Frank Kermode

Kermode.2 Mary-Kay Wilmers in the LRB:

Papers speak through their writers. And of all the London Review’s writers Frank Kermode was the one through whom we spoke most often and most eloquently. In all he wrote nearly 250 pieces for the LRB, the first in October 1979, a review of J.F.C. Harrison’s book on millenarianism, the last, in May this year, a review of Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. ‘Eloquently’: was that the right word? Not really. Frank’s writing was so much more exact, more stylish, more patient, more ironic, more playful, more attentive, more cunning, more cagey than ‘eloquence’ can suggest. ‘Stealthy’ is another possibility – a word Michael Wood used in introducing the collection of Frank’s essays we published to mark his 90th birthday. But as I pile on the epithets I hear Frank’s voice in my head and I stop.

Last February Frank gave a lecture at the British Museum – one of three LRB ‘Winter Lectures’. It had been going to be a talk about Shakespeare, to be called ‘The Shudder’, he said when asked for a title; he also said he had no idea what it would be about. In the event the ‘shudder’ turned out to have little to do with Shakespeare and much to do with T.S. Eliot, and also with Frank. When we printed the piece in the paper, Don Coles, a Canadian poet, wrote in to say that he thought ‘the four pages of this essay the finest I have read in the LRB, this issue or any other’. Before publishing the letter we sent it to Frank. ‘What an odd fan letter that was,’ he replied while thanking us for sending it. ‘Still, no harm done.’