The Letters of Kingsley Amis
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In 1954, Kingsley Amis grabbed the attention of the literary world as one of the Angry Young Men with his first novel Lucky Jim. He maintained a public image of blistering intelligence, savage wit, and belligerent fierceness of opinion until his death in 1995. In his letters, he confirms the legendary aspects of his reputation, and much more. This collection contains more than eight hundred letters that divulge the secrets of the artist and the man, with an honesty and immediacy rare in any biography or memoir.
Amis, so assured in his pronouncements on fellow writers, grapples privately with fears, self-doubts, ambitions, and personal disasters. He is wildly funny, indulging in mordant gossip and astonishing frankness with his intimate friends and lovers. Some letters are dashed off with signature frustration; others are written with painstaking and painful circumspection. They make vivid the triumphs and tumult of his life and his times, from post-war Britain through the Thatcher era, as well as his attractions to women, jazz, drink, and the comic possibilities of the English language.
As an intellectual pugilist who took no prisoners, Kingsley Amis had few peers. These letters, at times scandalous, at times tragic, reinforce his historical relevance and literary stature.
pursued by the elderly ‘sadist gentleman’. 1. Amis has typed every ‘ECHO’ in red, as also the named poets (from ‘Milton’ to ‘Wordsworth’). 2. PTO – Amis was at the end of the page. 3. A pub in Oxford; David Williams was a contemporary at St John’s, one of ‘The Seven’. 4. Larkin’s and Amis’s letters of the period often (as here) include drawings of lecherous priests and preachers and nubile Willow Gables schoolgirls. 1. Amis has circled ‘to be quite honest’ in pen and drawn an arrow to the MS
and Moore (especially HIM) just DONT SEE is …’). They certainly seemed full of vim and vigour compared with the stuff we write nowadays. But that’s not what I was going to say. Reading those letters, and reflecting on the poems, made me cast my mind back. Do you remember, old trencherman, reading my sheaf of poems in John’s (that room I had in the North Quad) sometime in late ’45 or early ’46, and sang you liked them on the whole, and thought they were quite good? And I put I W D A F Y2 on the
your novel, though I’ve forgotten (if I ever knew) what ‘the Leicester one’ was going to be.2 Will write properly in a day or two. I enclose two copies of our standard bum, Kingsley [ALS: Bodleian] TO HILARY RUBINSTEIN – 6 MAY 1953 24 The Grove, Uplands, Swansea Dear Hilary, It was very nice seeing you on Friday; we must certainly fix something up when I reappear in London. I enclose your form, though I’m afraid I can’t be very helpful. I’m getting a friend of mine who’s a quite crafty
not pleasure. Don’t take that too seriously, though. No doubt I shall be fudging something up by the end of the summer, about a Welsh provincial university or something. What do you do when you run out of backgrounds? I’ve done Berkhamsted and carledge life, I won’t do Oxford, the Ormy is more or less out of the question – I didn’t do any fighting and I’ve forgotten what I did do – which leaves only bourgeois life in Swansea, and that’s really too boring to do. Thank you for all the nice things
but he evidently went just the same. The latest Lefty idea is that Mrs T’s Falklands activities set Begin going in Lebanon (see that bugger E.P. Thompson4 on TV last night, complaining there’s no free speech in England). The reporting of the Beirut massacre,5 which I’m sure most people here think as a result was actually performed by the Israelis, was typical. Especially – wouldn’t you know? – the Observer. I looked at its front page for a couple of minutes that day before dashing up to shit and