Caroline Blackwood Essay - Blackwood, Caroline (Vol. 6)

Blackwood, Caroline (Vol. 6)

Blackwood, Caroline 1931–

Ms Blackwood, an Irish short story writer and essayist, has lived in England and the United States.

The first thing I read by Caroline Blackwood was an article about Ingmar Bergman which appeared in Encounter over 12 years ago…. I still remember the slightly scandalised pleasure it gave me. I was reviewing films myself at that time and had not yet dared to admit in print how bored I was by Bergman. Caroline Blackwood considered him infantile and pretentious, arguing her case with a ferocious wit. This essay made its effect by a wild, anarchic delight in exposing the ludicrous aspect of her subject, coupled with a wilful refusal to contemplate any other.

The pieces in For All That I Found There show that she has since developed this deadly combination to a point where it can produce increasingly hilarious and shocking results…. [I do not intend] to imply that Caroline Blackwood exaggerates, or even distorts: on the contrary, she is scrupulously observant. Her talent is stimulated by situations that have 'got out of hand', and her technique for dealing with them is founded on a deliberate withdrawal of sympathy and partial understanding—from the aims of the Beat poets, the revolutionary feminists, the experimental teachers, who are never allowed to be seen from their own deluded points of view. The method, no doubt, is unfair—but it is basic to the writing of comedy….

If Caroline Blackwood is intensely amused by human silliness, she is also fascinated by human extremity—by horror, ugliness and pain. Instead of sensitively shrinking from such subjects she nervously dwells on them, as though perversely fingering a wound. Her approach is bold—perhaps almost morbidly obsessed—but never callous….

Sometimes, in her fiction, the author seems to be insisting too heavily on the vulgarity and heartlessness of her characters, but their unpleasantness never becomes incredible; such exclusive focus cannot always observe the classic rules of perspective. The book concludes with four autobiographical memories of Ulster. These childhood experiences have given her—a confirmed pessimist—no cause to wonder at the recent events there:

'Wouldn't you think that people might be less bigoted in this day and age?' English people keep on asking me that. 'You certainly would think so,' I answer. And immediately I find myself doing a double-take. 'Why would you think they might be?' I wonder. 'What reasons are there for thinking so?'

Francis Wyndham, "Out of Hand," in New Statesman (© 1973 by The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), November 30, 1973, p. 814.

Caroline Blackwood, an Irish-woman who is an uncommonly talented writer, has produced a first collection of fiction, reportage and memoir [For All That I Found There] which is also unusual in that the witty, sardonic fiction frequently seems to embrace as much of truth as her journalistic accounts do unreality.

The characters in Blackwood's acerbic, finely barbed domestic dramas might have stepped from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"—small men and women pitted against one another, struggling to make sense out of tawdry lives, to differentiate between reality and the irrational hauntings of their minds.

The plots—almost evilly humorous—are sustained by multiple, mirroring ironies. (p. 2)

Most of Blackwood's characters are "poor trapped prisoners of the temporal," though only some recognize it. Those who appear most intense, most lovely, are as likely as any to be rotted within, to suffer the psychological equivalent of that macabre form of leprosy in which a person, though riddled with the disease, appears perfectly normal until he suddenly, horribly disintegrates.

In these meditations upon illusion and reality, Blackwood skillfully leads the reader from the appearances of order and reality to glimpse moments of madness which leave one slightly baffled, wondering if any of what has been perceived through the protagonists' eyes is real, or if it is all illusion. (pp. 2-3)

Carole Horn, "Inside Looking Out," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), June 2, 1974, pp. 2-3.

Caroline Blackwood's unmemorable title for a memorable book [is] For All That I Found There…. The book is odd because it's split into three parts; Fiction, Fact, and Ulster. But it's not the hotspotch this makes it sound. In fact, this curious dividing of the book into three is revealing. For the excellent short story writer she is turns into an equally excellent journalist with such smoothness there seems little difference….

In the Fact section—a Harlem Free School, the East Grinstead Burns Unit, a fatuous Woman's Lib Meeting—her straight observation is enlarged by her fiction writer's imagination. She knows what to leave out. This fusion of journalist and writer is exactly illustrated by her short story The Interview, about a journalist interviewing the widow of a famous painter.

Her women, in the stories, tolerantly defeat the men who aren't up to much. But these victories aren't dwelt on. They're tired ones. 'You speak as you find' she seems to be saying and most of the men she's found to write about are limp.

The section on Ulster is mostly non-political. Three of the four pieces are really short stories though flavoured by the country they're set in. (p. 133)

Digby Durrant, in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1974), October/November, 1974.