Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for August 6th, 2008

Patrick Hamilton Revisited

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th August, 2008

Literary reputations ebb and flow, like the tides of the sea. This can happen while an author is still alive, and even more so when he or she dies. Among the dead, some who enjoyed no success while they were alive suddenly become fashionable. Or those who were hugely popular during their lifetime disappear even from memory. Who reads the best-selling Victorian Marie Corelli these days, for example?

Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962) is an interesting case in point. This alcoholic novelist, chronicler of the dreary under-belly of Earls Court life, earned huge sums of money between the 1930s and 1950s, not least from his two plays ‘Gaslight’ and ‘Rope’. The latter is best remembered these days for its film version, directed by Alfred Hitchcock — not one of Hitch’s best movies, but notable for its enormously long takes. The two gay murderers in ‘Rope’ are just two incarnations of the evil about which Patrick Hamilton was so good at writing.

There were several unpleasant sides to the author himself, as is clear from Nigel Jones’s biography of him, Through a Glass Darkly, which has just been reissued (after 17 years) in a paperback edition by Black Spring Press (£11.95). Hamilton was the sort of ladies’ man who was basically a misogynist, and something of a sadist to boot. He treated both of his wives pretty abominably (shuttling between the two for much of the latter part of his life) and turned his older brother Bruce (also a writer) into a sort of acolyte. Nigel Jones skilfully balances both the talent and the nastiness of his subject, as well as providing a useful critical summary of Hamilton’s literary oeuvre. Simultaneously with the biography, Black Spring Press is also reissuing one of Hamilton’s best novels, Craven House, (£9.95), which should help the revitalisation of the author’s reputation that is currently underway.


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