Roy Fuller Fuller, Roy (Broadbent) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Roy (Broadbent) Fuller 1912–

English poet, novelist, essayist, and memoirist.

Although considered a novelist of distinction, Fuller has been best known as a poet since he first began to publish verse in the 1930s. In that decade, Fuller was active in left-wing literary and political movements and became influenced by the work of W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender. His work of this period is characteristic of much of the verse written in the 1930s in its political liberalism and concern for the effects of modern society on the individual. Although Fuller's later poetry grew increasingly personal, his work has always been shaped by a strong humanitarian conscience. Death, loss, aging, and the role of the artist in society are persistent themes.

Two of Fuller's early collections of verse, The Middle of the War (1942) and A Lost Season (1944), chronicle his perceptions of World War II and his time spent serving in the British Navy in East Africa. Described by critics as among the best collections of the "war" poetry of this era, these two books mark, in the words of George Woodcock, "the liberation of Fuller's poetic talent." In both books, Fuller writes powerfully and sensitively of his experiences. In such books as Counterparts (1954) and Brutus's Orchard (1957) he treats his subjects in a broader manner. Collected Poems (1962) and The Individual and His Times (1982) contain the bulk of Fuller's achievement as a poet. In these volumes, Fuller's shift from the emotionalism of the war years to a calmer, less formal poetry is strikingly contrasted. Critics regard Fuller's later examinations of disappointment, loss, and aging as compelling.

Fuller's concern with the relationship between the individual and society is evident in all of his novels. In such works as The Second Curtain (1953) and Image of a Society (1956), characters are portrayed as being in conflict with an organization or institution which challenges their integrity and freedom. These groups are symbolic of the society which surrounds them and the struggle of his characters against them represents the attempt of all persons to survive with dignity in a dehumanizing world. Fuller has also published two volumes of his Oxford poetry lectures and his recent work includes two volumes of memoirs, Souvenirs (1980) and Vamp Till Ready (1982).

(See also CLC, Vol. 4; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 15, 20.)

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In] contrast to most of his contemporaries, Mr. Fuller still believes in the unambiguous direct statement about immediate issues. [Many of the new poems collected in Epitaphs and Occasions], occasional and informal in the best sense, are concerned with the relation of the individual's integrity to the collective good; others with the positive meanings of art in a society doomed by the pressure of outside events…. [One] aspect of Mr. Fuller's recent development [is his] realization of the dichotomy between the role of art, making coherent and discernible the unformulated, and the enormous "death by nature, chanceless, credible." The word "art" appears almost obsessively in these poems, and Mr. Fuller uses it as a sort of final reference, Olympian but powerless, to suggest the kind of myths to which the sensitive individual holds after having discarded the cleft stick of religion and politics. Yet, although Mr. Fuller assumes defeat for the curious "dyspeptic, bookish, half-alive" figure he projects of himself, he still believes

Confused and wrong though things have gone
There is a side we can be on:
Distaste for lasting bread and peace
May thus support a King in Greece
And trust in General Chiang Kai-shek
Will safely lead to freedom's wreck.

It is this essential...

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James Sandoe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Fantasy and Fugue"] is at least as exciting and as disturbing as [Roy Fuller's first crime novel] "The Second Curtain" and by that token one of the more considerable mysteries in this or any other season. Like its predecessor it has the haunting quality of those entertainments with which Graham Greene expressed his alertness to the Thirties. But like its predecessor too Mr. Fuller's novel has its own integrity and its own expressiveness in explicating an unsettled state of mind.

Its principal is a younger brother through whose multiple awareness we recall a murder and its precedents while he goes through London carrying a great bundle of incertitude which may just possibly be a corpse. It is all a most uncommon evocation which, while never losing hold of its first objective, manages half a hundred deft, often sardonic, comments on contemporary tastes and failings. Curious, meticulous and memorable.

James Sandoe, in a review of "Fantasy and Fugue," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), August 19, 1956, p. 9.

The New Yorker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Fantasy and Fugue is a] study of the origin and consequences of a guilty obsession (the hero is sure he has killed a man, but why and how are mysteries to him almost to the end) [which] takes the reader into some extremely strange backwaters of literary London. Fay Lavington is a dreadful girl, and, in their separate ways, Clarence Rimmer, Charles Legge, and Bob Midwinter are pretty repulsive specimens, too. They are not, however, without their conversational charms … and their behavior is also moderately bizarre. Mr. Fuller is known in London as a poet of some distinction, and his book is written with a style very rare in works of this kind. In spite of an almost unendurably lurid climax, it is a remarkably exciting story as well. (pp. 175-76)

A review of "Fantasy and Fugue," in The New Yorker (© 1956 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXXII, No. 31, September 22, 1956, pp. 175-76.

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Fuller's post-war poetry has generally been that of a quiet, contemplative family man who uses the trivial happenings of domestic existence as a starting-point for an analysis of the larger horrors of modern life. His viewpoint is suburban rather than metropolitan or rural, his tone is wry, ironic and dryly critical, his mood tends to be gloomy. The experiences out of which his poetry is created are rarely beyond the reach of the ordinary commuting man: his attitude to them is deprecating, rational, closely observant. His poetry could be said to put dullness under a microscope, to restate the familiar commonplaces of human life in terms that are sometimes amused, sometimes tragic, but always to the point. His style, as befitting his subjects, is sober, neat, unadorned: the wilder passions, the deeper fantasies, the more beguiling landscapes are outside not his range, not his experience, not his awareness but simply his habit. He has chosen to explore the everyday, rather than exploit the occasional. Yet—for all this deliberate limiting of standpoint, this unemotional assessment of prospects—the passion, the horror, the sharp appetite for the crucial, are clearly there. The ambiguity has deceived many: for some reason the surface calm has apparently failed to suggest the dark, crowded war within.

It is strange that this should be so, and that Mr. Fuller's reputation has, if anything, declined since the end of the war. Certainly,...

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Thom Gunn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A lot of [Brutus's Orchard] is taken up with occasional poems. Most short poems are occasional, I suppose, in that they take particular and possibly trivial situations as their starting points, but to be of any importance they should also expand on these situations, giving them some larger, yet definite, place in the writer's experience. Unfortunately, with a great many of Mr. Fuller's poems, we are left where we started, contemplating some either obvious or vaguely didactic comment on an ordinary occupation of no great significance.

The most surprising defect of his poetry may be connected with the nature of the didacticism—surprising in that Mr. Fuller is one of the most perceptive poetry reviewers in England. He has still not shaken off his dependence on an idiom borrowed from Auden, which he uses everywhere, from the bright slangy epithet ("the charming cyclists") to the whole conception of a poem (The Day). The attractive jargon partly conceals and partly accounts for the weakness of the many general statements. (pp. 378-79)

The faults of triviality, derivativeness, and facile pessimism, however, are shown up by some very real qualities: a power of accurate description, an accomplished urbanity of tone, and a sense of humor which is at its best in the Mythological Sonnets at the end. Too often the virtues are so mixed in with the vices that few of the poems are completely flawed or completely unflawed, but there are at least two poems which are real accomplishments: The Ides of March, with its fine control of irony; and (in spite of a slightly confused first stanza) Eclipse…. Roy Fuller at his best is a poet to be reckoned with, and there would be many more poems like these two if only he were to examine the general assumptions on which his despair is grounded—if he were to show us the general forces in action, instead of merely tagging on sententious comments about them. (pp. 379-80)

Thom Gunn, "The Calm Style" (© 1958 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry and the author), in Poetry, Vol. XCII, No. 6, September, 1958, pp. 378-84.∗

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Ruined Boys, published in the United States as That Distant Afternoon,] Mr. Roy Fuller has written a series of quiet vignettes of school life. We are subjected to no gradual gathering of momentum, to no resounding climax. The boy Bracher is taken through three terms of his life in a second-rate English boarding school, makes friends and enemies, rumbles the headmaster, and at the end learns that Mr. Percy, the master who has exercised most influence over him, will not be returning after the holidays. That is all. It does not seem much, perhaps, set against the bloodbaths and the perversions one so increasingly reads about. And yet the book, quietly ironic, unobtrusively accomplished, fully succeeds in what it purposes to do. The trickle of small incidents, each one scrupulously observed from the point of view of the boy, saps busily away at Bracher's unfledged confidence in, and respect for, an immutable ordered world. The absolute monarchy of the headmaster in the English public school system has rarely been sniped at with more murderous accuracy….

Mr. Fuller's writing is admirably lucid and controlled. His Virgilian fondness for extended simile gives an illuminating stateliness to his prose.

"Nonage and Verbiage," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1959; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2977, March 20, 1959, p. 166.∗

Dan Wickenden

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"That Distant Afternoon" is a subtle and uncannily penetrating novel, and by the time we have reached its final, fascinating page we have observed something momentous: a young and very human being has taken several long strides toward maturity….

[Although] Mr. Fuller is a wit and an ironist, he respects his characters; he knows (and irrefutably demonstrates) that a boy of fourteen or fifteen is at least as complex and as worthy of concentrated attention as any adult. He also commands a polished, supple, almost immaculate style; and part of its delight is a constant play of simile—often surprising, always original and strikingly apt—in which much of the wit and the illumination resides. "That Distant Afternoon" may be on a small scale, but it is first rate, an accomplished, impressive and continuously entertaining novel.

Dan Wickenden, "A Young, Very Human Being," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), April 12, 1959, p. 4.

Robert Conquest

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The quality of Roy Fuller's Collected Poems must make any honest reviewer ask himself once more what truly relevant comment he can offer. To say what sort of poetry it is is not to convey its excellences….

[Fuller's] standing as a poet is one of the two or three highest of those now writing. Yet his reputation is mainly among poets and readers of poetry. The professional critics, busy with estimates of Pound, have scarcely looked at him. His name does not ring glamorously round the campuses—and this alone is enough for us to write off completely all fashionable American opinion about British verse.

This American neglect is even odder when one considers that Fuller is in...

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Martin Seymour-Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The blurb to Mr. Fuller's Collected Poems—an unusually platitudinous one—implies that he is, above all, a continually developing poet. This is seriously misleading, for it neatly misses the point: he is, in the proper sense, an occasional poet—the most worthy of his time. What may have seemed like a consistent poetic development to the blurb-writer is in reality a record of the changing attitudes of a remarkably sensitive and good-hearted man. (Some modern exponents of verse would deny that good-heartedness has anything to do with poetry—they have to; but it does, and it is one of Mr. Fuller's strongest assets.) Genuinely readable and unpretentious though he is, Mr. Fuller's use of language has not...

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The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is rare and difficult for any poet, young or old, to find a true voice; rarer and even more difficult to adopt a new one in the notoriously barren stretches of middle age. Yet this is what Roy Fuller has splendidly done in his New Poems. The voice is both true and new. It speaks from recognizably the same man as that of the Collected Poems … and Buff …, but with a directness of personal reference quite unexpected from Mr. Fuller, whose sequences of Mythological Sonnets, Meredithian Sonnets, To X and The Historian seemed to be leading him farther and farther from himself, perhaps as a necessary corrective to what he has called "the tyranny of the personal lyric" in recent...

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George Woodcock

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Since the publication of his first volume of verse, Poems, in 1939,] Fuller has published, including his Collected Poems [1962] (which contains items ungathered elsewhere) some eight volumes of verse, showing a continual process of development and change within clearly defined philosophic and poetic objectives. He influenced very strongly the "Movement" of the 1950's; but where those who followed him, like John Wain and Kingsley Amis, remained frozen in their attitudes, his verse developed and changed until by the end of the Sixties he had built up a body of work which gave an appropriateness as well as an inevitability to his election this year as Oxford Professor of Poetry; among the depleted ranks of...

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Edwin Morgan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Roy Fuller, poet as well as novelist, has in a sense pooled his resources in [The Carnal Island] in order to probe the range of questions thrown up by an encounter between an old poet and a young one, and the result is a very perceptive, often amusing, and at times sad and touching, novel. The narrative framework is deliberately slight. The young poet, James, has an assignment to persuade the 80-year-old poet, Daniel House, to compile an anthology for a publisher, and visits him in his house overlooking an estuary. He meets the old man's wife, his illegitimate daughter and her illegitimate daughter, his local friends, his 15-year-old dog. Almost the only 'action' is a swim in the sea and a fatal...

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The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The themes which preoccupy Roy Fuller in his poetry are nakedly, indeed oppressively, active in [The Carnal Island]. Most of Fuller's verse has, in one way or another, been about the role of the poet in a society that is hostile or indifferent to him; how absurd and tragic the discrepancy between the poet's art-life and his real life, between his grand therapeutic dreams and his actual social and political impotence. Can Freud and Marx be married? That classic worry of the 1930s has continued to provide Fuller with his basic subject matter, preventing him from either retreating into the personal or from striding out into the public. If the persona of his most recent poems has been one of disappointment and...

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Peter Washington

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Roy Fuller is a man of considerable distinction; he is not a genius. There is no need for me to disparage Mr Fuller, he does the job well enough himself: it is part of his persona as a writer. In his new book From the Joke Shop it produces a few moments of pathos, but nothing more.

This record of ageing, written mostly at night, when thoughts of mortality are supposed to be strong, is preoccupied with death. The prospect of dying comes to Mr Fuller as a shock, the grotesqueness of old age suddenly realised. He is only sixty-three and an operation plus retirement seem to have brought on these morbid thoughts.

But there is something embarrassing about these confessions of...

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George Woodcock

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If being a philosophic poet means finding, in all the changing conditions of one's life, the poetic correlative—the tone and language—appropriate to one's reflections on inner and outer experience, then Roy Fuller is perhaps the best philosophic poet writing in English today, the nearest to Matthew Arnold in his time, or Wordsworth in his. Indeed, perhaps the reference to Wordsworth is more apposite than an immediate glance through Fuller's poetry might suggest, for both have the unfulfilled ambition to promote the meeting of poetry and common speech, as Fuller admits in his new book, From the Joke Shop: "It seems I rarely found the common touch / Though my emotions common as they come." And both move from...

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Allan E. Austin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Literary history will almost certainly record that Roy Fuller was one of the handful of Englishmen who sustained the quality of British poetry during the relatively lean period from 1950 to 1960. George MacBeth has suggested with both humor and astuteness that Fuller was somewhat unlucky in the timing of his career. In the thirties he was too young and had written too little poetry to really be counted among the full-fledged members of Auden's army; though he wrote more first-rate poetry during the war years than any other Englishman, the war did not kill him and hence sanctify this work with an aura of great loss; and though he performed with the virtues of the Movement poetry of the fifties, he was not a fresh face...

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Blake Morrison

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Though [Souvenirs] is a prose memoir and [The Reign of Sparrows] a book of poems, they form two halves of the same sexagenarian drama. There are the same themes: tributes to dead friends and relatives, reflections on music and poetry, and above all preoccupation with age—its destruction of the body … and its surprising consolations…. The same voice informs both volumes—a voice with many different tones (in turns it is confessional and evasive, immodest and self-deprecating, dry-as-dust and wetly sentimental), but which remains at all times relaxed and chatty, no less so in the poems than the poetry.

Fuller has been called a poet who is 'safe', 'trim', 'tidy', 'conventional'...

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Jonathan Keates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A layer of glum senescence covers Roy Fuller's latest collection of poems [The Reign of Sparrows] like a fall of volcanic ash. There is plenty here about movement, growth and vitality, but the drift is distinctly that of an unburdened crawl towards death…. Almost the entire final section of the book is dedicated to the business of reckoning with the onset of old age. Being 65 is viewed, not, as in Auden's case, with quietly smirking triumph, but with a sense of tremulous astonishment at having got there at all and a distinct apprehensiveness as to going any further.

Finest of all the poems on this theme, and among the best things Fuller has ever done, is 'On His Sixty-Fifth Birthday', a free...

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Alan Brownjohn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Reign of Sparrows is not quite as good as either [Brutus's Orchard or New Poems], but there is plenty in it to remind [Roy Fuller's] admirers just how varied, skilful and surprising he can be. Three opening poems in his lengthy, reflective manner (a bit Hardyesque these days in "Ghost Voice") remain rather arcane and uncomfortable after several readings; but "Sloth Moth" sees him away into a favourite later theme, the oddities and ironies of natural history; and "Musical Offering" takes him back again to the old preoccupation with creation and execution in the other art he most admires. I wonder when we are going to realise that Fuller in his sixties (and on the subject of his sixties) is one...

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Gavin Ewart

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

['Vamp Till Ready'] takes us, roughly, from [Fuller's] time as a solicitor's articled clerk in London in the early Thirties (Fuller was 20 in 1932) up to, more or less, the present day. That is to say, through his conscripted days in the Royal Navy ('The Andrew'), postwar solicitorship with the Woolwich, Professorship of Poetry at Oxford, Governorship of the BBC, the novels and the poems….

But, as with 'Souvenirs,' although there is a ground bass of strict chronology, the variations in time and the various themes interweave throughout without much regard for strict tempo. My musical metaphor is no doubt faulty; but nevertheless the models here are Proust and Powell. While Dicky Umfraville doesn't...

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Ronald Blythe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Vamp Till Ready, which is the tale of a newly grown-up Fuller acquiring his Marxism, his legal career, his wife, his war and proof that he was indeed a poet, grows most naturally out of Souvenirs, which is the tale of his childhood. The tone continues to be one of laconic eloquence. The flavour of the Thirties, now so familiar to us because of its endless evocations, is given a stranger, more compelling taste because of the economical way in which he handles it. The signposts pointing from slump to call-up indicate the usual old road, but the sights and comments on the way provoke a fresh attention. Again, it has something to do with their descriptive frugality, their never going on and on. 'Poetry is,...

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Alan Brownjohn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Probably no living English poet has taken up more constantly than Roy Fuller the themes of the man in the street and the poet in his society. He feels himself to be an ordinary man, a member of a mass civilization, with a job (albeit a responsible one, as solicitor to a large building society) which ties him to quotidian matters: "Builders of realms, their tenants for an hour". But as a poet, as an alert and mordantly perceptive observer with an ironic overview of human affairs and a reverence for the "glamour of unapproachable geniuses", he is really rather a special version of the man on the Woolwich omnibus. Much of his verse is about the ambiguities generated when one of these figures takes on the role of the...

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