Quotations about Barbellion


… Barbellion had a faculty for seeing what other people miss, for deductions that were free of conventional control, and for expressing his intuitive perceptions in a lively and illuminating manner, which is what we call genius.


H. M. Tomlinson, “Making the Most of It”, Daily Herald, 31 December 1919



A few months ago Barbellion was still alive, suffering and hoping; and, with the best will in the world, no critic can avoid being influenced by this fact. But his book is a fair topic for prophecy; and it is not very rash to predict that, as it loses the sharpness and painfulness of a record of fact, so its qualities as a work of literature will come more into prominence and we shall realise that Barbellion was not only a genius untimely overwhelmed by an evil fate, but a genius who, before he was overwhelmed, had opportunity to do some at least of his appointed work.


Edward Shanks, “W. N. P. Barbellion”, London Mercury, March 1920



But to Browne we are friends, and who would not be grateful for so high a privilege? It is here he is slenderly linked with Rousseau, to whom, however, we are all and each his father-confessor, and to Marie Bashkirtseff, but above all – though it sound almost like paradox – to that Sir Thomas Browne of the twentieth century, Barbellion.


Louis Golding, “Sir Thomas Browne and Barbellion”, Saturday Review, 12 November 1921



Barbellion’s diaries have provoked a great deal of discussion; they have revived interest in diary writing, and have shown that the introspective diarist of modern days may carry psychological self-analysis into very deep recesses of human consciousness. … [H]is very unusual lack of reticence is by no means British.


Arthur Ponsonby, M.P., English Diaries, 1923



I do not think that there can be two minds about the great literary qualities and the poignant interest of his one tragic work. It is a book that is continually sought and steadily reprinted – the story of a soul in the grip of the obscure and pitiless arterial [sic] disease that finally killed him, resolved to find expression and a use for itself in the ever darkening shadow of death. “Barbellion’s Diary” I am convinced will still be read with interest, curiosity and sympathy, when most of the larger more fluid successes of to-day have passed out of attention.


H. G. Wells, letter to Barbellion’s widow, 8 September 1925



… I have the highest admiration for his literary work, which I regard as quite first class. I have his books on my shelves, and from time to time I re-read them – always with profound satisfaction. If any man upheld the dignity of English letters by really distinguished books written under conditions of extreme difficulty, your late husband was that man. He was an example to us all in his life, and I for one am convinced that his work has permanent value.


Arnold Bennett, letter to Barbellion’s widow, 10 September 1925



He was greatly gifted; and reading some of his character-impressions, and especially his conversations with his nurse towards the end, one feels that among the many things he might have done excellently the writing of novels was one.


Kate O’Brien, English Diaries and Journals, 1943



[Parallels with Kafka’s Diaries having been drawn:] But Barbellion is more than honest: his introspection has that supercharged quality, often found in German and Russian, but very seldom in English, literature – at all events since understatement became a national characteristic.


Edward Sackville-West, Inclinations, 1949



What Barbellion’s book represents is the importation into English of the conventions of the journal intime, the serious exploration of the life of the psyche.


Robert A. Fothergill, Private Chronicles: A Study of English Diaries, 1974



This Journal is one of the great affirmations in our literature. If I had a friend who found life tedious, who was maybe even suicidal, and I had the power to make him or her read one book, it would be the soul-stirring diary of Wilhelm Nero Pilate Barbellion. Alias [sic] Bruce Cummings.


Noel Perrin, “Filling the Unforgiving Minute”, Washington Post, 15 March 1981



Barbellion … chose to answer back life’s mean jokes, and when it countered by letting loose the bacilli in his spine he dug in his heels and began his imaginative tantrum. … He was determined to flood the land with his lunatic vitality. He didn’t want the world his way; he wanted the world to have him his. So he wrote his ludicrously moving journals, never unaware of their crazy bravura. Few people read them anymore, but that cannot undo his improbable accomplishment. In a genre to which it is impossible to ascribe formulas and standards, he forces one to render a judgment – namely, that his is the greatest diary a man has written.


Thomas Mallon, A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, 1984



The result [sc. Journal] is a fantastic piece of clinical introspection, not only, as he called it, “a self-portrait in the nude”, but a laboratory record, kept by the experimental animal, of body and soul being flayed alive. His voice, talking to himself, unreels inside the reader’s head like an alternative, interior monologue.


Alan Brien, “Lovely one”, New Statesman, 15 June 1984



While the world squabbled over the authenticity of a masterpiece of personal observation, as great in its own right as anything which James Joyce was to write, Barbellion was, indeed, dying.


James Mildren, “Literary limbo engulfs Devon journalist”, Western Morning News, 29 January 1985



For as long as his remarkable journal is published he will live with it, his constrained existence celebrated for the courage that so brightly distinguishes it.


William Trevor, “On the Shelf”, Sunday Times, 5 November 1995



Others who have praised Barbellion or evinced an interest in his work include Dannie Abse, Brian W. Aldiss, Edward Blishen, Ronald Blythe, Neville Braybrooke, John Carey, Frank Cioffi, Anthony Clare, Kate Clarke (whose Journal, published under the name of Kate Paul, reveals a near obsession with him), Joseph Collins, Cyril Connolly, Frank Delaney, James Dickey, D. J. Enright, Rudolf Flesch, John Fowles, Graham Greene, Sir Alec Guinness, Frank Hardie, David Holloway, Christopher Isherwood, Jack Kerouac, Lincoln Kirstein, Joseph Wood Krutch, T. E. Lawrence, Rosamund Lehmann, Robert Lynd, Richard Mabey, G. H. Mair, Robert Bernard Martin, H. W. Massingham, John Middleton Murry, Vladimir Nabokov, Jeremy Nicholas, George Orwell, Michael Paffard, Raymond Queneau (who included the Journal in his list of the 99 greatest books ever written), Nigel Rees, Cecil Roberts, Jean Rostand, Martin Seymour-Smith, Stanley Snaith, C. P. Snow, Lord Swann, Frank Swinnerton, W. J. Turner, Edward Upward, Sir Hugh Walpole, Henry Williamson, Colin Wilson and Lewis Wolpert.