Thursday, September 25, 2014

Baron Snow of the City of Leicester

C. P. Snow

I happened to read two passages today about C. P. Snow - the British novelist made famous by his essay on the "Two Cultures" of science and humanities. I met the man himself a year or two before he died. Baylor University's Honors Students were given the opportunity to hear him give a lecture on . . . the "Two Cultures," of course, which we read beforehand in anticipation, and following the lecture, we gathered around the man, just as he was passing through a doorway, to thank him for his lecture and let him know how we appreciated the opportunity to meet him. He looked us for a moment . . . but first, some details about the man:
C. P. (Charles Percy) Snow (1905–1980), Baron Snow of the City of Leicester (he liked to be introduced by his title) . . . wrote a substantial novel sequence, the eleven volumes of Strangers and Brothers (1940-1970) . . . . There is no dance or music to speak of in Strangers and Brothers. Inexorable time is historical; each book sets out to tell a truth about the age . . . . What is remarkable is the way in which he portrays class and class difference[, but] . . . . Marghanita Laski . . . . judges his [literary] efforts "unsuccessful for pervasive egotism." (Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography, 2014, pp. 525-526)
And some more details:
Snow warned his wife against associating with unsuccessful old friends ('this kind of literary subworld is the worst possible for people of our present standing and future hopes'), accepting a knighthood himself because, as he said, 'people who compare me to Trollope ought to realise that I've gone much further in the Public Service than he ever did'. In due course he became a life peer and scientific adviser to Harold Wilson's socialist government. Both of them worried about what his wife's biographer calls 'the concerted campaign to deny him a Nobel prize'. (Hilary Spurling, "A review of 'Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times', by Wendy Pollard," The Spectator, September 20, 2014)
Anyway, Snow, I mean Lord Snow - I mean Baron Snow of the City of Leicester - looked at us for a moment . . . and grunted in disgruntlement. Truly. I kid you not. 'Twas a genuine gutteral sound. He uttered, but not a word. Talk about a barren snow.

We looked at him for a moment. We knew he could talk - he'd just given a lecture - but he wouldn't talk to us. We withdrew, disconcerted, and left him to his trifles.

I swore never to read another word of his, and - except for that quote above from Spurling's review - I haven't.



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