[ilds] A Long Life That Peaks Quite Young (NYT)

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Sat Feb 12 07:02:58 PST 2011


On 2/12/11 3:30 AM, Richard Pine wrote:

>         Gerhardie didn't die 'in utter obscurity' [in 1977] - shortly
>         before his death he was the subject of a BBC tv documentary,
>         and his books were reprinted in a 'revised, definitiive
>         edition' (1970-73) due to the advocacy of (and with
>         introductions by) Michael Holroyd. 

Thank you, Richard.

I think that you are right to discount the "utter-ness" of Gerhardie's 
retirement from public attention.  (That /fin de siecle/ adjective 
really throws us back in time, eh?  "/We're all quite too 
utterly///utter. . . .")

The idea of "obscurity" crops up in many recent accounts of Gerhardie's 
life and career.  However, Gerhardie's election as a Fellow of the Royal 
Society of Literature two years before his death does seem to indicate 
otherwise.

But why is obscurity /always/ thought of as a bad thing?  For Quietists, 
Daoists, & other close Considerers of their Mortal Accounts, obscurity 
may in fact be "/a consummation devoutly to be wished/."  Cf. 
Pursewarden's misgivings about "Fame."  Cf. the several different 
decisions of J.D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, and Lawrence Durrell.

More to the point:  If the decree of "obscurity" is handed down by a set 
of Tumble-Bugs bent upon interpreting an author's renunciation of 
Philistia as a moral lapse, then the judges tell us far more about 
themselves than about the author.

C&c.

(P.S. -- Richard considers William Gerhardie in /The dandy and the 
herald: manners, mind and morals from Brummell to Durrell/ [1988].)

***

‘To those of my generation he was the most important new novelist to 
appear in our young life.’ Graham Greene

‘William Gerhardie is our Gogol’s Overcoat. We all came out of him.’ 
Olivia Manning

‘In my opinion Gerhardie has genius.’ Arnold Bennett

‘He is a comic writer of genius ... but his art is profoundly serious.’ 
C. P. Snow

***

William Gerhardie <http://www.faber.co.uk/author/william-gerhardie/> 
(Faber & Faber)
William Alexander Gerhardie was born in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1895. 
As a young man he went to London and, when the First World War broke 
out, joined the army. He was first sent to Russia and later travelled 
the world before beginning to write. Futility (1922), his first novel, 
was sponsored by Katherine Mansfield, and other notable works of his 
include The Polyglots (1925) and Of Mortal Love (1936). Gerhardie's 
writing was acclaimed as an influence on many of his peers, including 
Anthony Powell, H. G. Wells, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Olivia 
Manning. He died in London in 1977.

Memoirs of a Polyglot 
<http://www.faber.co.uk/work/memoirs-of-polyglot/9780571248438/>: 
William Gerhardie
Futility <http://www.faber.co.uk/work/futility/9780571244416/>: William 
Gerhardie

***

William Gerhardie: Correspondence and literary papers 
<http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/gerhardie.html>

Reference and contact details: GB 12 MS.Add.8292
Title: William Gerhardie: Correspondence and literary papers
Dates of Creation: 20th century
Held at: Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and 
University Archives
Language of Material: English
Extent: 54 boxes and 1 bundle
Name of Creator: William Alexander Gerhardie
Level of Description: fonds
Administrative/Biographical History

William Alexander Gerhardie (1895-1977), novelist and critic, was born 
in St Petersburg, Russia, on 21 November 1895, where he attended the St 
Annen Schule and Reformierte Schule. He moved to London, with the 
intention of training for a commercial career, but joined the Royal 
Scots Greys at the outbreak of the First World War. He was posted to the 
British embassy in Petrograd, 1916-1918, and in 1918 was attached to the 
Scots Guards. After the war, Gerhardie travelled the world before 
attending Worcester College, Oxford, where he obtained a B.A. in Russian 
in 1922. His first two novels, Futility (1922) and The polyglots (1925), 
were well received, and he became a prolific writer of novels and short 
stories. Gerhardie travelled widely before settling in London in 1931, 
where he remained for the rest of his life. During the Second World War, 
he worked for the B.B.C. He published his last novel in 1940, and 
thereafter lived in increasing obscurity, involving himself in a little 
broadcasting and essay-writing. He was made a Fellow of the Royal 
Society of Literature in 1975. He died in London on 15 July 1977.

-- 
********************************************
Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu
********************************************

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