able surroundings, and the friendship ofrnthe rich and powerful—many of whomrnhe’s already met at school, that beingrnone of the emoluments of an upper-classrnprivate education.rnSo far this could be the life story of anyrnaesthete-as-hero in a 20’s novel, but thernstory Clive Fisher tells is more peculiar,rnmore surprising than that. Cyril Connollyrnhad a capacity for imposing himselfrnnot often found either in fiction or realrnlife. For instance: once he discovered thernpleasures of hetero- as opposed to homosex,rna long succession of wealthy and/orrnpretty young women, undeterred by hisrnfroglike appearance and sponging habits,rnwarmed his bed and attended to his domesticrnlife. He even married three ofrnthem (though not the one who changedrnher name by deed-poll in anticipation ofrnever-postponed marriage). Appetite,rnthough, always ruled, and not always discriminatingly;rnone of the more jaw-droppingrnsentences of the book announcesrnhow, at a dinner party later in his life, anotherrnguest recognized him as a fellowrnprowler among London’s homosexualrnhaunts.rnHis ability to extract large sums ofrnmoney from publishers and friends wasrneven more remarkable than his sexualrnhistory. When he died leaving an overdraftrnof £27,000 (over $500,000 inrnpostinflation values), his friends immediatelyrnlaunched a fund to pay it off andrntake care of his widow. How did Connollyrnmanage this sort of thing? His biographerrnputs it down to an abilitv torncharm; but the charm cloaked an outlandishrndegree of selfishness, maintainedrnwithout diminution to the end. At 23 hernnot only made his 17-year-old girlfriendrnpay for his dinner; he ordered the mostrnexpensive dishes. When he was on hisrndeathbed, and the Duke of Devonshire,rnthrough an intermediary, sent him arnpresent of Muscat grapes from the ducalrnhothouses, the dying man’s responsernwas, “I wish Andrew would bring therngrapes himself.”rnWas he then, as the American publisherrnof this biography announces on therntitle page, “England’s most controversialrnliterary critic?” He was certainly amongrnthe most admired literary columnists ofrnhis day—but he seems always to have positionedrnhimself well to the rear of controversy.rnAlthough he underwent a predictablernbut superficial leftist makeoverrnin the 30’s, he was really always a post-rn90’s aesthete in the fashionable, uppercrustrnstyle portrayed (and criticized) byrnEvelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited.rnIn that lifelong role he was undoubtedlyrna successful consumer oi art, a sort of literaryrnMartha Stewart, who lived by publicizingrnhis enthusiasms. As aestheticrnpundit, he kept his im])ortant friends reassuredrnand instructed, and as reviewerrnand editor he sold the pleasures of vicariousrnsuperiority to thousands of middleclassrnreaders of the Sunday papers.rnLIBERAL ARTSrnTHE NEW BRITISH NAVYrnActual excerpts from the British Navy’s “206’s,” officer fitness reports:rn- When she opens her mouth, it seems that this is only to change whichever foot wasrnpreviously in there.rn- He has carried out each and every one of his duties to his entire satisfaction.rn- He would be out of his depth in a car park puddle.rn- Technically sound, but socially impossible.rn- This young lady has delusions of adequacy.rn(Continued on page 40)rnIn his day his prose was much praised.rnHe was a clever parodist, though to myrnear his own writing always verges on pastiche,rnas in his self-consciously “artistic”rnbook. The Unquiet Grave (1944). Sheerrnself-absorption, in fact, seems to haverndisqualified him as a creative writer; inrnthe end his only subject was himself, andrnhe was never able to tell the truth aboutrnit. His best time came during the war,rnwhen anxiety (well-founded) that hisrnchosen way of life might disappear ledrnhim to start a periodical. Horizon, intendedrnto preserve it.rnSuch an essentially comic characterrninevitably cast amusing shadows on thernfiction of his time. There is a touch ofrnConnolly, and of his employment as secretary-rncompanion to the fussy Americanrnexpatriate, Pearsall Smith, in the characterrnof Anthony Powell’s ambitious youngrnpoet, Mark Members. Evelyn Waugh,rnwho nicknamed Connolly “Boots,” andrnpeppered his books with jokes at his expense,rndrew on him for the character ofrnEverard Spruce in Unconditional Surrender.rnBut then characters like Connollyrnare recurrent in the history of literature.rnDickens portrayed the type once and forrnall in Harold Skimpole of Bleak House.rnSensitive, whimsical, and poetic, Skimpolernis too finely tuned to cope with therndetails of practical reality. Although herninsists that he is a child amidst the complexitiesrnof the worid, he is ruthlessly devotedrnto his own comfort, and succeedsrnin persuading the wodd, in the person ofrnthe kindly Mr. Jarndyce, to maintain himrnin his chosen way of life. Dickens basedrnthe character, we are told, on the poetrnLeigh Hunt, but the type is a perennial,rnand Clive Fisher has written the biographyrnof Skimpole’s modern avatar. EvelynrnWaugh may have liked Connolly, butrnhe saw through him: “a drole old spongernat his best,” he said, “worth six of Quennell.”rnThis evocatively illustrated, notablyrnwell-written, and, in retrospect, hilariousrnbiography is well worth reading. Not onlyrndoes it open a window onto a characterrnand a social wodd that will seem to manyrnof its readers as fascinatingly remote asrnthe Land of Cockaigne; it also shows,rnperhaps unintentionally, how an estabhshmentrnbased on privilege and competitionrnreally works. That is something alwaysrnworth knowing.rnFrank Brownlow teaches English atrnMount Holyoke College. His most recentrnbook is Robert Southwell.rn30/CHRONICLESrnrnrn