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Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
Dusty Answer: Young, privileged, earnest Judith falls in love with the family next door.
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.


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Posts from March 2019

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

23.7.2019


Reed Reviews Nancy Mitford

Here we find a letter from Evelyn Waugh to the novelist Nancy Mitford, written in 1946, regarding a review in the New Statesman and Nation by Henry Reed, of Mitford's novel, The Pursuit of Love.

Waugh is "irritated" by Reed's review, and by newspapers and journals and news, in general. Waugh doesn't know who Reed is, and even seems to think the byline on the review is a pseudonym (this despite Reed having reviewed Brideshead Revisited just the year previous). Waugh does somehow infer Reed's homosexuality on the basis of his review, but mistakes him for a lesbian.

This from the The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, edited by Mark Amory (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980), pp. 222-223:
Piers Court.
To NANCY MITFORD
4 February 1946

Dearest Nancy,

Since sending you a post-card today I purchased the New Statesman. I thought 'Reeds'1 review of your book egregiously silly both in praise & blame. I love all the Mitford childhood, as you know, but to single out the buffoon father while totally ignoring the unique children's underground movement is brutish. He calls your one false character 'a brilliant sketch'2. You know better than I how wrong he is about Fabrice. The review irritated me greatly. I wonder who it is who writes it. Plainly a homosexual; perhaps a Lesbian?

I looked at other pages of the paper & was astounded that you take it in. I read Eddie [Sackville-West] describing the use of the word 'brothel' on the wireless as 'a refreshing experience which spoke eloquently of the intelligence, sanity and good feeling of ordinary people'. I read 'Nothing can stop big Powers bullying their small neighbours if they wish to do so'. Last time I had the paper in the house it was boiling to attack Germany & Italy for no other reason. I read the wild beast saying that Mr Sutherland's painting 'rivals butterflies wings in delicacy.'3

The only thing that made any sense in the paper was a grovelling apology to a soldier they had insulted, but that had been dictated, presumably, by some intelligent solicitor.

How can you read it? It explains all that modern trash that encumbers your shop.
Evelyn

1 Henry Reed (1914- ). Poet and BBC producer.
2 Talbot, the middle-class communist in The Pursuit of Love.
3 Raymond Mortimer was reviewing The Approach to Painting by Thomas Bodkin.

Here is the irritating review, from the New Statesman for February 2, 1946. Reed invokes several lessons from Joyce, including the best description of synecdoche ever written: "When a part so ptee does duty for the holos we soon grow to use of an allforabit."

Book cover

NEW NOVELS

The Pursuit of Love. By Nancy Mitford, Hamish Hamilton. 8s. 6d.
Of Many Men. By James Aldridge. Michael Joseph. 8s. 6d.
The Crater's Edge. By Stephen Bagnall. Hamish Hamilton. 6s.

Everybody will remember that encouraging moment on page 108 of Finnigans Wake when, into the sleeping mind of H. C. Earwicker, as he toils over the difficulties of Anna's elusive letter, there flow these calming words: "Now, patience; and remember patience is the great thing, and above all things else we must avoid anything like being or becoming out of patience. A good plan used by worried business folk ... is to think of all the sinking fund of patience possessed in their conjoint names by both brothers Bruce ..." They are words I have often used to prop, in these bad days, my mind, as in my turn I have toiled through the pages of recent fiction. Patience is needed with all of the books listed above, even with Miss Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, which is rewardingly funny in many places. This is the least, and indeed the most, one can say of it. It begins extremely well with a picture of the children of an aristocratic family called Ratlett. Its early pages introduce, in Uncle Matthew and Captain Warbeck, two of the best comic figures in any modern novel, I cannot recall a funnier picture of the violent foreigner-hating patriarch than Uncle Matthew; his early morning foibles are beautifully recorded:
He raged around the house, clanking cups of tea, shouting at his dogs, roaring at the housemaids, cracking the stock whips which he had brought back from Canada on the lawn with a noise greater than gun-fire, and all to the accompaniment of Galli Curci on his gramophone, an abnormally loud one with an enormous horn, through which would be shrieked "Una voce poco fa"—"The Mad-Song" from Lucia—"Lo, here the gen-tel lar-ha-hark"—and so on; played at top speed, thus rendering them even higher and more screeching than they ought to be.

... the spell was broken when he went all the way to Liverpool to hear. Galli Curci in person. The disillusionment caused by her appearance was so great that the records remained ever after silent, and were replaced by the deepest bass voices that money could buy.
But, alas, though Uncle Matthew dodges in and out of the whole book, the later pages are given over to the affairs of one of his daughters; Linda. It is to her that title refers. The less successful episodes in her pursuit—her marriages with the banker Kroesig, and with Talbot, the middle-class Communist (a brilliant sketch)—are convincing enough; but at a moment of despair she is picked up by a French duke and installed as his mistress, and thenceforward the novel has the sentimental staginess of the late W. J. Locke. It has a certain characteristic contemporary wistfulness in its English admiration for the high-handed way in which upper-class French Catholics are presumed to fornicate, and one is interested to learn that the French are surprised if a woman does not express honte after a night with a lover. But it has also a dreadfully soft centre, and one is not surprised that Fabrice should eventually discover that what he feels for his enslaved mistress is the real right thing. They have both become unbelievable by the time Miss Mitford finally polishes them off; and in the later pages the irruptions of Uncle Matthew preparing to hold his house against the German invasion are a great relief:
"I reckon," Uncle Matthew would say proudly, "that we shall be able to stop them for two hours—possibly three—before we are all killed. Not bad for such a little place."
Of Many Men and The Crater's Edge each exemplify an extreme of mannerism which we may expect in war-fiction for many years to come. Of Many Men is the extremely hard-boiled type of war-novel, The Crater's Edge the extremely soft-boiled type. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the prose style of the two writers; in offering for the reader's judgment a little example of each, I am reminded of yet another of Joyce's persuasive remarks: "When a part so ptee does duty for the holos we soon grow to use of an allforabit." Here, for instance, is a characteristic passage from Mr. Aldridge:
Wolfe entered Damascus with the French. The day after they arrived the Germans invaded Russia. Wolfe got the first Nairn bus that went to Baghdad and then he flew over the dead mountains to Teheran.

The Russians in Teheran said they were sorry that Wolfe had been in Finland, very sorry; but if he waited maybe he would get a visa. He waited a long time and the Red Army was still retreating to the Dnieper when he left Teheran. He could not get a visa.

The Germans were also in the Western Desert now. They had pushed the British back in to Egypt and had encircled and isolated the Australians at Tobruk. Wolfe went into Tobruk on one of the relief boats.
And here we have Mr. Bagnall:
If a girl loves someone at the age of sixteen for whom she has protested the madness of her love as a child of eight, even then he cannot be sure of her constancy, because, since nothing came of that protestation, nothing has flowered, and therefore nothing has had an opportunity to either flourish or die. Rather it has been in a state of perennial bud. So at first he made a noble decision of renunciation. Or perhaps it was not so much a decision he made as an attitude that he struck. Because he knew all the time he would not remain faithful to it. Yet he held it long enough to crystallise, or perhaps embalm, it in a sonnet of great-hearted finality and generous resolve.
Generous himself at this point, Mr. Bagnall spares us the sonnet; but he spares us little else. His theme is one of those old, well-tried ones, which were never any good even when new: the theme of the dying man reliving the past. Not even vivid interludes can remove the distrust one has for a story whose end is also its beginning; and Mr. Bagnall's story has no vivid interludes. It is merely a series of lush reminiscences about the hero's four loves: his love for a ballet dancer (platonic), for a schooldays' friend ("without lust"), for a girl called Celia (with), and youthful Elizabeth (the real right thing once more) With its juicy, self-admiring prose, its purple passages, its recklessly misrelated participles and its lengthy commonplaces about the major problems of life, it is not an easy book to read.

The point of Mr. Aldridge's book lies quotation which prefaces it: "War is the shape of many men, those in the sun and those the shade; many hands clear the shade, but in truth they have only succeeded when the last shadow is gone." The book begins with its hero, emerging from the Civil War in Spain; during the next few years, in an unspecified capacity, he tours the second world war in Finland, Norway, Syria, Africa, Malaya, the Pacific, Italy and Germany; the facility with which he gets about will be seen in the passage I have quoted. After VE Day he announces his intention of returning to Spain, and the point of the book is made clear. Presumably if Mr. Aldridge had waited a month or two longer, we could have accompanied his hero to the bombing of Hiroshima (doubtless inside the actual aircraft) and to the meetings of Hirohito and MacArthur. The pity is that even when we have had the overwhelming course to accept Mr. Aldridge's style as a means of communication, he appears to have nothing to communicate beyond his central statement; the scenes we visit as we fly from one battle-front to another are stupefyingly machine-made. And though none will doubt the the truth of his epigraph, and few will doubt its application to Spain, it is a pretty bald gag to write a book about.
Henry Reed



1525. "Reed, Henry," Publishers Weekly, 152, no. 15 (11 October 1947), 1945.
On the publication of the American edition of Reed's A Map of Verona: 'Some of these poems by a young English writer are concerned with the war but most of them deal with figures from the legendary past or from literature.'



1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)


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