XFX: High Camp and Fairy Tales

Let’s consider an author that is not included in many “must read” lists:  Ronald Firbank (1886-1926)

[From the cover material on the New Directions volume titled Five Novels by Ronald Firbank.]

“A person who dislikes Ronald Firbank,” quipped W. H. Auden, “may, for all I know, possess some admirable quality, but I do not wish ever to see him again.” Edmund Wilson pronounced him “one of the finest writers of his period.”

Firbank lived a life of exquisite, if lonely, leisure. He composed all his novels on postcards in his countless hotel rooms, always lavish with flowers. His moves were impulsive—”Tomorrow I go to Haytil They say the President is a Perfect Dear!” ran on telegram to a surprised friend. At a dinner party given in his honor, the pathologically shy author refused to consume anything more than a single pea.

His no less eccentric creations, Parvula de Panzoust and her guest Eulalia Thoroughfare of Valmouth, dine of “salmis of cockscombs saignant with Béchamel sauce.” In The Artificial Princess, a queen with a passion for motoring roars about her real for hours with her crown on. The Flower Beneath the Foot, Prancing Nigger, and Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli are also included in the volume [with an introduction by Osbert Sitwell].

New Directions publishes a second collection by Ronald Firbank called 3 More Novels. Here is a portion of the back-cover information from that volume:

Three More Novels is a series of animated tableaus filled with beautiful, eccentric women pursuing pleasure in the most wicked, perverse, irresponsible ways, written by an extraordinary Englishman who dared to be as original in his book sas he was in his life. So cleverly and wittily are the stories told that we sense we belong in the charmed café society of post-1918 Britain, and life seems, as Ernest Jones says in the critical introduction, ” a Nirvana in which homosexuals are the ultimate chic and in which … almost everyone turns out to be at least bi-sexual.”

I have just started reading this author who is new to me and I suspect somewhat obscure to most readers. The collections were originally published just after WWII and are now available in paperback reprints from New Directions. The novels are mostly quite short and are designed to make the reader smile and be amused at all times. I understand that there is a new interest in Firbanks, possibly with the opening interest in gay writing, but also for the somewhat satirical view of post-WWI society from a rather unique observer of the human condition.

What are your thoughts on this?

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