Friday, July 24, 2020


Josephine Decker, dir.: Shirley (2020)

Bronwyn and I have an annex of our DVD collection which we devote to movies about writers. It contains most (though not all) of the titles included in my 2016 post on the subject. It can be matched up with two other categories: Movies about Creative Writing Teachers and Movies about English Teachers.

Andy Goddard, dir.: Set Fire to the Stars (2014)

Truth to tell, these labels have a tendency to bleed into one another - certainly in the case of Set Fire to the Stars, a film about Dylan Thomas's disastrous 1950 tour of America. It's told through the eyes of John Malcolm Brinnan, the poet and teacher who facilitated his visit, and whose subsequent book Dylan Thomas in America: An Intimate Journal (1956) was one of the essential documents of mid-century poetic confessionalism.

The reason that I mention it here is because it contains a memorable cameo by Scottish actress Shirley Henderson as a rather stylised version of American horror novelist Shirley Jackson.

You have to admit that they didn't do a bad job of converting the rake-thin Henderson to the somewhat blowsy Jackson:

All that pales into significance now with Elisabeth Moss's electrifying performance - or should I say embodiment? - of Shirley Jackson in the just-released semi-biographical fantasia Shirley.

Stephen King: Danse Macabre (1981)

Mind you, the resemblance between actress and subject is the least of the merits of this extraordinary and terrifying film. I guess I've been a Shirley Jackson fan ever since I first read Stephen King's short history of the horror genre, Danse Macabre, which contains a vivid account of her most famous novel The Haunting of Hill House, sometime back in the mid-1980s.

Susan Scarf Merrell: Shirley (2014)

The film is based on a novel, rather than either of the two biographies I compared in my blogpost Two Versions of Shirley Jackson a few years ago, so I should perhaps stress that it's not to be trusted as an accurate reflection of events.

Shirley Jackson: Hangsaman (1951)

I've also read the novel Hangsaman, which is one of the main pegs the plot of Shirley hangs on (pun intended). As I watched it, though, it did occur to me that there might be quite a bit in it which didn't make immediate sense to a non-American viewing audience.

Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

American High School students (or so I've been led to believe) are generally forced at some point in their educational careers to read and discuss Jackson's notorious story "The Lottery," if not one or other of her two most famous novels, The Haunting of Hill House - recently travestied in a dreadful netflix TV series - and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, also filmed recently.

Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2019)

In fact, though, Jackson wrote six novels, together with the opening chapters of a seventh, published after her death by her husband (and literary executor) Stanley Hyman. They are, in order:

  1. The Road through the Wall. 1948. Foreword by Ruth Franklin. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin, 2013.
  2. Hangsaman. 1951. Foreword by Francine Prose. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin, 2013.
  3. The Bird's Nest. 1954. In The Magic of Shirley Jackson: The Bird’s Nest / Life among the Savages / Raising Demons &c. Ed. Stanley Edgar Hyman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966.
  4. The Sundial. 1958. Foreword by Victor LaValle. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin, 2014.
  5. The Haunting of Hill House. 1959. New York: Penguin, 1984.
  6. We Have Always Lived in the Castle. 1962. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.
  7. Come Along with Me. Ed. Stanley Edgar Hyman. 1966. New York: Penguin, 1995.

Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories
Shirley Jackson. Novels and Stories: The Lottery / The Haunting of Hill House / We Have Always Lived in the Castle / Other Stories and Sketches. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. The Library of America, 204. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2010.

I've often felt that the Library of America missed a trick by not reprinting all of them in their otherwise fine edition of Jackson's Novels and Stories. Was it snobbery, perhaps? Did they feel that a 'genre' author of this type should feel complimented by being included in the series at all? Carson McCullers - to my mind a writer of approximately equal accomplishment - got two volumes, one devoted to novels, the other to stories.

All six of these novels are brilliant is the point I'd like to emphasise here. They are not mere precursors, or prentice works, dashed off before the supreme accomplishment of Hill House and Castle. One reason I feel particularly grateful for this new Shirley Jackson movie is that it attempts to disentangle the dark roots of her second novel, without belittling it in any way.

There would certainly have been enough material for an entire volume of collected stories, too. She only published one book of short stories in her lifetime, hot on the heels of the immense success of "The Lottery."

Shirley Jackson: The Lottery and Other Stories (1949)
The Lottery: Adventures of the Daemon Lover. 1949. London: Robinson Publishing, 1988.
This is reprinted in the Library of America Novels and Stories. Unfortunately, that leaves an overlapping series of posthumously published collections, none of which entirely supersedes any of the others. Shirley Jackson completists are therefore forced to include all of the following in their collections:

  1. The Magic of Shirley Jackson: The Bird’s Nest / Life among the Savages / Raising Demons &c. Ed. Stanley Edgar Hyman. 1954, 1953, 1956. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966.
  2. Come Along with Me. Ed. Stanley Edgar Hyman. 1966. New York: Penguin, 1995.
  3. Just an Ordinary Day: Part of a Novel, Sixteen Stories, and Three Lectures. Ed. Laurence Jackson Hyman & Sarah Hyman Stewart. 1997. Bantam Books. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1998.
  4. "Other Stories and Sketches." In Novels and Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. The Library of America, 204. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2010.
  5. Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings. Introduction by Ruth Franklin. Ed. Laurence Jackson Hyman & Sarah Hyman DeWitt. New York: Random House, 2015.
  6. Jackson, Shirley. Dark Tales. Foreword by Ottessa Moshfegh. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2017.

Shirley Jackson: Dark Tales (2017)

To say the least, this has left her legacy in a somewhat untidy state, not least because the editorial policies of some of these volumes have been a bit on the inclusive side. Jackson wrote for money, and published a good deal in magazines that she might not have liked to have seen perpetuated in book-form.

It's hard for an obsessive such as myself to argue that I shouldn't have access to all of this material - after all, the same could be said of that wayward spendthrift F. Scott Fitzgerald - but it would be nice to see it reduced to some kind of order, given her immense accomplishments in this form.

Coming back to Shirley, though, it's rare for me to watch a movie that ticks all of the boxes with such relentless precision. True, it's a little arty in places, with drifting out-of-focus vignettes glimpsed through windows.

It's also completely inaccurate, given the decision to edit out the brood of children that infested Jackson and Hyman's house, and which must have made it a kind of Bedlam to spend any time in - for further evidence, see her books Life among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1956), which cover precisely the period this story is set in. Those titles do rather speak for themselves.

It's hard to imagine a more flattering portrait of a writer, though. Shirley Jackson comes across as neurotic, manipulative, unpredictable, drunken, lazy, greedy, and obsessive - all at the same time. Above all, though, she's genuinely terrifying! Surely there's not a scribe alive who wouldn't like to be described in those terms?

I suppose that there was an extra treat for me, though, in the film's portrayal of Academia. A while ago I started writing a blogpost on the subject of writing a PhD. Central to the piece was the cartoon below, by Matt Groening, composed before he achieved worldwide fame with The Simpsons:

Matt Groening: Life in Hell (1987)

As Professor Stanley Hyman, Shirley Jackson's husband, tortured and mocked his new assistant, an aspiring young Academic whose wife is being simultaneously tormented by the mercurial Shirley, who needs her to act as a kind of double for the hapless "lost girl" protagonist of her new novel, I felt a vivid sense of déjà vu about the whole thing.

Those "little favours" asked for by the Professor which can never be turned down for fear that he won't put in a kind word for you when the chips are down (of course he won't); those repeated requests for him to "read your dissertation," or let you give a guest lecture, or show any signs of human charity at all ...

So, while it certainly doesn't need me to promote it, I do suggest that you treat yourself to an excursion to see Shirley if you have any interest in writing at all. She may have come down in folklore as a kind of mad witch, scribbling Gothic fantasies on the kitchen table, but in fact Shirley Jackson was a literary virtuoso with a Jamesian level of control.

The Haunting of Hill House can certainly be paralleled with "The Turn of the Screw," but it's worth remembering generally that an obsession with ghosts and haunted spaces was almost a given for all the great novelists of the nineteenth century. It's only in the modern era that such topics have been associated with pulp or popular fiction.

Shirley Jackson's work certainly constitutes formidable proof that psychological horror can coexist with the supernatural to create great writing. She's one of my literary heroes. It's nice to see her books back in print (thanks to Penguin Classics), and her genius finally beginning to be vindicated at last.

Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

[Postscript (12/12/20)]:

Well, clearly great minds think alike. My comments above how "I've often felt that the Library of America missed a trick by not reprinting all of [other novels] in their otherwise fine edition of Jackson's Novels and Stories" only anticipated by a few months the appearance of the following:

Shirley Jackson: Four Novels of the 1940s & 50s (2020)

Shirley Jackson. Four Novels of the 1940s & 50s: The Road Through the Wall / Hangsaman / The Bird’s Nest / The Sundial. 1948, 1951, 1954, 1958. Ed. Ruth Franklin. The Library of America, 336. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2020.

Once before this happened to me, when I remarked to a fellow Melville enthusiast that I was looking forward to the day when the Library of America decided to complete their complete 3-volume edition of his fiction with a volume of collected poems, including Clarel and the other three books, as well as his posthumous and unpublished work in that genre.

Sure enough, a few years later, out it came:

Herman Melville: Complete Poems (2020)

Herman Melville. Complete Poems: Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War / Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land / John Marr and Other Sailors with Some Sea-Pieces / Timoleon Etc. / Posthumous & Unpublished: Weeds and Wildlings Chiefly, with a Rose or Two / Parthenope / Uncollected Poetry and Prose-and-Verse. 1866, 1876, 1888 & 1891. Library of America Herman Melville Edition, 4. Ed. Hershel Parker. Note on the Texts by Robert A. Sandberg. The Library of America, 320. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2019.

Nice to feel vindicated in that way, particularly when the books themselves are so useful and beautiful.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

In Auden's Shadow: Geoffrey Grigson

Geoffrey Grigson (1905-1985)
"one of the most important figures in the history of English taste in our time, the history of taste in painting, and in the sense of landscape and history, as well as taste in poetry"
- G. S. Fraser, "Rebellious Poet"
[Times Literary Supplement (12/12/63): 1030.]

I have to confess this is one case where I am a bit at a loss where to begin. As you can see from my attempt at a Geoffrey Grigson bibliography at the end of this post, no-one could accuse the man of a lack of industry.

That overall total of 84 items is in fact misleading, as some of the entries signal the overall editorship of entire series of books - as in the Festival of Britain "About Britain" guides (1951), or (for that matter) the periodical New Verse, which he edited throughout the 1930s.

The Cold Spring
from the Greek of Leonidas

Traveller, don't drink the sun-warmed water
Of this beck muddied by my trailing sheep,
But climb the hill, there, where the heifers graze,
Go on a yard or two, and you will find, below
That shepherd's pine, bubbling from wet rock,
A spring colder than northern snow.

- Poetry Foundation: Geoffrey Grigson

No matter which way you count it, Grigson produced a huge volume of poetry, prose, and editions of other people's work. It's hard to move sometimes without stumbling over one of his books: flowers, landscapes, John Clare, you name it, if it's rural and English, he's onto it somehow.

So why do I see him "in Auden's Shadow", like the other (at least arguably) overlooked and underappreciated authors in this series?

There's an interesting anecdote about Geoffrey Grigson, Edith Sitwell and Roy Campbell which puts the problem squarely into focus. Here's the opening of Grigson's review of Sitwell's posthumously published autobiography, Taken Care Of (1965):
How are we to explain or explain away (since it is going to need some explaining away for our posterity) the eminence or the acceptance or the at times reverential praise of the poems of the late Edith Sitwell? The poems will fall apart. They strike me, when I look at them again, as a tumble of imitation reliquaries. Of her early poems — the reliquaries are the later ones — some had the tinkliness of a broken music-box, some exhibited the arch simple-mindedness, not always pleasant-mindedness, of a neo-Victorian bouquet of wax and silk under the jags of a dome. Then the war, the bombs, the Great Bomb, and the reliquaries, inside of which there might — or might not — be the scraps of some body of holiness.

I was skeptical when these earnest poems began to appear and to be praised. The psalm sounded — O praise Miss Sitwell in the holiness of her pity and imaginative insight — and swelled; and even old skeptics were converted. But not this skeptic, who looked inside, and found precisely the nothing he expected to find, on past form. It was — I shall vary the exposition and call upon St. Adelbert of Prague and the luminescent fish once caught in the Danube — a fishy to-do.
This passage rather sets the tone for his criticism early and late. Taking no prisoners, might be a positive way of referring to it. Brutal and pitiless demolition of anything he perceived to be second-rate, would be another description.

Roy Campbell (1901-1957)

It seems that at some point in the early 1950s he turned his critical eye on Roy Campbell, the South African poet (and uncritical apologist for Franco and Fascism), who had, by then, become a rather pathetic reactionary drunk. It was in response to this that Grigson was - according to some - slapped by Campbell in the queue at the BBC canteen.

Another version of the story (Grigson's own) has it that he was walking along Upper Regent Street in London when Campbell accosted him, waving his knobbed walking stick, and calling him out for being "so rude to my daddy" (by which he apparently meant Desmond MacCarthy, the senior writer who'd persuaded the BBC to give him a job in the first place).

Grigson replied - according to him - "'Don't be a fool, Roy,' and after a moment or two of nothing that was that."

Roy Campbell: Collected Poems, Vol. III (1960)

Some version of this incident was reported to Sitwell, who - assuming the fight (if fight it was) had been over Grigson's repeated impertinences to her - immediately co-opted Campbell as her white knight-errant, and started to praise his work extravagantly in print - as in her preface to the third volume of his Collected Poems, where she calls him: "one of the very few great poets of our time."

That's one side of Grigson: the attack-dog of mid-century poetry. The other side is a little more difficult to characterise. Part of it was the hero-worshipper: Auden, John Clare, Henry Vaughan - he had his pantheon of the elect. How did he put it in his 1937 essay "Auden as a Monster"?
Auden does not fit. Auden is no gentleman. Auden does not write, or exist, by any of the codes, by the Bloomsbury rules, by the Hampstead rules, by the Oxford, the Cambridge, or the Russell Square rules.
- New Verse, 26–7 (1937), 13–17.

Stephen Spender, ed.: W. H. Auden: A Tribute (1975)

And then again, in his contribution to Spender's Festschrift in 1975, he rapturises about the experience of seeing each new Auden poem for the first time, as he received them at New Verse in the early thirties:
They came on half sheets of notepaper, on long sheets of lined foolscap, in that writing an airborne daddy-longlegs might have managed with one dangling leg, sometimes in pencil, sometimes smudged and still less easy to decipher. They had to be typed before they went to the printer, and in the act of typing each poem established itself. It was rather like old-fashioned developing in the dark-room, but more certain, more exciting
At the far end of the enormous room,
An orchestra is playing to the rich
- there at last on the white page, to be clearer still on the galley, the first entire sight of a new poem joining our literature.
Earth turns over, our side feels the cold ....
- "A Meaning of Auden", W. H. Auden: A Tribute (1975): 13-25.
It sounds as if these smudged submissions from Auden elicited emotions in his acolyte more commonly reserved for love letters than for new additions to "our literature". One wonders if Auden knew? I presume that he did. After all, the excesses of fandom seem to have been every bit as extreme in the 1930s as they are nowadays.

Denis Donoghue (1928- )

What of his own poetry, though? He certainly wrote (and published) enough of it, and made enough surly pronouncements about other people's poetry for us to expect quite a lot.

It seems pretty slight now, for the most part, I'm sorry to say. Critic Denis Donoghue said of it, in an article entitled "Just a Smack at Grigson":
[I]f I were to invoke the criteria that Grigson has enforced upon other contemporary poets, none of his poems would pass. ... Grigson’s peevishness might be justified if his own performances were always sound. But they aren’t. He’s not a scrupulous writer. In a passage denouncing clichés, he writes: "Fiction can survive bagginess or looseness (though it is never the better for it), whereas by those dropsical infections poetry is drowned." Drowned by infections?
- London Review of Books, Vol. 7 No. 4 (7 March 1985)
There's some truth in that, I'm afraid. When careful, they're too careful - as in the example below, quoted with (mild) enthusiasm by Donoghue:
His Swans

Remote music of his swans, their long
Necks ahead of them, slow
Beating of their wings, in unison,
Traversing serene
Grey wide blended horizontals
Of endless sea and sky.

Their choral song: heard sadly, but not
Sad: they sing with solemnity, yet cheerfully,
Contentedly, though one by one
They die.
One by one his white birds
Falter, and fall, out of the sky.

There are some better examples of his poetry out there, though. I particularly like the short epigram, quoted above, from the Greek Anthology. And this late poem, too:

Francis J. Taylor: Dipper on a Waterfall

The Dipper

Staring down from that broken, one-arched bridge,
In that vale of water-mint, saint, lead-mine and Madge,
I was amazed by that fat black-and-white water bird
Hunting under threat, not at all disturbed.

How could I tell that what I saw then and there
Would live for me still in my eightieth year?

[From Geoffrey Grigson: Selected Poems, ed. John Greening (UK: Greenwich Exchange, 2018)]
A number of essays and reminiscences of Grigson are collected in the following volume:

John Greening, ed. "My Rebellious and Imperfect Eye" (2002)
"My Rebellious and Imperfect Eye": Observing Geoffrey Grigson
edited by C. C. Barfoot, R. M. Healey (Amsterdam / New York: Rodopi, 2002)

So far as I can see, there is - as yet - no full-length biography. There do seem to be rich materials for a kind of mid-century chronicle of the Auden era (and after) in an account of his life and times, though. He certainly got into enough fights with his contemporaries to figure in a vast number of other biographies and memoirs!

Geoffrey Grigson, ed. New Verse: An Anthology (1939)

Geoffrey Edward Harvey Grigson (1905-1985)

[titles I own are marked in bold]:


  1. Several Observations (Cresset Press, 1939)
  2. Under the Cliff, and Other Poems (Routledge, 1943)
  3. The Isles of Scilly and Other Poems (Routledge, 1946)
  4. Legenda Suecana. Twenty-odd Poems (printed for the author, 1953)
  5. The Cherry Tree (Phoenix House, 1959)
  6. Collected Poems 1924–1962 (Phoenix House, 1963)
  7. A Skull in Salop, and Other Poems (Macmillan, 1967)
  8. Ingestion of Ice-Cream and Other Poems. Macmillan Poets. London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd., 1969.
  9. Discoveries of Bones and Stones (Macmillan Poets; Macmillan, 1971)
  10. Sad Grave of an Imperial Mongoose (Macmillan, 1973)
  11. Penguin Modern Poets 23: Geoffrey Grigson / Edwin Muir / Adrian Stokes. Guest Ed. Stephen Spender. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
  12. The First Folio (Poem of the Month Club, 1973)
  13. Angles and Circles and Other Poems (Gollancz, 1974)
  14. History of Him (Secker & Warburg, 1980)
  15. Collected Poems 1963–1980 (Allison & Busby, 1982)
  16. The Cornish Dancer and Other Poems (Secker & Warburg, 1982)
  17. Montaigne's Tower and Other Poems (Secker & Warburg, 1984)
  18. Persephone's Flowers and Other Poems (David & Charles, 1986)

  19. Prose:

  20. Henry Moore (Penguin, 1944)
  21. Wild Flowers in Britain (William Collins, 1944)
  22. Samuel Palmer: the Visionary Years (Kegan Paul, 1947)
  23. An English Farmhouse and Its Neighbourhood (Max Parrish, 1948)
  24. Places of the Mind (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949)
  25. The Crest on the Silver: An Autobiography (Cresset Press, 1950)
  26. Flowers of the Meadow (Penguin Books, 1950)
  27. Thornton's Temple of Flora (Collins, 1951)
  28. Essays From the Air: 29 Broadcast Talks (1951)
  29. A Master of Our Time: a Study of Wyndham Lewis (Methuen, 1951)
  30. Gardenage, or the Plants of Ninhursaga (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952)
  31. Freedom of the Parish (Phoenix House, 1954)
  32. The Englishman's Flora (Phoenix House, 1955)
  33. The Shell Guide to Flowers of the Countryside (Phoenix House, 1955)
  34. Painted Caves (Phoenix House, 1957)
  35. The Shell Guide to Trees and Shrubs (Phoenix House, 1958)
  36. English Villages in Colour (Batsford, 1958)
  37. Looking and Finding (Phoenix House, 1958)
  38. The Shell Guide to Wild Life (Phoenix House, 1959)
  39. A Herbal of All Sorts (Macmillan, 1959)
  40. English Excursions (Country Life, 1960)
  41. Samuel Palmer's Valley of Vision (Phoenix House, 1960)
  42. The Shell Country Book (Phoenix House, 1962)
  43. Poets in Their Pride (Dent, 1962)
  44. Gerard Manley Hopkins (Longmans, Green & Co., 1962)
  45. O Rare Mankind! (Phoenix House, 1963)
  46. The Shell Nature Book (Phoenix House, 1964)
  47. [with Jane Grigson] Shapes and Stories (Readers Union, 1965)
  48. The Shell Country Alphabet (Michael Joseph, 1966)
  49. Shapes and People – A Book about Pictures (J. Baker, 1969)
  50. Poems and Poets (Macmillan, 1969)
  51. Notes from an Odd Country (Macmillan, 1970)
  52. The Contrary View: Glimpses of Fudge and Gold (Macmillan, 1974)
  53. A Dictionary of English Plant Names (and some products of plants) (Allen Lane, 1974)
  54. The Goddess of Love: The Birth, Triumph, Death and Return of Aphrodite (Quartet, 1978)
  55. Blessings, Kicks and Curses: A Critical Collection (Allison & Busby, 1982)
  56. The Private Art: A Poetry Notebook (Allison & Busby, 1982)
  57. Geoffrey Grigson's Countryside (Ebury Press, 1982)
  58. Recollections, Mainly of Writers and Artists (Hogarth Press, 1984)
  59. Country Writings (Century, 1984)

  60. Edited:

  61. New Verse (1933-39)
  62. The Arts To-day (John Lane The Bodley Head, 1935)
  63. New Verse: An Anthology. London: Faber, 1939.
  64. Visionary Poems and Passages or The Poet's Eye. Lithographs by John Craxton (Frederick Muller, 1944)
  65. The Mint: a Miscellany of Literature, Art and Criticism (George Routledge & Sons, 1946)
  66. Before the Romantics: An Anthology of the Enlightenment (Routledge & Sons, 1946)
  67. John Craxton. Paintings and Drawings (Horizon, 1948)
  68. Poems of John Clare’s Madness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949.
  69. Poetry of the Present: An Anthology of the 'Thirties and After (Phoenix House, 1949)
  70. The Victorians: An Anthology (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950)
  71. [General Editor] Festival of Britain "About Britain" Guides (Collins, 1951)
  72. The Three Kings: a Christmas Book of Carols, Poems and Pieces (Gordon Fraser, 1958)
  73. William Allingham's Diary (Centaur Press, 1967)
  74. The Concise Encyclopedia of Modern World Literature (Hawthorn Books, 1970)
  75. The Faber Book of Popular Verse (Faber & Faber, 1971)
  76. The Faber Book of Love Poems (Faber & Faber, 1973)
  77. Charles Cotton. 1974. Poet to Poet (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975)
  78. Britain Observed: the Landscape Through Artists' Eyes (1975)
  79. The Penguin Book of Ballads. 1975. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
  80. The Faber Book of Epigrams and Epitaphs (Faber & Faber, 1978)
  81. The Faber Book of Nonsense Verse: With a Sprinkling of Nonsense Prose (Faber & Faber, 1979)
  82. The Oxford Book of Satirical Verse (Oxford University Press, 1980)
  83. The Penguin Book of Unrespectable Verse (Penguin, 1980)
  84. The Faber Book of Poems and Places (Faber & Faber, 1980)
  85. The English Year from Diaries and Letters (Oxford Paperbacks, 1984)
  86. The Faber Book of Reflective Verse (Faber & Faber, 1984)

Thursday, July 09, 2020


Charlotte Brontë: The Young Men’s Magazine (1830)

I remember when I used to buy those fat old volumes of the works of some poet or other, they would almost invariably include a section at the front entitled 'Juvenilia.'

Kindlier editors would relegate this to the appendices, so that it didn't constitute one's first introduction to - say - Wordsworth or Tennyson, but those obedient to the remorseless dictates of chronology would place those sorry scraps of verse right there, front and centre, the first thing the eye was likely to light upon.

There's a passage in W. H. Auden's long narrative poem 'Letter to Lord Byron' where he imagines his own fate in the next world:
You know the terror that for poets lurks
Beyond the ferry when to Minos brought.
Poets must utter their Collected Works,
Including Juvenilia. So I thought
That you might warn him. Yes, I think you ought,
In case, when my turn comes, he shall cry ‘Atta boys,
Off with his bags, he’s crazy as a hatter, boys!’
Now was the fear an entirely idle one in his case. The remorseless hand of Katherine Bucknell, editor of this and many other volumes of literary remains by the poet and his great friend Christopher Isherwood, has not allowed even this sacred turf to remain untrodden:

W. H. Auden: Juvenilia (1994)

Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928. Ed. Katherine Bucknell. London: Faber, 1994.

Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928. Expanded Paperback Edition. Ed. Katherine Bucknell. 1994. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003.
It's true that some of Auden's early verse is very good - excellent imitations of Thomas Hardy and Edward Thomas, for the most part - but none of it quite reaches the level of the poems included in his first, 1928, chapbook, let alone the Faber-published Poems (1930).

C. S. & W. H. Lewis: Boxen (2008)

Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C. S. Lewis. Ed. Walter Hooper. London: Collins & Fount Paperbacks, 1985.

Boxen: Childhood Chronicles Before Narnia. Essay by Walter Hooper. 1985. Introduced by Douglas Gresham. 2008. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.
You have to be pretty high up the index of salability (as well as critical reputation) to merit publication of your juvenilia, it should be said. Another recent instance is C. S. Lewis, whose childish 'beast fable' world of Boxen first saw print in 1985, and then again - in a greatly expanded edition - in 2008.

Those who were hoping for something prophetic of the Narnia books were in for a bit of a disappointment, but so great is the interest in him that both books appear to have sold quite well to Lewis 'completists' (such as myself).

Jane Austen: Juvenilia

The Works of Jane Austen. Vol. 6: Minor Works. Now First Collected and Edited from the Manuscripts. With Illustrations from Contemporary Sources. Ed. R. W. Chapman. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. 6 vols. 1954. 2nd ed. 1958. 3rd ed. Rev. B. C. Southam. 1969. London: Oxford University Press, 1975.
A rather better known example is (of course) Jane Austen, whose juvenilia first appeared in print in the early twentieth century, and was added by R. W. Chapman as an extra to his classic five-volume edition of her novels in 1954.

Jane Austen: Minor Works (1958)

I suppose the essence of a really impressive body of juvenilia is that it needs to be created in partnership with a sibling or other collaborator. That was the case with C. S. Lewis and his older brother Warnie, as well as Jane Austen and her older sister Cassandra, illustrator of the classic "History of England … By a partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian."

Beer, Frances, ed. The Juvenilia of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.
Of course there's no question who are the most famous family of juvenilia writers of all time - and I don't mean Daisy Ashford and her sisters, for all the undoubted charm of The Young Visiters and its successors.

Daisy Ashford: The Young Visiters (1919)

I refer, of course, to the Brontës: Anne, Branwell, Charlotte, and Emily. The story goes that their father Patrick came home one day in 1826 with twelve wooden soldiers, which he meant to be a birthday present for Branwell, who was about to turn nine. His older sister Charlotte (10), and the two younger girls Emily (7) and Anne (6) each chose a particular soldier as their own, and began to elaborate a complex game around these "Young Men" (as they called them):
However, it was not until December 1827 that their ideas took written form, and the imaginary African kingdom of Glass Town came into existence, followed by the Empire of Angria. Emily and Anne created Gondal, an island continent in the North Pacific, ruled by a woman, after the departure of Charlotte in 1831. In the beginning, these stories were written in little books, the size of a matchbox (about 1.5 x 2.5 inches—3.8 x 6.4 cm), and cursorily bound with thread. The pages were filled with close, minute writing, often in capital letters without punctuation and embellished with illustrations, detailed maps, schemes, landscapes, and plans of buildings, created by the children according to their specialisations. The idea was that the books were of a size for the soldiers to read. The complexity of the stories matured as the children's imaginations developed, fed by reading the three weekly or monthly magazines to which their father had subscribed.

Fannie Ratchford: The Brontës’ Web of Childhood (1941)

Ratchford, Fannie Elizabeth. The Brontës’ Web of Childhood. 1941. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949.

Ratchford, Fannie Elizabeth, ed. Gondal's Queen: A Novel in Verse by Emily Brontë. Austin: University of Texas Press / London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Limited, 1955.
The classic account of all this is Fannie Ratchford's The Brontës’ Web of Childhood. She followed this up with a rather more controversial rearrangement of Emily Brontë's Gondal poems, which she saw as a connected series of lyric moments which could be linked into a 'verse novel' about a single protagonist, 'A. G. A.' - Queen Augusta Geraldine Almeda.

Pauline Clark: The Twelve and the Genii (1962)

Clarke, Pauline. The Twelve and the Genii. Illustrated by Cecil Leslie. 1962. Faber Paper Covered Editions. London: Faber, 1970.
An even more imaginative response to their imaginary world can be found in Pauline Clarke's 1962 children's book, which concerns the further adventures of the twelve toy soldiers immortalised in the Brontë children's - the 'Genii' of the title - tales of Glass-town, Gondal and Angria.

Wise, Thomas J., & John Alexander Symington, ed. The Shakespeare Head Brontë: The Miscellaneous and Unpublished Writings of Charlotte and Patrick Branwell Brontë. 2 vols. Shakespeare Head Press. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1936.
Actually reading the stories themselves is not so simple as it might appear. For a long time the most complete edition available was that produced by celebrated literary forger and thief Thomas J. Wise, in collaboration with John Alexander Symington, in 1936.

However, given that he:
privately printed abridged and inaccurate editions of ... [the] manuscripts; he removed the original covers from a number of the booklets and had them rebound for his own personal library; and others he took apart page by page, selling the fragments to friends and acquaintances.
- The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës, ed. Heather Glen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002): 37
that's not really saying very much.

Christine Alexander, ed.: The Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (3 vols, 1987-91)

Alexander, Christine, ed. An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. Volume I: The Glass Town Saga, 1826-1832. 3 vols. Shakespeare Head Press. Oxford & New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987.

Alexander, Christine, ed. An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. Volume II: The Rise of Angria, 1833-1835. Part 1: 1833-1834. 3 vols. Shakespeare Head Press. Oxford & New York: Basil Blackwell, 1991.

Alexander, Christine, ed. An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. Volume II: The Rise of Angria, 1833-1835. Part 2: 1834-1835. 3 vols. Shakespeare Head Press. Oxford & New York: Basil Blackwell, 1991.
Light began to dawn on this unsatisfactory situation in 1987, when New Zealand-born Academic Christine Alexander started to publish her magisterial, 3-volume edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë.

I recently purchased all three of these books from Browsers Bookshop in Hamilton. Somewhat poignantly, it turned out to be a gift set presented by the editor to her old school, Woodford House. Judging from the library slip at the back, it had only ever been borrowed once, so I suppose it made sense to de-accession it. Anyway, their loss is my gain.

Christine Alexander, ed.: The Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (1987-91))
[photographs: Bronwyn Lloyd]

The fact that it proclaimed itself to be a three-volume edition and it was three volumes I bought led me, mistakenly, to think that it was complete. Not so, I'm afraid. Volume II, The Rise of Angria (1991), is divided into two separate parts.

So where's volume III? Nowhere, it would appear. For some reason the edition was interrupted mid-course, and we're still awaiting its completion thirty years later.

24-7 Press Release: Prof. Christine Alexander (2014)

Not that time has exactly stood still in the meantime. There's been one more attempt, by Brontë scholar Juliet Barker, to provide a representative selection of Charlotte Brontë's part of the juvenilia, as well as a strange little stand-alone publication of the late play 'Stancliffe's Hotel.'

Juliet Barker, ed.: Charlotte Brontë: Juvenilia 1829-1835 (1996)

Charlotte Brontë. Juvenilia 1829-1835. Ed. Juliet Barker. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.

Charlotte Brontë. Stancliffe's Hotel. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2003.

Heather Glen, ed.: Charlotte Brontë: Stancliffe's Hotel (2003)

What can one say about all this? I suppose that the principal interest we take in the juvenilia of subsequently celebrated writer is for the echoes they presumbaly contain of their later, more accomplished works.

And yet they can have a strange charm in themselves. The Scottish writer Marjorie Fleming (1803-1811) wrote a diary in the late eighteen months of her brief life which contains such flashes of charm and wit that it's hard to put down even now.

Miss Isa Keith: Marjorie Fleming (1811)

The Complete Marjory Fleming: Her Journals, Letters & Verse. Ed. Frank Sidgwick. 1934. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1935.
I'm not sure that the same can be said of Opal Whiteley's very odd diary, which was all the rage in the roaring twenties, but seems now to have been some kind of an odd hoax.

Opal Whiteley (1897-1992)

The Diary of Opal Whiteley. Introduction by Viscount Grey of Fallodon. Preface by Ellery Sedgwick. 1920. London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920.

E. S. Bradburne. Opal Whiteley: The Unsolved Mystery. Together with Opal Whiteley's Diary: 'The Journal of an Understanding Heart'. London: Putnam & Company Limited, 1962.

Anne & Jack Ross: Kwalic Archive (c.1970-1975)

I have to add, as a postscript to this post, some links to the Mosehouse Studio posts Bronwyn Lloyd has devoted to the childhood writings and drawings of my own family - mostly to do with our toy Koala bears, inhabitants of the city of Kwalalumpa, mapped and genealogised with almost Brontë-like zeal by my sister Anne and myself.

Anne Mairi Ross (1961-1991)