Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In his introduction to the 1950 edition of The Unquiet Grave, Cyril Connolly wrote at length about his intention for the work, which, as he acknowledged, could look very much like a loose, somewhat precious series of melancholy comments upon life, supported by lavish quotations from an impressively wide range of literature and philosophy. It could also be read as simply a kind of vade mecum, an English gentleman’s vaguely autobiographical record of emotional states precipitating snatches of elegant quotation.

It was, in the main, on this level that its early success rested, and it became something of a cult book among sophisticated intellectuals, particularly in Great Britain. Although the book was supposedly written by someone hiding behind the name “Palinurus,” it was well-known that Cyril Connolly, one of the brightest members of the British literary world and the editor of its finest literary magazine, Horizon (in which the work was originally printed), was its author. It was no surprise that Connolly, admired for his astonishingly deep knowledge of world literature, would be able to put so much of his knowledge so gracefully into this modestly sized work.

The source of the book was a set of journals that Connolly wrote in London between autumn, 1942, and autumn, 1943, during World War II. During this time he was unhappily attempting to deal with the failure of his first marriage and with his sense of not attaining the success as a writer which his brilliant career as a student had suggested was inevitable. “Palinurus” was the fictional guise he rather halfheartedly hid behind in print, but...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Baker, Carlos. Review in The New York Times Book Review. L (October 7, 1945), p. 6.

Erdman, Irwin. Review in Saturday Review. XXVIII (November 17, 1945), p. 12.

Marshall, Margaret. Review in The Nation. CLXI (October 20, 1945), p. 405.

Pryce-Jones, David. Cyril Connolly: Journal and Memoir, 1983.

Time. Review. XLVI (November 5, 1945), p. 108.

Wilson, Edmund. Review in The New Yorker. XXI (October 27, 1945), p. 88.