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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

Conrad Aiken's 'Ushant' D.G. Bridson

IT HAS long been a critical truism in America that Conrad Aiken was the most neglected poet of his time. It is equally a truism in Britain, of course, but one we have tended to dismiss as less a matter for British concern: after all, we have our own debts of belated appreciation to discharge. But it is worth remembering that half of Aiken's creative life was lived among us, and that it was England which gave him the urge and the material for nearly all his most impressive work.

If that were not obvious enough in his poetry, the fact is even more clearly demonstrated by his autobiography Ushant, which might fairly be claimed as one of the most neglected masterpieces of creative prose that either America or Britain has produced this century. And as the creative process from which his poetry sprang is so much a part of Ushant, a reconsideration of the book might well be the first step towards an overdue appreciation of Aiken's complete achievement as a creative writer.

On the dust jacket to the American first edition, Ushant is described as an autobiographical narrative: on the title page, it is described as an essay. But as a reading of the book immediately makes clear, the term "essay" is to be understood in the sense of an "attempt" rather than in its purely literary connotation. If anything, the work appears at first sight to be almost an autobiographical novel-if that ...


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