Living in Interesting Times

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I don’t suppose anyone really understands why some novelists, widely read, even celebrated, are eclipsed when they die. Why is R. C. Hutchinson (1907–75) now almost forgotten? The Unforgotten Prisoner (1933), his third novel and first success, sold 150,000 copies in the month of publication. Rising, his last novel, the final chapter unfinished when he died, was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1975. It isn’t that publishers haven’t tried. Allison & Busby republished several of the novels as ‘modern classics’ in the 1980s and 1990s. Testament (1938) and The Unforgotten Prisoner were reissued as King Penguins in 1981 and 1983. And now Faber have reissued five of the novels as Faber Finds: The Unforgotten Prisoner, Testament, Recollection of a Journey (1952), A Child Possessed (1964) and Rising.

In fact, according to Hutchinson’s bibliographer, Robert Green, his career was ‘mysteriously inchoate’: ‘spurts of recognition would be followed by years of anonymity’. Rupert Hart-Davis, in his foreword to the bibliography (there appears to be no biography), thought Hutchinson’s reclusiveness might be the reason: ‘All his life, regardless of fashion, neglect or misunderstanding, he pursued his solitary way, taking no part in what is called literary life, attending no parties.’ His ‘solitary way’ did include what one guesses was a happy marriage, but there are suggestions of long-term ill-health. Hutchinson himself thought his war-service didn’t help: ‘The gap of five and a half years in the very middle of my professional life was no more helpful to me than to people in other callings.’

There may be other reasons

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About the contributor

C. J. Driver’s early novels (Elegy for a Revolutionary, Send War in Our Time, O Lord, Death of Fathers and A Messiah of the Last Days) have recently been made available again as Faber Finds. There is more information about his most recent book, So Far: Selected Poems 1960–2004, at www.jontydriver.co.uk

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