Saturday, January 2, 2016

Lord Dunsany reviews his own novel THE CHRONICLES OF RODRIGUEZ

Putnam and his second wife, Amelia Earhart

Lord Dunsany must have liked his publisher George Palmer Putnam (1887-1950).  Putnam's autobiography Wide Margins (1942) has a choice anecdote quoting a letter of Dunsany's.  I can actually date my discovery of this to June 15th 1984, for the bookstore receipt from when I bought the book is still in my copy marking the page of the Dunsany reference.  It begins:

Lord Dunsany, my other favorite Irishman, contributed a critique of one of his own books which I cherish. It was penned while traveling in the Sahara in February, 1922.

"I suppose by now," he wrote, "Rodriguez [his new book] will have made his bow to London and one of the journalists may have lifted tired eyes toward him and tried to write something solemn. As I shall not see their reviews I will write one for myself."

Which Dunsany, in his large crawl in blue ink upon blue paper, proceeded to do:

"Lord Dunsany has evidently in his latest venture endeavored to give to a remote and problematical period some of that insouciance of his earlier efforts. He blends a certain directness of detail with an ineffectual attempt to be occasionally jocular. Had he troubled to study with greater care the period to which he has devoted this story, we make no doubt that he might have constructed a passably entertaining narrative. A lack however of certain historical rudiments, a general tendency to take for granted the reader's interest in what he has to say, a slipshod method of expression, and a vague dilution of the narrative, render any hope illusory."

What top-flight American writer today would take apart his current masterpiece, not to mention current critics, so effectively?

"In those few words," Dunsany added, "I think I have given you the essence of literary criticism in London: to beat it you would have to rifle the safes of the Times Literary Supplement." 
The dust-wrapper of the 1922 limited edition

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