Michael Holroyd

“Out of Print,” Michael Holroyd
The American Scholar, Volume 39, Number 2 (Spring 1970)

“All of us, probably, have some favorite unfashionable author,” wrote acclaimed biographer Michael Holroyd in this article from the same issue of The American Scholar as its second feature on neglected books. Despite the occasional resurrection, such as that of the works of Jean Rhys in the late 1960s, however, “The majority of forgotten writers are sunk without a trace.”

Holroyd proceeds to review a number of writers and books worthy of at least the same attention from publishers and readers as the “plethora of books about Conrad, Lawrence, and the rest”–those whose work has “become a canonical part of English literature at the universities.”

The novels of Gilbert Cannan

“Has anyone, for example, considered bringing out some of Gilbert Cannan’s novels? Praised by Henry James, dismissed by D.H. Lawrence. Cannan spent the last half of his life in a lunatic asylum (without, according unreliably to Richard Aldington, any justification), and is certainly a controversial enough figure to warrant some publisher looking again at Round the Corner or Mendel.”

The works of Patrick Hamilton

“As a thriller writer, Patrick Hamilton is still well known, because his Rope, Gaslight, and Hangover Square have all been filmed. But his finest work–the novels Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky and The Slaves of Solitude, and his play The Duke in Darkness–is unknown because it does not appear on any English literature syllabus and has not attracted Alfred Hitchcock. There have been several attempts to revive interest in his novels, notably by Clancy Sigal, John Russell Taylor, and J.B. Priestley, who described him as one of the ‘very few genuine original novelists.’ But when, more recently, Doris Lessing wanted to write a piece on him, she was told there was no curiosity abot his books, and so her piece was never published.”

Holroyd quotes Lessing: “I’m continually amazed that there’s a kind of roll call of OK names from the 1930s, sort of Auden and Isherwood, etc. But Hamilton is never on them and he’s a much better writer than any of them.”

Recollections of Logan Pearsall Smith, Robert Gathorne-Hardy

“… it is palpably ridiculous for, let us say, Robert Gathorne-Hardy’s memoir of Logan Pearsall Smith to be permanently not in print because of a system that prints too much.”

The Magic of My Youth, Arthur Calder-Marshall

“Left high and dry by this climate of opinion is the delicate art of autobiography to which, ironically, the English bring a particular talent. The autobiography of the late J.R. Ackerley, published recently, has been hailed by several leading critics as a minor masterpiece. Yet there is no guarantee that it will be allowed to pass Cyril Connolly’s ten-year test and still be available in 1979. After all, Arthur Calder-Marshall’s The Magic of My Youth is now available neither in hardback nor in paperback.”

The Seventh Child, Romilly John

“We all known, for instance, that Augustus John wrote Chiaroscuro; but how many people have read his son Romilly John’s The Seventh Child, a book that certainly deserves to be remembered?


“Most people have heard of Sir Arnold Lunn’s autobiographical novel, The Harrovians; but who knows of his brother Brian Lunn’s marvelous autobiography, Switchback?” [Who knows of The Harrovians now?–ed.]

Other autobiographies

“In place of all those repetitious series of critical studies of great names, why doesn’t someone start a library of autobiographies, from Benjamin Haydon [Life of B. R. Haydon, from his Autobiography and Journals, edited and compiled by Tom Taylor] to Edwin Muir [An Autobiography] to Gerald Brenan’s A Life of One’s Own? [In a Guardian article from 2003, James Fenton wrote, “… Haydon’s autobiography makes appalling sense: no one has expressed better what it is like to fail as an artist, to be taken up by society, to find yourself dropped, to feel rivalry with the living and with the dead, to make enemies both inadvertently and deliberately, to yearn for some great achievement.”]

The works of John Stewart Collis

“… John Stewart Collis, whose unique series of books on natural phenomenon has been compared to the work of Ruskin…. Collis, with none of his volumes in print, refuses to admit that his name is not a household word, and his books international best sellers. ‘Tell them you are unjustly neglected,’ he maintains, ‘and they’ll say, “Come, let’s neglect him a little more.”‘”

The works of William Gerhardie

“For a novelist whose splendid gifts have been praised by Arnold Bennett, Desmond MacCarthy, Katherine Mansfield, Edith Wharton, and many others, it was ludicrous that not a sinlge one of his novels should be in print. Quite lately he had been the subject of appreciative articles by Walter Allen, Michael Ivens, Olivia Manning, C.P. Snow, and Philip Toynbee–all to no avail. He was an important influence on the work of, among others, William Cooper, Anthony Powell, and Evelyn Waugh–but his own books are nearly impossible to get hold of.” [Gerhardie’s best-regarded novels are Futility, The Polyglots, and Doom–ed.]

The works of Hugh Kingsmill

“Behind the big names of contemporary writing there stands a shadow cabinet of writers waiting to take over once the Wind of Change has blown. My own vote goes to Hugh Kingsmill as Leader of this opposition….

“One of the difficulties about Kingsmill’s writing is that it fits into no neat category…. His admirers seldom agree as to what is his finest book. Malcolm Muggeridge, I fancy, prefers his Frank Harris; Hesketh Pearson liked his The Return of William Shakespeare; and my own favorite is The Progress of a Biographer. In his recently published leters, George Orwell pronounced Kingsmill’s The Sentimental Journey to be the best biography of Dickens–it has now been out of print for over thirty [now sixty-five] years. He also reveals that, hoping Kingsmill’s After Puritanism might be reprinted, he had written about it in a review, but that this passage had been omitted by the edtor for, as with Patrick Hamilton, there was no curiosity about his books.

“… No one had a sharper eye than he for detecting humbug. The truth he sought for is the truth we live, not speak, so that were we to give currency to his uncompromising values, there might well be a revolution in our present tastes and literary attitudes.”

[Holroyd’s first book, Hugh Kingsmill: a critical biography, has itself been out of print since 1971 and is scarcer than just about any of the Kingsmill works mentioned above.–ed.]

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