It's not just a book thing!
Steve Foote has been working with Edward Chaney on Genius Friend, his biography of Gerald Edwards, author of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, for the last two and a half years. Steve is publishing Edward’s book to coincide with the Guernsey Literary Festival and we are delighted he has written this guest blog post.
The launch of the biography of G.B. Edwards at the Literary Festival later this year will mark the culmination of nearly 40 years’ work by Edward Chaney researching the life of his reclusive friend, and an attempt to set him in his rightful literary context after nearly a century in the wilderness.
What emerges is a portrait of a man that many of his influential literary friends in the 1920s believed was the next big thing, a successor to D.H Lawrence – at least two of them considered him their ‘Genius Friend’. After this early promise, however, he sadly failed to deliver, most likely due to his ‘peculiar swing between complete arrogance and a complete self-contempt’.
By the time that the young art student Edward Chaney met Gerald in the early 1970s, the author was a retired civil servant living near Weymouth. Around the time he completed and dedicated his magnum opus to Chaney, he wrote ‘the mere thought of a public image appalls me’ – and did what he could to frustrate any writer’s attempt at a biography by destroying what few letters and other papers he possessed.
However, just as when Ebenezer Le Page dedicates his notebooks to Neville Falla, he writes ‘I swear he knew I had given him all my secrets for him to read some day’, it has become clear Gerald employed a similar technique. From what we now know, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page not only contains many characters and events from the author’s own life, it also reveals some of Gerald’s innermost thoughts.
Since its publication in 1981, the autobiographical style of the novel has led readers to assume that Ebenezer represents the man Gerald believes he would have become had he stayed in the island. And it is true that Gerald does voice many of his opinions of the late 20th century through Ebenezer, particularly his dislike of the modern world, including amongst other things, of tourism, finance, television and cars.
However, the surprising twist for me was that it was Raymond, not Ebenezer, who represents Gerald in his youth. And the more we learn of Gerald’s own life, the more apparent this becomes.
It was Raymond’s father who disinherited him by selling the house he was born in. It was Raymond whose wife had a child by his best friend. It was Raymond who suffered a nervous breakdown under the weight of his own high expectations. All of these sections of the novel draw directly from Gerald’s personal experience, and it is conceivable that the untimely death of Raymond in the middle of the novel is a metaphor for Gerald’s descent into obscurity during the 1940s.
For those who already know the novel, re-reading it from the perspective of Raymond, rather than Ebenezer, as the voice of the author as a young man, will bring a remarkably fresh and yet poignant perspective, as some of the most heart-rending passages of Raymond’s inner turmoil can be interpreted as coming directly from the author’s heart.
To accompany this biography, Chaney has drawn heavily on Edwards’s little-known published works, including his articles for the influential Adelphi magazine during the 1920s and 30s, his correspondence, a selection of his unpublished poetry and those fragments that remain of the planned trilogy of which Ebenezer Le Page was intended to form part.
In this remarkable work, Professor Chaney will have achieved what he set out to do – namely to set G.B. Edwards in his rightful cultural and literary context, as well as bringing fresh insight into the life of this reclusive author, allowing those who already know and love his novel to read it again in a whole new light.
‘Genius Friend’: G.B. Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by Edward Chaney will be published in September 2015 by Blue Ormer Publishing.