Anthony Curtis: Editor, critic and authority on Henry James, Virginia Woolf and particularly Somerset Maugham

 

In his time, Somerset Maugham was the epitome of the “man of letters”. Neither his reputation nor that title have quite the ring they once had, but if any man did most to keep both alive and vital in our time it was Anthony Curtis.

His first major book in 1974 was The Pattern of Maugham: a critical portrait, “written with so much tact and understanding”, as a recent critic has said. This was followed by his biography, Somerset Maugham (1977), further books in the Critical Heritage and Nonesuch Storytellers series, which he edited and introduced, as also The Razor’s Edge (1992); most recently, he wrote a play, Mr Maugham at Home, a one-man show staged at both the New End Theatre in London and the Yvonne Arnaud, Guilford, in 2010, and at the Whitstable Festival this year.

But Curtis had many more than one string to his bow. The Rise and Fall of the Matinée Idol (1977), introductions to James’s The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers (1984) and Rattigan’s Plays (1985) showed a wider range of interest in literature and the theatre. He wrote a penetrating study of Virginia Woolf (2006), Before Bloomsbury (2002) on her Kensington forebears, and Lit Ed: on Reviewers and Reviewing (Carcanet Press, 1998), at once a history of the subject over the years since 1900 and a meditation on the function of literary criticism in the press, how it was conducted and the relations of authors and editors, based on his own by then considerable experience.

He was from his London childhood an inveterate reader. From Midhurst Grammar School he got a scholarship to read history at Merton College, Oxford, but war intervened and 1944 found him in the RAF, training for aircrew duties. When the war ended he was kept on, his boring clerical duties punctuated by exploring Fitzrovia, meeting Julian Maclaren-Ross, Dylan Thomas, Paul Potts and Francis Bacon in The Dog and Duck in Frith Street and elsewhere. John Heath-Stubbs became a lifelong friend, from whom, he said, “I learned as much about English literature as from my official tutors.” When he got back to Oxford, he changed to English; he got a first class degree and also won the Chancellor’s English Essay Prize.

He moved to London and began writing freelance journalism, and in 1948 he published his first book, New Developments in the French Theatre. This took him to Paris and the Sorbonne, and he lecture at the British Institute in 1950-51. Returning to London, he joined The Times Literary Supplement in 1955, leaving for a year s Harkness Fellow in journalism at Yale before returning to the TLS as deputy editor. After that he became literary editor of the Sunday Telegraph (1960-70), then arts and literary editor of The Financial Times and latterly its chief book critic, retiring in 1994. He also wrote theatre criticism for the London Magazine.

Besides all this journalism and the books that he wrote and edited, he found time for broadcasting on Radio 3 and 4, making regular appearances on Critics Forum and writing features and radio plays. Lectures for the British Council took him to India and back to France. He took a serious and practical interest in his profession. He became a member of the Society of Authors, and was treasurer of its pension fund, and also treasurer of the Royal Literary Fund (1982-98). He was a trustee of the London Library (2004-06). A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts from 1990, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009, an honour that gave him special pleasure.

Anthony Curtis was a man of letters in every imaginable sense of those no longer hackneyed words, a professional writer through and through. But there was much more to him than that. He was a memorable speaker, with a deep voice that gave his speech a force that sharpened a sometimes mischievous wit.

His range of knowledge, from the more recondite parts of French literature to the movements of the Stock Exchange, was encyclopaedic. He enjoyed games of all sorts, to play –  backgammon, internet chess, even golf – or to watch, England defeats notwithstanding. He loved art, the theatre and opera, and again his knowledge of all three was vast. Most important, his career was shared with that of his wife Sarah, both as editor and critic; they took it in turns to read aloud to each other, and their hospitality was legendary.

His many friends will remember all the characteristic and diverse features of this remarkable man of many talents. A much wider public will continue to enjoy his writings. Even the least of his journalism had a pith, in wit and understanding of his subject, that set him apart. All that he wrote on other writers, and about the trade of writing, was and is worth reading. The shade of Somerset Maugham, who owes so much to him, must admire all that he did.

NICOLAS BARKER  

Anthony Curtis, author, editor and critic: born London 12 March 1926; married 1960 Sarah Myers (three sons); died Toulon 29 June 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee