In the Wall Steet Journal, September 6-7, 2014, is a book report of Beyond the First Draft, John Casey. In the review is a quote from Casey’s book” “There is an appreciation of the Irish essayist, Hubert Butler, whom Mr. Casey rightly calls, “one of the great under appreciated writers of the twentieth century…elegant and brilliant…”
Has Casey or the reviewer ever ready any of Hubert Butler’s essays or other works? It seems unlikely. Upon reading that evaluation, I searched for Butler’s books – more than 6,000,000 in the Los Angeles County System. There were none. Pasadena bought one (selected essays, I supposed the best). But given the quality of the words and thoughts, that purchase is forfeited. UCLA had four books, most in the library reserves, 7,000,000 books known as the SRLF.
Butler is a provincial writer who inherited the family estate and didn’t have to make money so scribbled for 70 years. There’s never a sentence that is not overstocked with words. Paragraphs somewhat stick on course but drift. And throughout, Butler writes about “I,” I, I, I, I. Not many writers do that. They camouflage themselves within their stories and essays and never use I. Writers realized that use of “I” reveals poor writing and distracted story telling. Writers know that the author’s opinion and personality will emerge from any well written novel, short story, tale, essay or criticism. Indeed, using “I” is a redundancy. The reader assumes already that I – writer – author wrote it.
Using I reveals the author has limitations, prejudices, biases, ignorance, blindnesses. Writers are not honest to tell the truth about themselves; immediately without candor there is routine, boredom and revelations of falsehood: I brushed my teeth; I dressed; I moved a trunk; I did the laundry. I ate breakfast. It is noon. An “I” author will not tell what happened what planned that morning: “I slipping on my butt while picking oranges for juice. The resulting back strain made trio-sex impossible. I couldn’t get into position for the best angle…”
Butler comes from that school of nonsense writers of this language requiring excavation and sometimes a backhoe to dig through sentences and a paragraph. In a “diary entry(?)”, he writes about Henry and Frances (1950) Butler quotes one sentence from a novel of Frances: “There is something extremely indelicate in professing a Passion for a virtuous Woman before we have undergone a sufficient Quarantine after the Contagion of an abandoned one, and Man in such a situation resembles a Centaur, half-humamn and half-brute.” Anyone who purports to understand this sentence and can explain it, send me $10.00.
In the sad end all is lost for Butler’s Henry and Frances: “But his marriage was still recent and wholly satisfying when Henry left Maidenhall. He must have felt that a turning point in this life had been reached and that a rather more solemn self-analysis than he had hitherto attempted should be undertaken. On leaving the house he made a will in favor of Frances and her infant son and wrote upon the wrapper the reasons for his marriage and his theological beliefs.”
This is not great storytelling. None of it is brilliant or elegant. It is doubly sad for readers of Henry and Frances who realized they were reading poorly written tripe usually found in tourist materials: “As for Maidenhall, it has not changed very much, it’s successive owners have always been poor and never had the money, to make many of the lavish improvements which were admired in Victorian times.”
Butler reveals obvious naiveté based upon ignorance common and accepted in Ireland to this day: “I believe passionately in Irish neutrality, not an ignoble one in Hitler’s War…” Irish sentiments were obvious when upon learning of Hitler’s death, the Irish Prime Minister signed the Condolence Book at the German Embassy in Dublin on May 4, 1945. In 1939 Britain offered Ireland the Six Counties [Northern Ireland] if Ireland would allow British use of Irish bases for the duration of World War Two. The identical offer was made after the Americans entered World War Two. Both times the Irish refused. It is no wonder the British resisted and over came the resistance during The Troubles 25-45 years later. (Crossing the Border and The Kagran Groupe discusses Irish sentiments. See also utter, foolish speculation about a German occupation of Ireland in The Invaders Wore Slippers.)
Butler writes magazine quality pieces about this place, that person, another trip, spontaneous comments about justifiably obscure persons, places and things. There is a lot of superficial, supercilious non-fictional impressions relying on conventional wisdoms, legends and myths. An essay at the end of this volume, Independent Spirits, Butler write a feeble recounting of a meeting of PEN (1966), relying on glibness to relay aspirations and approval of the proceedings, but giving no indication that he understood, cogently any issue or the proceedings in whole. Compare an essay about PEN proceedings (circa 1945) by George Orwell, The Prevention of Literature.