Invisible Ink: No 123 - James Hanley
Sunday 13 May 2012
Sometimes it seems that the more you produce and the better you write, the less you are likely to be remembered.
This column has regularly featured authors whose output has exceeded 100 books, who have subsequently been expunged from the shelves. Which brings us to James Hanley: hardly a household name, but one of the major British writers of the 20th century. What went wrong?
Born in 1897, the working-class Liverpudlian joined the navy at the age of 17, jumping ship in Canada to find manual labour. As he began writing, his life at sea became a strong influence on his work. Two years after his debut came Boy, which set the cat among the pigeons. The blistering tragedy of a ship's 13-year-old stowaway forced into a bleak and brutal work system is no Oliver Twist, and brings no cheering final-chapter joy. The raw, plain language led to its being banned for obscenity, but even the most careful reader would struggle to find anything offensive in it other than truthfulness.
Hanley's five novel cycle, The Furys, created his lasting reputation. He told his publisher, Faber & Faber, "I want to show the downfall of a whole family excepting one, and that is the woman. That woman is heroic, powerful, exercises a tremendous influence over her family. I shall show her under every light. I cannot attempt to describe in detail the amazing lives of these people, sometimes fantastic, but never, never divorced from reality. Working-class lives are full of colour, of poetry, there is the stuff of drama in the most insignificant things."
The Furys was compared to Conrad and Dostoyevsky's books, winning plaudits from E M Forster, Anthony Burgess and William Faulkner. Hanley's novels were often downbeat, his heroes solitary and rootless, facing limited choices that would bring them to death or madness, but they accurately reflected the hopes and fears of ordinary working men and women. In late life, the modernist author embarked on another cycle of novels set in Wales, gaining further critical acclaim in his seventies.
Dark times produce fanciful reading, as today's sales of books about schoolboy wizards and pubescent vampires testify, and Hanley's novels were perhaps too close to the bone for popular readership. He never achieved major success, but is now being re-evaluated, with reprints, a biography, and questions being asked about how such a key novelist should suffer the fate of being forgotten.
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Three of Pope Francis' relatives die in Argentina car crash, including two young great-nephews
- 2 Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
- 3 Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad with Jager and potatoes for vodka as campsite opens tomorrow
- 4 Here’s the damning letter Robin Williams wrote to his Mrs Doubtfire co-star's principal after they expelled her
- 5 Ferguson protests: 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein ‘arrested’ by police during St Louis demonstrations
JK Rowling drops new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing Celestina Warbuck, the 'Singing Sorceress'
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad with Jager and potatoes for vodka as campsite opens tomorrow
Kate Bush: Previously unseen photographs reveal new side to comeback star
Celebrity Big Brother 2014 contestants: Meet Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
World peace? These are the only 11 countries in the world that are actually free from conflict