The best biography in English

Burgess calls Hugh Walpole ‘the best biography in English’: ‘…steady if not overwhelming affection drips on to a subject rather less than worthy of a massive biographical tribute….I have read the book at least ten times and have not yet done with it, yet I have read hardly a line of Walpole. The study of a literary man, rather thinly endowed with talent, on the make in…London…is as fascinating as a novel…’

Martin Seymour-Smith calls the biography a ‘valuable account’ that nevertheless fails to discuss Walpole’s ‘homosexual sadism’. Walpole was, Seymour-Smith claims, ‘a paedophile with sadistic inclinations’, and the flogging scene in Jeremy at Crale (1927) ‘clearly shows this’.

Extracts from Hugh Walpole by Rupert Hart-Davis: ‘The threshold of fictive art’: ‘Success, which ruins many, is for others the natural food on which they thrive. Hugh was one of these. Until the day, 1 February 1909, when he set up on his own in London to be a writer, he had succeeded in nothing. School, university, the Mersey Mission, tutoring, schoolmastering, even writing itself — all these had found him wanting, had indeed at times reduced him to a figure of fun. Only the visionary gleam had persisted, the unquenchable, irrational conviction that he had been born to write a masterpiece; this alone had brought him to the edge of that literary world which he so longed to enter….He began at this time to take frequent Turkish baths, and all his life he lost no opportunity of having one, whatever part of the world he was in. Besides satisfying his passion for cleanliness and providing informal opportunities of meeting interesting strangers, they seem to have acted as a stimulus to his writing.’

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