As Stephen Page said rightly at the time of Finds’ launch in 2008, the business of reissuing ‘lost’ books is good work that we know to be not entirely our own. And I’m furthermore thrilled to say that Finds has comrades in the Brophy Appreciation Society, for The Coaelacanth Press have just brought back her 1956 novel The King of a Rainy Country in a truly elegant edition endorsed by Ali Smith, Paul Bailey, Terry Castle and D.J. Taylor. In her fascinating and very felt introduction to the novel Coelacanth editor Phoebe Blatton nods to the ‘scandalous’ neglect of Brophy, but it does look as if that air of scandal is now being dispelled. (At the back of the Coelacanth volume is an essay by Jennifer Hodgson of the Dalkey Archive who have for some years been offering Brophy’s In Transit from 1969.)
Brophy is one of a select band of writers who have suffered probably for being too good. As D.J. Enright noted in a piece for the LRB, her novels ‘have often been described as ‘brilliantly written’: a judgment which can have done her sales little good. (‘Don’t bother with that book – it’s brilliantly written!’)’ But high prose style – which sometimes, however stupefyingly, gets mistaken for artifice or mere surface polish – is most of the matter in this game of ours. ‘True stylishness’, says Enright, ‘always has a point, and makes it firmly yet discreetly.’ Brophy’s firmness was well known to those who shepherded her writing into print. As her former agent Giles Gordon wrote in a fond obituary in 1995, ‘woe betide the “editor” who tried to rewrite her fastidious, logical, exact prose, change a colon to a semi- colon (or vice versa), or try to spell “show” other than “shew”, slavish Shavian that Brophy was.’
In fact I was smiling to myself just this morning over ‘shew’ as it appears throughout my paperback copy of Flesh. Your correspondent first discovered Brophy in the late 1980s, not long after watching a mid-1960s TV interview with Yukio Mishima from the archives of some BBC literary half-hour. The host of said show, a nervy and shock-headed chap who sounded rather as though he’d only recently come down from Oxford, noted Mishima’s customary interest in fleshly matters and remarked that there was a fine novelist in English – Brophy! – who ‘wrote very much on the theme of sex.’ Mishima only blinked in reply: a mix, perhaps, of Japanese politeness and his probable private view that no-one else wrote on ‘the theme of sex’ quite as he did. In any event I took away from this exchange that I ought really to be reading Brigid Brophy. And though it was not a simple matter in 1989, copies of Flesh, The Finishing Touch and The Snow Ball came my way and were all I hoped for and more.
As I recall, in new books 1989 was also the year – certainly the summer – of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library, and that novel’s debt to the oeuvre of Ronald Firbank would have been a puzzling business to me if I hadn’t already known Brophy’s The Finishing Touch…
Anyhow, much, much more on this subject to come. For now we wish only to convey our excitement in this project, and to spread it around.