Ronald Harwood

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Myrna Blumberg

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

Ronald Harwood is a bold writer with an inquisitive conscience. In his new novel, César and Augusta, he explores a struggle that many people have ridiculed: goodness attempting to accomodate eroticism honourably. He has also chosen to reinterpret two complex musicians who had the highest aspirations, who were adored, revered, neglected, laughed at in France, taken up in Britain as the precursors of modern music, then often set aside again with exasperation and evasion. His hero César Franck, it has been said, made even Liszt blush.

Mr Harwood relives a few years in Franck's life with great imaginative sympathy. His writing is outstandingly readable and intelligent, and he is unusually open on human catalysts in life and art and how it sometimes takes two or more people to make one functioning artist.

In 1875, when the novel begins, he has become professor of organ at the Conservatoire where he is never entirely accepted, and the happy chief organist at the church of Sainte-Clothilde where he is obsessively teased and beguiled by the beautiful, partly-Irish singer, Augusta Holmes….

In the novel he abandons Augusta as if she were a disused tuning fork but his longing for domestic tranquility and to meet the scruples of his faith should not be underestimated. He does also suffer recurringly from an inability to trust his feelings to others. There are biographical papers on him that are not available to the public and Mr Harwood's intuitive appreciation of him is remarkable….

Unlike Ronald Harwood's Articles of Faith, which is set in South Africa and whose power is in its breadth of perceptions, César and Augusta has little of the political and social belligerence in Paris after the Franco-Prussian war: a fine artistic decision as Franck removed himself from any extremes of action. The nine stories in One. Interior. Day. make more use of Mr Harwood's sense of hilarity but also follow one man's resolve to be faithful to talent and ethical relationships….

Edward and his generous wife are in most of the stories and Edward's self-honesty is impressive as he develops from a theatre-loving boy in Cape Town to a writer dashing around England, Italy, Los Angeles. Ronald Harwood's refreshing contribution to humorous writing on the pagan film world is his thoughtful composure, his justice to non-materialism.

Myrna Blumberg, in a review of "César and Augusta" and "One. Interior. Day.," in The Times, London, April 6, 1976, p. 19.

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Terrance Edwards


THE TIMES, london