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This interview is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

Bernard Bergonzi in Conversation Nicolas Tredell


Nicolas Tredell: In the 'Anecdotal Introduction' to your latest book Exploding English, you offer a very interesting account of your development from leaving school early, in 1945, to becoming a mature student and then a university lecturer. Could you sum up that development for us?

Bernard Bergonzi: I had a lot of illness as a child and then again in my late teens. This was connected with TB, but into the bargain I had some quite disconnected things and, without wanting to be melodramatic, I nearly died two or three times before I was 21. And I think that gave me a certain sense of the contingency of experience. It made me wary, made me think that expectations are often likely to be disappointed. I have always felt life was a bit provisional and the more that you can get through without mishap, the better. In terms of intellectual development, being ill gives you a lot of time to read, but as I had not had very much formal training - I left school before I was 16 - I read in strangely undirected ways. I think it's the mark of the autodidact to be well-informed about very recherché and unknown works and have enormous gaps as far as the major canonical works go, and that sometimes gives a false impression of erudition. I was rather like that in my earlier twenties. So going to Oxford certainly put me ...

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