Brigid Brophy

Brigid Brophy’s most recent books are The Prince and the Wild Geese, the text for a series of drawings inspired by Prince Gagarin’s love for Julia Taaffe in 1832, and A Guide to Public Lending Right.

Mozart’s Cross

Brigid Brophy, 7 August 1986

Mozart the letter-writer, like Mozart the composer of virtually every form and species of music, is the supreme non-bore. The ‘daughter of Hamm, the Secretary for War’, must, he reports to his father from Augsburg in 1777, have a gift for music since, even without having been well taught, she can play several clavier pieces ‘really well’. Yet she is an affected performer. Tuition in Salzburg from Mozart père would improve both her musical knowledge and her intelligence, and the teacher would get ‘plenty of entertainment’ in return.

Woman in Love

Brigid Brophy, 7 February 1985

Two voices are there of Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University John Halperin, whose rank and area of operation are, by what strikes me as a publishing solecism in a book that solicits a general readership, placed in apposition to his name on the title-page. The first voice is scarcely of the deep, but it utters some common sense. The other, which predominates, is the voice of Mr Collins. Long driven to that conclusion, I came upon Professor Halperin himself, some three hundred pages into his book, pronouncing that the Rev. James Stanier Clarke, the librarian to the Prince Regent who transmitted to Jane Austen his employer’s permission (in the sense of command) for her to dedicate her next novel to the Prince, ‘must have convinced Jane that Mr Collins had come to life.’ Well, that one deutero-Collins should recognise another when he sees him seems only fair; and in the notion that one of Jane Austen’s inventions turned into real life he pays a tiny fragment of recompense for the gross injustice he does her in his indeed gross book.


Brigid Brophy, 6 October 1983

A small ad in Private Eye seeks a companion ‘sexy, feminine and discrete’. Siamese twins, I suppose, need not bother to apply. It is harder to divine why this translation of Murasaki’s Diary renders one passage by the words: ‘This is not to say that her women are always so genteel; if they forget themselves they can come out with the most indiscrete verses.’ Perhaps, in becoming conversant with Japanese to a degree he makes plain even to me who know not a syllable of the language, Richard Bowring has forfeited some command of English. That looks all the likelier when he skids into bad grammar: ‘ … sent to whomever was to copy out the story’. Or perhaps both the ‘indiscrete’ and the ‘whomever’ are misprints. If so, there is something moving in the persistence – and the persistent justification – of literary fears. It is roughly a thousand years since the son-in-law of the Emperor of Japan filched a copy of Murasaki’s novel from her room at court and she recorded in her Diary the quintessential literary dread that it might be an inaccurate copy that ‘would hurt my reputation’.–

Son of God

Brigid Brophy, 21 April 1983

The heavenly ruler looked down, noted the inadequacy of Giotto and his successors and decided to dispatch Michelangelo to earth, there to demonstrate perfection in no fewer than four arts (drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture) and thus redeem mankind from errors of taste. So runs the exordium of Giorgio Vasari’s Life of Michelangelo. It would not surprise me if Vasari got this conceit from the source that provided much of his biographical information – namely, Michelangelo. Dr Liebert, a psychoanalyst, discerns that during his last twenty years Michelangelo ‘increasingly and deeply identified himself with Christ’. Certainly he inclined to treat Popes as vicars of Michelangelo. It may well be his own account of his mission, given narrative form by the fantasy underlying it, that Vasari recorded as a mini-myth which is in essence a de-Christianised and non-blasphemous version of the myth of the incarnation.–


Brigid Brophy, 2 December 1982

The most charming fact I have stumbled on in intellectual history is that Freud and Shaw were shocked by one another. Freud’s wounded romanticism speaks in his reference (in Group Psychology, 1921) to ‘Bernard Shaw’s malicious aphorism to the effect that being in love means greatly exaggerating the difference between one woman and another.’ If I am right in supposing that what he had in mind is one of the speeches Undershaft addresses to Cusins at the climax of Major Barbara, ‘Like all young men, you greatly exaggerate the difference between one young woman and another,’ then Freud has performed a little secondary elaboration. In substance it is fair. The ‘being in love’ is extrapolated from the dramatic context, where Cusins is indeed in love. But in giving the words the formal and impersonal turn of an aphorism Freud suppresses the dramatic characterisation, including that of Undershaft as the Prince of Darkness, and attributes to Shaw himself both the supposed aphorism and its supposed taint of the ‘malicious’.

Recognising Mozart

Peter Gay, 7 July 1988

The literature on Mozart is almost as diverse, though surely not quite so glorious, as Mozart’s own output. These three books are a case in point: a freewheeling analysis of Mozart the...

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Skinned alive

John Bayley, 25 June 1987

Amusing, and perhaps instructive, to think of great paintings whose voyage into mystery and meaning seems to depend, in the first instance, on a technical trick: a separation of planes so that...

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In praise of Brigid Brophy

John Bayley, 5 March 1987

In his recent book Reasons and Persons the Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit is inclined to decide that persons have no existence, and that the motives to morality are for that reason clearer and...

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Julia Caesar

Marilyn Butler, 17 March 1983

The Prince and the Wild Geese is a story of 1832 told in words and pictures, the words almost all Brigid Brophy’s, the pictures by Prince Grégoire Gagarin, artist son of the Russian...

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A Writer’s Fancy

D.J. Enright, 21 February 1980

Brigid Brophy’s novels have often been described as ‘brilliantly written’: a judgment which can have done her sales little good. (‘Don’t bother with that book...

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