Cyril Connolly’s masterpiece, the unquiet grave

LF_GOLBE_UNQUIET_FT_001Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:

Between autumns of 1942 and 1943, the English critic Cyril Connolly took a break from writing articles and set out to write a masterpiece. This, he wrote on the first page of his book, is the true function of a writer. Nothing else is of consequence. “How few writers will admit it,” he wrote “or having drawn the conclusion, will be prepared to lay aside the piece of iridescent mediocrity on which they have embarked! …. Every excursion into journalism, broadcasting, propaganda and writing for the films, however grandiose, will be doomed to disappointment.”

“Writers always hope that their next book is going to be their best,” wrote Connolly, “and will not acknowledge that they are prevented by their present way of life from ever creating anything different.”

It was agreed that Connolly’s previous books — a satirical novel about the decadent life in the South of France, a collection of essays — had not been masterpieces. For his third attempt, Connolly had three little notebooks and a “private grief” to help him. What makes a masterpiece, wrote Connolly, are the following: A love of life and nature; an interest in, mingled with contempt for humanity; and a lack of belief in the idea of progress.

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