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This article is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

G. S. Fraser, 1915–1980 John Lucas
Looking back at the period between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1950s, Donald Davie once remarked that it was a time when ‘literary London had to get along with the occasional apercu from George Fraser.’ The implication is that those years had been marked and marred by an unashamed amateurism. But now, watch out. The professionals were coming. New styles of criticism, a change of art. The charge is, however, doubly unfair. In the first place, literary London was in those post-war days a good deal more various than Davie allows. In the second, George Fraser was anything but an amateurish litterateur. On the contrary: he was formidably well-informed, not merely about the history of poetry and poetic forms, but about the work of poets from continental Europe and further afield. My guess is that he knew more, rather than less, than the up-and-comers eager to elbow him aside.

That Fraser taught for two years in Tokyo at the beginning of the 1950s meant that he picked up a good deal of information about Japanese poetry, and he would be bound to have learnt at least something of Chinese verse from his friend William Empson, who was in that country for most of the 1930s. In addition, Fraser translated from Latin and Italian poets, wrote at least one substantial poem in French, and he once silenced a raucous London pub by reciting – ostensibly to me, but by the end just about everyone was listening – Villon’s ‘Ballade des dames ...


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