I ponder Connolly, one of the godfathers of what used to be called “the permissive society”, as a Brandenburg Concerto (period instruments) expands into the dimmer and dustier corners of the Undercroft like a brilliant and intricate planetarium made of sound. Philoprogenitive Bach (twenty children by two wives) is a favoured intellectual and aesthetic remedy around here for the generalised pretence and gimcrackery of modern life (a more satisfactory antidote, perhaps, than Sir William Walton, whose modestly attractive oeuvre we owe, by her own account, to the abortions he demanded of his young Catholic wife).
Connolly was an astute, erudite critic and a formidable stylist, who deserves to be remembered if only for such book titles as The Condemned Playground and The Enemies of Promise, even as the books themselves retreat from view. He believed that it was his destiny to deliver himself of The Great Novel – but he never did, despite the rational precaution of childlessness. The consciousness of artistic sterility tormented and further paralysed him, together with a semi-legendary, Oblomovian sloth. His wife, Barbara Skelton, describes him lying inert for hours at a time, the sheets (which he was in the habit of chewing) spilling from his mouth “like ectoplasm”. Naturally, he permitted himself to pronounce upon religious themes:
“In my religion, there would be no exclusive doctrine; all would be love, poetry, and doubt.”
Surprise, surprise, eh?