Read Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly Online


“Whom the gods wish to destroy,” writes Cyril Connolly, “they first call promising.” First published in 1938, Enemies of Promise, an “inquiry into the problem of how to write a book that lasts ten years,” tests the boundaries of criticism, journalism, and autobiography with the blistering prose that became Connolly’s trademark. Connolly here confronts the evils of domestic“Whom the gods wish to destroy,” writes Cyril Connolly, “they first call promising.” First published in 1938, Enemies of Promise, an “inquiry into the problem of how to write a book that lasts ten years,” tests the boundaries of criticism, journalism, and autobiography with the blistering prose that became Connolly’s trademark. Connolly here confronts the evils of domesticity, politics, drink, and advertising as well as novelists such as Joyce, Proust, Hemingway, and Faulkner in essays that remain fresh and penetrating to this day....

Title : Enemies of Promise
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780892550784
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 265 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Enemies of Promise Reviews

  • Justin Evans
    2018-09-07 18:41

    On the upside, the next time anyone complains about how The Literary Establishment has always forced people to write in single genres and thus distorted the Genius Writer, I can point to one more book as showing what rubbish that statement is. On the downside, I now know why this is more cult classic and less just classic. I was led to expect much more. I thought the first section by far the most interesting. Connolly's understanding of literature, and particularly literary history, was ahead of its time and light years ahead of most contemporary polemicists, who continue to insist that there's some everlasting ideal of literature and that we'll only get to that if we [insert your least favorite literary trend here; I go with 'write memoirs'.] Connolly knew the truth: literary trends are entirely reactive. Naturalism was followed by modernism, which was followed by various anti-modernist reactions, which were followed by 'post-modernism,' which is now being followed by various returns to either a) sincerity or b) modernist technique. Each movement--other than naturalism, for me--will produce a few books worth reading. Cyril read everything of his time, it seems, and his simple categories still work today, as we swing between 'vernacular' (naturalism, anti-modernism, sincerity) and 'mandarin' (decadence, modernism, post-modernism, neo-modernism). And he comes up with some odd pairings; for instance, Maugham, Joyce and Lawrence, all of whom were fixated on the word 'grey.' On the 'vernacular' side, he splices together sentences by Orwell, Isherwood and Hemingway, which is a pretty convincing way of showing how dull they can be. The second section describes the 'situation of the author,' and is fairly dull. The third section is memoir meant to fulfill the rules laid down in part one. It doesn't succeed; I'd much rather read Powell's autobiography; four times over I'd rather read Powell's Dance to the Music of Time. But that's mainly because I don't really think high school is a formative experience for most people; it might have been for Connolly, but that doesn't come through all that much. I should probably re-read it, though. Special bonus marks for recognizing that 18th century prose was the high point of English literature.

  • Will
    2018-08-24 17:40

    "I have always disliked myself at any given moment; the total of such moments is my life."

  • Sus
    2018-08-29 16:53

    This is a rather surprising and confusing book; only the middle third is like I thought it would be (which is also the part advertised by the title.) Since this section is by far the shortest, it leaves me with a lot of time to reflect on the other two.The first eighty or so pages -- which lay out "the Predicament," as Connolly calls it -- are given over, as he puts it, to "the problem of how to write a book which lasts ten years." This was, now that I think about it, an advertisement that attracted me -- as a reader I am much interested in writers' views on writing. What I had not realized is that, in enquiring into style and form in the novel, Connolly was interested in a specific ten years: that is, the years that were to immediately follow the writing of his book; and that for his data he drew upon books that had appeared in the thirty or so years preceding. Which is, I suppose, reasonable enough. But the reader should be aware that, in addressing this problem, Connolly is not so much interested in the properties we might look at as those which make a a book "timeless." Instead, he is very interested in figuring out which of the two kinds of literary prose that (as he viewed it) were paramount in 1938 were likely to still be au courant in 1948, given both the cultural and literary tends as he foresaw them, and the approaching convulsions of history.What all this means is that Part I of Enemies of Promise is a detailed, witty and absorbing snapshot of the state of English literature in 1938, at least as it stood to an educated, perceptive, snobby English reader. (I use "snobby" with consideration, by the way; Connolly applies the word to himself and to his class without apparent embarrassment or remorse.) If you are the kind of reader who is interested in Modernism, its reception, and early twentieth-century literary culture, you ought to find this very interesting reading. If, however, you were hoping to learn what Cyril Connolly thinks makes a really good, timeless and lasting book, you will be disappointed. This is not a writer on how to write. (In fact, as one gradually realizes in reading Part III, this book is a writer explaining his view of not writing, and how he came to do it.)Part III of the book is, as Connolly faithfully labels it, "A Georgian Boyhood." This is a very curious piece of autobiography; at least, it reads that way to me. Upon reflection I suspect that it is probably almost impossible for a contemporary American reader of 2009 to take away from this piece anything like what Connolly intended. It is woven through, indeed undergirded, with what appear to be cultural assumptions regarding what aspects of the story his audience will find interesting. For instance, he begins the tale by apologizing for starting off with "the early aura of large houses, fallen fortunes and county families common to so many English biographers." Personally, I found this part of the story absorbing -- young Cyril Connolly grew up in castles! -- but apparently it is such a common theme among the kind of people he thinks about, and for whom he writes, that he fears it stale and clichéd.Where things get really strange, though, is when he gets us through his early schooling and takes us along to his years at Eton, the great and storied "public" (i.e. private) boys' school that has channeled so many of England's elite. Connolly's experiences at Eton make up the bulk of this section, and... I find myself of two minds about this part. One the one hand, reading it as the reader I am -- American, twenty-first-century, not soaked in English ideas about 'character' and class -- the details Connolly piles on about the twiddling ins-and-outs of Eton life, his constantly shifting array of friends, his political maneuvering, his prizes, become self-indulgent and then very quickly intolerable. One wants to shout: "I don't bloody care who you 'shouldered on' with the Michaelmas term you got into Pop, you idiot!" On the other hand, I have the sort of impression that Connolly probably thought, and rightly, that these infinite details would be fascinating to his readers, just because they were a true story of Eton -- which is, after all, like Harvard is to Americans; only now imagine you could get into Harvard at thirteen. It is a place with an aura, and one that lays great expectations for its students. And, of course, there is the fact that a lot of the names he drops turned out to be people with Wikipedia entries and Orders of the British Empire. Of the classmates Connolly mentioned, I may only have recognized George Orwell (and distantly, distantly, Cecil Beaton), but to the English many of those self-absorbed spotty fourteen-year-olds turned out to be Famous Names. One more thing about this section: though I feel extremely uncharitable for thinking it, Connolly's statements about homosexuality seem depressing to me. From his autobiographical writing, it's blatantly clear that Connolly is himself homosexual. He starts out as a sensitive child, and goes on to fall in romantic love with a series of boys and young men throughout his childhood and adolescence, even as, by his own descriptions, he becomes more and more witty, fussy, and dramatically and aesthetically inclined. Bitchy, even; queeny, rather. (I feel uncharitable, as I say, but what's a reader to do? It's his own autobiography.) And yet Connolly appears to go on to associate homosexuality with immaturity and emotional stuntedness. As, I suppose, most people of his time did. But what does it say about the man himself, and his views of his own spiritual, artistic, personal development? There is really surprisingly little self-revelation in the book's 120 pages of "autobiography." I suppose that is something else I found disappointing.Where, then, after all this, are the Enemies of Promise? Well, they do actually sort of show up in that Part III -- in Connolly's depressing, yet understandable, conclusion, which is basically that the British elite school system ruins people for life -- but where they are mostly is in Part II. Which, to tell the truth, sort of seems like it could be read on its own, and is the most vivid part of the book to me. Here, Connolly audaciously -- and somehow without wasting words, as he does almost everywhere else in the text -- grabs a passage from a poem by George Crabbe about weeds that grow on a heath and make it impossible to plant rye, and sails off into big allegorical country with a single bravado postulate. "Let the 'thin harvest' {of the poem} be the achievement of the young author," he says, "the 'wither'd ears' their books, then the 'militant thistles' represent politics, the 'nodding poppies' day-dreams, conversation, drink and other narcotics, the 'blue Bugloss' is the clarion call of journalism, the 'slimy mallow' that of worldly success, the 'charlock' is sex with its obsessions and the 'clasping tares' are the ties of domesticity." And he goes on to discuss each of them, one by one, in admirably succint chapters. That I found interesting. It's food for thought, and I can recommend reading it.

  • Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
    2018-09-14 14:56

    In the first part of this book, Connolly examines the dual trends of stripped-down, vernacular storytelling and elevated, stylistically ambitious prose in early 20th-century novels. He looks at the strengths and weaknesses of both styles and proposes a synthesis. It's interesting stuff, rendered dated in its prescriptions by the fact that the dam was about burst - a vast array of styles far beyond the elitist 'mandarin' or demotic 'vernacular' of his analysis were to explode on the literary scene. And yet, the essential ebb and flow of forces of stylistic complication and simplification are still a valid way to view literary history. In the second part, he lists the factors that can prevent a writer from realising his promise. Some of these are largely valid and others seem a bit ridiculous - try telling Shirley Jackson that a pram in the hallway is the writer's worst enemy! His analysis of the alleged limitations of a homosexual writer are ludicrous and there is a tacit assumption that the promising writer is male, despite his acknowledgment of the existence of Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes. The thing with all his enemies of promise, is that I can list writers who have realised their promise despite them, but still Connolly does provide a useful list of things that the indisciplined or simply insufficiently driven or inspired writer can use as ways to drift away from writing. The third section is a memoir of his youth which serves as a fascinating study of the mores of a world that vanished with the world wars, an interesting study in self-analysis and a useful complement to his classmate George Orwell's memories of some of the same aspects. A very mixed book with some streaks of totally brilliant analysis and much that is contentious at best. Definitely a mandarin book, style-wise!

  • Eric
    2018-09-13 18:01

    Just finished Part I, the witty survey of English literary trends, feuds and factions from 1890 until 1938. The copy I have is a library one, so I may not proceed until I can buy my own markable copy. Connolly has such an aphoristic style--at times I'm conscious of reading through filler before the zinger--that I need to read him with pen in hand.

  • Mark
    2018-08-29 15:47

    William Boyd said of this: "Somehow manages to enshrine in his words and life everything that we aspire to, and that intellectually ennobles us, and all that is weak and worst in us as well."

  • Clark Hays
    2018-08-29 14:55

    “There is but one crime, to escape from our talent.”Cyril Connolly (1903 – 1974) was a British reviewer, critic and writer of distinction. Connolly’s Unquiet Grave — a despondent meditation on creativity, and existence, in a world challenged by the destruction of World War II — is one of my favorite books. I finally got around to ordering Enemies of Promise, first published in 1938 and designed to solve the problem of how to write an enduring book — by his count, one that stands for at least a decade. The book is split into three major parts. The first is an audit of British writing, tracing the rise and fall of some of the well-known authors and poets (many of whom were not familiar to me) as well as their main styles of writing. This section really brought to life Connolly’s breadth of knowledge related to the landscape of English letters. The second part is focused on advice for how writers can live up to their own promise and produce a lasting work — this includes some of the pitfalls they must avoid. As an author and a reader, I found this section enlightening and at time maddening, given the similar challenges facing writers then and now. The third section is a personal history of his time at Eton, a boy’s school, and the tremendous psychological torture he endured that shaped his later career. As this book makes clear, Connolly had an admirable grasp on the history of creative writing, especially in England, and offered some keen insights for writers that still ring true today. And, best of all, he has a unique, lyrical but imminently approachable style that makes his writing sing and spotlights the agile workings of an impossibly sharp mind.“Writing is a more impure art than music or painting. It is an art, but it is also the medium in which millions of inartistic people express themselves, describe their work, sell their goods, justify their conduct, propagate their ideas. It is the vehicle of all business and propaganda.” “At the present time for a book to be produced with any hope of lasting half a generation, of outliving a dog or a car, of surviving the lease of a house or the life of a bottle of champagne, it must be written against the current, in a prose that makes demands both on the resources of our language and the intelligence of the reader.” “Our language is a sulky and inconstant beauty and at any given moment it is important to know what liberties she will permit.” “To-day, the forces of life and progress are ranging on one side, those of reaction and death on the other. We are having to choose between democracy and fascism, and fascism is the enemy of art.” “…drunkenness is a substitute for art; it is in itself a low form of creation.”I love his suggestion that readers who enjoy a book get in the habit of sending a small tip or other token of appreciation to the author. That is a trend I certainly wish had caught on (though I’d settle for honest reviews)!The third section about life at boy’s school, though it gave me my favorite line in the book — “I have always disliked myself at any given moment; the total of such moments is my life.” — was an odd addition. It certainly presented tragic insights into the cruelty of those days, but did little to get to the core question of how to write a book that endures. Setting aside the curious — but moving — excursion into Pink Floyd-level schoolboy terrors, did Connolly’s book meet the very challenge he set out to resolve? Probably. Though his name and reputation aren’t exactly well-known almost 80 years later, there’s much of value to be found in his writing (once you get past the, what seems now, stilted and mostly masculine language) for writers, and artists of all stripes. Not only did Connolly make a life and a career out of thinking seriously and deeply about literature and creativity, he also seemed — scarred by the loss of life accompanying WWII — almost prescient in his defense of art and his despair at a world willing to risk everything for, ultimately, nothing: “At present the realities are life and death, peace and war, fascism and democracy; we are in a world which may soon become unfit for humans to live in.”Artistic work may not last longer than the life of a bottle of champagne, but it seems despair about the short-sightedness of global politics — if we can’t learn the lessons Connolly laid out 80 years ago — will always endure.

  • Augusta
    2018-08-23 16:47

    This is a book written by a very well-known literary critic and journalist, Cyril Connolly. It sets out to address the issue of why he never became the successful author of fiction that he aspired to and that others felt he should have become.It is set in 3 parts, the first part is literary criticism. He talks in great detail about mandarin and realistic writing, analyses different writers and poets such as Hemingway, Maugham, Joyce, and a few others I haven’t heard of and talks a little about what literature and poetry will last more than 10 years and what writing will be lost in the passage of time, i.e. what components make writing last the distance. I think the idea of many successful authors who write in a way that compliments the times is a good one, the writing that appealed before the world wars will be different than writing that appeals after, because the world is a different place, the ‘tone’ of society has changed. Part 2 is quite short and refers directly to the title of the book, documenting different obstructions to a promising writer, e.g. politics, journalism, money or lack of etc.The third part is autobiographical, and documents his schooling, prep and in more in-depth, his Eton days. I was looking forward to this part but I found it the least interesting, and it is this part that made my review slump to 2 stars. Connolly is obviously incredibly nostalgic about his Eton days, and I don’t feel I grasped many insights into why he didn’t publish a successful novel from hearing about all of his friendships and the boys he loved, in great detail. I think the problem here is that all of his friends proceeded to be venerable figures in the literary world of that time, but I haven’t heard of any of them aside from Orwell, so was vastly uninterested in who Cyril’s favourite was the month.The only insight I did get from this part was when he was discussing that Eton created a kind of false world for its pupils, an insulated world involved in its classical history and literature and its medals and its hierarchy, where many of the students flourished, but that it doesn’t prepare a boy for the real world and a boy’s Eton’s days can end up being his best days. However, I still wasn’t interested in a detailed account and reminisce of his Eton days, and there was very little discussion about how this changed him in any meaningful way. I think perhaps a lot of my complaints here can be attributed to the dating of this book but considering in the first part, Connolly was discussing successful writing that DOESN’T date, you’d think he could have avoided it himself. I can tell from parts of his writing and what I’ve read about him that he was an incredibly interesting man and writer but I just didn’t see enough of it in this book.

  • Jeffrey Greggs
    2018-09-11 15:00

    Connolly is a true pleasure to read. Pay no attention to his complaints—those Eton-types were chaps who could turn a phrase or two. Book I provides a detailed round-up of early 20th C prose as seen through the dialectic of mandarin and vernacular style. Book II is a marvel. It's not on the curriculum of any MFA programs that I am aware of (for the obv. reasons), but it could easily be the sole text in a course listed as "Literary Ambition & Its Discontents." Gotta love Book III too; Connolly puts his lesson plan into use to see if he measures up. (Critic, write thyself.) The autobiographical sketch of boyhood in England's finest schools is reminiscent of—and provides a nice counterpoint to—Orwell's on the same topic.

  • Simon Akam
    2018-09-09 16:59

    A secondhand edition of this book, first published in 1938, has sat on my shelves since I finished university - I finally got around to reading it following a deadline at the end of last year. The delay was probably necessary, but approached now I did indeed find - as many have before me - that Connolly's book said more about the practise of being a writer, and the pitfalls that surround it, than any other single volume. Highly recommended.

  • Mark
    2018-08-29 20:02

    A time capsule of sorts, assessing the novelists of early-to-mid 20th-century Britain, what it takes to write a novel (according to Connolly, who admittedly never did), and ending with a short memoir of Connolly's schooldays and rise to prominence as a critic. Perhaps nothing more than a curiosity these days, but I enjoy the immersion in a bygone literary world.

  • Anne Lovett
    2018-09-09 20:54

    A classic, long out of print. Should be read by every aspiring writer--at least, Part II. The middle section deserves five stars--it's an irreverent riff on the enemies that lurk to derail the train of focus that writers need to produce a work that "lasts ten years."

  • Denis
    2018-09-05 16:56

    Overall, the book is a relic of the past but the quotes and vignettes it contains (of friendships, characters, feelings, styles) are eternal. It includes an autobiography, but it's more valuable as the biography of a generation.

  • Lewis Manalo
    2018-09-05 22:01

    The essay section on writing is required for readers as well as writers, but at this point the coming-of-age memoir doesn't offer much you haven't already read - though it does say what George Orwell was like in high school.

  • Elizabeth Bradley
    2018-08-27 17:00

    One half literary criticism, one half clear-eyed and brutal analysis of his days at Eton. Addictive, if maybe a little too aphoristic. You start to feel foolish when you find yourself underlining something every page...

  • Ken
    2018-09-10 20:41

    Interesting. The three parts are - not to spoil it for anyone - entirely different. The third is not about literature but is an autobiographical essay - mostly about boys schools and Eton.

  • James
    2018-09-13 13:52

    A must read for aspiring writers, but skip chapter one. Most of the authors he discusses are unknown today.

  • Haengbok92
    2018-09-14 14:48

    Very interesting, detailed and offers excellent insight into the history of writing.