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Archive for January, 2011

From today’s Independent:

The estate of Donald Hartog, a long-time friend of The Catcher in the Rye author, has given 50 of [J.D.] Salinger’s letters and four postcards to the University of East Anglia’s (UEA’s) literary archives…
Salinger and Hartog met in 1937 in Vienna when they were both 18, after being sent to Europe by their fathers to learn German… During the Second World War, the pair continued to correspond. While letters from this period have been lost, in 1986 Hartog revived their friendship. This was prompted by media reports that an unauthorised biography about the writer,
In Search of JD Salinger: A Writing Life (1935-65), by British author Ian Hamilton, was due to be printed…
[Salinger] initially tried to stop the publication of Hamilton’s biography, but the book eventually appeared in 1988 in paraphrased form.

Indeed it did, and since 2010 the superb In Search of J.D. Salinger has been available in Faber Finds. What, then, does the unearthed correspondence tell us of the author of The Catcher in the Rye? Well…

In the letters, the media-shy author discusses his keen passion for sports. [UEA Professor of American Studies Chris] Bigsby says: “He is personable, he is chit-chatty. During a series of letters in the late 1980s and early 1990s the two correspondents share an interest in Tim Henman. Salinger remarked that he liked the look of Henman’s parents, who were appearing on TV a lot at the time, mentioning that they didn’t look like your average pushy sports stars’ parents.”
For a writer who penned one of the most critically-adored works in history, Salinger’s preoccupations are strikingly ordinary, if eccentric. His favourite of The Three Tenors was José Carreras. He enjoyed watching television, including Granada Television’s
Band of Gold and the 1990 Fifa World Cup. In 1996, he sent Hartog clippings about the OJ Simpson trial. He talks approvingly of Mikhail Gorbachev’s election as president of the Soviet Union in 1990, while remarking during the 1988 US presidential elections that he “had no hope” for incoming leader George HW Bush…

The following tribute to Catcher from Christopher Hitchens describes a surely-not-atypical sense of literary discovery and, for me, says most of what needs saying about the book’s enduring appeal. One wonders how future generations will feel about it, and indeed about the USA?

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Since 2008 Finds has been proud to offer readers A. L. Lloyd’s 1937 translation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which we feel comfortable in describing as the first published translation of the work into English – at least between covers. But we’ve been glad to receive a letter from a learned reader alerting us to another aspect of the title’s publishing history, and this correspondent writes:

Eugene Jolas prepared and published a translation [of Metamorphosis] across several issues of the journal Transition between Autumn 1936 and Spring 1938. However, as Jolas’ version appeared in instalments and therefore straddles the release of Lloyd’s, it may still be accurate to suggest that Lloyd’s was the first “complete” published translation of the work…

Good to know. Meanwhile – don’t you find, reader, that to dwell on thoughts of Kafka for much more than a moment is to find oneself drifting off a little into his singular imaginative universe…? “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect…” Another stray thought: could there ever be another Kafka? That is, in our age of instantaneous publishing and 24-hour multi-channel promotion, would it be possible for an insurance man who wrote at night and asked finally that all his works be incinerated… could such a retiring type get a start in the publishing universe of 2011? Not exactly the sort one would call ‘a promotable author’… And yet he was arguably the most influential fiction writer of the twentieth century, and surely the only writer in history of whom it can be said (as George Steiner has done) that he annexed and made his very own a letter of the alphabet…
Steven Berkoff’s celebrated stage version of Metamorphosis was a wonderful thing back in the 1980s, and Tim Roth, Roman Polanski and Mikhail Baryshnikov all took a turn at contorting their bodies into the mutated shape of Gregor Samsa. This clip below from a US network news show noting the New York opening of the Baryshnikov production, and featuring a cameo from Nancy Reagan, is one that should be saved for the annals.

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An interesting piece here on the website of West End Lane Books, concerning ‘Lost London Authors.’ As one would hope in light of our stated ambitions, certain writers whom Finds has already revived are namechecked therein: A.S.J. Tessimond for starters, also Colin MacInnes, and there’s a nice mention for Dan Davin’s Closing Times, the author’s reminiscences of Julian Maclaren-Ross, W. R. Rodgers, Louis MacNeice, Enid Starkie, Joyce Cary, Dylan Thomas and the Yiddish poet Itzik Manger.
Then, of course, there is Patrick Hamilton, early works of whose Finds dearly hopes, sourcing issues permitting, to be restoring to readers by the middle of the year ahead… Hamilton’s classic Hangover Square remains very much in print and currency, of course: I picture it here simply because in its aura, in its very name, it speaks so eloquently of just how sharply Hamilton perceived and could paint in words a portrait of ‘The Big Smoke’…

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William Deakin and Josip Broz ('Tito') in Jajce, 1943

One of Finds’ happiest projects in this the first quarter of 2011 is the reissue of three brilliant works by Sir William (‘F.W.D.’ / ‘Bill’) Deakin, historian, WWII veteran and founding warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford.
Deakin was born in 1913, educated at Westminster and Oxford, and gained his apprenticeship in the business of writing history as research assistant to Winston Churchill on his celebrated life of the Duke of Marlborough. With the outbreak of World War II Deakin joined up, was seconded to the War Office’s Special Operations unit, and in May 1943 was parachuted into Montenegro on a perilous mission to make contact with and assessment of the Yugoslav Partisans led by Josip Broz (‘Tito’) – a mission that would come to influence British policy on Yugoslavia decisively.
In the 1950s Deakin settled as principal of the new St Antony’s College and in the 1960s began to publish his histories. Recently made available in Finds is The Case of Richard Sorge (1965, co-written with G.R. Storry), which tells the story of the Tokyo-based German Communist who alerted Stalin to Operation Barbarossa. Next month we will offer The Embattled Mountain (1971), Deakin’s personal account of his mission in Yugoslavia (named for Mount Durmitor, over which he and Tito’s Partisans were pursued by German/Italian forces.)
But our January offering is The Brutal Friendship, Deakin’s account of the Hitler-Mussolini alliance and German-Italian relations during the Second World War. I am delighted to offer here an appreciation of The Brutal Friendship specially composed for Finds by Adrian Lyttelton, Senior Adjunct Professor of European Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University (Bologna Center), and the author of, inter alia, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919–1929.

Almost fifty years after its first publication, The Brutal Friendship remains an indispensable point of reference for all studies of the decline and fall of Fascism. Neither the English title nor the title of the first Italian edition fully indicate the scope of Deakin’s work. Indeed the Italian title—Storia della Repubblica di Salòwas positively misleading, as only the third and final part deals with this theme. If we put the two titles together, however, we can better see where the true originality of Deakin’s work lies.

Few studies of any period of Fascism based on extensive primary research have so skilfully combined the study of foreign policy with that of the internal policy and nature of the Fascist regime. The second chapter, on the structure and characteristics of Mussolini’s “personal government” remains a masterpiece of compressed analysis, and until the appearance of Lutz Klinkhammer’s fine study of the German occupation of Italy (1993) no other work has explored with such subtlety and realism the relationship between the fragile and divided Salò Republic of 1943-5 and the Nazi occupiers.

Deakin had an almost ascetic conception of the role of the contemporary historian. At a time when the vast documentation available to historians of the Fascist regime and its short-lived heir was almost unexplored, he felt that the first duty of the historian was to give as extensive a view as possible of the documents, particularly those of German origin. His judgements are often implicit, or reserved for brief asides. One should not imagine, however, that this makes for difficult reading. The book has a strong narrative structure, and the tragic drama of the last years of Fascism emerges vividly from the documents themselves.

The “brutal friendship” between the dictators, if it is not the whole book, is certainly at its heart. What peculiarly interesting about the relationship between Hitler and Mussolini is that at the outset the admiration was all on Hitler’s side. But his belief in Mussolini’s project of remaking a people whom he regarded as naturally inferior and unreliable was eroded by what he saw as Mussolini’s excessive caution in dealing with the monarchy and other remnants of the old Italy. Italy’s disastrous military performance did the rest, and already before Mussolini’s first fall from power on 25 July 1943 Hitler had remarked that Mussolini seemed like a broken man. Nevertheless he kept enough regard for a man whom he regarded as his only precursor to make his rescue a top priority, although undoubtedly a realistic appreciation of Mussolini’s value as a figurehead was a crucial consideration.

Unlike some authors who have written about Mussolini’s final years, Deakin does not trivialize his subject. He does not ignore the lurid personal intrigues around Mussolini’s mistress Claretta Petacci, his son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano, and other members of the dictator’s “court”, but he does not give them excessive importance. The tragedy of Mussolini’s relationship with Hitler was rooted both in their mutual recognition of the ideological affinity (not identity) of Nazism and Fascism, and in the huge disparity of power between the two nations.

The other Italian participants in the story—King Victor Emanuel III, the generals, the leaders of the Fascist party – do not come well out of the story, to say the least. It might be thought that Deakin’s vision reflects unconsciously the harsh judgements of his Nazi sources. But Allied judgements (and those of anti-fascist Italians) were not very different. Some Italian critics have complained that Deakin does not give enough importance to the anti-fascist Resistance. But I think that this criticism is misplaced. Quite simply, this was not part of the story that Deakin has told with such skill and completeness, that of the fatal embrace between two dictators and their regimes.

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The Powys family, JC standing second from right, TF to his left

The union of Reverend Charles Francis Powys and his wife Mary Cowper Johnson evidently contained some rare creative power, producing as it did eleven children, seven of whom became published authors. (The Powys Society website ably chronicles and celebrates this family saga.)
The most celebrated of the offspring was, of course, John Cowper Powys (1872-1963), he of Wolf Solent (1929) and A Glastonbury Romance (1932), the latter famously rated by George Steiner as ‘the only novel produced by an English writer that can fairly be compared with the fictions of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.’
Since 2008 Finds has returned to print a selection of JC Powys’s earlier novels – Wood and Stone (1915), Rodmoor (1916), After My Fashion (1919), Ducdame (1925) – and also of those that followed his greatest successes – namely Morwyn (1937), The Inmates (1952), Atlantis (1954), and The Brazen Head (1956). Late last year this republishing plan resumed with his Autobiography (1934), in which he asserted:

‘I have tried to write my life as if I were confessing to a priest, a philosopher, and a wise old woman. I have tried to write as if I were going to be executed when it was finished. I have tried to write it as if I were both God and Devil.’

This is merely to give some flavour of what JC Powys tried that so few then or since would or could hope to emulate… We follow on this month with the reissue of his The Meaning of Culture (1929) and In Defense of Sensuality (1930).
Meantime we proceed also with the returning to print of John’s but-slightly younger brother Theodore Francis (T.F.) Powys (1875-1953), a decidedly more ascetic figure but no less of a literary powerhouse. Mr. Tasker’s Gods (1925) opened our republishing, this month we have his selected stories, God’s Eyes A-Twinkle, and to follow in coming months are Mark Only (1924), Fables (1929), Innocent Birds (1926) and Mockery Gap (1925).
For those coming fresh to the Powys’s works, back in 2001 the philosopher and critic John Gray wrote a splendid comparative appraisal of JC and TF in the New Statesman. He noted first the enduringly ‘modern’ sensibility of John Cowper:

‘His novels are studies in introspection, in which only subjective sensation has reality and the central business of life is the search for a personal mythology. Seeing human relationships as encounters between solitary consciousnesses, he has no interest in class or ambition. He writes about sex without the least trace of moralising. An inveterate sceptic, he sees religions and philosophies as works of art, to be used for their aesthetic qualities and discarded when they cease to please. Even today, these are faintly subversive attitudes…’

By comparison Theodore Francis is the sort of writer whose work might be as easily blazed in mosaics in some moss-grown temple as printed on demand and in e-book… But this deep-rooted quality is what should speak to the contemporary reader. As Gray goes on:

“By all conventional standards, T F Powys is the least modern of writers. His novels and short stories are set in a landscape as far removed as possible from anything smart or urban – a fantastical version of English village life, in which human emotions work themselves out against a backdrop of brooding countryside… He sets his tales in a grotesquely exaggerated rural landscape, not because he has any nostalgia for the way of life it may once have contained, but because, by doing so, he is free to strip human beings down to their barest elements – their lust, greed, cruelty and stupidity, and the mixture of dread and yearning with which they respond to the prospect of death… The greatest value of his work, though, is in showing that it is still possible to write about the primordial human experiences to which religion is a response. Secular writers tend to steer clear of them, and end up stuck in the shallows of politics or fashion. On the other hand, Christian writers are mostly precious and unpersuasive, like T S Eliot, or else more or less openly fraudulent, like Graham Greene. Very few 20th-century authors have the knack of writing convincingly of first and last things. A religious writer without any vestige of belief, Theodore Powys is one of them.’

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A word to the wise: this coming autumn Finds plans to bring out a quartet of titles by the great Austrian novelist/playwright Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989): Concrete (1982), Extinction (1986), The Loser (1983) and Wittgenstein’s Nephew (1982). As such it’s a pleasure to read in the current New Statesman a piece by Gabriel Josipovici in praise of Bernhard, claiming him as ‘Austria’s finest postwar writer‘ and indeed ‘the most truthful, the funniest and the most musical of writers since Marcel Proust.’ Josipovici summarises Bernhard’s achievement like so:

In his relatively short life he had produced a dozen novels, stories ranging in length from five lines to 50 pages, numerous plays and a remarkable autobiography in five parts, plus essays and poems. Immediately recognised as a remarkable writer, he won nearly every literary prize available; at the same time, he was being excoriated in the press for subverting Austrian values and sued by individuals who felt traduced by him. He responded by playing up to the stereotype even as he subverted it, and by banning post­humous performance of his plays in Austria.
At his death, the whole of Europe apart from Britain (which, by contrast, took his more humourless disciple W G Sebald to its heart) was united in recognising him as one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 20th century. The committee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, making the award in 2005 to Elfriede Jelinek, hinted at its error in not honouring him in his lifetime, asserting that the prize had been given to the whole Austrian tradition of satire and subversion that ran from Nestroy to Jelinek…

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The young Elizabeth David, whose last work is reissued in Finds this month (see left)

Precisely what, you may ask, is Finds making available to readers this month? Answer, as ever: a grand assortment of outstanding fiction and non-fiction titles that deserve renewed attention, and these are they:
FICTION
Margaret Kennedy, The Midas Touch
Siegfried Lenz, The Heritage
T.F. Powys, God’s Eyes A-Twinkle
William Sansom, Bed of Roses
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Winter in the Air and Other Stories
Henry Williamson, Love and the Loveless
NON-FICTION
J.D. Bernal, Science in History vol.3: The Natural Sciences in Our Time
Elizabeth David, Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices
F.W. Deakin, The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism
Amos Elon, Jerusalem: City of Mirrors
John Grigg, Lloyd George: The People’s Champion, 1902-1911
Timothy Mowl, Stylistic Cold Wars: Betjeman Versus Pevsner
John Cowper Powys, In Defence of Sensuality
Notes and perspectives on a few of these will follow.

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