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 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...
(The entire section is 246 words.)
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...
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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...
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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...
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[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...
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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)...
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[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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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?...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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?...
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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...
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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...
(The entire section is 660 words.)
Brophy, Brigid (Vol. 105)
Brigid Brophy 1929–1995
Irish novelist, critic, essayist, journalist, short story writer, and dramatist.
The following entry presents criticism of Brophy's career through 1995. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 6, 11, and 29.
A lifelong crusader for multitudinous causes ranging from writers' rights and animals' rights to sexual freedom, women's liberation, and vegetarianism, Brophy produced a varied and extensive body of work. Her best-known novels are The King of a Rainy Country (1956), The Finishing Touch (1963), and In Transit (1969). Admittedly influenced by Sigmund Freud's theories, Ronald Firbank's literary style, and G. B. Shaw's aesthetics, Brophy's writings express unconventional and controversial opinions about modern relationships, religious education in schools, sexual psychology, pornography, and gender issues. Her work often incorporates elements of farce, word play, and witty social satire. While most critics initially responded to Brophy's works quite favorably—finding them consistently clever, lucid, imaginative, and absolutely unique—her books have been neglected for several reasons, although signs of a critical engagement with her oeuvre have begun to emerge. "The neglect of this brilliant woman's work and contributions to contemporary aesthetics is scandalous," remarked Steven Moore. "Those human beings who study contemporary literature never should forget Brophy."
Born June 12, 1929, the only daughter of Irish novelist John Brophy, Brigid Brophy spent her childhood in London, but she frequently visited Ireland and was raised on Irish ideas. As a child who wrote verse dramas from the age of six onwards, she attended St. Paul's Girls' School and later studied for just four terms at Oxford University, where she excelled as a scholar but was expelled for disciplinary problems. She then took a variety of clerical jobs, published the short story collection The Crown Princess (1953), and began work on her first novel, Hackenfeller's Ape (1953), which won the Cheltenham Literary Festival first prize for a first novel. Brophy concentrated primarily on writing fiction early in her literary career, most notably the novels The King of a Rainy Country, Flesh (1962), The Finishing Touch, The Snow Ball (1964), and In Transit. She then turned to other forms: Mozart the Dramatist (1964), widely regarded as one of the best books on his operas; Don't Never Forget (1966), a well-received collection of her journalism for such English periodicals as London Magazine and New Statesman; Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without (1967), a controversial attack on such classics as Beowulf, Hamlet, Jane Eyre, and The Scarlet Letter, written in collaboration with Michael Levey, her husband, and literary critic Charles Osborne; The Burglar, a play in which the stage directions and introductory essay mimic the manner of Shaw; Black and White (1968), a critical assessment of the works of illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, who also was her subject in the biography Beardsley and His World (1976); The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl (1973), her second collection of short fiction; and Prancing Novelist (1973), a critical biography of novelist Ronald Firbank. In 1974 Brophy joined the Writers Guild of Great Britain as a member of its executive council and the Anti-Vivisection Society of Great Britain, serving as vice-president. She published her last novel, Palace without Chairs, in 1978. The next year Brophy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which worsened until she was housebound and confined to a wheelchair; her struggles with the debilitating disease are recounted in the essay collection Baroque 'n' Roll (1987). Brophy died on August 7, 1995, in a London nursing home.
Brophy's works "evince a continuing emphasis upon art in the broadest sense," according to critic Leslie Dock, and her fiction usually features musical patterns and shifting tempos, cinematic or photographic effects, and architectural images—most notably, baroque—that enrich the narrative texture. Hackenfeller's Ape explores a number of themes, among them original sin, the romantic viewpoint, and experimentation on animals for scientific purposes; the novel depicts a scientist whose attempts to civilize an ape result in problems for both himself and the ape. The King of a Rainy Country, based largely on Mozart's opera Le Nozze di Figaro, focuses on a young boy and girl who embark on a literal and figurative search for a woman who represents their mother. Black Ship to Hell (1956), Brophy's first nonfiction work, analyzes the human impulse to violence through Freudianism and rationalism which, combined with her classicism, form the foundation of her critical stance. Flesh, Brophy's first popular success and loosely based on Shaw's Pygmalion, examines the eccentricities of human sexual behavior by showing the transformation of an introverted young man into a hedonist. The Finishing Touch, Brophy's self-termed "lesbian fantasy," focuses on an English princess's education at a lesbian-run girls's finishing school on the French Riviera. The Snow Ball, which derives its plot from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, is a comedy of manners that satirizes middle-class morality and hypocrisy. In Transit, widely regarded as Brophy's masterpiece but highly resistant to literary classification, relates the thoughts of an ambiguously gendered narrator, who sits in an international airport lounge waiting for a connecting flight, agonizing over his/her gender confusion while comically trying to determine his/her identity. Finally, Palace without Chairs involves an imaginary Eastern European socialist monarchy that eventually crumbles as each heir to the throne dies under unusual circumstances.
Throughout her career Brophy was recognized as one of the most controversial writers in England, promoting her views in her books and in articles in periodicals as well as on television and radio. For instance, she advocated for and succeeded in the establishment of the British Public Lending Right, which pays royalties to authors whenever their books are checked out of libraries; referred to marriage as "an immoral institution"; exhorted the better treatment of animals long before it was popular; and wrote about gender confusion before a critical context for the topic existed. Many critics have admired Brophy's wit and social criticism, although others have considered her experiments with language, structure, and narrative as major hindrances to comprehending the themes of her fiction. However, Brophy's critical reputation has declined considerably since the early 1980s—the majority of her books remain out of print—despite the freshness and contemporary literary relevance of many of her ideas. A number of scholars have attributed several reasons for this neglect. Moore has suggested that, since her writing career was sharply curtailed by her fifteen-year illness, "few readers under the age of forty recognize her name." Moore also has detected, along with others, that "she was cursed for being too far ahead of her time," exploring topics that only came into vogue during the 1990s. Chris Hopkins has joined the debate by arguing that Brophy's work resists standard literary classifications and categories like realism, modernism, and postmodernism. Yet Hopkins has concluded that Brophy's "books have much to contribute to the current interest in [the postmodern feature of playing with boundaries], as well as to a more various history of twentieth-century literature."
The Crown Princess, and Other Stories (short stories) 1953
Hackenfeller's Ape (novel) 1953
The King of a Rainy Country (novel) 1956
Black Ship to Hell (nonfiction) 1962
Flesh: A Novel of Indolent Passion (novel) 1962
The Finishing Touch (novel) 1963
Mozart the Dramatist: A New View of Mozart, His Operas and His Age (nonfiction) 1964
The Snow Ball (novel) 1964
Don't Never Forget: Collected Views and Reviews (essays) 1966
∗Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without [with Michael Levey and Charles Osborne] (criticism) 1967
Religious Education in State Schools (nonfiction) 1967
Black and White: A Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley (criticism) 1968
The Burglar: A Play and Preface (essay and drama) 1968
In Transit: An Herio-cyclic Novel (novel) 1969
The Longford Threat to Freedom (nonfiction) 1972
The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl (novella and short stories) 1973
Prancing Novelist: A Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography of Ronald Firbank (biography) 1973
Beardsley and His World (biography) 1976
Palace without Chairs: A Baroque Novel (novel) 1978
A Guide to Public Lending Right (nonfiction) 1983
Baroque 'n' Roll, and Other Essays (essays) 1987
Reads (essays) 1989
∗This work also features American literature.
SOURCE: A review of King of a Rainy Country, in London Magazine, Vol. 4, 1957, p. 69.
[In the following review, Wyndham praise Brophy's achievement in The King of a Rainy Country.]
A great deal of fuss is made nowadays about books by young writers and there is certainly no lack of these; young books, however, are more rare, books, that is, in which the quality of youth is a positive feature instead of being an excuse for inexperience or impressively disguised by a precocious maturity. Brigid Brophy is a young writer (under thirty) who has written a young book about young people: in The King of a Rainy Country she strikes exactly the right note, conveying...
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SOURCE: "An Anatomy of Violence," in Punch, Vol. 242, March 21, 1963, p. 478.
[In the mixed review below, Brooks suggests that Black Ship to Hell "might have been [better] if Miss Brophy had not tried to cover quite so much ground."]
[Black Ship to Hell] is a vast, overloaded rag-bag of a book, in the tradition of Burtons's Anatomy, and Miss Brophy, like Burton, is prolific with quotations, recondite allusions and scraps of curious information. The book began, she tells us, as an attempt to psycho-analyse the Greek myth of the Underworld, but grew into a full-scale analysis of violence, aggression and the death-wish. Her attitude is anything but...
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SOURCE: "Opera Misconstrued," in The Hudson Review, Vol. 18, no. 3, Summer, 1965, pp. 309-12.
[Below, Kerman faults Mozart the Dramatist for ignoring Mozart's music and emphasizing a Freudian approach to the musician's operas.]
I do not think that Miss Brophy knows quite what she is up to in [Mozart the Dramatist]. She has some striking and original ideas about the way Mozart's operas reflect his and his century's psychosexuality, but she is constantly shifting ground as to whether this information should be treated as criticism, biography, or sociology. She is as seduced as a sophomore by Kulturgeschichte—in her case, by a feminist Freudian...
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SOURCE: "Gone with the Wind," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 3405, June 1, 1967, p. 485.
[In the following review, the critic asserts that Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without "is little more than a compendium of flaunted smartness."]
Brigid Brophy has won herself a small reputation in recent years as one of our leading literary shrews. Irascibly well-meaning, intemperately fond of common sense, she is known to have no time for mysteries or maladjustments. Kind to animals, cruel to lettuce, afraid of Virginia Woolf, she is mad about marriage, Mozart, Watteau and champagne. Her tone is hectoringly superior. She knows that sense cannot be all...
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SOURCE: A review of Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without, in The New York Times Book Review, Vol. 73, February 25, 1968, p. 16.
[In the following review, the critic wishes that the targets of Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without included more of the "beefy sacred cows" of English literature.]
[Fifty Works of English∗ Literature We Could Do Without] are 50 more or less sanctified old literary birds, habitat Eng. Lit., some still fluttering their wings in the halls of Academe, others so thoroughly fossilized one wonders at the waste of ammunition. They are works of English (∗and American) literature the authors...
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SOURCE: "Shavian Shavings," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 3742, November 23, 1973, p. 1417.
[In the review below, the critic admires The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl, but dislikes Brophy's "ostentatious" display of her own erudition and "verbal dexterity."]
It was Brigid Brophy who "devised" that enjoyable literary game in which television viewers could try identifying quotations quicker than the pundits. They would have had fun guessing the author of some items in Miss Brophy's new volume [The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl]—a bedside book for the irreverent intellectual. There are some Swiftian fables, a...
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SOURCE: A review of Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. XLII, No. 12, June 15, 1974, p. 646.
[Below, the critic briefly describes the content of Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl.]
Brigid Brophy, critic of note and stylist absolutely par excellence, is also a bit of a crazy lady in the classical sense—defender of animals, decrier of hypocrisies, champion of reason and beauty, a sort of solitary, spiritual activist who vaults along by sheer perverse whimsicality and logic. It must be a happy state of existence, judging by these stories, or fables, or whatever you would call the likes of, say, Brahms and...
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SOURCE: "An Interview with Brigid Brophy," in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 17, Spring, 1976, pp. 151-70.
[In the following interview conducted on July 17, 1975, Brophy discusses her early career, the influence of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, Ronald Firbank, and Mozart on her works, her position as a feminist, and her association with the Writers' Action Group.]
Novelist, playwright, critic, and essayist, Brigid Brophy is an Anglo-Irishwoman who lives in England. Her childhood was spent in London, yet, since her father, the novelist John Brophy, was fervently Irish, she visited Ireland frequently and was brought up on Irish ideas. As a child she appeared briefly in a...
(The entire section is 7405 words.)
SOURCE: "Outline Is All," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 3907, January 28, 1977, p. 108.
[In the following review, Keating highly commends Beardsley and His World.]
"I am anxious to say something somewhere, on the subject of lines and line drawing", Aubrey Beardsley wrote to his former school teacher A. W. King on Christmas Day 1891, and added: "How little the importance of outline is understood even by some of the best painters." At this time Beardsley was nineteen years old; he had recently been told by Burne-Jones that he would one day "assuredly paint very great and beautiful pictures", and, on Burne-Jones's advice, he was attending evening classes at the...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
SOURCE: "A Romp among the Royals," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 3969, April 28, 1978, p. 463.
[In the review below, Annan praises the satiric tone of Palace without Chairs.]
The crown prince's name is Ulrich; his brothers, the archdukes, are called Balthasar, Sempronius, and Urban; the youngest child is the Archduchess Heather, a butch seventeen-year-old; their father rules the modern kingdom of Evarchia. All this, with the subtitle "a baroque novel", suggests a Firbankian romp, or something like Muriel Spark's The Abbess of Crewe. That was a send-up of politics and the media; they are sent up here too, but fundamentally [Palace without Chairs] is a...
(The entire section is 1221 words.)
SOURCE: "Gradations of Silliness," in The New York Times Book Review, July 16, 1978, pp. 8, 27.
[Below, White favorably compares Brophy's "silliness" in Palace without Chairs to Ronald Firbank's literary style, but concludes that "the book doesn't work."]
Through the sturdy homespun of English fiction runs a single thread of silver silliness. It is a filament drawn from an art that may seem snobbish and arch but that in fact affects attitudes only for the sake of the imagination. For that reason it must not be regarded as satire, for the foolish, delicate creatures it pokes fun at have, alas, never existed save in the tented gossamer daydreams of a few writers....
(The entire section is 894 words.)
SOURCE: "An Explosive Embrace," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4380, January 13, 1987, p. 269.
[In the following review, Byatt calls Baroque 'n' Roll "a celebration of life and thought."]
The English perceive Brigid Brophy as a maverick. They do not know where to have her. She writes athwart our traditions of understatement and mild social comment. Her novels are witty and artificial, and irritate the tidy categorizer, since they resemble each other only in the intellectual sensuality of their construction. Her enthusiasms are also disparate, but have in common a tendency to combine precision of expression, a certain extravagance, and formal or logical rigour...
(The entire section is 733 words.)
SOURCE: "In Praise of Brigid Brophy," in London Review of Books, March 5, 1978, pp. 11-12.
[In the following positive review, Bayley defines "baroque" as portrayed in Baroque 'n' Roll.]
In his recent book Reasons and Persons the Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit is inclined to decide that persons have no existence, and that the motives to morality are for that reason clearer and more cogent. So-called personality is a matter of self-interest: bees in a hive have no moral problems. Examining their own world and using their own vocabulary, empirical and linguistic philosophers quite naturally and rightly come to such conclusions. Hume could perceive only a bundle of...
(The entire section is 2142 words.)
SOURCE: "Language and Gender in Transit: Feminist Extensions of Bakhtin," in Feminism, Bakhtin, and the Dialogic, edited by Dale M. Bauer and Susan Janet Mckinstry, State University of New York Press, 1991, pp. 181-98.
[In the following essay, Stevenson discusses parallels between Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of language and In Transit, focusing on the connections the novel makes between the mutability of language, conceptions of gender, modernist fiction, and individual identities.]
Tracing an Orlando-like figure through shifting guises of femininity and masculinity, Brigid Brophy's In Transit lends support to Sandra Gilbert's idea that modernist writers...
(The entire section is 5239 words.)
SOURCE: "Brigid Brophy Is Dead at 66; Novelist, Critic and Crusader," in The New York Times, August 9, 1995, p. D20.
[In the following obituary, Lyall summarizes Brophy's life and career achievements.]
Brigid Brophy, a novelist, critic, essayist and crusader for myriad causes ranging from better royalty payments for writers to better treatment for animals, died on Monday at a nursing home in Lincolnshire, England. She was 66 and had been suffering from multiple sclerosis for many years.
Miss Brophy was the author of 4 plays, 7 novels and 14 other books, but she is just as well known for her most successful campaign, for landing rights for authors. In...
(The entire section is 768 words.)
SOURCE: "Brigid Brophy: An Introduction and Checklist," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall, 1995, pp. 7-11.
[In the following essay, Moore provides an overview of Brophy's literary career.]
There was a time, in the sixties and early seventies, when no one needed an introduction to Brigid Brophy. She was one of the most controversial writers in England—occupying a position somewhat like Camille Paglia's today—and here in the States her books were published by the best New York houses and widely reviewed. Now, unfortunately, most of her books are out of print on both sides of the Atlantic and few readers under forty recognize the name. Some of...
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SOURCE: "The Neglect of Brigid Brophy," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall, 1995, pp. 12-17.
[In the following essay, Hopkins explains why Brophy's fiction resists generic classification and academic characterization, concluding that her manipulation of multiple literary conventions, often within a single work, deserves a wider audience.]
Brigid Brophy has been neglected not only in the academy but also outside it: neither my university library in England nor the local public libraries possess any of her novels, and they are now equally unobtainable in bookshops. Neglect (and ultimately obscurity) is, of course, the fate of many authors, but there...
(The entire section is 2872 words.)
SOURCE: "Desperately Seeking Susan[na]: Closeted Queens and Mozartean Gender Bending in Brigid Brophy's The King of a Rainy Country," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall, 1995, pp. 23-31.
[In the following essay, Smith examines the latent homosexuality and postponed heterosexuality in The King of a Rainy Country, relating these themes to various narrative plot conventions that structure Brophy's novel.]
At first glance (and perhaps second and subsequent glances) Brigid Brophy's second novel, The King of a Rainy Country, might not seem an Ur-text of lesbian postmodernity. Like many of its earliest critics, Charles J. Rolo found...
(The entire section is 3598 words.)
SOURCE: "The Finishing Touch and the Tradition of Homoerotic Girls' School Fiction," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall, 1995, pp. 32-9.
[In the following essay, Blackmer situates The Finishing Touch in the tradition of homoerotic pedagogical fiction, suggesting that the novel "represents an important milestone in the history of lesbian and, more broadly, antihomophobic literature."]
Upon her death, the British novelist Sarah Scott (1732–1795) requested that her personal papers, including her intimate correspondence with her longtime companion Barbara Montagu, be destroyed. Yet given the suave, bravura skill with which, two hundred...
(The entire section is 3316 words.)
Brophy, Brigid. "The Great Celtic/Hibernian School." Performance & Reality: Essays from Grand Street, edited by Ben Sonnenberg, pp. 118-25. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
Details the consequences of Oscar Wilde's morality trail and its consequences in relation to his thematic concerns in some of his works.
Miller, Karl. "Brigid Brophy: A Memoir." Raritan 15 (Spring 1996): 38-52.
Reminisces about Brophy's writings contributed to the New Statesman, where Miller was editor, and the various critical reactions they prompted....
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Brophy, Brigid (Vol. 11)
Brophy, Brigid 1929–
Brophy is a British novelist, playwright, critic, short story writer, and journalist. She often incorporates elements of farce and of word play into her work. Strongly influenced by both Freud and Shaw, she creates witty social satires around themes of middle-class morality and hypocrisy. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
One expects the fantasy-with-a-moral to be written by a mature sage like Voltaire, Samuel Johnson, or Anatole France…. Nevertheless, it will have to be admitted that Brigid Brophy not only writes with a great deal of delicate skill, but gets away very nicely with the air of mellow wisdom. "As old as the world" she would have us believe, and there are moments when the illusion is quite convincing. (p. 36)
Certainly there is a good deal of originality in ["Hackenfeller's Ape," the tale of] a scientist with emotional conflicts who was trying to understand animals, humanity, and possibly even God by observing the behavior of [an ape, the] creature whom he believed to be just at the beginning of that dubious development in the course of which esthetic and moral preferences, undefinable desires, and a sense of sin spoil the animal without … quite succeeding in turning him into anything which we have any real right to call satisfactory as a human being. (pp. 36-7)
Miss Brophy's tale is richly ornamented with witty turns, it is full of events, and by no means all of the surprises are to be anticipated….
But just what the main point is or, for that matter, whether a sharply defined main point is intended, is not sure. If a single lesson is implicit, perhaps it is kept a bit too completely in solution…. If Miss Brophy stands anywhere, it seems to be on the contention that this is a sorry world we never made and that it's not likely to better until we come a long way further from the apes than we are now. (p. 37)
Joseph Wood Krutch, "Spoiled Ape," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1954 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), June 12, 1954, pp. 36-7.
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….
[It] 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.
Dan Wickenden, "An Original Tale, Comic, Brittle, Sad and Sparkling," in New York Herald Tribune Book World (© 1957, New York Herald Tribune Inc.), February 17, 1957, p. 3.
As in her previous books, Brigid Brophy has written a self-assured, spirited and elegant novel ["Flesh"], gleaming with perverse wit and classic style. Further, she is able to draw her characters' family background colorfully yet sparingly, to understate yet understand subtle psychological relationships…. But where is the theme for these talents, and why does one think of Miss Brophy as a young novelist of promise when this is in fact her fifth book? A writer who can do so much so well forces her readers to demand the most and the best. However, if this ultimate satisfaction is missing, and it is, one can still be very pleased with the delights that are present.
Barbara Schiller, "Male Pygmalion," in New York Herald Tribune Books (© 1963, New York Herald Tribune Inc.), July 7, 1963, p. 7.
[In Flesh Brigid Brophy] traces the relationship of two young people, first in courtship, then in marriage. Marcus, passive and anxiety-ridden, is transformed by Nancy into assertiveness and independence, while Nancy gradually loses the energy and control that once marked her. This kind of short novel, with its paucity of characters and its relentless concentration on them, is rather more popular in Europe than it is here, and Flesh shows once again what is wrong with the type: the range is so narrow that to be satisfactory the work must be perfect. The relationship of Nancy and Marcus gives the impression of a preliminary sketch for a larger novel. More important, the relationship itself is inadequately drawn, and the book's conclusion is noticeably hurried….
The best and worst one can say about this novel is that it is well written. Miss Brophy has the enviable knack of combining precision with suggestiveness, as when she says about Nancy that "in direct personal relationships she had a habit not of failing to see nuances but of naming and discussing them—a sort of coarseness of mind sometimes found in nurses …" This talent gives to parts of the book, especially to the character of Nancy, a certain astringent charm. But most of the time her gift for observation obtrudes rather ludicrously…. Descriptions of chairs, carpets, objects d'art abound, giving the book an unpleasantly snobbish air. Even worse than the descriptions are the conversations about furniture; those who do not furnish tastefully are damned.
Miss Brophy's attitude does not appear to differ from that of her characters. Such lack of distance between author and characters is a common feature of this type of fiction; it has the unfortunate effect here of making their snide cleverness, their fake psychologizing, and their languid despair all the more annoying for being taken so seriously. In addition, Nancy and Marcus display an almost adolescent rebelliousness against their Jewish background, which manifests itself in nasty remarks about parents, Jews, North London, and so forth. All this is supposed to be sophistication, but Flesh would have been a better book if the author had not been so thoroughly taken in by it.
Manfred Wolf, "A Passion for Decor," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1963 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), July 27, 1963, p. 29.
[Palace without Chairs] starts as a what's-going-on, develops into a what's-it-all-about and ends as a so-what. It's a modishly fanciful piece about a palace revolution in a never-never land called Evarchia, where none of the dying King's heirs is willing or able to succeed him. Full of sharp details and elegantly written, it's largely composed of interminably proliferating fantasy sequences long out-Pythoned. There is a Meaning, of course, revealed in advance on the jacket but otherwise available, as the blurb promises, to the persistent reader….
Brophy calls it 'A Baroque Novel', and the title and epigraphs come from works by her art-historian husband. The trouble with analogies between painting and literature, of course, is that paintings—however rich in narrative content or intricately decorative—have an immediate completeness of impact which the tantalising serialism of fiction denies. (p. 566)
Jeremy Treglown, in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), April 28, 1978.
Brigid Brophy writes with such style, elegance and wit that it is quite possible to read [Palace Without Chairs] without pausing to fathom the fable. It should first be said that this is often a very, very funny book, and also an extremely clever one. Whether it is the lethal exactitude of a pithy narrative phrase, a description of the setting-up of a committee to consider the provision of chairs in the uncomfortably unsedentary palace, or the consideration of the payment and nonproductivity of writers,… it all sparkles. The story is simple enough…. It is a fable of social and personal change and family responsibility. But, though the meaning is important, like all the best allegorists, Miss Brophy...
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[Palace Without Chairs is] another of Brigid Brophy's "baroque" fictions—baroque in its droll verbal tap-dancing … and in its contrapuntal, obliquely affecting arrangements of unconnected tableaux: a taut debate on criminal insanity between a prosecutor and a psychiatrist; tea with Evarchia's only great novelist; a lecture on security at the Academy of Advanced Military Studies. Stacked up by a less crafty architect, such interludes might work only as satiric or didactic digressions. Here they bounce off one another with little pings of irony and gentle thuds of regret, reflecting Brophy's essentially compassionate and cautiously optimistic view of humanity caught between the death instinct—one by one the...
(The entire section is 197 words.)
Brophy, Brigid (Vol. 6)
Brophy, Brigid 1929–
Ms Brophy is an Anglo-Irish novelist, dramatist, short story writer, critic, radio, television, and newspaper journalist, and "propagandist of libertarianism" (including liberty for animals; she is vice president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society of Great Britain). Many believe that her regular contributions to London Magazine and New Statesman are her best work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
The longest piece in Brigid Brophy's latest collection of satirical and allegorical writing [The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl] is the Shavian story whose title is given to the book as a whole. It was an extraordinarily bold thing to have undertaken, not because Shaw's original was inimitable, but because it was so readily imitable, and to some extent so dated…. [The] whole enterprise does not, perhaps could not, live up to the patches of successful attack which it contains. The simple fact is that the dialogue of the dead, though a famous and well-exploited form, is extremely difficult to sustain. (p. 785)
When Miss Brophy writes in her own style, there is evident both wit and lyricism…. She has an astonishing gift, like some of the best detective-story writers, for evoking incidentally a memorable setting. The epilogue of the present story illustrates this. It is set in the piazza in front of St. Peter's in Rome, and there is a kind of clear, mysterious, supernatural atmosphere which, even apart from the goose which flies over in the last sentence, recalls the early novels of Rex Warner. To say this is high praise.
And yet the whole enterprise is unsatisfactory—or, to be more precise, it is embarrassing. It is hard to say why. It cannot be the embarrassment which comes from being shocked: for surely we are not shocked any more by anticlericalism, nor any kind of attack on Christianity. We cannot any longer, passionately though we may admire Voltaire, expect the same kind of credit that he deserved from writing as he did when he did. Our mode of showing ourselves to be on the side of rationality must be different. Perhaps what embarrasses us is the feeling that we are supposed to be shocked when we are not. The arguments are often clever. But the air of the schoolboy boldly undermining what he takes to be the schoolmaster's presuppositions detracts from our admiration of their ingenuity.
It seems to me, in fact, that satire is more difficult to bring off now than ever before, and this for two reasons. First, there is no satisfaction in it unless the faith to be undermined, whatever it is, is genuinely taken for granted, unexamined by most of the audience. There are too few unthinking Christians at the present time for Christianity to be a good target, any more than snobbishness is a good target in a world in which, far from taking class for granted, we are all of us uneasily wondering whether such a thing exists, and feeling that if it does, perhaps it shouldn't. The second reason is that the literature of the very young—the school magazine and the undergraduate paper—tends to be exclusively devoted to what would earlier have been thought impossibly bold essays in mockery, in sending up this object or that. The result is that grown-up contributors in the same field have to be extremely careful not to seem to be out of the same basket. Moreover, mere familiarity with the genre may make people resistant to it.
The analogue of the school magazine is almost irresistible if we look at the first and shorter pieces in the present volume (of course, their shortness may contribute to this effect)…. Some, like the setting of words to bits of the Elgar Cello Concerto and the Brahms Academic Festival Overture, quite explicitly remind one of the kind of joke with which anyone who has played in a school or university orchestra is familiar. One should not, however, in a collection of this kind, complain that the standard is mixed. What is a bit depressing is that the tone of voice is unvaried: and the one word which suggests itself to describe this voice is not 'savage' but 'complacent'. (pp. 785-86)
Mary Warnock, "A Hard Time for Satire," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1973; reprinted by permission of Mary Warnock), December 6, 1973, pp. 785-86.
The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl could have been written fifty years ago by Ronald Firbank, and would of course have been more entertaining if it had been. Miss Brophy devoted a long critical book to Firbank last year, Prancing Novelist, which turned into a splendid kind of Defence of Fiction. When she employed tricks of Firbank's style in the writing of that book—the sentences and paragraphs looked like Firbank, and sometimes even managed to sound like Firbank, so that by an effort of empathy one imagined Miss Brophy almost inhabiting Firbank, certainly giving every appearance of breathing with his breath—when she did that in Prancing Novelist one saw the point, and forgave her. I do not see the point of the Firbankian postures adopted in the novel which gives [this] book its title. They are vapid and ghostly. Shaw haunts Miss Brophy in this parable also. Her achievement is indeed to marry Firbank off to GBS—Voltaire, Gibbon, a 'humble Christian', Samuel Butler, Shaw himself, and God, ramble on at each other in a Shavian-Firbankian conversation-piece which indulges itself at whim in the author's obsessions…. With … so many tiny treats provided for the intellect along the way, why is the book boring? Probably because from the outset Miss Brophy has no use for God beyond some obvious joking, and a work of fiction, even an avowedly atheistical work of fiction, ought to give proper employment to the Supreme Fiction. Firbank—who was no atheist—would not have made the tactical error of writing a story in which every character is an author. But supposing that he had made it, then he would quickly have spotted the weakness of having the Author of authors figure imaginatively only for the purpose of denying his authority. To make God a speculative atheist is more than a work of fiction—however old-fashionedly 'experimental'—can achieve. Having said this, I should add that some of the less ambitious fables which the book contains strike me as quite entertaining. The fairy story at the start, 'The Singularly Ugly Princess', for example. But even these shorter pieces are more often good ideas for stories than well-realised wholes, and there is certainly one bad pun too many in the shape of the Minotaur's declaration that he's become a minotaurist attraction. When things get down to this level I admit to wondering if Miss Brophy is worth talking about at all. She can be incredibly infantile—remember Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without? I suppose she is trying to construct fiction upon a grammar of negation, but we do not need her failure where others have already failed more stylishly, or at least with their own style rather than patchwork Firbank. (p. 43)
Robert Nye, in Books & Bookmen (© Hansom Books 1974), March, 1974.
Brophy is liveliest when speaking—or making the illustrious dead speak—of the life of art, of literature, music, architecture, which she thinks about a lot and knows a lot about.
What we have here [in The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl] is more common in England than America: reading that's at once very light and very intellectual. Consistent with her commitment to artifice and the rococo, Brophy believes in play. It isn't always fun to watch other people play for very long unless they are sublimely gifted, but Brophy and her personae get in some hard hits and some graceful ones. One caution; it's not a novel, and the 20 "fables" which precede it include an indeterminate number we could do without. Start with "The Adventures," lest you use up your receptivity to vegetarian jeux d'esprit. (p. 3)
Clara Claiborne Park, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), August 18, 1974.
["The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl"] is an example of a venerable genre—the heavenly symposium—and it is generally wise and witty. But, since the main personages are Gibbon, Voltaire, Shaw and a "God" who is an emanation from, not an encloser of, this Trinity, there is a lack of conflict and bad temper. The conclusion of the inquiry is pretty well foregone. God sends a message to earth: "I do not exist. Signed, with divine authority, God."
Foregone? I think so. To an 18th-century rationalist like Miss Brophy, a "great romantic negation" would be in bad taste. But the conclusion is a door arbitrarily closing rather than the point to which the dialectic leads. It is the incidentals that count, as usual, in Miss Brophy. All I remember from her novel "The Snow Ball" is the speculation that Mozart's tympani in the Overture to "Don Giovanni" must necessarily be tuned to D. and G. (pp. 4-5)
In this book there are, besides the very satisfactory main items, a number of pieces which should have been reserved for cocktail parties … and, in a time of paper shortage, to give a full page to each is less arrogance than insolence.
There is also a whimsical essay, which attempts to prove that Jorge Luis Borges is really Ambrose Bierce, who in 1899 discovered a longevity-plant in the Andes. Funny enough, but what do we say to this? "Few if any of Borges's admirers in the outside world show signs of having seen a Spanish edition of his work." There may, says Miss Brophy, be "no Spanish text to stick to." To affirm that there is most certainly a Spanish text is to show one has no sense of humor. It is not playing the game. Now, Miss Brophy's book is full of game-playing, and where it seems most feeble it is probably most deliberately ludic—as in the fitting of silly words to the noble first movement of Elgar's Cello Concerto. If you feel like growling trivial or nonsense you are not making a critical judgment; you are merely disqualifying yourself from participation. Sometimes, as in the God piece, there are very serious statements indeed, where the game-playing seems not to apply; and then there are silly statements, where it does. To know the limits of the ludic is itself part of the game….
Miss Brophy's God trips, his gown rides up, he gives Voltaire what he merely promised to Moses—a view of his hinderparts. He reflects that his name in English is a palinlogue of dog and that the Italians make it sound like the French for idiot. To say that the Italians don't use Iddio much any more is as bad as saying that the best God-games are those of the medieval schoolmen—you know, serious. It means no sense of humor….
With all her silly jokes and flights of arrogance, Brigid Brophy remains a good though very British writer—balanced, erudite, sensible, unsubmissive to shrill sociological shibboleths, above all unscared. There are not many New York intellectuals who could contrive a volume as tasty and nutritious as this. (p. 5)
Anthony Burgess, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 25, 1974.
Brigid Brophy is a lively and refreshing writer, with a reputation for cleverness. This is a limitation, particularly in England where cleverness, especially in women, is rather suspect. She is a superb reviewer, opinionated and witty, and her novels have an unusual precision and elegance. I got great pleasure from Flesh and The Snowball, brilliant little fables about sex whose slightness becomes their strength. In the title story of [The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl] the main character, God himself, expresses a taste for writing that's sophisticated, stylish, literary. The words apply very well to Brophy's own best work.
But though she's both inventive and imaginative Brophy has a tendency to try too hard—perhaps because of the unsympathetic literary climate—becoming self-consciously whimsical or pedantic. Her last novel, In Transit, sank under the weight of puns and word games; her last critical work—a 600-page, provocative tribute to one of her literary idols, Ronald Firbank—merely proved that prolonged provocation becomes tedious. Now, in The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl, she pays homage to another clever and nowadays unfashionable writer, George Bernard Shaw. Though she gives a funny, ingenious twist to Shaw's atheism she falls into traps some of which Shaw himself failed to avoid: determined to mock and shock, she's so unrelentingly the enfant terrible that her flashes of genuine wit get lost. (p. 27)
Brophy … dehumanizes ideas—by treating them as static "things," by isolating them from emotion, from opposition. There are moments when she's so self-conscious about her "ideas" that she actually stops thinking. It's most obvious in the shorter pieces—a mixed bag of fairy tales, fables, paradoxes and puns. She never misses a chance to throw us off balance, to discomfit and needle us into questioning our prejudices. But she never questions her own. Her writing is finally too comfortable, too self-assured, and her polemical points—pro-vegetarian, anti-democratic, anti-religion—are paraded too easily and predictably. Bossily, she divides us into sheep and goats. If you disagree you're cast into an irrational outer darkness and convicted of being humorless and non-literate. Ironically I found myself digging my heels in, resisting at precisely those places where I am most inclined to agree with her.
Brophy's feelings only seem engaged when she writes about animals, about man's inhumanity not to man but to other animals. At one point in the title story God, surprised by Shaw's hard-hearted laughter at the troubles in Northern Ireland, is firmly rebuked for failing to see how much passion laughter requires. But it's that human passion that's lacking in Brophy's own wit.
It's not that Brophy is hard hearted. But her jokes these days have the irresponsible brittleness of a precocious adolescent, of a public schoolboy if you like. It's a note that's curiously prevalent in contemporary English letters—a crotchetiness that conceals lack of genuine individuality, a class-based assumption of cultural superiority, a condescension toward anyone who disagrees. Brophy is beginning to sound more and more like writers whom superficially she's opposed to—Malcolm Muggeridge, Auberon Waugh or Bernard Levin. She is picking up the bullying note that lurks behind their liberal reasonableness, the clubman's prejudices that lie at the root of the English "sense of humor." It's a pity that a woman with such a fresh and personal talent should let herself be co-opted in this way. It may be a comment not so much on Brigid Brophy as on the subtly authoritarian atmosphere in which she's writing. (pp. 27-8)
Margaret Walters, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1974 by The New Republic, Inc.), December 28, 1974.
Yearning to imitate the British wits of eighty years ago, Brigid Brophy imitates [in The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl] only eighty-year-old witticisms. She devotes several pages, for instance, to the story of a girl who, given three wishes by a djinnee (Brophy's spelling), wishes for as many wishes as she wants. Miss Brophy does nothing more with the situation and is evidently unaware that every schoolchild has already pondered this conundrum. In short, the book is rarely rewarding, amusing, or even intelligent. The best piece, "A Literary History," argues that after the mordant American satirist Ambrose Bierce disappeared in 1913, he went to South America, eventually to reappear as Jorge Luis Borges. Nearly approximating Bierce and Borges in tone, this essay is a pastiche of some quality. Generally, however, Miss Brophy deals with ideas, which become extremely brittle in her hands. Though slavishly imitative of Shaw, she hasn't learned a thing from him; she always levels her lance at straw men, scarecrow effigies that have little relation to reality. The title piece, which takes half the book, is a tedious, unreadable symposium whose members include such notables as God, Shaw, and Voltaire…. [In this] God's nature is peculiar only because Brophy has no gift for characterization at all. Here the straw man is an arrogant second banana named the Humble Christian. If Brophy had had the guts to let John Bunyan's Christian into her book, he would have swept the floor with her whole pack of sophomore debaters. (p. 681)
Charles Nicol, in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1975; 150 East 35th St., New York, N.Y. 10016), June 20, 1975.