Knives, Wounds, Bows

John Bayley

  • Randall Jarrell’s Letters edited by Mary Jarrell
    Faber, 540 pp, £25.00, January 1986, ISBN 0 571 13829 2
  • The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia Willis
    Faber, 723 pp, £30.00, January 1987, ISBN 0 571 14788 7

It was once observed by J.B. Priestley that the literary life in England was ‘a rat-race without even a sight of the other rats’. English authors on the whole prefer to work on their own and find their friends outside the confraternity – indeed, because of this preference, there is hardly such a thing as a confraternity. ‘Very bad – very good too,’ as Conrad’s Stein would say. With us, both the best and the worst writing seems unconscious that anything else is being written. Writing in America, on the other hand, is a joint pioneering venture, undertaken in a spirit, if not exactly of co-operation with other authors, then of mutual comment and criticism, malice or kindliness equally supportive. In the vast contingency of the American scene, writers must cling together.

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