Friday, 14 October 2011

More on A.E. Coppard from V.S. Pritchett and Frank O'Connor.

Frank O’Connor and V.S. Pritchett speak highly of Coppard and they are both of them masters of the short story. There’s peer review. Pritchett talks about him in an interview from 1985. I came across it looking for Irish influence in the work of Coppard. Irish characters crop up and theres a Celtic aspect. He was part of a group called the New Elizabethans in Oxford along with W.B.Yeats The universal element in folk stories which Lady Gregory and Yeats were discovering and recording seemed to grasp that chthonic power which eluded the over elaborate productions of the modern mind. James Stephens comes to mind as one tuned to the same station.

B.F.: I'd like to ask a little more about the first short stories you read. You said that in Dublin you read D.H. Lawrence and Joyce's Dubliners.

V.S.P.: Yes... yes, I read them, and I also read an English writer who is now rather forgotten but who was an extremely gifted writer of stories, in a very small compass, a man called A.E. Coppard. I admired his stories enormously. And in fact I used to know him, when I was living in the country. He was a nearby neighbour. And he was a very strange man; he was a warehouse‑man's clerk or something like that who had decided to be a writer, so he had gone out and lived in a shed in the woods in Buckinghamshire, entirely on his own, with no sanitation and his drinking water from a well, in a shallow well in the earth. And he was a natural perfectly spontaneous man, not muddle‑headed he was absolutely clear‑headed. I don't think he had any views about life in general, any kind of intellect, but he had a marvellous appreciation of the instant; he could describe a squirrel very well, he could describe a game‑keeper, he could describe a couple of old farmers arguing about whether, beef is better than veal to eat, or what pork is like, and things like that. He had a great decorative sense of comedy. He was unfortunately, when I look back upon it, a rather folkish writer; he came at a period when the peasantry were dead really and they only existed in pockets in England, in little places, and their traditional customs by that time had almost gone. It was when suburbia spread out and the countryside died. That curious old England went out. Another writer who was very good, in the same way, in his early stories, who came later, was H.E. Bates. He wrote very well, very good English, had a good style, but was also brief.
from Journal of the Short Story
journal of the short story


I can see where the folkish which has a disparaging tone could come from. There is a narrative quickness, a blending of worlds, a suspension of ordinary judgment of the probable and the possible, beggars, pilgrims and beautiful shy girls. Pritchett is a master of penny plain truth, Coppard will do you a nice tuppence coloured and thrupence de luxe. Can’t do better than that guv’. What you often get is a fragment like the flow of a stream around a rock where there is an order wrought by the nature of all the elements in the event but this order is never repeated.

Frank O’Connor in The Paris Review 1957 has this to say (
Yesterday I was finishing off a piece about my friend A. E. Coppard, the greatest of all the English storytellers, who died about a fortnight ago. I was describing the way Coppard must have written these stories, going around with a notebook, recording what the lighting looked like, what that house looked like, and all the time using metaphor to suggest it to himself, “The road looked like a mad serpent going up the hill,” or something of the kind, and, “She said so-and-so, and the man in the pub said something else.” After he had written them all out, he must have got the outline of his story, and he’d start working in all the details
paris review

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