Ernest K(ellogg) Gann Brigid Brophy - Essay

Brigid Brophy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Who is Ernest K. Gann? Critics of style will get the answer in one: a committee consisting of the ghost of Herman Melville and a North American kinswoman of Mrs Malaprop. Melville has contributed the folksy archaisms ('aloft or alow') and the whimsy: 'an aircraft waiting for the approach of its driver—hanging its head in shame'. Mrs Malaprop's American cousin has devised a startling new meaning for connive (radio signals help pilots 'twist, connive, and slip successfully between the towering cumulus') and a quite surrealistically new meaning for empirical. (p. 23)

If [Ernest K. Gann's Flying Circus] has a thesis it seems to be that modern flying, described as 'flying by the numbers', is less fun than 'flying by the seat of one's pants' as practised by the early barnstormers and airmail pilots. Nothing is said of the latterday barnstormers who, at least in Europe, display their aerobatic and formation flying at air shows, often in modern biplanes. The text consists of brief, virtually unconnected snatches about some of the machines and pilots of the Art Deco decades. Some bits are expressed as straight reminiscence, others as reconstructions—that is, they are couched in the present tense and throw in items of period scene-setting like 'Enter ex-corporal Adolf Hitler (Iron Cross)'.

Determined aviation fanatics may extract a little gossip…. The bulk of the text, however, is sheerest and merest scraping of the cracker barrel. Presumably it's an example of writing by the seat of one's pants. (pp. 23-4)

Brigid Brophy, "Flying Too High," in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 236, No. 7719, June 5, 1976, pp. 23-4.