FRIENDS OF PROMISE: Cyril Connolly and the World of Horizon by Michael Shelden

FRIENDS OF PROMISE: Cyril Connolly and the World of Horizon

Email this review


A biography of Cyril Connolly that covers the period from 1939-1949, when Conholly was editor of Horizon, a literary monthly that published some of this century's finest English and American writers. With financial backing provided by Peter Watson, a young man of wealth and taste, Connolly brought out the first issue of Horizon in December 1939, two months after the start of WW II. Watson, who had correctly judged not only Connolly's talent but also his undisciplined and unpredictable working habits, wisely appointed Stephen Spender as associate editor to balance Connolly. Horizon's circulation continued to grow during the darkest days of the war. Working under wartime restrictions, paper shortage, nightly bombings, inadequate food, and London's dreary atmosphere, the tiny, dedicated staff of Horizon carried on, inspired by Connolly's conviction that what England was fighting for included its living culture. With a genius for literary judgment, Connolly could spot a talent before it had fully developed, and thus Horizon published writers like George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, Angus Wilson, Arthur Koestler, Philip Toynbee, e.e. cummings, and others before anyone had heard of them. But by 1949, Connolly had lost interest. Author of Enemies of Promise, The Condemned Playground, The Unquiet Grave, he felt himself a failure, measuring his worth not by what he had done but by what he had failed to do. That failure--to write the great novel--may have been due to his gift for attaching himself to people who supported him emotinally as well as financially, thus making him lazy; it may have been due to his love of the leisured life and the pursuit of beautiful women. More likely, Shelden judges, he simply didn't have the talent. Shelden (English/Indiana State Univ.) provides details of a period not fully covered in David Pryce-Jones' 1984 biography, Cyril Connolly. Well written, carefully researched, with a good bibliography and photos, it gives a picture of the underbelly of literary life in wartime England, and of the stormy personal life of the vital and idiosyncratic editor of a periodical that ""captured. . .brilliantly the spirit of the time.

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1989
Publisher: Harper & Row