In the latest issue of the New Yorker, there is an interesting article (“The Novelist of Human Unknowability”) about Henry Green written by London-based literary critic Leo Robson. The article is built around the friendship between Green and US writer Terry Southern and both have connections with Waugh. Waugh and Green (whose real name was Henry Yorke) were friends from Oxford days. Waugh wrote a review of an early Green novel that is mentioned in Robson’s article:
In 1930, Evelyn Waugh had reviewed “Living,” Green’s novel about Birmingham factory life, under the headline “A Neglected Masterpiece.” It was the first of several dozen articles that bemoaned Green’s lack of acceptance and helped bind his name as closely to the epithet “neglected” as Pallas Athena is to “bright-eyed.” Waugh blamed philistine book reviewers, but he knew that Green’s image hadn’t helped. “From motives inscrutable to his friends, the author of Living chooses to publish his work under a pseudonym of peculiar drabness,” he wrote.
Waugh’s review is reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 80. Waugh never reviewed another of Green’s novels (although they remained friends), and in his letters, Waugh turns distinctly colder toward Green’s writing, in which he detected symptoms of madness.
Green’s connection with Terry Southern came about through the latter’s admiration for Green’s writing. Robson describes Southern’s pursuit of Green as a fan and explains how they met and became friends and collaborators. Southern conducted an interview of Green that was published in the Paris Review. Southern’s connection with Waugh (not mentioned by Robson) was more distant. Waugh had noticed Green’s influence on Southern’s early fiction and commented on this in a 1958 letter to Anthony Powell (Letters, 507). Later, Southern was selected by Tony Richardson as a screenwriter for the film adaptation of Waugh’s novel The Loved One. Waugh was not happy with the results of that collaboration.
As Robson writes in the New Yorker, there have been several attempts to promote Green’s works, beginning with Waugh’s 1930 review. Efforts on his behalf were extended in the 1970s by admirers such as V S Pritchett and John Updike and again in the 1990s with publication of a biography and uncollected works, but he never seemed to take hold as part of the canon, described as a “writer’s writer’s writer.” Another attempt is underway to revive interest in his work. The New York Review of Books has begun to bring his books back into print with the recent republication of Caught, Loving and Back. Robson’s article certainly can’t hurt that effort.
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