Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his entire life.

Read "Naming of Parts."

Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed, ca. 1960



I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
Dusty Answer: Young, privileged, earnest Judith falls in love with the family next door.
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.




Weblogs, etc.

Posts from January 2010

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog


Postcard from Bernard; Dylan's the Devil

This evening, I'm reading Reed's old "Radio Notes" columns from the New Statesman, scanning for any personal information he might have let drop, in passing: vital clues to his haunts and hangouts, friends and visits, or activities. Here, for example, on October 25th, 1947, we learn he has been to see the controversial "Exhibition of Cleaned Pictures" at the National Gallery ("I wish that he [the director, Philip Hendy] could be allowed to appeal for funds which might help in getting the muck off some of the others"). On December 20th, Reed reports having recently attended a performance of Carrisimi's "most dramatic and beautiful work," the oratorio Jefte (at the Umbria Sacred Music Festival, possibly, in Perugia, Italy, the previous September?).

Then, in this last paragraph of the column for January 24th, 1948, there appears a paramount of name-dropping, blandishment, and cleverly phrased self-congratulation:

Second Opinion, discreetly and amiably presented by Mr. Frank Birch, has made an excellent and entertaining beginning. The proceedings opened with a postcard from Mr. Bernard Shaw about a discussion of Paradise Lost in which I had myself been privileged to take part. Modesty restrains me from divulging on whose side Mr. Shaw seemed to have been; what genuinely moved me was the thought that one's own humble mumblings had reached those ears at all. I have felt no comparable emotion since I gave up prayer.
[p. 70]

Between October and December of 1947, the BBC's Third Programme broadcast an eleven-part dramatization of Paradise Lost, produced by Douglas Cleverdon, who cast Dylan Thomas in the role of Lucifer. The program was not well-received, and reviewing it for his December 6th "Radio Notes" (.pdf), Reed was forced to invent the term "inauscultable" to adequately describe his disappointment:

New arts demand new words, and in its short day the radio has given us many, not always beautiful. Seeking during the last few weeks to compound a necessary word that should be at once inoffensive in sound, clear in meaning and traditional in formation, I have met with a philological difficulty. The transitive Latin verb auscultme, to listen to, hearken to, give ear to, produces in English the two verbs 'to auscult' (rare) and 'to auscultate,' the latter being familiar in medicine. Normally I would not wish to have truck with such words; the wireless I would either listen to, or switch off. It was some such word as inauscultable or inauscultatable that I wanted. After careful consideration of the rival claims of medicine and radio, I venture to suggest that inauscultatable be reserved for those organs inaudible even to the stethoscope, and that inauscultable be dedicated to such radio-programmes as Paradise Lost, which has now been going on for seven weeks, and has been more or less unlistenable-to from the very start.
[p. 449]

Thomas's performance was a particular sore spot: "Week after week," Reed says, "we have had the voice of Dylan Thomas coming up like thunder on the road to Mandalay; rarely can such gusty intakes of breath have passed across the ether."

The new series which received a postcard from George Bernard Shaw, Second Opinion, was a show of audio letters-to-the-editor, consisting of correspondence from listeners concerning the Third Programme's talk and discussion programming. Following shortly after the final chapter, Reed participated in "An Argument on 'Paradise Lost'," broadcast Sunday evening, January 4th, 1948, which must have been something of an airing of grievances. It sounds as if Reed found, in Shaw's response to the conversation, more than ample vindication for his negative review. You can almost hear him patting himself on the back! I wonder where that postcard is, today. Buried deep in the BBC Archive?

Curiously, the humble postcard seems to have been one of Shaw's preferred methods of communication (Brown University Library exhibit), and he even had personalized cards printed, some with statements of his frequently requested views on such subjects as capital punishment, vegetarianism, and his failure to garner support for a new, 42-character, British alphabet (bottom of this page). Here's a postcard from Shaw to Ezra Pound in 1922, concerning the publication of Joyce's Ulysses (at Indiana University's Lilly Library):


«  Shaw Radio NewStatesman  0  »

1532. Vallette, Jacques. "Grand-Bretagne," Mercure de France, no. 1001 (1 January 1947): 157-158.
A contemporary French language review of Reed's A Map of Verona.

Balzac Marginalia

Here's a excerpt from an article on Honoré de Balzac, in the Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English, v.1, edited by Olive Classe (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000). Written by Michael Tilby, the article contains this bit of a love note to Reed's translation of Balzac's Eugénie Grandet (New York: New American Library, 1964). Tilby calls Reed's adaptation "inherently Balzacian," "outstanding," and to be "preferred to its rivals."

Book cover

The 1964 translation by the poet and radio dramatist, Henry Reed takes the text of the last version to be revised by the author (the so-called 'Furne corrigé') but follows the Garnier edition of 1961 in restoring 'Balzac's shapely design of the edition of 1834'. It also includes the opening and closing paragraphs, to which only readers of the anonymous 1859 translation had previously had access in English. Further emendations are discussed by Reed in a lengthy translator's note. They include, controversially, the correction of what the translator identifies as the printer's wrongly positioned insertions of Balzac's marginalia (though without apparently checking his intuitions against the manuscript or that portion of the corrected proof that survives). Reed also tidies up, as far as possible, Balzac's own, incomplete, alterations of dates and the ages of certain of his characters. 'Grandet no longer puts on a couple of decades in the space of 12 to 14 years and ... Madame Grandet does not die both in 1820 and 1822'. A similar attempt is made to substitute 'a more logical time-scheme' for Balzac's 'grotesque miscalculations connected with the central action'.

Reed's actual translation is outstanding and is to be preferred to its rivals. It modernized the original in precisely the way Milton Crane claimed for Bair's version and avoids the errors and distortions that disqualify Crawford's. Consistently resourceful, it is inherently Balzacian through the translator's own relish for words. Alone of all the published English translations, it brings the characters alive through their speech, as in this case of an outburst by the Grandet's servant, offered a small glass of cassis from the bottle she was carrying when she tripped on a rickety stair: 'In my place, there's plenty what would have broken the bottle. I held it up in the air and nearly broke my elbow instead'.
[p. 103]

I'm ashamed to admit, while I've read Reed's translation of Père Goriot, I haven't actually read his Eugénie Grandet, because my used bookstore copy is in such good condition, I don't want to ruin it!

«  Balzac Translations  0  »

1531. Henderson, Philip. "English Poetry Since 1946." British Book News 117 (May 1950), 295.
Reed's A Map of Verona is mentioned in a survey of the previous five years of English poetry.

1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)



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