Waugh biographer Paula Byrne has reviewed DJ Taylor’s new book Lost Girls: Love, War and Literature 1939-1951. This appears in today’s Times newspaper. Byrne stresses that the book is as much or more about Cyril Connolly as it is about the young women he attracted to live and work with him during the life of his literary magazine Horizon. She takes Taylor’s point that Connolly was extraordinarily successful in attracting these women’s attention. She also expresses a reservation, however, in Taylor’s analysis of the source of Connolly’s appeal:
Taylor suggests that Connolly’s attraction lay in his “superabundant charm”, yet gives little evidence to support this claim. The girls were all prepared to put up with his awful behaviour just to be in his orbit and to “luxuriate in the dazzle of his personality”, but the trouble with the book is that we see so little of this dazzle.
It wasn’t just the lost girls but others of Connolly’s colleagues, not least Evelyn Waugh, also found him charming. But his charm must have arisen from his conversation and ability to hold one’s attention in person because his writing is nothing special nor do written descriptions by others of his speech and behavior contribute much to suggest his charm. It seems to be the case that you had to be there to appreciate it. That may be what Anthony Powell is suggesting in a quote from his memoirs that appears as an epigraph to Taylor’s introduction:
What, in short, was the point of Connolly? Why did people put up with the frequent moroseness, gloom, open hostility? Why, if he were about in the neighborhood, did I always take steps to get hold of him? The question is hard to answer. The fact remains that I did…
Byrne concludes her review with this:
…With the exception of Skelton, the Lost Girls come across as upper-class groupies, badly educated, unintellectual and short on female solidarity. […] When Taylor describes Connolly as “a genuine literary powerbroker, a grand panjandrum, a maker and breaker of reputations”, he unwittingly gets to the heart of the mystery of Connolly’s appeal. The women who surrounded him were, like many insecure and unstable groupies, attracted to power.
Taylor finally gets to meet one of the Lost Girls, Woolley, now in her nineties. Her disavowal of his thesis of the Lost Girls seems to come to him as a shock. He asks her if there was any meaning to the term. “No none at all. I think it’s rather silly really.”
Janetta Woolley died last year at the age of 97. See previous post.
Those interested in Taylor’s subject may want to know about two upcoming events. He will appear at the literary festival in Henley-on-Thames on Sunday, 6 October 2019 at 12pm. The topic will be the book reviewed by Paula Byrne. Details available here.
Taylor will also deliver this year’s annual Anthony Powell Lecture sponsored by the Powell Society. The title of the lecture is “Anthony Powell and the Lost Girls”. According to the Society’s announcement, Powell knew most of the lost girls “both at the time of their flourishing in the late 40s and later when they were falling apart.” The lecture will be presented at the Travellers’ Club, 106 Pall Mall in London on Tuesday, 26 November at 7pm. Details available here.