Cyril Connolly: A Life by Jeremy Lewis - review by Auberon Waugh

Auberon Waugh

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Cyril Connolly: A Life


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In a Guardian interview to mark his seventieth birthday on 10 September 1973 – scarcely more than a year before he died – Cyril Connolly revealed that he would have been happiest as a poet: ‘I lack some quality whereby long books get written,’ he explained, before adding the defiant statement, a contradiction of everything he had claimed throughout his life: ‘My journalism is literature.’

If he died believing that, he may have died a happier man, but such a conclusion would largely destroy his life’s achievement, which was the creation of himself in the model of a potentially great writer who somehow missed the boat. As Jeremy Lewis points out in an attractive preface to this definitive biography: ‘Whatever his ostensible subject matter, [Connolly’s] abiding topic was himself – and no one has written more vividly, more sympathetically or more honestly.’

The dangers of journalism are memorably set out in Enemies of Promise (1938). As Lewis notes, ‘Connolly’s insistence on the great gulf that was set between literature and journalism, and his dependence on literary journalism as a means of making ends meet, were to haunt and obsess him for the

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