Cyril Connolly and the literature of depression

065451c6-4b7c-11e7-8b46-aeb9dec90269Brian Dillon at the TLS:

If his friends are to be believed, Cyril Connolly was a monster of sloth and self-regard. And yet, what an endearing figure he cuts – if that’s the verb, with Connolly – through their letters and memoirs: maundering over failed affairs of heart or wallet, brimming with excuses for his books unwritten, ever ready to start afresh with the bubbles when the night wore on. According to V. S. Pritchett, “a phenomenal baby in a pram”: grasping at toys and prizes, mostly failing to connect. In his preface to The Missing Diplomats, Connolly’s short book about Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, Peter Quennell wrote: “With an agile and intensely active brain few writers have combined a greater disposition to extreme bodily indolence”. Supine for weeks or months at a time, Connolly could spring up when needed and, provided there was secretarial help on hand, thrash out an overdue essay or review, rush a magazine to print. Quennell again: “His armchair becomes miraculously jet-propelled”.

It is not a method guaranteed to secure a solid oeuvre that will live for the ages. Connolly’s narrow reputation now rests largely on the mixture of memoir and high literary journalism in Enemies of Promise (1938), and not on his single novel The Rock Pool (1936), or the several collections of reviews he later packaged in lieu of proper books. Fewer still today are references to The Unquiet Grave: the odd, fragmentary “word cycle” he published under the pen name Palinurus in the autumn of 1944. But this is the book – an essay, an anthology, a complaint – in which the contradictions in Connolly’s talent and personality fail to resolve with the strangest, most seductive results. Here he anatomizes his worst traits: laziness, nostalgia, gluttony, hypochondria, some essential frivolity of mind that means his writing will always be summed up as “‘brilliant’ – that is, not worth doing”.

more here.