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(12/09/2014) Doom by William Gerhardie. New York. 1975. St Martin's Press. hardcover. 275 pages. Preface by Michael Holroyd.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   The novels of William Gerhardie have their unique place in the literature of the 20’s and 30’s, and when some of them became available again. Briefly, in the late 40’s they were acclaimed afresh by the critics: ‘He is a comic writer of genius. but his art is profoundly serious; underneath the shamelessness and the farce, his themes are the great ones. of love, grief and death, of intimations of joy and of our imprisonment in the world of flesh and time.’ - C. P. Snow, The Sunday Times. ‘The humour of life, the poetry of death and the release of the spirit - these things William Gerhardie describes as no prose writer has done before him. How did he become lost to view? How can we resurrect him ? Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh. C. P. Snow, Kingsley Amis, William Cooper - all acknowledge his influence. He is one of the immortals. He is our Gogol’s Overcoat. We all come out of him.’ - Olivia Manning, The Times. Now. after being out of print for two decades, all of Mr. Gerhardie’s works are to be re-published in revised, definitive editions with prefaces by Michael Holroyd, the third generation of critics to acknowledge the important position they hold in English fiction. Doom is perhaps William Gerhardie’s wittiest novel, Its central character is based on Beaverbrook; Lord Ottercove dominates a story which combines extravagant fantasy with Fleet Street satire, and his immense energy carries along’ an entourage that includes fictional portraits of several people whom Gerhardie knew in real life, having met some of them through Beaverbrook. Arnold Bennett, who appears, was to praise Doom for its ‘wild and brilliant originality.’

William Alexander Gerhardie (1895-1977) was a British (Anglo-Russian) novelist and playwright. 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 was a ferocious champion of his work. His first novel Futility, was written while he was at Cambridge 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 who he wrote a study of while in College). He collaborated with Hugh Kingsmill on the biography ‘The Casanova Fable’, his friendship with Hugh 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, and although he continued to write, he had nothing published 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). 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, tho 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.’ (Charles Earle Funk, What’s the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936).

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