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This report is taken from PN Review 164, Volume 31 Number 6, July - August 2005.

A Walk in the Saints Neil Powell

There is a good deal to be said for the proposition that the less we know about writers, apart from what they choose to tell us them-selves, the better. This is partly for the straightforward and familiar reason that we can see the work more justly, uncluttered either by biographical considerations or, even less helpfully, by our own prejudices about the author's politics or religion or sex-uality. But there's more to it than that. If it's the job of the poet to give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name, it's as well for the poet himself to remain as close to airy nothingness as he can: tie him down and he'll become lumpenly unmysterious, clay-footed and quite likely clay-headed too. On the other hand, we can't unknow what we know; and it would be absurd to try and cur-tail our thirst for knowledge or, to put it less grandly, our natural though not always admirable curiosity. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that our authors will in some way or other affront our expectations of them, either by living wildly inappropriate lives or by dying in the wrong places. It's splendid that the quintessentially English Henry Fielding - whom Kingsley Amis once described as 'the only non-contemporary novelist who could be read with unaffected and whole-hearted interest, the only one who never had to be apologised for or excused on the grounds of changing taste' - should have died in Lisbon: how dreadful it ...


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