Brophy, Brigid (Antonia)
Brigid (Antonia) Brophy 1929–
Anglo-Irish novelist, critic, essayist, journalist, short story writer, and dramatist.
Brophy presents unconventional and controversial views with outspoken wit. In general, Brophy's work portrays modern society as too complacent and overly rationalistic and she proposes freedom from traditional middle-class values.
With her first novel, Hackenfeller's Ape (1953), Brophy won praise for her wit, technical control, and command of language. This novel depicts a scientist whose attempts to civilize an ape result in problems both for himself and the ape. Her novel Flesh (1962) examines eccentricities of human behavior by depicting the transformation of an introverted young man into a hedonist. These novels, along with The Snow Ball (1964), a comedy of manners that parallels themes in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, established Brophy as a critic of middle-class morality and hypocrisy. Like Bernard Shaw, whom she has acknowledged as a major influence, Brophy writes social criticism with the moral intent of promoting a better world. Brophy's style has been compared with the satirical elegance of Ronald Firbank, who was the subject of Brophy's critical biography The Prancing Novelist (1973).
In the early 1960s, Brophy began to express her social views in works of nonfiction, with mixed results. Black Ship to Hell (1962), a sweeping historical analysis of the human impulse toward violence, is heavily influenced by Freudian theories. The collected essays and reviews in Don't Never Forget (1966) are drawn from her work on various English periodicals. The book that provoked the greatest response was Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without (1967), in which she collaborated with her husband, art historian Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne of London Magazine. While critics agreed that a few of the "classics" debunked in this study were unworthy of the high literary status they enjoyed, they also derided the trio's reliance on facetious analysis based on subjective opinion.
Brophy's later fiction is marked by experiments with language, structure, and narrative. Of these novels, In Transit (1969) and Palace without Chairs (1978) are considered most significant. While critics continued to compliment Brophy as a witty and clever novelist, many were of the opinion that her experimentalism intruded upon the themes of these novels. Brophy's recent work, The Prince and the Wild Geese (1982), is a commentary accompanying a series of watercolors by a nineteenth-century Russian prince that depicts his unsuccessful attempts to woo a young Irish woman. Set in Italy, The Prince and the Wild Geese is a comedy of manners that contains the wit and social criticism that many critics have acknowledged to be Brophy's major strength as a writer.
(See also CLC, Vols. 6, 11; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 14.)
The Times Literary Supplement
The Crown Princess is a book of six stories by a write still in her early twenties. The best of them show exceptional acuteness and penetrative power, and a wit which is unobtrusive but constant. "He was visible all round, like a statue on a revolving pedestal," Miss Brophy observes of an actor whose public existence is conducted with an egoism so perfect that it excludes the possibility of any inner life at all…. Miss Brophy's approach is quite unlike that of her fashionable British contemporaries who adhere to a cult of feminine sensibility; it is more nearly related to that of such tough and sharp American talents as those of Miss Mary McCarthy and Miss Eleanor Clark. Her material is generally the contrast between outer and inner realities. The Crown Princess, accepting the crowd's applause on her twenty-first birthday, feels so perfectly a public dummy that she wants to cry, "Go away—there's nobody here"; Gavin, the actor, is not moved from his ideal self-contemplation by his wife's departure from his life; the barrenness of Fordie, a Little Cham of criticism, is adroitly compared with the creativeness of a writer despised as merely popular. Miss Brophy's skill in treating such subjects does not always conceal their slightness; but there can be no doubt at all that hers is a brilliantly original talent.
"Character and Conduct," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd....
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Wit at once gentle and penetrating, a style both pleasant and forceful, and the ability to render clearly a variety of complex personal and social situations and to elucidate their meanings—these characteristics mark the work of Brigid Brophy. The six stories of "The Crown Princess" are in a most civilized tradition of English writing; restrained, sometimes muted, they are nevertheless richly perceptive and suggestive of difficult human truths.
One reason for this is that Miss Brophy is able to relate a limited subject to the larger social and moral issues that surround and shape it. Such a story as "Mrs. Mandford's Drawing Room," which deals with the attritions of wartime upon the manners and values of an English county family, is implicit with the massive alterations that overtook all elements of English society during the second world war. The fate of the Mandfords is seen as both individual and typical. At the last, it is Geoffrey Mandford's dogged Englishness that most poignantly reveals a transformed world, for by remaining uncompromisingly the Englishman he once was, he now feels he must willingly give up the foreign wife he once cherished. The absurdity of Geoffrey's position is the key to the new spirit of the times.
"His Wife Survived Him" and "The Financial World" also treat of the subtleties of personal relationships within a wider social context….
Another story of persuasive insight...
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Brigid Brophy is a very young and admirably industrious British writer. She is possessed of a talented, imaginative intelligence, and shows [in "The Crown Princess and Other Stories"] considerable courage in her choice and manipulation of subject: a Graustarkian princess who is mad about the movies and pores over "fan" magazines all day long; a flamboyantly continental Rumanian lady who, having married into a British family, tries vainly and absurdly in wartime England to out-British the British;…; a young female writer who, through friendship with a number of older authors, searches out the true means of judging literature.
All this makes for an interesting list of contents; but each of her stories, in one way or another, fails to hold the reader or go beyond its arduous intentions. Some of the stories, like "The Financial World" (about the industrialist), "Mrs. Mandford's Drawing Room" (the Rumanian woman), and "Fordie" (how to know a good novel), are quite lacking in direction and a self-critical disciplining of language and idea. Too rambling, padded and diffuse to make the mark as stories, they also lack the substance, strength and length to become successful novellas….
"Fordie," somewhat reminiscent of Maugham's brilliant and stinging lampoon of Hugh Walpole in "Cakes and Ale," attempts an intricate and complex Jamesian investigation, through a deathbed conversation at the end, into the crisscrossing of life...
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Beyond the haunting title of Brigid Brophy's second novel lies a tale as strange and original as the one she told three years ago in "Hackenfeller's Ape." Like that small, remarkable book, "The King of a Rainy Country" is youthful, glittering, a little perverse; and it is written in the same immaculate prose.
The narrator, Susan, is a nineteen-year-old Londoner who takes a job as secretary to one Finkelheim (born Gilchrist), a dealer in publishers' remainders and pornography; and who in a manner of speaking shares a dingy flat with a youth named Neale. Susan and Neale are a pair of romantics, self-conscious, precious, intermittently exasperating; but they are, after all, very young, and Miss Brophy manages to make them touching as well.
What plot there is has to do with their search for a former schoolmate…. [The] book becomes for a time a kind of comic travelogue. The sad and curious climax is reached in Venice, which Miss Brophy describes with freshness and charm….
This is brittle, sparkling stuff. Lacking the pointed satire and the allegorical overtones that enlarged the scope of "Hackenfeller's Ape," one is left with the feeling that Miss Brophy hasn't, this time, found a theme to match her exceptional talent. The fact remains that "The King of a Rainy Country" exerts a strong fascination, and provides a brand of entertainment for which the best word is exquisite, in all its connotations....
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Charles J. Rolo
[The King of a Rainy Country] introduced me to a young English writer. Brigid Brophy, who is well endowed with the quality which is all-important to the novelist and is currently in short supply—a distinctive individuality. Her way of seeing, feeling, and thinking—and therefore of writing—is decidedly her own.
Miss Brophy has described her theme as "the romantic temperament," and the story in which she develops it is a curious sort of comedy….
Taken as a whole the novel is far from being a success: it is somewhat disjointed, lacking in coherence, and at times not sufficiently convincing. But it has, throughout, qualities which I found extremely attractive. The prose is first-rate; fresh, spare, and assured. There is dead-pan comedy of the choicest order, especially in the scenes involving the dealer in pornography, who is a truly inspired creation. There is hilarious caricature and farce in the description of the trip with the American tourists. Above all, there is a genuine youthfulness of spirit, a glow of independence.
Charles J. Rolo, in a review of "The King of a Rainy Country" (copyright ©, 1957 by Charles J. Rolo; reprinted by permission of The Atlantic Monthly Company), in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 199, No. 4, April, 1957, p. 89.
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This huge rambling essay in applied psychoanalysis [Black Ship to Hell] takes the form—in so far as it takes any form at all—of a random meditation on man's destructive impulses. A lot of it is given over to recapitulating the Freudian hypotheses. Sometimes, as it dodges obliquely and rather crankily between past and present, it makes your head swim; but it is worth taking some trouble with. Miss Brophy has plenty of ideas of her own. She is well read. She can be witty. She is also a particularly energetic dynamiter of any religious trees Freud has left standing. Rationalists will find her explanation of the Communion service a powerful piece of anti-doctrine—to be used with tact. (p. 233)
Maurice Richardson, "S S Thanatos," in New Statesman (© 1962 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXIII, No. 1614, February 16, 1962, pp. 233-34.
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The Times Literary Supplement
[Brophy's] exposition of the nature of our destructive impulses [in Black Ship to Hell] is so confusing, irritating and occasionally absurd that those who are unfamiliar with her material may be excused if they take this book as good evidence for dismissing it out of hand; her solution to the problems of our self-destructive tendencies—that man can happily be employed in making love and in creative artistic activity—is quite acceptable, but this book will not, one fears, stimulate either of these activities to any great extent.
The author's approach is massively Freudian and other disciplines are virtually excluded…. But sociology, economics, geography, political theory all do have their own value in helping us to comprehend our present dilemmas. It may well be that in small primitive societies man's battles were directly related to his unconscious sexual instincts, and one can tentatively apply some of these findings to whole nations, but how does one relate this to the problems that face the two Mr. K's [Kennedy and Khrushchev] at this time? It would be a bold and foolish man who muttered in their august ears at a conference table, "It's O.K., he just wants to castrate you." Miss Brophy makes no attempt to cross this gulf, but falls back on the generalized plea that we should remodel our world on Freudian terms. Certainly we should be taught more about our unconscious nature and learn something about the motives which...
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Joseph L. Quinn
In Flesh and Hackenfeller's Ape Brigid Brophy established herself as a very intelligent, very assured, and very capable writer of fiction, much on the order of Mary McCarthy…. [With The Snow Ball and The Finishing Touch, Brophy] takes what her publishers call "a new turn," combining Mary McCarthy's cool, underplayed humor with the formful precision and striking prose of an Elizabeth Bowen.
The Snow Ball, the first and much the longer of these two "little novels," is a modern, sophisticated, seriocomic playlet set in an eighteenth-century town house during a New Year's Eve costume ball. While this story of a modern Donna Anna will especially appeal to Mozart and Don Juan aficionados, it has quite enough sex, social satire, and sheer literary brilliance to charm and/or amuse operatic laymen as well.
It is The Finishing Touch, however, that makes this book something very special indeed. Touch is the story of a most exclusive finishing school on the French Riviera—or perhaps anywhere else. The lady proprietors of the school (Hetty Braid and Antonia Mount) and certain of their students—including a British princess—are, to put it in the blandest terms, rather remarkable creations. The Lesbianism and general sexual perversion prevalent at this ghastly academy would doubtless seem most morbid and obscene were it not spun out for us in such delicate Francophilia; but, as...
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Brigid Brophy is not an English master builder. She constructs her novels on traditional patterns, then decorates them with bon mots and allusions. A visitor to one of her fanciful stage-sets treads on familiar ground: if the settings are often more brilliantly conveyed than the people who perform in them, the fault does not lie with her, since she is interested in appearances, not reality. Her eye focuses on the costumes and inflections people adopt in order to keep up their pretenses: the art of disguise—public and private, verbal and psychic, therapeutic and destructive—is the subject matter on which she trains her loaded camera. From this vantage point she develops comic negatives that are deadly, lucid and funny.
In the two novellas ["The Snow Ball" and "The Finishing Touch"] that make up her new book, she does not try to disguise her interest in masks. The longer of the two stories, "The Snow Ball," is nominally about a masquerade party on New Year's Eve in a stately house in London. Many affairs—marital, premarital and extramarital—crowd round the room in preparation for a new alignment (or at least a new illusion) for the new year…. Miss Brophy offers more than sex and seduction: she offers the commentary of a knowing ironist.
Beneath her humor is, if not examination, then at least a stab at the hypocrisies of modern life. The masquerade "snow ball" opens the book, but the snow outside the...
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The Snow Ball is a sort of prosy musical joke, though hardly like one by Mozart, with whom Brigid Brophy seems to be on close terms; Meyerbeer perhaps. The author begins with an epigraph from a book written by herself (Mozart the Dramatist): "That most fascinating subject for gossip, whether, when the opera opens, Don Giovanni has just seduced or has just failed to seduce Donna Anna will no doubt go on being debated for another two centuries." The novel provides an all-night debating ground….
[The plot of The Snow Ball] is chiefly a stage for the play of three ideas. When Don Giovanni asks Anna what she chiefly thinks about, she sums it up neatly: "Mozart, sex, and death." Considering the latter preoccupation, however, one wonders what to make of an observation by Don Giovanni a little later: "Obsessive thoughts about death are in inverse proportion to the frequency of sexual intercourse." For Brigid Brophy evidently puts a very high value upon sexual intercourse. Anna gazes at a statue of Cupid—described, oddly enough, with beady-eyed disgust—and offers "a prayer to the only god she believed in: but him she believed capable of saving the world." Like other ideas in this book, however, this estimate of the powers of Eros is stated, not demonstrated.
Peacock's novels shows how bracing can be the play of ideas among pantomime people; but such tours de force call not only for wit...
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Brigid Brophy's first novel, "Hackenfeller's Ape," published in the United States in 1954, was a high-spirited comedy constructed on three themes—love (or sex), death, and Mozart. She has not given up on them, as her two most recent books—"Mozart the Dramatist" …, and two short novels in one volume, "The Snow Ball" and "The Finishing Touch" …—show. Miss Brophy's style is brilliant; it is entertaining, direct, lucid, and active; it half anticipates its surprising events and ideas. Her themes, on the other hand, have developed into eccentricities. She is a Freudian as one might be a Baconian; she has the answers to questions no one cares about.
You can waste your time pondering Mozart's problems with his father, Leopold (who is surely history's most appalling stage mother), unless you remember that Mozart bequeathed us his work—pure pleasure—and not his problems. Miss Brophy, alas, cannot enter into this joyful inheritance with thanksgiving. In "Mozart the Dramatist," she applies her own notions of psychoanalysis to the eighteenth century, to the Enlightenment, to Mozart, and to his librettos. She is looking for difficulties, and she solves the ones she finds by overworking that intellectually dangerous word "really"—"the scandalous transgression of class barriers which is really a question of incest." "Really" allows her to make a unity out of what is in fact multiplicity, to achieve coherence at the price of sense. "The...
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The Times Literary Supplement
The bulk of Don't Never Forget consists of book reviews. If they are weak in critical judgment, they are stimulating and engaged in knocking down Aunt Sallies which either never existed or have been dead for years. The Novel as a Takeover Bid, a Third Programme talk, refutes the "Victorian adage that one shouldn't read novels in the morning." This is a stimulating talk, so full of nonsense, half-truths, insights and unsights, that one is forced to think. Many a wiser, less cocky essay into the appeal of the novel would have less effect because it would persuade to agreement rather than provoke the violent reaction to the smart epigram. Not that Miss Brophy's epigrams are smart. "The true paranoid situation is on the other foot" is not the happiest metaphor.
Don't Never Forget is a delightful period volume, filled with the moral fervour of the liberated atheist, vegetarian feminist of sixty years ago attacking the Christian, social and philistine absurdities of that time with all the vigour of someone who had absorbed hook, line and sinker, what G.B.S. had been writing for twenty years before that.
"Cold Air," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1966; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3379, December 1, 1966, p. 1116.
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Many authors are embarrassed about letting their random journalistic writings be gathered into a book, though the embarrassment is much mitigated by the need for money. What is written for ephemeral reading finds an appropriate style, the deadline dictating flatness or hysteria, with no time for the mot juste (and who the hell cares, anyway!) or (you can always change your mind next week) the considered opinion. A book is, on the other hand, an awful undertaking: it takes a long time to come out, it costs dear, it ought to be a product of essential conviction, not just a cast-off wardrobe. Hence, however venally qualified, the embarrassment.
Asked whether her journalism interferes with her serious writing, Brigid Brophy replies that her journalism is serious writing. She was never one for embarrassment. So here [in "Don't Never Forget: Collected Views and Reviews"], bold as brass, are articles on the subjects which Miss Brophy feels—even with the approach of a deadline—deeply about. They are best defined as Brophyesque subjects, which is the best possible tribute to her integrity and consistency. This means that they are for Brophyesque readers. I am, for the most part, temperamentally unfitted to be one of those. (p. 4)
There is something endearing about the consistency of Miss Brophy's tastes and convictions: setting out to surprise, she never surprises—at least, not if we start with the premise...
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Inside every dinner conversation there is a bad book struggling to get out. Acting on this proposition Brophy, [her husband Michael Levey and Charles Osborne] elected to rescue their table talk from the wine lees in which it should properly have drowned…. Not content with seeing their roguish project into hard-covers [Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without], the authors have also installed a preface conceived in a mood of pretension that complements the dreary brew of facetiousness and intolerance that is to come…. The ardent trio then dispatch from memory such well-thumbed books as The Dream of Gerontius, Aurora Leigh and The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table: with peevish zeal they press on to abuse Hamlet, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and a number of other popular works. (p. 722)
Through the drollery and affectation it is difficult to detect any principles the authors may be applying. Authors are praised for not professing moral standards. Moby Dick was not 'the organic product of a true imagination'. Wuthering Heights is implicitly condemned for being 'the first and the meatiest morsel in the long broad tradition of melodramatic daydreams….'… Not surprisingly this mature posture is allied with copious reverence for George Eliot and Henry James. But this implicit attitude never hardens into any sort of an argument, and is blended with some curious antics about sex…. It...
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This deplorable little work [Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without] has been duly deplored in the literary reviews and the "class" papers: only the Sunday Express, I think, found anything to praise. The authors are now rubbing themselves in an ecstasy of the kind granted only to Exclusive Brethren…. I don't propose to help inflame the delicious abscess. I merely want to express my disquiet that this is what British literary criticism should have come to…. [Here] are three people of large culture and considerable social standing. They have enough fame and they are presumably not short of money. What then has impelled them to publish so ill-conceived, ignorant and vulgar a book?
One answer, a shameful one, is a hunger for notoriety. Their book, far from being ignored (if it had been the work of uneducated people that would have been a just response), has had wide newspaper coverage; they themselves have been interviewed at length on commercial television. Like children, they have shown off, and the showing-off has provoked attention. They have even angered a number of people, and anger, like sexual desire, can be flattering to its object. What they regard as iconoclasm can also be seen as the indiscriminate destructiveness of infants who will do anything to get notice. They kick Hamlet, Pilgrim's Progress, and the poems of T. S. Eliot. Very naughty, most smackable. But they also pulverise the...
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Remember that small clique of students who used to slouch together in the back of your English class, feeling immensely superior and whispering nasty comments about everything the class was assigned to read? The first day or two there was a certain fascination in their brashness, but it quickly became obvious that they were not reading the books, they were fleering, or weren't understanding what they read. After that, the class shrugged them off as a nuisance, and they huddled closer together, growing steadily more shallow, arrogant, and snide.
In case you've ever wondered what happened to them, this new book ["Fifty Works of English Literature We Can Do Without"] by three people exactly like them will answer your question. They haven't changed a bit.
The book is a collection of 50 brief, sneering essays, heaping insults on a miscellany of major and trivial works of English and American literature from "Beowulf" almost to the present. The sneerers are Brigid Brophy, a British essayist and critic who specializes in being irritating, and two men who have here done their very best to think and write like her—her husband, Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne.
Their sneering takes many forms, of which the most common is the direct, unsupported insult. When these insults are precise, they are usually demonstrably wrong, as when "Alice in Wonderland," an excoriating satire on adult pomposity and hypocrisy,...
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Brigid Brophy, her husband, Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne have concocted what the English would call "a wicked book," Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without…. Their demolition technique is based on two principles: find a defect in a long-revered classic, and then jump on the thing until it is dead; and, second, the most amusing way to push down an esteemed author is to push up a minor writer in his place. But unfair or otherwise, their attack has produced some splendid fireworks, and the fifty works which they have blasted are of such varied assortment that every reader is bound to find among them some old enemies and smile as they are blown sky-high.
The list begins with Beowulf, which is rated "a fine example of primitive non-art." Spenser's The Faerie Queene is dynamited for its "punishing length, utter confusion and unremitting tedium … and monotonous rhyming verses which run endlessly on …" (I agree)…. Their short rejection of Huckleberry Finn betrays a fundamental lack of understanding, and they complain about everything in Hamlet except that the play works on the stage. A Farewell to Arms is written off because Hemingway had not learned his lesson from Gertrude Stein and did not possess her exquisite choice of words (this is plain silly; see Stein's monumental monotony, The Making of Americans). Arbitrary and malicious as they are, the trio are...
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Joyce Carol Oates
What is depressing about Brigid Brophy's sixth novel [In Transit: An Heroi-Cyclic Novel] is not its echoes of a horde of other writers, among them the Olympian Joyce, but that the echoes are so painfully feeble, the bizarre wit of the "avant-garde" novel here so hopelessly halved, that the reader feels a kind of desperation in his desire to come upon something good in all these pages—something intelligent, something original and striking—something. (p. 4)
It is difficult to sense when Miss Brophy is being consciously comic (though I suspect the entire novel can be defended as a "comic" novel); but I am fairly certain that the very ending is meant to be a joke: a simple line drawing of a fish, with the helpful word FIN on its lowermost fin.
But a novel must be about something. It can't simply establish itself as the stream-of-consciousness of an argumentative, clever, modish woman of middle age. And so In Transit is "about" an extremely talkative consciousness, an argumentative, clever, modish female (male?) who finds herself (himself?) in a vast airport lounge, waiting. The allegorical possibilities are many, and Miss Brophy's blurb writers have not hesitated to shake them out for us, but I will resist: Somehow one never gets beyond the superficial sound of words in In Transit.
And that is one of the dozens of themes that fail to escape the "probings of Miss Brophy's pen."...
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Brigid Brophy, the Irish controversialist, classics scholar, champion of animal rights and vegetarian, continues her war on the 20th century. In Transit, her sixth novel, takes the fight underground, where it is more likely to be seen. The book is a highly cerebral contrivance that cannibalizes such literary conceits as puns, anagrams, typographical innovations, styles of alienation and cultural shock. These are then excreted as parodic wastes, which, in turn, become a further source of nourishment. With such transcendent offalness, Miss Brophy seeks a form suited to her view of the times.
Her central conception is impressive enough. The modern world is an airport waiting room, "one of the rare places where twentieth-century design is happy with its own style." Life beneath this vaulted metaphor is amorphous, ambiguous, oysterous. Culture, history, psychology, and even physiology are hopelessly confused.
So is Evelyn Hilary O'Rooley, the novel's bifocal, bivocal, bisexual narrator….
In the world-as-airport, Evelyn-Hilary-Brophy-"I" falls in with a number of atrocities: a TV quiz show whose panel attempts to discover the favorite perversions of its guests; lesbian and youth rebellions; a nun hunt, and a plane crash engineered to secure human organs for transplants. In such an environment, rationalism mutates into absurd rationalization. Like rebellious cancer cells, words metastasize into...
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Clever, inventive and assured though ['Hackenfeller's Ape,' 'Flesh,' and 'The Snow Ball'] are, they now, 15 or 20 years later, show up as the work of a thin imagination. Brophy's sleight-of-hand, her control over her metaphors, her adventures into rococo prose are impressive. But for a first-time reader, the works seem hollow; and in spite of their intimate references to Mozart's humane grandeur, they entirely fail to move.
To ask that novels should produce strong feelings by being interested in and truthful about people is naïve, and it's for continuing to ask this that fiction reviewers are most despised. Why shouldn't novels, on the contrary, produce strong feelings by their interest in metaphor? Nevertheless, Brophy's novels do seem lacking in that old 'felt life.' It's instructive to compare her with Ian McEwan, not only because his chilling use of extremes makes her Sixties' outrageousness look tame, but also because his equally contrived, circumscribed metaphors don't in his case exclude a grave and even tender understanding of fear and inadequacy, embarrassment and obsession. Brigid Brophy has a Shavian commitment to social diagnosis, which McEwan hasn't; but she certainly isn't tender.
The all-white bedroom, complete with cherubs' heads and expensive peppermint creams ('tart's rococo') of 'The Snow Ball', or the 15-room fake Tudor Kenwood house in 'Flesh', display Brophy's flashy knack of explaining people...
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[Prancing Novelist, a study of Ronald Firbank,] is an imaginative pursuit of a writer absolutely outstanding in the tenacity of its research and in its sympathetic and enlightening speculation.
It is also a book co-ordinated with the relentlessness of an obsession, complexly self-referring and never deterred from its chosen objective. Brophy is entirely serious in her task, and is prepared to defend her seriousness. Her polemical writing has tended to receive the bored and insensitive criticism often awarded, in this country, to the upholding of beliefs and the life of genuine moral principle. And a morality of this kind, when brought to bear on the creation of fiction, introduces particular qualities. While Eliot could joke that James (a writer Brophy loves) had a mind so pure that no idea could violate it, Brophy's is a mind vitally concerned with ideas and principles and their manifestation in human behaviour. Equally her belief in the power of the imaginative worlds of novels is strong; she has written of the novel as the only art-form which exacts from its audience a total surrender of the Ego…. (pp. 134-35)
Hackenfeller's Ape (1953) involves us. It has a control rare in a first novel, and a compelling lucidity of style, entirely spare and relevant. The story itself is simple, the implications complex. The larger part of it is set in London Zoo. By clever manipulation of tone and angle man is...
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The Prince and the Wild Geese is a story of 1832 told in words and pictures, the words almost all Brigid Brophy's, the pictures by Prince Grégoire Gagarin, artist son of the Russian ambassador in Rome after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Graceful and witty, Gagarin's drawings portray his social world much as Pope in 'The Rape of the Lock' portrayed his, in a spirit of satire touched with complicity. Gagarin's Rome, like Pope's London, emerges the more definitively from seeming, at the outset, only the backdrop to a story of thwarted passion. The drawings illustrate a simple tale: how Gagarin is obsessed with an Irish girl, Julia Taaffe, how he meets her in Rome's villas, squares and esplanades, and how in the end she refuses him. Since social convention bars him from speaking or writing seriously of his passion to the object of it, he translates himself, Julia and Rome into fantasy, a more eloquent medium than their polite foreigners' French….
Brigid Brophy must have wondered whether to use her novelist's skills to invent the missing … [dialogues, letters, and diaries], but has finally had the discretion to supply nothing but a commentary which fills in biographical information and 'reads' Gagarin's pictures. The drawings are left to tell the story, in the form of a very high-class strip-cartoon, rather as though Byron had elected to give an episode of Don Juan in the medium of Feiffer or Posy Simmons…....
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