There were many iconoclastic books published in 1963, many of which I read.
They ranged from On Aggression by Konrad Lorenz ( I still have the paperback) to Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. In fiction, there was The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark Dog Years by Gunther Grass City of Night by John Rechy. All these books ( and many others) still remain on my bookshelves.
Seminal books of that time ( that I didn’t read) were: The Feynman Lectures on Physics (Richard Feynman), The Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson and Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter.
Shibboleths ( forgive the cliche) really were ‘breaking down’. We had our own scandals : ‘The Profumo Affair’, which destablised an entire Government; and in July 1963 – Kim Philby was named as ‘the third man’. This really was a time of ‘tarts, toffs and traitors’. And the world, shaken to its foundations by the 1962 ‘Bay of Pigs’ – Cuban Missile Crisis, was still ‘in recovery’.
And as the poet, Philip Larkin, wrote in ‘Annus Mirabilis’:
‘Sexual intercourse began/in nineteen sixty-three/(which was rather late for me/Between the end of the’;Chatterley’ ban/And the Beatles first L.P.)
Meanwhile, I, and my small group of schoolfriends, were still clinging on to our virginity, avoiding having boyfriends, studying blindly. We were all totally unsure about our future lives and what we were going to do. We were being given absolutely no advice on anything: careers, universities, work, marriage.
Some girls were lucky. They had ‘focussed’ parents to help them to make decisions. We took comfort – and shared much laughter- at the craziness of being a bunch of ‘A’ stream girls – all bright, but hopelessly lost and faced with a dizzying range of future options, previously unknown to our mothers, most of whom had left school at fourteen.
The economy was ‘on the up’, and the 1964 Labour Government, under Harold Wilson, promised un-dreamed of FREE higher education. My friends and I had all campaigned for him.and cast our first votes for him.We’d won the higher education lottery.
Bizarrely, my father was a great friend of Cecil Harmsworth King ( the chairman of IPC ( Independent Publishing Corporation) – the biggest publishing empire in the world at the time, and one of his newspapers, The Daily Mirror, was a hugely influential newspaper then. King was the ‘Rupert Murdoch’ of his day, wielding great power and influence. His machinations concerning Harold Wilson ( and others) filtered back to me. I took tea with him once, and his second wife, Dame Ruth Railton , founder of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, at their astonishingly magnificent home at Hampton Court. I had never seen splendour like it.
We girls were walking in to the unknown, to the soundtrack of Dylan’s The Times they are a Changin’ and Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’. With our heads full of possibilities and conflicting choices.
I’d go up to little ‘ad hoc’ poetry meetings in London, where poets like George Macbeth and Michael and Frances Horowitz held court. I was still writing and reading poetry – and has just discovered the work of Auden and MacNeice.
I was given a copy The Burning Perch (1963) the latest volume by Louis MacNeice on my eighteenth birthday – September 23 -1963 by my first ( platonic) boyfriend, Bob Bixby. I found the poems clever, but perplexing.
I still do.