Paul Delany

Paul Delany is a professor of English at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. He is the author of D.H. Lawrence’s Nightmare and is now engaged in writing about Rupert Brooke.

Vivre comme chien et chat

Paul Delany, 20 August 1992

The population of Québec is about seven million, all of them minorities. The Jews, for whom Mordecai Richler makes his complaint (though not only for them), are outnumbered by 11 to one in the English-speaking community. The English are outnumbered five to one by the French, but the French are outnumbered by three to one in Canada as a whole. In North America, finally, the Americans have Canadians outnumbered by a factor of ten.

Finding out who you were

Paul Delany, 6 August 1992

‘In later life I have been sometimes praised, sometimes mocked, for my way of pointing out the mythical elements that seem to me to underlie our apparently ordinary lives.’ Dunstan Ramsay, the hero of Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business, says this; but one can assume that Davies is also talking about the reception of his own novels. To reduce character and incident to their ‘mythical elements’ can be criticised as an evasion of the novelist’s proper task, which is to document the social arrangements of a specific time and place.

Modern Virginity

Paul Delany, 27 February 1992

On 29 July 1912, Rupert Brooke was spending a disconsolate evening at the Crown Hotel, Everleigh, where he had been staying for five days at a house party hosted by J.M. Keynes. The cause of Rupert’s distress was the departure that day of Noel Olivier, to go climbing in Switzerland. Her elder sister Brynhild had left with her, off to climb in Wales with Hugh Popham, to whom she had just become engaged.

Voyage to Uchronia

Paul Delany, 29 August 1991

In February 1812, Byron stood up to speak for the first time in the House of Lords. His speech was a passionate defence of the Nottingham weavers – followers of the mythical King Ludd – who had been smashing the new mechanical stocking-frames; and for the rest of his life Byron went on arguing that ‘we must not allow mankind to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism.’ But what might have happened if the enemies of mechanism had changed their minds? The Difference Engine is one answer, in the form of an ‘uchronic’ novel: set in ‘no time’, instead of Utopia’s ‘no place’.’

Keeping up the fight

Paul Delany, 24 January 1991

When Willie Hopkin first caught sight of D.H. Lawrence in his pram, he thought him a ‘puny, fragile little specimen’. Forty-four years later the fragile specimen died, reduced by tuberculosis to a weight of 90 pounds. It is understandable, then, that Jeffrey Meyers should make much of Lawrence’s ‘lifelong invalidism’, and conclude his biography with an appendix called ‘A History of Illness’. Lawrence himself tempted biographers along this road by saying that ‘one sheds one’s sickness in books’: doesn’t this mean that the sickness is the key to the work, linking the man who creates to the pattern of his creation like the skin left behind by the snake?

Men in Love

Paul Delany, 3 September 1987

Lawrence’s maxim ‘we shed our sicknesses in books’ is usually applied to Sons and Lovers, where he disposed of his nearly fatal over-attachment to his mother. But Women in Love is a cathartic novel too, though here the sickness is less easy to cure. The sickness itself is obvious enough: it is misanthropy, a continuous rage at almost everyone around. If Lawrence did not manage to shed it he at least made his most strenuous attempt in Women in Love to probe, and to judge, the ‘indignant temperament’ that has tarnished his reputation since the Great War.

Eating people is right

Paul Delany, 21 February 1985

The Sloane Ranger style, Peter York has told us, reflects ‘a state of mind that’s eternal’. This may be putting it a bit strongly: but the Sloane ancestry goes back at least to the days when knighthood was in flower and one really needed a pony. Like British trade unions, Sloanes have deep roots as a defensively-organised collective, and ‘What Really Matters’ to them may well matter differently, or not matter at all, to everyone else. In Modern Times York promises to tell ‘What’s Really Happening’ to everyone – not just Henry and Caroline. He still assumes that what’s happening is best explained in terms of style, and still concerns himself only with things that can raise a laugh, or at least a chuckle. But York is now looking at all of modern life as a single system of fashion. In a world where ‘Everybody Wants Everything’, who determines exactly what they want? Modern Times ranges from ‘Neurotic Boy Outsiders’ (James Dean, Anthony Perkins et al) to ‘The Fairisle Years’ (Chariots of Fire, Brideshead Revisited), with passing looks at Babytime, Bryan Ferry, Reactionary Chic, and Not Shaving.’


Paul Delany, 5 May 1983

The action of A Dance to the Music of Time comes to the reader by courtesy of Nick Jenkins, that non-participant observer whose presence never seems to make any impact on the endless round of social gatherings he attends. When Powell began to publish his memoirs, fans of Dance hoped that the mystery of what Jenkins was really like might be revealed; now that the memoirs are completed, it is clear that these hopes will never be satisfied. ‘Scratch an invisible narrator, get an invisible narrator’ – to borrow the old joke about actors. Sometimes Powell’s memoirs appear to be mere piffle (‘Once more the food was good, though not up to Air France’), sometimes acute, sometimes one suspects an elaborate joke is being played on the reader. Hardly ever, though, does the author present himself as a figure of substance: it is not Jenkins’s creator we meet, but Jenkins’s ghost.–

Queen Famine’s Courtier

Paul Delany, 3 February 1983

A poetic career as long as an average life-span – from 1908 to 1975 – should provide plenty of grist for the biographer’s mill. But here, as in other respects, Robert Graves is an awkward subject, for the salient feature of his career is its lack of obvious stages. Looking backwards from his 70th birthday, he observed contentedly: ‘I always aimed at writing more or less as I still do.’ Having paid his debt to England, and to history, at the battle of the Somme, Graves claimed for himself a posthumous life free from jobs or other hostages to duty. It would be rich in events, but they would come capriciously at the whim of his Muse – not from any personal commitment to an orderly future. Born in another century, Graves has succeeded in never having to become a child of this one.


Paul Delany, 15 April 1982

In 1887, Rider Haggard earned more than £10,000 by writing: only 31, he was probably the highest-paid novelist in England. Twelve years earlier, he had been packed off to Natal as an unpaid flunky to Sir Henry Bulwer. Haggard’s father, a wealthy Norfolk landowner, had considered him too dim for any public school; later, Africa seemed the best place to dispose of such an unpromising younger son. Arrived there, Haggard surprised everyone by proving to be highly competent. Within two years he had become the youngest head of a government department in South Africa. Suddenly he abandoned the Civil Service and set up as an ostrich farmer, where he unfortunately discovered the truth of a local adage that ‘no gentleman ever did any good in Natal.’ The Boers, sturdier and more unscrupulous than the British settlers, were obviously gaining the upper hand; six years after his arrival, Haggard left the country in disgust and spent the rest of his long life in England. Though Africa had disappointed him materially, it had given his imagination enough food for a career of forty years as a novelist.

Playing Fields, Flanders Fields

Paul Delany, 21 January 1982

When Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth was published in 1933 it struck a deep chord among those in England who felt, as she did, that their youth had been ‘smashed up’ by the Great War. Nearly a million men of their generation lay buried in Flanders and Gallipoli; many of those who remained felt condemned to hollow lives, haunted by loss and grief. They believed that those sacrificed had been men of special grace, the irreplaceable flower of the nation’s youth; and they blamed the post-war decline of Britain on their absence. The survivors – guilty, perhaps, simply of having survived – were left to bear the burden of a disappointing and mediocre peace.

Mortal Beauty

Paul Delany, 21 May 1981

Nietzsche defined beauty as the highest type of power, because it had no need for violence. Here was a whole theory of beauty in a nutshell: but it is curious how little thought has been devoted to beauty since then, except as a rather anaemic branch of aesthetics. Unusual physical beauty, like unusual ugliness, is faintly scandalous: a product of chance rather than justice, it has typically been associated with stupidity, immorality and bad luck. This may be because beauty has been the only kind of social power monopolised by women; men have often felt resentment or mistrust towards it, but they have not been eager to examine their motives for doing so. A different way of dealing with beauty has been to praise it as the acceptable face of sex – a way of refining our animal urges, or displacing them upwards. But making beauty into a spiritual ideal often stems from uneasiness about its very concrete power to inspire action: an uneasiness that is pervasive in Kenneth Clark’s latest book.


Men in Love

3 September 1987

SIR: John Worthen (Letters, 12 November) says that the revisions to the first English edition of Women in Love ‘were made by Lawrence himself, and no textual edition can ignore them.’ My point is simply that this rule should apply to the revisions preceding the first printed edition as much as to the ones following it. Indeed, there is far too much material to reproduce in a single volume...

While the existence of Brooke’s correspondences with Noel Olivier and James Strachey was known – it was just that they couldn’t be read – another set of letters that no one...

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Give us a break: Gissing’s Life

Rosemarie Bodenheimer, 9 July 2009

‘For Gissing,’ Paul Delany notes, ‘writing was a grim and lonely task, made grimmer by one of the most disastrous family lives of any English writer. At times this misery...

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In the summer of 1927, 23-year-old Willy Brandt underwent psychoanalysis in Vienna in an attempt to cure his tuberculosis. He had spent the previous two and a half years in Switzerland, at the...

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Gabriele Annan, 3 September 1987

Bloomsbury on the left, Neo-Pagans on the right, these columns represent, more or less, Paul Delany’s relative definition of the two Edwardian intellectual groups. The first two pairs of...

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