Tuesday, October 4, 2011
A Boy at the Hogarth Press - Richard Kennedy
They sat down facing us in two chairs and launched into a very profound conversation about Africa, during which I was aware of a series of creaks and then a sudden crack and, looking up, saw my shelf suddenly dip down at the corner. One or two leaflets floated gracefully down and alighted at the feet of the two men. But they continued their conversation. Another crack, the shelf dipped ominously again and more leaflets glided down, covering the carpet. But the two men continued unconcernedly puffing their pipes. ... Then, like a ship sinking, the shelf slowly started to subside, leaflets pouring off and floating down like snow flakes. I watched helplessly as they cascaded on to LW and Lord Oliver, burying them almost to their knees. They calmly rose, as if nothing had occurred, shook themselves and silently went upstairs.
Richard is sent out as a rep to sell copies of Virginia's novel, Orlando, to bookshops & experiences the life of a commercial traveller. However, when he's left in charge at the Press while the Woolfs are on holidays, his days as a publisher are numbered when he gives instructions to the paper supplier that leave Leonard in a towering rage. He gets the sack & decides to become a journalist instead.
My lovely Slightly Foxed edition of A Boy at the Hogarth Press also includes A Parcel of Time, Kennedy's memoir of his childhood. Born in 1910, Kennedy's father was killed in WWI. His mother, an Anglo-Indian girl, never gets over this grief. She misses India, has had very little education, & feels at a disadvantage with her mother-in-law, Richard's formidable grandmother. She also feels burdened by Richard & her mental fragility is often at risk of breaking down completely. Richard's Nurse is his refuge, his only source of comfort & stability.
I found this a very sad book. Richard's mother, Norah, is adrift, afraid that her mother-in-law wants to take Richard away from her but resenting the tie he represents. If only the two women could have been friends, they would all have been much happier. But, Norah is ashamed of her lack of education & Grandmother is snobbish about Norah's family & Anglo-Indian heritage. The highlight of Richard's childhood is his discovery of drawing & his complete absorption in this new skill. His grandfather had been an artist but a highly respectable Victorian painter, a member of the Royal Academy, no Pre-Raphaelite loucheness there. Once Richard discovers his talent, he knows where his future lies. He considers his education a mere detour on the way to his true calling.