Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Polyglots by William Gerhardie; and my part in its persistence

Earlier this decade I had a stint as publishing editor of a list dedicated to the reissue of neglected or 'lost' books of distinction: Faber Finds. One of the eminent long-gone authors under my wing was William Gerhardie, he of Futility, Doom, The Polyglots, Resurrection, Of Mortal Love, Pretty Creatures, My Wife’s the Least of It, Pending Heaven, Memoirs of Satan, et cetera.

But possibly you're rubbing the chin now, wondering if this is a name and an oeuvre you've ever come across before... Don't worry, that's fine. Michael Holroyd, who has worked diligently to improve Gerhardie’s reputation, once hymned him as a writer ‘whose books need to be rediscovered by each new generation of readers.’ And there’s the difficulty: Gerhardie has become the near-archetypal ‘lost writer’, and readers just have to keep rediscovering him.

Blessedly, the house of Head of Zeus has now reissued Gerhardie's most widely admired novel, The Polyglots, in a new trade edition, and they were so kind as to ask me to write an introduction (the opening gambit of which is below.) In tones dreadfully familiar to most working novelists, Gerhardie once lamented that The Polyglots had earned him ‘something equivalent, in terms of royalties, to nothing.’ But it lives, it survives to speak to us still.' 'All great writing,' George Steiner insisted, 'springs from le dur desir de durer, the harsh contrivance of spirit against death, the hope to overreach time by force of creation.' And that's what it's all about.

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