A LETTER TO G.S. FRASER
by Veronica Forrest-Thomson
14, Searle Street, Cambridge 19/8/74
Thank you for your long and helpful letter. I don’t know about Reading yet and am meanwhile starting to apply to schools and thinking of doing a Dip. Ed. next year if I can get a grant. The snag is that the only places still vacant are in London polytechnics and I don’t fancy trying to live on a grant in London (I spelt that, Freudianly, Lonedong). Meanwhile I get on with work — have just finished revising my Dada article for Twentieth-century Studies and am still up to the eyes in my Swinburne article. No holiday this year. I think you’re right that poetry does in the end say “Beauty is Beauty is Beauty” but this not as a conversation-stopper or in any way reducive of differences or of criticism but as a sort of background. Also emotion in literature — about the other arts I’m not so sure as they are non-verbal — is precision. The precision which gets us out of the mud-bath of mere “appreciation” and allows us to say something about the particulars of this poem and of poetry in general. My great danger is to talk about literature as if it were all poetry but I think me same is the case with novels and drama. Simplicity can only be got through complexity of technique as it is only by ‘‘thickening” the imaginative webs of formal pattern that poetry can criticise or present imaginative alternatives to the world of everyday language. Criticism’s first duty is to follow and stress the complexities and only after this is done to say, if necessary, genius is simplicity. Thus I feel more at home with English departments than Philosophy since at least the English depts. do try to trace the complexities even if they do it in an aesthetic of “truth to individual texts” aesthetic which is alien to mine. Philosophers are too apt to slight the differences between the individual arts and their stress on aesthetic emotion seems to be dangerous in isolation from particular topics and texts.
The Open University don’t want me and although I could get some supervising here in Cambridge the snag is that I really want for personal reasons (Yes, George, cherchez l’homme) to be in Oxford next year where I have few contacts. I’ve asked Blackwell’s to give me a job but had no response yet likewise O.U.P. who said maddeningly “how nice you are going to be in Oxford do give us a ring when you get there”. I shan’t get there at all unless someone gives me a job there.
I’ve investigated the Civil Service a bit but am now somewhat off it. After all if I must spend my days doing something at least let it be connected with my real interests in literature.
America alas is quite out for me (personal reasons again — my former husband was an American and I had a hellish time there before we were married) at least in the foreseeable future. Besides I don’t want to leave the country just now. Oh, well, something will have to turn up. Perhaps Reading will interview me (though they are cutting things very fine leaving interviews until September) or I shall find a nice school which won’t think me incompetent because I haven’t got a Dip. Ed.
Enclosed is my curriculum vitae which I hope will help you. I also hope though don’t quite see how at the moment that I shall see you again soon. In any case I am very grateful for your support.
Best wishes to Paddy.
P.S. — I like Cordelia* and its arrangement winds up a nice crescendo. I hope they do well with it. Edwin Morgan wrote me a very nice letter about it.
* Cordelia, or a Poem Should Not Mean But Be, was a pamphlet of Veronica’s more recent poems published by Owens Press, Leicester. Alas, it sold badly and I did not trace any reviews. -G.S.F.
This letter was first published in Jacket 20 — December 2002.