CYRIL CONNOLLY: A Life by Jeremy Lewis

CYRIL CONNOLLY: A Life

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In his vast biography of the literary critic, Lewis, former deputy editor of London Magazine, writes with the perfectionism of a skilled cultural historian and the bloodlust of a tabloid gossip columnist. Connolly's life is bound to intrigue and entertain. Although the emphasis here on his years spent dwelling in the rarefied world of English boys' boarding schools and the ""powerful networks they fostered"" may seem a bit strange, that time was in fact deeply formative for him. Eton not only shaped Connolly's intellectual character but also provided a touchstone for much of his later work, including The Unquiet Grave and Enemies of Promise. His classmates included George Orwell and Cecil Beaton. The idyll of academia without the responsibility of adulthood truly captured Connolly's imagination: he eventually referred to Eton as ""a vanished Eden of grace and security."" Within its ancient walls he developed a love and longing for literature that colored his emotional landscape for years. Yet even though Connolly lived his life more or less to the full, the vision of his own potential--""his unfulfilled youthful promise""--was a dark angel that he could not escape. In Lewis's words, Connolly ""combined an incurable, ever-youthful romanticism . . . with an unwavering, almost masochistic realism about his weaknesses and failings."" Ironically, perhaps, his sense of his own inadequacies didn't stop him from completing two highly regarded books, from mentoring other writers, or from carrying on like a round-faced satyr (he married three times). To his credit, Lewis never lets Connolly's own vociferous complaints about his life weigh down the text. Instead, the author balances a wealth of detail from the man himself with anecdotes gleaned from Connolly's surviving family and former lovers. The critic emerges from Lewis's quietly compassionate portrait as an intriguing and contradictory personality: difficult, bright, self-serving, and ultimately self-punishing.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0712666354
Page count: 675pp
Publisher: Jonathan Cape--dist. by Trafalgar