Thursday, March 3, 2011

Discovering New-to-Me Authors

Every so often, something I hear or read leads me to discover previously-unknown literary works by authors I've never heard of. Today, for example, THAR I WUZ, reading an article about author/illustrator Edward Gorey in the New York Times (online -- I'll leave the paper version to Dunc), when I came upon this tantalizing little bit:
Gorey was born to be posthumous. His poisonously funny little picture books — deadpan accounts of murder, disaster and discreet depravity, narrated in a voice that affects the world-weary tone of British novelists like Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett — established him as the master of high-camp macabre.
Who the dickens are Firbank and this Compton-Burnett person, I wondered. I checked with Bruce Miller—a man of letters if I'm any judge of men of letters—and neither was a household name for him, either.

To the Wikipedia!

Of Firbank, the wiki says,
Dismissed by critics, with the notable exception of Olivia Chambers, as slight, Firbank's novels have been championed by many English novelists including E. M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh and Simon Raven. The poet W. H. Auden praised him highly in a radio broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in June 1961 (the text of the broadcast was published in The Listener of 8 June 1961). Susan Sontag named his novels as constituting part of "the canon of camp" in her 1964 essay "Notes on 'Camp'".
Good champions, indeed. But it gets better. The wiki article goes on to describe his novel, Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926), thusly:
[It] begins with the Cardinal christening a dog in his cathedral ('And thus being cleansed and purified, I do call thee "Crack"!') and ends with His Eminence dying of a heart attack while chasing, naked, a choirboy around the aisles.
You had me at "Crack!"

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, yes? Like a headline torn out of today's newspapers. Sounds like a must-read.

And of Compton-Burnett, ye wiki says
Of [her novel] Pastors and Masters, the New Statesman wrote: "It is astonishing, amazing. It is like nothing else in the world. It is a work of genius."

In her essay collection L'Ère du soupçon (1956), an early manifesto for the French nouveau roman, Nathalie Sarraute hails Compton-Burnett as an "one of the greatest novelists England has ever had".
Possibly true, what do I know? Best play it safe and endeavor to get a copy of Pastors and Masters, too. Works of genius should not go unread.

It's always fun to discover new authors.

1 comment:

  1. " ... ends with His Eminence dying of a heart attack while chasing, naked, a choirboy around the aisles."

    Are we sure this is fiction?

    ReplyDelete

 
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