Henry Green(1905-73)


Life
[bapt. Henry Vincent Yorke], son of an Midlands industrialist, brought up at Forthampton Court, nr. Tewkesbury, which his father inherited; fortune based on foundries at Boresley, nr. Birmingham; ed. Eton and Oxford (for a year); repudiated his upper-class education and worked for three years as an apprentice in his father’s Engineering Works; served in the London Fire Service, 1940-45;
 
published his first novel Blindness (1926), while still an undergraduate; he set the next, Living (1929), in Dupret’s Engineering Works, Birmingham, uses in Midlands dialect for the narrative - e.g., dropping the articles before common terms (‘foundry’); issued Party Going (1939), a novel about an upper-class group travelling to France to party, but stuck in a railway hotel; Green served in the fire-service during the Blitz; wrote Caught, a novel strains and suicide his experience;
 
issued Loving (1945), set in “Kinalty Castle”, an Irish Big House, and describing life below and above stairs; contains a notable portrait of the wily but inadequate English butler Raunce and the undermaid Edith; filmed for BBC, 1996 with Mark Rylance as Rance; his celebrated trilogy marked by highly colloquial language adapted to characters and milieu, both in dialogue and narrative parts. IF2 FDA

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Works
Novels
  • Blindness (London: J. M. Dent 1926; 1932), 254pp. Do. (London: Hogarth 1977), 254pp.; and Do., intro. by Jeremy Treglown (London: Harvill 1993), 224pp.;
  • Living (London: Hogarth 1929; 1948; 1953; 1964), 269pp.; Do. (London: J.M. Dent 1929), 269pp.; and Do., intro. by Jeremy Treglown (London: Harvill 1991), xvi, 223pp.;
  • Party Going (London: Hogarth 1939; 1947; [1951]), 255pp.; Do. (NY: Augustus M. Kelley 1970); and Do., intro. by Jeremy Treglown ( London: Harvill 1996), xiv, 220pp.;
  • Caught (London: Hogarth Press 1943, 1950); Do. (NY: Viking Press 1952), 196pp. ; Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Hogarth Press 1965), [2] 196pp.; Do. (London: Collins-Harvill 1991), 200pp.; Do., intro. by Jeremy Treglown (London: Harvill 2001), xiv, 198pp.; and Do., as Orages sur Londres, trans. by René Wauquier (Paris: Nagel 1947), 298pp.
    Loving (London: Hogarth 1945; 1955; 1969), 229pp.; Do. (NY: Viking 1949), 248pp.; Do. (Melbourne: Penguin 1953), 207pp.; Do. (London: Harvill 1992), xii, 225pp.; Do., intro. by Jeremy Treglown (London: Harvill 1995); Do. (London: Vintage 2000); and Do., as Amour: Roman, trans. Michel Vinaver [Du Monde Entier Ser] (Paris: Gallimard [1954]), 301pp.;
  • Nothing (London: Hogarth 1950; 1951), 246pp.; Do. (NY: Viking 1950); and Do., intro. by Jeremy Treglown (London: Harvill 1992), 203pp.;
  • Doting (London: Hogarth 1952; 1967), 251pp.; Do. (NY Viking 1952); Do. (NY: Augustus M. Kelley 1970); and Do., intro. by Jeremy Treglown (London: Harvill 1998), xi, 226pp.

See also Pack My Bag (OUP 1940) - a self-portrait.

 
Collected Editions
  • Nothing, [and] Doting, [and] Blindness (London: Pan Books 1979), 505pp. [Nothing originally publ. London: Hogarth 1950; Doting originally publ. London: Hogarth 1952; Blindness originally publ. London: Dent 1926]; Loving, [and], Living, [and], Party Going, intro. by John Updike (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books), 528pp.

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Criticism
  • Walter Allen, ‘Henry Green’, in The Penguin New Writing, ed. John Lehmann (London 1945), pp.144-55 [see extract];
  • Clive Hart, ‘The Structure and Technique of Party Going’, in The Yearbook in English Studies, ed. T. J. B. Spencer (MHRA 1971), Vol. I, pp.185-99 [‘apart from its many small cubist dislocations of he rational universe, Party Going is informed throughout by the idea of the abnegation of authorial control’, p.187];
  • Fiona MacPhail, ‘A Shadowless Castle of Treasure: Kinalty Castle in Henry Green’s Loving’, in The Big House in Ireland, ed., Jacqueline Genet (Dingle: Brandon; NY: Barnes & Noble 1991), pp.233-42;
  • Gerard Keenan, ‘Henry Green’, in The Professional, the Amateur, and the Other Thing: Essays from ‘The Honest Ulsterman’ (Honest Ulsterman Publ. 1995), pp.13-30 [extract];
  • “PP”, review of Back [1946], in “Fiction in Brief” [column], Times Literary Supplement (6 March 1998), p.23 [extract].

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Commentary
Walter Allen, ‘Henry Green’, in The Penguin New Writing, ed. John Lehmann (London: Penguin 1945), pp.144-55: ‘[...] His prose is, I think, a poetic prose. It was so conventionally in, Blindness, a first novel of no more than average promise, though the theme, a literary and Etonian adolescent going blind and adjusting himself to blindness, is ambitious. There, the writing, the descriptions of nature in which the book abounds, are Georgian: Rupert Brooke is just round the corner and John Drinkwater may drop in at any moment. But after Eton and Oxford Green went to work in his Birmingham foundry. He started his novelist’s career with one great advantage over his middle-class contemporaries: as the boss’s son, with an inherited interest in a foundry, he could move, as it were, up and down the social scale as he pleased. In order to write about working-class life, as in The Nowaks, Isherwood had to go to Berlin; but Green could go to Birmingham.’ (p.147.) ‘Out of a series of such conversations he made his surprising tour-de-force the short story called “The Lull,” which appeared in the Summer, 1943, New Writing and Daylight. In snatches of flat, often pointless conversation he expresses a whole range of characters and the boredom they feel. The result is a strange poetry; the kind of poetry achieved by an artist like Beaton in his blitz photographs or that a brilliant film director sometimes discovers iscovers in shots of the sordid and banal. Green’s ear and the camera’s eye are alike in making familiar things new, and that, for Dr. Johnson, was a definition of poetry.’ (p.152.) ‘Among the ranks of contemporary writers he is as much on his own as Miss Compton Burnett, but every novel he writes is unpredictable, which can scarcely be, said of Miss Burnett’s. He has, perhaps, the - most completely original vision of any writer of his, generation. That alone is not enough to make a good novelist, but when it is combined, as in Green, with technical mastery and the resources of a virtuoso, it is, enough to make him, if not the best, certainly the most exciting novelist writing in England to-day.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Gerard Keenan, ‘Henry Green’, in The Professional, the Amateur, and the Other Thing: Essays from ‘The Honest Ulsterman’ (Belfast: Honest Ulsterman Publ. 1995), pp.13-30, writes, ‘The writing remarkably combines stylishness and brutalism; and Green is one of the great recorders of speech. His speech is not dressed up to impress or amuse, as is the speech of Sterne, Dickens, Joyce, Beckett or Myles na Gopaleen. It is isolated with great frankness in its banality.’ Further: ‘The prose could be described as mannered or idiosyncratic; but to do so would be wrong. Beckett’s prose is mannered and Beckett is its prisoner. Compton-Burnett’s style was idiosyncratic and Compton-Burnett was limited to what it would permit her to describe. Green’s instrument is a lens which seeks to capture with precision the outside, real world, any distortion is not in the cause of originality, it is in the cause of accuracy.’ (p.15); ‘[] Loving is set in a castle in Southern Ireland, on the Cork coast perhaps, and deals with the tensions and disquiet among the all-English domestic staff, caused by the juggling for position when the old butler dies and a young butler takes over; and by the fact that their homeland is lying beneath the onslaught of the German air raids. The upper classes are represented only by a mother and her daughter-in-law. Terry Southern, the most intelligent of writers, shows a foreigner’s obtuseness when he keeps plugging at what he sees as the basic absurdity in the book of an Irish household staffed with English servants. The situation is not absurd but quite realistic; the household is an English household set on a large Irish estate, where no-one would dream of employing locals except for the lowest labouring work. The attitude of the Irish, shown even by the wretched servants, is inconceivably contemptuous; Green can record only what he knows. The servants are warned not to speak to the natives, who are all in the IRA, live in hovels, dress their boy children in skirts, and gabble in a way that requires an interpreter. Much of the novel is played out at meal-time in the servant's hall ...’ (p.21). [Keenan quotes a description of] 'The Gothic pile of Kinalty Castle': ‘She was surrounded [in the Blue Drawing Room] by milking stools, pails, clogs, the cow-byre furniture all in gilded wood which was disposed around to create the most celebrated eighteenth-century folly in Eire that had still to be burned down.’ // “It’s all French”, the mother says at one point.’ (p. 22). [] ‘Loving is a novel of miraculous freshness. The author is never interposed between the reader and the scene, a quality often called Flaubertian, although Flaubert permeates all his great novels with his own irony and disgust. Loving is characterised by compassion and good-humour.’ (p.23).

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PP”,[pseud.], ‘Fiction in Brief‘ ’, review of Back [rep. edn.], in Times Literary Supplement (6 March 1998), p.23: The novel is set in the last summer of World War II and concerns Charley Summers, returned to England after the loss of his leg in search of his dead love Rose, who meets up with her half-sister. ‘As with Green’s other novels, one is aware throughout of the carefully chosen title: back from the war, back to the past, getting people back and getting back at people. Stylistically, this is a transitional work’ ; ‘Charley is one of Green’s most sympathetic protagonists, an ordinary man, good-natured but rather slow on the uptake whose experiences of war and ereavement have left him confused and vulnerable. In his useful introduction to this handsome reprint, Jeremy Treglow calls this “wonderful novel ... Green’s most extended attempt to plumb the world of the hunted - and haunted”, adding, “It is also, however, about salvation, and although its tone is often melancholy, it reaches an optimistic conclusion, all the more moving because Green undercuts the lyricism of the novel”s final scene with Nance’s laconic acceptance of what we take on by committing ourselves to another human being.’

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Jeremy Treglown, Romancing: The Life and Work of Henry Green (Faber 2000), 340pp. Give account of Green: his mother, née Wyndham, was dg. of the 2nd Baron of Leconfield, owner of Petworth, and a woman so superior, according to Maurice Bowra, that she managed to leave the ‘g’ out of words that didn’t contain them such as ‘Cheltin’ham’ and ‘Chippin’ham’; f., Vincent Yorke, an industrialist and sportsman, inherited Forthampton Court, nr. Tewkesbury. Green wrote at school as Henry Michaels, then Henry Browne; memorial address by V. S. Pritchet at Forthampton Church, speaking of ‘strange mixture of dash and melancholy’ that people met in the man; Waugh spoke of ‘the lean, dark, singular man named Henry Yorke’ he had met at Oxford and ‘who went on to dazzle us in his writings’; also, object of Nevill Coghill’s love at Oxford [the Chaucer scholar and translator]; discussing Green’s apparent laxity with details, reviewer cites Terry Southern (quoted here): ‘The reader does not simply forget that there is an author behind the words, but because of some annoyance over a seeming “discrepancy” in the story must, in fact, remind himself that there is one … The irritation then gives way to a feeling of pleasure and superiority in that he, the reader, sees more in the situation than the author does - so that all of this now belongs to him … Thus, in the spell of his own imagination the characters come alive in an almost incredible way, quite beyond anything achieved by conventional methods of writing.’ (See Times Literary Supplement, [13] Oct. 2000.)

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Notes
Anthony Powell: Powell wrote, ‘My final judgement on Henry, my oldest intimate friend who meant a great deal to me when we were both growing up, is that he was really rather a shit.’ (Journals 1990-1992, Heinemann [1997]; quoted by Bevis Hillier, in The Spectator, 17 May 1997 [review].)

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