Graham Hough

Graham Hough is the author of The Last Romantics.

Afro-Fictions

Graham Hough, 3 July 1986

Three African writers, from very different parts of the continent – Saro-Wiwa from Nigeria, Ndebele from South Africa, Macgoye from Kenya. My ignorance of all three regions being deep and extensive, I am obliged to accept these three books in great part as documentary reports, as information about unknown ways of life. But perhaps this is right. One of the many problems for an African writer in the English language is the question of his audience. Who is he writing for? For his own people – for the small fraction of his own people who will ever be able to read him? Like Joyce, ‘to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race’? Or is it his task to inform the rest of the English-speaking world about a continent still dark to those outside it, about its hopes and its fears, its ambitions and its stagnation, its advance and its relapse? The latter must be a large part of his intention. Yet this confronts the reader with the social and political history of a hundred tribes and a dozen emergent nations of which in the nature of things the outsider can have only a faint and distant understanding.’

Prisoners

Graham Hough, 8 May 1986

Life as a prisoner of war is an indeterminate sentence, and for that reason nothing you say about it afterwards can ever be quite true. In its more mitigated forms, with Geneva conventions, Red Cross parcels, letters from home and all that, no doubt a sense of the normal order of things can be maintained. But in some forsaken gulag, outside all the rules, with all information filtered through the enemy, you enter a new dimension whose nature is hardly communicable in words. While it is going on, no one knows whether it is ever going to end, and the absent ending colours every moment of every day. Once it has ended, if you are still alive, you know it was always going to. The basic premise of POW life has disappeared, and no effort of retrospection can make it real again. Notes taken on the hoof are no good: too many words are needed to flesh out the experience, and there is never time for them. But there is an art, more rapid and more immediate, that can bring back that lost eternal present. One would hardly believe it if it had not actually been done. But it has been done, in Ronald Searle’s wartime drawings.

The state of chronic hypochondria in which literary education subsists shows no sign of abating. Indeed, in some quarters it is entering an acute phase. Regular and formerly healthful activities lose their zest, attacked by morbid depression of spirits. The milder forms of therapy effect little improvement, and a battery of fantastic remedies is brought to bear, which in spite of energetic promotion do not seem able to establish themselves. Either the patient’s system rejects them, or they provoke hysterical symptoms more alarming than the original complaint.

My Stars

Graham Hough, 21 March 1985

Some little time ago the art of printing with movable types was developed, and this has meant in the end that everybody can know everything. There is no hidden knowledge. There is no longer any point in seeking out the venerable archimage behind the iron-studded door in some darkling alleyway of the old town. He has no secret doctrine; there are no more arcana; the ancient wisdom has all been reprinted. Prospero’s book has been brought up from the depths and published in paperback, and the fatal treatise that led Faust to his damnation is edited with an introduction and notes and suggestions for further reading. In the High Street bookshop the occult section is settled comfortably beside gardening and cookery; and the only person who has not noticed is the Dean of Emmanuel College Cambridge, who recently gave six lectures on television about the decline of the supernatural. He spoke of ‘The Sea of Faith’, and found it to be at a very low ebb. Perhaps he should have looked a little farther. The water may be receding over the mudflats on his stretch of coast, but round the corner it is flooding strongly. The black tide that Freud was so afraid of in the early years of the century has been making a steady advance. When I was a boy no one knew the signs of the zodiac: now everyone does. Most people under forty seem to believe in reincarnation. In my own immediate family there are no less than five copies of the I Ching, and every village in England has its quota of resident yogins, astrologers and cabalists.

A la mode

Graham Hough, 18 October 1984

New works of literary theory, abundant in France and America, are not very frequent in England. When one does appear, it is customary first to deplore its defiance of nature and reason, and secondly to decide that we have known it all along. It would be difficult to follow this convention with Alastair Fowler’s book. Kinds of Literature contains nothing subversive of public order or contrary to revealed truth: indeed it is a celebration of order and aims to illuminate neglected truths. And its traditional material is handled in such a way as to yield a steady dividend of unhackneyed learning and unexpected points of view. Its theme is the once dominant theory of separable historical literary kinds. This has come to be regarded by majority opinion as an obsolete piece of machinery, dubious in its application to the past and irrelevant to the present. Fowler argues to the contrary that this venerable conceptual apparatus is not only still useful, but necessary, if we are to make sense of our literary experience. He will not meet an entirely unreceptive audience. A fair minority can be found (including me) who already believe this to be true and will welcome what has so far been lacking: a well-worked-out modern statement of the case.

Yeats and the Occult

Seamus Deane, 18 October 1984

The first three of the four chapters in Graham Hough’s book were the Lord Northcliffe Lectures in Literature given at University College London in February 1983. The audience was general...

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