RONALD FIRBANK by Miriam J. Benkovitz


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Wilde's wit is that of the dandy, but robust and paradoxical; Shaw's that of the lecturer, full of didactic conceits or appeals. The wit of Ronald Firbank, though considerably thinner, is the purest of the three. It is the wit of fancy and eccentricity, a sensibility at once artificial and thoroughly idiosyncratic: ""The Roses were never called before seven,"" wrote Firbank in one of his earliest tales depicting the roses' grief at the death of the gardener's daughter, and all of his major novels can be considered further elaborations on perceptions of that order. Shy and sickly (Firbank died in 1926 when he was forty), resembling a grasshopper attired in boots and waistcoat (Harold Nicolson immortalized Firbank's physical and social preciosity in the delightful story ""Lambert Orme""), Firbank led a strange and sorrowing life, trapped both by his Oedipal attachment to his mother, a honey-tongued, fashionably light-headed dragon of a woman, and by the uniqueness of his genius, the blending (Firbank would say ""tinting"") of a personality as delicate as it was outrageous. ""Certainly,"" writes Miriam Benkovitz in her finely-wrought and sensitive biography, ""Firbank wanted disapproval because he disapproved of his own exotic adventures. They were at once his compromise with his passion for his mother and a violation of it."" Yet despite the gloom (the conversion to Roman Catholicism, the guilt-ridden homosexuality), Firbank created works of dazzling humor, wickedly gleaming personages and landscapes, a truly tonic double-entendre vision of joy and despair.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1969
Publisher: Knopf