Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Reminiscent of such colorful personalities as Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde, Julian Maclaren-Ross, with his teddy-bear fur coat, malacca cane, white corduroy jacket, dark glasses, and lapel carnation, fit well into the bohemian atmosphere of the London literary scene of the 1940’s. More important than the image he may have cut, however, is the fact that he was both a participant in and an observer of that scene, and, although he never fancied himself an official historian, his Memoirs of the Forties may be read as a kind of chronicle of Grub Street during that decade.

In the note at the beginning of Memoirs of the Forties Maclaren-Ross admits that he is not a professional literary man but rather a professional writer, and that anyone seeking scandal or inside accounts of literary politics would do well to seek them elsewhere. His stated goal is to portray as accurately as he can the various writers, publishers, editors, artists, and other personages with whom he came into contact during the 1940’s. More than that, however, he emphasizes that he has tried to elude the trap open to writers of memoirs of falsifying incidents in order to make them more interesting to the reader. To achieve his goal, he presents what first strikes the reader as a random collection of conversations, incidents, and stories. Indeed, Maclaren-Ross readily confesses that he has a weakness regarding dates. Thus, in an exact chronological sense, neither he nor the reader can be sure when a particular conversation or incident took place. Emphasizing his photographic memory for details of such conversations and incidents, however, he assures the reader that they surely did occur as he narrates them and that they are, moreover, accurate. The reader, then, must not be overly concerned by the absence of an orderly chronology of events, situations, or...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Davenport, John. “Ghosts and Gargoyles,” in The Spectator. October 1, 1965, p. 414.

Pritchett, V.S. “Those Were the Days,” in New Statesman. LXX (September 24, 1965), pp. 446-448.

The Times Literary Supplement. Review. October 21, 1965, p. 937.

Toynbee, Phillip. Review in The Observer. September 12, 1965, p. 26.