L. H. Myers

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(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

L. H. Myers 1881-1944

(Full name Leopold Hamilton Myers) English poet and novelist.

A novelist concerned with both spiritual transcendence and social equality, Myers is best known for The Near and the Far, a tetralogy set in sixteenth-century India. Briefly active with the Bloomsbury Group, Myers rejected what he deemed its members' insufficient regard for spiritual matters; in his own fiction, he insisted upon the importance of the soul as a link to the eternal. Myers also repudiated the insularity, elitism, and socially irresponsible aesthetics that he associated with the Bloomsbury coterie, particularly after the 1930s, when he became convinced that only communism could free people from the social constraints imposed by class affiliation.

Biographical Information

Born in Cambridge, Myers was descended from two liberal and intellectually accomplished families. His mother, Evelyn Tennant Myers, maintained a photography studio in the family home. His father, F. W. H. Myers, was a classicist and poet who founded the Society for Psychical Research, and as a child Myers participated in a number of the seances through which his father sought to establish the immortality of the soul. The young Myers attended Eton, graduating in 1899 and spending a year in Germany before he entered Trinity College, Cambridge; he left the university without taking a degree when his father died in 901. To console his mother, Myers accompanied her on a visit to America, where he fell in love with a young heiress, Elsie Palmer. Upon his return to Cambridge, Myers received a legacy from his godfather that left him financially independent. Although he continued to travel and socialize extensively, he also undertook several intellectual projects, editing his father's long work, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, and composing a verse play, Arvat, published in 1908. After his marriage to Elsie Palmer that year, Myers began work on his first novel, The Orissers, which took him ten years to complete. Published to considerable acclaim in 1922, The Orissers was followed three years later by The Clio. In 1929 Myers published The Near and the Far, the first volume in a series set in India during the Mogul era and focussing on a young man's spiritual quest. Prince Jali, the second novel in the series, appeared in 1931. Four years later, Myers published The Root and the Flower, which contained The Near and the Far, Prince Jali, and a new novel, Rajah Amar. During the late 1930s Myers's sympathy for Russian communism manifested itself in Strange Glory (1936) and The Pool of Vishnu (1940). The latter novel concluded his Indian series, the four volumes of which were published in 1943 under the collective title The Near and the Far. Myers committed suicide the following year.

Major Works

In Arvat, his blank verse drama, Myers disparages the corruption that ensues, in his view, from material ambition, and this theme permeates all of his later work. The Orissers takes place during the 1920s in a remote district of Wales, where two families are vying to possess Eamor, the country estate that one of the families has owned for five hundred years. Compared to Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights for its inquiry into the relationship between love and sexual desire, and to E. M. Forster's Howards End for its examination of how individuals must mute their passions to survive in a social order, The Orissers, according to G. H. Bantock, "exhibits the characteristic preoccupations of Myers in a somewhat raw and undigested state." Myers criticized the decadent materialism that he identifies with the privileged classes once again in The Clio, another contemporary work concerning a wealthy Englishman dying of malaria aboard a steam yacht on the Amazon. The Root and the Flower, which consists of the first three novels of Myers' Indian series, was influenced by Arthur Waley's translation of Lady Murasaki's The Tale of Genji, then being published serially. However, while Myers adopted Murasaki's setting, an Asian court, The...

(The entire section is 1,187 words.)