Endgame

John Bayley

  • End of a Journey: An Autobiographical Journal 1979-1981 by Philip Toynbee
    Bloomsbury, 422 pp, £25.00, February 1988, ISBN 0 7475 0132 7

A critic has a good nose for a natural writer, but he usually pays for it by not being able to write naturally himself. It seems likely that Philip Toynbee would have given anything to be a real novelist and a real poet, but in his ‘experimental’ novels – Tea with Mrs Goodman and The Garden to the Sea – and in the gargantuan poem Pantaloon which occupied him for so many years, the words seem always to be getting in the way, too keen to be doing their work, like dogs jumping up all over the reader and distracting him. No doubt he was too intelligent not to be aware of this, and it increased his troubles, for he certainly carried most of the stigmata of the artistic life: reliance on booze, bad temper, the compulsion to exploit, to be both rackety and self-preoccupied. This he doubtless knew too, and there is something more than touching in this comment from his journal:

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