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This report is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

Ivor Gurney's Centenary Roderic Dunnett
Is Gloucester's Poor Tom, Ivor Gurney, coming into his own? His hundredth birthday celebrations in that city offered some chance for reassessment. But a revival in Gurney's fortunes must hinge on more than centennial ephemera if the 'Jim's mad' amongst War Poets is to merit recognition as rather more than a quaint, dusty appendage to one's 1914-18 collection.

Future biographers have a head start. Michael Hurd's synopsis, The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney, first published in 1978 and recently reissued by OUP, compresses into a taut, sympathetic outline the initial optimism and later torment of Gurney's ill-starred life. Hurd's narrative is distinguished by its crisp use of poetic extracts; a lucid summary of the war period - by no means sole factor in the subsequent mental decline; a thorough examination of medical and other detail from the pivotal period 1917/18 to 1922; shrewd observations on the music, including that still in MS; and a host of other pluses.

Some, knowing that madness, or at least collapse (which he anticipated himself in an early poem, Ballad of the Three Spectres), locked Gurney away as early as 1922, might be surprised to learn that he (or his shell) survived another fifteen years in the asylum. Awareness of Gurney has extended with the emergence of letters Hurd was able to draw on: those to the Chapman family, edited by Anthony Boden (Alan Sutton, 1986); and the War Letters (Midnag /Carcanet, 1983), whose editor, R.K.R.Thornton, Professor of English at Birmingham University, is ...


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