Edmund White

Edmund White is a novelist and the author of a biography of Proust.

Daniel Farson was polite, self-deprecating, impressed by modesty and authenticity, grateful for favours, careful to keep track when it was his turn to buy drinks (which he often did). Gilbert and George, by contrast, are utterly stylised: they speak in relays, move like robots and strongly hint that there is no within within. This book, left incomplete at the time of Farson’s death and tidied up by Robert Violette, is touching and illuminating in part because there is such a mismatch between the author and his subjects.

André Gide made his life the very core of his art. In that way he was quite different from Oscar Wilde, who was 15 years his senior and, for a brief but crucial period, a friend. Wilde may have said he put his genius into his life and merely his talent into his art: what is indisputable is that he was careful to keep them well apart. Nothing Wilde wrote is directly autobiographical except De Profundis. Gide, on the other hand, published his indiscreet journals in instalments throughout his long life, brought out his tell-all autobiography, Si le grain ne meurt, in 1926, and left a short confession about his marriage, Et nunc manet in te, which he wrote after his wife’s death in 1938 and arranged to have published after his own in 1951.

Sinister Blandishments: Philip Hensher

Edmund White, 3 September 1998

Friedrich, the young protagonist of Philip Hensher’s third novel, Pleasured, lives the sort of dismal half-life that was possible in Berlin before the Wall came down, the period when West Germans received subventions just for taking up residence there. It was a city that attracted the very old, who needed to bulk up their pensions, and the young, who wanted to study or just vegetate – or to escape compulsory military service (another advantage of living in Berlin). Not that you would learn any of this in Pleasured, which pleases (among several other ways) by never being didactic, at least not until the closing pages. Instead of explaining in a few orientating paragraphs what Germany was like on New Year’s Eve, 1988, when the action begins, Hensher plunges us into the experience, as conveyed by the actions but especially the conversation of his characters.’

That the English have been slow to recognise James Merrill as the best poet in the language after Elizabeth Bishop has long seemed strange to Americans. Come to think of it, British recognition of Bishop herself was belated; for decades she was upstaged by Robert Lowell, probably because he lived in England and behaved in a way that seemed more certifiably poetic. Now Merrill is available to the English in a slim volume of his best work, selected by him shortly before his death in 1995.

Gay liberation began in 1969 with the Stonewall Uprising in New York, but it did not produce a significant literature for another ten years. To be sure, essayists (Hocquenghem in France, Tripp in America, Altman in Australia) had begun in the early Seventies to write theoretical works about homosexuality; but fiction had to wait until 1978 to make a major impact.

Love Stories

Edmund White, 4 November 1993

Hervé Guibert died on 27 December 1991 from complications resulting from an unsuccessful suicide attempt. He had been ill with Aids for several years and in 1990 had made a spectacular appearance on French television during which he’d discussed his illness and the book he’d written about it, To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. The thousands of letters he received as a result encouraged him to write another book, The Compassion Protocol, and to participate in another prime-time interview. This time he was wearing a red hat, the very one referred to in the title of a subsequent work, The Man in the Red Hat. During his final year of life he also made a home video, La Pudeur et l’impudeur, which was screened on television a month after his death. Yet another Aids book, Cytomégalovirus, was published at this time and a posthumous novel, Le Paradis, appeared at the beginning of 1993.

Mid-Century Male: Edmund White

Christopher Glazek, 19 July 2012

The friend in the title of Edmund White’s new novel is a writer called Will Wright, a straight man with bad skin but a sterling pedigree. What little we learn about Will’s first novel...

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What You Really Want: Edmund White

Adam Phillips, 3 November 2005

It is conventional for people now to have lives rather than a life, but it is not always clear whose lives they are. They can, of course, be claimed – you can call them, as Edmund White...

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Life on the Town

Michael Wood, 22 May 1997

This long novel is haunted, dedicated to the dead, but quite without nostalgia, almost without grief. It starts with an intimate loss (‘I’m beginning this book on All Saints’...

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Apologising

James Wood, 24 August 1995

Edmund White has always struggled between appeasing the gods of his art and paying off the princelings of politics. Endearingly, and sometimes infuriatingly, he insists on doing both, and the...

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The Prisoner

Michael Wood, 10 June 1993

A thief is someone who steals, but what do you call someone who steals and gets caught all the time? Who gets caught lifting handkerchiefs from a Paris department store, for instance, and then a...

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Catch 28

John Lanchester, 3 March 1988

Writing about sex tends to go wrong in one of two related ways. The first is through embarrassment or over-excitement on the part of the author: overly rhapsodic descriptions of sex, in...

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Plague Fiction

Charles Nicholl, 23 July 1987

It sounds like it’s something to do with helping, but that is very far from its meaning. I can’t remember when we first started hearing it; no more than five or six years ago, surely....

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Last in the Funhouse

Patrick Parrinder, 17 April 1986

If the preferred style in American fiction of the last two decades could be summed up in a single title, it would surely be ‘Lost in the Funhouse’. John Barth’s short story,...

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Adulterers’ Distress

Philip Horne, 21 July 1983

The order in which we read the short stories in a collection makes a difference. Our hopping and skipping out of sequence can often disturb the lines or blunt the point of a special arrangement,...

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Gay’s the word

Hugo Williams, 6 November 1980

You knew that the Mercedes was the ultimate gay motor, but did you know that the Corvette was the poor gay’s Porsche? That the Alfa Romeo and the Datsun 280-Z were ‘bright, snappy...

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Survivors

Graham Hough, 3 April 1980

No doubt it is yet another symptom of the decline of the West that we can so rarely afford proper novels nowadays, only skimpy little pieces of 130 pages or so, barely enough to last from dinner...

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