Lucifer before Sunrise: Critical reception

 

 

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Critical reception:

 

 

The review file is rather thin, which is a pity as it would be interesting to have a widespread contemporaneous view of the book.  HW mentions a Times review but unfortunately there is no copy of it among his papers.  (Reviews for all titles have been gathered together from all over the place: it is inevitable that some are missing.)

 

The Bookseller, 22 July 1967 (advance notice):

 

lucifer rev bookseller

 

 

Daily Mail (A. W. Parsons), 26 October 1967 (a brief notice):

 

lucifer rev dailymail

 

 

Sunday Telegraph (Francis King), 29 October 1967 (also reviews Diana Athill, Don't look at me Like That, and A. L. Barker, The Middling; the review is headed 'Sunlight and Shadow'):

 

lucifer rev suntelegraph

 

The last sentence (and the review) finishes:

 

news of the war into what otherwise might have been a far more effective, if sparer, narrative.

 

 

Daily Express (Peter Grosvenor), 26 October 1967:

 

lucifer rev dailyexpress

 

 

 Birmingham Post (R. C. Churchill), 4 November 1967:  

 

lucifer rev bhampost

 

 

Observer (C.W.), 26 November 1967: 

 

lucifer rev observer

 

 

Sunday Times, 26 November 1967:

 

lucifer rev suntimes

 

 

Western Morning News, 8 December 1967:

 

lucifer rev wmn

 

 

The Scotsman (Jeremy Randall), 23 December 1967:

   

lucifer rev scotsman

 

 

Southern Evening Echo (W. M. Hill), 30 December 1967 (This discerning review, although long, is worth reading in its entirety):

 

lucifer rev echo

 

 

Birmingham Evening Mail, 12 January 1968 (A glimpse of what was on the market at the same time – and note that Lucifer is on a list of best-sellers):

 

lucifer rev bhammail

 

 

Irish Independent (F. J. Keane), 27 January 1968:

 

lucifer rev irish

 

 

The Aylesford Review, Vol. IX, No. 1, Autumn 1967:

 

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The cover was designed by Jane Percival, one of the 'Aylesford Group', and friend of HW.

 

Father Brocard Sewell, editor of The Aylesford Review, wrote an introductory paragraph:

 

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The first review is by Sylvia Bruce, and is headed:

 

Prince of Darkness, Bringer of Light

 

 Sylvia Bruce was a writer and literary critic, and another member of the Aylesford Group.  Earlier in this issue are five pages of extracts from her own (not yet published) novel The Wonderful Garden, which she prefaces with the following 'Author's Note', which shows her attitude to literature:

 

lucifer aylesford3

 

 

Her percipient essay on Lucifer (pp. 21-31) examines more than just this book and is worth (indeed for the researcher, necessary) reading in full.  Herewith some extracts:

 

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(it continues:)

 

with much of what he says . . . I admire the manner, the artistry, the craftsmanship and the courage with which it is set forth . . . never does Mr. Williamson for one moment cease to be a writer of consummate power, tormentedly aware of the conflict within him of darkness against light.

 

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. . .  It would be as naïve to suppose that an autobiography contains no fiction as to expect fiction to contain no fact. . . .  Writers have their own sense of time . . . poets were liars ever, though much concerned with truth. . . . Truth is relative. . . .

 

Phillip Maddison holds political views unlikely to bring him popularity among his compatriots.

 

And quotes Ernie Martin as describing this as 'romantic posturings and ardent declamations'.

 

Sylvia Bruce ends:

 

lucifer aylesford7

 

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This review is immediately followed by another (pp. 31-42) written by 'GREEN JACKET' – none other than HW himself.  It is interesting to read, particularly to see HW trying to pretend he is neither HW nor Phillip Maddison, but A.N. Other, and explaining why HW behaves and thinks like he does.   But as usual when HW tries to explain himself, he tends rather to tie himself in knots.    

 

Basically the 'review' follows the story of the novel as it unfolds, with explanatory comments: it is headed:

 

Lucifer or Eosphoros?

 

The world for Henry Williamson, and for his doppelganger, is immutably fixed in the idea of the comradeship between 'the two cousin-nations of Europe, arising from the battlefields of 1914-18'. . . .

 

But, pigheaded or visionary, Williamson persisted in recasting variation after variation until many versions were written – it is said that fifteen were completed by 1953. . . .

 

Throughout the book, Phillip's journal is kept.  He is his own severe critic.  And always objective: no illusions about himself.  He realises that his continual girding against local conditions must eventually end in his own failure: as Hitler must fail, for the same perfectionist causes; but also, he [Phillip/HW] is the historian of Europe's tragedy; he is Europe. . . .

 

. . . The exhaustion of overwork make him as a ranting Hitler; but with a difference: he recognises his faults, and suspects their origin in an unstable childhood. . . . He is the maladjusted microcosm of the macrocosmic Europe. . . .

 

The plan of the novel is one of direct narrative, ranging over many scenes of farming in wartime, occasional London visitations, thus linking the little world of the yeoman family with that of the big world outside. . . .

 

The essay is illustrated with a photograph of HW by Oswald Jones:

 

lucifer aylesford9

 

 

(The 'Green Jacket' piece was reprinted in a booklet of HW essays from The Aylesford Review put together by Colin Stanley, Henry Williamson: 'Some Notes on “The Flax of Dream”’ and other essays, Paupers' Press, 1988.)  

 

 

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