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Enemies of Promise

3.97  ·  Rating Details  ·  120 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
“Whom the gods wish to destroy,” writes Cyril Connolly, “they first call promising.” First published in 1938, Enemies of Promise, an “inquiry into the problem of how to write a book that lasts ten years,” tests the boundaries of criticism, journalism, and autobiography with the blistering prose that became Connolly’s trademark. Connolly here confronts the evils of domestic ...more
Paperback, 265 pages
Published October 1st 1982 by Persea Books (first published 1938)
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Justin Evans
Aug 20, 2013 Justin Evans rated it liked it
On the upside, the next time anyone complains about how The Literary Establishment has always forced people to write in single genres and thus distorted the Genius Writer, I can point to one more book as showing what rubbish that statement is. On the downside, I now know why this is more cult classic and less just classic. I was led to expect much more.

I thought the first section by far the most interesting. Connolly's understanding of literature, and particularly literary history, was ahead of
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
In the first part of this book, Connolly examines the dual trends of stripped-down, vernacular storytelling and elevated, stylistically ambitious prose in early 20th-century novels. He looks at the strengths and weaknesses of both styles and proposes a synthesis. It's interesting stuff, rendered dated in its prescriptions by the fact that the dam was about burst - a vast array of styles far beyond the elitist 'mandarin' or demotic 'vernacular' of his analysis were to explode on the literary scen ...more
Jan 16, 2009 Sus rated it liked it
This is a rather surprising and confusing book; only the middle third is like I thought it would be (which is also the part advertised by the title.) Since this section is by far the shortest, it leaves me with a lot of time to reflect on the other two.

The first eighty or so pages -- which lay out "the Predicament," as Connolly calls it -- are given over, as he puts it, to "the problem of how to write a book which lasts ten years." This was, now that I think about it, an advertisement that attra
Just finished Part I, the witty survey of English literary trends, feuds and factions from 1890 until 1938. The copy I have is a library one, so I may not proceed until I can buy my own markable copy. Connolly has such an aphoristic style--at times I'm conscious of reading through filler before the zinger--that I need to read him with pen in hand.
Apr 15, 2008 Mark marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
William Boyd said of this: "Somehow manages to enshrine in his words and life everything that we aspire to, and that intellectually ennobles us, and all that is weak and worst in us as well."
"I have always disliked myself at any given moment; the total of such moments is my life."
Jan 29, 2016 Augusta rated it it was ok
This is a book written by a very well-known literary critic and journalist, Cyril Connolly. It sets out to address the issue of why he never became the successful author of fiction that he aspired to and that others felt he should have become.

It is set in 3 parts, the first part is literary criticism. He talks in great detail about mandarin and realistic writing, analyses different writers and poets such as Hemingway, Maugham, Joyce, and a few others I haven’t heard of and talks a little about w
Jeffrey Greggs
Jun 28, 2008 Jeffrey Greggs rated it it was amazing
Connolly is a true pleasure to read. Pay no attention to his complaints—those Eton-types were chaps who could turn a phrase or two. Book I provides a detailed round-up of early 20th C prose as seen through the dialectic of mandarin and vernacular style. Book II is a marvel. It's not on the curriculum of any MFA programs that I am aware of (for the obv. reasons), but it could easily be the sole text in a course listed as "Literary Ambition & Its Discontents." Gotta love Book III too; Connolly ...more
May 15, 2014 Denis rated it really liked it
Overall, the book is a relic of the past but the quotes and vignettes it contains (of friendships, characters, feelings, styles) are eternal. It includes an autobiography, but it's more valuable as the biography of a generation.
Jun 01, 2016 Pierre rated it really liked it

Absolutely GOAT - best book since Stoner.
Dec 27, 2010 Mark rated it liked it
A time capsule of sorts, assessing the novelists of early-to-mid 20th-century Britain, what it takes to write a novel (according to Connolly, who admittedly never did), and ending with a short memoir of Connolly's schooldays and rise to prominence as a critic. Perhaps nothing more than a curiosity these days, but I enjoy the immersion in a bygone literary world.
Lewis Manalo
Feb 17, 2011 Lewis Manalo rated it really liked it
The essay section on writing is required for readers as well as writers, but at this point the coming-of-age memoir doesn't offer much you haven't already read - though it does say what George Orwell was like in high school.
Elizabeth Bradley
Aug 10, 2008 Elizabeth Bradley rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Jenny Elkus, David Cronin
One half literary criticism, one half clear-eyed and brutal analysis of his days at Eton. Addictive, if maybe a little too aphoristic. You start to feel foolish when you find yourself underlining something every page...
Mar 21, 2013 Ken rated it really liked it
Interesting. The three parts are - not to spoil it for anyone - entirely different. The third is not about literature but is an autobiographical essay - mostly about boys schools and Eton.
Jan 03, 2011 James rated it it was amazing
A must read for aspiring writers, but skip chapter one. Most of the authors he discusses are unknown today.
Tim Bancroft
Mar 01, 2015 Tim Bancroft rated it it was amazing
Excellent presentation of a a real-life crime in a story format. Immensely readable and absorbing.
Very interesting, detailed and offers excellent insight into the history of writing.
Apr 12, 2013 Fran added it
OK, I haven't actually read it....
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Cyril Connolly was born in Coventry, Warwickshire in 1903. Educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford he was a regular contributor to the New Statesman in the 1930s.

Connolly also co-edited Horizon (1939-41) with Stephen Spender and later was literary editor of the The Observer. Books by Connolly include the novel, The Rock Pool (1938), the autobiographical, Enemies of Promise (1938) and The Unq
More about Cyril Connolly...

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“Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.” 15 likes
“When I write after dark the shades of evening scatter their purple through my prose.” 9 likes
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