Frederic Raphael Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Raphael, Frederic 1931–

Raphael is an American novelist, short story writer, critic, and dramatist for stage, screen, radio, and television. He has experimented with a variety of techniques in his novels to examine individuals within the English upper and middle classes. Darling, an original screenplay, won awards in England and America. Raphael resides in England. (See also CLC, Vol. 2, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Eric Moon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The opening scene of Orchestra & Beginners is a] country home in Sussex, where a typical upper-class British weekend house party is in progress….

It is soon clear … that this scene, typical of Frederic Raphael's subtle method throughout, is set primarily for contrast and introduction. The autumn peacefulness of the Sussex weekend is deceptive; though it is scarcely alluded to, World War II has just begun….

The Strausses, Leonard and Linda, alone seem aware that their lives are about to change fundamentally. But then, though they are in this old school group, they are not really of it. Leonard is a Jew, Linda an American. Orchestra & Beginners is the story of their marriage and its reshaping under the tensions of—among other things—the war. As the plot unfolds, the cracks in the apparently secure foundations of this "perfect" marriage are gradually revealed. (p. 43)

Orchestra & Beginners is a fascinating book with, on the one hand, the apparent expansiveness and leisured pace of the nineteenth-century novel but, on the other, a sophistication and glitter that are totally twentieth century. Essentially simple, the story is absorbing because of the intricacy of its construction; one is never quite sure in which direction it will move next.

Raphael has an incredibly intimate feel for place and atmosphere, which he creates with something of the delicate skill of the man who builds castles out of matchsticks, by carefully accumulating seemingly inconsequential details. Now and then, however, the technique is carried to excess, and he produces only one of those tiresome catalogues of trivia that clutter the later O'Hara novels. The dialogue exhibits...

(The entire section is 723 words.)

Peter Ackroyd

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

You might say, although it is heresy to do so, that character becomes a function of style in [Richard's Things]. For it is the style which dominates the book, and it is one of formality, distance and opaqueness. It has a singleness of tone which gathers all of the façades of reality into one space, and an emotion becomes just as much an object as a fruit-and-nut bar. I am becoming ponderous now, and I don't want to suggest that Richard's Things is a 'new novel' or anything approaching one. We will leave that to inferior novelists. What Mr Raphael has done is to make trivial events as touching and as credible as apparently 'significant' ones, and he has done so within an elliptic and ironical prose. He...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

Martin Levin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Frederic Raphael, a writer who shifts psychological scenes with magical dexterity, depicts a broken triangle [in "Richard's Things"] that develops an unexpected kink when Richard's "things" fall in love with one another…. This is the kind of thing that could happen in a Colette novel, but Mr. Raphael is very much his own man. His style is wonderfully controlled; it abounds in original visions as it reveals more and more about … two women and their common bonds. It is full of unexpected horizons and interesting people—even to a burglar who makes a fleeting appearance. Not many novelists have so complete a mastery of their art.

Martin Levin, "Fiction and Poetry: 'Richard's...

(The entire section is 131 words.)

Neil Hepburn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It would be a great deal easier to like Frederic Raphael as a writer if his technical skill were less, or—since he is as scandalously accomplished as he is—if he felt less insecure about his readers' recognition of it. To puzzle over seven (or 17) types of ambiguity is pleasure of a high order; but to have them all pointed out, if not actually explained, with much nudging of bold type and winking of italics and puns significantly laid along the knows, is affronting: especially when, as in California Time, you find you cannot do without these artful aids.

'California time' is, its inventor says, 'a sequence of presents'—which in his book are given and received as well as lived through by...

(The entire section is 380 words.)

Ivan Gold

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The ultimate Hollywood novel!" says Blurb, and for once he may be near the mark…. [In] Frederic Raphael's "California Time": Victor England, well-known director and ladies' man, returns to Hollywood to make a film…. [At times Raphael stops the action to drop numerous] helpful hints on how best to read a book called "California Time." (p. 33)

There are some remarkably funny scenes and exchanges in here [in addition to nearly a pun a page.]… [One] may imagine a benign purpose to the author's word-play, a determination, perhaps, that we be made constantly aware that we are reading, so as not to be hoodwinked by his skills into thinking we are already watching the movie of the book, or...

(The entire section is 195 words.)

Nick Totton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ten pages of The Glittering Prizes is highly entertaining; fifty pages begins to cloy with its unremitting sparkle; and after three hundred pages I was itching all over from the bite of witty gnats. Everyone in the book is witty, even the bit-parts; and the great bulk of the novel is dialogue, with the barest furnishing of characterisation and environment. It is, in fact, a conversion job from a television screenplay; and makes one wonder why this convention of universal verbal brilliance is so much more acceptable on the screen (or stage) than in a novel. Part of the answer is that on the screen there is only one crack of the whip: if you miss something the first time round then it's gone for good. Wit cements...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

James Brockway

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As for Frederic Raphael's 'novel' version of his successful television series, The Glittering Prizes, it is not a novel but a script, ie, dialogue, cemented together with a few descriptive lines here and there. I am deeply grateful to Mr Raphael for this television series…. But isn't to present this book as a novel actually an offence under the Trades Description Act?… As a mirror held up to a society that glitters on the surface but has nothing underneath, these scripts are highly effective, but that was not, I believe, the idea. (p. 23)

James Brockway, "Going Down Bravely" (© copyright James Brockway 1977; reprinted with permission), in Books and...

(The entire section is 113 words.)

Dean Flower

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Adam Morris [protagonist of The Glittering Prizes] wants nothing more than to be smart and successful and win the glittering prizes of life. But he also wants to preserve his feisty, joking Jewish resilience, his artistic conscience, his happy marriage, his own identity, his distance. "If there's one boat I never want to be in," he says, "it's the same boat as everyone else." He finds himself thrown together with people at Cambridge University in the 1950's who want pretty much the same things—marriage, money, fame, comfortable accommodations to an imperfect society, nothing revolutionary. Over the next twenty years experience teaches them, some more harshly than others, the deceptions of their desires. Adam...

(The entire section is 204 words.)

Blake Morrison

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Writers so consistently interested in social manners as Frederic Raphael are usually called 'class conscious'. What's special about Raphael is that he is conscious only of the middle class—in fact, only of the middle class couple. You need read no further than the opening sentences of Raphael's stories [in Sleeps Six and Other Stories] to discover that his abiding preoccupation is the coming together of the bourgeois he and she….

Raphael has gone over this ground so often now, and with such assurance, that he's begun to look self-parodying. He was always indulgent towards his creations (his satirical jabs about as vicious as syrup), and now the saccharine has crept into his much-acclaimed...

(The entire section is 204 words.)

Patricia Craig

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Adulteries in John Cheever's world are conducted, usually, with politeness and grace; in the stories of Frederic Raphael they are defined by a need in the participants altogether more brittle and grasping. The terms of the erotic arrangement are precise and precarious; not delicacy of spirit but deviousness may be responsible for this. Several of the stories [in Sleeps Six and Other Stories] are nothing but fragments, compressed to the point of insubstantiality. An ability to observe closely, with humour, hasn't saved the author from many lapses into smartness ('pregnant silences were followed by infantile noises'), and aphoristic gloss. As vignettes of modern life in a high-income zone these stories are...

(The entire section is 159 words.)

John Mellors

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Sleeps Six] Frederic Raphael writes about the infidelities and other infelicities in middle-class marriages; typical titles are 'Acute Triangle', 'Similar Triangles', 'Upstairs, Downstairs' and 'Bridal Suite'. His characters are usually rich, randy, intelligent, unscrupulous and unhappy—the literary grandchildren of Scott Fitzgerald's beautiful and damned generation. Raphael would be a better writer if he did not try so hard to make every sentence wittier than the last. Too often the soufflé fails to rise and instead of an airy wit we have a soggy weight…. However, there is also much to admire in Sleeps Six, in particular Raphael's hip humour in his story of the wisecracking New York...

(The entire section is 138 words.)