CYRIL CONNOLLY: Journal and Memoir by David Pryce-Jones

CYRIL CONNOLLY: Journal and Memoir

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A painful but piquant exhumation: Connolly's shapeless, self-indulgent diaries (1928-37) swathed in an unflinchingly honest biography. Connolly (1903-74) is widely regarded as a major writer manquÉ, a sad case who despite some solid creative work (notably Enemies of Promise and The Unquiet Grave) pretty much frittered his talents away in pleasure-seeking, indolence, and book-chat. Pryce-Jones, who knew his subject personally, echoes that assessment; but he also shows that Connolly's life was a resounding moral failure, with egoism its only constant. ""Blame was for other people."" Connolly, he argues, wanted to be treated with ""the licence of the exceptional artist,"" without submitting to the discipline of art. Proof of all this abounds in the journal entries: casually arrogant remarks about the burden of being ""first rate,"" alongside a dismal view of himself as scoring -2 on a scale of 50 for ""charm, sex appeal, virtue, intelligence, and guts""; remnants of a slushy youthful homosexuality together with a sometimes brutal anti-feminism from his later haterosexual years. (Connolly quotes a critic who damned Virginia Woolf's Orlando because ""behind all this exquisite feminine panegyric he always smelt the bidet."") There are also halfhearted skits and sketches, Latin tags, travel impressions, Joycean pastiches, undeveloped ideas for essays or books--and, suffusing the whole thing, a mood of impotent self-pity: ""At Eton with Orwell, at Oxford with Waugh,/ He was nobody afterwards and nothing before."" One turns with relief from these morose, overheated fragments to Pryce-Jones' sober account of the man who wrote them. Connolly's lonely childhood (no siblings, next to no family life, homesickness at St. Cyprian's School); his abortive career at Balliol; his poverty-stricken Wanderjahre ended by marriage to a rich American, Jean Bakewell; his philandering and divorce: none of this may, strictly speaking, explain Connolly's fate. But, with the bleak journal as evidence, it makes a compelling story.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1984
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin