A POKE IN THE EYE…

I am very pleased with the continuing coverage that A Scribbler in Soho is getting from the quality press, though as ever, so far, no attention has come from the Guardian, maintaining their consistent habit of hardly ever mentioning Quartet ever since Anne Smith resigned from the Literary Review in 1981, a decision I accepted. The mayhem that followed, with her accusing me of monstrous behavior – amply reported in the Guardian – eventually subsided and Anne and I would eventually reconcile, but the Guardian seems determined on its boycott. Mind you though, given their contemptuous account after his death of Bron’s achievements – Polly Toynbee’s abusive article comes to mind – it comes as no surprise.

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What was a little surprising however, are two reviews over the weekend from the Spectator and the Mail on Sunday. William Cook plugs his own 2010 anthology in his Spectator review, rightly pointing out that his selection is more comprehensive and questioning whether my friendship with Brown clouded my choices but does end with a complimentary ‘… for Waugh obsessives like me (and thousands like me) this is a welcome addition to the canon.’ Craig Brown’s coverage (it was spread across two pages) in the MoS was far more vitriolic.

Calling it ‘this strangely ramshackle collection’ Brown does manage to award it 3 out of 5 stars and sometimes even manages a compliment: ‘He [Bron] rails against publishers for their “overwhelming incompetence“, and adds “that there is scarcely an author in the land who has not entertained the thought that his agent and publisher are in a conspiracy to sabotage his chances of survival”. In support of this argument, he says he has observed, “a degree of idleness and incompetence among publishers and agents that seems entirely incredible unless it is also motivated by malice”. One of the marvelous things about these observations is that they were, more often than not, included in editorials in which he was pleading with publishers to spend more of their advertising budget on the hard-pressed Literary Review.’

But Brown saves his real attack guns for me, based on his ‘surprised’ reaction to see my mentioning a lunch which Bron organized, for me and him to discuss what seemed to me to be a contemptuous reaction (based on his reviews) for my various literary attempts. The lunch was clearly not successful.

I recognize the possible mistake of responding to criticism, but I do wish to make two points. To William Cook, I would say my book in no way offers itself as a comprehensive selection from Bron’s writings and would suggest had he read the jacket’s blurb he would have known better than to expect a wider range. I wanted to honour Bron’s editing the Literary Review above all else by reprinting the best of his ‘From the Pulpit’. His editorials should not be forgotten.

And as for Craig Brown, I would have thought it was clear to anyone with no axe to grind that my idea for the book was really to provide an account, with plenty of examples, of my relationship with Auberon Waugh. Perhaps I should not have provoked Brown with my comments, but then, as Bron taught me (and A Scribbler in Soho relates): ‘First cultivate your enemies’.

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