Books by Clive Fisher

Released: Jan. 1, 1996

Cyril Connolly (190374) was an aesthetic Georgian gadfly, and Fisher (Noâl Coward, 1992) relates in a fittingly tart, gossipy style his stingings and dartings about the Brideshead generation. Connolly's ambitions, whether literary, social, or romantic, pulled him in multiple directions throughout his life, and Fisher tellingly brings out the resulting contradictions, successes, and failures. Although an Anglo-Irish outsider and scholarship boy at Eton (along with his friend George Orwell), Connolly aspired to embody the Georgian era—ambivalent nostalgia for both an earlier England and his schooldays, modish affiliation with the Modernist avant-garde and salon Marxism, and snobbish Francophilia and Classicism. But after initial failure to fulfill his early promise, Connolly earned his reputation first as the enfant terrible book reviewer of the New Statesman in the late '20s, then as the founder and editor of the highbrow wartime journal Horizon, and lastly as a BBC speaker. Despite an irregular literary output (with marriages and friendships to match), he sedulously championed high art and culture in prose that elegantly negotiated its way around Bloomsbury ``Mandarin'' style, Leavisite sententiousness, and Fleet Street vernacular. Imprisoned in this critic, though, the artist signaled only sporadically to be let out, leaving behind some first-rate parodies and one novel out of a mass grave of abandoned fiction. But Fisher facilely subscribes to the view of Connolly as brilliant failure without seriously addressing critical works such as The Condemned Playground or The Evening Colonnade. Fisher is more drawn to his subject's quasi-biographic works and the agitation and admiration they stirred up among friends and coevals such as Virginia Woolf, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Ernest Hemingway. As a personal portrait rather than a critical survey, this biography captures the alternatingly charming and exasperating critic whom his backbiting friend Evelyn Waugh called ``the most typical man of my generation.'' (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
NOEL COWARD by Clive Fisher
Released: June 17, 1992

Not, of course, contrary to the publisher's blurb, the first ``in-depth biography''—Cole Lesley's 1976 Life of Noel Coward was discreet yet complete—but a decent enough life-and-work: sometimes strong on the plays and films, weak (to put it mildly) on the songs. Fisher, a British film critic, stresses—not very originally- -the contradictions in Coward's persona and oeuvre: the mocking outsider (homosexual, lower-middle-class) who was also a social climber, snob, and patriotic champion (in later years) of the Establishment; the idol of the literati who was himself ill- educated, insecure, and anti-intellectual. These conflicting impulses are noted as Fisher competently chronicles the well-known career—from child-performer to 1920's stardom in revues and his own scandalous The Vortex; from theater triumphs (Hay Fever, Private Lives, Calvacade, Blithe Spirit) and film acclaim (Brief Encounter, In Which We Serve) to a post-WW II decline partly redeemed by phenomenal success as a cabaret act. Only half- convincingly, Fisher argues that Coward, longing for acceptance, remained creatively stunted; the later work is slighted, and the memorable music and lyrics receive little attention. As for the private life, a few lovers (including Prince George, youngest son of George V) are named; the supposed Coward/Olivier liaison (cf. Donald Spoto, Laurence Olivier, p. 42) doesn't surface; and nothing surprising—or particularly insightful—is revealed. Throughout, the tone wavers between crisp competence and somewhat glib snideness, with unnecessary bits of dubious opinion tossed in (``Samuel Beckett is one of the most overrated playwrights of recent times...''). A mixed bag, then, marred by blind spots—but welcome for its detailed discussion of the plays and on-target enough of the time to be useful, perhaps, as a balance to Lesley's far less critical biography. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >