The Two People That Are Orlando Figes

April 30, 2010

Martin McCauley writes: It turns out that Orlando Figes, the famous historian, who supposedly knows Russia’s past better than the Russians themselves, has been having a bit of a personality split. It transpired recently that he’s been suffering from a rare case of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome that resulted in him posting highly critical articles under assumed names on the web about the books by other historians.

Imagine a meeting of Orlando with his agent and advisers.

Orlando: I don’t know what’s happening. I’m a famous historian with a worldwide reputation who is being accused of writing nasty things about my professional colleagues. I don’t know how this could be true.

Voice: Orlando, we’ve been informed that you suffer from a split personality complex. In simple language this means that you operate as two people. One takes over when you are writing your next book – Russia in Revolution 1901 to 2000 – and that person is quite intelligent and rational in his judgements. The other steps in when you read a review of your work which does not describe you as a genius and the greatest historian who ever lived. This character also takes over when you read books written by other historians. He becomes insanely jealous if the books are any good and then spews out venom.

Orlando: Interesting. I know I’m a genius but I had no idea that I was a genius twice over.

Voice: Come on, Orlando, you have to take us seriously. We have to find a cure for this split personality.

Orlando: I believe that under English law I can plead insanity. Then I wouldn’t be liable to pay damages to all those I have insulted. This means I can continue writing libellous things about my competitors.

Voice: No, this won’t do, Orlando. You have to appear sane if you are to be taken seriously as a historian.

Orlando: So what am I supposed to do now?

Voice: Take Robert Service’s books – Comrades, A History of World Communism and Stalin. You could start by writing a review which would say they were the greatest works on these subjects ever written. That would soothe Bob’s troubled ego.

Oralndo: Not in a thousand years. That charlatan pretends to understand communism but in reality is suffering from false consciousness. I must write another withering review of his work.

Voice: Orlando, you have slipped back into your other personality. The only thing to do is to remove this other personality forever.

Orlando: How do you suggest I do that?

Voice: We need a brain surgeon who can operate on you. We’ll ask him to cut out the nasty, vindictive personality.

Orlando: But what happens if he makes a mistake and cuts out the wrong part of my brain?

Voice: Simple, we’ll get him to put it back and take out the correct part.

Orlando: But then I’ll end up like Lenin with only half a brain.

Voice: Orlando, surely your research has revealed that Lenin with half a brain was much cleverer than others with a full brain. You can be our next Lenin.

Orlando: I have a better idea. Send a surgeon to the Museum of the Brain in Moscow where they keep Lenin’s grey matter and get them to sell it to us. We can then add it to my brain. Lenin was a genius and I am a genius. Together we’ll take over the world.

Voice: I think I need to book you into my favourite psychiatric clinic before your head explodes.

Orlando: Nonsense, comrade. As Orlando-Lenin I’ll be a marketing sensation. Everyone will buy my books. I will become the world’s most renowned historian. Bow to me, at once!

Voice: We’ve lost him, people.

– End –