Cyril Connolly Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cyril Vernon Connolly is perhaps best known as England’s “golden boy” of literature, who never fulfilled his early promise to be the finest writer of his generation. Instead he led a life of indolence, self-pity, and indulgence. He was born to Matthew Connolly, a professional soldier, and Muriel Vernon Connolly, who was descended from a distinguished Anglo-Irish family. He began his education at a good school, St. Cyprian’s, where Eric Blair (later to be known as George Orwell) was a schoolmate. His formal education was an important influence on his life, and at his next school, Eton College, he gained a reputation for literary promise. He became part of the social elite of Eton, a member of the eminent inner circle “Pop,” even though his family was not particularly prominent and he was not much of an athlete. He was, however, widely admired as the liveliest intellect in the school, and much was expected of him.

Connolly next attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he flourished as one of the brightest undergraduates. His reputation was blighted, however, when to everyone’s surprise he took only a third-class degree. His career began rather unpromisingly, first as a child’s tutor and then as a personal secretary to American writer Lloyd Logan Pearsall Smith. By the late 1920’s, Connolly was working regularly as a journalist in London, and he began to build a reputation as a reviewer for the New Statesman. In 1930, he married Jean Bakewell, an American who had a modest private income, and they lived on that and his earnings as a freelance writer, settling for a time in the South of France.

In 1936, Connolly’s novel The Rock Pool appeared, a clever satire about Britons living in an artists’ colony on the Riviera. It showed...

(The entire section is 731 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cunningham, Valentine. British Writers of the Thirties. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Helpful in putting Connolly in intellectual context.

Enright, D. J. Conspirators and Poets. London: Chatto & Windus, 1966. Includes a succinct assessment of Connolly’s career.

Fisher, Clive. Cyril Connolly: The Life and Times of England’s Most Controversial Literary Critic. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. A thorough biographical study.

Greene, Graham, ed. The Old School. London: Jonathan Cape, 1934. This collection of essays on the public schools contains essays on Enemies of Promise by several of Connolly’s contemporaries.

Hynes, Samuel. The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930’s. New York: Viking Press, 1976. A general study of the British writers of the period. Puts Connolly clearly in the intellectual context so essential to understanding his work.

Lewis, Jeremy. Cyril Connolly: A Life. London: Jonathan Cape, 1997. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Shelden, Michael. Friends of Promise: Cyril Connolly and the World of “Horizon.” London: Hamilton, 1989. A biographical study of Connolly and his circle.

Spender, Stephen. The Thirties and After: Poetry, Politics, People, 1933-1970. New York: Random House, 1978. Helpful in putting Connolly in intellectual context.