Zenosbooks

Memoirs Of A Polyglot: The Autobiography of William Gerhardie by William Gerhardie. New York. 1973. St Martin's Press. hardcover. 408 pages. Preface by Michael Holroyd. 0356031470.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   Written with a rare candour, this enchanting and entertaining book describes the early life of this ‘unique, isolated and important figure in English letters.’ William Gerhardie has been quoted as saying that his hopes lie in ‘ever being discovered astonishingly anew.’ He has revised and briefly expanded his autobiography (first written in 1931) for its inclusion in Macdonald’s new definitive editions of his works, all of which are introduced by Prefaces by Michael Holroyd. Mr Gerhardie writes about his grandparents and parents, and about his childhood in St Petersburg where his father, a Br1tish cotton manufacturer settled in the 1890s. He joined the Scots Greys in the First World War, was commissioned and posted to the British Embassy at Petrograd, where he saw the Russian Revolution in various stages. MEMOIRS OF A POLYGLOT is illustrated with photographs, many of them charming examples from family albums. At Oxford, he wrote FUTILITY, the first of his novels. MEMOIRS OF A POLYGLOT wonderfully illuminates the literary personality and the enduring works of this author, of whom C. P. Snow has said: ‘He is a comic writer of genus. but his art is profoundly serious. William Gerhardie was the friend some of the most interesting people of the 1920s and 1930s - from Beaverbrook to the Sitweils - and writes brilliantly, and amusingly about the literary and political scene. ‘The narrative,’ Michael Holroyd says in his Preface, ‘which contains so many percipient little pen portraits, stops for no man, but merely seems to pick them up in its stride.’ As Michael Ivens has commented, William Gerhardie’s life has been full of ‘odd and incredible events’ and these - including many travels - are described in MEMOIRS OF A POLYGLOT with zest, humour and remarkable insight. 

William Alexander Gerhardie (1895-1977) was a British (Anglo-Russian) novelist and playwright. Gerhardie (or Gerhardi: he added the ‘e’ in later years as an affectation) was one of the most critically acclaimed English novelists of the 1920s (Evelyn Waugh told him ‘I have talent, but you have genius’). H.G Wells was a ferocious champion of his work. His first novel Futility, was written while he was at Cambridge and drew on his experiences in Russia fighting (or attempting to fight) the Bolsheviks, along with his childhood experiences visiting pre-revolutionary Russia. Some say that it was the first work in English to fully explore the theme of ‘waiting’ later made famous by Samuel Beckett in WAITING FOR GODOT, but it is probably more apt to recognize a common comic nihilism between those two figures. His next novel, THE POLYGLOTS is probably his masterpiece (although some argue for DOOM). Again it deals with Russia (Gerhardie was strongly influenced by the tragi-comic style of Russian writers such as Chekhov who he wrote a study of while in College). He collaborated with Hugh Kingsmill on the biography ‘The Casanova Fable’, his friendship with Hugh being both a source of conflict over women and a great intellectual stimulus. After World War II Gerhardie’s star waned, and he became unfashionable, and although he continued to write, he had nothing published after 1939. After a period of poverty-stricken oblivion, he lived to see two ‘definitive collected works’ published by Macdonald (in 1947-49 and then revised again in 1970-74). More recently, both Prion and New Directions Press have been reissuing his works. Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest ‘Pronounced jer (as Ger in Gerald) hardy, with the accent on the a: jer-har’dy. This is the way I and my relatives pronounce it, tho I am told it is incorrect. Philologists are of the opinion that it should be pronounced with the g as in Gertrude. I believe they are right. I, however, cling to the family habit of mispronouncing it. But I do so without obstinacy. If the world made it worth my while I would side with the multitude.’ (Charles Earle Funk, What’s the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936).

 

Check zenosbooks.com for either a used or a new copy of this book, or you can add it to your wishlist.


Search

Zeno's Picks

Neglectedbooks.com

The Neglected Books Page

www.NeglectedBooks.com: Where forgotten books are remembered
  • The Fractured Smile, by Kathleen Sully (1965)
    The Fractured Smile is a Feydeau comedy of infidelity, coincidences and missed connections transported to sixties England and a universe where Brownian motion has replaced Newtonian mechanics. Jess wakes to a phone call saying that her husband, George, has been spotting boarding a train to the seaside with his very attractive secretary. Jess throws on... Read more
  • A Young Smuggler’s Guide to the Customs, by Peter Ustinov from Vogue’s Gallery (1962)
    The Italians mix their officers shrewdly. Some are very ferocious looking gentlemen with fast-growing beards and grenades exploding dramatically on their caps, while others are very old men in shirtsleeves, who have some difficulty in speaking. The shrewdness of this arrangement lies in the fact that the ferocious gentlemen invariably have hearts of gold, as......
  • The Way Out of Berkeley Square, by Rosemary Tonks (1970)
    Rosemary Tonks is now known as the poet who disappeared, thanks to a 2009 BBC program (“The Poet Who Vanished”) and features in the Guardian, TLS, the London Review of Books, the Poetry Foundation and others following her death in May 2014 and the reissue that fall of Bedouin of the London Evening, a collection... Read more
  • Talk, the National Industry of Ireland, from Irish Literary Portraits, edited by W. R. Rodgers (1973)
    It was not only the well-known writers who had contributions to make; one is forever being surprised in Dublin by the high standard of knowledge displayed by ordinary citizens in any walk or on any level of life. I had many instances of this; as he pulled me a pint, a Dublin publican said to... Read more
  • A Man on the Roof, by Kathleen Sully (1961)
    I don’t think it qualifies as a spoiler to say that the man on the roof in A Man on the Roof is a ghost. Specifically, he’s Wilfred Clough, late husband of Peony. Obsessed with stamp collecting while living, he returns to haunt — or rather, berate — his wife after she sells his collection.... Read more
  • McCabe, by Edmund Naughton (1959)
    Edmund Naughton’s 1959 western, McCabe, is mainly mentioned as a footnote to Robert Altman’s first masterpiece, his 1971 film McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Reissued as a tie-in to the film when it came out, it’s been out of print for over three decades now and fetches some fairly steep prices. (My tip: the cheapest copies... Read more
  • A Man Talking to Seagulls, by Kathleen Sully (1959)
    Kathleen Sully uses death as punctuation in A Man Talking to Seagulls, a tale of one day in the life of Dundeston, a resort somewhere on the east coast of England. She opens the day with the body of a young woman washed up on the beach. Scratcher, a vagrant living in a shack on... Read more
  • The Club, by A. D. Wintle (1961)
    Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Daniel Wintle MC, or A. D. Wintle for short, was one of the great characters of the 20th century, a genuine war hero, egoist, eccentric, and defender of all things gentlemanly. He died before finishing his autobiography, but when his friend Alastair Revie condensed the million-some words of manuscript that Wintle left... Read more
  • Skrine, by Kathleen Sully (1960)
    None of the four novels by Kathleen Sully I’ve read so far is anything quite like the others, but I feel safe in saying that Skrine is the most unlike the rest. In fact, in his TLS review, Arthur-Calder Marshall observed that Sully’s critical reputation (back when she had one) would have been higher if... Read more
  • “Pass On!,” from “Can’t You Get Me Out of Here?” by Julia Strachey (1960)
    I’m not sure I can reprint the entirety of Julia Strachey’s one New Yorker piece, “Can’t You Get Me Out of Here,” which I mentioned in my post on Strachey’s autobiography (posthumously edited by Frances Partridge), without running afoul of someone’s copyright, but I can’t resist sharing its sublime opening: My father, whose failing eyesight......
Copyright © 2018 Zenosbooks. All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU General Public License.