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

An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his entire life.

Read "Naming of Parts."

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960



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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Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog


Reed Reviews Binyon

Re-entering the time machine that is the British Newspaper Archive, I have turned up another couple of early book reviews by Henry Reed, in his hometown Birmingham Post during 1944 and 1945. Here, Reed reviews the posthumously published "last" poems by Laurence Binyon (December 27, 1944, p. 2), including the titular "The Burning of the Leaves," written during the London Blitz:
"They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour.
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring."
Interestingly here, Reed refers to the ongoing war as "a second Great War": a war he was still enduring in 1944, working in the Japanese section of Bletchley Park.

Book review


Binyon's Last Poems

The Burning of the Leaves. By
Laurence Binyon. (Macmillan. 2s.)
By Henry Reed

Some enterprising readers will already know the five poems which give this superb little book its title; they appeared in "Horizon" in October, 1942, under the title of "The Ruins." Some will also know the exquisite "Winter Sunrise," which appeared in the "Observer" shortly after Binyon's death. This book includes variant readings for "The Burning of the the Leaves," and a draft, including some fragmentary passages, of the unfinished next section of "Winter Sunrise." Binyon's habit in composing, we are told in a foreword, "was to start by jotting down isolated lines or parts of a line and to cover pages with these, repeating, correcting, expanding and revising, and so gradually shaping the whole poem." It is always interesting to see how different poets work; when the poet has Binyon's sincerity and feeling and power over words, this becomes a most moving experience.

"The Burning of the Leaves" is among the most beautiful of modern poems. It is a tragic poem, for the war—a second Great War—provides its background; but it has classical control and mastery, a magical use of its imagery, and a calm finality which, among contemporary poets, are to be found elsewhere only in Mr. T. S. Eliot's latest poems. There are other poems in the book which few readers can fail to love: "The Cherry Trees" and "The Orchard" have a perfect clarity, delicacy and lightness which show something of what Binyon learned from the Orient.

«  Binyon Reviews Poetry  0  »

1537. Radio Times, "Full Frontal Pioneer," Radio Times People, 20 April 1972, 5.
A brief article before a new production of Reed's translation of Montherlant, mentioning a possible second collection of poems.

Reed Reviews Heath-Stubbs, Symons, Tiller

Defying the notion that we have somehow already found everything written by Henry Reed to be found, up pops another book review in the June 3, 1944 issue of Time & Tide. (Reed reviewed Eliot's Four Quartets in December, that year, and I'm beginning to think he may have been something of a regular contributor.)

In this article, Reed critiques new poetry by three of his peers (or soon-to-be peers, since Reed's own volume of poetry, A Map of Verona, would not be published until 1946): John Heath-Stubbs, Julian Symons, and Terence Tiller.

Time and Tide


The Inward Animal: Terence Tiller. Hogarth. 3s. 6d.

Beauty and the Beast: John Heath-Stubbs. Routledge. 5s.

The Second Man: Julian Symons. Routledge. 5s.

in one of his poems Mr Symons says of himself:
"My poems are paper games, kicking a football,
Negative, disgraceful."
This, though rather severe, is true. The word, "disgraceful" suggests something more vividly objectionable than anything Mr Symons has yet achieved, but "negative" and "paper games" are fair enough descriptions. "Paper games" is particularly apt; for here we have a characteristic contemporary volume of poems which very quietly, indeed almost unobtrusively, shuffles round and round those great concepts which Mr Auden has, by constant repetition of their names, so curiously reduced in seriousness: life, death, evil, corruption, sin, error, love, time and what not. The disposition of these little objects according to personal or fashionable taste is indeed a paper game, and a game available to anyone who cares to play it. Here is an example:
Our tears drop, the wet pearls are
Transformed into a voice

Crying: "O pity human
Nature condemned, to error,
And all those good who dare not
Descend like furious birds."
Weak as a baby walking
Conscience now moves and tells them
All inappropriate action
Leads on to wrong and death.
Mr Heath-Stubbs and Mr Tiller are to be taken much more seriously. Mr Heath-Stubbs is at his best when he avoids traditional stanza-forms, which make him sometimes seem insincere and artificial, as in the various "songs" in his new volume; and even in the sequence of sonnets called The Heart's Forest, which deal with an important personal experience, the sonnet form is often used too lightly and casually. Nevertheless this sequence has some unusual and successful things in it: among them a sonnet beginning "Three walked through the meadows", and another on the theme of Echo and Narcissus. It is in Mr Heath-Stubbs's longer poems, usually written in a loose blank-verse, that one finds his best work: poems such as "Leporello", "Moscatos in the Galleys" and "Edward the Confessor", and a "Heroic Epistle" supposedly written from Congreve to Anne Bracegirdle. He is particularly good at identifying himself with a figure of the past, as Browning did; indeed he continues the Browning-Ezra Pound tradition. Here, presumably, is Liszt speaking:
'And the flutes ice-blue, and the harps
Like melting frost, and the trumpet marching, marching
Like fire above them, like fire through the frozen pine-trees
And the dancers came, swirling, swirling past me—
Plume and swansdown waving, while plume over the gold hair
Arms held gallantly, and silk talking—and an eye caught
In the candle-shadow, and the curve of a mouth
Going home to my heart (the folly of it!) going home to my heart!:
Mr Tiller has forced on to his new volume of poems an order which appears to be rather false. The body of the book is a collection of lyrics, mainly meditations on emotions woken by a prolonged sojourn in Egypt. These he has written with all the customary fastidiousness, independence and conscientiousness. He is a poet who neither goes in for, nor comes out with, memorable lines or phrases. It is the atmosphere in his poems that one remembers—in a brilliantly composed poem such as Egyptian Dancer, for example, or in the poems called Desert:
Still where the viper swims in sand, the pearly
Scorpion stiffens, and the fast-mouthed surly
Lizards are—here, looking towards the waste,
We know more bare an importance than dust
Or the dry ant-clean specters that are born
Of it, venom of the scale and horn.
He has flanked his collection of lyrics with two long poems, Eclogue for a Dying House, and The Birth of Christ. The former of these is intended to present the death of the old pre-war personality of the poet, the latter to present "slow mutual absorption ending in the birth of Something at once myself and a new self and Egypt". These poems, the most ambitious in the book, are the least successful—perhaps because they recall other poets very strongly, and Mr Tiller is good only when he is original. The Eclogue is a weary and powerless poem; its title and mode inevitably recall Mr MacNeice, but the poem is without Mr MacNeice's accomplished patina. The Birth of Christ employs a symbol too great for what Mr Tiller describes in his comment on the poem; and Rilke has been too unscrupulously impressed into helping in the writing of it.
henry reed

1536. L.E. Sissman, "Late Empire." Halcyon 1, no. 2 (Spring 1948), 54.
Sissman reviews William Jay Smith, Karl Shapiro, Richard Eberhart, Thomas Merton, Henry Reed, and Stephen Spender.

Reed Reviews Emyr Humphreys

For the centennial of his birth on April 15, here is a book review of Emyr Humphreys' first novel, The Little Kingdom (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1946). Written by Henry Reed, it appeared in The Listener's "New Novels" column for January 6, 1947. Reed expresses a familiarity with Humphreys' poetry, stating that the author certainly "knows how to write, and you feel as you read him that he knows that apprehension and diction must, in prose and verse alike, be clasped as earnestly as two hands in prayer."

It appears the two corresponded for a while, in 1947-1949 (Emyr Humphreys Papers, National Library of Wales), and Reed discussed Humphreys' next book, The Voice of a Stranger, for a B.B.C. radio talk in 1949.

Reed also reviews here an English translation of C.F. Ramuz' The Triumph of Death, and The Becker Wives, stories by Mary Lavin.

Book Cover

New Novels

The Little Kingdom. By Emyr Humphreys. Eyre and Spottiswoode. 9s.
The Triumph of Death. By C. F. Ramuz. Routledge. 8s. 6d.
The Becker Wives. By Mary Lavin. Michael Joseph. 9s. 6d.

WHAT is the most positive quality we have to recognise in a new novelist in order to feel that his work contains promise as well as immediate success or in spite of immediate failure? It is, I suspect, his style: whether it is already individual or assured, or whether it merely indicates a preoccupation with the act of writing.

A war plays hell with prose. There is always the influx of new technical terms and clichés, there is always the politicians' jargon; these are small in themselves, perhaps, but if they pervade our speech, as they are likely to do when our ideas are confused, they will shortly afterwards pervade our writing also. The most depressing thing that confronts a novel reviewer at the moment is the general beastliness—I have pondered this word before using it—of the various ways in which most novels are written. The mediocre novelists of thirty and forty years ago at least believed that they should try to write well. They believed, if not that a good writer must always appear en grande tenue, that the disorder in his dress must be a sweet one. They believed it mattered how a book was written. Of Mr. Emyr Humphreys, a new novelist not unknown as a poet, one can use many nice and conventional expressions: he is worth watching, he is a novelist of whom we shall hear more, he has something to say and he knows how to say it. I think this last thing is the most interesting thing about him. He knows how to write, and you feel as you read him that he knows that apprehension and diction must, in prose and verse alike, be clasped as earnestly as two hands in prayer. I think that the strength of a young writer's religious, political and psychological perceptions are usually less important than his sense of style. Here is a passage from The Little Kingdom: it is, as may be guessed, a mere 'bridge-passage' in the action; but it is clearly the work of a very able writer:
The little bell over the door giggled as the minister went in, and echoed the giggle as he closed the door carefully behind him. He screwed up his eyes. After the soft twilight outside, the harsh naked electric light in the barber's shop was painful to him. He said 'Good evening, everybody', but all he could make out at first was the white blur of the barber bending over someone indistinct in the chair. Otherwise the shop was empty; this was the last customer for the night. The barber was too tired to talk to the man, who slumped helpless in the chair. He nodded.

'Evening, minister'.

The man in the chair stirred with curiosity, but the barber held him firm, the fingers of his left hand spread over his ruffled hair like a vice.

'Go through'.

The barber pointed to the swing door with his gleaming razor, which flashed as it caught the light.

'You'll be coming up later, Dan?'

The smiling, perfect male, advertising hair cream, swung back and fore, smile out, smile in.
The last sentence will at once indicate that the 'middle' Joyce has contributed something to the formation of Mr. Humphreys' style. There are few better models for a serious young writer, and an ability to learn something from the first half of Ulysses will probably imply a kindred sensitiveness to the coalescence of sight, sound and thought in the human consciousness. The feelings which attend on being alive do not escape Mr. Humphreys, any more than they escaped Joyce.

The action of The Little Kingdom concerns the last months in the life of a dominating and imperious young Welsh nationalist who, to further his ambitions, murders a wealthy uncle, and later sets fire to an English-built aerodrome. He is shot and killed by a night watchman. I take it that one of the main ideas behind the book is the common running aside of an idealistic political movement, first into 'irresponsible' acts, and then into Fuehrerprinzip. This is a respectable theme, though not a very distinctive or profound one; but it has the advantage common to all well-tried themes that it shifts the reader's interest to the writer's talents as a particular interpreter and executant. One is curious to see how he will use his gifts. And to have emphasised Mr. Humphreys' ability to write is not to diminish his other powers. There is a touching reality about his characters—almost all of whom are muddled and pathetic. I believe that the hero-villain Owen, who is neither muddled nor pathetic, is slightly under-emphasised; though the author's avoidance of an opposite effect is doubtless intentional; Owen's first appearance is admirable. The major scenes of the book are ably got through; though for some reason it is the semi-marginal scenes that one remembers best—the opening chapter describing a morning tour made by Owen's uncle Richard, or the waiting scene on the night of the fire. It is a most remarkable intuition that makes the author delay our first and only glimpse of Richard's beloved daughter, Nest, till the moment after her death: a most curious and effective piece of understatement, for Nest is the figure on whom the subsequent action turns.

Mr. Humphreys holds our attention by the way he gets from one point of his story to the next, by certain felicitous interior echoes, by his movements from one contributory stream of activity to another. I think that a greater tragedy is needed for a writer to be able successfully to use a village lunatic—a Mayor of Casterbridge, for example—but Mr. Humphreys obviously conceives of an art serious enough to include such a dangerous piece of machinery.

It is curious that the Swiss novelist C. F. Ramuz should be so little known in this country; he is obviously a very remarkable and original writer, and one is inclined to believe the extensive claims made for him by M. Denis de Rougemont in his admirable introduction to The Triumph of Death. This is a translation, by Allan Ross MacDougall and Alex Comfort, of a book called Présence de la Mort, a better and more accurate title which it is strange to find rejected. It is a fable about the end of life on earth: disaster comes as the earth steadily and rapidly approaches the sun. The scene is set mainly on a lakeside in the Vaud country of Switzerland. It is perhaps with some misgiving that one embarks on reading such a story. It is written fancifully, and at first promises to be little more than im over-long prose-poem. I remembered, and expected to prefer, H. G. Wells's story 'The Star'. But Ramuz' book surprises and excites by its peculiar mounting intensity; one succumbs, and consents to the author's apparently arbitrary ordering of his material. Many of his scenes have great beauty; and he keeps one agog to know the end, which turns out to be both tender and wonderful. His scenes of anarchy, demoralisation and criminality are very moving, and they are never indulged in for the private delight of their author. There are many moments when the book shows signs of having offered to its translators some of the difficulties that works like Rimbaud's Les Illuminations offer; but on the whole the book comes over vividly and well. It is doubtless a point of preciosity in the original that present and past tenses are pointlessly mingled; but English seems particularly odd when such a mannerism is grafted on to it. It is to be hoped that Mr. Macdougall and Mr. Comfort will soon address themselves to the task of translating the sequel, Joie dans le Ciel. These books, incidentally, are not allegories about our recent disasters; the date of Présence de la Mort is 1925.

Miss Mary Lavin is a most prolific and varied writer. She is, so far, at her best in comedy. Her serious writing is often commonplace, and it is noticeable that when the first story in her new book, after an excellent beginning, takes a turn into. the pathological, it is a turn for the worse. But there are few writers now writing in English capable of more sustained comic scenes—scenes where the comedy depends not on conversation so much as on large-scale conception of a theme. The high spot in Miss Lavin's prodigiously long novel, The House in Clewe Street, was the brilliant scene where two funeral corteges attempted to race each other to the cemetery; there is a similar vis comica pervading two stories in the new book: 'Magenta' and 'The Joy-ride', both about surreptitious outings made by servants. Intermittently throughout the book there is to be found Miss Lavin's particular talent for startlingly transfixing a scene: the moment in 'The Becker Wives' where Flora makes the stolidly respectable family involuntarily pose for an imaginary photograph, for example, or the vision of the upstart kitchen-vestal Magenta crossing the park in her borrowed finery. It is with regret that one adds that Miss Lavin's grammar is so bad that from time to time one gazes at it in surprise.


1535. Reed, Henry. "Talks to India," Men and Books. Time & Tide 25, no. 3 (15 January 1944): 54-55.
Reed's review of Talking to India, edited by George Orwell (London: Allen & Unwin, 1943).

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.
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.

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


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

1534. Reed, Henry. "Radio Drama," Men and Books. Time & Tide 25, no. 17 (22 April 1944): 350-358 (354).
Reed's review of Louis MacNeice's Christopher Columbus: A Radio Play (London: Faber, 1944).

Reed Reviews The Life of Thomas Hardy

Henry Reed was, for a short time in the 1930s and 40s, the consummate Hardy scholar. Reed wrote his master's thesis at the University of Birmingham on "The Early Life and Works of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1878." He visited Florence Emily Hardy in 1936 as part of his research, and sat in Hardy's study at Max Gate transcribing letters.

Reed's ambition was to write the life of Thomas Hardy. He was thwarted by his own perfectionism, and — according to this 1962 review from the Sunday Telegraph of the republication in one volume of Florence Hardy's Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928 — by Thomas Hardy, himself. The official biography which was published in 1928 and 1930 was nothing less than Hardy's own autobiography.

Reed's scholarly adventures eventually provided the fodder for his sequence of Hilda Tablet radio plays featuring the late "poet's novelist," Richard Shewin, as a stand-in for Hardy.

Reed's frustration with trying to write his own life of Hardy is scarcely disguised in his book review, but it can also be heard the most perfect parody of Hardy's poetry, "Stoutheart on the Southern Railway," written by Reed sometime in the 1950s:
What are you doing, oh high-souled lad,
   Writing a book about me?
And peering so closely at good and bad,
   That one thing you do not see:
A shadow which falls on your writing-pad;
It is not of a sort to make men glad.
   It were better should such unbe.
When Reed finally abandoned his Hardy project he donated his notes to professor Michael Millgate, whose first book on Hardy, Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist, was published in 1972, with a full-blown Thomas Hardy: A Biography following in 1982.

Book cover

Hardy's Secret


The Life of Thomas Hardy BY FLORENCE EMILY HARDY. Macmillan, 30s.

Many artists have led two lives, and out of consideration for their biographers they have usually contrived to lead them both at the same time. Thomas Hardy also had two lives, but they were inconveniently placed end to end.

There is a great division in his life round about 1897 when he ceased to be a novelist and returned to poetry. Biography of him will always be, from the point of view of shape, bedevilled by this fact.

There is plenty of incident, movement and emotional adventure in the first 57 years of his life. In the last 30 years that remained to him—from his own point of view his most valuable creative years—biographically dramatic landmarks are few indeed.

Official Life

The present volume suffers unavoidably from this tailing away of interest. It is the "official" life, originally published in two parts, the first in 1928 within a few months of Hardy's death, the second in 1930.

The work is still attributed on its title page to the second Mrs. Hardy, and we are left to wonder how its publishers have never got wind of the real facts of its composition, which were divulged as long ago as 1954 in Richard L. Purdy's monumental bibliographical study. The Life of Thomas Hardy is, in fact, save for its last four chapters, Hardy's own autobiography, and should be announced as such.

It is, by any standards, a ramshackle work, and its information is in may places demonstrably inaccurate even where there seems no point in disguise. But the book is packed with a miscellany of information not available elsewhere, and readers who care for Hardy will find it everywhere endearing, engaging, and full of his characteristic humour:

"There are two sorts of church people; those who go and those who don't go: there is only one sort of chapel-people; those who go."

There is, above all, the sense of being "with" Hardy himself: every page is invested with his own idiosyncrasies of vision and style.

Dorset Childhood

The early chapters are particularly impressive. He recreates his childhood and youth in Dorset and his days in London with fair objectivity. There is much room for correction of fact, but in mood and atmosphere his own account will scarcely be bettered.

Part of its charm comes, I think, from Hardy's genuine and characteristic modesty of manner. He was well on into his seventies when he embarked on the work, yet he never indulges in the reminiscent pride we so often have to wince at in writers' memoirs.

And there is no trace of that excessive self-esteem which sometimes indicates an unconscious sense of failure and is so painful in (to come no nearer to home) a writer like Bernard Shaw.

All the same, there is much that is defensive in these pages, and this provides strange matter for study. A good deal of care seems to have been taken to make things opaque when Hardy wished them to be.

Blank mendacity he rarely has recourse to: on the whole he probably tells fewer lies than most people. But he is at pains to mislead us about things that had affronted him in the circumstances of his own life or worried him in his relations with the highly class-conscious society of his time.

It is in his art that find the rectification of these evasions and deceptions. His art might often be bad art, its badness the more conspicuous for lying cheek by jowl with his incomparable best. But it was faithful to his own experience, and the recurrent themes of his fiction were the basic themes of his own life.

The contrast of humble birth and lofty aspiration, the struggle for education and learning, the uncertainty of passion, the dissatisfaction with marriage as solution to the problem of sex, the commonness of external adversity and of simple bad luck—all these went into his novels and his poems.

There is little or nothing of them, however, in the official life; and we are at times as conscious of this little-or-nothing as we would be if there were whole blank pages in the book.

Meant as Protest

However, the thing was not meant as confession: nor was it undertaken with any marked relish; quite the contrary. It came into being largely as a protest against recurrent public mis-statements about Hardy's own experiences. It was not meant to be a source for future biographies: it was meant to be an obstacle in their way.

So far it has proved highly successful in this aim. The biographical studies of Hardy published since his death compete lamentably with each other in the inaccuracy of their employment both of the "official" material given here and of the other pieces of significant information that seeped out in more recent years.

In the circumstances this republication—in a very convenient form—of Hardy's own account of himself is, for all its defects, a timely and refreshing recall to order.

«  Reviews Hardy Biography  0  »

1533. Friend-Periera, F.J. "Four Poets," Some Recent Books, New Review 23, no. 128 (June 1946), 482-484 [482].
A short review calls A Map of Verona more pretentious than C.C. Abbott's The Sand Castle; influenced by Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, and Day Lewis.

Henry Reed Reviews Arthur Koestler

Today I am dredging up a review from The Listener from November 28, 1946. In the "New Novels" column, Henry Reed considers two books which are distinctly post-war: Arthur Koestler's Thieves in the Night, based on Koestler's experiences setting up a kibbutz in British-ruled Palestine; and Henry Green's Back, regarding a wounded British soldier returning from a German POW camp. Reed also has a few favorable words for Tom Hopkinson's Mist in the Tagus, "a story of two heterosexual girls in love with two non-heterosexual young men."

Reed is disappointed in both Koestler and Green (though he gives Green's prose high marks), whose preceding works were so much more enjoyable and filled with promise, but surprisingly his biggest complaint about Hopkinson's novel is that it is too brief:

Book cover

New Novels

Thieves in the Night. By Arthur Koestler. Macmillan. 10s. 6d.
Back. By Henry Green. Hogarth Press. 8s. 6d.
Mist in the Tagus. By Tom Hopkinson. Hogarth Press. 7s. 6d.
In almost every way, Mr. Arthur Koestler's new novel is profoundly depressing. It depresses one on his behalf because he has suffered what he describes; on behalf of the Jews he writes about because a solution to their problems seems almost unimaginable; and on behalf of the readers who normally admire his work because Thieves in the Night is a poor book. Mr. Koestler seems indeed to be not very interested in making it any better, and I felt while reading it that the contempt he appears to feel for most groups of people had somehow invaded his attitude towards novel-writing, and — less pardonably — his attitude towards his readers.

Thieves in the Night could doubtless have been a worthy successor to Darkness at Noon; one could forgive it for being less objective, since Mr. Koestler has himself been more deeply involved in what he describes. It is a story about a group of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. They arrive on a night in 1937; the book tells about their building of a settlement; it carries us through their days of achievement, setback, and hardship, up to the time of the 1939 White Paper. It ends with another small batch of immigrants arriving in Palestine in the same year. Threaded through this chronicle of events is the personal story of Joseph, a half-Jew who has joined the Zionists; the girl he loves is murdered by Arabs, and this turns the scale for him so that he throws in his lot with the terrorists. I do no think we are to assume an identity between Joseph's views and Mr. Koestler's, though I see that this has been promptly taken for granted in some quarters. What he shows us is an example of how 'those to whom evil is done do evil in return'; and he convinces us that a sober and dignified effort towards a good life has become transformed by frustration and betrayal into lawless violence. The plight of the Jews is described thus:
    We are homesick for a Canaan which was never truly ours. . . . Defeated and bruised, we turn back towards the point in space from which the hunt started. It is the return from delirium to normality and its limitations. A country is the shadow which a nation throws, and for two thousand years we were a nation without a shadow.
Mr. Koestler has summed up the tragedy in that unforgettable last image; and it is obvious that his subject is a great one. It is here that one's cause for depression rises: rarely can such a subject have been so dully and so mechanically treated. We are given many illuminating facts; but during scarcely more than a dozen pages does the book come alive as an original story; these are page after page of discussion, of would-be satirical portraiture which I feel any novelist anxious to do a good job would have seen to be commonplace and flat. No readers enjoy more than do English readers satire about themselves abroad; but A Passage to India, to say nothing of other books, has set a standard in this sort of writing which one cannot ignore.

And, alas, Mr. Koestler tends more and more to become a publicist. He is perhaps not to be blamed. It is an easy line, and doubtless it is justifiable. I can imagine that tolling in his ears is the death-knell of civilisation. Art seems increasingly crowded on to a narrowing littoral and facing an incoming sea. I think a critic is called upon to understand and sympathise with this point of view; he is also called upon to say that straight polemical writing is more readable than the casual dramatisation found in Thieves in the Night. It seems idle to suggest that, with his gifts, Mr. Koestler could have developed his characters to a point where they become interesting, and cease to be merely a set of wooden objects asking the reader for pity. We know that if Mr. Koestler cared to try, he could force the pity from us. We know that he could also make us laugh, but here, as in his play, 'Twilight Bar', he prefers facetiousness. The solemn importance of the subject prevents one from ignoring the book; but it is a great disappointment.

So many intelligent novelists in recent years have eschewed the use of plot and substituted what may be charitably called 'theme' that the sight of sort of plot emerging from a novel goes to a reviewer's head. The position is much the same with wines. Years of tormenting abstinence deaden one's judgment. Plots and wines return, and at first it seems in both cases that any blessed thing will do. The excitement of wanting to know what will happen next leads one to murmur preliminary words of extravagant praise. Then the plot falters, the wine doesn't turn out as well as you expect, and your words of praise have to be withdrawn. Thus with Mr. Henry Green's new novel, Back. It starts an attractive story about a man named Charles Summers returning with a peg leg from a prison camp; Rose, his former mistress, the wife of a friend, has died. By a curious contrivance Charley is introduced to her illegitimate half-sister, Nancy; he cannot believe she is not Rose herself with her hair dyed. It is part of the nightmare quality of being 'back'. I do not object to an improbable plot. But Mr. Green's plot totters; it too is peg-legged and has to have a long rest in the middle. Its end is convincing and beautiful, but by the time it comes we have slightly lost interest.

If you know Mr. Green's other novels, its curt title will suggest to you at once that he has chosen a good 'theme' for himself; there is the intensity of feeling found in Caught and Loving. The ideas that he implies in his titles are for him poetic ideas, as summer or winter might be to a poet. It is this that makes Mr. Green one of the most striking and original of modern novelists. To me he seems also one of the best. He does something new and good. I can see that his curious style may be an irritation to some readers; me it normally charms. Adaptations of highly mannered authors are always dangerous; but Mr. Green seems to find genuine kinship with the sad, wistful mood of the earlier Bloom chapters in Ulysses. His echoing poetic images, recurring and transformed like musical phrases, are to him a natural and not an artificial way of seeing and feeling; and they reproduce something real in our own sensitivity. His new novel contains ay fine passages; its comedy is excellent. If it is less of a success than its two immediate predecessors, it is nevertheless something one will keep with Mr. Green's other books and take down from time to time.

Mr. Tom Hopkinson's second novel, Mist in the Tagus, has a fault staggeringly unusual in contemporary novels: it ought to have been longer. The people and emotion he deals with demand greater space for their proper emergence than he has allotted them, so that relationships which should have been dramatised are often merely described: there is a felling that some of them have been unduly potted. It is a story of two heterosexual girls in love with two non-heterosexual young men. It occupies the week or fortnight of an English girl's holiday intrusion into a leisured small group of people who have drifted down from Europe into Portugal. The feeling of rapidly shortening time as the girls attempt to accomplish their desires is excellently achieved; so is the sense of inevitable failure which pervades their efforts. Everything in the book is well conceived and well ordered; the actual succession of events and disclosures shows a most intelligent and perceptive writer at work. But the final feeling one is left with is that one has seen it all through the wrong end of a telescope. Today this seems like being given an ounce of best butter in place of a pound of common marge. One hardly knows whether to be grateful or not; it is another aspect on the plot and wine situation referred to above.

Henry Reed
[p. 766]
You can read the original New York Times review for Thieves in the Night on their website.

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.

Reed Reviews Osbert Sitwell

I was recently led by a database — and ultimately disappointed — to an issue of Vogue in 1948 containing reference to Reed. It was in an article on the Sitwell dynasty: Edith, Sacheverell, and Osbert Sitwell. The article, which appeared in the November 15 issue, "The Importance of Being the Sitwells," has a layout of paintings and photographs, while the text consists of pullquotes and anecdotes concerning the trio (mostly Dame Edith, let's be honest) from a myriad of sources. Reed's paragraphs (on the last page), are sourced as being from Denys Val Baker's 1946 anthology Writers of Today; but ultimately that's just a reprint of his 1944 article from Penguin New Writing, "The Poetry of Edith Sitwell."


Osbert Sitwell was a huge influence on Reed's development as a poet and writer: he brought Reed under his wing introduced the young poet to what must have previously seemed like an unreachable circle of writers and musicians, actors and artists. Sitwell was chairman of the Society of Authors when Reed was given a bursary to support his writing in 1945: £200 per year for three years. Reed lunched with Edith Sitwell in London at Osbert's urging; Osbert sent Reed to visit Violet Gordon-Woodhouse during the Blitz.

Reed reviewed the second volume of Osbert's autobiography, The Scarlet Tree, for The New Statesman and Nation on August 31, 1946. A self-proclaimed Kleinian, the memoir probably helped cinch Reed's views on the influence of childhood on the authors and novels of the mid-twentieth century. Reed devotes a full page to Sitwell:

Book cover

The Scarlet Tree, by Osbert Sitwell (Macmillan, 15s.) has an advantage over many autobiographies: it is written by an experienced novelist, who is here turning into art a richer material than he has used elsewhere, and who is partly employing the novelist's craft in shaping it. Who else but a novelist could contrive the checks upon racing Time which we find in this book, the disposition of a heavy emphasis here, a light one there, the holding back of an explanation till "later," the anticipations, the use of suspense, and above all the carefully-timed entrances and re-entrances of the characters? In biography Sir Osbert Sitwell's contrivances would be intolerable; in autobiography they are a blessing: There is something else which strikes one as one compares this book with a novel: because this is life, and not fiction, certain characters with traits which would in a novel be unacceptable outside the broadest farce are acceptable here. Where, in a novel, after our acquaintance with a character, has extended over several hundred pages, could we believe the, statement that he had "invented a musical toothbrush The Scarlet Tree which played 'Annie Laurie' as you brushed your teeth, and a small revolver for shooting wasps?" Sir George Sitwell, the author's father, is said to have invented both of these; perhaps they worked; but we should be rather incensed by the idea in a novel. So that, throughout, The Scarlet Tree has all the virtues of a large-scale discursive roman fleuve, with none of the restrictions of probability that a serious novelist has to impose on himself.

There is plenty to make the reader laugh in this autobiography; there are many exquisite comic miniatures where absurdities are highly packed into a small space, as in the account of two of the author's elder cousins:
But, in fact, they got on well together, in spite of their differing so often in the opinions they put forward. In the past, however, certain disputes had taken place occasionally, so that each sister has pasted somewhere on every article of furniture belonging to her — whether it were an oak chair, a table, a bronze, a chased-silver photograph-frame, or merely a Japanese vase full of last year's pampas-grass — a label, which bore on it in clear, black, decisive letters, admitting of no question, the name FLORA or FREDERICA. Thus, if either of them decided of a sudden to quit, she could accomplish it immediately, departing with her own belongings and without the possibility of further discord.
But in its major intention The Scarlet Tree is a tragic, not a comic, book. Things which were treated comically, or hinted at in a non-committal tone neither of comedy nor of tragedy, in Left Hand, Right Hand, begin to develop more darkly here. And yet it is part of the novelist's art that the most lingering impression of the book is a quality not of darkness but of light. Indeed, descriptions of light are part of its scheme: Were is along Proustian meditation by the author while, as a child, he lies in bed at daybreak and feels the day increasing behind the shutters; there is another, a little later in life under the title of A Brief Escape into the Early Morning. Yet bathed in light though the book is — and one wishes that Mr. Piper's pictures had turned occasionally aside from their excruciating melodramatic gloom to try and recapture a little of this — the book is principally a picture of tragic childhood, of infant vitality, exuberance and perspicaciousness flickering against deepening shadows of older futility. If, in fact, one or other of this distinguished family of writers has sometimes seemed, in print, a little too easily indignant or provoked; if they have had less difference to the censure which all writers of genius sometimes evoke than their admirers would like to see in them: then perhaps we find the reasons in The Scarlet Tree. But while the author employs much candour in speaking of his upbringing, he leaves it to his readers to make, if they choose, explicit comment on it. A critic may perhaps be allowed to describe it as horrible and appalling. No one can contemplate without misgiving those pathetically awful small children who are allowed a wholly uninhibited expression of their impulses, and who early realise with the natural cunning of children that there are no limits to how far they can go. But the opposite of this is scarcely better: the children rigorously subjected to the sort of well-meant cruelty — a complete divorce of ends and means — which permitted Sir George Sitwell always to insist that his children should do the exact opposite of anything they showed pleasurable inclination towards.

Yet it is not to be imagined that Sir Osbert presents his father in the familiar guise of an Edward Moulton-Barrett [father of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning]. The most subtle and original thing in this book is the suggestion it gives that all early development is haphazardly circumstanced: it is a crawl through a garden wilderness where the cruellest briars and the largest fallen branches which impede the way pave also once had their struggles for existence and growth. It is a wise sense of this that persuades, Sir Osbert in talking of his own upbringing to open out for us a remoter vista: the childhood of his father.
Here, having watched the development of a character, as seen by a child, a son, the reader may ask why my father so continually insisted on being in the right, to the extent that if events proved to him that he had been wrong, and he could no longer avoid such a conclusion, he had to fall ill... The reason, I deduce, must be sought a long way back, in the 'sixties of the previous century when he was a small child... I used to think that his disposition and his whims, sometimes so delightful and removed from reality, at others so harsh, and, indeed, hateful, were the result of his having been brought up entirely by women since the age of two, when, as we have seen, he succeeded his father; were rooted in the circumstance that he had never been controlled or disciplined or contradicted, and that, further, he had inherited an ample fortune at the age of twenty-one, finding himself, in fact, one of those local princes of whom Meredith tells us in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel. But my father had always maintained that his mother, though, by the time I knew her, gentle and on occasion almost indulgent, had not — for she was one of a family of five daughters — understood how a boy should be managed, and had treated him — of course without meaning to do so, for she was utterly devoted to him — with severity, and sometimes almost with cruelty.... And I have come to believe that this was true since I found in 1938 in the library at Renishaw a forbidding-looking account-book, short and thick, with an ecclesiastical clasp of brass. I opened this volume at random, and my eye lit on a page, not devoted to figures, on which were written, in a round, childish hand, very different from that which I knew, and yet even then recognisable, the words "George naughty again Jan. 20th." From the character of the letters, he plainly could not have been more than six or seven when obliged to enter that sentence. Underneath was inscribed in my grandmother's beautiful, flowing hand, "George naughty a second time Jan. 20th."
There are many variations in the book on the theme of semi-conscious paternal bullying; and there is a good deal of its painful counterpart, semi-conscious maternal indifference. Lady Ida Sitwell could also be cruel — and in a perhaps more despicable way — but a part of her was all on the side of kindness, and it seems to have been easily played on by the unscrupulous; but the actions of her life, according to the testimony of a son whose completely affectionate attitude to her cannot be questioned, were principally dedicated to the pursuit of "fun"; and to such a temperament as hers, children provide little. Where it was most craved, therefore, her kindness was something least forthcoming. Yet there is an element of "attack" in Sir Osbert's account of his upbringing, though some things — among them his mother's attitude to his sister — cannot be treated with complete equanimity; but about his own injuries he has come to that state of comparative calm (it is nothing so smug as forgiveness, which: is always rather an indecent gesture on the part of a human being) the attainment of which is part of every artist's task.

This volume covers ten years of the young Osbert's life. It includes the deepening of certain threatening shadows at home, the whole of his school life, accounts of London and Scarborough, and his first glimpses of Italy. On its more sombre side it includes, too painfully for isolated quotation, a brief, horrifying scene with an unscrupulous private tutor, one of those dramatic moments of suspense and foreboding which are again, a hint of the art of the novelist — points of significant detail which crystallise a whole phase of life. The accounts of the schools — a day, school at Scarborough, two private boarding-schools, and Eton — are written not without ferocity. But there is more than that: we are used to people writing satirical, indignant or regretful accounts of their schooldays; with rare exceptions, there seems to be little reason for them to write otherwise. Sir Osbert employs satire and indignation — Bloodsworth in particular, appears not to have been far short of a torture-chamber — but he sees deeper than, these instruments by themselves will allow a man to see: he uncovers a process of malformation, permanent or temporary. Esce di man di Lui l'anima semplicetta; but, the simple little soul returns from his second world severely misshapen:
The school restored to my parents a different boy, unrecognisable, with no pride in his appearance, no ability to concentrate, with health impaired for many years, if not for life, secretive, with no love of books, and an impartial hatred for both work and games, with few qualities left and none acquired, save a love of solitude and a cynical disbelief, firmly established, in any sense of fair play or prevailing standard, of human conduct.
He has no hesitation — why should he have? — in making clear who or what helped to undo this mischief. Principally, himself; but some things in addition which were denied to many of his companions. There was the calm beauty of Renishaw; there were his own growing apprehensions of the things man has formed out of the mess of life; there was Italy. It is a tempting preciosity to say that the Englishman's education and sensibility are incomplete without Mediterranean experience. It is also a palpable falsity; they are equally incomplete without experience of the South Seas, China, Russia and India. But to the English artist (to say nothing of anyone else) Italy has a strange power of benediction — more potent and residual perhaps when no attempt is made by the Englishman to externalise, its beauty into art; Sir Osbert is not, of course, the Englishman Italianate who incurred and deserved Elizabethan censure; but now that the centre of diabolism seems temporarily to have moved to Paris, it is delicious to find the magic of Italy restored in pages that are among the best in the book.

The remarkable achievement of The Scarlet Tree is its avoidance of an episodic character. No writer of our time — unless perhaps Mr. William Plomer in his own autobiography — has shown greater delight in the unusual and absurd sideshows of human behaviour, or more tenacity in storing them up, for future reference. But in The Scarlet Tree anecdotes are used only as occasional illustration to the general succession of the "movements" of life. It is not a book which over-emphasises detail at the expense of form: the whole work, of which this is said to be a quarter (though one prefers to hope that it will be but an eighth or a twelfth) promises to be a masterpiece of controlled expansiveness; it has already a quality of humorous and urbane magnificence, and a romantic lyricism rare in contemporary prose. It is worth while remembering that this is achieved in spite of rather than because of the author's native background. Our times provide us with a new opportunity for snobbism which we eagerly grasp at; with a gracious smile we accept socialism, and with a wider one we indicate how much we are giving up. The author of The Scarlet Tree knows all this; and he is at pains to show in these Edwardian chapters what sterile dramas could enact themselves, what futile games be played, against the background of Renishaw. He insists that the notable qualities of himself, and of his brother and sister, are qualities of mind. These they brought with them; they did not find them there.
Henry Reed
Who could read all that and not put both Left Hand, Right Hand and The Scarlet Tree on their wishlist?

1531. Henderson, Philip. "English Poetry Since 1946." British Book News 117 (May 1950), 295.
Reed's A Map of Verona is mentioned in a survey of the previous five years of English poetry.

Reed Reviews Melville

News of the Moby-Dick "Big Read" has reminded me just what a fan Henry Reed was of Melville. Readers such as Tilda Swinton, @stephenfry, Simon Callow (Simon Callow!) and even Prime Minister David Cameron are giving voice to all 135 chapters of Moby-Dick, posted online over 135 days. And not just celebrities are reading: there will be episodes from "schoolchildren and careworkers and fishermen," according to author Philip Hoare, who co-created the project with artist Angela Cockayne.

Henry Reed, of course, famously adapted Moby-Dick into a play for the BBC's Third Programme (starring Sir Ralph Richardson as Ahab), first broadcast on January 26, 1947. A second production was organized and broadcast on Radio 4 in 1979.


Reed also reviewed a new edition of Melville's Billy Budd for the "Books in General" column in the New Statesman and Nation on May 31, 1947. He had as much to say about Moby-Dick as he did for Billy Budd. Spoiler alert! If you haven't read it:

To discover and to read, in the midst of a batch of contemporary novels, Herman Melville's last—and hitherto all but improcurable—story, Billy Budd, Foretopman* is to find oneself faced with a dazzling revelation of, how many virtues modern fiction has lost or discarded. Billy Budd is, in the first place, a good story, a "plain tale," or so it appears; it is well written, and the uncertainties of its manuscript text do not greatly matter; it has a hero and a villain who are carefully designed to dramatise the extremes of goodness and badness. And more striking than anything else to the reader of to-day are its discursive comments on character, the generalisations about psychology evoked by the development of the story itself. One cannot doubt that in modern novelists the capacity for moral commentary still exists; but it is a capacity they more and more tend to suppress. When Melville blesses one of his characters with "natural depravity," it seems to him perfectly reasonable to enlarge on the implications of this:
Not many are the examples of this depravity which the gallows and jail supply. At any rate, for notable instances—since these have no vulgar alloy of the brute in them, but invariably are dominated by intellectuality—one must go elsewhere. Civilisation, especially if of the austere sort, is auspicious to it. It folds itself in the mantle of respectability. It has its certain negative virtues serving as silent auxiliaries. It is not going too far to say that it is without vices or small sins. There is a phenomenal pride in it that excludes them from anything... mercenary or avaricious... In short, the depravity here meant partakes nothing of the sordid or sensual. It is serious but free from acerbity. Though no flatterer of mankind, it never speaks ill of it.

But the thing which in eminent instances signalises so exceptional a nature is this: though the man's even temper and discreet bearing would seem to intimate a mind peculiarly subject to the law of reason, not the less in his soul's recesses he would seem to riot in complete exemption from that law having apparently little to do with reason further than to employ it as an ambidexter implement for effecting the irrational. That is to say: toward the accomplishment of an aim which in wantonness of malignity would seem to partake of the insane, he will direct a cool judgment sagacious and sound.

These men are true madmen, and of the most dangerous sort, for their lunacy is not continuous, but occasional; evoked by some special object; it is secretive and self-contained, so that when most active it is to the average mind not distinguished from sanity, and for the reason above suggested that whatever its aim may be, and the aim is never disclosed, the method and the outward proceeding is always perfectly rational.

Now something such was Claggart...
At first Billy Budd seems a curious book to think of Melville writing; but much criticism has prepared one for its late-Shakespearean calm. In the crowding tumult of Moby Dick and the neurotic fervour of Pierre, Melville seems to have burned himself out; or, if the fire remained, it was damped down by popular neglect or censure or incomprehension. In the Oxford History of the United States, Professor Morison of Harvard says that "not until 1851 did a distinctive American literature, original both in form and content, emerge with Moby Dick"; and it is rarely that a literary landmark is detected until it has been left a good way behind. Wretched and perplexed Melville struggled on, as we know, with a few other novels and short stories, and then quietly abandoned prose writing. Almost forty years after Moby Dick, and within a year or so of his death, he produced Billy Budd.

In style and mood it is as far from Moby Dick as it could be. In the earlier book one remembers, side by side with its exact realism, rhapsody also, and its fine, rhetorical, probable conversations. There is neither rhetoric nor rhapsody in Billy Budd. And in Moby Dick Melville is continually forcing you to look, beyond the lives of his characters, at Life itself. For Melville, as for Ahab, the battered Pequod is an ambiguous vessel: its mixed crew are "an Anacharsis Clootz deputation from all the isles of the sea, and all the ends of the earth, accompanying Old Ahab in the Pequod to lay the world's grievances before that bar from which not very many of them come back." It is "an audacious, immitigable and supernatural revenge" that Ahab intends in his pursuit of the white whale.
          ...All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs tip the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sim of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down.
To Ahab "all visible objects are but as pasteboard masks." And he infects the crew with his unearthly feeling for Moby Dick in a way that Ishmael, the story-teller, hesitates to define:
What the White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the great gliding demon of the seas of life—all this to explain would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go.
But he does at once go deeper; and the chapter on whiteness is perhaps the "deepest" thing in the book. It is a chapter about the beauty and the terror of white objects, animate and inanimate: "and of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye, then, at the fiery hunt?"

By these, and by many other touches, Melville accretes to his realistic story an imprecise and terrible other story. The actual whale is not, he assures us, an allegorical creature he has made up himself. The whale itself is real enough; it is in the nature of Melville to see an object or creature accurately before the object takes on an ambiguous cast. He sees the whales' nursery, can mean to him:
And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternation and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.
Object first; simile, some distance after. Melville's mind is free from the allegorical impulse which takes a spiritual theme and impresses objects into the illumination of it. This distinction between allegory and symbolism must not be forgotten, since it is always there. In symbolism the real object is seen first; from it, to adopt a phrase of Mr. T. S. Eliot, a "purpose breaks." This happens continually in Melville; and it is worth recalling that his great creative period coincided with that of Poe, to whom the French symbolist poets were always confessing their debt.

From Billy Budd also, when the tale is completed, a purpose breaks; a simple one, emerging with deceptive quietness. In this tale Melville, at the end of his life, is giving expression to a feeling he has perhaps not before acknowledged or understood. Once more, he comes to understand it by way of real objects and people. It is as if retired within himself, and searching the darkness of experience that lies behind and before him, he draws up from the shadows a perfect image of uncontaminated beauty, nobility and courtesy. We know who provided that image: it was Melville's friend of earlier days, Jack Chase; and it is to him that the new book is dedicated: "To Jack Chase, Englishman, wherever that great heart may now be here on earth or harboured in Paradise." Chase had been captain of the maintop in the frigate United States, in which Melville had served in 1843. He had shone like a bright light in the ugly world that Melville describes in White Jacket; idealised a little, he now appears as Billy Budd. The action is moved back to the days of Napoleonic wars, shortly after the Mutiny at the Nore.

There is little or none of the "transcendental" Melville in the actual language of the book. It is true that the Anacharsis Clootz deputation is once more referred to; and the free merchant vessel from which Billy is impressed into the Navy is called the Rights of Man. But this is a mere glimpse of the book's outer rind; we do not touch that half-whimsical quality again till the very end, when we hear the name of another ship. Billy is forced to serve in a man-of-war. He is what in those days was called a Handsome Sailor. He has a beauty that is praised and adored by the generality of men—and he is not, it may be urgently stated, a pansy. But Billy's grace, as is the way of grace, evokes also from one point an overwhelming malignity. There is among the crew an official of some power called Claggart, whom Melville seems to develop from, the villainous Jackson of his early autobiographical novel Redburn. Claggart is not unaffected by the beauty of Billy's form and character. He perceives it, one might say, much as Iago perceives that of Cassio:
                   If Cassio do remain,
He hath a daily beauty in his life
That makes me ugly.
Claggart, ostensibly affable towards Billy, decides in his heart that he must be done away with. The discernment of the ways and means of such a hate is one of Melville's many profound intuitions; I do not doubt that he could have pursued the origins of such a passion further, for his prose and his poetry abound in astonishingly prophetic hints about the reaches of the unconscious. But none are given here. At school one sometimes dimly recognised something ineffably horrible when one, saw a perverted schoolmaster bullying an angelic-looking boy; Melville allows us dimly to recognise a perversion of much the same kind here. Claggart fabricates against Billy a charge of incitement to mutiny, and reports him to Vere, the captain, a man extreme nobility and perception. Vere is dubious of the charge, and sends for Billy. Billy is afflicted with a stammer—his one defect. When confronted with the charge he cannot speak; he answers Claggart in the only way he knows; he strikes him with all his force, and Claggart falls dead. Vere's sympathies are wholly with Billy; but a trial is inevitable; so are the verdict and the punishment. It is war-time; and the question of mutiny is a real thing, not to be treated lightly. Vere asks what is truth; but dare not stay for an answer. At dawn next day Billy is hanged at the yard-end.

As a character Billy meant a little more to Melville than could be expressed in prose. Billy Budd ends with a rather touching unaccomplished effort to get into Billy's impenetrable mind by way of verse:
But me, they'll lay me in hammock, drop me deep
Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I'll dream fast asleep.
I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?
Just ease these darbies at the wrist,
And roll me over fair,
I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.
But the story as a whole remains more important than its parts or its separate characters. If we have any doubts about what it "means" to Melville, he puts them to rest by a few more or those touches which, for want of a proper word, I have called half-whimsical Billy dies; "and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn." The noble Captain Vere is felled shortly after by a musket-ball from a ship which has been re-named the Athéiste. And for years afterwards the spar from which Billy has hanged is kept trace of by the crew; to them, later, "a chip of it was as a piece of the Cross." ...The creator of that and the white whale was to cherish his "ambiguities" to the end.
Henry Reed

* Billy Budd. By Herman Melville. Introduction by William Plomer. Lehmann. 5s.
The Moby-Dick "Big Read" runs through January, 2013.

1530. Radio Times. Billing for "The Book of My Childhood." 19 January 1951, 32.
Scheduled on BBC Midland from 8:15-8:30, an autobiographical(?) programme from Henry Reed.

Observer Review Clue

This blurb appears in a publisher's advertisement in The Spectator for February 18, 1949. It's lifted, according to the byline, from a book review Henry Reed wrote for The Observer, on Gerard Hopkins' translation of selections from Proust (London: Allan Wingate, 1948).


A Selection from his Miscellaneous Writings
Chosen and Translated by Gerard Hopkins
'We have the charming experience of meeting Proust outside the turmoil of creation, chatting, confiding, preparing... the same character, the same voice, that come through the translation of Scott-Moncrieff come through Mr. Hopkins's no less sensitive versions.' Henry Reed, Observer. 10s 6d net
Not only is this the first record I have of Reed reviewing this particular work, but it's actually the first clue I have to any Reed review appearing in The Observer, at any time. Are there more? I bet there are more.

Tracking down a Observer review is going to be difficult. I don't know the date (but we can easily surmise it was sometime in late 1948 or January 1949), and I can't find a library within easy reach that has the paper from the 1940s, either in print or on microfilm. I'll check Book Review Digest, etc., and see if I can pinpoint it.

(And what do we have, here? In The Guardian News & Media Archive catalog, is a record for a photograph of "Reed, Henry: Radio," in a file for "Prints by Guardian/Observer photographers.")

«  Reviews Observer Proust  0  »

1529. Sackville-West, Vita. "Seething Brain." Observer (London), 5 May 1946, 3.
Vita Sackville-West speaks admirably of Reed's poetry, and was personally 'taken with the poem called "Lives," which seemed to express so admirably Mr. Reed's sense of the elusiveness as well as the continuity of life.'

Reed Reviews Sartre

For this edition of "Reed Reviews" we dig up Henry Reed's "New Novels" column from The Listener for February 6, 1947. Reed reads for us a short story collection by Sid Chaplin, a translation of Camilo José Cela's La Familia de Pascual Duarte, and the first English publication of Jean-Paul Sartre's The Age of Reason (L'âge de raison), the first volume of his existentialist trilogy, The Roads to Freedom:

Book cover

New Novels

The Age of Reason. By Jean-Paul Sartre.
Translated by Eric Sutton. Hamish Hamilton. 10s.
Pascual Duarte's Family. By Camilo J. Cela.
Eyre and Spottiswoode. 7s. 6d.
The Leaping Lad. By Sid Chaplin.
Phoenix House. 8s. 6d.
M. SARTRE is primarily a brilliant artist. He is secondarily a philosopher, one of the leaders of a more or less new school of thought. It is therefore a great pity that in England we should have read so much about his philosophical ideas before we have had much chance of reading his stories and plays; and it is probably a further pity that his ideas should for the most part have been first expounded by antagonistic critics. His plays, 'Les Mouches', 'Huis-Clos' and 'La Putain: Respectueuse', need nothing in the way of exposition; they make their points unaided, and their points are clear ones. With The Age of Reason I feel far less sure; it is the first volume of a trilogy called 'Les Chemins de la Liberté', and though it is a book of quite extraordinary power it cannot be thought of very easily as a work by itself, since at the end of volume one, the reader is likely to be left still baffled by M. Sartre's theme, and by his terminology. The semantic of abstract nouns is almost always so eroded (as Professor Hogben would say) that they need continual re-definition. And I am far from certain what M. Sartre means either by freedom or by reason. I have uneasily assumed from the story itself, and from things I have picked up here and there, that Mathieu, the hero of the book, who is questing for freedom, is out to attain a state of mind and a condition of will where he will be free to act without being influenced by the image he creates in the minds of others. As a child he has vowed to himself: 'I will be free'. At the end of the first volume we find him saying to himself that he has attained the age of reason, and the meaning of this is, so far, even less clear; he means in one sense that his adolescence is over; but one is perplexed by the fact that his attainment of the age of reason, whatever it be, is principally caused by an act performed by someone else. This is brought about as follows.

Mathieu, a lecturer in philosophy and the central figure of a small group of people in Paris, is told by Marcelle, his mistress, that she is pregnant. He assumes that an abortion is necessary, and he sets out to get the money for it. His efforts to raise four thousand francs are the principal strand in the book. There are other things going on at the same time: they mainly concern two young friends of Mathieu, his pupil Boris Seguine, and Ivich, who is Boris's sister. There is a no longer young cabaret singer called Lola, who is feverishly in love with Boris. Mathieu himself, rather to his own surprise, at a particular point during the forty-eight hours covered by the book, falls suddenly and fruitlessly in love with Ivich, whose own sexual appetites are, up to now, uncertainly directed. Mathieu continues his quest for money; within forty hours or so, having exhausted all possible sources, he steals from Lola. She thinks the theft has been committed by Boris, whom she knows to practise theft in a small way from bookshops and the like. By this time we have already seen a good deal of another character, Daniel, a homosexual, and a friend of Marcelle. Marcelle, discovering that Mathieu is no longer in love with her, has told him to go. He has by now discovered that she wants the baby and has offered to marry her. Just as Lola is telling Mathieu that she is charging Boris with theft, Daniel enters Mathieu's apartment and announces that he is going to marry Marcelle. We are left at this point to await the second volume, and, if our curiosity has been aroused, to wonder what will now happen to Lola and Boris, to Ivich, who has failed in her examinations and must return to her hated home in Laon, to the unpromising marriage of Marcelle and Daniel, and to Mathieu and his reasoning, reasoned or reasonable age.

The story may be called sordid, morbid,) and 'unrepresentative', though M. Sartre does not, I think, make it these things. Extended comment on it can scarcely be made at this stage; but there are some things that immediately occur to one. I do not know how consequent or inconsequent M. Sartre's version of existentialism is; but it appears to provide a most potent atmosphere and background, which would, I believe, be apprehensible even to a reader who had picked up none of the relevant jargon. It is not necessary to have mugged up the subject in order to see the strange new perspectives behind M. Sartre's novel; the ominous background is there, and it is possible to be much moved by it. It reminds me of those floorboard landscapes of Chirico and some of the surrealists: those long parallel lines receding into the distance and ending, sharply at a void of empty and ominous sky. Over such a floor and oppressed by the same anguished and thundery air, the tatty characters of M. Sartre's novel move. It seems to me as acceptable and convincing a mise-en-scène as any other, if the human condition is your subject.

The early chapters of the book at once indicate a master, perhaps a great one; certainly an authoritative technician and stylist who also has his characters, and their actions, extremely well taped. That void on the horizon, towards which his characters painfully glance from time to time, is poetically 'touched in'. The climaxes and turns in the story are brilliantly timed, the folds of the narrative adroitly set. There is a wonderful feeling of suspense about the book. There is also a certain monotony, and at a first reading some of the conversations seem over-long; I wonder also if it is entirely well-judged to set so much of the book in bedrooms and nightclubs. But its monotony seems to me the acceptable monotony of an epic.

Pascual Duarte's Family is a story about a murderer, told by the murderer himself; the book would probably fail if we were not on the murderer's side, for it is superficially a story of fantastic squalor, and at times steps perilously near the point where the unbearable becomes the farcical. But the murderer is a man who strives to be good and his sister's lover and his own mother, both of whom he murders, are irremediably bad. The nets of circumstance close in on him from every side, and there is a tragic inevitability about his disastrous acts; though since the facts of his story are so violent and brutal, the general poetic quality of the story is probably incommunicable by reviewer to reader; the reader may doubt that the character of a matricide (who later, it is hinted, commits a common political murder) can evoke pity. But the priest's verdict on Pascual is true: he 'could be recognised when one probed to the depths of his soul as not other than a poor tame sheep, harassed and terrified by life itself'. Señor Cela's book is subtle and disquieting, and I do not remember that its story has ever been used before.

The Leaping Lad is a collection of short stories, all set in a mining-valley in Durham. This, forgivably but unfortunately, will put most readers off. Those whom it doesn't will find that, despite limitations of theme and setting, Mr. Chaplin's stories usually are stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end; and rarely mere sketches. There is also a vein of gaiety and exhilaration running through a good many of them, which crops up as deliciously as the outbursts of fresh, green countryside in the sombre landscape which is Mr. Chaplin's native heath. 'Rooms', 'The Pigeon-Cree', 'The Shaft' and 'The Unwanted' are particularly good stories; while the story called 'And the Third Day' promises well for the time when Mr. Chaplin sets out on a longer flight.
Henry Reed
The one bit of personal information we can glean from this review is the mention of Professor Lancelot Hogben. Hogben was an experimental zoologist whose varied career included two professorships at the University of Birmingham from 1941-1961. Reed must have known him, or known of him, from his time there. Hogben seems to have cut quite a figure across several fields of study, was quite well known, and the two shared Socialist leanings. Hogben's books on language and semantics—which surely would have greatly interested Reed—were not published until the 1950s and 60s, but obviously he was expounding on such topics much, much earlier.

«  Sartre Reviews Listener  0  »

1528. Manning, Hugo. "Recent Verse." Books of the Day, Guardian (Manchester), 31 July 1946, 3.
Manning feels that 'Mr. Reed has worn thin much of his genuine talent in this direction by too much self-inflicted censorship.'

Reed Reviews Norman Nicholson

I'm still uncovering book reviews by Henry Reed, even in places I've already looked and thought I had exhausted. This week, for instance—just to show you the horribly roundabout way this sort of research goes—I've got a review of two verse plays from the Listener, in 1946: Ronald Duncan's This Way to the Tomb, and Norman Nicholson's The Old Man of the Mountains. Now, I don't have access to the Listener Historical Archive, but I can access an online index of abstracts. So I thought I had found everything Reed wrote for that publication, until...

Until, that is, I discovered this quote in Philip Gardner's critique, Norman Nicholson (Twayne's English Authors series, 1973):

It is easy to agree with Henry Reed's special commendation of Nicholson's protagonist: 'His Elijah is a really dramatic character; the picture of him surrounded by his inspiration, his muddle, his faith and his pathetic self-doubting is particularly fine.'17
[p. 124]

But of course, endnote #17 cannot be viewed in Google Book Search. Surely, I thought, the author must have had Reed mixed up with someone else. Nevertheless, a fieldtrip became imperative in order to check the nearest copy of Gardner's book, at the University of Richmond's Boatwright Library:

Boatwright Library

And thus, book in hand, the endnote revealed that Reed's review did indeed appear in the Listener, on April 11, 1946. Now, in order to get that issue, I had to request a scan from a library in another state! That in itself is a story fraught with difficulty and disappointment, but suffice to say, after a few days' wait, we had the required pages:

Book cover

New Poetic Drama
This Way to the Tomb. By Ronald Duncan.
The Old Man of the Mountains. By Norman Nicholson. Faber. 6s. each

Modern Prose Drama is notorious for its thinness, and one has hoped for a good deal from the poets who have turned their attention to the theatre. At least they have not usually lacked verbal sensitiveness, and it has sometimes been thrilling to hear fresh, unread verse coming over the footlights. Nevertheless, the most remarkable thing about modern poetic plays has been their crudity. Poor management of the most elementary requirements of the stage, a charade-like quality, and an excessive simplification have sometimes been offered to us as though they were a kind of jemenfoutiste virtue; amateurishness has glared at the reader from the printed page, and the most adroit stage-production has failed to disguise the same quality in the theatre. Two poetic plays alone have held the stage successfully, both by a hard-working major poet: 'Murder in the Cathedral' and 'The Family Reunion'. In spite of certain awkwardness of technique, which one liked no better for their being intentional, these plays continue to move one, because they fulfil two of the principal requirements of drama; they tell stories which embody impressive truths, and they create credible and important characters, whose actions and changes of mood compel attention.

Mr. Ronald Duncan's play 'This Way to the Tomb' strongly recalls 'Murder in the Cathedral': it is based on the theme of temptation and the breaking-down of pride, it has a satirical modern-section which is presumably meant to be funny, and it closes on a note of religious exaltation. The first half of the play is a masque dealing with the last days of Saint Antony on the island of Zante: his temptation, his cry for mercy, and his salvation; it has at times a dignity worthy of its subject. The second part is an anti-masque, showing a crowd of clamorous rationalists visiting Antony's tomb, and proving by experiment that faith is only an illusion and superstition. Father Opine, who leads this rowdy band, turns out in the end, when confronted by the saint himself, to be identified with Bernard, the intellectual among Antony's early disciples. Our own age is always easy to make fun of—as Ben Jonson, Mr. Duncan's model, has shown. There is a depressing staleness about this second half of the play, with its boring conventional cleverness and its use of stage tricks (the satirical 'blues' for examples) which their originators have already abandoned; and the last pages do not succeed in dragging the play up again from the depths. True, the author occasionally comes out with a beautiful and touching image:
And I believe Christ lies in my heart like a green
          leaf in an old book
Revealed, if I could only find my heart,
          open it and look.
But for the greater part of the play, his verse contents itself with easy-going sermonising, not often distinguished from platitude.
I have described myself and fears
Because the one is made up of the other;
And because, clarity towards one's conscience
          is a kind of prayer.
     But eloquence and verbal gymnastics
     Only persuade, against run of logic,

And leave one where one was before.
'The Old Man of the Mountains' is an infinitely more attractive play. It is true that if you write a play about Elijah and the Raven, you are likely to bring the Raven on to the stage, but doubtless he can be made an impressive and not an absurd creature. Mr. Nicholson, while he is about it, has given us ('off') a babbling beck as well, and has allowed its voices to speak charming verses something after the manner of 'Anna Livia Plurabelle'. Apart from these novelties, the play is a more or less straight three-acter, the first act dealing with the drought and the raising of the boy, Ben, from the dead; the second with the dispute between Elijah and Ahab; and the third with the contest on the mountain-top between the altars of Baal and the Lord; and the advent of the cloud no bigger than a man's hand. Mr. Nicholson has transplanted his characters to the Cumberland dales he has written of so well before, and he has avoided the sentimental humour that attends Mr. Bridie's rehashes of the Scriptures. His Elijah is a really dramatic character; the picture of him surrounded by his inspiration, his muddle, his faith and his pathetic self-doubting is particularly fine. The long scene between him and the boy on the mountain is a delight; we are bound to know beforehand the outcome of that vigil against the unmoved brilliant heaven; it is a considerable triumph for Mr. Nicholson that he should give back to the famous cliché, when it is finally uttered, some of its original splendour.

The verse passages of the play are very well done. Mr. Nicholson has boldly called for realistic settings, but he knows the limitations of even the best scene-painter, and he supplements them with thrilling vividness
                   And there I watch
A farmer put a match to a neighbour's grain.
The straw catches light, weasels of flame
Twist among the stalks of the corn, and the thorns
          in the dyke
Blossom with fire. Now the barns are alight
And women shriek from the casements, and a wind
Sprinkles the sparks like shooting stars. Long
          ropes of fire
Loop the spires of the larches.
The play is apparently a first effort in drama; but it is an enormously promising one, and it is to be hoped that Mr. Nicholson will soon attempt a play with a plot of his own invention.
Henry Reed

[p. 486]
Nicholson is an interesting character. He was born in Millom, Cumberland, in 1914, and lived almost his entire life in the same house he was born in. He had tuberculosis as a teenager, which must have kept him out of active service during the Second World War. He wrote a considerable amount of poetry—mostly about his native Cumbria—as well as several novels and plays. Like Reed, he isn't associated with any poetry movement, but is rather considered a solitary figure in his use of straightforward language and plain-speaking style. Before his death in 1987, Nicholson had garnered several poetry prizes, as well as an OBE. Here is an interactive video on Norman Nicholson, including Neil Curry reading five of his poems.

He also cultivated the most striking set of sideburns.

1527. Rosenthal, M.L. "Experience and Poetry." Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review (New York), 17 October 1948, 28.
Rosenthal says Reed shares with Laurie Lee 'that unhappy vice of young intellectuals—a certain blandness of which the ever-simple irony is a symptom.'

Reed Reviews de la Mare

While I was tracking down two references to book reviews Henry Reed had written for The Sunday Times, I unexpectedly discovered this critique of The Complete Poems of Walter de la Mare (Faber and Faber, 1969), "Solacing Music," from January 25, 1970. In a happy coincidence, it happened to appear in the first month of the first of many, many reels of microfilm I was whizzing through.

This particular review is especially interesting because not only does it outline Reed's personal feelings about de la Mare's poetry, but it also lets slip two personal anecdotes. The first is related to Reed's shared affinity for, and indebtedness to, Thomas Hardy and his poetry. Reed mentions having visited Hardy's second wife in 1936. Indeed, Florence Hardy wrote to Reed in December of that year, in an attempt to dispell his delusions about penning a biography of her late husband.

Reed goes on to describe his only meeting with de la Mare, which occurred 'after some rather fractious gathering convened to decide which verses in our language might not be too tedious or indecent for the young ears of the Royal Family.' This being in reference to a poetry recital which was held at Wigmore Hall in May of 1946 in honor of the Queen, Princesses Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret. Incidentally, it was the meetings for this poetry reading which would inadvertently cause Vita Sackville-West to swear she would never write poetry, again (more on that, later)!

Sunday Times

Solacing music


He could no longer listen to the reading of prose, though a short poem now and again interested him. In the middle of one night he asked his wife to read aloud to him "The Listeners," by Walter de la Mare.
Thus Thomas Hardy on his deathbed: a tribute to both poets, for it is by no means easy—as I think Wordsworth was first honest enough to say—for a poet to make much of a poet a good deal younger than himself; and there was a difference of over thirty years between these two. What was it in de la Mare's great poem of desolation, disappointment and unresponse that Hardy wanted to hear said to him at that moment? Perhaps:
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
"Tell them that I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
I have never, myself, wanted to know who the traveller or the listeners are in this poem, and have rather averted the gaze from any exegesis of it. But is this not in itself rather a despicable critical evasion of a kind which we have resigned ourselves to in the case of de la Mare?

Let me revert to Hardy. Though Hardy was kindly and hospitable to the many young poets who sought him out, de la Mare was the only one he was genuinely curious to meet. I am sorry I cannot "document" this statement: it was either told me by the second Mrs Hardy in 1936, or it is remarked on in one of the several thousand unpublished Hardy letters now being edited by Professor Purdy.

On the one occasion I had the honour of meeting de la Mare—after some rather fractious gathering convened to decide which verses in our language might not be too tedious or indecent for the young ears of the Royal Family—I fervently recorded this fact to him. He was too modest to believe it; but eagerly, in a damp, dark Chelsea street, he told me of the barely credible circumstances of his first meeting with Hardy, in 1921. I did not know that a retrospective poem on the subject was already in print. And his deeper feelings, expressed in the poem, he did not repeat: but they are worth repeating now:
And there peered from his eyes, as I listened,
          a concourse of women and men,
Whom his words had made living, long-suffering—
          they flocked to remembrance again;
"O Master," I cried in my heart, "lorn thy tidings,
          grievous thy song;
Yet thine, too, this solacing music, as we earthfolk
          stumble along."
The deliberate touch of pastiche in these lines, written round about 1938, is of course a kind of homage and does not make the poem less moving. It is very different from the real help he had sought from Hardy's poetry in 1921, or just before when, as Dr Leavis has acutely remarked, de la Mare seems to have recognised "the vanity of his poetic evasions . . . It is as if, in his straights, he had gone for help to the poet most unlike himself, strong where he is weak" [New Bearings in English Poetry. London: Chatto & Windus, 1950].

It is doubtful if he found this help. For some reason, after the publication of "The Veil" in 1921, de la Mare stopped publishing serious poetry (at least in England) and devoted himself to prose, and to comic verse. When I was an undergraduate, on the rare occasions when twentieth-century poetry was admitted to exist, de la Mare was occasionally mentioned, sadly withal, as one who had not fulfilled his promise.

This was quite agreeable to us: it meant we did not have to go and find out exactly what the promise had been. In any case we had, by then, Eliot and Pound, and they provided quite enough matter for thought, if thought was what it was we directed at them.

There was, however, a genuine feeling that de la Mare had ceased to exist. Then, in 1933, appeared "The Fleeting." But by this time we had Auden to cope with. And "The Fleeting" was much the same mixture as before, though longer poems like "The Owl," and "Dreams" (which mentions, not with much respect, the Id) had begun to appear and to threaten a boredom later to display itself more expansively. Other volumes, light or serious, followed. Towards the end there were efforts at the long "great" poem. "The Traveller" is often exciting and terrifying, but only in its last pages really impressive. As for "Winged Chariot," I have to confess to what may be a personal blackout. It is a long poem about time, chronometers, etc., and is often in its early pages humorous and engaging; the trouble is that though it is at no point unbeautiful, it is largely unreadable.

I am pedantic enough to wonder why the charming marginal glosses (like those of Hakluyt and Coleridge) of its first edition should have been inserted in this Collected Poems into the poem itself as though they were epigraphs to various sections of it—thereby rendering what is difficult enough virtually unintelligible.

Mr Auden does the same with it in his "Choice of de la Mare's Verse" and tells us, a little uneasily, that the poem "is better read, perhaps, like 'In Memoriam,' as a series of lyrics with a metre and theme in common." But surely for God's sake please, Tennyson's poem is a moving poem? We don't come out of it quite as we went into it; and we do not fall asleep during it.

In 1913, reviewing a "collected" Robert Bridges, de la Mare remarks: "The writing of verse easily becomes a dangerous habit." This is distressingly true of himself: there is simply and blankly and monotonously too much of him. In the same essay, he remarks: "Complete editions serve too often merely for an imposing monument" ["The Poetry of Robert Bridges." Review of The Poetical Works of Robert Bridges, Excluding the Eight Dramas. Saturday Westminster Gazette, August 30, 1913. Reprinted in Private View. London: Faber and Faber, 1953. 108-113.]. In the present volume his poems occupy, in fairly small print, pages 3 to 888. This is a lot of reading-matter. I cannot think its gentle author can have wished it all at once upon anybody.
(p. 57)

1526. Blunden, Edmund. "Poets and Poetry." Bookman, n.s., 1, no. 4 (July 1946): 14-15.
Edmund Blunden says Reed's Lessons of the War poems 'have captured something of the time-spirit and ambiguity of the recent war in a style of wit and deep feeling united.'

Reed Reviews Edward Thomas

I hope I am not being too disingenuous with my title, but I did hit upon an unexpected windfall of Reed's book reviewing in The Sunday Times. Once again, a simple snippet in Google Book Search was enough to lead me to three articles by Reed from 1969 and 1970, including "Two Years Before the Muse": a review of William Cooke's biography of Edward Thomas which appeared on March 29, 1970:

Sunday Times

Two years before the muse

EDWARD THOMAS: a critical biography by William Cooke
Faber 50s


FLAWLESSLY and confidently though he himself can write, Mr Cooke does not hesitate, in this fine book, to withdraw himself when necessary, and with excellent judgment to let his subjects—for there is Helen Thomas as well as Edward—have their own say: as they both eloquently could. And since Thomas and is wife, despite difficult passages, were never enemies, Mr Cooke's book moves the reader in a way that biography rarely does: his second chapter, "The Divided Self," is a model of well-selected documents, in both poetry and prose, brought together, properly digested, and firmly handled.

He has, of course, a subject where, biographically at least, there seems little need for guesswork. Thomas himself was a self-declared depressive, often took laudanum, and was on occasion determined on suicide. Mr Cooke is fully aware of the justifiable self-pity of both Edward and Helen. It is balanced by their pity for each other and their candid understanding and acceptance of each other.

Certainly Thomas himself, through the whole of his fantastically overworked life as a hack journalist and a writer of "deadline" commissioned books, gives the impression of someone who could not easily tell lies, and the well-known portrait of him (a trifle blurred in this volume) gives the feeling of someone who could not easily believe in them either.

And truth is a useful thing. Curiously, his candid avowal that Helen loved him more than he loved her produces one of the finest love-lyrics in the language. It ends:
Till sometimes it did seem
Better it were
Never to see you more
Than linger here
With only gratitude
Instead of love
A pine in solitude
Cradling a dove.
An even more sombre candour informs the poem about his father, withheld from the brief Collected Poems till twenty-two years after the poet's death. It is not at all a poem about hate, but it begins:
I may come near loving you
When you are dead
and ends:
But not so long as you live
Can I love you at all.
His father survived him.

Apart from conventional juvenilia, Thomas wrote no poetry before the age of thirty-six. Hitherto he had confined himself to twenty-nine books of prose. He was to live about two years more; and despite its many outstanding virtues, the most astonishing and valuable part of Mr Cooke's book is the appendix in which he establishes the chronology of these two incredible years: I quote merely its beginning:
3 December "Up in the Wind"
4 December "November"
5 December "March"
6 December "Old Man"
7 December "The Sign Post"
And these poems are by no means dilettante haiku. Some are of notable length. It is to be hoped that the elegant pages of the Collected Poems may as a result of Mr Cooke's researches, soon be rearranged chronologically.

Thomas's switch to poetry (much of it, and some senses all of it, remarkable: it had the rare distinction of never appearing in "Edward Marsh's "Georgian" collections) has been variously explained, Robert Frost, older, but not much older, and first published in England, had said to him: "You are a poet or you are nothing." But a man does not became a poet simply because he is told he is one; though doubtless Frost's remark struck at something Thomas had wanted to, yet dared not, until then, think of.

But these things are, as psychoanalysts say "over-determined." I am not so much entranced as I once was by the observations of analysts on what they call "creativity": but what the distinguished analyst Dr Elliott Jaques in an essay on what he terms the "mid-life crisis" devotes his early pages to artists in their middle thirties—the mezzo del cammin of Dante. He examined a "random sample" of 310 artists of genius (one had not thought death had undone so many!) who had exemplified this mid-life crisis in three different ways: either their career ended at this time; or it began (one thinks of Conrad); or a decisive change took place in the quality and content of their work. (One might add that some artists re-begin at this age: I am thinking of our own Jane Austen.)

I think that Edward Thomas, if not decisively a genius, fits well enough into all this. Dr Jaques connects his thesis with our realization at this age that death does actually exist, and is probably nearer to us than birth. Thomas thought often of death. He was not strictly of conscribable age, and had every opportunity of joining Frost in America. But he decided to enlist, and was apparently certain that he would not see his beloved England again. He wrote no more poetry once he landed in France; and it could be said of him by Alun Lewis, also writing of death, and himself prematurely killed in a later war:
Suddenly, at Arras, you possessed that hinted land.
(p. 56)
You can read more about Edward Thomas on the Friends of the Dymock Poets website.

1525. "Reed, Henry," Publishers Weekly, 152, no. 15 (11 October 1947), 1945.
A note on the publication of the American edition of Reed's A Map of Verona.

Telegraphing Reed

When Henry Reed's career is summed up into a few paragraphs for a reference book or introduction, his varied jobs are usually listed in descending order of how he is remembered: poet, radio dramatist, translator. On occasion, the title "journalist" is added, but what they really mean is freelance critic: writing book reviews. Reed was the fiction critic for the New Statesman from 1944 to 1946, and wrote the "Radio Notes" column there from 1947 to 1948. He reviewed fiction in the Listener from 1946 to 1947, and again during 1950 and 1951. Here and there he was commissioned to write pieces on poetry collections or translations, and he was a frequent contributor to the Radio Times when he was writing scripts for—and giving talks on—the BBC.


At least twice in the early 1960s, Reed reviewed books for the Sunday Telegraph, and there are probably more. I don't have any sort of access to the Telegraph locally, however, so a dedicated search will probably have to wait for another trip to the Library of Congress.

Here, in the Times (London) on June 7, 1962, we find a Faber & Faber advertisement for Expositions and Developments, one of a series of collaborative conversations between the composer Igor Stravinsky and conductor Robert Craft. The blurb is an excerpt from Reed's Telegraph review:


Then, in an issue of the Bookseller from 1962, an article concerning recent reviews of Georges Simenon's Pedigree, in which Reed duels with both Anthony Burgess and Raymond Mortimer:

A book described in last Sunday's Observer as one of 'almost indigestible richness' seemed to have been digested pretty well by Mr. Henry Reed, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, and not found all that rich, either. Mr. Reed was not too happy about the translation, to start with. He happened to know that the original version of Georges Simenon's Pedigree (Hamish Hamilton) was written in the present tense, and thought that the translator had lost something by putting the English version in the past tense. Mr. Anthony Burgess, who wrote the Observer review, regarded the translation as admirable, as did Mr. Raymond Mortimer in the Sunday Times. But Mr. Reed was also worried about the original; the reader was likely to get helplessly lost, he thought, among the 'phalanxes of aunts and uncles' who drifted in and out of the story. Mr. Burgess thought that the author's characters were convincingly solid and one could walk around them because they filled real space. This reviewer judged the book as a remarkable work of art, and thought that M. Andre Gide's advice to the author to recast an earlier autobiographic version as a novel in the third person was good. Not so for Mr. Reed; for him, M. Gide's advice was 'rather insensitive'. Mr. Mortimer's review of M. Simenon's book was notable for, in the midst of his customary sound appraisal, an anecdote which must not go unrecorded in this paper. The book ended, observed Mr. Mortimer, with the hero at the age of fifteen; he had 'just been sacked from his first job (in a bookseller's) because he knew more than his employer'.

I also have a few intriguing but disappointingly unspecific references to reviews penned by Reed for the Sunday Times. If I can find my notes, I'll have to post something on those. If for no other reason, so I can easily look it up the next time I'm in a library with British newspapers on microfilm, at least until Sundays appear in the online archive for the Times.

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1524. Reed, Henry. Letters to Graham Greene, 1947-1948. Graham Greene Papers, 1807-1999. Boston College, John J. Burns Library, Archives and Manuscripts Department, MS.1995.003. Chestnut Hill, MA.
Letters from Reed to Graham Greene, including one from December, 1947 Reed included in an inscribed copy of A Map of Verona (1947).

Reed Reviews Donagh MacDonagh

This past weekend, I braved bridges and tunnels and drove down to the Perry Library at Old Dominion University, to retrieve this review. Curiously, ODU has a full run of The Bell magazine (1940-1954) on microfiche.

The Bell was a literary review and survey of contemporary life in Ireland, founded in 1940 by Peadar O'Donnell, and later edited by Sean O'Faolain. It is still regarded as one of the most important Irish magazines of the twentieth century, counting among its contributors such luminaries as Elizabeth Bowen, Michael Farrell, Patrick Kavanagh, Frank O'Connor, Liam O'Flaherty, and George Bernard Shaw.

In the October, 1946 issue, Henry Reed reviews Donagh MacDonagh's play, Happy as Larry:

Book cover

HAPPY AS LARRY. By Donagh MacDonagh (Fridberg, 6s.)
Reviewed by Henry Reed

HAPPY AS LARRY is a play written in a manner which is to-day usually reserved for radio-features. It employs an intermittent narration by a group of commentators; the main action takes place in a series of inset scenes. This is a wearisome and mechanical enough device in radio; one rarely avoids the feeling that the author has lacked the energy or the invention to construct a convincing piece of fluent action. It strikes one as a lazy way of writing, even on the air. Off the air, it seems lazier still. It is true that the six tailors who provide Mr. MacDonagh's narration are lively enough in their stock way, and that eventually he fits them fancifully into the main action, but one is aware of contrivance throughout; and one suspects that an effort is being made to divert us from observing the thinness of the main theme.

Yet it is not a boring work to read. It is probably a better play for the study than for the theatre, for it lasts but an hour in the hand, while in the theatre it would certainly last two. It is written in what can best be called light verse. Of this Mr. MacDonagh makes a genuine virtue; he is both fluid and varied, and there are several passages which are vividly memorable:
There she goes, the door is shut,
Close your eyes and see her work,
She tests the blade, the dangerous slut,
A woman fit for Hare or Burke,
Opens Larry's waistcoat, coat,
Opens the shirt and then the vest
Feels the flesh still warm and soft
On her husband's hairy chest,
Reads the chart and marks the spot,
Puts the knife against the skin,
Closes her eyes and presses hard
Feeling the keen blade sinking in. . . .
That is fine. And, for what it is, Happy as Larry is very good; But what is it?

It is this: A group of six tailors on a forestage are discussing marriage. Their remarks are not without a little of that roguish near-bawdiness about the pleasures of two-in-a-bed-o'-winter-nights, a little of which goes a long way (or else not far enough, I am sometimes perplexed to know which). One of them begins to tell the story of his Grand-da, Larry, who had two wives and never decided which of them was good and which was bad. We move back (inset) to Larry, a lusty young husband who discovers a young widow lamenting in a churchyard. She has just buried her husband; on his deathbed he has made her promise not to marry again till the clay is dry on his grave. When we first see her, she is fanning the grave in order to help things along. (This is one of those actions that only an Irish writer would accuse an Irish character of performing.) Larry takes her off home for a cup of tea. His own wife is the victim of the attentions of a Rossinian doctor; she spurns them, until, unbeknownst, he poisons Larry; then, to the astonishment and horror of the neighbours who have come to the wake, she yields to him. Here the tailors take a hand in the action: They poison the doctor. Seamus, the doctor's accomplice, urges Mrs. Larry to extract some blood from Larry's heart and pump it into the doctor. This she sets about doing. At the touch of the knife, however, Larry comes, rather dazed, to life again. Mrs. Larry falls dead. The tailors explain to Larry what has happened; he abjures regular unions forever, and announces his intention of becoming a ruthless sexual terror to the neighbourhood. He is dissuaded from this course by the widow whom he has found drying her husband's grave. All ends happily, and the tailors, having successfully adjusted the past by their timely incursion, return to the present Curtain.

Is this a good story? Not very, I should say. Yet I have read the play twice, and do not think I have missed anything, except, possibly, the point. There is a good deal of briskness about the verse. The whole thing is the kind of thing one would happily put up with in an opera, for which, indeed, the play would provide an admirable libretto. Or, perhaps, the words might be cut entirely, and it might do very well as a ballet. In its present form, as it seems to an English reader, it is invincibly thin. Yet the English reader, cannot help feeling also, that perhaps he has missed something that an Irish reader would seize and applaud. Is the English reader being too Sophisticated? Or merely too naive?
With the entire run of The Bell at my fingertips, I was sure to double-check for notes on the contributors, and to scan backward and forward several issues for another contribution by Reed. I didn't find anything more that he had written, but I did find a very short review of A Map of Verona, from June, 1946. I'm saving that for the next post!

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1523. Reed, Henry. "Simenon's Saga." Review of Pedigree by Georges Simenon, translated by Robert Baldick. Sunday Telegraph (London), 12 August 1962, 7.
Reed calls Pedigree a work for the "very serious Simenon student only," and disagrees with the translator's choice to put the novel into the past tense.

Reed Reviews Henry Green

Henry Reed has been confused with Henry Green more than once, most recently by Julian Potter. While it's easy to see the confusion resulting from sound-alikes "Reed" and "Green," it's all the more ironic, considering Green is a nom de plume, and his given name was Henry Vincent Yorke.

Henry Green was born in 1905, to an aristocratic family in Gloucestershire, and published his first novel, Blindness, in 1926, while he was at Eton College. Green's second novel, Living (1929), was based on his working-class experiences in his family's factory in Birmingham, making brewery equipment and plumbing fixtures.

Henry Reed devoted a short section of his summation of wartime fiction, The Novel Since 1939 (1946), to Green, and says, "Each of Green's books sets him a new problem in literary manners; each of them is novel and fresh, and one is always set guessing at the announcement of a new one." Loving (1945) was Green's fifth and most popular novel, and as recently as 2005 was chosen for Time magazine's list of All-Time 100 Novels.

This review is from The New Statesman & Nation for May 5, 1945, and the text makes up the bulk of Green's portion from The Novel Since 1939.

Book cover

Loving. By Henry Green. Hogarth Press. 8s. 6d.
The Light in the Dust. By Willy Goldman. Grey Walls Press. 7s. 6d.
The Royal Game. By Stefan Zweig. Cassell. 7s. 6d.

Mr. Green's new novel begins "Once upon a day," and ends "happily ever after." Those are the phrases he uses. It is not, however, a fairy-story that he puts between them, even though there is a runaway marriage in the last sentence but one. It is not even a romantic world that he draws. His book is about loving: not love, not a simple noun, but a continuous, rather nagging present participle, or more probably a gerund. In Mr. Green's book this activity is carried on largely below stairs, and for one brief explosive scene above them, in a great castle in Ireland, where a rich widow, Mrs. Tennant, lives with her daughter-in-law, "Mrs. Jack," and her grandchildren; they are cared for by servants to the number of eleven. If is a world which existed four years ago, but which one now, rightly or wrongly, thinks of as nearing its vanishing-point. If one gets this impression from Mr. Green's book, it is not because Mr. Green forces it upon one; but the idea of an evanescent world seems implicitly stressed by the elopement of Raunce the butler and Edith the housemaid, who go away in the end, partly for the "lovely money" to be earned in England, but mainly because the castle will no longer contain their emotions.

A third of the way through the story, and superbly placed, occurs the incident which provides its core. Edith, herself in a state of unexpressed and unfulfilled loving, and with three people in a state of loving her, goes into Mrs. Jack's bedroom one morning and draws the curtains. The daylight illumines the bed, in which Mrs. Jack is discovered, nude, and with a lover. Edith almost faints, but manages to withdraw into the passage and to shut the door; outside it she meets Miss Burch, the head housemaid, and with difficulty explains what has happened

"In there," Edith added. She seemed at her last gasp.

"In where?" Miss Burch asked grim.

For two moments Edith struggled to get breath.

"A man," she said at last.

"God save us, a man," Miss Burch muttered, knocked and went straight through, shutting the door after. Edith leant against the table, the one that had naked cupids inlaid with precious woods on its top. She bent her head. She seemed afraid she might be sick. But when Miss Burch came out again as she did at once, Edith drew herself straight to hear the verdict.

"'E's puttin' 'is shirt on," was all Miss Burch said, shocked into dropping her aitches. Then she added as though truly broken-hearted,

"Come on away, my girl. Let 'im get off h'out."

It is round this bedroom scene that the book, at once comic and pathetic, revolves. In despondency and amazement, the scene is spoken of, retold, doubted, asserted, imagined, and talked, talked, talked about. It is the point on which are centred all the emotions of Edith and of the others who are loving her. But it is a point they never reach. This central incident has its parallel in Mr. Green's last novel, Caught, where the brief abduction of the child by a mad woman had the same importance. Caught was a more serious book than Loving is; but the new novel is more tightly and more successfully knit, and its characters are more brilliantly interwoven with one another. An emotional Black Hole of Calcutta is the theme of both books. The Black Hole of Calcutta is, we have sometimes been told, an imaginative exaggeration of some lesser evil that happened; and perhaps it never did happen. And perhaps no atmospheres in life are quite so concentrated as those of Mr. Green's Auxiliary Fire Service during its waiting period, and of his Irish castle during another waiting period; but a book demands such a concentration, and Loving achieves its necessary unity of atmosphere more certainly than the earlier novel did. The studied casualness with which Pye's suicide was told in Caught struck one as a mannerism, and one observed it as such at once. There is greater subtlety in Loving. It is not, for example, till after one realises precisely how some of the novel's furnishings have contributed to its total effect: the lifeless castle, the unromantic doves and peacocks, the vanishing ring—all of them the purposeful inverse of fairy-story magic.

The story is largely a series of dialogues, and this sets Mr. Green a particular problem: what is to be done with the surrounding narrative? The dialogue is mainly between servants, and the servants' world is always present, even in the few scenes above stairs. Mr. Green appears to have chosen to let the idiom of his human figures slip beyond the figures' outlines and mildly to invade the landscape and the furniture: as in painting, this is not a flaw, but a charm and an assurance. Everything in the book seems done reflectively and deliberately; and what in the first pages—as, doubtless, in the passage quoted above—cannot seem other than affectation, soon seems a necessity. There is no deviation into preciosity: Mr. Green avails himself of whatever vocabulary he needs. The style of the book has the effort of keeping one wholly alert. It is a most satisfying novel.

Perhaps to disguise a self-pity which would otherwise seem too gross to read about, Mr. Willy Goldman in his new book has adopted an old-fashioned framework. He presents his story in the form of a diary of a dead friend. It is principally about the horrible situation of a slum-born writer, about the shifts to which he has to put himself in order to write, and about the perversion of character which these produce. All this Mr. Goldman describes very well, and at its best The Light in the Dust recalls his powerful earlier book East End My Cradle. But Mr. Goldman seems at no point to realise how despicable his young author finally becomes. The book concerns first the young man in his working-class surroundings and later his contacts with a publisher and with two middle-class women. The publisher, drawn satirically, is brilliantly done, as is most of the first half of the book; but the women enlist our sympathy where they are apparently not intended to. Julia in particular does not seem to be the "psychologically uncompromising capitalist" in personal relationships that she is meant to be. And the hero himself would take some beating in his talent for exploitation; though the author appears unaware of this.

Mr. Goldman frequently writes with extraordinary ability, and clearly has all the gifts necessary for writing a first-class book; but he will not write it until the "strong personal quality," rightly remarked on by the blurb, has modified itself. He has had forced upon him by circumstances many horrors which most writers are fortunate enough to escape; they provide him with unquestionably important material; but it is doubtful if any novelist can survive so complete a lack of generosity towards other people as Mr. Goldman evinces.

The Royal Game is a long short-story about a chess-game; it is published together with two other novellen, one called Letter from an Unknown Woman, which employs the old-fangled device of the traveler's tale. All three stories are efficiently executed, and all three are super-charged with a deliberately calculated, artificial, nauseating emotionalism. Zweig was an inventive writer, but rarely can inventions have had so little significance; one wonders if even their author was taken in by them.
Henry Reed

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1522. Reed, Henry. "Hardy's Secret Self-Portrait." Review of The Life of Thomas Hardy, by Florence Emily Hardy. Sunday Telegraph (London), 25 March 1962, 6.
Reed says this disguised autobiography is a "ramshackle work," but is still "packed with a miscellany of information not available elsewhere, and readers who care for Hardy will find it everywhere endearing, engaging, and full of his characteristic humour."

Reed Reviews Mervyn Peake

I popped into the university bookstore this afternoon, specifically to pick up a copy of Titus Groan, which I've never read. I looked in Fiction & Literature: alas, no Groan. Science Fiction & Fantasy? None there, either. The bookstore, which is actually a Barnes & Noble branch, frequently disappoints, so. I even looked under "Groan," in case some hapless clerk had reversed title and author. They did have several fancy copies of Danielewski's House of Leaves, but after flipping through it I knew it wasn't going to be an appropriate substitute. So I ended up making another trip this evening, to the library, where I had several editions of Peake to choose from. At least until I can order a paperback online.

Henry Reed reviewed Titus Groan for his "New Novels" column in the May 4, 1946 issue of the New Statesman. This review is frequently quoted, because Reed says, "I do not think I have ever so much enjoyed a novel sent to me for review."

He is less enthusiastic—though still finds good things to say—about stories by William Sansom and Rosamond Lehmann, and Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. Roger Savage, incidentally, cites Nabokov's book as a possible influence for Reed's radio play, A Very Great Man Indeed (1953), since both works relate the entanglement of a biographer with his subject (p. 178).

Book cover

Titus Groan. By Mervyn Peake. Eyre and Spottiswoode. 15s.
Three. By William Sansom. Hogarth. 8s. 6d.
The Gipsy's Baby. By Rosamond Lehmann. Collins. 7s. 6d.
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. By Vladimir Nabokov. Poetry London. 8s. 6d.

In the face of Titus Groan I feel like a soldier who has sworn so much that he has no words left with which to describe the act of shame. I mean that I should like to describe the book as fascinating, but the semantic of the word has become so disgustingly eroded that it is inconceivable that it any longer conveys any meaning. I am therefore forced to say that Mr. Peake's first novel holds one with its glittering eye. It begins by saying: Part One: Gormenghast. No part two is discoverable throughout the entire length of the book (well over four hundred pages) and the hero is much younger than even Tristram Shandy by the time the book ends; he has in fact not spoken up to that point. The reader is left to anticipate further volumes. I hope they will come; I do not think I have ever so much enjoyed a novel sent to me for review.

The book, which is about the ancient family of Groan, who live in a vast castle in an unidentifiable landscape and at an unnamed time, is as nearly pure story-telling as any book I have read since childhood. I admit that every now and then I was uneasily conscious that by the contrast of the megalomaniac aristocrats and the hut-dwellers at their gates, a contemporary contrast might be adumbrated; and the internal struggle for power inside the castle itself might also "imply" something. But I shut these thoughts out as often as I could, and chide myself for being a victim of the intellectual inhibitions of my time. In any case even a Marxist might find so riotous an embellishment of his favourite themes a little frivolous.

The emphasis of the story lies principally in the machinations of the intelligent upstart, Steerpike, who escapes from the kitchens of Gormenghast and the domination of the loathesome cook, Swelter, and becomes the assistant of the castle doctor, Prunesquallor. He worms his way into the trust of the neglected twin sister of Lord Sepulchrave, and incites them to set fire to his lordship's library. Sepulchrave, "whose days are like a rook's nest with every twig a duty," leads a melancholic life, attending to a ritual traditionally planned for him, its origins lost in the mist of centuries; the fire accelerates his decline into insanity, and Titus, at the age of one, succeeds to the earldom. The book concludes with the ceremony of the "earling": a disturbing occasion for Titus's family and retainers, for Titus throws the sacred insignia into the lake on which the ceremony takes place, and turns his attention to the bastard infant daughter of Keda, a hut-dweller who has been his wet-nurse. On this provocative note the first instalment ends; I look forward eagerly to its later developments.

Titus Groan, though long and Gothically detailed, is not wayward; it has a genuine plot in the strictest sense, and it persuades you to read on simply in order to know what will happen; in spite of its setting, there is nothing particularly dream-like about it. Its gallery of characters is wonderful. The old nurse, Nannie Slagg, appears oftener than can easily be put up with, and the mysterious Keda, with her two lovers who kill each other, is not a success: she recalls, rather strongly, Meriam, the hired girl in Cold Comfort Farm; though her part in the action will doubtless later be revealed as indispensable. Otherwise the characters are a joy: Swelter, Flay, Prunesquallors, Steerpike, Barquentine, the Countess, and not least the thwarted and deluded twins, Cora and Clarice. ("I like roofs," said Clarice; "they are something I like more than most things because they are on top of the houses they cover, and Cora and I like being over the tops of things, because we love power, and that's why we are both fond of roofs.") The book is also remarkable for its gigantic set-pieces of action. Steerpike's daylong climb over the great roofscape of Gormenghast, and the final conflict of Flay and Swelter in the Hall of Spiders, are magnificently thrilling.

Mr. William Sansom's early story, The Wall, is one of the best pieces of writing the war has occasioned, and his other stories about the fire-service have a curious intensity, a kind of solid poetry, which is Mr. Sansom's own especial gift. There, his tendency to circle at great length round the same point becomes a virtue; elsewhere it is a dull, laborious vice, as in his Kafka fantasies and allegories. There is one of these fantasies in the present volume, called The Invited. It seems to me as dull and leaden as anything Mr. Sansom has written. He has abundant imagination and inventiveness, yet somehow he persists in muffling and distorting them; his stories uncoil themselves lethargically, and where one expects a tour de force, the tour de force doesn't appear. Fortunately, The Invited is preceded by two other stories. One of them is a fresh, clear and glittering anecdote of fire-service life, in which the statement is made, I hope truthfully, that it is legal to call out a fire brigade to get a cat down out of a tree. The other is a new and successful departure from Mr. Sansom's methods hitherto: a long reverie of a floor-cleaner in a French café, as she goes about her morning work. (It takes her from eleven to one to get the floor of the café done; and the café is moderately, or completely, full of people the whole time: we order these things better in England.) A story of small-town intrigue floats about above her head, and mingles with her memories and with her views of people's legs and of the floor which she is toiling her way across. Her sudden glimpses of the high-spots of the action are brilliantly done.

The Gipsy's Baby is a collection of five stories which have already appeared; taken separately, they are all rather slight, and it is clear that Miss Lehmann has no great interest in the short story as a form; together, they complement and light each other up, and they are executed with such grace and humour, such exquisitely exact observation, that one reads on through accounts of often trivial incidents, as Mr. Forster says he reads Jane Austen, with "the mouth open and the mind closed." The stories deal always with adult life seen though the eyes of a parent. Miss Lehmann has already shown what she can do with the first of these themes, on a larger and more serious scale (and with the same children) in The Ballad and the Source; the latter theme is, I think, new to her, and she imparts the vision with a curious astringent poignancy threaded through her fluent humour. In the first story she mentions E. Nesbit, the delightful author of The Treasure Seekers; Miss Lehmann herself shares E. Nesbit's gift of avoiding mushiness in presenting children; and of showing without evasion the dreadful and barley bridgeable gulf between children of different classes.

In The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, a novelist who comes to us with the blessing of Mr. Edmund Wilson, does what Mr. Maugham has done in one way or another several times already. he attempts to reconstruct the life of an imaginary famous artist, who has been misrepresented by another biographer. He collects material here and there, and unfolds his version with a cunning casualness. Unfortunately, neither Sebastian nor the other characters comes to life, and the amount of incident in the book is extraordinarily small. And though the outlines of Sebastian's books are engaging, the specimens of his prose which Mr. Nabokov is daring enough to show us do not suggest a great writer. Nevertheless there are good things in the book, among them the scenes where the writer tracks down Sebastian's last love; and one feels curiosity about Mr. Nabokov's other novels, several of which apparently exist in Russian.
Henry Reed

1521. Reed, Henry. "Leading a Dance." Review of Fokine: Memoirs of a Ballet Master, translated by Vitale Fokine. Sunday Telegraph (London), 26 November 1961, 6.
Reed finds Fokine's memoirs "very absorbing and intelligent."

Reed Reviews D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence died of tuberculosis in Vence, France, in 1930. Though he published two short novels before his death, Lady Chatterley's Lover was his last major work. Banned in the UK in 1928 for obscene language and explicit sexual content, Lawrence was forced to publish his book privately in Italy and France, in runs of less than 1,000 copies. Attempts at smuggling Lady Chatterley into the UK often resulted in the book being seized and burned, as seen in this 1932 customs ledger for the port of Dover.

In 1960, Penguin Books challenged a new obscenity law in Britain, finally publishing an unexpurgated edition. According to the Obscene Publications Act of 1959, a published work would not be considered obscene if it could be shown to have literary merit. On November 2, 1960, after a six-day trial (photos), a jury declared that Lady Chatterley's Lover was not obscence, Penguin was acquitted, and the book released, selling out all 200,000 copies on the first day.

Henry Reed reviewed the newly-published edition for the Listener's Book Chronicle on November 24, 1960 (p. 948):

Book cover
Lady Chatterley's Lover
    By D.H. Lawrence. Penguin. 3s. 6d.

An atmosphere of hysterical over-excitement is not one in which a book may be most profitably read—still less reviewed. I wonder how many people have in recent weeks read the pages of Lady Chatterley's Lover consecutively, starting at page 5 and ending at page 317? We have all, like the jury at the Old Bailey, been conjured rather to dip into it here and there. This is not what Lawrence wanted at all. He wanted us to read his story, which he meant to be a good one. I have read it twice recently, and straight through. It seemed to me richer and more moving the second time than the first; but my total impression seemed on both occasions the same. Here was the mature work of a great artist, a novel which for all its occasional lightness was seriously intended to touch the heart, which had been composed with great thoroughness, and which was, like most of Lawrence's more extended works, grounded in moral protest. If I had to say what that protest consisted of, I would say that in simplest terms it is the championship of good sexual relations against bad ones: warm-hearted sexuality against cynical and cold-hearted self-indulgence and exploitation. Asked to say as briefly as possible what happens in the book, I would say that it charts the progress of its two chief characters from the desolation and forlornness in which we find them—and to which they have been reduced by present and past adversity—towards a state which holds out a promise of hard-won happiness. I cannot put it otherwise.

Others, apparently, can. We are told in a letter to The Listener of November 17 that 'as several critics have been quick to point out, Mellors already had a wife, and Lady Chatterley seems to have had no compunction about breaking up that marriage, so long as she satisfied her own lusts (she wasn't chaste even before she married Chatterley), while she apparently had no pity for her unfortunate crippled husband. And Lawrence shows no interest in what have been the fate of any illegitimate children that might have been born'. This is all wrong: in fact, in implication, and in deduction. Mellors has been long parted from his wife, beyond possibility of reconciliation; when Connie meets him he is living in contemptuous chastity, and there is no question of her breaking up a relationship. To speak of her as satisfying her own 'lusts' (surely the simple singular would be pejorative enough?) seems to me to suggest that she is merely using Mellors as an instrument, or that she is suffering from temporary or permanent nymphomania. Neither is the case. Of 'pity for her unfortunate crippled husband', she has an abundance; she also has love for him. It is he who has no pity or love for her. This is the point from which the entire plot develops. 'The fate of any illegitimate children that might have been born' is said to evoke no interest from Lawrence. But is not this the chief element in the whole last third of the book? As for Connie's 'unchastity' before marriage, this is presented by Lawrence (with mocking approval) as mechanically characteristic of her class and upbringing; and indeed the sexual side of her solitary little teen-age affair is undertaken rather as a boring fashionable duty than anything else. It is not the onset of a sexual mania.

But that people can, at either first or second hand, get such odd ideas about what characters in a book are like, and about what happens to them, is probably some sign of a book's disturbing realness. (Hardy's Tess, it may be recalled, could once be thought of as a 'little harlot'.) And Lady Chatterley's Lover is real because it is art. Lawrence's great gifts are all here: his powers of construction, of subtly unfolding a complex narrative, the sureness with which he can change his tone from sober to satirical, from bitter to pathetic, from humorous to grave; above all, his incomparable way of capturing the quickly changing shifts of feeling as the inner world of his characters is acted upon by the outer. The book is not without faults; in more extensive comments one would have to probe them. At this particular point in history one's concern must be to clear the reputation of the book from gross falsification; and to urge that all who would speak about it, either in praise or blame, should dutifully address themselves to the task of reading it, from (I repeat) page 5 to 317.
Henry Reed

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1520. Reed, Henry. "Shocked into Life." Review of The Empty Canvas, by Alberto Moravia, translated by Angus Davidson. Sunday Telegraph (London), 19 November 1961, 7.
Of Moravia's most recent novel, Reed says "there is something unquestionably heroic about the whole enterprise."

Reed Reviews T.S. Eliot

Today we have something truly special: Henry Reed's review of Eliot's Four Quartets, from the December 9, 1944 issue of Time & Tide. The article is unsigned, but Reed is identified as the author the following month, in Notes & Queries ("Memorablia," 13 January 1945, p. 1).

Reed draws his title from the dedication of The Wasteland, in which Eliot calls Ezra Pound il migglio fabbro, "the better craftsman". Eliot lifted the phrase from Canto 26 of Dante's Purgatorio, wherein the Provençal troubadour Arnaut Daniel is named the best craftsman of the mother tongue.

Such high regard for Eliot's craftsmanship could almost be considered ironic, given that Reed won a 1941 New Statesman contest with "Chard Whitlow: Mr. Eliot's Sunday Evening Postscript," a parody which manages to blend the styles and mock the sentiment of both Burnt Norton and East Coker. (When East Coker was published in 1940, the first thing Reed did was post a copy to his former professor, Helen Gardner.) But Reed's skill for imitation only belies a deeper admiration, even worship. In fact, many of the reviewers of Reed's first volume of poetry, in 1946, would accuse him of being too indebted to Eliot.

Book cover

Il Miglior Fabbro
Four Quartets: T.S. Eliot. Faber. 6s.

it does not disquiet me that there are passages in these four poems that I still do not understand, for whenever I read them, as I do often, the wonderful varied power of the language they employ holds me completely a victim, and I do not mind the uncertainties. Nor does it distress me that the particular religious inflection which their author intends the poems to have comes from a religion which I no longer find myself trying to believe in; for even if the things which Eliot says were not also "true in a different sense", I think that the alternating gentleness and forcefulness of the voice that is speaking would completely suspend my disbelief. Perhaps it is the gentleness of the voice that is the real magic; the agonized gentleness which we do not hear since Tennyson, whom Eliot calls the saddest of English poets:
Calm is the morn without a sound,
      Calm as to suit a calmer grief;
      And only through the faded leaf
The chestnut pattering to the ground.
That, somehow, is a voice one can trust. So is this voice:
The brief sun flames the ice on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or
Stirs the dumb spirit.
After the exquisite language of these poems, whatever one tries to say by way of criticism or analysis sounds uncouth. One has also the feeling that one is slightly off the point, because they are poems which can be communicated only in their own words. But since they are difficult and elusive, it is necessary for a critic to say what he thinks they are about. Time is their theme. (That is not quite true, but it is as near as one will get.) They aim at discovering a means of facing time; at discovering an attitude towards time which shall be something different from a subservience to the passing of the years; at discovering a capacity for thinking of the present moment not as a bridge between past and future, but as a point in an eternal pattern. To conquer time we have only one weapon given us—time. And at this point one wonders if one would not do better to say the poems are about life rather than about time.

Eliot's examination, or quest, begins simply (so far as he is ever simple) and hesitantly in Burnt Norton with one particular "aspect" of time; the highest complexity and difficulty are reached in the second and third movements of The Dry Salvages; the problem is solved in Little Gidding. The over-all drama of the quest is stressed by the sequence of the four symbols, air, earth, water and fire, which the four poems suggest. The intensity of the poem increases from the quiet of Burnt Norton, through the disturbances of East Coker to the tumult of The Dry Salvages, and relaxes to a final tranquillity at the end of Little Gidding. In each of the separate poems (which all follow the same structural design) there is a separate drama of crescendo and diminuendo.

In Burnt Norton we are given a fairly easy exercise in perception: Eliot recalls to us that not uncommon moment when the common sequence of minute after minute seems suspended, when two kinds of consciousness seem to cross. This may happen in a variety of ways; perhaps Proust encountered the same thing when he tasted the madeleine; for Eliot, in this first poem, it is the coincidence of a vision of what is, and a vision of what might have been. What is, is a deserted garden and a drained pool; what might have been, is the shrubberies full of children's voices, and the pool filled with water. Both moments seem equally actual: the double moment of "actuality" is reality, a state we cannot bear for long; it is a moment quickly to be seized and quickly gone, a "hint" of a greater experience. That experience, we are told later, is the intersection of eternity and time at the Incarnation.

The opening of this first poem presents a way into the problem of time; the core of the rest of it is the effort to break free from—
       the enchainment of and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body.
East Coker is a study of the onset of age, and of the discovery that age, contrary to all the promises, brings neither wisdom nor the solution to our tragedies:
            We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm
                         .    .    .    .
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
In this poem the pattern as distinct from the sequence of life is once more emphasized; and in this pattern the dead also are involved. This is an advance from the moment in the garden in Burnt Norton. The poet desires:
              Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
In The Dry Salvages, the themes of eternity and death are announced. The climax of this poem is an echo, one gathers, of Krishna's words to Arjuna in the Gita; but it reminds us also of "Make perfect your will", and of "Take no thought for the harvest, but only of proper sowing." It is an admonishment—significant only to the religious man, perhaps, but not beyond the appreciation of others—to live each moment, regardless of past and future, as if it were the moment before death.
             O voyagers, O seamen,
You who come to port, and you whom bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.
The movement towards the faith of Christianity is already clear; and it becomes clearer still in Little Gidding. At the end of The Dry Salvages, we are told where our duty lies: in "prayer, observance, discipline, thought, and action." In Little Gidding we go to a place where "prayer has been valid", where the Holy Ghost has once descended to flame in men's hearts. In this poem the themes of the earlier poems are resumed and rounded off. We are left with the Christian choice: to be redeemed from the fire of hell by the flame of Pentecost. The fifth movement of this poem is a masterpiece of concentration; in it the poet reminds us, in a way that usually only the allusions of music can, of all he has had to say. Above all, he tells us that what he has to say is not anything new. He has already said in East Coker that all he can do in his poetry is to rediscover what has been found and lost before. That is all one will do in life itself, however, one goes about it.

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1519. Reed, Henry. "What the Master Kept Back." Review of Picasso's Picassos, photographed and introduced by David Douglas Duncan. Sunday Telegraph (London), 29 October 1961, 6.
Reed calls this book "much more than a retrospective" of unseen works by a master: this collection is "infinitely more touching, and possibly more absorbing."

Reed Reviews Evelyn Waugh

In scanning a full-text copy of Book Review Digest for 1946 at the Internet Archive, I noted several pieces of criticism by Henry Reed, including his rather famous review of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited for the New Statesman and Nation (23 June 1945, p. 408-409). Reed's review is often quoted by Waugh scholars as a piece of contemporary criticism, and was reprinted in Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage (Martin Stannard, ed. London: Routledge, 1984).

Book cover

Brideshead Revisited. By Evelyn Waugh. Chapman and Hall. 10s. 6d.
Household in Athens. By Glenway Wescott. Hamish Hamilton. 8s. 6d.
I Will be Good. By Hester W. Chapman. Secker and Warburg. 10s. 6d.

Serious implications have been present often enough in Mr. Evelyn Waugh's previous novels. The title of A Handful of Dust was significant; and certain excruciating moments in that book, as when the mother hears of her little boy's death, were threatening signs of a novelist whose powers were not easily to be ignored. Those powers find full expression in Brideshead Revisited, a novel flagrantly defective at times in theme and artistic sensibility, yet deeply moving in its theme and its design. It is as well to describe Waugh's faults at once; they recur constantly, both while one is reading him and while one is remembering him. They radiate almost wholly from an overpowering snobbishness: "How beautiful they are, the lordly ones," might well stand as an epigraph to Mr. Waugh's œuvre so far. A burden of respect for the peerage and for Eton, which those who belong to the former, or who hate been to the latter, seem able lightly to discard, weighs heavily upon him; and his satiric studies of the follies and cruelties of the posh have always been remarkable for the fact that their poshness has always seemed to the author more lovable than their silliness has seemed outrageous. It is a kind of snobbishness which finds one outlet in a special vulgarity of its own. There are several scenes in Brideshead Revisited where the narrator sets his own savoir faire against that of the lower characters—the scene in the Parisian restaurant with the colonial go-getter Rex, for example, or the pages satirising the transatlantic liner—and emerges as no less vulgar than his victims. It is as if a man should repeatedly point out to one that his bottom waistcoat-button is undone. This vulgarity goes very deep with Mr. Waugh; and it is not surprising that in embarking on his serious novel he should show an addiction to the purple.

The subjects of Brideshead Revisited are the inescapable watchfulness of God, and the contrast between the Christian (for Mr. Waugh, the Roman Catholic) sinner, and the other kind of sinner described in the cant term of our day as "pagan." Boldly, Mr. Waugh writes throughout from the point view of the pagan, which he, a convert to Roman Catholicism, has not forgotten; even more boldly he puts some of the most devout of Roman Catholicism among his least attractive characters. The book opens with a tale of romantic friendship at Oxford in the years following the first great war. Charles Ryder, the narrator, falls in love with Lord Sebastian Flyte, the beautiful son of Lord Marchmain; Marchmain himself, once a Catholic convert, is now an apostate; Sebastian is half-pagan. The Oxford passage, comic and romantic, is the most brilliant part of the book; nothing in the later part approaches it, save the last few pages of the story proper. The farce is of a high order; the picture of the narrator's father is a masterpiece of comedy; and the seeds of the later conflict are dextrously sown.

Sebastian is tormented by his mother, whom he cannot bear to be with. The mother is a mysterious and ambiguous figure, but not dissatisfying to the reader on that account. Sebastian's father has cut himself off from her and lives in Venice with a mistress. Like Sebastian, he flees from her, and it is perhaps not an over-interpretation to see here a suggestion that she represents some of the absolute exaction, difficult to face, of the Church. Symbolic or not, she is, in the story itself, patient, wonderful, cunning and unbearable; Sebastian cannot keep Ryder to himself and away from the family; and gradually he secedes from the relationship into drunkenness and vagabondage. Ten years later, Charles again meets Sebastian's sister, Julia, unhappily married to the barbarian Rex. The family charm works again, Charles falls in love with her, and is, in a curious phrase, "made free of her narrow loins" during a gale in mid-Atlantic. For two years their love survives happily; they are both about to be divorced in order to marry each other, when Julia feels "a twitch upon the thread"; she is reminded that she is living in a state of unchanging mortal sin, and cannot escape that consciousness; in the final pages, Charles is dismissed; we have already learned that Sebastian, far away in Morocco, has also felt the twitch upon the thread. The second part of the book falls far below the first; not only because for many pages we live in the dimensions of a gaudy novelette, enlivened, if at all, by the author's testiness at other people's bad taste, but because Julia is only a theme and not a person, whereas Sebastian has been both. Julia is alive only in her final speeches; and then simply because what she says is alive.

Underneath all the disfigurements, and never for long out of sight, there is in Brideshead Revisited a fine and brilliant book; its plan and a good deal of its execution are masterly, and it haunts one for days after one has read it. If one is reminded of François Mauriac it is not because Mr. Waugh's book is derivative, but for two other reasons. One remembers how much M. Mauriac can take for granted in his audience: Christian or agnostic, it knows what Catholicism is about. Mr. Waugh is in the far more difficult position of writing to an audience which in general is without that knowledge; he acquits himself convincingly, even to the pagan reader. Secondly, M. Mauriac reminds one of a lack in Mr. Waugh, for the great French novelist has sympathy with, and love for, the actual emotions of human beings. This sympathy and love are things no novelist can get along without; they are things which Mr. Waugh is still in the process of acquiring or reacquiring. A hard task; for they do not always survive religious conversion.

Household in Athens, Mr. Glenway Wescott's new book, is unusual among war-novels. Shock-tactics of technique, hysteria, over-loaded local colour, eager, unscrupulous cashing-in on the disasters of others: these are absent. It is not merely the intelligence and the watchful eye that have been engaged here. The heart is a dangerous necessity to the novelist; but it is, after all, his usual starting-point, however far away he gets from it. It is the first way of access which the author has to his characters. Mr. Wescott feels as deeply about his Greek family under the German occupation as the peace-time novelist feels about the creatures who build themselves up in his imagination and demand release. His four Greeks are thoroughly envisaged, the complexity of their plight, the slow, day-to-day horror, the mental dissolution and metamorphosis, the fantastic tricks played upon the mind bv physical decay, are desscribed with a realism of great calmness and strength. There is no local colour—a great relief. The Acropolis rises before us for a moment, but not for that purpose. There are no atrocities. It is a novel which explores its territory with great sincerity; it is a deliberately restricted territory, but there are moments when Mrs. Helianos's struggle with despair reaches out beyond the historical situation which provokes it. It is a profoundly moving book.

I Will be Good promises at first sight, and in its opening pages, to be a well-written, leisurely, escapist, comic novel; but into it one fails to escape. Nor is one meant to, though it might be possible to read the book as a romantic historical novel of immoral high-life in France in the eighteen-sixties, differing from others only by an unusual twist of fantasy. In point of fact, it has an almost Jamesian "idea" provoking it: a successful English lady novelist comes to live with a French family whom she well-meaningly, but insidiously and disastrously, persuades to behave like characters in one of her own romances. It is part of the great cleverness of the book that one is made to conjecture for oneself—and accurately, one believes—how the characters would have behaved if left to their real life. One knows, every time a wrong turning is taken, what the right alternative would have been. Between the amusing opening chapters and the beginning of the mischief there is an hiatus where one is out of step with the author's intention; as soon as this intention is clear the book is completely entertaining.
Henry Reed

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1518. Reed, Henry. "Ageing Passions." Review of The Complete Poems of Michelangelo, translated by Joseph Tusiana. Sunday Telegraph (London), 11 June 1961, 7.
Reed feels that Professor Tusiani's translations have "merely produced page after page of lifeless verse, often unscannable, and stuffed with many images and fantasies of his own."

Reed Reviews Edwin Honig

Henry Reed reviewed Edwin Honig's biography of Federico García Lorca for the December, 1945 New English Review. Unfortunately, as you can tell from his opening paragraph, Reed was painfully discouraged with the book: 'very badly written,' 'overburdened with detail,' 'hard going for the reader,' and 'exhausting and baffling' are not the least of his disappointments, and one wonders why he bothered to read the entire thing. Such are the wages of the literary critic.

Garcia Lorca

Garcia Lorca. By Edwin Honig. Poetry, London. 7s. 6d.

Federico García Lorca was assassinated by soldiers of General Franco's army shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. There was no excuse for the crime, and none has ever been offered. Lorca's only claim to offence is that he was a poet admired by intellectuals and loved by the general public. He had no violent political allegiances, and the fact that he had expressed no warmth of feeling for the Falange could not, even by the Falangists themselves, be regarded as an eccentricity. He has become a symbol of what suffers under the guilty self-righteousness of Fascism, and it is right that he should remain so. At the same time it is possible to wonder if his tragedy is not being overplayed, and if we are not self-indulgently identifying ourselves rather often with the poet and his deplorable fate. Mr. Edwin Honig is aware of these possibilities. His study of Lorca is very badly written; it is overburdened with detail; his potted history of Lorca's literary antecedents is hard going for the reader; his analysis of the action of Lorca's early play Asi Que Pasen Cinco Años [When Five Years Pass] must rank among the most exhausting and baffling pieces of expository criticism ever written; but at all events he does endeavour to remain alive to the dangers of martyrolatry and untempered prose.

It must therefore seem ungrateful to suggest that at the moment Mr. Honig is yet another of those critics who insist on getting in the way. The works by which we could most fairly be expected to judge Lorca have not yet been published in translation in this country, and so far all we have is a small number of selected lyrics and his remarkable Lament for Ignacio Sânchez Mejías (we still for some reason try in this country to to be outraged by bullfighting). These have been accompanied by a mass of eulogy; it has even been suggested that as a poet Lorca is comparable in importance with Eliot, Rilke, and Yeats. To be a poet on their levels, and to be of interest outside your own country, you must have a quality of subject-matter, of things said, which is at least moderately apprehensible in translation. Rilke has this; and so far as we can yet tell, Lorca has not.

Mr. Honig says of him in his concluding chapter: "His drama celebrates the life of instinct; which is to say, it does not come bearing a message. It comes in the ancient spirit of the magician and soothsayer—to astound, to entertain, and to mystify; it also comes in the spirit of the jongleur, to invent a world and people with whose pathetically valorous lives the audience is quick to identify itself." Mr. Honig appears to discern no limitations in this, and like many critics he seems to over-value the element of popular song in Lorca. But this fact seems as much a drawback as an advantage, so far as one may dimply see. There is no inherent advantage in staying in the ballad-period of your literary history. Lorca was a pianist and composer; and a practical knowledge of music may be of great help to a poet. But Spanish music, as "vital", impressive, and immediately attractive as any music, is at the same time extremely limited in character. (Of all prominent contemporary composers, de Falla is the least profound.) Few readers can fail to be delighted by the flashing succession of images in Lorca's poetry and by their daring dérèglement; but it is idle to pretend that it is more than a minor form of poetry.

With Lorca's dramas it is doubtless a different matter. But hitherto, for the English reader, criticism has preceded demonstration. Mr. Honig's book is one more preliminary announcement; he gives us detailed accounts of the plays, including the puppet and surrealist plays, and like Señor Barea a year ago he piques our curiousity about Bodas de Sangre [Blood Wedding] and Yerma; but he has not the acute critical power which will sometimes convince without a full text. Above all, Mr. Honig has little new knowledge about the poet himself to give us; it is surely rather tantalising to hint at a major unhappiness of a personal kind if you are unable to give any details of it; nor does he offer any suggestions as to why the theme of two of Lorca's principal dramatic works is sexual sterility, though no thoughtful reader can avoid being impressed by this fact. It is discouraging to record that as a whole the book really adds very little to the impression given by Señor Barea's sympathetic and charming drawing of Lorca in the nude.
Henry Reed
I will have to stop by the main library this evening, and poke about the Lorca aisle, and see if I might turn up Barea's 'sympathetic and charming drawing of Lorca'.

1517. Reed, Henry. "Maigret's Master." Reviews of Maigret in Court, and The Premier, by Georges Simenon. Sunday Telegraph (London), 14 May 1961, 7.
Reed finds the translation of Simenon's The Premiere "fortunate," but not so for Maigret in Court, which is "crude" at best.

Encyclopedic Reed

Last week I was wondering about a perplexing snippet in Google Books, which implied that Reed had contributed to some unknown anthology, or collaborated on a larger work. I had a bit of a brainwave regarding keywords the next day, and managed to reverse engineer my way to the missing text (the secret phrase was "edited by"). The review in the Bookseller reads:

The Concise Enclyclopædia of Modern World Literature (50s.), edited by Geoffrey Grigson, which includes more than 300 articles on individual authors, and—to place them in their wider setting—articles describing the development of the major national literatures and characteristic literary forms of our time...[.]

The contributors... were asked 'to write about what they had enjoyed, communicating their enjoyment without escaping into superlatives'. There is a complete author/title index, and general bibliographies. There are 16 pages of colour plates, 160 in half-tone.

The London edition being prohibitively distant, I settled for a copy of the American edition of Grigson's Encyclopedia (New York: Hawthorn, 1963), just a short drive away, at a local public library:



It's a beautiful book. Or, at least, it was beautiful in 1963. The reference copy I looked at had been ridden hard: the binding was torn and held together with book tape; the pages brittle and split on some edges. But the endsheets were still bright and colorful, and the entries lavishly illustrated (for an encyclopedia) with photographs, some of which I had never seen, including a picture of Louis MacNeice attending Dylan Thomas' funeral. Some thoughtful cataloger had even pasted the original front and back flaps of the missing dust jacket inside the front cover.

In his editor's Introduction, Grigson explains his instructions to the contributors:

Some writers — or some individual books — need rescuing from what is almost or entirely oblivion. Some have escaped attention because they are not easy to categorize.

Bearing this in mind that 'literature' is not really so common, in spite of publisher's advertisements, contributors to this volume were asked to write about what they enjoyed, they were asked to communicate, in a level way, their enjoyment; and to avoid, in doing so, both superlatives and the various ways of evading literature. One way of our time is historical, so they were asked not to indulge in chatter about trends, influences, schools, traditions. They were asked for sensible dogmatism — at any rate, for the unequivocal statement, and (where space allowed) for quotation — i.e., some part of the substance of what they were writing about. Another way of evasion is biographical. They were asked to concentrate on the books of each author, not on his life (though a biographical fact may be relevant, Yeats, for example dreaming of Bernard Shaw as a sewing machine which smiled and smiled). Even then, contributors were asked to concentrate on the books which mattered, instead of giving the neutral itemized survey which you might expect from a conventional encyclopedia.
(p. 11)

(Yeats apparently had some difficulty digesting Shaw's Arms and the Man [1894]: 'Presently I had a nightmare that I was haunted by a sewing-machine, that clicked and shone, but the incredible thing was that the machine smiled, smiled perpetually.')

Alas, although there is a full list of all the contributors at the front of the volume—and biographical notes on them at the back—the articles in the encyclopedia are not signed. So we must take Grigson's instructions to heart, and ask ourselves, "Whom did Henry Reed enjoy? Who was Reed uniquely suited to concentrate on and communicate about?"

I made copies of the most likely suspects: Ugo Betti, almost certainly; Thomas Hardy, unequivocally; Montale and Montherlant, possibly; Pirandello? Maybe.

Update: After looking at my scans (linked above), Ed (of I Witness) feels strongly that the Hardy article is not Reed's (and I must reluctantly agree). But Ed thinks that the Betti is a possibility, and Montale, likely. Thanks, Ed!

«  Library Reviews  0  »

1516. Reed, Henry. "Ego in Flight." Review of Saint-Exupéry, by Marcel Migeo. Sunday Telegraph (London), 26 March 1961, 6.
Reed describes Migeo's biography of "Saint-Ex" as "authoritative" but "unorganized."

Reed Reviews Elizabeth Bowen

This review comes from the New Statesman and Nation for November 3, 1945 (p. 302-303). Reed devotes most of his time and effort to reviewing Bowen's The Demon Lover and Other Stories, which apparently he thoroughly enjoyed. Reed was friends with Bowen, and would later spend two weeks holiday with her at her ancestral home in Ireland in April, 1946 (map).

The Demon Lover and Other Stories, by Elizabeth Bowen

New Fiction
The Demon Lover. By Elizabeth Bowen Cape. 7s 6d
To the Boating. By Inez Holden Bodley Head. 7s 6d
First Impressions. By Isobel Strachey Cape. 7s 6d

It is not an accident that in her little book on the English novelists [English Novelists. London: William Collins, 1942] Miss Elizabeth Bowen should have written so well of Thomas Hardy and Henry James. Hardy, it will be remembered, thought poorly of The Reverberator, James not altogether well of Tess of the d'Urbervilles; and the two giants had little in common except their occasional dependence on a hard centre of melodrama—cruder, surprisingly enough, in James than in Hardy. Miss Bowen has something in common with both of them, though she manages to avoid their improbabilities, and she has enough of the true radiance of art to justify one's mentioning them. She shares Hardy's love of architectonics and of atmosphere: what Hardy will make of a woodland, heath, or starve-acre farm, she will make of a house or a summer night; and so far as persons go, I think the creator of Tess and Eustacia would have admired the drawing of Portia and Anna in Miss Bowen's The Death of the Heart. And she shares with Henry James a love of seeing how a story can be persuaded to present problems of artistry in the presentation of the "point of view"; and a curiosity (it is not the same as belief) about the supernatural and about the ambiguous territory between the supernatural and the natural. She has not James's sense of "the black and merciless things that are behind great possessions." Evil itself does not intrude on her world. It is not evil, but experience (they are not dissimilar, perhaps, but they are not the same) that corrodes the innocent people at the core of her books.

In her new collection of stories it is frequently obvious that she shares James's preoccupation with style; she has that kind of exact awareness of all she wishes to say, which makes her know precisely where a sentence needs to be a little distorted, or where an unusual word needs to be used. She has as well that gift which prose can share with poetry: the ability to concentrate the emotions of a scene, or a sequence of thoughts, or even a moral, into an unforgettable sentence or phrase with a beauty of expression extra to the sense:
The newly-arrived clock, chopping off each second to fall and perish, recalled how many seconds had gone to make up her years, how many of these had been either null or bitter, how many had been void before the void claimed them.
Or again, about the present day:
He thought, with nothing left but our brute courage, we shall be nothing but brutes.
Her short stories possess the qualities of her novels, but inevitably the atmosphere in her short stories is richer and more concentrated. The more elaborate of them suggest the climaxes of the elements of novels, but in a necessarily muted or diminished form; it is their atmosphere which moulds them, and which at times perhaps even brings them into existence. A perfect example of this is the first story in the book, "In the Square." Little happens in it, but enough strands are gathered together to give a sense of tension, climax and relief. And the relief is achieved mainly by atmospheric means. The story is about a few people living on in a partially bombed house in a ravaged London square. The principal feeling one has about them is their terrible independence of each other; all of them have mysterious, irregular relationships, unhappy and furtive. One has a feeling that what remains in the house, that reluctant proximity of the unconnected, is not what a house is meant to enclose. This is what war has done: to houses, to people. It is a true enough observation; but what startles one is the fact that one suddenly becomes aware that the early evening is spectacularly merging into late; the time of day is changing and a shift inthe emotions of all the characters is coinciding with this. A mere observation has become a story quivering with subtle, dramatic life.

The war, and the subtly degrading effect of the war, hold these stories together as a collection. They have a great variety and many attractions. One thinks particularly of their comedy and their dialogue; the story called "Careless Talk" is a brilliantly literal interpretation of that official phrase; "Mysterious Kôr" has a wonderful conversation draped round evocations from a poem by—Rider Haggard; the woman in "Ivy Gripped the Steps" is a strong enough figure for a novel. But it is probably those stories which involve the supernatural that are most striking. "The Demon Lover" itself, a ghost story of the traditional kind, is horrible enough, though not of Miss Bowen's best. In some of the others—"Pink May" and "The Inherited Clock," for example—the ghostliness is blown into existence by, or from, something real; and always, even when the boundary into the abnormal is passed, the normal still accompanies us.

The finest story in the book, and the most ambitious, is called "The Happy Autumn Fields." It begins in the past—perhaps seventy or eighty years ago. Various members of a large family are taking a late afternoon walk across the fields of their estate; at a moment of particularly painful emotion for one of the characters, Sarah, the story breaks off, and we are switched to the present: to a partly bombed house where a woman called Mary is waking from the scene we have just read about; it is not the first dream about the epoch she has had, though her real link with it is tenuous; nevertheless her dream has become obsessive, stronger and more attractive than her own life. The scene changes to the old family again, and we find that that afternoon in the fields Sarah had a black-out which has projected her for a moment into a world nameless and horrible—our own, we gather. The final scene is back in the bombed house, with Mary sorrowing over the irrecoverable day from the past which has blown into and out of her life:
I am left with a fragment torn out of a day, a day I don't even know where or when; and now how am I to help laying that like a pattern against the poor stuff of everything else?—Alternatively, I am a person drained by a dream. I cannot forget the climate of those hours. Or life at that pitch, eventful—not happy, no, but strung like a harp....'
It is, like "The Turn of the Screw," a story which provokes interpretation and commentary; but since it is, in a serious sense, a discovery, there remains about it something of its own, at once inexplicable and profoundly satisfying. No living writer has, I think, produced a finer collection of stories than this.

Miss Inez Holden is well known for her skilful reporting of factory life. To the Boating is offered as a collection of short stories. But in most of them the bridge between reporting and art has not been crossed. in the first story, "Musical Chairman," there is an excellent account of a series of pathetic and amusing interviews between the Chairman of a Local Appeal Board and various people who are rebelling against the Essential Work Orders. But the fancy bits of stroy-telling in which Miss Holden has arbitrarily framed these scenes are so artificially stuck on that they have not been blown away in the proof-reading. It is a drab collection of oddments that Miss Holden has put together. And she shows, furthermore, a taste for drabness for its own sake. The book concludes with three fanciful little satires: presumably in order to deaden any excitement which these might arouse in the reader, Miss Holden has chosen to swathe them in the grey, vague mists of Basic English.

The habit, common enough in contemporary poets, of publishing work of an elementary or even infantile nature, is spreading to writers of fiction. Shown to one in manuscript, Miss Holden's stories and Mrs. Strachey's novel, First Impressions, might reveal promise; one would note passages of humour or observation. Why, then, does one pass over these when the books appear in print? Doubtless because the books challenge comparison with the early work of writers who seem to have tested themselves more rigorously and more critically before emerging into print. Amateurish is the deplorable word that one cannot avoid in mentioning Mrs. Strachey's novel. It is supposedly a satire on the leisured life of the Twenties. Possibly Mrs. Strachey has seen that life, but there is nothing in this rambling, unformed little book that could not have been got from many other social satire. Bad syntax and petty indecency are no substitute for the slickness of wit which some satirists achieve in their first books, and which it is hard for a satirist to do without. And the title of Mrs. Strachey's book goes no way to excuse its muddle.
Henry Reed

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1515. May, Derwent. "Reed's Map." Sunday Telegraph (London), 14 December 1986, 20.
Derwent May, former editor at the Listener, reminisces about Henry Reed, shortly after his death in 1986.

Reed Reviews V.S. Naipaul

I'm thinking of adding a feature to the blog: "Reed Reviews." From time to time I'll reproduce a book review written by Henry Reed. I've collected a forest of Reed's criticism, and most of it is just sitting in my living room, of little use to anyone. And, since I've been lamenting of my meager bookshelf over on LibraryThing, I'll start adding those books which Reed reviewed to their own set.

I was surprised to find this review of V.S. Naipaul's Area of Darkness this past week. First of all, it's later than most of Reed's critical work, from 1964. Secondly, it's from The Spectator; the only piece which Reed wrote for them, as far as I know. I turned it up in a bibliography of Naipaul's work.

Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (1932- ) is a native Trinidadian who has spent most of his life living in England. During the 1960s, he began visiting his ancestral country of India, and the resulting travelogue, An Area of Darkness, is considered a stark and unflinching look at the social problems afflicting India at that time. Here is Henry Reed's review of Area of Darkness, "Passage to India" Spectator, 2 October 1964, 452-53 (.pdf). V.S. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

Book cover

Passage to India
An Area of Darkness. By V.S. Naipaul. (Deutsch, 25s.)

Mr. Naipaul does not mention the most interesting thing about his first, and possibly last, visit to India. It may, indeed, easily escape attention. I refer to the fact that his last novel, Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion, is dated 'Srinagar, 1962.' From this one gathers that in the middle of a sojourn in the country of his remoter origins, obsessed by a desolation and despair that will not everywhere command sympathy (though my own sympathy with Mr. Naipaul is, for what it is worth, complete), the author managed to clear for himself a small area in the all-pervading mess and confusion, and to impose thereon a precarious stability in which he could work. This he obtained by shouting, threats, and a bullying insistence that promises must be fulfilled. He had chosen to stay and work in a ramshackle houseboat-hotel on the shore of a Kashmir lake. Here, in exotic surroundings, wildly insecure in every personal contact, Mr. Naipaul seems to have written his story of the over-ordered, logical life of Mr. Stone, a middle-class Englishman, whose own order and certainty are beginning to disintegrate before the onset of age. There is something almost sublime in the thought of a writer, surrounded by one form of madness, sitting down and describing another: perhaps the aim, conscious or unconscious, was to avoid yet a third, himself.

This long middle section in Mr. Naipaul's book is beautifully done: the personnel at the hotel have much of the comic vividness and completeness of the characters in The Mystic Masseur. But there is no farcical exaggeration, and the passage is not detachable from the rest of the book. Almost certainly it is these pages, together with the grimly fantastic prelude at the customs house with which the book opens, that Mr. Naipaul's regular readers will find most to their liking. He is a genuine artist: he has acquired a surreptitious love for his subject before he can laugh at it.

Alas, he found very little to love in India, and therefore little to be comic about; and he is, I conjecture, too honest a man and too good an artist to try and manipulate what he hated into anything more than plain statement. The power of his book as a whole lies in something that is usually absent from accounts of India: an avoidance of rhetoric. Mr. Naipaul records, candidly and ruthlessly, what he hated there, and what it made him hate in himself—his reactions of near-hysteria, disgust and panic; and above all, perhaps, his guilt at an incapacity for charity, a guilt which his recognition of a genuine Indian sweetness of disposition and behavior could only agonisingly redouble.

How much he was prepared for such reactions it is impossible to say. In the event, he found India horrible in its present state; and he could see no apparent hope for its future. To him the whole place was desperate, flaccid, incoherent, muddled, discontinuous, and physically sickening. His pictures of India are too many and too complex for brief recapitulation; but it would be an affectation to avoid mentioning that the book reverts again and again to a fact he is bluntly explicit about: the bland Indian habit of public defecation. This simple fundamental Scheissmotiv is always booming up from Mr. Naipaul's orchestra. He seems to see it (and I recall similar feelings, more fastidiously expressed, in Forster's preface to Anand's Untouchable) as the basis of Indian life. But he is convinced that its importance and danger and nastiness cannot be impressed on a country whose main character-trait is a capacity for manic denial.

Mr. Naipaul's conclusion (a depressing comment, not an invitation) is that 'India, it seems, will never cease to require the arbitration of a conqueror.' This remark, in itself no more than a bitter parenthesis, will doubtless give great offense. It will doubtless be construed as an approval of whatever ideas China or Russia may entertain about India's future. It is, of course, nothing of the kind: any more than it implies approval of the British Raj, whose sole residual effect, according to Mr. Naipaul, is to have posthumously created, among wealthy business-class Indians, a grotesque charade-like life where everyone plays at being super-English, the men calling each other Andy and Bunny, the women anxiously clutching their copies of the Daily Mirror and Woman's Own.

Mr. Naipaul will be attacked for the things he says. He will no doubt be trounced, vindicated, and trounced again. Perhaps he will even be proved factually wrong. That would be good, and would matter. But at least he will have contributed with passion and sincerity to an important and sometime somnolent debate. That, too, matters. And to whom it may concern, this book also exposes that deep, reasonable, non-psychotic sadness from which comedy must find its way up and out: in this book we can glimpse a notable artist making (or having made for him) that harrowing choice between the sorry thing that can just be laughed at and those that can only be wept at.
henry reed
You can read more of Henry Reed's book reviews by following the "Reviews" tag, below.

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1514. Radio Times, "The Strawberry Ice," 18 January 1973, 43.
Billing for Natalia Ginzburg's "The Strawberry Ice," broadcast on Radio 4 at 3:00 pm, January 24, 1973.

Alun Lewis Re-Collected

A recent review in The Guardian of the re-issue of Alun Lewis' Collected Poems (Amazon UK) asks the questions, 'Can the work live up to the promise of the life's sad, dark glamour? Or must Lewis be left to lie with those he styled "the quiet dead"?'

Book cover

Lewis died in 1944, quietly and apparently unobserved, under somewhat mysterious circumstances while stationed in Burma, leaving behind a legacy of poems and short stories. From the publisher's synopsis:

Alun Lewis is acknowledged as one of the best British writers of World War II. The impact of his poetry on the wartime audience was immediate: his two books of verse and a volume of stories went through several printings. This collection brings together his uncollected poems, as well as his books, Raider's Dawn and Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets. The range of his concerns, his ability to respond to his situation, the exciting use of language and imagery marked him out, in the words of Dannie Abse, as an 'authentic, inventive literary talent.' This is the third volume in a uniform edition of his writings. His wartime Letters to my Wife (1989) and Collected Stories (1991) are also available.

I often visit The Alun Lewis Page (uses frames!) when I need to re-read one of Lewis' poems, or place him into a context with Reed and other poets of the Second World War. It's a pity there aren't more such celebratory websites put together by fans of poets like Roy Fuller, Sidney Keyes, or Keith Douglas. Channel 4 does have a nice biography of Lewis in their Soldier Poets microsite.

It would appear that the 2007 edition of Lewis' Collected Poems has already become unavailable on Amazon, but a quick AbeBooks search turns up not only that volume, but his Stories and Letters to My Wife, as well.

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1513. Hodge, Alan. "Thunder on the Right." Tribune (London), 14 June 1946, 15.
Hodge finds 'dry charm as well as quiet wit' in "Judging Distances," but overall feels Reed is 'diffuse and not sufficiently accomplished.'

Elizabeth Bowen in Rome

I have surely spent too much time in the library today. But it has been time well spent. In preparation for traveling to the libraries at Duke University next month, I have been attempting to make a list of everything I need to complete my collection of Reed's writings, mostly book reviews and poems published in The Listener and New Statesman in the '30s and '40s. I've started with last year's Most Wanted poster, crossing off anything I've since managed to obtain. Progress has been slow, apparently.

Sitting here in the icy-cold undergraduate library, however, I noticed there were at least two items on my list within cat-swinging distance. One was a 1948 book review of The New British Poets, which only mentions Reed lumped along with Patrick Evans, G.S. Fraser, Wrey Gardiner, Sean Jennett, Vernon Watkins, and Laurie Lee. (Also, I may be the only person in town who actually bothers to pay for their microfilm photocopies, judging by the poor, flustered students working the Circulation Desk.)

The second, however, was a review of Elizabeth Bowen's A Time in Rome (1960), critiqued by the consummate Italophile himself, Henry Reed.

From Gardens of Rome

The photograph above is from Gardens of Rome, by Gabriel Faure (1960). Here's a more recent shot (Flickr) from (almost) the same perspective. The "Pinacoteca" is the Vatican art museum.

The review appears in The Listener from January 12, 1961, and is entitled "Rome: 'Time's Central City'" (.pdf). Reed seems to have thoroughly enjoyed it. He may have been slightly biased owing to his friendship with Bowen, but when it came to Italy, I don't believe Reed would have pulled any punches. When have you ever seen such dexterity with a semi-colon?

[A Time in Rome] is the exact antithesis of most travel books. It is magnificently unillustrated, for one thing; for another, its author is explicitly anxious not to be of help to any other visitor. It is essentially a book to be read away from Rome, not in it. It has further negative virtues; there is nothing about the unremitting winsomeness of the natives; there are none of those maudlin conversation-pieces with which even the sincerest are wont to bedizen their reminiscences; and none of the authoritative inclusiveness of the dug-in expatriate ('Gino smiled, as no one outside Florence knows how to smile: and all Florentines of course have perfect teeth'). Miss Bowen sees selectively, and with adequate passion; she is not an indiscriminate watcher; she is not a camera (nor, in point of fact, was Mr. Isherwood). If she tells you anything about Rome, she gives you a recognizable part of herself with it...[.]

'Gradually,' Reed says later, 'one begins to see that this book, like all Miss Bowen's work, is about a form of love.' At no point does he take to task any of Bowen's ideas or findings about Rome. Indeed, her Rome, he says, 'is perfectly created, and separate now from the city itself.'

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1512. Reed, Henry. "The Case for Maigret." Reviews of Maigret Hesitates and The Man on the Bench in the Barn, by Georges Simenon. Sunday Times (London), 2 August 1970: 22.
Reed reviews two translations of George Simenon's fiction.

Always to the Swift

Todd Swift of EYEWEAR reviews The Observer's new poetry section, which kicked off yesterday with 'three white, male poets - one dead, one middle-aged, and one slightly older than that': Henry Reed, John Burnside, and Hugo Williams.

[H]ow about a little balance? It might have been fun to have a poem by one of the younger, rising stars of British poetry - Luke Kennard, Daljit Nagra, Katy-Evans Bush, say - or mention of one of the many fine established women poets currently working in the UK. Instead, the page rather solemnly establishes an establishment feel. . . and a feel that experimental, different, edgy, or more radical poetic efforts will not be looked at.

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1511. William Phillips, and Philip Rahv, eds. New Partisan Reader: 1945-1953 London: Andre Deutsch, 1953. 164-171.
Collects Reed's poem, "The Door and the Window," published in the Partisan Review in 1947.

Poetry in War-Time: The Younger Poets

Last month, I promised I would return with the second of Henry Reed's essays for The Listener on English poetry during the Second World War. The first, "Poetry in War-Time: I—The Older Poets," concerned the work of Edwin Muir, Louis MacNeice, and C. Day-Lewis.

Cover of The Listener

The second article, "Poetry in War-Time: II—The Younger Poets" (.pdf), appeared in The Listener on January 25, 1945. Reed opens with the argument that the younger poets writing during the war were most influenced by Dylan Thomas and W.H. Auden (some to their benefit, others to their detriment). There's a very funny bit wherein Reed lists the styles which were perfected by Auden and then imitated by young up-and-coming poets: the 'Famous Names poem'; the 'Bird's-Eye View of Europe poem'; the 'Evil Implicit in Our Age poem'; the 'Week-End Trip poem'; and the 'Post-Coital Insomnia poem'. We can forgive Reed for this statement if only because, while he was heavily influenced by Auden, he preferred to write like Eliot.

The voices of many of these promising poets were 'drowned in the sea of stylisation' during the latter part of the war, but Reed heard at least four rising above the crashing surf, beginning with W.R. Rodgers:

The first new poet successfully to emerge was the original and delightful W.R. Rodgers, whose volume Awake! created a sensation in 1941. He is particularly valuable for this brief survey, since he has given some account of his development. 'I was schooled', he says, 'in a backwater of literature out of sight of the running stream of contemporary verse. Some murmurs of course I heard, but I was singularly ignorant of its extent and character. It was in the late '30s that I came to contemporary poetry, and I no longer stood dumb in the tied shops of speech or felt stifled in the stale air of convention'. His remarkable poem 'Summer Holidays ' survives as one of the best long poems of the war. It is full of brilliance and gusto, wit and irony. Rodgers is a poet fond of alliteration and whimsical assonance: he loves words to set him problems, and he likes skirmishing with alliteration on awkward sounds like 'k' and 'j'; and he succeeds amazingly. Words tantalise him as they did Joyce. He is not a sentimental poet and this enables him to guy poets like Hopkins and Auden, who have loosened his tongue. He has quietened, and deepened, since the publication of his book; his poem 'Christ Walking on the Water' is wonderful in its imaginative and verbal resource (p. 100).

Reed continues later with assessments of David Gascoyne, Vernon Watkins, and Alun Lewis:

The three poets, however, who with Rodgers impress me more than others who have emerged since the war, are David Gascoyne, Vernon Watkins and Alun Lewis. Gascoyne's verse, of course, goes back some years before the war; his recent volume is called Poems 1937-42, and before 1937 he was known as a surrealist. Surrealist poetry is rarely very interesting, but it loosened Gascoyne's tongue for more deliberate work; and the associations with France which it probably brought him have provided him with an additional background. He is the least provincial of the younger English poets, and the one who seems best able to combine versatility and sincerity; poems as different from each other as his 'A Wartime Dawn' and 'Noctambules' are equally convincing. His series of poems called 'Miserere' is a fine achievement, deservedly well known.
Whose is this horrifying face,
This putrid flesh, discoloured, flayed,
Fed on by flies, scorched by the sun?
Whose are these hollow red-filmed eyes
And thorn-spiked head and spear-stuck side?
Behold the Man: He is Man's Son.
Vernon Watkins I have difficulty in writing about. I find him at times very hard to understand, sometimes impossible; yet if a premature judgment may be allowed, I believe him to be the one poet of his generation who holds out unequivocal promise of greatness. I find myself not minding his obscurity; or as with Mr. Eliot, I am prepared to wait or to take on trust. His philosophy or metaphysics I suspect I should find antipathetic. Yet I never read him for long without knowing that here is a voice, at times one of the very loveliest: His music is rich, his cadences are subtle and he can prolong a line with great delicacy. Like Rodgers, Gascoyne and Mrs. Ridler he can write a long poem which sustains one's excitement to the end; his long 'Ballad of the Mari Lwyd' is a remarkable work. Dylan Thomas has left his mark on some of Watkins' poems, but he is more truly and deeply rooted in the past—in Rilke, Yeats and Blake particularly. His poetic allegiances are of the kind which exact, intellectually and technically, a good deal from a devotee.
There the perfect pattern is
Though here these cruel cords are strung
Above the moving mysteries
The fountain's everlasting song
Alters not a drop or breath;
Inviolate the music mocks
The groan of mutilated death
Broken on these mortal rocks,
Paradise of paradox
That terrified the Virgin Thel
Alone in all the sunny flocks
Who saw where tears of pity fell.
Though Watkins seems to me the most brilliant of the newly-emerged poets, I feel a more intimate sympathy with Alun Lewis. We shall not see the fulfilment of Lewis's promise, and the developments hinted at in the later poems from India will remain incomplete. He was, on the surface, a simple poet; he painted the sad exile of the soldier with the utmost honesty, and his poetry is doubly moving because for all its firmness and objectivity, it is the poetry of one in whom war and banishment have broken the heart. This can go side by side with a devotion to fellowmen, and in Lewis it did; his verse and prose are the expression of it. The loss of him, as of Sidney Keyes, is greatly to be mourned. Keyes was a younger poet than Lewis, passionately dedicated to literature—his background was an extensive and an ideal one—and at his best, as in 'The Wilderness', he was a dazzlingly accomplished writer. It is idle to speculate on what their futures might have been; better to read their four small books of verse; best of all perhaps to read them quietly: I cannot but think that they would feel genuine horror at the fulsome praises and the emotional falsifications which will always coagulate round such tragedies as theirs. How they would hate this! For they were good poets, each sincerely allied to great traditions of literature through a healthy predecessor: Keyes through Yeats, Lewis through Edward Thomas. They therefore felt themselves to be part of literature itself and it is as that that they would prefer to be remembered and judged. There is much of their verse I could wish to quote: here I can merely transcribe a sentence from a letter of Lewis's, quoted in an anthology by Mr. Keidrych Rhys. It is worth remembering—indeed I think it is unforgettable—for it expresses the war-time predicament of Lewis and Keyes and of thousands of their fellow men and women: 'So much is dormant in me that I hardly know how I go quietly through my days as I do' (pp. 100-101).

During the course of the article, Reed also makes honorable mention of the talents of Roy Fuller, Anne Ridler, F.T. Prince, Terence Tiller, Norman Nicholson, John Heath-Stubbs, and Laurie Lee. Reed's impartiality and objectiveness seems remarkable, considering these are the poets whom Reed will ultimately be compared with, and for the most part, found wanting. At the time of its writing, with his first volume of poems within view on the horizon, he certainly considered himself their peer. With the exception of his Lessons of the War, however, Reed became just another one of the voices lost at sea.

1510. Birmingham Post, "The Merchant of Venice," 5 March 1937.
Photograph of Henry Reed with members of the Birmingham University Dramatic Society's (BUDS) production of The Merchant of Venice. Shylock played by Ian Alexander.

Poetry in War-Time: The Older Poets

In early 1945, Henry Reed wrote a set of two articles for The Listener in which he took stock of the poetry produced during the Second World War: "Poetry in War Time." These essays are important for two reasons: first, because they offer a glimpse of Reed as an emerging critic, writing about his friends and influencers; and secondly because the criticism offered is absolutely contemporary, and written by a peer (or at least, a promising hopeful).

Many of Reed's finer poems were first published in journals before 1945, including "Sailor's Harbour," and "Chard Whitlow" (The New Statesman and Nation), "Chrysothemis," and "Philoctetes" (New Writing & Daylight), and "A Map of Verona" (The Listener). Reed, however, had only published a mere handful longer pieces of criticism prior to "Poetry in War Time": "The End of an Impulse" (on Auden, Spender, and Day-Lewis) in the summer of 1943, and critiques of Edith Sitwell and T.S. Eliot in 1944.

Cover of The Listener

The first of these two essays, "Poetry in War Time: I—The Older Poets" (.pdf), appeared in The Listener on January 18th, 1945. In it, Reed traces the influence of the French Symbolists on the great poets of his time, Eliot and Sitwell (whose work we have shown he was already intimate with, and comfortable speaking about), and their sway, in turn, on the older poets he considers most influential during the war: Edwin Muir, Louis MacNeice, and C. Day-Lewis:

The two poets of the 'thirties who have best succeeded in being also poets of the 'forties are Louis MacNeice and Cecil Day Lewis. They have always had great curiosity and initiative in exploring new musical possibilities for the lyric. Some of their earlier experiments do not wear well: the effects of MacNeice's 'The Sunlight on the Garden', for example, or some of the curious early poems of Day Lewis, where one finds the rhymes put at the four corners of a stanza like stones holding down a table-cloth at a breezy picnic. In MacNeice's Plant and Phantom and in his poems published since, flashy wantonness has all but disappeared. The final 'Cradle Song' in the volume is very haunting; and some of his later topical poems (for example 'Brother Fire') have shown an honesty and calmness of approach unusual in war-time verse.

Next, we'll continue with Part II of Reed's essays on poetry in war-time: "The Younger Poets."

1509. Reed, Henry, "'Tatty': The Year's New Word," Birmingham Post, 13 October 1937.
Discusses the history and usage of the word 'tatty'.

For Lack of Elizabeth

I reached a minor milestone this past weekend: I closeted myself in the library, and labeled and stuffed nearly 150 manila envelopes with the last of the photocopies from the original plastic filebox, as well as most of the printouts and copies I've made since making the decision to go Noguchi. Now, all I need to do is spend four or five hours double-checking that all the items in these envelopes are actually in the bibliography, and then I can file them in the bookcase. Progress! The tide is turning.

But no matter how much I file away, new items are still emerging, including this fascinating item. In Victoria Glendenning's biography of Elizabeth Bowen (New York: Knopf, 1978), there is this possibly scandalous revelation:

As to reviewing, which she always did a great deal of, she was ambivalent. She was a notoriously kind reviewer of novels; she preferred not to write about a book she could not praise, and was known in the business as a very soft touch. But "it is a perfectly awful business", she wrote to Virginia Woolf about The New Statesman fiction-reviewing stint she was doing in 1935, alternating weekly with Peter Quennell. Once when Henry Reed was staying at Bowen's Court and she was very involved with her own work, "Henry even did some of my Tatler reviews for me, which left me more time for the novel: a friendly act". It was indeed. (p. 146.)

I was flabbergasted. I read it again: Henry Reed wrote some of Elizabeth Bowen's book reviews for her.

Elizabeth Bowen began writing for The Tatler in 1938. In 1940 the journal merged to become the monthly Tatler & Bystander, and from 1945 to 1958 Bowen was reviewing fiction regularly, in her "Book Shelf" column.

Stallworthy mentions that Reed spent a fortnight holiday in April, 1946 at Bowen's Court, Elizabeth's ancestral summer home in County Cork, Ireland. Would this be the visit when he did her Tatler reviews for her? Which novel was she working on? Was it The Heat of the Day, her only work of long fiction published between 1938 and 1949? Also, the quote about Reed is apparently unattributed: it can't be part of the preceding letter to Virginia Woolf, because Woolf committed suicide in 1941.

I am at an impasse, however, because there is no run of 1940s Tatler & Bystander even remotely accessible, and there is no available index. Some hope may lie in a 1981 bibliography of Bowen's work (by Sellery and Harris), but according to the introduction of The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen (Lee, 1986), 'there are almost seven hundred entries under the section that includes reviews.' That's daunting, even if I'm only looking at the mid-Forties Tatlers.

But the Big Question is: did Reed write Bowen's Tatler book reviews under his own byline, or hers? Is it possible? Are there Bowen-attributed Henry Reed blurbs littering the advertisements of literary journals from 1946? Or simply un-indexed Reed reviews waiting to be re-read?

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1508. Birmingham Post, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Birmingham Post.

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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