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This review is taken from PN Review 12, Volume 6 Number 4, March - April 1980.

A POLITICAL AGNOSTIC C. H. Sisson, The Avoidance of Literature and Other Essays, edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet) £7.90

Charles Sisson as veiled in these essays is a man who refuses to be comfortable with himself and is a source of discomfort to the high-minded. What he writes has nothing to do with the moral airing of the self or with the settled vocabularies of disapproval offered by latter-day Whiggery. He has for a long time known that the images of the world proferred and cultivated in King's College Cambridge cannot bear with very much reality.

Charles Sisson did not go to Cambridge or Oxford, but instead observed the University of Bristol. So he came out of a province still dense and rooted. He touched the frayed edge of Methodism, and lived along those margins of education and self-education which are above raw necessity and pick up signals from the smooth cultural overworld. Such people must have their honeymoon with the New Statesman, which in the case of Charles Sisson was uniquely brief. Nevertheless, he heard the Communist M.P. Saklatvala speak and momentarily assumed "he was speaking the language of the future".

Then he did something free thinkers almost never do, by becoming a political agnostic. He went to Germany and France, and in France encountered romantic realism: on the "left" Sorel, and on the "right" "Maurras. Maurras was not interested in a patina of nice opinions, but in France, in the strict calculation of forces and the complementary calculations of others. Sisson acquired from Maurras a habit of mind, transposed for England, and ...


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