Green’s literary reputation may have lost some luster in the half-century since his last publication, but Treglown (English/Univ. of Warwick) restores its brightness in a lucid and captivating biography.
From 1926 to 1952, English industrialist Henry Yorke (1905–73) published (under his pseudonym) a collection of tersely titled social comedies (e.g., Blindness, Living, Party Going, Caught, Loving, Back, Concluding, Nothing, and Doting) whose pleasant façades masked some very dark undercurrents. Treglown dashes between Henry Green’s novels and Henry Yorke’s life, finding autobiographical illuminations in the world of fiction. Although such a practice is often mired in wild conjecture and improbable flights of fancy, a steady eye to historical fact provides a sturdy and trustworthy framework for the author’s analysis. The fine dividing line between pseudonymous author and aristocratic industrialist demands Treglown’s detailed attention to such matters as Yorke’s school years and married life so that he can ascertain the ways these experiences pop up in Green’s fiction. At the same time, the biographer judiciously yet generously allows his subject to speak directly in quotes that range from deploring the constraints of travel (“It interferes with my masturbation”) to hinting at indiscretions (“I’m taking your wife to a nightclub and I’ll bring her back probably in tatters in the morning”). The ambivalences and ambiguities voiced in these passages assist Treglown in delineating the many facets of a man often at odds with the life he lived, as when he somberly confesses, “Am very depressed, lonely & overworked.” Terry Southern once said that there are writers and writers’ writers, but that Green was a writers’ writers’ writer. Muddling through that obfuscatory compliment may be a challenge, but Treglown gives ample evidence of its accuracy.
Delightful prose and steady observations distinguish this thoughtful narrative of a complex life.