Prancing Back into Print by Richard Canning

Richard Canning

Prancing Back into Print

 

The Fifties and Sixties saw the last widespread revival of interest in Ronald Firbank. In 1958, Sandy Wilson premiered a musical based on Valmouth (1919; possibly the only novel in which a majority of characters are centenarian). Lauded by W H Auden and (occasionally) E M Forster, as well as the American critic Edmund Wilson, Firbank was also embraced on both sides of the Atlantic by younger readers. In the States, these included Susan Sontag, whose essay ‘Notes on “Camp”’ (1964) found in Firbank’s works a vital illustration of the principle of this homosexual aesthetic, particularly its determination to ‘dethrone the serious’. A biography of Firbank appeared in 1970, followed in 1973 by the last important publication to acclaim his achievement – a suitably madcap tribute by the Irish novelist Brigid Brophy, entitled Prancing Novelist: A Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank. 

As Alan Hollinghurst pointed out in his introduction to Three Novels (2000; now sadly out of print), Firbank knew precisely how formally innovative and thematically transgressive his novels were. Nonetheless, he remained baffled at their limited appeal. All but one was, of necessity, published in London through a private arrangement

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