CYRIL CONNOLLY by Clive Fisher


The Life and Times of England's Most Controversial Literary Critic
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 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)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-13953-5
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1995