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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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I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
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«  Something Amis  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

26.11.2021


Something Amis

I stopped off at the big library on the way home from work today, to check out a reference to Reed in the letters of Kingsley Amis. It's been a grey day today — grey with an 'e', not an 'a' — hovering just above freezing and raining a cold, cold mist. Campus was mostly deserted but for a few umbrellas, and the library was warm and welcoming.

Kingsley Amis is one one of those folks I always get confused with someone else: either his son, the novelist Martin Amis, or the long-time editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin.

Until tonight, the only connection Reed had to Kingsley Amis (that I knew of) was the fact that Reed's parody "Chard Whitlow" was collected by Amis for the anthology The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse (Oxford University Press, 1978). But I had seen mention of Reed in one of Amis' letters to the poet Philip Larkin, so I decided to check it out.

The Letters of Kingsley Amis, edited by Zachary Leader (HarperCollins, 2000), safely qualifies as a tome, I think, weighing in at 1,200 pages. It contains over 800 letters from Amis, and the size of the index (in tiny typeface) hints at the range of topics and names he draws on for his recipients. I was delighted to discover that the letters themselves are informal, funny, and full of in-jokes, puns, cryptic abbreviations, and plays-on-words. The editor even thoughtfully reproduces Amis' naughty doodles.

In a 1949 letter to Larkin, Amis is afraid of sounding too much like Reed when discussing Larkin's first novel, Jill:

After it [Jill] I read A man [Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man] by Jas. Joyce: it is in some degree a source-book for the other, no? His favored time of day is evening, too, and both books have the same typical epithet: soft ("a softly lighted hall", "bones showed through softly"). I know that sounds rather Henry Reedsh, but I did feel it. [p. 194]

Rather "Henry Reedsh"! Reed had delivered a lecture to the Oxford University English Club that was published as "Joyce's Progress" in 1947 (Orion, no. 4).

Reed is mentioned several times in passing, invoked as some sort of analogy or code. Amis seems to use Reed's name in order to conjure up a certain imperious tone or critical voice. Reed is another of his elaborate abbreviations. When he talks with Larkin about W.H. Auden, later in 1949, he apologizes: 'I'm sorry to sound like Henry Reed or somebody, but... [t]he sooner he gets to be a Yank the better.' This is possibly a reference to Reed's 1947 review of For the Time Being, Auden's first book of poems from America (Penguin New Writing, no. 31).

Then, at last, Amis reveals the real reason he included Reed in The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse, in a letter to the poet Roy Fuller in 1976:

H.S. Mackintosh and J.K.S. [Stephen] are in, must look up the R.L.S. [Stevenson] things. The main strategy is going to be heavy reliance on the obvious... with enough sudden dashes into the understandably obscure to trick the reader into thinking I've worked my head off: — Walter Raleigh, Henry Reed, Earl of Rochester, G.R. Samways — at least, I hope you haven't heard of him. [p. 804]

Reed was just obscure enough, apparently. George Richard Samways (1895-1996), it turns out, didn't make it into the NOBLV.


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Notation for "Something Amis":
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What is Henry Reed's first name?

1532. Vallette, Jacques. "Grand-Bretagne," Mercure de France, no. 1001 (1 January 1947): 157-158.
A contemporary French language review of Reed's A Map of Verona.



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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