Classic Amis

by Barry Baldwin

One of the twentieth-century's great literary friendships was that between novelist-poet Kingsley Amis and poet-novelist Philip Larkin, best evidenced for present purposes in the former's Memoirs (London: Hutchinson, 1991, 51-64) and Letters (ed. Zachary Leader, London: 2000). Larkin's side comes out in his Selected Letters (ed. Anthony Thwaite, London: Faber & Faber, 1992), and the biographies by Andrew Motion (London: Faber & Faber, 1993) and Richard Bradford (London: Peter Owen, 2005).

While agreeing on most things (jazz, literature, the virtues of Margaret Thatcher), they were poles apart on the values of a classical education and its place in their own writings. Larkin frequently derided this, for example in the preface to his Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (1973) and Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982 (London: Faber & Faber, 1983): "I have no belief in a common myth-kitty. To me the whole of the ancient world, the whole of classical tradition and biblical mythology, means very little, and I think that using them today not only fills poems full of dead spots but dodges the poet's duty to be original." Larkin was duly taken to task over this in Jasper Griffin's 1984 T.S.Eliot Memorial Lectures (The Mirror of Myth, London: Faber & Faber, 1985), albeit with the admission that Eliot himself had been criticised by classicist-poet Peter Levi for "going somewhat overboard" on the Graeco-Roman references.

Perhaps out of friendship and tact, the epistolary Amis occasionally goes along, for instance sending to Larkin the draft of a poem that includes a mocking mention of the Parthenon with accompanying ridicule of the Graeco-Roman "bum" in Joyce's Ulysses, and dismissing W.R.Rodgers' poem Europa and the Bull (1952) as "cordon-bleu shite, vertiginous piss."

"Serio-comedy is the formula", wrote Amis to Hilary Rubinstein, his Lucky Jim editor. In I Want It Now London: Cape, 1968), a novel partly set in Greece, protagonist Ronnie Appleyard, gazing at an ancient temple, asks his girl friend whose it is:

"Oh, who cares? All over and done with, isn't it?"

The new pissiness, he thought. An older pissiness would have tried to make him feel inferior for not knowing about Homer and Venus and Plato and Euclid. Well, times changed. You could say that for them. Later on, in the American South, Ronnie arrives at her mother's mansion featuring "a portico two storeys high, incorporating pillars Grecian in inspiration (God, thought Ronnie, not again, not here)," a reaction soon reinforced by his hostess' neo-classical architectural pride: "I think you'll be impressed. We have some very gracious buildings in our city. Our court-house is based on a reconstruction of the temple of the goddess Diana at Ephesus, Greece."

"Isn't that interesting?" said Ronnie hoarsely. Was he never, not for so long as an evening, to get away from the glory that had been Greece? There's a distinction between the genuine and the ersatz. Amis had just been to Greece and sent this report to a friend: "We found ourselves near Delphi and so had to go there. Really massively, authentically unimpressive. With the exception of a small treasure-house that had clearly fallen over at one stage, had been cannibalised for its marble and then put up again with a good deal of early 20th century material incorporated, the whole thing is a heap of rubble. Oh, there was a theatre, but not of the right period apparently. And a sort of holy stream which a lot of people ceremonially drank from - not I, deeming the content of goat-turds, peasants' piss, etc to be too high for comfort."

The American section of the novel draws heavily on Amis' four-month lecturing stint the previous year (1967) at Vanderbilt University (some of it is reproduced verbatim in his Memoirs), most relevantly the (in)famous Nashville re-creation of the Parthenon, curtly dismissed: "Unlike the one in Athens, Greece, it has a roof on it."

Lucky Jim Dixon's one remembered classical attribute is his Sex Life in Ancient Rome face; cf. a note (1946) to Larkin: "Remind me to do a Caesar and Cleopatra for you." I once saw Amis do this on television; it mimics a Satyr's lecherous grin with mind-boggling accuracy. Though he claims not to have seen it (admission price too steep, a reason the penny-pinching Larkin would appreciate), one possible inspiration may lurk in a letter (1953) apropos the Swansea premiere of the movie Quo Vadis? : "These Roman pornographic things are never any good for my money."

Though stumped over some pictures depicting "scenes from a remoter past -Spartan? Macedonian? Roman?" - Dixon can recall "some Greek or Latin tag about God not being able to abolish historical fact." It is equally in character for him to apply this to "the historical fact of his drinking out of Christine's coffee-cup" and not to identify the precise source: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 6.2.1139b, attributes it to the playwright and prose-writer Agathon (c. 446-401 BC).

This is not the only time the gorgeous Christine evokes classical stirrings in Dixon: "He'd read somewhere, or been told, that somebody like Aristotle or I.A.Richards had said that the sight of beauty makes us want to move towards it. Aristotle or I.A.Richards had been wrong about that, hadn't he?" - not to mention the likes of Plato, Symposium 207b. What a shame that Amis (letter to Larkin, 1951) doesn't pass on C.S. Lewis' explanation why "pornographic bookshops always have Aristotle in the window."

His many large and small classical-erotic connections provide a significant gloss to Zachary Leader's essay (Times Literary Supplement, August 29, 2003) on how Amis' characters "got the sex thing licked." Three novels (four, counting Difficulties with Girls, London: Hutchinson, 1988) feature libidinous classicists: Take a Girl Like You (London: Gollancz, 1960), Jake's Thing (London: Hutchinson, 1978), You Can't Do Both (London: Hutchinson, 1994). In the last one, Robin Davies, to suppress a public erection, "Had to think about Gilbert Murray's translation of the Medea for several minutes."

Roger Micheldene, his One Fat Englishman (London: Gollancz, 1963), drawing on Amis' Princeton period (1958-1959), "falls back on Greek and Latin," reciting this medley of Virgil and grammatical paradigms to defer ejaculation:

Conticuere omnes, intentique ora tenebant. Inde toro pater Aeneas sic fatus ab alto: "Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem; sed...Hell: colle sub aprico celeberrimus ilice lucus...Oh God - hic haec hoc hic haec hoc yes yes now hunc hanc hunc three huiuses three huics hoc hac hoc ...Get on with it - hi hae haec then straight on to the Greek irregulars esthio and good old blosko-molumai...

Eric Jacobs' biography of Amis (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995) reproduces a holiday snapshot in which his soon-to-be-estranged wife Hilly has lipsticked on Kingsley's back "1 Fat Englishman. I fuck anything." Another Micheldene source is this exchange in Amis' piece (London Observer, January 3, 1960) on Englishmen abroad:

"And what do you happen to be working on?"

"Sir, the Aeneid of Virgil."

"Really? Tell me, what state do you come from?"

"I'm a Texan, sir."

"Really? Ha, ha, I must say I find the notion of an Easterner working on Virgil interesting; a West-Coaster would be amusing, but a TEXAN - it's simply GROTESQUE."

Not only Americans will sympathise with the local who tells Micheldene, "Dura lex sed lex, old man, which is Iroquois for Why don't you go back to your island and stay there. Good night." Amis would later recycle this in a 1975 letter: "Satis sufficit, old man, which is Iroquois for that's as much as I'm going to tell you."

At Peterhouse College (1961-1963), where Amis was chiefly notable for F.R.Leavis' absurd characterisation of him as a "pornographer", the only Cantabrigian classicist memorialised by him is A.G. (Guy) Lee, Fellow of St. John's, who asked him for the worksheet and manuscript of his poem Waking Beauty. But, over at Gonville & Caius was the formidable Latinist (officially, Lecturer in Tibetan) David Roy Shackleton Bailey, to whom his ex-wife Hilly was married in 1967. In keeping with his policy of reticence over private matters, Amis omits Bailey from his Memoirs, nor is he mentioned in a brief congratulatory note to Hilly on her engagement. However, in another note (unindexed by Leader), he writes "Fine to see you and old Shack, who I thought was a very good bloke." I doubt this good opinion persisted: Bailey was notoriously too miserly to stand anyone a drink, just about the ultimate crime in Amis' eyes. Moreover, Amis had recently satirised in Take a Girl Like You Bailey's kind of textual scholarship where Patrick Standish, waiting to seduce Jenny Bunn, stumbles upon this long-abandoned textual note, a scene that may have influenced the cognate one in John Wain's Strike the Father Dead (1962):

What the hell was this? He unfolded the battered sheets with foreboding and read: More recent editors, but first advanced by Otto, that we have here a short lacuna. Although Otto's views are always worthy of respect, on this occasion he appears to have reached out too eagerly for the traditional versus nonnullos excidisse credo lifebelt. Further, he was not aware, as we are, that MS G is not derived from M via A, but descends from the authoritative P. Retention of the G and A reading admittedly involves us in a form of anacoluthon to which elegiac verse affords no exact parallel. However, we read at Metamorphoses oh christ why has Thackeray still got my copy cant he get one of his own why cant he learn the mean sodding calibans deathmask of a.

The couple moved to America, where Shackleton Bailey held chairs at Ann Arbor and Harvard. He in no way conforms to the Amisian fictional type of satyr-classicist, indeed was perhaps the polar opposite. The nuptials had amazed his Cambridge colleagues, to whom he had seemed the archetypal bachelor. Eric Jacobs speculates that he may have been a virgin until married. A seemingly ill-assorted pair, their union did not last.

An agreeable Oxford chum of Amis was classicist Graham Parkes, who wrote Greek proses to the accompaniment of jazz: "What a nice fellow: nothing to offend." On the other hand, "Afraid I never had anything to do with old Bowra" (to Hilary Rubinstein) sounds unregretful, albeit some twenty years later Amis asked boon companion Robert Conquest to supplement a list of "rich and fashionable dons to give the flavour of that side of passed away Oxford life. So far, I have Bowra and Coghill." Conquest came up with Richard Dawkins, Bywater & Sotheby Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language and Literature. Patrick Standish compiles a cricket team of big names, including Cicero, a fictional variant on the 'Bad Men' Eleven (no classical personnel) in a 1946 note to Larkin. In his own Oxford years, wartime and post-war austerity ones, Amis saw little of this and, being in his card-carrying Red period, would have been bound to deplore any remnants, albeit someone (Noel Annan, I think) once observed that it was all right to be a communist in 1930s Oxford provided one could afford the life-style.

In Conquest-Amis' The Egyptologists (London: Cape, 1965), a group of sex-mad men hide behind this antiquarian cover. There are some lethally precise parodies of Egyptian religious texts, also a mock professorial lecture of the kind we have all endured in real life, whose general babble includes "Swisser-Swatter se Divine Wives of Amun." Not mere phonetic foolery, this illustrates authorial literary-linguistic sharpness. Not in the Oxford English Dictionary, the onomatopoeia comes from John Aubrey's description in Brief Lives of a serving-wench being enjoyed by Sir Walter Raleigh up against a tree: "At last, as the danger and the pleasure at the same time grew higher, she cryed in the extasey Swisser Swatter Swisser Swatter."

A cognate nicety. Standish's noisy car is nicknamed 'Boanerges'. So was Michael Redgraves' "thunderous motorbike," according to Alan Strachan's biography Secret Dreams (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, p.99). Amis may or may not have known the actor, but he did praise (to Larkin, 1951) Redgrave's playing of the tragic classics master Andrew Crocker-Harris in Rattigan's The Browning Version, especially his reaction to the gift of the Agamemnon translation from his pupil Taplow.

An early (1958) letter to Conquest (cf. New Maps of Hell, London: Gollancz, 1960, p.27) declares Lucian's True Story to be the first real Science Fiction novel. When applying to Amis for help with a Latin epigraph (1980), Conquest addresses him as "you classical sod." Four years earlier, Amis had sent to Conquest a frank disquisition on such Roman sexual practices as copulatio penibus, fellatio, and irrumatio, the kind of thing A.E. Housman kept in a Gibbonian "decent obscurity of a learned tongue" in his notorious Praefanda article, suppressed at the eleventh hour by the Classical Quarterly and published (1930) in the more tolerant German journal Hermes.

Amis rounds off, "I say, what a lot of filth, but it does show the polish a classical education puts on a chap. This evokes Ezra Pound's "The thought of what America would be like if the Classics had a wide circulation keeps me awake at night." Amis twice (to Conquest, 1979, and Memoirs ) recalls his schoolmaster C.J.Ellingham's article exposing Pound's Latin deficiencies in a 1938 issue of Greece & Rome. Ellingham was then joint-editor of G&R: Standish filches his Gracchi background material out of one; Jake Richardson hunts for back copies. In fact, I can see no sign of this article - a request for information from the current editors has gone unanswered.

There are other Homeric noddings. Robin Davies (You Can't Do Both) is plagued by Bury's History of Rome. As far as I know, there is no such book (it is in no Bury bibliography that I have seen); he probably means Cary's. The Riverside Villas Murder (London: Cape, 1973) mentions a museum's Syracusan tetragram, an error for tetradrachm, as Amis wrigglingly admits to Anthony Thwaite who pointed out the slip. When he wrote (The Amis Collection, London: Hutchinson, 1990) that Virgil would have hit back at his critics, "had reviewing flourished in classical Rome," he forgets that it DID flourish there and that Suetonius records Virgil's ripostes and planned book of rebuttals. At Swansea, Amis got a "bollocking" for writing in a Daily Express article (September 14, 1957) "Few of my colleagues are barbarians in wire-rimmed glasses; fewer still are tremulous Greek-quoting ninnies." His digs-mate W.R. ('Willie') Smyth will have relished this barb. Though his intoning of Greek and Latin to a shaving or lecture-grubbing Amis was unwelcome (to Larkin, 1949), he gets a warmish Memoirs write-up: "Not a bad digs-mate. An eccentric Latinist, a Dubliner, a furious cigarette-smoker," whose passion for Latin (Smyth published articles on the likes of Propertius and Statius) "put him rather on his own in a department full of Graecists and, within a few years, under a professor who favoured teaching the classics in translation." This was G.B.Kerferd, a specialist in the Pre-Socratics, who later moved to a chair at Manchester. The incumbent was Benjamin Farrington, never mentioned in the Swansea letters, one reason being his Marxism, which the now apostate Amis excoriated in a letter (February 14, 1957 - a poisoned Valentine indeed) to the Daily Worker , complaining of communist professor Arnold Kettle's review of his Socialism and the Intellectuals pamphlet - I have explored all this in my foreword to the new edition (Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 2001) of Farrington's Head and Hand in Ancient Greece.

Smyth is a model of sorts for the "veteran Ulsterman" Latinist who offers Robin Davies "useful tips" on sex with students at their "university college in the English Midlands." One runs "Nobody who cannot distinguish between in medias res and in mediis rebus is to be taken seriously." This consorts with Amis' description of Smyth as "pedantic, pernickety, letting nothing inaccurate go by," qualities which when allied to his ugliness spoiled his chances with women, characteristics of both Dixon's academic colleage Alfred Beesley and Standish's flat-mate Graham McClintoch.

In his posthumous (London: Hutchinson, 1997) The King's English, Amis insists on the value of classical languages, perhaps partly for the benefit of author-son Martin, a person of self-confessed small Latin and no Greek. Berks are distinguished from wankers thus: "Berks speak in a slipshod way, with dropped Hs, intruded glottal stops, and many mistakes in grammar. Left to them, English would die of impurity, like late Latin."

In 1950, Amis (to Larkin) wrote a snatch of dog-Latin ("Costin, me nolente" = I don't like Costin) to mock an Oxford enemy. One young wanker saved by schoolboy Latin is Peter Furneaux (The Riverside Villas Murder, London: Cape, 1973), when interrogated by a police chief:

"You read Latin, do you?"

"Yes, sir, a little."

"You've a good memory. It must be all those Latin verbs. What's the supine of constituo?"

"Constitutum, sir."

"You're the sort of witness a policeman dreams about."

"Glad I did Classics" (a 1958 letter). Amis twice (1984, 1986) told correspondents Take a Girl Like You was his favourite, "the only book of mine I have contemplated a sequel to" (forgetting? suppressing? the abandoned Lucky Jim in Portugal, partly realised by I Like It Here, London: Gollancz, 1958, "by common consent my worst novel."). Patrick Standish's Latin was muted in the BBC television version and in a much older movie transmogrified into painting, a double insult when you remember Bernard Welch in Lucky Jim. Even his arch-enemy, the headmaster's secretary, concedes "You're a good teacher and I've nothing against you on that score." He mugs up Horace for class, quoting Nil admirari prope res est una, Numici , and is seen "taking, or rather hauling, the Junior Sixth through not nearly enough of In Marcum Antonium II," generating this address to Cicero's shade: "I'll patres conscripti you. I'll give you ut ita dicam. And what makes you so proud of esse videatur, eh? Shakespeare had your number all right." For a man so long and thoroughly dead it was remarkable how much boredom, and also how precise an image of nasty silliness, Cicero could generate. "Antony was worth twenty of you, you bastard," - this last sally has served me well as an exam question.

The undergraduate Patrick had won a medal for Latin Verse, an activity commended in The King's English. When drunk (a fellow-roysterer informs him), he "kept repeating a poem by Martial or some gagster." Jake Richardson (sober) does the same, to annoy his wife's classically-named friend Alcestis. He describes a sexual bout as "an excerpt from the Ars Amatoria. His mental response to a dim-witted one night stand's scorn of foreign food is "As well go on respecting Robinson Ellis after Housman had finished with him. Similarly, when she uninterestedly parries a physical compliment: "He might just as well have said, Dies in the singular Common we decline. But its plural cases are always masculine," remembered from the venerable Kennedy's Latin Primer. In Difficulties With Girls, Patrick has moved into London publishing. Amis circumvents this implausible switch by simply recording the "awed" industry reaction to the board chairman "who on a couple of hours' acquaintance went and hired a schoolmaster who taught Latin." This hardly fits with his put-down of Patrick at an editorial meeting: " You must always keep trying to remember, dear boy, you're not publishing for the Latin Sixth. That's it in a nutshell." Patrick's reason for taking the job is more interesting: advice from his headmaster that "Latin's on the skids," forecasting that when Patrick retires in 1996, "even if there's anything left of it by that time, you'll have been fighting a losing battle for ages before then," a pessimism felt by many real-life classicists, also an instructive pendant to Amis' more notorious "More means worse" prophecy (first aired, it is often forgotten, in Lucky Jim) for higher education.

"Jake Richardson is a deliberate reformulation of Jim Dixon" (Amis, letter, 1985). This Oxford Hellenist's difficulty with girls is his dwindling libido and bouts of impotence, themes both classical and autobiographical. Amis wrote (1979) to Larkin that he was suffering "a total loss of sex-drive. I haven't had a fuck for more than a year or a wank for over a month. Don't tell anyone." Larkin and others might have thought Amis had already told the world, both in this novel and the contemporaneous poem Senex:

To find his sexual drives had ceased
For Sophocles was no disaster;
He said he felt like one released
From service with a cruel master.
I envy him - I miss the lash
At which I used to snort and snivel;
Oh, that its unremitted lash
Were still what makes me drone and drivel.

Jake's academic thing is also running down. Near 60, he is coasting towards retirement. His chosen field was "Greek colonisation from the 1st Olympiad to the fall of Athens, developments in which he tried fairly hard and with fair success to keep up, and did a sporadic something about the, to him, increasingly dull mass of the rest; but he hadn't revised his lectures and his seminar material except in detail, and not much of that, for how long? - well, he was going to say 5 years and stick to it." His first book, followed by three others (unspecified), had been on the first Greek settlements in Asia Minor (elsewhere dubbed "those sods in Asia Minor"): "They were probably enough to justify Dr Jacques Richardson's life. They were bloody well going to have to." Archaeological field-work is now confined to tax-deductible jaunts to Sicily with his wife. One article-writing ambition subsists: "He must get that bit of nonsense about Syracuse off the ground again before too long." Jake may, in fact, have been wise to vegetate. Having been informed by a sulky girl pupil that the Bodleian copy of his JPCH piece on Ionian trade-routes had been defaced by graffiti, he finds on checking that the student scholia range from "Wanker" (a bit like Bishop Arethas on Lucian) to accusations of out-dated theories and downright plagiarism ("Copied from Grossman, PAHS, vol.xlvi,p44"). One envies Jake this level of scholarly sophistication in his students - or were the rhyparographers his colleagues?

One vestige of his linguistic self does survive: his insistence on 'Agendum' over 'Agenda' as singular noun. He here sounds like Crocker Harris. For me, it evokes an old classical friend, the late Greek historian Malcolm McGregor, in whose bonnet this semantic bee loudly buzzed.

Amis' penultimate novel, You Can't Do Both, is his most autobiographical - he had intended to read Classics. It takes Robin Davies through schoolboy Greek and Latin to Oxford to a red-brick Readership, lecturing on Pindar's prosody to first-year Honours candidates, hoping to land an Oxford fellowship: "A timely, carefully pitched book on the lessser-known Greek myths, and a series of talks on the Third Programme, had strengthened his position."

His Memoirs provide Amis' own commentary. Apart from the aforementioned Ellingham, he recalls with affection his 1934 City of London School headmaster, "the great F.R.Dale, a classical scholar in the best old style. To hear him read Greek verse, observing tonic accent, metrical ictus and the run of the meaning all at once was to be given a distant view of some ideal beauty as well as to marvel at a virtuoso, When the BBC wanted someone to read Homer aloud, the chose him. He was human, too. If ever a kind of man vanished for goof, his did." In my own Sixth-Form and undergraduate days, Dale's work on Greek metrics was still read and admired. A.E.Douglas, The City of London School (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965) praises Dale as combining a Roman "unresting sense of duty" (he was a distinguished officer in The Great War) with "Sophoclean harmony and serenity of outlook."

The Memoirs also invoke Mr Copping, "who spoke with an Attic Greek accent of the 5th century - I can hear those Periclean tones now." But not H.C.Oakley, who teaches Greek history in the novel under his own name. Contemporary school reminiscences (available 'on-line') speak of his "engendering respect for learning" and his "exquisite courtesy, even to us." Robin is spellbound by his talks on Athens' Sicilian disaster, especially the siege of Syracuse with its thought-provoking conclusion on how "the history of the world might have been changed by events in a remote corner." Amis himself retained a thing about this. Apart from the earlier "tetragram" and Jake's interests, even Garnet Bowen in I Like It Here, for whom the Iliad was "a gruelling cultural monument," was reminded of Thucydides' narrative in a Portugese olive-grove: "When had that been? 415? 413? he had known once." Robin's school routine was basically my own: Caesar (though I never found him "insultingly easy"), Virgil, the Alcestis, the weekly unseens. Apart from the apparent slip over Bury, the only false note is his fear that Roman history will be boringly preoccupied with corn laws: all that fighting in Caesar should have told him otherwise and quickened his teenage blood. But he was still odd about such things at university: while waiting for his girl friend to have an abortion, "he tried to read the Anabasis, or, to give it his private alternative title, How To Fuck Up A Good Story," an opinion few would share, despite all its stades and parasangs.

At Oxford, Robin "attended a talk to the Classical Society on the non-Latin languages of ancient Italy," perhaps suggesting J. Whatmough's Foundations of Italy (1937), while other spare time "he filled in with reading a long book on the Hellenistic age, admittedly work of a kind, but of a very lowly kind, not truly justifiable unless he expected to be sitting his final exams some time in the 1950s." A key scene subsumes Greek drama and the Amisian battle of the sexes. His girl friend responds to Robin's dismissal of the "psychological absurdity" of the Alcestis with: "Any absurdity was purposeful, designed to emphasise that of the main story. The intention was to attack the subjection of women by portraying an absurdly extreme example of it." Robin's scorn of this leads to the general conclusion that "seven years study had furnished the insight that with a few exceptions, of which the Alcestis was not one, those fellows had been getting at something beyond a modern understanding, or, just as likely, had not been getting at anything in particular" - another ideal essay topic. This is a (per)version of an anonymous Oxford digs-mate's remark quoted in the Memoirs: "He had told me two things I have never forgotten. One was that at the end of a dazzling career in classics, in which he had won every award in sight, he thought he was just beginning to acquire some dim idea of what the Greek tragedians might actually have been saying and doing."

As reported by Eric Jacobs, drawing on conversations for his biography, Amis and schoolboy friend Leonard Richenberg "recognised that classics was a good education in its way, but what was the point of it? Nobody explained. It was simply taken for granted that classics was best." Richenberg stuck to classics; Amis switched to English. But this was not an intellectual or emotional apostasy. From his first book to his last, classics was part of Amis and Amis part of classics - we may compare the similar case of Simon Raven. His last letter, six weeks before death, was to the Spectator, rebuking Auberon Waugh (son of Evelyn) for preferring American usage to British - the Horatian sub-text of "Conquered Greece...Conqueror Rome" is palpable. A final note to Robert Conquest (1994) combines one of their favourite dirty limericks with criticism of his friend's grammar supported by a Greek parallel: "Kindly note they carried out, not off. Carrying off was what the Greeks did to Cassandra when they took Troy."

Unless one risks a comparison with the street thugs demanding to be taught Greek and Latin in Anthony Burgess' 1985 ("Most improbable," Amis remarked in his London Observer review), these life-long classical concerns, from school to death, from first book to last, give a resounding lie to the accusations of philistinism that have haunted Amis since Lucky Jim, typified by V.S. Pritchett's pseudonymous dismissal of him (in a 1955 New Statesman review of That Uncertain Feeling, London: Gollancz, 1955) as a "literary teddy boy."

Classic Amis
© 2006 by Barry Baldwin



About the Author

Barry Baldwin was born in 1937 and educated in England. He emigrated to Australia in 1962, re-moving to Canada in 1965, where he is Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Calgary, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has published around 30 short stories in print (magazines and book anthologies), and has a novella, "Not Cricket", in Chapbook form (Rembrandt & Company Press, USA), also in e-zines. He has been a Finalist in the Arthur Ellis Awards (Canada 1999) and the Anthony Awards (Bouchercon, 2000, USA) in the mystery short story category.


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