New Study of Wartime Literary London Reviewed

The Sunday Times reviews the new book about Wartime and Postwar London by D J Taylor. This is entitled Lost Girls and will be issued in London early next month. A January 2020 publication date in the USA is planned. See previous post. The book is reviewed by retired professor John Carey who describes it as:

An inspired study of mid-20th-century literary life through love and sex, […]  an exploratory and sometimes eye-popping slice of social history. It follows the fortunes of a group of not very well-known young women in London during the Second World War. He calls them Lost Girls, and explains that they were lost in the sense that,  for various reasons, they lacked parental guidance, so had to fend for themselves — which they did with some success.

The review identifies the lost girls as Barbara Skelton, Janetta Parlade, Sonia Brownell and Lys Lubbock but says that only the first two really fit into Taylor’s definition. Prof Carey goes on to claim that the book is really about Cyril Connolly who gathered these girls as well as others around him in the period when he was editor of the cultural magazine Horizon. According to the review, Connolly is

remembered now as the author of a single wonderfully funny novel, The Rock Pool (1936), and a sharp-eyed assessment of modernist literature, Enemies of Promise (1938). [He] was at prep school and Eton with Orwell, and he is Falstaff to Orwell’s Prince Hal. Falstaff notoriously divides critics. For some he is gluttonous, cowardly, dishonest, criminally exploitative and soggy with self-pity. For others he is the very spirit of comedy in rebellion against joyless puritanism. It was the same with Connolly. For some, such as Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, he was a joke. But the lost girls swarmed around him.

Waugh may have treated Connolly as a joke in his correspondence with Mitford, but he also recognized his importance as a literary figure and was more than a bit jealous of him. Waugh allowed Connolly to publish The Loved One in its entirety, taking up a complete issue of the magazine in February 1948. He did this in return for the price of his yearly subscription at a time the magazine was struggling financially.

Prof Carey concludes his review with this:

Taylor is a strikingly versatile writer — novelist, critic, historian, author of the standard biography of Orwell, and the acerbic wit behind Private Eye’s What You Didn’t Miss column. He starts this book with a brilliant snatch of spoof history in which a guileless young woman from Shepperton finds herself, by mistake, at a party among an alarming gathering of 1930s Bloomsbury intellectuals. He ends it with an account of a real-life interview that Janetta, aged 94, granted him in 2016, in which she pooh-poohs his whole idea of Lost Girls (“I think it’s rather silly really”). […]  If you have even a passing interest in human relationships and the imagination, you should not deny yourself the pleasure of reading it.

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