Graham Hough

Graham Hough is the author of The Last Romantics.


Graham Hough, 3 July 1986

Three African writers, from very different parts of the continent – Saro-Wiwa from Nigeria, Ndebele from South Africa, Macgoye from Kenya. My ignorance of all three regions being deep and extensive, I am obliged to accept these three books in great part as documentary reports, as information about unknown ways of life. But perhaps this is right. One of the many problems for an African writer in the English language is the question of his audience. Who is he writing for? For his own people – for the small fraction of his own people who will ever be able to read him? Like Joyce, ‘to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race’? Or is it his task to inform the rest of the English-speaking world about a continent still dark to those outside it, about its hopes and its fears, its ambitions and its stagnation, its advance and its relapse? The latter must be a large part of his intention. Yet this confronts the reader with the social and political history of a hundred tribes and a dozen emergent nations of which in the nature of things the outsider can have only a faint and distant understanding.’


Graham Hough, 8 May 1986

Life as a prisoner of war is an indeterminate sentence, and for that reason nothing you say about it afterwards can ever be quite true. In its more mitigated forms, with Geneva conventions, Red Cross parcels, letters from home and all that, no doubt a sense of the normal order of things can be maintained. But in some forsaken gulag, outside all the rules, with all information filtered through the enemy, you enter a new dimension whose nature is hardly communicable in words. While it is going on, no one knows whether it is ever going to end, and the absent ending colours every moment of every day. Once it has ended, if you are still alive, you know it was always going to. The basic premise of POW life has disappeared, and no effort of retrospection can make it real again. Notes taken on the hoof are no good: too many words are needed to flesh out the experience, and there is never time for them. But there is an art, more rapid and more immediate, that can bring back that lost eternal present. One would hardly believe it if it had not actually been done. But it has been done, in Ronald Searle’s wartime drawings.

The state of chronic hypochondria in which literary education subsists shows no sign of abating. Indeed, in some quarters it is entering an acute phase. Regular and formerly healthful activities lose their zest, attacked by morbid depression of spirits. The milder forms of therapy effect little improvement, and a battery of fantastic remedies is brought to bear, which in spite of energetic promotion do not seem able to establish themselves. Either the patient’s system rejects them, or they provoke hysterical symptoms more alarming than the original complaint.

My Stars

Graham Hough, 21 March 1985

Some little time ago the art of printing with movable types was developed, and this has meant in the end that everybody can know everything. There is no hidden knowledge. There is no longer any point in seeking out the venerable archimage behind the iron-studded door in some darkling alleyway of the old town. He has no secret doctrine; there are no more arcana; the ancient wisdom has all been reprinted. Prospero’s book has been brought up from the depths and published in paperback, and the fatal treatise that led Faust to his damnation is edited with an introduction and notes and suggestions for further reading. In the High Street bookshop the occult section is settled comfortably beside gardening and cookery; and the only person who has not noticed is the Dean of Emmanuel College Cambridge, who recently gave six lectures on television about the decline of the supernatural. He spoke of ‘The Sea of Faith’, and found it to be at a very low ebb. Perhaps he should have looked a little farther. The water may be receding over the mudflats on his stretch of coast, but round the corner it is flooding strongly. The black tide that Freud was so afraid of in the early years of the century has been making a steady advance. When I was a boy no one knew the signs of the zodiac: now everyone does. Most people under forty seem to believe in reincarnation. In my own immediate family there are no less than five copies of the I Ching, and every village in England has its quota of resident yogins, astrologers and cabalists.

A la mode

Graham Hough, 18 October 1984

New works of literary theory, abundant in France and America, are not very frequent in England. When one does appear, it is customary first to deplore its defiance of nature and reason, and secondly to decide that we have known it all along. It would be difficult to follow this convention with Alastair Fowler’s book. Kinds of Literature contains nothing subversive of public order or contrary to revealed truth: indeed it is a celebration of order and aims to illuminate neglected truths. And its traditional material is handled in such a way as to yield a steady dividend of unhackneyed learning and unexpected points of view. Its theme is the once dominant theory of separable historical literary kinds. This has come to be regarded by majority opinion as an obsolete piece of machinery, dubious in its application to the past and irrelevant to the present. Fowler argues to the contrary that this venerable conceptual apparatus is not only still useful, but necessary, if we are to make sense of our literary experience. He will not meet an entirely unreceptive audience. A fair minority can be found (including me) who already believe this to be true and will welcome what has so far been lacking: a well-worked-out modern statement of the case.

I first met William Empson fifty years ago, when he was teaching in Japan and I in Singapore. I was rather frightened of him. Only about my own age, he was a great deal more sophisticated and infinitely more intelligent. It was plain that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and in his presence I often felt rather a fool. He had an impatient way of being always two jumps ahead of you in any discussion. The best response to that was to slow the pace and insist that the steps of the argument should be trodden one by one. This he would not resist; if pulled up, he would always make things plain. But I often got shy of these delaying tactics, and so was left stumbling in the rear.

Auld Lang Syne

Graham Hough, 1 December 1983

It is not the easiest thing to discuss a novel that is the fourth of a series of five. Sebastian is not properly intelligible without an acquaintance with its predecessors, Monsieur (1974), Livia (1978), Constance (1982); and the ultimate destination, if there is to be one, is not yet visible. As it happened, I read them in the wrong order, but such is the vitality and attack of Durrell’s writing that it hardly mattered. Enter them anywhere and one is sucked into the stream.


Graham Hough, 7 October 1982

There has been an abundance of good critical writing about Thomas Hardy, from Lionel Johnson in 1894 to our own day, but his biography has been in a curious condition from the start. The authorised version (Early Life, 1928; Later Years, 1930) is supposed to be by Florence, his second wife, but is wholly composed from notes by Hardy himself, and for the most part actually dictated by him. Along with a record of the basic external facts it gives, often unknowingly, an incomparable insight into certain aspects of Hardy’s mind. But there is a good deal that it leaves out. Ordinary family discretion was compounded by an anxious secretiveness to produce something like a touched-up Edwardian photograph, not exactly false, revealing more of the truth than it means to, yet keeping a great deal in the shadows. The standard life apart from this is Carl Weber’s Hardy of Wessex (1940). It fills out and amends the quasi-autobiography with good judgment and reasonable candour, but it relies heavily on self-revelation in the novels, and is rather short on concrete detail. R.L. Purdy’s invaluable Bibliographical Study (1954) gives far more than its name implies, and is packed with biographical information. And innumerable references to Hardy, pen-portraits and sketches, appear in the memoirs of others. So altogether a completer picture than the one he issued himself has long been beginning to form. But the full-scale biography has never been attempted till now. There are times when a nail gets knocked in so thoroughly that no one need touch it again, and this is the case with Michael Mill-gate’s biography, which is surely, if the word means anything, definitive. Millgate has been in a strong position to make it so. He has already written a detailed study of the novels, he is evidently a close student of the poetry, and with Purdy is co-editor of Hardy’s letters, of which the third volume (of a projected seven) has just appeared. This is a superb edition, comprehensive, full but discreetly unobtrusive in its annotation, and impeccable in its editorial method. Without embarking on the troubled sea of interpretation, Purdy and Millgate between them have given as detailed a study of Hardy’s career as any that exists for any 19th-century author. The edition of the letters is complementary to Millgate’s biography, and evidently planned in parallel with it. No source of information has been left untapped, printed, manuscript or oral; and I cannot suppose that this record can be added to or in any substantial way altered.

Culture and Sincerity

Graham Hough, 6 May 1982

It is not often that a literary critic receives the crown of a collected edition, and if he does he is probably something more than a literary critic. So it is with Lionel Trilling, whose complete works are now appearing from the Oxford University Press. There is indeed a novel, and a few short stories, besides the works of literary history and criticism, but it is not chiefly by these that he exceeds the limits of the man of letters. It is as a critic of culture, habits of thought and feeling, extending on occasion to the borders of politics, that Trilling has chiefly presented himself. ‘My own interests,’ he says, ‘lead me to see literary situations as cultural situations, and cultural situations as great elaborate fights about moral issues.’ He speaks of his ‘cultural and non-literary method’, and defines as his first concern ‘the animus of the author, the objects of his will, the things he wants or wants to have happen’. This brings Trilling a good deal nearer to the Victorian sage than to the 20th-century New Critic; and, as has often been said, his purposes, his relation to the life around him, were close in spirit to those of the subject of his first book – Matthew Arnold.


Graham Hough, 3 December 1981

It is a curious thing that while so many critics are busy telling each other that literature is a linguistic game, that novels are purely formal structures and that their pretensions to represent the world are illusory, novelists continue to write what in any serious sense must be considered historical novels. By a historical novel I mean, not period romance, but a fiction that is tied by close and numerous links to a real place at a real time, its essence being to tell a truth about an independently verifiable world, outside the realm of fiction. One of the most famous of these came out in 1948: it was Alan Paton’s Cry, the beloved country, so intimately bound up with South African history that Paton had to write a preface to distinguish those parts which are formally fiction. ‘As a social record,’ he concluded, ‘it is the plain and simple truth.’ Of course it is not merely a social record: it is the deeply imagined story of an individual life. And Paton has had to devise a language to tell the story in, for the simple Zulu parson who is the protagonist does not deal in the current coin of modern English speech. So that the literary question was as demanding as the historical one; the political act cannot be separated from the work of art. Now, after thirty years, comes Ah, but your land is beautiful, with similar themes and settings, the date of the action a few years later, the conflicts more distinctly those of the modern world. And though the continuity with Paton’s earlier work is complete, this is a different kind of book. Cry, the beloved country is an exploration both of the racial problem and of personal suffering; and its quasi-Biblical language is a means of penetrating into a sorrowful and bewildered consciousness. Ah, but your land is beautiful is a panorama, a chronicle, with a wide variety of characters and the interest distributed between them. It is a less lyrical and more political book, in part an evident roman-à-clef. The period is the 1950s, the time of the Passive Resistance campaign, the Sophiatown removals, the emergence of the South African Liberal Party and the early stages of the Nationalist government.

Chonkin’s Vicissitudes

Graham Hough, 1 October 1981

Vladimir Voinovich’s Pretender to the Throne is a continuation of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, and most of what has been said about the earlier book is equally true of this one. Equally untrue too. A comic novel about wartime Russia, a comic novel about Stalinism, is on the face of it such a contradiction in terms that the attempt to describe it keeps tripping up on misleading descriptions and false analogies. It is not, as has been said, a kind of Russian surrealism, for it does not revel in the irrational: the fantasy is all an extravagant blow-up of quite actual situations. It is not a Russian Catch-22, for the savage comedy of Catch-22 undermines all values: the only response left to absurdity and horror is a flat nihilism. Chonkin’s adventures take place in a world of tyranny, treachery, hypocrisy and cowardice: yet the possibility of another way of life is never really forgotten. The obvious ancestor is Gogol: the scarifying satire in which nevertheless the human points of reference are not lost is close to Dead Souls and The Government Inspector. The setting is the same – the god-forsaken provincial hole sunk fathoms deep in bureaucracy, stupidity and corruption. Of course, the political conditions are more frightful than anything in Gogol’s world, and the Germans are at the gates; but in reading Chonkin we often forget that it is 1941; we seem to be back in one of those timeless 19th-century Russian fictions. And indeed we are not very firmly in 1941. For all the wartime setting, the workings of the Party juggernaut portrayed here seem to embody the spirit of the whole Stalin era, seen presumably (we are not told when the book was written) from some point during the brief post-Stalin thaw.

Sacred Monster

Graham Hough, 20 August 1981

For readers who are more interested in literature than in literary society those sacred monsters who live in anecdote and legend rather than in their work are always something of an embarrassment.


Graham Hough, 16 July 1981

The four novels before us are all highly original, but they tend to confirm an old popular belief – that there are two sexes and that there are some differences between them. All end sadly, in moods of more or less fatalist acceptance: but the spheres of their sorrow are divided on strictly traditional lines by the gender of their authors – the cannon and the firing-squad against the drawing-room and the kitchen stove. At the end of David Pownall’s book the protagonist and his confidant are shot. At the end of John Hearne’s the leading characters have been respectively drowned, decapitated and disembowelled, and the hero is about to be hanged. Ann Schlee’s story ends with her heroine renouncing a fantasy and going to live in a cottage by herself, having made a small but definite act of defiance against a spiritually tyrannical brother. Anita Brookner’s heroine ends as she began, writing a chapter on Eugénie Grandet in her book on Balzac, having lost a lover and acquired the duty of looking after a selfish and dependent father. The wrong choices, in the men’s novels are violent and catastrophic and punished by death. The misdirections in the women’s novels are more a matter of attrition, perhaps not quite beyond amendment: purgatorial, it may be, rather than infernal.

Heartlessness is not enough

Graham Hough, 21 May 1981

Critical reactions to Muriel Spark puzzle me a good deal. The general consensus among reviewers seems to find her riotously funny; and in the midst of this open-hearted merriment I am a skeleton at the feast. Or rather, I can’t find the feast; I feel that I have been at a picnic with people I don’t really know; the sandwiches are made with margerine, the thermos is full of cold tea, there is a nasty east wind; and just as the unluscious viands are spread out, dead on cue, it starts to rain. Perhaps this is the proper response: for fully paid-up members of the fan club assure us that to think of Muriel Spark as an entertaining writer, an amusing writer, is quite wrong; and there are veiled hints of metaphysical depths or spiritual heights, which my blunted sensibilities are rarely able to discern. But all are agreed that she is strikingly original; her writing is not at all like anyone else’s. And here I rejoice to concur with the common reader: for this is surely the case.

An Outline of Outlines

Graham Hough, 7 May 1981

Way back, when the century was in its early prime, we used to have Outlines of Everything. The archetype was the Outline of Modern Knowledge, but there were lots of others. I can see them still, pointing steadily leftwards, very long on tendencies and rather short on facts; those diagrams of a pig’s uterus that were supposed to teach us all about sex; those maps, full of trends and lines of force but most of the actual place-names missed out. I remember William Empson devising an Outline of Outlines, reduced in the end to a single sentence: ‘Everything is pretty all right because of science.’ Where are they now? Sunk back into the vast ocean of superannuated enlightenment. If we are to find the origins of these waves in the flood of printed matter we must look into the collective unconscious of publishers – a dusky region but not proof against all conjecture. In the Thirties they were afraid of being overtaken by a brave new world with nothing on their lists but The Wind in the Willows and a reprint of Unto This Last. Today the threat is more alien and more comprehensive: data-banks, silicone chips and information-retrieval processes threaten their very being, and they are fighting what they hope will not prove a rearguard action for the survival of the book itself. It is this, one supposes, that accounts for the extraordinary spate of reference books that have suddenly appeared on the market. It is not altruism or the death wish or precognitive discernment of some otherwise imperceptible demand: it is the desire to show that a surprisingly large amount of information can be compressed between two hard covers and retrieved by the comparatively trifling labour of turning the pages. In this the publishers are right, and the older forms of visual aid which they produce and purvey still have notable advantages over the microfiche, the public-address system and the television screen.


Graham Hough, 5 March 1981

Ruth and Lucille are sisters, living in Fingerbone on Fingerbone Lake. At the bottom of the lake lies their grandfather, who was guard on a train that plunged off the bridge one night, years before they were born. There also lies their mother, who one day when Ruth was eight years old drove in from Seattle, left the children on their grandmother’s porch, and then went on in the car to the top of a tall cliff and drove off into the blackest depths of the water. Housekeeping is the story of these two children, brought up at first by their silent, orderly grandmother; then for a brief spell by two tottering great-aunts; at last by Sylvie, their mother’s sister, summoned back from some circumambient void to take on the responsibility. The title and the theme suggest an updated version of Little Women, but nothing could be further from the truth. The weird poetry of this book owes nothing to benign domesticity. It is a desperate spell cast against loneliness and desolation; and ‘house-keeping’ is a bitter irony, for though there is a house, in and around which most of the action takes place, no one manages to keep it in any ordinary sense of the word.

Maria Isabel

Graham Hough, 22 January 1981

In the 30th chapter of the second book of Don Quixote the Don and Sancho encounter a certain duchess who thereafter plays a considerable part in their adventures. In The Duchess’s Diary Robin Chapman imagines her to have been an actual person, who had met not the fictitious Quixote but the real Cervantes; and the diary, supposedly translated from the original MS, tells her story. The first book of Don Quixote came out in 1605, the second book did not appear till ten years later. It is in this interval, in 1608, that Robin Chapman supposes the duchess and her husband, the Duke of Caparosso, to have entertained Cervantes, already famous for the first volume of his romance. What is more, although the duchess is a very young woman and Cervantes already an elderly man, she falls in love with him. They do not meet again: but she eagerly awaits the second volume of Don Quixote, in which, she does not doubt, she will find a romantic tribute to herself. It arrives in December 1615, on the shortest day, and it is a bitter disappointment. The duchess who appears in the romance is a slightly-drawn figure, a mere part of the machinery of the plot, who manages Don Quixote and his squire quite callously for her own entertainment. Maria Isabel – that is the real duchess’s name – feels this as a betrayal. She feels it so deeply that the balance of her mind, never very secure, is completely upset. At an Epiphany feast she runs spectacularly mad; and at the time the diary begins her husband has left her and she is shut up in his hunting lodge, with only her maid for companion, under the care of a frightful chaplain.

The Rise of Richard Adams

Graham Hough, 4 December 1980

The remarkable literary career of Richard Adams began only eight years ago, but it has already reached substantial dimensions. Watership Down in 1972 was followed by two other works of mystery and imagination, relying more or less heavily on the animal world, and now by The Girl in a Swing, which is ostensibly about human beings. These are not the skimpy, slimmed-down fictions so general today, but highly-worked, close-packed narratives, each of four hundred pages or more. Add to these two or three nature books and a recent collection of folk-tales, and we have what for many writers would constitute a life’s work. Not only is Mr Adams immensely prolific, he can carry an audience with him: Watership Down had an immense readership and the reviews of the next two books were uniformly ecstatic.

Fortunes of War

Graham Hough, 6 November 1980

The title of Olivia Manning’s last book, from Housman’s heroic-ironic epitaph on an earlier war, announces a summing-up: the last volume of a trilogy, the trilogy itself the continuation of a previous one; the final flowing out to sea of a roman-fleuve of six volumes, completed just before the author’s death. Yet it is a conclusion in which nothing is concluded, not even the war – only a few accidental lives. The Sum of Things is as weirdly absorbing as its predecessors, and it is as hard as ever to say why. As before, the characters are utterly distinct, yet without any emphatic lines or strong colours. They have forgotten what it is like to be even partly in control of their own lives, for the huge network of wartime circumstance has taken charge of them. The scene is still the Near East, the world still that of British Council lecturers, minor embassy officials and lefty journalists, with the fighting, now farther away, still rumbling in the background. The key characters Guy and Harriet Pringle found their marriage pretty well on the rocks at the end of the last volume, and for most of this one they are separated. It is supposed that Harriet has been drowned at sea, torpedoed on her way back to England. In fact, she missed the ship and is swanning around in Syria and Lebanon, unaware that Guy in Cairo believes her to be dead. We follow separately his fortunes and hers, with their casual, eccentric contacts, until near the end they are reunited – as uncertainly as ever. Nothing has changed. On the very night Harriet comes back from the dead Guy goes off to give his Egyptian students a lecture on self-determination.


Graham Hough, 18 September 1980

Even to Iris Murdoch fans, of whom I am one of the most constant, Nuns and Soldiers will be a disappointment. It is a long solid book, purposely digressive, and there is a good deal of hard slogging before we get to the main theme. The title promises more than the performance. There is only one nun and no soldiers at all. We are in London in 1978, in the thick of a large, prosperous, mainly Jewish family – bankers, civil servants, professional men. The interest centres in Gertrude, late thirties, not Jewish, just widowed of her almost too ideal husband Guy. She is surrounded by sympathy and consideration, but also by eager curiosity on the part of the family circle about what she will do next – especially as Guy has left her all his considerable fortune. It is not a particularly attractive milieu. The married life of Gertrude and Guy is presented as so insufferably mature, cultivated, public-spirited and smug that the reader’s first instinct is to close the book before it has begun and forswear the society of mature, cultivated, public-spirited persons for the rest of time. But Iris Murdoch’s writing has the power to engage the reader in its conflicts, even without the pleasures of recognition or sympathy; and though they are slow in developing, the conflicts are not absent. There are lengthy annexes and excursions that gradually become folded into the main design. And as always with Iris Murdoch, the apparent moral simplicities prove ambiguous or uncertain.

A Review of Grigson’s Verse

Graham Hough, 7 August 1980

Thoughtful as always about how to win friends and influence people, Geoffrey Grigson in his latest book of poems congratulates himself that his elderly eyes

Dying Cultures

Graham Hough, 3 July 1980

This is John Updike’s first collection of stories for seven years. There must have been problems, he says, to account for such a long delay. His preface glances ruefully at some of them – social and political disquiets between 1971 and 1978; but, in fact, the stories hardly move into the public domain. One of them is actually called ‘Problems’, and is cast in the form of exam questions. A, sleeping with B, a new partner who thinks he loves her, has a vivid and longing dream of his old partner C. Which has he more profoundly betrayed, B or C? This would serve pretty well as a paradigm for most of the present collection. Another is called ‘Domestic Life in America’; and if life there is interpreted as dull unease, half-hearted infidelity, not quite unbearable tension, this would describe the repeated theme. It makes for economy. The same apparatus can be infinitely extended, re-used with changed names for the indistinguishable partners, a different selection from an interchangeable set of unhappy offspring, and a slight shuttle to alter the setting. The family is the centre, but the family in decay, its bonds strong enough to cause neurotic dependence but not strong enough to give strength or support. The main activity is divorce – the glumly ‘civilised’ divorce that involves endless meeting, backtracking, wondering whether it is all worth while.

A week or two ago I reviewed a novel about rock-climbers. A very absorbing tale it was too, but specialised; and one was bound to say that to a reader wholly without interest in the technicalities of the sport it might well fall flat. How far can you go? is a novel about Catholics. There are more Catholics than rock-climbers, but even so their concerns are special ones, and it would seem on the face of it that the same limitations must apply. For David Lodge is writing about Catholics as Catholics, about their particular dilemmas, their casuistical puzzles, the blind alleys that modern Catholic prescriptions lead them into, about their various ways out, and finally about the astonishingly sudden and almost total dissolution of the moral and theological structure on which their lives have been founded. The subject is a large one, but the treatment is not solemn. The tone is that of serious comedy, with occasional glimpses into black holes. We are not in Greeneland, among lugubrious and spectacular adulteries, sacrilegious communions and whisky priests; we are not in Waugh territory, gaping at the raffish pieties of the aristocracy; we are in middle middle-class Catholic England, where sin is an obsession, and sin mostly means sex. So the book is mainly about what happens to the sex life under these particular constraints, the obstacles to its expression, the contortions to which it is subjected. This is done with candour and in detail – a bit too much candour and detail for my antiquated taste – but it is neither flip not clinical, and is always set against a formidable dogmatic background. This means that the ever-interesting topic, besides its intrinsic interest, serves as the index and symbol of a host of other attitudes and relations.


Graham Hough, 3 April 1980

No doubt it is yet another symptom of the decline of the West that we can so rarely afford proper novels nowadays, only skimpy little pieces of 130 pages or so, barely enough to last from dinner to bedtime. These are not novellen, purpose-built long-short-stories, with their defined themes and central symbols, but stripped-down, elliptical narratives that once would have been told at far greater length. Aesthetically, this may be a gain. Such a contracted form must preserve the strongest flavours, the crises of passion, sensation, eccentricity or pathos; what gets left out is the mashed potatoes of descriptive realism. But seen as a social phenomenon, which it also is, the novel so conceived starts to fulfil a different role. It is no longer the companion for days, or weeks, to be picked up, dropped and resumed, digested and pondered over in between. It is something to be swallowed at a sitting, a rapid mood-changer. Here are two examples, one English and one American, both extremely accomplished.

Eliot’s End

Graham Hough, 6 March 1980

For the last 45 years – ever since Matthiessen’s book in 1935 – the steady flow of critical lucubration on T.S. Eliot has gone on unabated. Not particularly contentious – at any rate since the early days, not particularly progressive – it does not seem to be getting anywhere, it has settled down into a decorously repetitive exercise, rather like chewing the cud. The eagle who by the age of 40 no longer wished to stretch his wings soon established himself as a classic to be accepted rather than to be called in question. There were several reasons for this. The most powerful impact of his work both in poetry and criticism was all early. Those who had been affronted and dismayed by the land-mines scattered around The Waste Land and The Sacred Wood soon found themselves writing ‘Ah, how true’ in the margins of the work of the middle period – so that its real power and originality were often obscured. And there was a long final stretch in which Eliot’s creative powers quietly free-wheeled to a standstill. The early absorption of his work into the academic curriculum created a body of received opinion, and another considerable public has been assured by those who like the piety more than the poetry. The stratagems of the imagist method have long ago been absorbed into ordinary reading habits; the quotations and allusions have all been identified and accepted without remark. So it is a little difficult to see what is left for criticism to do.

John Cheever’s Wapshot Annals

Graham Hough, 7 February 1980

John Cheever’s two celebrated novels, The Wapshot Chronicle and The Wapshot Scandal, are now reissued in one volume. In this form, we can see that the two are really one and the end was always implied in the beginning. We are often told that the American novel is not very deeply rooted in the social world, that in a society so fluid and so quickly changing fiction hardly has time to take stock of the way things actually work and tends to blow up into some kind of surreal fantasy. The Wapshot annals both confirm and contradict this. Some of the characters are fantastic enough, and so are the things that happen to them. In places the words get the bit between their teeth and run off on an autonomous joy-ride. All the same, we are securely situated in a time and a place: the time the first half of the present century, the place St Botolph’s, a small New England town. At the start, St Botolph’s is so securely tied to its past and its ingrained, unexamined heritage as to seem almost incapable of change; at the end, it is so hopelessly adrift as to have no future that it can foresee, and perhaps no future at all.


Complete Pictures

7 October 1982

Graham Hough writes: It was quite inexcusable that I failed to mention Robert Gittings’s life of Hardy, so different from Michael Millgate’s, and valuable in another way. I was out of England when the first volume appeared, so missed the discussion it aroused. But to allow the whole work to slip from my mind in this way is a piece of culpable negligence for which I am sorry.
Graham Hough writes: I thought of mentioning Claude Simon as well as Robbe-Grillet in my review of Mr Josipovici’s novel, but in the end decided to use only one example. In what I said about his views on the relation of the novel to the outer world I was thinking mainly of his essay ‘The Lessons of Modernism’, with its demand for ‘other rules than those of verisimilitude, formal...

Structuralist Methods

20 August 1981

SIR: I am puzzled that my TLS review of David Lodge’s Working with Structuralism should have upset Frank Kermode so much (LRB, 20 August), and I should like to remove the extremely misleading impression he has given of what I said. One would gather from his comments that my review was an attack on David Lodge. It was not: it was an appreciation, both of this book and of Lodge’s earlier...

Yeats and the Occult

Seamus Deane, 18 October 1984

The first three of the four chapters in Graham Hough’s book were the Lord Northcliffe Lectures in Literature given at University College London in February 1983. The audience was general...

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