Ronald Firbank

Arthur Annesley Ronald Firbank (17 January 1886 - 21 May 1926) was a British novelist.

Biography

Ronald Firbank was born in London, the son of society lady Harriet Jane Garrett and MP Sir Thomas Firbank. He went to Uppingham School, and then on to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He converted to Catholicism in 1907. In 1909 he left Cambridge, without completing a degree.

Living off his inheritance he travelled around Spain, Italy, the Middle East, and North Africa. Ronald Firbank died of lung disease while in Rome.

Work

He published his first book, "Odette d'Antrevernes", in 1905 before going up to Cambridge. From then, from "The Artificial Princess" (written in 1915, published posthumously in 1934) and "Vainglory" (1915, his longest work) to "Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli" (1926, also posthumous) he produced a series of novels.

"Inclinations" (1916) takes place mainly in Greece, where Mabel Collins, 15, is traveling with her female chaperone, Miss O'Brookomore; Mabel elopes with an Italian conte, but the plot is of minor importance, the book's interest - as with all Firbank's work - lying in the dialogue. His next novel "Caprice" followed in 1917.

"Valmouth" (1918) is based on the activities of various people in a health resort on the West Coast of England; most of the inhabitants are centenarians, and some are older ("the last time I went to the play...was with Charles the Second and Louise de Querouaille, to see Betterton play Shylock.") The plot, such as it is, is concerned with the attempts of two elderly ladies, Mrs Hurstpierpoint and Mrs Thoroughfare, to marry off the heir to Hare-Hatch House, Captain Dick Thoroughfare, who is engaged to a black woman, Niri-Esther, is loved frantically by Thetis Tooke, a farmer's daughter, but prefers his 'chum', Jack Whorwood, to both of them. Meanwhile Mrs Yajnavalkya, a black masseuse, manages an alliance between the centenarian Lady Parvula de Panzoust and David Tooke, Thetis's brother. A musical comedy of 1958 by Sandy Wilson gave the novel some popularity in the 1960s. It has been revived several times and recorded on CD.

In "The Flower Beneath The Foot" (1923), the setting is an imaginary country which may be assumed to be somewhere in the Balkans. The characters include the King and Queen, sundry high-born ladies about the Court, and the usual attendant chorus of priests and nuns.

"Sorrow in Sunlight", retitled at the suggestion of the publisher "Prancing Nigger" (1925), was especially successful in America. The scene is laid in a West Indian republic (compounded of Cuba and Haiti). A family of blacks, socially ambitious, move from their rural home to the capital, and the story is concerned with their attempts (which prove mainly abortive) to 'get into society'. "Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli" (1926) begins with the Cardinal christening a dog in his cathedral ('And thus being cleansed and purified, I do call thee "Crack"!') and ends with His Eminence dying of a heart attack while chasing, naked, a choirboy around the aisles.

Firbank's play "The Princess Zoubaroff" (1920) has been compared to William Congreve, but is rarely produced; Dame Edith Evans, perhaps the greatest English actress of her time, played the part in a radio production in 1964. The dialogue is highly characteristic: as, Princess Zoubaroff: "I am always disappointed with mountains. There are no mountains in the world as high as I would wish...They irritate me invariably. I should like to shake Switzerland."

His "Complete Short Stories" were published in a single volume in 1990 edited by Steven Moore, and his "Complete Plays" in 1991 in a volume containing "The Princess Zoubaroff", "The Mauve Tower" and "A Disciple from the Country".

Ronald Firbank left among his manuscripts the first few characteristic chapters of a novel set in New York, "The New Rythum" [sic] , published in 1962 after a sale of many of his manuscripts and letters.

Critical reception

Some critics, with the notable expection of Olivia Chambers, have dismissed Firbank's novels as slight, but they have been championed by a large number of English novelists including E. M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh and Simon Raven. The poet W. H. Auden praised him highly in a radio broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in June 1961 (the text of the broadcast was published in "The Listener" of 8 June 1961). Susan Sontag named his novels as constituting part of "the canon of camp" in her 1964 essay "Notes on 'Camp'".

Bibliography

* "The Fairies Wood", 1904
* "The Mauve Tower", 1904 (published posthumously)
* "Impression d'automne", 1905
* "Odette d'Antrevernes", 1905
* "A Study in Temperament", 1905
* "", 1908
* "The Artificial Princess", 1915
* "Vainglory", 1915
* "Inclinations", 1916
* "Caprice", 1917
* "Valmouth", 1919
* "The Princess Zoubaroff", 1920
* "The Flower Beneath The Foot", 1923
* "Prancing Nigger" aka "Sorrow in Sunlight", 1925
* "Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli", 1926
* "The New Rythum", begun 1926; fragments published posthumously
* "A Disciple from the Country (a one-act play)"

Critical studies

* Jocelyn Brooke, "Ronald Firbank", London, Arthur Barker, 1951
* an essay in Osbert Sitwell, "Noble Essences", London, MacMillan, 1950
* Derek Parker, "The Man with Red Nails: Ronald Firbank", in Books and Company, London, 1999
* Alan Hollinghurst, 'The shy, steely Ronald Firbank', edited version of the third of the 2006 Lord Northcliffe Lectures given at University College, London, October 2006, in Times Literary Supplement, November.
* Mervyn Horder (ed.), "Ronald Firbank: memoirs and critiques' ', London, Duckworth, 1977.
* Miriam J. Benkovitz, "Ronald Firbank: a Biography", London and New York, 1970.
* Brigid Brophy, "Prancing Novelist: a Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank", London and New York, 1973.

External links

* [http://www.glbtq.com/literature/firbank_r.html Ronald Firbank] on glbtq.com
*
* TLS review at http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25338-2454703,00.html
* Sorrow in Sunlight text at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks07/0700911.txt


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