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An American in London (Partisan Review, 1949, and collected in the Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Essays)

1949

by Cyril Connolly (1903 - 1974)

Connolly uses a fictional-hypothetical character, a young American novelist he calls Bisbee, to view post-war London and its ‘shabby’ yet seductive literary world through cold, alien eyes.

The first, elegiac section, on vanishing and vanished hotels and restaurants, is now of only antiquarian interest. However his depiction of London’s aging, ever-struggling writers and publishers, including Spender, Bowen and Connolly himself, is both sociologically astute (‘Culture is made and diffused by the same people. The cow serves in the milk bar.’) and biographically evocative. This essay generalises Connolly’s ‘enemies of promise’ into a wider cultural malaise.

Related recommendation: For another subtle portrait of a whole milieu, Mary McCarthy’s ‘My Confession’ (1954)

Origin: Britain

Themes: Through Alien Eyes, The role of Art or Artists, Manners and Conversation

Genres: Biographical, Humorous, Semi-Fictional

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