Drink and the Old Devil

Peter Green in The New Republic:

Amis Kingsley William Amis was born on April 16, 1922, in Norbury, a newish outer suburb south of London. When a rail line was put through in 1878, as Amis reports in his memoirs, “the stretch between Streatham and Croydon was too long so they planted a station in between.” Haphazard Metroland expansion did the rest. The name was picked from a neighboring country house. Until young Amis came along, Norbury’s nearest approach to literature was as the setting for one of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Marinated in a genteel atmosphere of tennis clubs, bridge parties, and stucco-fronted semi-detached villas, it formed a natural breeding ground for upwardly aspirant lower-middle-class conservatism. Popular lending libraries abounded, encouraging a mild philistinism toward anything more literary than romances, whodunits, and the new Pooh books. Fake Tudor architecture, pseudo-Jacobean furniture, imitation Turkish rugs were all the rage. This was the world in which Amis grew up, a world where, as he later confessed, “I would as soon have expected to fall in with a Hottentot as with a writer,” and the pretentions of which he started demolishing at an astoundingly early age.

When the poet Philip Larkin, Amis’s closest friend, told an interviewer that he himself had begun writing “at puberty, like everyone else,” Amis commented, in surprise, “He left it until puberty? I’d been writing for years by puberty.” To his first biographer, Eric Jacobs, he admitted, revealingly, that “I wanted to be a writer before I knew what that was.” When every other factor has been counted in, what sets it all in motion is still the inexplicable creative spark that strikes seemingly at random, and in the ancient world was externalized as a visitation by the Muse.

More here.