Roy Fuller Essay - Fuller, Roy

Fuller, Roy

Fuller, Roy 1912–

Fuller is an English poet, novelist, and writer for children. Although better known as a poet, Fuller has committed himself more seriously to fiction, in which genre his best achievement, according to George Woodcock, is the "restraint and sureness with which he establishes [a] network of relationships." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

[Roy Fuller's Collected Poems, 1936–1960] ought to be a more impressive collection than it is—Fuller is a capable and serious writer; of the two hundred or so poems collected from about twenty-five years' writing, there is no real dross, a large number of good poems, and a few better than that. It's not easy to see why as a volume it doesn't make a more distinct impression. Fuller is not, for instance, the product of any movement or "school". (The two strong influences on his work—Auden in the early poems, plus Yeats in the later—are dominant in other poets today (e.g. Larkin and Gunn) but not in the 1944–55 period when nearly half of the poems in this volume first appeared.) Repetitiveness within a narrow range of feeling has something to do with it, but not enough: you read on, nonetheless, on the lookout for the fully-achieved memorable poems the general level leads you to expect. Nor is it any overt lack of "experience", or a flight from what the last decades have offered. Though he despairs of the public world, he has nothing but scorn for contemporaries who have given up trying to cope….

One main trouble is, I think, that Fuller has never found a wholly personal voice. Instead, he has a style. This emerged in the 1944 volume [A Lost Season] and from then on the poems are assured and fluent, the poet fully, it seems, in command. But, if there is such a thing, it's an approximate style. There is always a constant (and even a chosen?) distance between the meanings it achieves and the meanings which, after a while, you begin to feel are missing. And this remains true, despite a steady development and growth still going on….

Somewhere near the centre of all of his writing … there is this final emphasis on life as grotesque and terrible. Reason (or neurosis) barely control its menace, so barely that even though all specifically human life depends on it, the control seems to him not far short of pointless. It is this vision that shuts the artist out of directly satisfying life, that drives him to art; but since art is one of the questionable activities on which human life depends, the meaning of the vision saps continuously at the value of his activity as artist.

Graham Martin, "More Wound Than Bow," in Review, August/September, 1962, pp. 3-11.

Throughout Fuller's [New Poems] we find the singular voice, the syntactic skill, and the probing intellect that, along with his poetry's emotive force, brought critical attention to his work and recently won for him the poetry chair at Oxford. Fuller can move without difficulty from a gently self-derisive poetry (as in "Chinoiserie": "How much happier I'd have been/Had I … been less timid and considerate,/And voted Tory, and stuck to prose.") to a poetry which penetrates deeper into universal experience, as in "Disasters": "Didn't in fact/Primaeval fluids hold terrors for newly/Created proteins about to find out how/To perpetuate themselves?" The pervading tone of the book is created by a relaxed yet incisive wit. In "Mind to Body" Mind concludes, "Likely to be a sad affair,/Lean flesh, our final reconciliation." This low-keyed quality is often deceptive, however, for beneath the surface of many of the poems one senses a complexity of emotions. For example, in "On the Railway Platform" after touching the head of an infant the poet muses, "This Mad Hatter figure scarcely knows/Whether he longs for your innocence/Or the youth of your nearby mother/Or a generalised human love," and, failing to engage the infant's attention, he sees the rightness of its response and offers the following admonition: "Beware, child, of your hand in crazy/Crashing doors and of ostensibly/Benevolent, unknown gentlemen." In short, the collection is rife with masterful poems—quietly passionate, joyous, pensive, sometimes mysterious, but always alive with the interplay of human experience.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Summer, 1969), p. xciii.

[Roy Fuller] has written three crime stories, interspersed between orthodox novels and poems…. All are marked by the exactness and elegance of his poetry, but perhaps the most successful of them is With My Little Eye (1948). The subtitle calls the book "a mystery story for teenagers," but this is deceptive, for it means only that the murder and other crimes are seen through the eyes of an intelligent adolescent narrator, conscious of the pain and loneliness of growing up….

With My Little Eye is a little-known book, yet it is in its small way a perfect example of a modern crime story, finely constructed and balanced, with the solution to the various problems that baffle Frederick French (what could make a man move from one bookmaker to another on a racecourse, putting five pounds on every one of the nine horses in a race?) dropping perfectly into place. The Second Curtain (1953) finds George Garner, a timid publisher's reader, nursing the hope that through the box files in which he keeps carefully the whole of his correspondence he will one day be acknowledged as "a sort of Horace Walpole." Garner becomes immersed in the problem posed by the disappearance of his constant correspondent and old friend Widgery, and his quest for the truth about Widgery (for that is what it proves to be) leads him up to an abyss of violence into which he looks for a moment before flinching away. The book, again beautifully composed, might serve as a model of how little rather than how much violence is needed to make a successful crime story. Fantasy and Fugue (1954) looks back to Godwin in its central character who is both hunter and hunted. It is less successful than the other books chiefly because the theme is treated with a too insistent Freudianism. Since then Fuller has given up crime as a theme in his novels, and one can only hope, without great expectation, that he will return to it.

Julian Symons, in his Mortal Consequences: A History—From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (copyright © 1972 by Julian Symons; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1972, pp. 193-94.

[Why is Professors and Gods: Last Oxford Lectures on Poetry] not very much better? One reason is the very tolerance, the amiability, that contribute to the initial appeal. He begins by aligning himself with Leavis's essential values: 'On re-reading him I start assenting again and again out of my deepest convictions.' But the very next sentence makes the nullifying proviso: 'Certainly it is not possible, without condemning oneself to Leavis's harshness, to judge the literature created by one's contemporaries by the standards of the literature that has survived from the past. The natural, built-in indulgence one must show to those creators who are grappling with the problems and phenomena of our time is enough to enable one to admit as valid and good sufficient of present-day art.'… Amiability is not enough. It is the outstandingly good who need the 'harshness' of the highest standard: the fifth-rate will always be cared for by their own innumerable kind.

A second source of weakness—partly, but not entirely, due to the nature of lecturing—is Mr Fuller's reliance on the expressed opinion, without sufficient demonstration by detailed reference to texts. We may agree with his assessment of Mailer and Sylvia Plath, but there is nothing to enforce it if we don't, nor enough to enforce his appreciative opinions. His loyal tenderness for the political poets of the Thirties, with Auden as his touchstone of merit, fails to persuade me of their literary interest…. One's sense of having so often to agree or disagree merely with his opinion is relevant to his discussion of Leavis and the 'two cultures' of Snow….

Strong, and provisional, conviction is enough for private enjoyment of what we read. But literary discussion demands the 'evidence'—the discriminated aspects of the work and what we find they do for us—in order to make conviction at the same time intelligible and open to intelligible demur. Only here and there does Mr Fuller quote enough, and point enough to the facets of what he quotes, to show the basis of his opinions and make discussion profitable. Lacking this, the critical tradition of which his book is an engaging example must fail to meet the obligation he says we owe to scientists—'to make our discipline not less great nor less arduous than theirs'. The scientist reading such a book enters the other culture and finds himself at sea, with waves of opinion colliding or combining, and no good reason for choosing between them unless he goes for the biggest wave in sight and helps to swell the fashion of the moment.

D. W. Harding, "Tolerance," in The Listener, February 7, 1974, pp. 182-83.

[Fuller is] tightly packed into his regular metres, end-rhymes and stanzas, cautious, prudent, reserved, distant and assured….

He subscribes to the tired provincial myth that sees the right tradition as proceeding from Hardy, somehow through Auden, to Larkin and the weak neat poets of the 'fifties: poets surely as ideologically crippled as Rupert Brooke in their different circumstances and ways. He demonstrates the necessity for a proper historical perspective, and therefore the possible necessity for an epic, but doesn't see the significance of The Cantos.

Herbert Lomas, in London Magazine, February-March, 1974, pp. 125, 130.