Study Guide

Brigid Brophy

Brigid Brophy Essay - Brophy, Brigid (Vol. 11)

Brophy, Brigid (Vol. 11)

Introduction

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.)

Joseph Wood Krutch

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.

Dan Wickenden

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.

Barbara Schiller

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.

Manfred Wolf

[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.

Jeremy Treglown

[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.

Mary Hope

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...

(The entire section is 151 words.)

Josh Rubins

[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.)