Ireland’s books: William Gerhardie

imagesIreland acquired a copy of William Gerhardie’s (1895–1977) The Polyglots soon after its publication in 1925. At that point the author was merely ‘Gerhardi’, the ‘e’ a later addition to his name. The Polyglots is the most acclaimed of Gerhardie’s novels. Like his first novel, Futility, it draws on personal experience, here telling the story of an eccentric Belgian family living in the Far East in the uncertain years after World War I and the Russian Revolution. The tale is recounted by their young English relative, Captain Georges Hamlet Alexander Diabologh, who comes to stay with them during a military mission.

Ireland was in good company in reading this book. Anthony Powell described it as ‘a classic’, C.P. Snow labelled Gerhardie a ‘comic writer of genius’, and both Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene accorded with this view. Another reader was Harriet Cohen, and letters from her to Gerhardie in praise of  The Polyglots are held in the University of Cambridge Library. Gerhardie went on to turn Cohen into the heroine Helen Sapphire in a slightly later work, Pending Heaven, this book mirroring the pianist’s own life, character and relationship with him. 

Interestingly, the version of the book owned by Ireland was published as part of the Duckworth New Readers Library in 1927,  a series ‘skilful in its design, with a light binding, well-proportioned page and adequate paper … an unlooked-for pleasure’ (Spectator, 19 Aug 1927, p. 22). Ireland owned a number of these works, and it is intriguing to see Machen included in the full list shown below.

1. GREEN MANSIONS by W. H. HUDSON
2. THE POLYGLOTS by WILLIAM GERHARDI
3. THE SEA AND THE JUNGLE by H. M. TOMLINSON
4. THE ROADMENDER by MICHAEL FAIRLESS
5. THE TERROR by ARTHUR MACHEN
6. LOST DIARIES by MAURICE BARING
7. THE BONADVENTURE by EDMUND BLUNDEN
8. SUCCESS by CUNNINGHAM GRAHAM
9. BIRDS AND MAN by W. H. HUDSON
10. THE BLACK MONK by ANTON TCHEKOFF
11. GOD’S COUNTRY by JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
12. BUCOLIC COMEDIES by EDITH SITWELL
13. THE BRASSBOUNDER by DAVID W. BONE
14. THE PURPLE LAND by W. H. HUDSON
15. CALABAN’S GUIDE TO LETTERS AND LAMKIN’S REMAINS by HILAIRE BELLOC
16. OBITER DICTA by AUGUSTINE BIRRELL
17. AMARYLLIS AT THE FAIR by RICHARD JEFFERIES
18. A CRYSTAL AGE by W. H. HUDSON
19. THE KISS by ANTON TCHEKOFF
20. GOSSIP OF THE 17TH AND 18TH CENTURIES by JOHN BERESFORD
21. FUTILITY by WILLIAM GERHARDI
22. TRIPLE FUGUE by OSBERT SITWELL
23. EL OMBÚ by W. H. HUDSON
24. SIX SHORT PLAYS by JOHN GALSWORTHY

 

 

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