September 10, 2014
English critic, couch-diver, and chancer CYRIL CONNOLLY (1903–74) is a portrait in vivid failure. He published just one novel out of his large presumptive talent, The Rock Pool (1936), a satirical glance at restless foreigners mooning and boozing in a French seaside town. Connolly knew the scene: an insatiable traveller, he slipped from chateau to townhouse to apartment all over Europe for years after disgracing Eton and his Balliol scholarship with a “gentleman’s” third-class degree. His next book, the autobiographical essay Enemies of Promise (1938) combines fierce insight about the terrors of the literary life with large dollops of self-serving rationalization. There appears the quotation most often associated with this large, disaffected, intermittently brilliant man: “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” Connolly married three times and fathered several children, and so might be thought an authority on the issue; but it is a cop-out of obvious proportion. As a critic, especially as founder and editor of the influential Horizon (1940-50), he had no peer; and he knew everybody from Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman and Anthony Powell to James Joyce, George Orwell and Ian Fleming. The last even endorsed his 1962 parody, “Bond Strikes Camp,” which features cross-dressing and other attempted pomo-homo hijinks. No slouch in self-knowledge, Connolly recognized his weaknesses: his style was imperfect, he wrote, because manic-depressive, “either bright, cruel and superficial; or pessimistic; moth-eaten with self-pity.” He died, as they say, suddenly.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Hardboiled (1894-1903) and Partisan (1904-13) Generations.