Memories of an English novelist (Published 1976) (2022)


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By Stephen Spender

Memories of an English novelist (Published 1976) (1)

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June 27, 1976



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I first met the English novelist, William Plomer in London in 1930, when I was an Oxford undergraduate. some 22 years before he published his least typical but best‐known work, “Museum Pieces.” I invited him to lecture to the University English Club, of which I was then secretary. He stayed in Oxford for two or three days, and we became lifelong friends.

William Plomer.

With a Postscript by Simon Nowell‐Smith. Illustrated. 455 pp. New York: Taplinger. $20.

Looking at the photographs of him in this book, some three years after his death, brings tears to my eyes, not on account of their likeness (though they are excellent of their kind) but their unlikeness to him. These pictures of a rather prim‐looking schoolboy, youthful farmer and storekeeper in South Africa, writer and publisher's reader convey nothing of the crisp, sparkling, vivacious, self‐mocking, extremely funny, kind and selfless man of whom I was a friend. No still photograph could convey the character of someone who expressed himself in the movement of the eyes and smile. The Word with which I associated William was “crystalline,” which conveys at once his eyes—the color of the sea he loved—and his integrity of mind and soul. But in memory this word seems too rigid. And reading the descriptions of his youth in his “Autobiography” I see that his clarity had ruffled, moving surface like windblown waves, as though he retained moving through him always some luminosity, resilience, wisdom of the

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Stephen Spender's most recent book is a study of T. S. Eliot.

skies of Africa where be spent so much of his youth, the Aegean Sea in which he swam during what was possibly the happiest year of his life (in the early thirties). He also had a certain mysteriousness. He gave the impression that between him and the outer world of people and nature there was an invisible screen (screens and masks are symbols in his poetry) through which he gazed with detachment while at the same time he was protected from intruders. This guardedness must have been almost innate but I suspect that he found it affirmed during the years he spent in Japan in his early twenties.

At the time of our first meeting he was the young genius, author of a novel about South Africa entitled “Thrbott Wolfe,” a few poems and “Paper House,” a volume of stories written in Japan. “Mahon Wolfe,” written before he was 20 and published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, has a blazing, demonic Rimbaudesque quality, a directness later transformed to irony. In the early part of the “Autobiography” there are flickerings of this flame, especially in the descriptions of landscape—Lawrentian rather than Rimbaudesque.

Plomer had one of those boyhoods not unusual in the British imperialist days of the early part of the century, of private and public school education in England, and voyagings to join far‐flung paternal home, so far from the English one. His earliest memory was at a place called Lousi Trichardt, at the foot of the Zoutpansberg mountains, in the Transvaal, and one can see it as the deepest center of his consciousness:

“It had rained in the night, but now the sky was cloudless and the world of a celestial freshness and fragrance, exhaled by the sparkling green veld and wafted in the air. I strayed out of the garden, and standing on the bank of the stream suddenly saw on the opposite bank, perhaps twelve feet away, two large birds, a kind of wild duck perhaps. One was resting on the ground; the other stood beside it. Their plumage gleamed like many‐colored enamel in the sun against a background of reeds, their eyes glinted like jewels, and they showed no sign of alarm, but watched me as I watched them. My feeling was partly one of delighted discovery, like that of an ornithologist discovering a new species, partly of pure delight, both heightened into a kind of ecstasy, as of mutual understanding and joy, as the birds and I knew that we were part of the same life and that life was

This sense of landscape as something lived at the center of the mind and body of the autobiographer, was not confined to Plomer's childhood. He retains it in his descriptions of Japan, Russia and the Mediterranean, and can project it imaginatively into the account he gives of the life of his father in South Africa, before William was born.

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Plomer's voyagings put him in touch with‐people—“natives” as they were then called—as well as with places. Working with his father in Zululand as a storekeeper, he came to admire as well as love the Africans. In Japan he adopted the Japanese style of living with a a young Japanese, Morito Fukuzawa, whose photograph is here. Difference of race or class so far from filling him with a sense of his own superiority, or of alienation, stimulated his vital imaginative sympathy; but it did not cross the threshold, where sympathy for the insulted and oppressed leads to political action. With Plomer there is great understanding of what leads to politics, but he is content to leave us with the situation, and with the politics implicit. Of Japan, in the early

“ among our neighbors was a poet and art‐historian called Voile Noguchi, lean and sardonic‐looking, with an air of having burnt his candle at both ends. As a youth he had emigrated to California, where, soon after his arrival in San Francisco, he had been gazing into a shop‐window, when a heavy hand gripped his shoulder and spun him round. He found himself face to face with a burly Californian who, to show his racial antipathy, spat in Noguchi's face. It was an attack as unexpected as that on Pearl Harbor in 1941.”

To some members of my slightly younger generation, inclined to wear their hearts upon their sleeves, Plomer's attitudes sometimes seemed cagey and over‐cautious — at any rate in his exftession of them. He combined anti‐racialist views, great sympathy for the poor and oppressed, scathing antimiddle‐class‐conventialism (“doing the right thing” is art aim which he derides frequently in this book) with Church‐of‐England conservatism and a polite, slightly ironic correctness of manner and behavior. Taking sides on political issues did not fit in with his idea of his own individualism as a man and writer of independence and detachment. He had a steadfast and passionate virtue, a clear flame which shone through his outer covering of irony and near‐cynicism. Although pleasure‐loving, he was ascetic. The only thing about him which could strike a chill to the heart of his friends was, toward the end of his life, the picturelessness, almost booklessness, near furniturelessness of his home. But in Africa. as he points out, he had learned the unimportance of material comforts, the tedium of

The first half of this book, about South Africa and his early voyagings, is more interesting than the second half, which is mostly about London. It is wonderful to read of Plomer and two other young men of genius, Laurens van der Post and the poet Roy Campbell, starting their magazine Voorslag (Whiplash) in South Africa. Plomer writes with surely justified pride: “Certainly nothing remotely like Voorslag had confronted its readers before. nothing so European, so cultivated, so forceful ironical, and

One of the things that Plomer was reproached for at various times in England was his apparent failure to declare his homosexuality. In fact, in private he made absolutely no bones about it as I realized the moment I met him. He had a very strong sense however of the distinction between the private life and the public, and he considered that his sexual tastes, though important to him personally, were private to him. In “Autobiography” there are for the most part only oblique references to this: yet in one of the most striking passages in the book he illuminates a love passage of his life with candor: indeed with memorable joy as though sexual passion all barriers:

“Acute pleasure can hardly be described. A little before midday on a morning in early summer I was swimming a good way out in the bay of Phaleron with an inhabitant of Athens of my own age with whose physical beauty I had become infatuated. In the warm sun and the light breeze a small boat with a sail came gliding and prancing past. In it was an old fisherman. When he saw us he asked if we would like to climb in for a sail with him. We said yes, climbed in, and settled down, and while he guided the lightly dancing boat over the sparkling wavelets and glanced back at us now and then with the fatherly playfulness of an old Triton, we happily embraced one another with naked arms that the sun had quickly dried, and kissed the saltiness from one another's Smiling lips. This, I thought, is happiness—to be young, to be healthy, to be free, to love and be loved in the sun, in the radiant light, flying along over the water in the flawless visibility of early summer in the Aegean.”

Plomer returned to England from South Africa in the late twenties and, apart from the idyllic months of Mediterranean travels which took him to Greece, acquired a habit of ironic immoveability. For some years he was my neighbor in London's Maida Vale, and no one seemed to me to lead a life of such control, smiling discretion and tolerance, so different from my own rather distracted existence. He keeps up the appearance of the controlled, detached observer in the second part of the “Autobiography,” adopting, for most of it, the role of the spectator who views his own life from the outside. He becomes narrator, anecdotalist and

The reader who looks below the surface can see interesting connections; for example, between the story of his landlady who was murdered by her husband and the ruthless, satiric ballads he wrote late in life, which made some readers accuse him of being cruel (a charge he vigorously refutes). Occasionally there are hints of depths of private Buffering which he does not develop. He quotes his friend J. R. Ackerley remarking that he, William, is “always in an emotional storm.” But, apart from the harrowing description of the symtoms of an illness he suffered when he was extremely overworked at the Admiralty during the war, he does not tell us what the storms were about, and the writing is not emotional.

The essays about his views on religion, politics, the emergence of his “philosophy of living” are eminently sensible and civilized; but he does not connect them with the centers of his own being and feeling, or relate them to the life of the child whose father never bothered to communicate with him, who was often separated from his mother, and who, at an age of 12 or so, was seduced by a young steward on a liner, en route to South Africa (an experience, incidentally, for which William was grateful).

Although disappointing as a self‐portrait, the second half of this autobiography contains brilliant anecdotes of London literary life. Plomer was master of a certain type of anecdote, in which the cool, observant presence of the narrator is as Much part of the comedy as the object of the story. Here is an example, from an account of conversation at a tea party at the house of Lady Ottoline Morrell in Gower Street:

“‘And do you often go, back to America?’ a friend of mine asked Eliot in my hearing about this time.

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“‘Not very often.’ A pause while he looked at the floor with great concentration: his answer mustn't offend any of his principles, nor militate against truth, logic or the established religion. ‘On an average,’ he said, and then again paused perhaps to consider the possible ramifications of the effect of what he was about to say. ‘I should say about every twenty years.’

Meeting William, one could always be sure of hearing half a dozen such observations. am prouder of having my photograph printed here as one of William Homer's friends, than I would be of winning any literary award that I can think et. ■

Author's Query

For a critical biography of black American writer William Gardner Smith (1926‐1974), should appreciate any information from your readers on his works not publicly available, including letters, reviews, manuscript pages, photographs, lectures, inscriptions and comments by or about the author.


Dept. of Afro‐American Studies, New York City Community College

300 Jay Street, Room N‐505, Brooklyn, New York 11201


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BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari polled 82 book critics from outside the UK, to pick Britain’s best novels ever – this is what some had to say about the top choices.

"‘The two women were alone in the London flat’ – what an auspicious beginning for this intricately constructed story of a woman thinking, making sense of her life, trying to have it all!” writes critic Susan Larson of WWNO’s The Reading Life of Lessing’s masterpiece.. “The shifts in perspective in Atonement, the sheer force of the story he builds, the shock of the twists in the narrative, his portrayal of the war’s devastating impact-- it’s stayed with me for a long time,” writes Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor of the Seattle Times.. “David himself, Steerforth, Peggotty, Mr Dick – and it climbs up and down and off the class ladder – the Blacking Factory, the London literary world, exile to Australia!” “Not a month passes that I do not think of one of its characters in relation to some aspect of my daily life,” writes Wendy Lesser (Threepenny Review, author, Why I Read).. To re-read Dickens' classic as an adult is to discover its wit and brio, its influence, and its truth.” “Charles Dickens is the greatest English novelist of all time, and Great Expectations is his greatest book,” writes Laurie Hertzel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.. “It has all the elements of classic Dickens – endearing, flawed characters; a plot that skewers the politics of the time (and of our time); subplots that skewer morality and culture; a love story; and a wonderful storyline.. “If the most precious gift of the novel as a medium is the power it has to break into the prison of human consciousness, to expose the gossamer weave of thought and feeling and memory that makes up our innermost lives, then Woolf's fourth novel stands alone at the pinnacle,” writes Lev Grossman, Time magazine book critic.. "Virginia Woolf made modernism live and breathe.” Virginia Woolf “so thoroughly upended our ideas of what the novel could do narratively, emotionally, that we all continue along in its long shadow,” writes Mark Sarvas (Bookforum, New York Times Book Review).. The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Sacks calls Middlemarch “the greatest social and psychological novel ever written in English.” “Middlemarch combines a massive solid structure with the most radical doubts about the very nature of that structure,” writes Michael Gorra (author, Portrait of a Novel).“A novel of great characters, it's an even greater novel of ideas and ideals,” writes Vogue’s Megan O’Grady.

From the romances of Jane Austen to the political criticism of George Orwell, here is an essential guide to Britain’s most famous writers.

Books, books & books | © Dustin Gaffke/Flickr. These are the authors who gave birth to the masterpieces of British literature, writing lines still echoing in our heads, challenging beliefs and norms of society and imagining characters and stories that continue to fascinate new readers.. Best known for describing the romantic lives of the middle class, Jane Austen is author of other novels, such as Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion, that are also considered some of the milestones in English literature.. What makes her works outstanding is the wit and the cynicism she uses to portray – in evident contrast to the novels of her time – ordinary people and ordinary homely settings.. Through a poetic writing style matched with a strong comic touch, Charles Dickens portrays, with great awareness, the troubles and the sense of social injustice of the Victorian working class people.. Living in London, Dickens absorbed all the aspects of the capital that became the setting for many of his novels: streets, corners, inns…all aspects of the city are drawn in his books in a fascinating way that makes it a character in itself.. To read novels such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, is a journey in a world full of moving characters with astonishing outcomes that will stick with you long after you have closed the book.. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of the detective Sherlock Holmes, one of the most famous and enduring fictional characters of all the time.. Pioneer of Modernist literature, Virginia Woolf wrote in total nine novels, a volume of short stories, two biographies, five volumes of collected essays and reviews, two libertarian books, and a volume of selections from her diary.. Despite the length of both books and the old, uncommon, and archaic words he uses, the timeless beauty of his novels lies in the fantasy world he successfully created.. Known by the name of George Eliot, the English novelist Mary Ann Evans used a male pen name in a not easy time for female writers.. Mary Shelley was a British author best known for her horror novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, one of the first Gothic novels that has since inspired several films, TV programs and video games.. At Byron’s suggestion, they each agreed to write a horror story and that’s how Mary Shelley composed, at the age of 19, Frankenstein, a manifestation of Mary’s own sense of alienation and isolation.. As an ambitious woman who decided not to follow the norms of the society of her time, in Jane Eyre she introduces a thinking woman who is able to follow her feelings and maintain her independence, and through the narrative creates a strong intimacy with the reader.. One of the most renowned poets and novelists in English literary history, Thomas Hardy wrote poetry and novels, though the first part of his career was devoted mostly to novels.

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Indian English writers and their works- Get the top 30 famous Indian English author and their books name. Indian English authors quotes for free.

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Soueif, whose celebrated fiction has dealt with. time and memory, admits to readers that they will encounter the book. with knowledge of what has happened since.. Soueif's prose then swims between nostalgia for the. city's past glory, indignation at its decay under Mubarak, and a. tempered hope that the events of the revolution represent a rebirth.. Soueif, in a way, also. writes about Cairo as an exile, feeling a spiritual, if not physical,. separation from her childhood home in the city's corrosion over the. last 30 years.. "I want to tell a story," she writes,. "that will ease the leap you need to make between where this book. stops and where Egypt is as you read.". Article Details Printer friendlyCite/linkEmailFeedback Publication: Daily News Egypt (Egypt) Geographic Code:7EGYPDate: Mar 13, 2012 Words:1390Previous Article: Russia slays Georgian 'monsters' in Kremlin-backed film.

The classic novels on this list are my (non-exhaustive) selection of ‘must-read’ books for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of English literature. What counts as English literature spans over a thousand years, but you’ll find most of the great classics that well-educated people are often expected to have read – what’s known...

What counts as English literature spans over a thousand years, but you’ll find most of the great classics that well-educated people are often expected to have read – what’s known as the ‘canon’ – were primarily written in the 19th century or a little after, so this list focuses on that time period.. Whether you’re a native English speaker or just learning, add these books to your reading list and make it your mission to read them all before the year is out.. The initial similarities and intriguing differences between Lyra’s world and real life will draw you in right from the start, and you’re sure to be gripped as you accompany Lyra on a journey that sees her coming of age and discovering that space and time are not what she expected.. Like all his novels, Great Expectations is full of humour and populated by an entertaining cast of brilliantly-named characters.. As well as being entertaining stories in themselves, Jane Austen’s novels are recognised for their historical importance thanks to their social commentary on the Georgian aristocracy.. Love and its sometimes dangerous and destructive power are explored among a number of other themes, including luck and tragedy.. Brideshead Revisited was adapted into a landmark television series with Jeremy Irons in the role of Charles Ryder; once you’ve read the book this makes wonderful viewing, sticking closely to the book.

In February 2014, I posted a short analysis of the works of Xiao Hong, one of the most important novelists of 20th century Chinese literature, who died in Hong Kong in 1942, at the age of 31, after a ten years literary career. The anniversary of her death in 2012 provided the opportunity for strong…

In February 2014, I posted a short analysis of the works of Xiao Hong, one of the most important novelists of 20th century Chinese literature, who died in Hong Kong in 1942, at the age of 31, after a ten years literary career.. After the death of Lu. Xun in 1936, Xiao Hong wrote “A rememberance of Lu Xun”, a fascinating. text about the daily life of this writer and his family and his relationship. with Xiao Hong (2 ).. It is doubtful that such a “break up” of Xiao Hong’s work. will have it appreciated by the French public, especially since the writer’s. other novels are not even mentioned.. – Ma Bo’le’s. second life” (5), a very special translation work:. This book is the. last novel of the author who, before her death in Hong Kong, had published nine. chapters.. H. Goldblatt is a. famous translator, he has translated about 60 Chinese novels and in the United. States, the publishers consider that he is better known than the authors he translates. and that this can be a guarantee to attract the reader.. But he mentions as support Mo Yan’s approach, which states in. substance “translation is your work and not mine, it is your. responsibility”.. His father’s money. is quickly spent without any books being published.. The family’s. journey comes to an end, as does Xiao Hong’s life, in Hong Kong, which is. occupied by the Japanese in December 1941.. (4) Xiao Hong,. “Tales of the Hulan River”, translated by Simone Cross-Morea, You. Feng Publishing, bilingual Chinese French, 2011, 440 pages.. (5) Xiao Hong,. “Ma Bo’le’s second life”, translated, “edited and. completed” by Howard Goldblatt, Open Letter, 2018, 250 pages.

In the 19th century, authors in the United Kingdom (we are counting authors from Ireland and Scotland here) produced novels that challenged class systems, trained an eye on the deplorable living conditions of the working class, gave us some of the…

A woman makes it on her own in the harsh world, denounces Catholicism, and serves up a healthy dose of the famous Brontë proto-feminism we all love.. So many of the great books of the 1800s take place in London, yet Gaskell’s 1848 social novel is one of the first great works to feature the industrial gloom of Manchester and the hard lives of the city’s inhabitants.. An acceptable genre description for this book might be a “political coming-of-age novel.” Coningsby grows from the orphan grandson of a very wealthy man who eventually cuts him off for his political views, but keeps striving in that Victorian-era manner we all know and love.. Agnes Grey , Anne Brontë. Anne Brontë’s debut was once compared to Jane Austen, citing the least famous of the famous sisters’ “perfect prose narrative.”. Mansfield Park , Jane Austen. The War of the Worlds , H.G.. Poor Anne Brontë.. Set aside all the adaptations you’ve seen and really sit down with Carroll’s book about a young girl who finds herself in a fantastical realm.. But we’re counting The Time Machine among these books because Welles’ book is one of the ultimate time-travel stories, as well as one of the era’s best dying-Earth dystopian tales.. A Tale of Two Cities , Charles Dickens. The best of the century?

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"I particularly like New York on hot summer nights when all the…uh, superfluous people are off the streets." These were, I think, the first words

I remember him floating like some large etiolated fish through the crowded room; from time to time, he would make a sudden lunge at this or that promising bit of bait while Tennessee, he tells us, “wandered as a lost soul among the guests he assembled in an apartment which might have been in New York….. He then zeroes in on the “protégé” from Naples, a young man whom Acton calls “Pierino.” Acton tells us that Pierino had many complaints about Tennessee and his friends, mostly due to the language barrier.. He must also have found it technically interesting because he has serenely appropriated my form and has now no doubt forgotten just how the idea first came to him to describe the day-to-day life of a famous beleaguered playwright acting in an off-Broadway production of the failing play Small Craft Warnings while, in alternating sections, he recalls the early days not only of Tennessee Williams but of one Thomas Lanier Williams, who bears only a faint familial resemblance to the playwright we all know from a thousand and one altogether too candid interviews.. In the Memoirs Tennessee tells us a great deal about his sex life, which is one way of saying nothing about oneself.. From time to time over the years, Tennessee has bestowed a number of Walter Winchellish Orchids on Paul as well as on Jane (I fear that a lifetime on Broadway has somewhat corrupted the Bird’s everyday speech and prose although nothing, happily, can affect the authenticity of those voices in his head).. Bowles writes: “Gore had just played a practical joke on Tennessee and Truman Capote which he recounted to me in dialect, as it were.. Tennessee, an actress, and I came back to Tennessee’s flat to find Capote and a friend in the clutches of the law.. He also had no clear idea just who Cocteau was, while Cocteau knew nothing about Tennessee except that he had written a popular American play with a splendid part in it for his lover Marais.. There have been complaints that these Memoirs tell us too much about Tennessee’s sex life and too little about his art.. Trying to deflect Tennessee from what was fast turning into a Billy Graham exhortation about God and goodness, one of the Jesuits asked, “How do you start to write a play, Mr. Williams?” The Bird barely paused in his glorious ascent.


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