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SCENES FROM

THE UNTOLD STORY OF

WILLIAM COOPER



A.K. SINHA

PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH,

FACULTY OF EDUCATION

HODEIDAH UNIVERSITY

REPUBLIC OF YEMEN




DEDICATION


TO


ALL MY


STUDENTS


IN


INDIA

ETHIOPIA

AND

REPUBLIC OF YEMEN


WHO GAVE

ME


ALL THEIR LOVE

DURING THE

FORTY YEARS OF

MY

UNIVERSITY TEACHING


WILLIAM COOPER

(1910 – 2002)





CONTENTS

FOREWORD:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

PREFACE:

1. INTRODUCTION

2. WHO IS WILLIAM COOPER?

3. CHILDHOOD RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM COOPER

4. WILLIAM COOPER MEETING C.P. SNOW

5. WILLIAM COOPER AS HARRY SUMMERFIELD HOFF

6. YOUNG PEOPLE AND THE MAKING OF SCENES FROM PROVINCIAL LIFE

7. THE RECEPTION OF SCENES FROM PROVINCIAL LIFE

8. WILLIAM COOPER AND I

9. THE CRITIC AND THE ARTIST

10. MY THESIS AND WILLIAM COOPER

11. COOPER ON HIS OWN CRAFT

12. THE NOVELS OF WILLIAM COOPER – A BRIEF THEMATIC SURVEY

13. THE MYSTERY OF SCENES FROM METROPOLITAN LIFE

14. WILLIAM COOPER IN INDIA

15. THE DEATH OF MRS. COOPER

16. THE DEATH OF WILLIAM COOPER

17. CONCLUSION

18. THE MAKING OF WILLIAM COOPER THE NOVELIST

APPENDIX 1. ABOUT THE AUTHOR

APPENDIX 2. A LETTER FROM WILLIAM COOPER

APPENDIX 3. RECEPTION OF WILLIAM COOPER THE NOVELIST

APPENDIX 4. WILLIAM COOPER – A BIRD'S EYE VIEW



























FOREWORD


This little book is a new experiment in story-telling. It cuts through biography, autobiography, epistolary narration, and tries to project the flowering of a friendship spread through a considerably large span of time, covering two countries – India and England. When the modern reader is so hard pressed that he has just no time to stand and stare, this book gives him some ruthlessly edited scenes from the life of a modern English novelist and subtly suggests that where there is a will there is always a way.

In yet another way, the book presents the struggles of the artist and the critic in mutually complimenting relationships and unfolds the trials and tribulations of the novelist and the critic trying to carve out their destinies in spite of the numerous challenges confronting them. There are two strangers who slowly but surely come together, and the quiet way in which these two become intimate friends proves that human love transcends all barriers.

Moreover, this book also probes into the mind of a novelist, and tries to give the reader an insight into the inner labyrinths of artistic creation. The reader will surely able to see what are the things that go on in the mental laboratory of an artist.

And in a simple way, the book also makes a small contribution to the understanding of the Modern English Novel.

The Author
















ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This little book suddenly took shape chiefly because of the encouraging inspiration I received from Dr. Damodar Thakur, Professor and Head, Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Sana'a University. On reading his book Gita: The Song Extraordinary, I imbibed an optimistic message and decided to bring together the heap of broken images that I had collected and preserved all over the years.

I thank Professor Qassim Burihe, Rector, Hodeidah University, Republic of Yemen for the trust and confidence he has always reposed in me. I also thank Dr. Ibrahim Hugairi, Vice-Rector, Graduate Studies and Scientific Research, Hodeidah University for having always encouraged me with his valuable pieces of advice. To Dr. Ahmed Qudaimi, Dean, Faculty of Education, Dr. Abbas Abbas Al Harazi, Vice-Dean, Dr. Sultan, Vice-Dean, Faculty of Education – all belonging to Hodeidah University, I express my cordial thanks for their encouragement and support.

I express my sense of gratitude to Dr. B. Krishnamoorthy, Professor and Head, Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Dr. Manmatha Kundu, Associate Professor, Department of English, Faculty of Education – both belonging to Hodeidah University – for having read the manuscript and offered their valuable suggestions.

I am deeply obliged to all my colleagues in the Department of English, Faculty of Education, Hodeidah University for their emotional support.

I sincerely thank Mr. Abdal Rahman Al-Ahdal, Demonstrator in English, Faculty of Education, Hodeidah University for having taken all the trouble to type out the book so meticulously.

My debt to Mr. William Cooper is apparent on nearly every page that I have written.

HODEIDAH Ashok Kumar Sinha

REPUBLIC OF YEMEN 2006










PREFACE

This is a whirlwind tour to which I am inviting my reader. In the pages that follow, the reader will be taken into an unfolding of events which took place over a considerably large number of years and covered two countries – India and England. Yet, the author has deliberately cut down on unnecessary descriptions and needless eulogies to chisel forth a sharply edited narration.

The reader, therefore, will have to be consistently imagining things on his own, because lengthy stage directions and circumlocutory authorial explanations have been avoided. The main thrust of the book is on that celebrated sentence, "Brevity is soul of wit."

And in a brief way, the book tries to put on record the author's numerous interactions with the artist he had worked on for his PhD dissertation. It happens rarely that the artist one working on is there to comment upon the research. And it also happens rearely that the artist and the researcher come so close to each other that they become friends forever.

This book is only a small tribute to a friend, who is now no more – William Cooper the novelist.

The Author























SCENE I

INTRODUCTION

Before I dare to come to write this book, certain overwhelming questions suddenly grip


me: What is the aim of writing such a book? Who will read it? Why will someone read it?


What sort of a book is it going to be?

And then my inner voice comes out with pertinent answers which give me great reassurance.

The aim of writing such a book is to show other people how a learner of English as a foreign language, teaching. English at a remote provincial college in a distant place in India can slowly but surely establish a lasting relationship with a famous modern English novelist placed elegantly in a sprawling house in London. So this book aims at giving a positive message to all the young people of today all over the world. Human relationships are possible, cutting across the boundaries of nations.

Who will read such a book? The answer that flashes immediately to my mind is that any common reader interested in seeing such a forging of human relationships will certainly find something interesting in this honest narration. And I am sure he will relate instantly with the struggler, inching his way towards his goal.

Why will someone read this book? The answer is to be given by the common reader, who will perhaps not mind spending sometime to see how things are not as bad as they really seem to be. I am sure the book will give the common reader a positive attitude towards life and its problems.

What sort of a book is it going to be? The book will actually trace the development of a human relationship, depending mostly on interviews with and personal letters from William Cooper – the Novelist.











SCENE II

Who is William Cooper?

William Cooper, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, (born 10th Aug 1910 died 5th September 2002), is a significant English novelist whose Scenes From Provincial Life (1950) exerted a seminal influence on John Braine and many others. The style of Cooper is claimed to have affected the fortunes of the post-war English novel and made them rather different from those of contemporary American or French fiction.


C. P. Snow affirms that part of Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim (1953-54) is owed (in an entirely proper sense) to an intelligent study of William Cooper's Scenes From Provincial life.

Some of the other works of William Cooper are The Struggles of Albert Woods (1952); The Ever-Interesting Topic (1953); Disquiet and Peace (1956); Young People (1958). C.P Snow: British Council Series (1959), Prince Genji (a play),(1960); Scenes From Married Life (1962); Memoirs of a New Man (1966); You Want the Right Frame of Reference (1971); Love On the Coast (1973); You're Not Alone, (1976); Scenes From Metropolitan Life, (1982); Scenes From Later Life, (1983); Immortality At Any Price (1991); Scenes From Death and Life, (1999).

He also has to his credit four other novels Trina, (1934); Rhea, (1935); Lisa, (1937) and Three Marriages (1946).

William Cooper married Joyce in 1950 and they have two daughters Catherine and Louisa.

















SCENE III

CHILDHOOD RECOLLECTIONS of William Cooper

"I come from a small provincial town. My parents were both schoolteachers. That accounts for my mildly intellectual background. My parents taught me at an elementary school. I was an only child for eleven years. I have a sister eleven years younger than me. I don't say that my parents indulged me. But they were kind to me. I passionately wanted to go to Cambridge. I don't know what put this idea into my head.

My town had no upper classes. So I had no acquaintance with the high life. Our provincial society was a homogeneous one. I lived without any social envy. There were no rich cultivated people around. So I had no contact with the rich cultural life. Nobody from my school went to Cambridge.

I got a sort of a scholarship to Cambridge. My parents borrowed the rest of the money to send me to Cambridge. There was one more person who went to Cambridge. We were two of us.

My parents wanted me to study Science as they felt that it would offer more jobs.(Perhaps they were right.) So when I went to Cambridge I studied Science (Physics)

I was interested in Music. I was a pianist. In fact, at one stage my parents wanted to know whether I would take up Music for my career" *(* Interview with William Cooper)


This is how William Cooper sums up his early days. When asked if he remembered what sort of a child he had been, he promptly comes up with the following response:

"I don't remember any of the sort of things sensitive novelists write about: being terribly unhappy or ill-treated. I was not the child of an upper bourgeois who had to suffer by going to the boarding school. I think the recollection of my childhood days was ____ I always felt outside the life of the other boys. I wanted to join in more than I got the chance to. I felt my parents never encouraged my bringing my friends home. I never felt I had any friendship with boyhood as others had. I think I got over it. I felt slightly lonely, slightly left out. I don't know why I felt so. But that is the way I felt…."

"I felt not as close to people, as intimate as I would have liked to be. The whole thing depended on my sensual nature..."* (Interview with William Cooper)


These childhood echoes naturally went in to form the personality of an artist who later viewed human nature with an artistic distancing.





SCENE IV

William Cooper meeting C. P. Snow

"At Cambridge I met Snow. He had at that time started as a writer. The year was 1931. I was taught by Snow, as a scientist. We became friends. He was already writing. Somehow I got interested in Literature, although I had no literary education. I had never felt I would be a writer. But somehow the germ fell into my imagination.

By then Snow and I had become intimate and we have ever since remained friends.

My life pattern was determined by two things: by my decision to go to Cambridge and by meeting Snow…

I was interested in Music. But I felt that my background was so limited. And I felt that I could only land up as a teacher of Music which I thought was not for me."*( Interview with William Cooper)

So from 1928 – 1933, William Cooper received his higher education at Christ's College Cambridge. He obtained a tripos in Natural Sciences, did Part II Physics and also did his M.A. and received Teachers' Training. These varying shades of education must have enriched his personality. And from 1933 – 1940 he worked as a Physics Master in Alderman Newton's School Leicester. The years 1940 – 1945 saw him functioning as the Squadron Leader in Royal Air Force. During that period he was also seconded to Central(Technical and Scientific) Register, Ministry of Labour. From 1945 – 1958 he worked as Assistant Commissioner, Civil Service Commission.

This is what Cooper has to say about his official career:

"At Cambridge I decided I wanted to be a novelist, not a physicist. For the sort of novels I wanted to write I thought it desirable not to confine my experience to the literary world__ I did not attempt to make up my earnings as a novelist by looking for a job in journalism or the B.B.C; for instance. I took a job as a schoolmaster, partly with an eye to the long holidays in which I could write. I had seven years' interesting experience in education.

In 1939 there was an urgent need for men to go into radar. A stop-gap measure (arising partly out of a suggestion of mine) was the impressing of young science schoolmasters as radar officers. After being myself trained by the R.A.F, I was seconded to work with C.P. Snow, who, at the Ministry of Labour, was responsible for fitting scientists and engineers into their war-time jobs, and in particular for organizing a steady supply from the universities of men with training in electronics.

This was my introduction to Civil Service administration and committee work, (I sat on Lord Hankey's technical Personnel Committee), and also to the universities – the science and engineering departments and the Conference of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, and to personal interviewing: we interviewed the newly- trained young scientists and engineers individually to decide what kind of war service, in research or industry or as commissioned officers, they were best suited to.

From that date, through my later experience at the Civil Service commission and then with A.E.A. and the C.E.G.B., a major part of my work has been in personal interviewing. I have interviewed in total some 50,000 young scientists and engineers, mostly between the ages of 23 and 33. I have usually acted as a Chairman of a Civil Service type of board in which I was supported by experts in the specialized activity of the candidates. But the judgement were always synoptic – of each candidate as a whole human being – and generally focused on creativeness, innovatory power, capacity for generating new ideas.

In reversing the Brain-Drain I have been responsible for (i) keeping together, in joint enterprise, three organizations each of which was autonomous and to some extent a rival of the other two, (ii) making the enterprise viable economically – it was done on a shoestring budget, and (iii) going over to North America to lead the operations myself, spending four or five weeks in Canada and nine or ten in the U.S.A. each year.

Since the winding up of the "Brain-Drain scheme" I have acted as a Chairman of Civil Service Selection Board; and as a part-time consultant to the Commission des Communsutes Europeenes."* (* Letter from William Cooper dated 14 August 1972)


So, all these varied experiences fed into the personality of William Cooper and he was later prompt enough to use nearly all these perceptions as raw materials for his artistic compositions. William Cooper the novelist depended heavily on his first hand experiences, and the actual reality got transmuted into art by the deft touch of a genius like Cooper.



















Scene V

William Cooper as Harry Summerfield Hoff

It is perhaps known to only his close associates that William Cooper is actually a pseudonym adopted by Harry Summerfield Hoff in order to assume a sort of anonymity. And in fact, Cooper published four novels under his real name: Trina (1934), Rhea (1935) Lisa (1937) and Three Marriages (1946). When asked about these four novels, Cooper readily came out with the following observations:

"I wrote them a long time ago. There are three which I wrote as a very young man, very soon after I came out from the university. They are the ones which were called by the names of three girls.

It is a long time since I read them. But if I read them now, I would have found them rather brittle, you know, the way trying to be bright, and trying to be funny – the way young men do. At the same time I would not be ashamed of them. I think there are probably some quite nice things in them, some nice poetic scenes for instance. Vaguely, I seem to remember some of the scenes – by scenes I mean actual scenic descriptions of landscapes and alternatively of rooms. I would expect them to be really quite good, possibly in a sort of poetic way that has been diminished over the years. I think when you are young, poetry comes more naturally to you than when you grow older.

Because when you grow older you become more interested in people and in a sense it becomes much more difficult to say what you want to say about people directly-let alone poetically, though naturally one wants a certain amount of poetry when one is trying to evoke anything whether it is a landscape or a person or what have you because that is part of the way you give it life.

So those first three books – I would expect to find if I read them now to have some of these qualities of high spirit, poetic description. And at the same time I would find them rather somewhat brittle.

The fourth one called Three Marriages is rather a different matter. The first three which were called Trina, Rhea, and Lisa came out before the war. Well, of course, then there was a long gap during the war when I did not write anything, naturally. And Three Marriages, I wrote after the war. So by then, you see, I was six years older. And that I should have thought was my first book as a more sort of mature writer. I think the first three, you would regard very much as a young man's books. In the next one you, I think, would find that the chap had got a stage older.

Now I think that really belongs, in a sense, to the beginning of the William Cooper period. In fact, I have thought about it, and I have discussed it with my publishers that some day Three Marriages might be brought out again. And I would not mind it coming under the name of William Cooper. I am not ashamed of any of them, for that matter. But that one I think has a lot to be said about."* (* Interview with William Cooper)


When asked to draw the connection between Three Marriages and Scenes from Provincial Life, Cooper readily came out:

"Yes, easily. I will tell you. I will tell you the inside story. What happened was, I wrote Three Marriages. That is narrated by a character who doesn't play very much part in the story. And the main characters in the story are the six people who pair up, you see. And it is told by the narrator. And he doesn't enter very strongly as a character.

Well, now, after that book came out, quite a lot of people said to me, "We read Three Marriages and we were quite interested in all the people who got married to each other. But really we were most interested of all in the narrator and you never told us anything about him." And a number of people said something like that.

On the other hand, my sort of close friends, Charles Snow and people of that kind, read this novel with interest and I remember very clearly Charles Snow saying to me, "Look here, Harry, if you want to take a step forward in your art, you must write about yourself."

And so I said, "All right, I will." And so I settled down and wrote Scenes From Provincial Life which is really as you know very near to autobiography. And that is really all about me. It is all entirely recognizable. It is absolutely experience first hand.

Various people picked out in Three Marriages what you might call first hand experience, decided that was what I was best at. Therefore, it was time I wrote books that were entirely first hand."* ((Interview with William Cooper)

Thus the artist commenting on the society has to put on a mask, and slowly the mask becomes the man. Three Marriages paved the way for the writing of Scenes From Provincial Life.


















Scene VI

Young people and the making of Scenes From Provincial Life


Very few people know that Cooper wrote yet another novel before the war:

"I wrote the early version of Young People before the war. Heinemann's turned it down, or wouldn't give a straight answer. I put the MS aside, rather than re-writing it then and trying to find another publisher straightaway. I left Heinemann's. Young People was laid aside. I wrote Scenes From Provincial Life, keeping in mind the advice of my close literary friends, chiefly C.P. Snow, that I should write more closely about myself. (A lot of readers of Three Marriages wanted to know more about the narrator, who played little part in the story).

I didn't send the MS of S.P.L. (Scenes From Provincial Life) to Heinemann's, because of their refusing YP.(Young People ). Instead, I sent it to four, if not five other publishers – who turned it down. So far as I recall (and you see that my recollection is pretty poor!) S.P.L (Scenes From Provincial Life) was turned down by:

Secker and Warbury

Eyre and Spottiswoode

Chatco and Windus

Faber and Faber, and possibly one other.

Then I sent it to Jonathan Cape's where it was accepted. My Editor there was a celebrated literary figure, now dead, called Daniel George, devious, unreliable: when I was doing my best to keep the secret of who William Cooper was, he was giving it away! ( He appears as a minor character in You Want the Right Frame Reference, showing people dirty postcards!)* Letter from William Cooper dated 9 January 1974

It will perhaps comfort the reader to note that Young People was later published by Macmillan, London in 1958.















Scenes VII

The reception of Scenes From Provincial Life

William Cooper's Scenes From Provincial Life (1950) impinged on the literary scene as a new and individual work of art does, and later on exerted a considerable influence on those writing in the fifties. Creative artists as well as literary critics sensed the originality of Scenes From Provincial Life and responded to its creative innovations. Malcolm Bradbury, for example, observed:

"The novel's qualities are not, perhaps, what one would ordinarily expect in a radical book. It is a fairly simple (but artfully simple) lyrical novel set in the English provinces, self-conscious about the ordinariness of the life it deals with and the particular limitations and innocence of the main characters"* (Scenes From Provincial Life (1951 Ed. William Cooper, pp. i.ii )


Walter Allen came out with the following remarks:

"Scenes From Provincial Life (1950) conveys, at the same time, in its deliberate casual throw-away manner, an exact impression of one aspect of provincial life among the educated young in the last years of the thirties, almost to the point of being a comic version of (C.P. Snow's) Strangers and Brothers"** (Tradition and Dream, Walter Allen, pp. 251-252)


In Scenes From Provincial Life, William Cooper presents job-conscious people of a modest income group struggling to assert their personal supremacies in a provincial background.

"This is the story of Tom, Steve, Myrtle and me"*** (Scenes From Provincial Life, William Cooper, p. 79)


This is the statement of Joe Lunn, the anti-heroic narrator-protagonist of Scenes From Provincial Life. Joe a Science master at a provincial grammar school secretly pines to become

rich through his novels. Having already published three novels, Joe is introduced as anxious about his fourth composition which he has sent to a certain Miss XY for a favourable comment.

The reader will here perhaps identify how closely Joe Lunn recreates the personal details of William Cooper. And that is why Cooper himself has described the novel as autobiographical.

In Scenes From Provincial Life, Tom is a friend of Joe, a Jewish chartered accountant with literary ambition and one novel to his credit. With a homosexual aptitude for Steve, Tom struggles to assert his supremacy over Steve. Steve is the frail but calculating recipient of Tom's affection and he is also fond of writing poems. Steve struggles to retain for himself Tom's affection although seeming to be tearing away from him. Myrtle is the girl working in an advertising company, whom Joe loves but does not want to marry. So, Myrtle struggles in her hunting game, trying to ambush Joe into marriage.

The theme of Scenes From Provincial Life is full of subtle involutions. The struggles of the individuals here are mostly projected on the psychological plane. Human relationships matter here. The unique playing upon and balancing of relationships here are distinctive contributions of William Cooper. For the Joe-Myrtle relationship is juxtaposed against the Tom-Steve one, with the farm-cottage forming the common rendezvous.

But with what success do these individuals come through their struggles? The hunting-game of Myrtle-Joe ends with Myrtle breaking away. Tom and Steve, however, succeed in keeping close to each other in spite of their frequent quarrels. Joe Lunn is called up


for military service, and he shakes the dust of the school off his shoes forever. Yet, Joe Lunn has an optimistic view of his future. He is confident of his ability to transmute the delights and disasters that have come his way into novels, novels which constitute Art but also constitute pounds sterling:

"I think of the strings of delights and disasters that have come my way since 1939. And then I think of all the novels I can make out of them – ah, novels, novels, Art, Art, pounds sterling." * ( Scenes From Provincial Life, William Cooper p. 235)


Now let us see what William Cooper himself has to say about the reception of Scenes From Provincial Life :

"There was only one edition of SPL (Scenes From Provincial Life), I think two or three impressions. The first impression sold out, and there was Cape's producing the second – as also in the case of Albert Woods (The Struggles of Albert Woods) and The E.I.T. (The Ever Interesting Topic). It enraged me with each book: people couldn't buy it. Actually I don't think SPL (Scenes From Provincial Life) sold as many as 5,000 copies. It became very well-known (and? influential) in the literary world, but was never a seller till it came out in Penguin, when it was a modest best seller (50,000 – 80,000 copies)

Next time you come to London I will show you a copy of the Cape edition. Also all the reviews, which I keep stuck in an album. I'll also see what publishers' correspondence I can dig out (if any!). I'll see if I have a record of when the Cape edition went out of print but I doubt it. It's only in recent years that publishers have let one know when one of one's books was going out of print. For instance, at the present moment I don't know which, if any, of my books are available in Penguin, though I suppose my bookseller would tell me. The Penguin SPL (Scenes From Provincial Life) is out of print, I know, because that fact affected Macmillan's decision to bring it out in hard cover, with Bradbury's Introduction."* (Letter from William Cooper dated 9 January 1974)

Thus the reception of Scenes From Provincial Life may indeed be called a mixed one. But it did act as a trail-blazer for a hose of other writers like Kingsley Amis, John Braine, John Wain, Alan Sillitoe, Colin Mac Innes, Stan Barstow and Stanley Middleton.



Scene VIII

Mr. William Cooper and I


My encounter with William Cooper began on a slightly disappointing note which was given to my friend Dr. P.D.N. Singh who in England was trying to help me write my PhD thesis in India on the novelist:

"Dear Dr. Singh,

How I wish I could give you the name of a bookseller where your friend who's doing his thesis on my work could get copies of the four novels I published under my name of H.S. Hoff! They have been out of print for years, and I myself have only one copy of each – which I intend never to let out of sight! Most of the London book-sellers who deal in first editions and such like have orders for them, but copies never turn up, alas!

I am sorry to have to reply to you so discouragingly. The other day a professor in Budapest who is writing about my work was enquiring about the Hoff books, and the only thing I could suggest was that there must be copies of them in the British Museum – difficult enough for him to get to, let alone for your friend in India.

Please greet your friend for me!* (* Letter from William Cooper, dated 21 September 1970)


Time passed. And then came this letter from Cooper:

"Dear Dr. Sinha,

I was delighted to hear from your first letter that you had been successful in getting your PhD. My congratulations!

And I was very interested to hear that you are now in Cardiff for a year. I should be happy to meet you. If you are coming up to London for a weekend I suggest you come and have tea with us at my house – one Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.* ( Letter from William Cooper, dated 24 October 1973)


I immediately responded, and got the following invitation:

"Dear Dr. Sinha,

I expect you on Sunday afternoon, the 9th of December.

If you are coming by the underground, we are less than 5 minutes from EAST PUTNEY, on the Wimbledon line from Earls' Court. Turn right on leaving the station forecourt, and then first on right"** (Letter from William Cooper, dated 7 November 1973)


And 9th December, 1973 was a day I can never forget. To meet the novelist in person, one whose art and craft had been my permanent obsessions for the last three years was indeed a dream coming true. Mr. William Cooper was there in front of me all beaming with smiles ready to take my overcoat and make me all comfortable. The sprawling house in 14 Keswick Road London was coming out alive, extending its arms in full to embrace me and welcome me. I was taken in immediately after I had set my foot in that huge villa. I had at last come to my haven of a peace that perhaps passed all understanding.





































Scene IX

The Critic and the Artist

When asked if he could see any relationship between the critic and the artist, Mr. Cooper observed:

"Oh yes. They go together in the sense that they are absolutely essential to each other. I think they make each other.

In poetry, the new criticism and the poetry of T.S. Eliot matched together and each helped to put the other on the map. A new kind of poetry and a new kind of literary criticism came out together and they helped each other. It so happens that Eliot's poetry is not the poetry I value.

My disappointment has been with the literary critics turning to the novel. People like Leavis and his followers turned to the novel for things which I did not do nor wanted to do.* (Interview with William Cooper)

He further clarified the difference between the so-called "academic critic" and the "personal critic" by observing:

"I was reviewing a book by an American sociologist. It had 250,000 words and it referred to 689 other people. There were quotations from them and all the rest, absolutely dreadful, absolutely dreadful. A monstrous work … Next to unbelievable.

Instead of writing a quarter of a million words about what other people had to say, I felt that every American professor; in fact, all professors should stop doing that and begin by writing 30,000 words on what they had to say independently of what other people have to say.

This is another thing that keeps the academic industry going. Quoting each other, referring to each other.

I say this as a novelist. When I write a novel I come to my point independently. But when you read a book in which the critic spends nine-tenths of his time referring to other people, one always get impatient.

In fact, I have always been interested in what you are calling the personal critic – the man who sort of stands immediately opposite to his artist and says what he as a critic thinks independently, personally. If then he goes on to find what Matthew Arnold has to say about him or F.R. Leavis, it is allright, provided there isn't too much of it. I'm bored to death."*(Interview with William Cooper)

Thus the pages that follow trace briefly the journey of a personal critic – a man standing immediately opposite to his artist and saying what he thinks independently and personally.




Scene X

My PhD. and William Cooper

"Dear Dr. Sinha,

I have now read your thesis. My first comment will surprise you – and whether it will please or offend, I don't know. It is that reading your thesis arouses in me, after a few pages, the strongest desire to put the thesis down and start writing some more of my new novel! I think you should probably take it as a great professional compliment – what you've written about my previous books somehow swings me into the realm of my artistic imagination, and there at the present moment, I'm totally preoccupied, if not obsessed, with my new novel. In the spaces between paragraphs or sentences you've written, I find myself thinking of sentences or phrases for the new novel (It's called – so far – You Are Not Alone / You're Not Alone).

I find the thesis, as I've already told you, very interesting, and certainly, from my point of view, on the right lines of interpretation, e.g. your isolation of a recurrent theme, the non-stock response to a seemingly stock situation. (I choose that merely as an incidental example: there are obviously lots of others, different examples to be found). That is, as it were, recognition of something that seems to me right, and consonant with the way I see things and with my intentions as an artist in setting them down on paper.

In a different way, I'm very interested by your analysis of structure, plot, characters, etc. As a critic you go into a great deal more detail, and sometimes (to my mind) to a greater depth, than I think I've ever done myself. In other words, you find things there that I hadn't realized I'd put there; though when you point them out, I should say that, for the most part, if I'd been thinking in that way about what I was doing, I should have put them there. I should have been inclined to say, in my 'Let's have no nonsense!' fashion, that I was no great believer in the pen being propelled by Divine Inspiration. In effect, you shake my faith in that, a little. On the whole my attitude to structure and character and plot etc. seemed to me a good deal more general, even more slapdash than you make out. The check on that attitude, the disciplining of it, comes – again, as I see it – from referring the characters, plot etc. to reality, to what could actually exist or happen in reality. You obviously see some of the check and the disciplining coming from literary considerations. I suppose those must come into it, but I'm less aware of them; though I think very concentratedly about technical problems (technical in the literary sense), in particular about such things as what Snow and I call "literary tact", i.e. putting something in, or sliding from one thing to another, without the joins showing, without evidence of strain or striving, especially without signalling to the reader that something odd is going on. (I don't mean this in the merely verbal or textual sense: I mean it in the psychological sense and aesthetic sense especially)

Reverting to your view of literary considerations, take as a minor example Venetia and Phyllis in YWRFR (You Want the Right Frame of Reference). I think when I start a book, I probably have a sort of gallery of characters, standing around in my imagination – for the most part they're real people, or what, for the needs of the novel when I come to it, could be called modified real people. When I was planning YWRFR (You Want the Right Frame of Reference) I wanted wires for Tim and Arthur. I had to choose (a) the sort of girls they might marry, i.e. "reality" and (b) girls who could have the artistic interests to fit in with the arts side of the book i.e. "literary considerations", I suppose. X and Y, the two originals of Venetia and Phyllis seemed to me just right. They were girls I knew and whom I thought it would be fun to write about. Whether V. and P. (Venetia and Phyllis) are very much like X and Y is for other people to say, all I can say is that when I was writing about V. and P. (Venetia and Phyllis) I was seeing X and Y in V. and P' (Venetia and Phyllis') places. Meanwhile I gave quite a lot of thought and invention to the detail – I consider myself to be a clever and ingenious man! – but I didn't see e.g. the balancing of the two characters, their illustrative relationship to the main thesis of the book as clearly as you do. Certainly I didn't see it in that literary way. But I don't take exception to your seeing it. And after all, it's nice to know it's there, even if I wasn't conscious of it!...

On my literary style, I think you've got the message exactly. That's just what I'm trying to do.

Lastly: your observation on what is missing in my books. The wild, instinctual life. I agree, with reservations, and at the same time state that you can have very good realistic novels in which it doesn't enter as the mainspring of human behaviour (Jane Austen, Trollope, Turgenev, Charles Dickens, George Eliot), and very bad novels into which it does (no names!) (Actually I'm not crazy about Dickens, though I admit he was a genius. Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, is a different matter – a genius about whom I am crazy!) I was once criticized to my disfavour / disadvantage, by Anthony Burgess for inefficiency of sexual guilt – which is, in novels, one of the mainsprings of violent, instinctual behaviour. O.K. you can dichotomise men, with all the difficulties and inaccuracies that arise from any dichotomization!, into those who suffer from sexual guilt and those who suffer from sexual inferiority. Both have their claims: the former, it's true, give rise to the wilder, more irrational and violent works of art; the latter have an equal place, albeit a less sensational place, generally speaking. (Somerset Maugham raised it to nearly sensational place in Of Human Bondage. It does, of course, act as the mainspring of A la Rachesche Du Tempo Perdu, which is not sensational).

Anyway, I mark out my territory and don't claim it covers the whole wide world. No artist's does. I operate within the territory where my own nature instructs me and makes me wise.

At the same time, I state my reservations. My books include people in whom the wild instinctual drives are strong. Muriel in D. and P. ( Disquiet and Peace) is covered by the wild impulses. Think of what D.H. Lawrence could have made (implausibly) of Venetia! And the original of Harry, in SML (Scenes From Married Life) labile, devious, inventive, untrustworthy, with a real streak of destructiveness, could be the original of a Dostoyevskyan character. But I see them in my own way for one thing: for another thing, if they were seen differently the artistic unity of my work would be destroyed.

So there you are. A very long letter indeed. I don't expect to write you another of this length."* (Letter from William Cooper dated 18 January 1974)

Thus when a critic comes so near an artist, the interaction becomes academically fruitful. And this tempted me to shake William Cooper a little more and get some more fruits of his wisdom. And he came out readily with his pertinent answers to my questions, which I have collected for my reader in the next chapter.

































Scene XI

Cooper on his own craft

Dear Ashok,* (The change in address from Dr. Sinha to Ashok cameonly inthe letter dated 28.9.75.)


Here are the answers to your questions set in your letter of 28 December. Rather like an examination paper!

1. When I start writing a novel, what comes first? Only once has it been the plot as such – in the case of The Ever-Interesting Topic, when I was told the story of goings-on in a public school, and felt it would make the plot of a funny novel. A doneé, as Henry James might have called it. So in effect I had the outline of a plot and had to people it with characters. (I may say that I didn't go to a public school myself, so I have to invent all that, picking up bits of detail from various schools I read about.) So this novel was an exception to all my practice.

My general practice, as you know, is to write from pretty close to my personal experience, especially in the Scenes From novels, where I had in mind both the characters, the relationships in which they found themselves, and the actions (plot) that ensued. Even so, what exists in life has to be shaped – no matter how intent one is on being truthful above all – in order to turn it into art. Shaped, modified, subjected to selection, and so on. Think of the difference between tape-recorded conversation and convincing realistic dialogue! But I don't need to tell you all this. In fact you may take it that even in the Scenes From novels there are scenes that didn't happen in real life, and scenes from real life that didn't happen in exactly





that form. Having embarked on all this, I realize that there is much more to be said than I had

at first thought. The EIT (The Ever-Interesting Topic) is exceptional, in that I was given a plot in outline – it was merely told to me as an amusing bit of gossip – yet I realize that the origin of some of my other novels is different from that of the Scenes From - Disquiet and Peace was of course invented, as I had no experience of either political life nor living in the first decade of this century: yet the two central characters – and the novel is really the story of their marriage – have their roots in my personal experience. On the other hand, in the case of You Want the Right Frame of Reference and You Are Not Alone, I was struck by the funniness – and the truth – which is enshrined in both titles, and constructed the novels from there incorporating things from real life of course.) Love on the Coast started from my coming across a group of young people in San Francisco engaged in funning a "little theatre", and I thought how much I should enjoy writing about them, and writing about San Francisco which I love.

2. I rewrite and revise a great deal as I go along, retyping some passages several times, and usually having about three completed typescripts before reaching the final one. (I begin in handwriting, as you know, and I do that because I find it most easy to make changes and insertions of a textual kind on the double sides of a notebook. And when I come to typing, I make changes between the manuscript and what I type. I feel I should find this much more difficult with a word-processor.) I remember two novels I wrote and didn't publish, in both the cases taking into account advice from other people, friends or publishers: the first, my novel ever, was a Wellsian end-of-the-world fantasy, which as anyone can now see, was not my line – I came to this conclusion and discarded it. The Struggles of Albert Woods began in a different form, with Clinton as the central character: no one was very enthusiastic about it, and I was struck with the idea of making Albert the central character, with very successful results. I laid it aside for sometime and returned to it. At the present time I have a finished novel which I am very dubious about, without the advice of friends and publishers. It is half-laid aside and somewhat in the doldrums.

3. The relationship between the critic and the novelist seems to me very simple: if the novelists didn't write the novels, the critics would be out of work.

4. In my view the purpose of the modern English novel should be to edify, educate and entertain. All three equally important: no one or pair suffice without the other.

5. The role of the modern novelist in modern society is that of the truth-teller about modern society – and that means truth-teller about what individual human beings are like and truth-teller about how and why they come to behave as they do in the society in which they live . It is not sufficient for him, as teller of the "total truth" to concentrate on the individual's inner experience, leaving out the outer experience. "Man alone" and "man in society" are both essential to the "total truth".

6. I think the future of the English novel looks pretty O.K. Lots of people are writing lots of novels of all kinds. That is healthy and as it should be. If fashions develop in which some kinds of novels are ruled out of serious consideration, that is unhealthy.

7. The vision of life I am interested in projecting is that life is real, life is earnest and life is funny.

8. I don't think I have any observation about the structure of my novels. When other people make observations, such as to tell me the structure of one more satisfactory than the structure of another, my response is pretty neutral. So far as I am concerned, when writing a novel, I usually have some sort of feeling about the structure before I begin. I know the story that I am going to tell, if it comes from near to my own experience of life, I have that structure at the back of my mind. If it does not, I make a plan with dates, showing where and when the events of the different plots fit in. What I do not do is just begin and let the plot develop itself. And the question: "Do you sometimes find the characters are taking charge of you?" strikes me as pretty irrelevant to me. Of course, I sometimes invent things, as I go along, because I am struck with how I can compose a scene that will show off a character the better. In that scene what I see in the character leads me to bring in something I had not previously had in mind.

9. I don't think there are any novels I especially enjoyed while I was writing them – I am happiest when I am writing, so you could say I am enjoying myself. I am living in the world that I am creating, and that is utterly absorbing. I think I could perhaps say I most greatly enjoyed writing Scenes From Later Life, especially the second half when I realized with complete confidence that I could make the reader laugh and cry in the same chapter. I felt that I was writing at the height of my powers. I was!

10. I tackle the problem of Point of View by writing in the first person. Writing that's in the third person seems to me to be instinct with detachment and impartiality that one associates with God – if you're writing in the third person and get it wrong you are consequently in trouble. But if you're writing in the first person and get it wrong you can say, well, I'm only human and you mustn't blame me too much – we all make mistakes. Whereas God doesn't.

11. I suppose that my constant narrator must represent me in person to some extent – in the Scenes From to a great extent. But not entirely. I modify, transform, invent quite a bit even in the passages which come nearest to me personally.

12. I think it is for other people, critics and the like, other writers to say what contribution I am making to the enrichment of the modern English prose style. If by enrichment you mean heightened literary style, purple prose, elaborate tricks of the trade, then I should have thought that I had done the opposite. My aim is to convey what I want to say as simply, lucidly, and accurately as possible – truthfully, of course; and appealingly to the greatest number of reasonably sensitive readers. I use a lot of simple everyday words deliberately – 'go', 'get', 'do', 'make' and so on – with two considerations in mind. One, they are familiar to the reader and easy to assimilate; and, two, because such words are used for a multiplicity of purposes, they carry resonances of those meanings that they have in contexts outside the present one in which I am using them. (It is the opposite of the case that is made for the French language, in which each word is supposed to have only one, sharply defined meaning. No use to me!)

13. I suppose that I have been influenced in my view of life by the kind of training in observation and comparative thought that comes from a scientific education. In the personal sense I expect I have been influenced in my view of my fellow human beings by my association with Snow. In my actual writing I was influenced, or learnt quite a bit when I was first starting to write, by reading William Gerhardie. (I think I have already told you that.).

14. I cannot think of any specific message for you in India; only the message conveyed by ingrained liberal humanism, which is a good message for any country, and especially for a country that is wildly divided within itself by matters of religion, race, ideology.

Well, I have come to the end of my examination paper. I am afraid I have written it just as it came into my head, without planning, no penetrating thought over a long period.* (Letter from William Cooper, dated 11 January 1987)








Scene XII

The Novels of William Cooper – A Brief Thematic Survey


It will perhaps be now in the fitness of things to give my reader a brief thematic survey of some major novels of William Cooper to test for himself how the creative novelist emerges through his works in actual practice.

The world of William Cooper is a unique one, of normality, sanity, probity and balance. The awareness of Cooper is a rich one, where outlines might not be simply and directly defined. The outlines, here, seem to blur, one into another. But it is not the relatively confined universe of a D.H. Lawrence, peopled with men and women, whose instincts are perpetually realized or frustrated. Cooper's world is not the tragic one of C.P. Snow. William Cooper's world has human beings, living their lives in the full range of their complexities. These complications are not metaphysical. They are of the myriads of relations which a person living inside a society has to contract.

In Scenes From Provincial Life (1950) Cooper constructs a small though richly integrated world of characters. With a pleasantly sardonic observer-narrator-protagonist, a young provincial school teacher, Joe Lunn, secretly pining to become a rich novelist and primarily trying to avoid marrying Myrtle, the girl he loves, the setting of the novel is an intensely private one. Joe Lunn is preoccupied with the shrewdly calculating beloved Myrtle and a sagacious but unpredictable friend Tom, a Jewish Chartered Accountant, also fond of writing novels. Tom is preoccupied homosexually with Steve, an amiably pleasant but planning lad. Myrtle and Steve are preoccupied with their neat little trapping games with their respective lovers.

In Scenes From Provincial Life William Cooper probes exhaustibly into the various combinations that can emerge in a set of few characters, placed in an otherwise dull, closed provincial set up. And from this rich, intense realization of some important personal human relationships, emerges a unique little set of people, that is to be replayed in the later novels of William Cooper with subtle variations. Joe Lunn emerges as the stubbornly ambitious young man struggling to uplift himself into a higher order by his creative faculty. Tom comes out as the similarly attuned but more maturely moving adviser friend with certain streaks of the rival in him. Myrtle makes her bow as the intellectually superior yet submissive partner in love, giving the protagonist new realizations of himself. Steve steps out as the parallel running partner of the adviser friend, in whom is replayed as if in a double plot, the protagonist's love for his girl.

The next novel of William Cooper The Struggles of Albert Woods (1952) projects the earlier little squabbles of individuals with modest backgrounds on to a vaster plane of reality. The previous story of Tom, Steve, Myrtle and Joe Lunn confined to a provincial setting is replaced in this novel by a more wide-ranging study of individuals in an expansive dramatic setting. The story centers around Albert Woods, a gifted youth of great promise who, early in his boyhood, had fixed on becoming a great scientist. With this particular ambition, which knows no limits, the struggles of Albert Woods are chiefly centered in the academic field of science.

The lower middle class to which Albert belongs, creates in him a particular complex. And he secretly struggles to elevate himself to a higher class even by trying to prove himself to be the bastard of a certain Lord, and by getting very close to Lady Dibdin , the aristocratic wife of his research guide, Professor Dibdin.

In course of this crusade, the Napoleonic Albert Woods encounters a group of clashing ambitions. Dibdin is his research guide. Lady Dibdin is the symbol of aristocracy for Albert. Clinton Smith is his rival friend. Thelma and Margaret are the two girls in his life. And Eli Grerel is the brilliant young Marxist scientist who later comes in to work with Albert Woods.

The flow and recoil of sympathies amidst these highly representative characters take the shape of gruelling battles to outdo each other. Albert is perpetually on the alert to outdo his research guide and later father-in-law Dibdin, only to find Dibdin outdoing him every time . Albert also finds Clinton perpetually proving himself the better at this game. Albert tries to patronize Eli Grevel, who after giving him some anxious moments, breaks away from his patronage.

Albert takes a mad-headed plunge. With the impending second world war looming in the horizon, the Chemistry Sub-Committee is occupied with making use of chemistry to enable the country to defend itself and make war. Something prompts Albert to deduce that the organic compound affecting the central nervous system of fifty percent of the mice exposed to it was not a single compound but a mixture of two. In the course of this working over the lethal compound, Eli Grevel breaks away from Albert when he discovers that the latter had put into his report experiments he he had not actually conducted.

But Albert succeeds in stumbling into his synthesis, which would make a host of syntheses possible. Albert sells his weapon. And in the following year he is installed as the Director of a secret research establishment. He has funds. He has staff.

Yet even this triumph of Albert is soon overtaken by an ironical turn of event, for the second world war rolls by and neither side uses the gas Albert has worked so hard over. Still, Albert goes on kicking.

Now, all he wants to become is Sir Albert Woods. His earlier breaking into the noble class is now replaced by another dramatic move:

"Gone were his pretensions to aristocratic birth and any of the advantages of gentlemanly breeding. He began to see himself as having risen from lowlier people than was the case, and demoted his father from the comfortable petty bourgeois to the deepest proletariat." * (The Struggles of Albert Woods – William Cooper, p. 247)

At a great entertainment at Lord Daunton's place, Albert arrives, all puffed up, expecting a knighthood any moment. Suddenly a lady there exclaims:

"Thank God the war's over, and we can say what we like about the Jews. I think Hitler was right"** (Ibid, p. 253)


At this, Albert bursts into anger and turns this lady out, only to discover later that she was the wife of the Minister concerned with his knighthood. Albert never gets the knighthood. But neither William Cooper nor Albert Woods is defeated. Both keep on kicking:

"And this is where I come to the end of my story. Obviously, it is not the end of the life-story of Albert Woods … in 1952 … and he is still alive … alive and kicking … in our country we have not only one Albert Woods but many … you should look around … No distance at all."*** (Ibid, pp. 254-255)


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