Lisa Jardine interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 31st October 2008

0:09:07 Born 1944 in Ruskin College, Oxford; my parents had rented a cottage in Monks Risborough outside Oxford and during the war, Ruskin College was turned into maternity facilities; my mother told me that when she went back to hear my father lecture a few years later, she was on the same platform just prior to delivery; I knew both sets of grandparents who were Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms during World War I; my mother's family came from Latvia-Russia; her father who was a very dignified man had fled front line service; her older sister was born in Latvia and she was born in London; her father was a furrier who made rabbit coats for C&A; my father's parents left Poland when he was two; his father was a haberdasher and had import-export connections in Germany; his mother came from Warsaw and left just before the Ghetto; they went first to Łódź then to Germany, and just before he was twelve they came to London; my mother's mother was rotund and about five foot; she spoke with a heavy accent; I remember nothing about her intellectually but I remember her cooking; remember going into the kitchen where she would have sheets for pasta hanging over the back of the chair and in front of the fire; I remember her making all kinds of pastries; she was my first experience of inspired cooking; all the grandchildren found my grandfather annoying; he used to pinch our cheeks; he and my grandmother used to speak together in Yiddish but their children spoke English; they lived in Stamford Hill; my father's father was  possibly a smuggler, a slightly romantic figure, who gave us watches as small children; my father used to shrug and say he wasn't sure where they had come from; he had pursued my grandmother, whose family had already moved to England, to propose to her; he had taken her back to Poland; he had become ferociously religious by the time I remember him; there was an extraordinary rift between my grandparents on both sides and my parents; both kept kosher, kept festivals and fasts, but my parents did none of it; we as children didn't notice that we tended to go to our grandparents for some of the holidays, so we learnt our Jewish practice with them; my father's house was undermined by fantastic grandmother who was heartily annoyed by all this religious practice and would subvert it wherever possible; she used to hide our Easter eggs in this kosher household in a drawer in her bedroom; she was a remarkable character, of fierce intelligence, angry beyond belief at a life wasted; she was a very active member of the Communist party; in my early career if someone said that I was Mrs B's granddaughter, I would know they were Communists as that was how she was known; she was an early member of the London County Council; she had a radical salon at home when I assume my grandfather was banished; my mother remembers that she had a small Klee print hanging in the hall; I was a bit terrified of her; she taught me to cook - she was an even better cook than my maternal grandmother; she also taught me to value myself intellectually

10:02:12 My father was Jacob Bronowski, mathematician, scientific popularizer, and best remembered in Britain for the TV series 'The Ascent of Man'; he was a resolute believer that there is nothing so difficult that a person in the street can't understand as long as you don't let them know that it is difficult; that is a mantra that I have stuck to all my life too; I learnt about his boyhood from him; he learnt three words of English on the boat; was tipped into the Central Foundation Boys' School in London where he struggled with the language; went to Whitechapel Library, took out 'Midshipman Easy' and 'Masterman Ready' and learnt his English entirely from them; he became a mathematician as many immigrant children do as there he wasn't disadvantaged by language; he gained a scholarship to Cambridge; all I knew of his life from then until he met my mother in his thirties was from two letters at Jesus College, which as a Fellow I was entitled to look at in his file; the first was a letter from my grandmother to the Senior Tutor to say that unless my father had a full scholarship he could not go to Cambridge; the other was from Quiller-Couch to the then Senior Tutor rubbishing the desire of Bronowski to become a Fellow; my daughter, Rachel, was researching a programme she was making on Alistair Cooke; he and my father were exact contemporaries, and suddenly a whole lot of material was unearthed relating to the two of them in their university days; it revealed to me for the first time how difficult it must have been for my father at Cambridge; in a photograph found by Jesus College of the editorial board of Granta magazine, taken on the lawn, all wearing tweed jackets, there in the back row is Alistair Cook, a working-class boy from Blackpool, elegant and seemingly at ease, and next to him, my father, small, dark and East European, and flamboyantly dressed; it screamed at me how ill at ease he was in that environment; fortuitously, about the same moment, an old friend of mine, while clearing out her father's possessions, unearthed a cache of 50-60 letters from my father to him, describing what it was like to be in Cambridge; they confirmed the sense of encountering disadvantage and inequality in that Cambridge environment; he never spoke about it so I never had to carry any of that guilt for my parents that some of our first generation London University students carry who are of other ethnicities

16:09:17 If I had been a boy, having such a famous father would probably have ruined my life; also if he had had a boy it would have done so; I was the eldest of four girls and I was his "son" to the extent that when he died his mistresses wrote to me in terms that I don't think you would write to a daughter; he exerted an influence over me which any psychoanalyst would say was disastrous; he treated me like an equal from the minute that I can remember; I was about four and I was playing chess with him; from this household of women he pulled me out and groomed me to be his son; I remember him very clearly teaching me to run like a boy; by the age of seven I was playing a good game of chess against him; he discovered very quickly that I was hardwired for maths so we had a little secret game of maths problems; I was very precocious and perhaps a bit lonely; I never once thought that there was anything intellectually different in being a girl, and I owe that to my father; but I despised my mother and, until I had my own children, I thought she was a nuisance; she was an arty person and I absorbed art, learnt to paint and knit, also to cook - all skills I did not value; I do remember her once slapping my face and I'm sure that I deserved it; at ten and a half I won an exhibition to Cheltenham Ladies’ College; I had passed the 11+ and the uniform had been bought to go to the grammar school; sometime before the start of term my father must have gone to the school and he came back and announced that they had no maths department; went in for this scholarship exam totally unprepared; wrote an essay on smells but I could not do any of the questions on the maths paper except one on area; I had not done areas before but spent the whole exam working it our from first principles, and they gave me an exhibition; my mother was absolutely not anti-intellectual and was probably exactly the right partner for my father; I may have got my attitude from my paternal grandmother who never forgave this art student for marrying her son; his previous girlfriend had been Eirlys Roberts, the founder of the Consumer Association, with whom he had a miserably adversarial relationship; my grandmother felt that a much better match

22:39:14 As a Jewish immigrant family we were passionately interested in everything and anything we showed the slightest interest in we were projected at; one bit of enormous good fortune for me was that when I was three, my father and Julian Huxley were part of the founding group of UNESCO in Paris and we lived there for six months; I learnt some French which I found I had remembered when I started to learn French at school; I now count myself fluent in French; my mother loved the guitar and from halfway through primary school I learnt the classical guitar - I once beat John Williams in a guitar competition - so I got a musical education outside school; I also have a singing voice and Cheltenham really trained that; there was no distinction between any of the arts in our family though there was no music in our home; we did not have the radio on; my husband is from a working class family and he requires a radio in every room but ours was a silent household; my father was mad about Lotte Lenya, Brecht and Kurt Weil, and my mother was mad about Juliette Gréco and Edith Piaf, so when there was music it was that; there was no orchestral music, symphony or chamber, all of that I got at school; music has been incredibly important for me and I might not have survived Cambridge without it and the Labour Club; I stopped playing the guitar when I came up; for the first year I studied the lute; however, I did not like solo music and wished I had learnt an orchestral instrument; my daughter is a good trumpeter and I love the fact that she plays in bands; as far as my work is concerned, I do not write listening to music; I am impervious to sound when I am writing; that was something my father taught me; he never had a study but wrote everything sitting at the kitchen table with four delinquent girls and all of their friend around him; I remember that when I took my G.C.E's at Cheltenham, some girl complaining that there was a drill outside the window; I was flabbergasted that anyone doing an exam could hear anything going on outside; there was a period when I became a rather posey graduate student at Cambridge and I used to listen to orchestral music then; now I can write almost anywhere and shut out everything; my high productivity is because I am a woman; I was not highly productive until the last of my three children left school; I was a serial mother for twenty-five years, fitting in anything I did around household chores; I realized when Sam was twelve that he was independent; that is when my productivity takes off; there were suddenly acres of time and I was so disciplined about how to use time that I have just stuck to that discipline; I think that you will see that this pattern is quite common for women

30:42:17 We lived in Cheltenham where my father was working at an experimental institute for the Coal Board, so I was a day girl at Cheltenham Ladies’ College from eleven until fifteen; when my parents moved to London I became a boarder and I definitely hated boarding; in my first week I discovered that goy girls washed a lot; in the sort of family I came from you bathed at the weekend; there were these cultural patterns that made me completely miserable; it was taken for granted and I was really thrown by it; at the same time, being locked up as a nubile adolescent, was probably the best thing that could have happened to me while doing my 'A' levels; I loved the teaching; I was in the X (best) stream all the way up; I have only seen teaching like that once when my youngest sister was put into a gifted children programme in California; it was unbelievable, particularly for a girl in the fifties; however, I would not say that I was happy; I loathed the sport; none of my family could swim and going to the swimming baths and being the only one who couldn't swim, was dreadful; I owe everything that I now have intellectually to that school; Miss Treadgold, the Principal, had a first in maths, and nobody who taught me had less than a first in maths; the teachers all liked me, and usually when you have a favourite teacher it is because that teacher liked you; the first teacher with whom I had that bond is a man called Bertie Bellis who was the head of maths at Highgate School; when we had moved to London and I had somehow blown my 'A' levels he coached me when I had completely lost confidence, and without him I don't know what would have happened to me; I wrote about him as the most important teacher in my life about ten or fifteen years ago and his wife got in touch with me; I have seen him regularly since then; I have actually seen the same difficulty with two of my own children; if you find academic work easy you are not prepared for when it stops being easy; most children struggle with some subject and learn strategies for dealing with difficulty; I never remember thinking about tests or exams or learning in any subject until after G.C.E.; I then started on my 'A' level work and I couldn't do it easily; somebody should have spotted it but they were so used to me being the brain box that nobody did; I think my father came to rely on the school and stopped paying attention as he had once done; I took my 'A' levels in pure and applied maths, and physics, and I got B's; for going into the university entrance stream that was a bit of a disaster; I took university entrance the following term and failed to get into Cambridge; I got a place at St Hugh's, Oxford, but my father said Oxford was not any good for maths so I would have to try again; by this time I was a gibbering wreck which, again, nobody noticed because I was keeping up a pretence; that also happened to my youngest son quite recently; we are very good at keeping up appearances; I left school, and then Bertie Bellis took me on and rebuilt me; his wife, Joan, told me quite recently that I was supposed to take classes at Highgate but she invited me for tea; afterward she told Bertie that under no circumstances could I be allowed in to distract the boys; I worked with him in his living room and took my Maths 'A' levels again, and sailed into Newnham

42:08:23 When I got my exhibition to Cheltenham, which is a Church of England foundation, I had to go in on the Jewish quota; there were 800 girls in the school and eight Jews (there were eight Catholics too); what that meant was when I became a boarder, when they went to chapel, I had Hebrew lessons; so most of my religious education I owe to Cheltenham Ladies College; I received no religious training of any sort from my family, but because of Cheltenham I received a full Jewish training and the ability to read classical Hebrew; I did during that period fast on one Day of Atonement and that is the closest I have ever come to religious practice; you are shielded if you come from an Eastern European Jewish home because there are a lot of family rituals that others might construe as religious; with my children we have lit Hanukah candles but it is entirely comparable with having a Christmas tree; we are a secular family, though all of my children, because of local authority regulations, have had to declare themselves as Jews, and have all got really cross with me about it; I think that the idea that as a Jew you are an outsider looking in is a trope; it is so often used that I am beginning to query it; I think it is part of the submerged confusion in our generation, partly because so many of us were not even told we were Jewish until we were eleven or twelve; this was the period after the war when everybody was pretending it hadn't happened; it would be impossible for anybody living in today's world to believe that the first time I saw footage of Auschwitz or Belsen at liberation I was twenty; my mother always told us she had felt discriminated against and we would object; there were confusions, so our skin colour was not quite right but we passed; it is true that we escaped the class system in some way; I was very shocked when at Cambridge and active in the Labour Club at the burden of class consciousness that standard British students carried with them; their ability to feel picked on, or that something happened because of it, I found bewildering; I did know I did not have that feeling; they would tell me that I was middle class and I would laugh; we are amazing chameleons; if you come in from elsewhere you can be so; I also think that you have the extraordinary luxury that throughout your life you can choose to belong or not; that is a luxury that you only have if you have two personae; I think that makes us show-offs and extraverts, which might not be a good thing; my father was in that wanting to belong generation, and I think we were saved from that; most of the things I have felt excluded from have been because of my gender not because of my faith

51:00:17 I read 'The God Delusion' and wondered what all the fuss was about; enormous numbers of people live their lives occasionally claiming that they do belong to a religion but most of the time behaving as if they didn't; the number of clerics that I have met who have told me quite firmly that they don't believe is really quite astonishing; in the Church of England it is almost a defining feature; I find the Dawkins' argument annoying and think it is polarizing people completely unnecessarily; I think that all of the worst things that have happened over the last centuries have happened in the name of religion, but that doesn't mean that I want to come down on people who find it comforting or useful; I have always though that Richard Dawkins has such an ahistorical and acultural mind; I was in Marrakesh last weekend and as we drove on a bus towards the Atlas Mountains everywhere I looked there were women sitting in a field with a cow; I said that it was so hard for me to think of a life where I would get up, make the family meal, take the cow down to the field and sit, wait till the end of the day, take the cow back, go to bed and do the same the next day; I think that if I did that I might want religion

53:35:08 I arrived at Newnham in 1963 and went with Esther Soraka for a supervision with Sheila Edmunds; she was in charge of maths there but had no degree as women did not take degrees until 1948; she took us through what we were going to do and then said she would try to send us to some male teachers next term as women were not as good at maths as men; I went out of the supervision and phoned my father and asked if that was true; that was the first time in my whole life that I had heard that said; it was a shocking thing to have happened and I never forgave her; my father said it was rubbish but the damage was done; the whole demeanour of the maths side at Newnham was of failure; my maths got worse; I could do it but was hating it; I was incredibly active in Labour Party politics as was Esther and her brother Peter; Raymond Williams was also very active; then we would go into supervisions and it was as though all this outside world was not there; when I did badly in my second year exams I told my father I was quitting and wanted to change to English because that was where Raymond Williams was; at that time people changed to English because of their radical politics; despite the objections of Ruth Cohen, the Principal, I did change; my father was completely happy as he feared that I might have done maths just to please him; the Union was for posh people at that time although Sheena Mathieson from the Labour Club did infiltrate the Union; the Labour Club was serious; Parliamentarians would come up to speak to us and had the thrill of fighting a national election, which we won; it was a heady time and probably any subject I studyied would have suffered alongside; it just formed me politically; I think on the strength of giving the Tanner Lecture on Raymond Williams and the legacy of 'Culture and Society', I can say that I have remained true to the values