Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf. . . . Thernnames are only a hint at the true dimensionsrnof that amazing rainbow-likernbridge, and whichever way you look at it,rnup or down, Connolly’s playing Sainte-rnBeuve against the three contemporariesrnhe had hand-picked for the purposes ofrnbenign self-identification is reminiscentrnof Mayakovsky’s ingenious claim that hisrndeadliest competitor for the position ofrnRussia’s greatest living poet was “Nick,”rnmeaning a certain Nikolai Aseev.rnAnd yet the Connolly case is morerncomplicated than that. Just as Eiffel’s engineeringrnrepresented the power of reason,rnso the amazing feat of English culturernbridging the centuries was meant tornglorify irrationality, imagination, joviality,rnmysticism, childishness, paganism,rncapriciousness, uselessness, playfulness,rnambivalence, narcissism, all survivingrnprecariously in the wrong place at thernwrong time, and all ultimately doomed.rnAnd just as to subsequent generations therngiant lacework pylon in the middle ofrnParis is a hopelessly old-fashioned folly,rnso what was expressly meant as a folly, anrnindulgence, and an act of nostalgia isrnlooking less foolish with every passingrnday. It is our respect for the triumph ofrnConnolly’s peers, and of the rainbowhighrnarch they have left behind to commemoraternit, that prevents us fromrndismissing an individual toiler like Connollyrnas a pompous babbler full of strongrnliquor and quaint bluff.rnHence the title of Connolly’s collectedrnessays. The Condemned Playground,rnand hence the longing for Eden thatrnruns through the chapters of Lewis’s biographyrnlike a spinning top. For Connollyrnas for so many of his contemporaries,rn”Eden” was consonant withrn”Eton” to the end of the lapsarian thereafter:rn”Few things are more disturbingrnthan the barren aspect of the presentrnworld when the taste of honeydew stillrnlingers in the mouth,” he wrote, andrnLewis comments on “the notion—familiarrnto generations of public-schoolrnEnglishmen, albeit in cruder, more boisterousrnform — of life thereafter as intrirrsicallyrnanticlimactic.” One inevitablernconsequence was the self-confessedrn”curse of one’s creative intelligence beingrnalways so many years younger thanrnthe critical,” with the result that Connol-rnIv was never able to write anything asrncomplete or coherent as his milieu expectedrnof him. His only attempt at a novel.rnThe Rock Pool, was published in 1935.rnAnd yet the Connolly case, I repeat, isrnless straightforward than one of arrestedrndevelopment or literary failure. Evenrnwithout extolling the two books that liftrnhim with any degree of flying-carpet objectivityrnabove the epoch’s raconteursrnand unsuccessful novelists —the patchworkrnquilts of The Unquiet Grave andrnEnemies of Promise — one is quite surernthat the person capable of writing the followingrnlines was endowed with a criticalrnintelligence that was also creative:rnI am too much of a snob to be arnbohemian and much too fond, notrnonly of security, but of a sense ofrnrespect and social power. I can’trnbear to be disapproved of by waiters,rnporters, hotel managers, huntingrnmen, barbers, bank clerks,rnthough I wouldn’t mind writingrnanything that would annoy them —rnI can’t bear to be unpopularrnthough I enjoy being hated.rnElsewhere he writes, in the same vein: “Irnhate colonels, but I don’t like the peoplernwho make fun of them.”rnWhat I would argue is that far from beingrnordinarily clever, Connolly’s selfdeprecatingrnself-aggrandizing is a directrndescendant of Dostoyevsky’s “luidergroundrnman” and the obsessively introspectivernliterary culture, in Russia,rnFrance, and elsewhere on the Continent,rnofthe 1890’s. By the 1930’s,itlivedrnon only in England, that condemnedrnplayground of Connolly’s milieu, andrntoday it lies buried deep under the volcanicrndebris of egalitarianism and collectivizationrnwhere a modern-day Sainte-rnBeuve like Connolly, to say nothing of arnmodern-day lOostoyevsky like Orwell,rnwould instantiy suffocate. Not surprisingly,rnreviewing Evelyn Waugh’s Declinernand Fall, it was the “delicious cynicism”rnof the book that Connolly mostrnadmired, “that subtie, metallic kind” ofrnhumor “which, more than anj/thing else,rnseems a product of this generation.”rnEqually unsurprising is the fact that Orwellrnreferred to Connolly in print as “almostrnthe only novel-reviewer in Englandrnwho does not make me sick.”rnThe hero of The Rock Pool, Connolly’srnstab at a novel, reasons that “if sex andrnsnobber)’, at which he was a failure, wererngoing out, he was no better fitted for thernCommunism and hope that were comingrnin.” His solution, which his creatorrncould never afford to put into practicerndespite a clumsy attempt to marr’ into arnlittie American money, is to buy a housernin the English countryside, Palladianrnideally, there to “cultivate obscurity andrnpractice failure, so repulsive in others, inrnoneself of course the only dignifiedrnthing.” Instead Connolly turned to publishing,rnand the unexpectedly successfulrnHorizon ran throughout the 1940’s, fillingrnthe void left by the war-time closingrnof such journals as Eliot’s Criterion andrnGeoffrey Grigson’s New Verse. To therncommie pinko Herbert Read, the newrnmagazine was “the last flicker of pre-warrndecadence, a post-Proustian inquest on arndead epoch.” Connolly himself saw itrnaccordingly:rnEditing a magazine is a form oftherngood life; it is creating when thernworld is destroying, helping wherernit is hindering; being given once arnmonth the opportunity to producerna perfect number and every monthrnfailing, and just when despair setsrnin, being presented with one morernchance.rn”We must be serious,” he wrote in arnletter, fusing, in his customary way, thernnarcissism of one of fortune’s darlingsrnwith the aplomb of a perfect failure.rn”We must live as though the world is goingrnto end.” And end it did, because thernBattle for Britain was not only the WorldrnWar. It was also a battle “against thernpolitician, the culture-diffusionist, andrnthe victorious common man” in whichrnConnolly’s modest, and only, weaponrnwas presenting himself as “the last literaryrngent” left on earfli.rnCertainly by the time he died, inrn1974, that description was almost literallyrntrue. The battie in defense of individualismrnhad been lost the world over. Butrnbecause it was in Etonian, puerile, fey littlernEngland that unserious Connolly andrnhis flippant generation had made theirrnlast stand against the encroaching adulthoodrnof concentration camps and hamburgerrnchains, history will surely recordrnthat it is in stubborn, contrary Englandrnthat the “music of time” has sounded thernlongest before dissolving, like the arc of arnrainbow or an imaginary bridge or somernother amazing mirage, into the grey, demoticrnsameness of totalitarian drizzle.rnConnolly used to say that memorialsrnwere only important to social climbers,rnso I may as well end on this vanishingrnnote.rnAndrei Navrozov is Chronicles’ Europeanrncorrespondent.rnDECEMBER 1998/31rnrnrn