, almost certainly admires Bevan and the NHS in public; Lorelei is a relatively friendly and intelligent head on which to hang the hat of her embedded critique of the Welsh Marxist responsible for the NHS. “It is better to celebrate Britain’s military victories over totalitarianism than their fall post-war to socialist statism,” as Strike and Chiswell seem to agree vis a vis the NHS.

Enough names and politics. Back to another sneak peek at Crimes of Grindlewald tomorrow!