Frederic Raphael Raphael, Frederic (Vol. 2) - Essay

Raphael, Frederic (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Raphael, Frederic 1931–

An American novelist, playwright, and scriptwriter, Raphael is the author of Lindmann, Darling, The Limits of Love, and his latest novel, April, June & November. He lives in England, France, and Greece. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

In England, if we are to credit reviews, Frederic Raphael is regarded as one of the most talented of emerging novelists. In protesting against the strength of outmoded conventions he is similar to writers like Kingsley Amis, John Braine, and Alan Sillitoe who since the middle 1950's have been criticizing the Establishment. But unlike these novelists he is little interested in the clash between the classes or in the life of the working-class. He has instead focused upon the English middle class, in either a native or a foreign setting, and he frequently, but not exclusively, writes about Jewish people….

Although he has written well and extensively, no one of his novels, except possibly … Lindmann, has received the acclaim from intelligent readers that is Raphael's due; nor has he invited much concerted attention from professional critics. Yet within its own limits, his achievement is substantial.

Because of the variety of his abilities and his use of techniques ranging from Wellsian naturalism in The Limits of Love to dissolving montage in A Wild Surmise to Joycean experimentalism in Lindmann, Raphael's books have not been unified in subject and approach. Instead he has written books that impress by their individual brilliance, rather than by what they have in common philosophically with each other….

What his novels do possess in common are varied and authentic aesthetic excellences. Raphael reveals an inclusive and ranging imagination in his fiction with an ability, therefore, to flesh out a whole design with details at once appropriate and compelling. He has a sure sense of the structural importance of his materials, so that each subject receives appropriate aesthetic weight. He is sensitive, moreover, to the quirks of personality which make an individual different from his fellows. He is a novelist who is, accordingly, much preoccupied with the analysis of the motives and the internal states of his characters. He is likewise much interested in the development of his people under the stress both of inner compulsions and outward pressures. He knows not only the distinctive features of personality, but how to embody them in the words of his characters. Of all novelists now writing in England, Raphael seems to me to have the sharpest ear for all the varieties of speech and the greatest ability to reproduce them with effectiveness in his fiction. He is able to do many things well in the novel. He does with aplomb the powerful dramatic scene; he recreates with equal authority the ordinarily overlooked parts of experience and elicits their true significance; and he inhabits comprehendingly an individual's mind and analyzes with precision his conscious and unconscious states….

Raphael's style … is flexible, and he uses it to secure a multiplicity of effects. If anything, his verbal resourcefulness is so great that it occasionally registers as a stridency in descriptive passages or as a greater exuberance than his art requires in books like The Limits of Love and Lindmann….

Lindmann (1963) is the most provocative, mose elusive, and most complex of Raphael's books. It is deeply felt and something of a tour de force at the same time; and it unfolds many brilliant and splendid scenes and presents many intricately conceived and passionately alive characters. It lacks the direct impact of The Limits of Love, the psychological compression of A Wild Surmise, and the grace and tautness of The Graduate Wife and The Trouble with England. Lindmann surpasses the other novels, however, in fullness of design, in extensiveness of canvas, and in the significance of the problems explored. The technical dexterity displayed in Lindmann is even greater than that in A Wild Surmise and shows the strength and flexibility of Raphael's talents. There is no questioning the abundance of his resources; we may perhaps be dubious as to whether they are at all times under full control and we may wonder, too, whether the virtuosity may not exceed even the requirements of his complex design and the intricacy of the issues he analyzes….

[But] dimensions of this novel are as impressive as the contours of Raphael's talent are sharp and varied. He has gone from strength to strength; for all its faults, Lindmann has a massive aspect new to Raphael's fiction. If he has not yet written a novel that is excellent in every respect, there is every reason to expect that he soon will. In any case, he has the virtues of a first-ranking novelist. How far he goes may depend upon the disciplined use he makes of the great resources he has already displayed in his work. For a young novelist with so much already behind him, the future should indeed be auspicious.

Frederick P. W. McDowell, "The Varied Universe of Frederic Raphael's Fiction," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. VIII, No. 1, 1965, pp. 21-50.

Frederic Raphael [in April, June & November] does have a remarkable and pertinent ear for penetrating and highly witty dialogue. The cutting exchanges that go on between the brilliant (sic) generation of Cambridge intellectuals are extremely funny even if one knows the sentences have been carefully refined by the author and haven't really slipped spontaneously off the tongue at a Hampstead soirée. It is also a feat of daring to write so much of the book as pure dialogue and I must say it comes off. The only trouble is that as Frederic Raphael is so adept at it, the rest of the book is unhappily highlighted the moment he lapses into descriptive prose.

Peter Cantor, "Brilliant by Half," in The Jewish Quarterly, Autumn, 1972, p. 48.

I suppose one could say that Mr. Raphael [in April, June & November] has done it again. Not many novelists these days can produce a work of fiction of 541 pages in smallish print which is immensely readable for nearly the whole time.

The story is about the 'brilliant' (somehow we must dispose of this word soon) generation of Cambridge 'intellectuals' (another one for the verbocrap can) many of whom were born forty-odd years ago and who are still rather '―' and '―'….

Much of the most important part of the novel is devoted to an analysis of the relationships. Most of the action takes place in London and on the island of Iskios, and most of it is unfolded through dialogue. Character, also, is exposed and developed through it. This is not an easy thing to do at the best of times, let alone in a 'long distance' book. But, as we know, and are here reminded, Mr. Raphael has an enviable ear for the nuances of speech, of colloquial and idiomatic rhythms, of negotiating the banalities of everyday talk in such a way that they do not bore. Moreover, quite a lot of the conversation is witty and intelligent. He also has a splendid knack of evoking the vivid scene economically….

What of the relevance of this novel to 'our time'? In its plotting and analysis of the many neuroses which appear to consume an increasing number of people, I should think it would be of much interest to many now—and for a considerable period to come. There is a sadness at the core of it, a world weariness which is never cynical. Meyer himself is a most interesting and complex character: ambitious, confused, self-critical; a fascinating and gifted mess trying to sort himself out at a fairly crucial point in life.

J. A. Cuddon, in Books and Bookmen, March, 1973, p. 79.