E.E. Duncan-Jones

E.E. Duncan-Jones was formerly a reader in English at the University of Birmingham and is the author, as E.E. Phare, of The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The Wizard of Finella

E.E. Duncan-Jones, 24 January 1985

‘That Enchanter, Manny Forbes … spell-binding … the most saintly spirit … very bizarre’. So I.A. Richards, in 1973, of his old Cambridge colleague, nearly forty years dead. Today, even in Cambridge, the name of Forbes is no longer one to conjure with, except among the dwindling band who remember his performances in Clare as one of the two high points of the undergraduate week, the other being Richards on Practical Criticism. ‘That mysterious figure who gave such wonderful lectures’ is the most one can expect to hear from a younger generation. The house he called Finella and converted with the aid of the Australian architect and poet, Raymond McGrath, from an Early Victorian residence, called The Yews, to what Pevsner considers a milestone in Expressionist decoration, still stands, not quite as it was, for the abundant use of glass would have made it too vulnerable to air attack. For a short time, in 1931, when it housed Epstein’s Genesis, it was said to be the most visited house in England. I am told that nowadays very occasionally somebody asks to look over it. Forbes’s other tangible monument, Clare College 1326-1926 in two uncommonly heavy volumes, has, as Hugh Carey laments, obstinately refused to become a ‘rare book’ or a widely read one, or even the cult of a few. A pity, whether one takes the view of Ian Parsons that it is a literary, historical and bibliographical treasure-house or that of Maynard Keynes, not perhaps incompatible, that its highest quality is ‘a certain magnificent Sillyness, using the word in its ancient sense – admirable and attractive to the reader’.’


Marriage of Souls

22 July 1993

I remember saying to my old friend Helen Gardner long ago, perhaps while she was preparing her edition of Donne’s love poems (1965), that I was haunted by the possibility that Donne’s poem ‘The Anniversarie’ celebrated the ‘marriage of souls’, as Isaak Walton calls it, between Donne and John King. Helen said succinctly: ‘Forget it.’ But I didn’t forget it and, decades later, the interest...


7 August 1986

SIR: It is possible to be glad that Mary Brunton’s novel Self-Control (1811) has been republished without being able to perceive that it is, in Pat Rogers’s words (LRB, 7 August), ‘beautifully constructed’, still less that, as the blurb says, it ‘still has great significance today’. But it ought not to appear under the protection of Jane Austen. Sara Maitland’s statement in the Preface...
SIR: It seems hard that Geoffrey Hill can’t use the first four words of Psalm 47, frankly enclosed I within quotation-marks, ‘O clap your hands,’ without being accused by your reviewer Tom Paulin of dependence on Yeats’s ‘unless Soul clap its hands’. The words ‘clap’ and ‘hands’ occur in the passage from Yeats as they do in, say, the address to Tinker Bell. Psalm 47 is bound up...

Doing my little owl

6 September 1984

SIR: In January 1918 Virginia Woolf writes in her Diary (LRB, 6 September) of a small book of verse published by Clive Bell: ‘very pretty and light … He can do his little owl very efficiently.’ The context suggests that this mysterious expression means something like ‘he can perform adequately some not very impressive task.’ Again, in September 1934, of a party at Charleston: ‘They acted:...

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