Discovering Brigid Brophy

So far, this year’s reading has been remarkable. Not only some extraordinarily good first works, some singular nonfiction, and the discovery of no less than three writers to add to my list of old chestnuts, those favourites I will probably read in their entirety. Tomas Espedal, Denton Welch and Brigid Brophy.

I’ve thought of whether anything unites these often flawed but brilliant writers. What is it about their works that has bowled me over to the extent that I wish to read every word they wrote (or will write in Espedal’s case)? I recognise these are idiosyncratic passions that might not command the wide scale appreciation of Mann or Woolf, but for me their work is no less fascinating.

All three are brilliantly subtle, elegant and bookish writers but what sets them apart for me comes down to a certain tone of voice. In Brophy’s case I wrote recently of a stylish but insubordinate edge to her prose, that I got the feeling that Brophy would  look great in pearls but be the first to storm the palace when we all decide to kick the scoundrels out. That description applies equally to Welch and Espedal, replace tweed with pearls if you feel inclined.

Whatever the subject, the strong individualities of these writers emerge, and I find my way of looking at the world transfused with the colours of their thoughts and feelings.  I’ve only limited immersion in Brigid Brophy’s work, first the full, flowing freshness of The King of a Rainy Country and now the pyrotechnic flare of Hackenfeller’s Ape, but the sui generis nature of her voice is clear.

10 thoughts on “Discovering Brigid Brophy

  1. It’s interesting that you have had such a remarkable year for reading. I was just thinking the same thing today with respect to the writers and books that have really impressed me this year. For myself I think it represents a sharp shift to reading in translations and from smaller independent presses. Today I finished Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous and I was thinking “There’s another book of the year for me!” (And I also have “I” which I first heard about here on your blog, thanks.)

    Can’t complain about finding writers/books that impress us, can we?

    • No complaints at all. I could have added Hilbig to this post, as I will happily read everything of his that gets translated, but what I get from his work is very different than what I admire in Espedal, Brophy and Welch. Perhaps Hilbig is too polished. I love my trio of discoveries as much for their flaws as their brilliance.

  2. I’ve yet to read Espedal but I did start buying [and reading] Welch after your rave recommendations. There is something of the dandy about Brophy as there is in Welch; the use of writing as a projection of a distinct personality rather than its mere expression. But always with an incisive intellect and a commitment to the life of the mind giving an edge got the work. Do you know Brophy’s Prancing Novelist: In Praise of Ronald Firbank. It’s a wonderful biography of another arch dandy but also a fascinating meditation on the necessity of fiction.

    • Brophy’s Prancing Novelist: In Praise of Ronald Firbank is high on my list, John, as is everything within her 25 book oeuvre. I couldn’t agree more about the dandy aspect, an aspect I’m naturally drawn to which I am sure explains part of the appeal of Welch and Brophy. I’d also see a similar side to Espedal though a Norwegian dandy rather than the uniquely English or Irish version.

  3. I’ve been wondering for a while about King of a Rainy Country, so I’m delighted to see this post. Like David, she’s on my list of writers to try, it helps to see someone whose taste I have confidence in finding her worth trying.

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