William Gerhardie

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William Alexander Gerhardie (21 November 1895 – 15 July 1977)[1] was a British (Anglo-Russian) novelist and playwright.

William Gerhardie by Norman Ivor Lancashire (1927-2004). Photograph by Stella Harpley

Gerhardie (or Gerhardi: he added the 'e' in later years as an affectation) was one of the most critically acclaimed English novelists of the 1920s (Evelyn Waugh told him 'I have talent, but you have genius'). H.G. Wells also championed his work. His first novel, Futility, was written while he was at Worcester College, Oxford and drew on his experiences in Russia fighting (or attempting to fight) the Bolsheviks, along with his childhood experiences visiting pre-revolutionary Russia. Some say that it was the first work in English to fully explore the theme of 'waiting' later made famous by Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot, but it is probably more apt to recognize a common comic nihilism between those two figures. His next novel, The Polyglots, is probably his masterpiece (although some argue for Doom). Again it deals with Russia (Gerhardie was strongly influenced by the tragi-comic style of Russian writers such as Chekhov about whom he wrote a study while in College).

He collaborated with Hugh Kingsmill on the biography The Casanova Fable, his friendship with Kingsmill being both a source of conflict over women and a great intellectual stimulus.

After World War II Gerhardie's star waned, and he became unfashionable. Although he continued to write, he published no new work after 1939. After a period of poverty-stricken oblivion, he lived to see two 'definitive collected works' published by Macdonald (in 1947-49 and then revised again in 1970-74). An idiosyncratic study of world history between 1890 and 1940 ("God's Fifth Column") was discovered among his papers and published posthumously. More recently, both Prion and New Directions Press have been reissuing his works.

Asked how to say his name, he told the Literary Digest "Pronounced jer (as Ger in Gerald) hardy, with the accent on the a: jer-har'dy. This is the way I and my relatives pronounce it, though I am told it is incorrect. Philologists are of the opinion that it should be pronounced with the g as in Gertrude. I believe they are right. I, however, cling to the family habit of mispronouncing it. But I do so without obstinacy. If the world made it worth my while I would side with the multitude." [2]

The contemporary British novelist William Boyd has identified Gerhardie, along with Cyril Connolly, as key inspirations for the central character (the writer Logan Mountstuart) in his 2002 novel Any Human Heart.[3] A television adaptation was released in the UK in 2010, and in the US in 2011.

Selected works[edit]

  • Futility (1922, 2012) Cobden Sanderson.
  • The Polyglots (1925, 2013) Cobden Sanderson.
  • Doom (1928) Duckworth. Also published as Jazz and Jasper, Eva's Apples, My Sinful Earth.
  • Memoirs of a polyglot: The autobiography of William Gerhardie (1931)
  • Resurrection (1934) Cassell.
  • God's Fifth Column: A Biography of the Age 1890-1940 (1981) Simon and Schuster.

References[edit]

  1. ^ BookRags
  2. ^ Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.
  3. ^ http://www.bookbrowse.com/author_interviews/full/index.cfm?author_number=851.

External links[edit]

Critical Studies[edit]

D.Davies. (1991) William Gerhardie: A Biography. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-282852-5