Early Kermode

Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books:

Frank Kermode

I hadn’t​ been expecting to bump into Frank in one of the remoter stacks of the Cambridge University Library. This is where they keep the back numbers of old scholarly periodicals, a morgue only likely to be violated by those, like me, who now spend their days picking over the cairns left by academic labourers seventy years ago. And Frank Kermode had been dead for almost ten years – he died on 17 August 2010. I’d seen him in my mind quite frequently in the intervening decade: one of my running routes takes me past his old flat, and the sight of the building is enough to stir memories of evenings spent drinking and talking. But this was different. One might expect to meet any number of those who navvied at Eng. Lit. in the first half of the 20th century here, names now largely unknown even to their successors. But, quite suddenly, as I was looking for something else in the back pages of the impeccably learned (read: dry as dust) Review of English Studies for July 1949, there he was: ‘Frank Kermode’. Not, I was interested to note, ‘J.F. Kermode’ or any other variant that signalled the first name he never used. (It was one of the lesser indignities of his time in hospital during his final illness that well-meaning nurses and auxiliaries, scanning his patient details, would cheerily address him as ‘John’.) He was already using the name that was to become so familiar, the byline that launched a thousand pieces. Was he already that ‘Frank Kermode’, that effortlessly elegant, perceptive, slyly amusing, wide-ranging critic? Not really, not to judge by this piece of scholarly flotsam. It was a review of a book called Music and Poetry of the English Renaissance by Bruce Pattison: a learned, exact, even exacting, piece, full of abstruse detail, acknowledging the book’s achievement but, in the manner of young scholars everywhere, ticking it off for not drawing on the latest scholarship.

More here.