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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography / literary criticism

Léon Bloy

Rayner Heppenstall

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To purchase Léon Bloy

Title: Léon Bloy
Author: Rayner Heppenstall
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1954
Length: 59 pages
Availability: Léon Bloy - US
Léon Bloy - UK

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Our Assessment:

B : personal, opinionated take, interesting oddity

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 5/3/1954 D.W.Brogan
New Statesman . 13/3/1954 G.D.Painter
The NY Times Book Rev. . 8/8/1954 Albert J. Guerard
TLS . 28/5/1954 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)n amusing book, neither modest nor unpretentious." - Albert J. Guerard, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Jorge Luis Borges showed interest in the writings of Léon Bloy, and that should already count for something. But, unlike some of the other writers Borges championed, Bloy remains (outside of France) in obscurity; indeed, the Borges-references may well be the closest most English-speaking readers get to him (though recall -- as Heppenstall does -- that Graham Greene's The End of the Affair bears an epigraph by him ...).
       Is Bloy worth the trouble and attention ? Well, Heppenstall, in this odd little biographical essay, suggests:

We cannot deny Bloy the interest due to a freak, an eccentric, a Caliban of letters.
       Bloy wrote two novels, summarised here, and Heppenstall particularly praises his journals -- indeed, finds these are probably Bloy's only writings really worth seeking out --, but to Heppenstall the central fact about Bloy is that he was a Catholic writer. This also forms the more personal basis of this essay, as Heppenstall begins it by recounting how in 1935, when he shared a garret with George Orwell in London, he took steps towards becoming a Catholic (though ultimately he could not go through with it). This also led him to Bloy, and even if the Catholicism didn't entirely stick, Bloy did: worried in 1949 that all his French reading was affecting his English he sold practically all his French books, and among the few he kept were those of Bloy (as well as those of Marcel Jouhandeau).
       Heppenstall has his doubts about Bloy and a lot of what Bloy wrote. He only mentions it well into the essay, but acknowledges that:
     I approach Bloy now with fascination, painful nostalgia and a variety of other emotions among which I cannot fail to detect an element of distaste.
       Still, he finds:
At his best, Bloy was majestic. At his worst, there is something lovable about the old fraud.
       Aside from the journals, Heppenstall figures Bloy is simply too Catholic (and not agreeable enough) to really catch on -- and also, perhaps, too French. He contends: "In modern times, no Frenchman has written prose so riotously excessive", and that perhaps doesn't translate that well either (though it might make readers curious to know and read more; Heppenstall gives some examples, but it doesn't seem like a lot).
       Léon Bloy is an odd little study, with considerable autobiographical detail and asides (but without it really revealing all that much about Heppenstall), and while he gets quite penetrating in part, one only gets something of a sense of Bloy the writer and man, not a picture that feels full. The quirky approach (and it really is quirky) has its appeal, and it's not a bad introduction to Bloy, but given that the English-speaking reader has practically no place to go from here (you try finding something else about or by Bloy in English ...) one is left feeling not quite satisfied.

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Léon Bloy: Rayner Heppenstall: Books by Léon Bloy under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author John Rayner Heppenstall lived 1911 to 1981.

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