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77 GILBERT CANNAN: AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WRITINGS ABOUT HIM By Richard J. Buhr (University of Illinois, Urbana) The headline, "Mr. Gilbert Cannan, Promise Unfulfilled,"1 from the London Times (1955) obituary is likely to remain an accurate appraisal of this novelist, playwright, and critic. Before World War I, William Payne hailed Cannan in the Dial (1914) as one of "the half dozen or so of living English novelists who count[ed] the most."2 In "The Younger Generation" (1914), Henry James classified Cannan with Hugh Walpole, Compton Mackenzie, and D. H. Lawrence - young novelists trying to rid the novel of the sentimental while adhering to the real - and believed that Cannan, Walpole, sind Mackenzie exhibited greater promise than Lawrence who toiled in "the dusty rear."3 Despite such praise of his potential, Cannan has been virtually forgotten since he ceased writing in the mid-1920·s. Nevertheless, his life and the critical reception of his work contribute an interesting and important footnote to the Georgian literary narrative. Gilbert Cannan was born in Manchester (25 June 1884), the son of Henry and Violet Wright Cannan and the nephew of Edwin Cannan, the noted economist. After attending the University of Manchester and King's College, Cambridge, Gilbert read for the law and was admitted to the bar in I908. The law, however, proved secondary to Cannan's theatrical and literary ambitions. While writing reviews of novels for the Manchester Guardian, he joined John Drinkwater, Stanley Houghton, Harold Brighouse, and C. E. Montague in creating the Manchester Repertory Theatre. From I909 to I910, he demonstrated a regretful contempt for the elder generation in the scathing drama criticism that he wrote for the London Star. Acknowledging this criticism, Bernard Shaw lampooned Cannan in the character of the drama critic, Gunn, in Fanny's First Play (1911). In 1907, Cannan took advantage of a fortuitous opportunity to enter the London literary circles by engaging himself as secretary for the Censorship Committee founded by James M. Barrie, John Galsworthy, and Gilbert Murray.4 Cannan's charm and zeal won him not only the esteem of Barrie, but also the love of Barrie's much neglected wife, Mary Ansell Barrie (an actress, more than twenty years older than Cannan). The triangular attachment resulted in a much talked of scandal - replete with testimony from a disgruntled gardener5 - and Mrs. Barrie's divorce . After their marriage, the Cannans lived for a few years in a quaint transformed windmill in Buckinghamshire with D. H. Lawrence and Middleton Murry as neighbors, but the Cannans eventually separated and were divorced. During the residence in Buckinghamshire, Lawrence appraised Cannan in a letter (1915)ι "I feel a real, unalterable power for good in Gilbert. But he is very crude, very shockingly undisciplined, and consequently inarticulate. He is not very passionate."6 78 Cannan's first two novels, Peter Homunculus (I909) and Devious Ways (1910), received little notice from the critics. Although the Athenaeum7 and the Saturday Review (Lond)° praised his depictions of childhood, they denigrated his use of epigrams and his formlessness. Publication of Round the Corner (1913) brought Cannan his first serious critical attention and also a certain degree of notoriety when the unofficial censors of the London Circulating Libraries banned the novel because of its intense realism. Reviewers readily perceived the influence of H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, and Samuel Butler in this novel of the Reverend Francis Folyat and his family. Henry James held that Round the Corner belonged "to the order of constatations pure and simple; to the degree that as a document of that nature and of that rigour the book could perhaps not more completely affirm itself."9 other critics favorably placed Reverend Folyat in the tradition of Parson Adams and the Vicar of Wakefield. Round the Corner was the second of the six novels that comprised Cannan's Lawrie saga which included Little Brother (I912), Three Pretty Men (1916), The Stucco House (1918), Time and Eternity (1919). and Annette and Bennett (1922). In his critical study of Samuel Butler, Cannan delineated the theory that irony is one of the essential elements of the novel: "A novel is an epic with its wings clipped, that is, with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 77-107
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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