The Flight of an Odd Duck

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I have been reading a number of books on everyday life in Britain in the Second World War recently and have been on the lookout for more titles to read. My friend Jack Walsdorf, bookseller, book collector, librarian and author of, among other things, a bibliography of Julian Symons, told me of the latter’s Notes from Another Country (1972). Having obtained a copy from a second-hand bookseller in Galway, I read this slim volume in a couple of hours and with enormous enjoyment.

Julian Symons (1912–94) was an odd duck – poet, magazine editor (of the influential Twentieth-century Verse), biographer (of people as various as Thomas Carlyle and Horatio Bottomley), historian of the General Strike, prolific and Edgar Award-winning detective story writer (of, among many others, The End of Solomon Grundy and The Belting Inheritance), and author of books on detective fiction (his Bloody Murder is still one of the very best studies of the English detective story). His older brother, A. J. A. Symons, wrote The Quest for Corvo (1934) about a far odder duck, the Englishman Frederick Rolfe, who styled himself Fr. Rolfe and Baron Corvo, without the benefit of either holy orders or an Italian peerage.

Julian’s early years were spent in the shadow of a Micawber-like father, because of whom his family veered between plenty and penury, with the latter predominating. He left school at 14 and worked for years in the office of a rackety business run by another ineffectual dreamer. In the evenings he wrote poetry, read widely, played snooker and table tennis in Temperance Halls, and frequented cafés and pubs in which he managed to meet much of Thirties literary London. This book provides insight into how Symons’s unpromising beginnings led to his emergence as a substantial literary figure.

Notes is not easily categorized. In at least one library catalogue it is described as ‘short st

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About the contributor

Michael Gorman is a retired librarian. Though English, he has lived the last half of his life in the United States. He is the author of the memoir Broken Pieces (2011) and of a number of books of possible interest to fellow librarians.

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