Friday, 17 January 2014

Quote of the Day, etc.

'The world is disgracefully managed; one hardly knows to whom to complain.'

Ronald Firbank (born on this day in 1886) - or rather Mrs Shamefoot in his funniest novel Vainglory.

  Firbank was a true exotic, an orchid sprung up in the sturdy herbaceous border of English letters. His writings are uneven, can be tiresome, and are definitely an acquired taste. At his best he is startlingly original, outrageously funny, and quite unlike any other English novelist - though some, notably the early Evelyn Waugh, clearly owe something to him. And then there's Ivy Compton-Burnett. I hadn't realised, until I recently started exploring her works, the affinity between Ivy and Firbank.
  Both use dialogue very extensively and in endlessly inventive ways, loading it with far more freight - both comic and serious - than almost anyone else. Both are capable of taking breath-taking liberties with the expected proprieties of the novel, to the extent that both are exhilaratingly unpredictable, from sentence to sentence, let alone page to page. Both are also dense, complex and demanding writers, while remaining essentially comic. Of course their preoccupations are wholly different, but it is perhaps just possible to think of Firbank as Ivy without the oppressive domestic hierarchies, and Ivy as Firbank without the sex, Catholicism and exotic wildness (not to mention Wildeness).

  Another quote: Chapter XX of Firbank's Inclinations (a tale of thwarted Sapphic love) in its entirety:
  'Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!
   Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!'

  And an anecdote: At Cambridge, Vyvyan Holland (Oscar Wilde's son) once spotted the famously effete Firbank - so effete he seemed barely capable of sustaining life (he took in little but air and alcohol) - dressed in sporting kit. Astonished, Vyvyan asked what he had been doing. Firbank replied that he had been playing football. Rugby or soccer? Holland inquired. 'Oh,' replied Firbank, 'I don't remember.'

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