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This article is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.

Vestiges 2: Hugh Sykes Davies Adam Crothers
Hugh Sykes Davies playing the accordion

Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge.

Hugh Sykes Davies cuts an impressive figure engaged in something not his forte: George Watson writes that he 'loved to do things he could not quite do, such as writing fiction or playing the accordion'. It is true that recordings of Davies's musical perfor­mances do not trouble the airwaves. Readers can, however, track down his fiction, including the science fiction novel The Papers of Andrew Melmoth (1960), which incor­porates into its thematic texture a compelling anxiety as to its own value.

The narrator (referred to, not inscrutably, as both 'H. S. D.' and 'Mr Davies') is 'a writer by profession' and announces his intention to compose his supposedly factual narrative novelistically rather than biographically. In one chapter, and by the same character, he is requested to employ his 'more literary talents' in depicting a scene and offering 'interpretations of the roles of the main characters in it', and admonished for allowing his 'literary style' to 'conceal' his 'real impressions'.

Andrew Melmoth, meanwhile, is a scientist whose disconnection from people and fixation upon rats increase alongside an interest in writing (both a natural history and a disturbing short story), before he declares that mass suicide would do humanity more good than mass education. If the typographical proximity of 'rat' to 'art' is coinci­dental, it remains telling. Davies's friend William Empson (with whom he ...

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