The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 7, 2017

August 7, 2008

Simon Gray (October 21, 1936 to August 7, 2008) the British novelist and diarist, is also remembered as a playwright. We rely on his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article for the following glimpses of a man who saw himself as Dickensian.

He wrote nearly thirty plays in as many years, many of which had a successful run in the West End. It is no coincidence that many of his plays were directed by a writer with a correspondingly puritanical aesthetic, Harold Pinter. Pinter directed nine of Gray's plays and their friendship survived a falling out over the character-or caricature-of Hector Duff, 'the world's greatest living playwright', in Gray's television play
Unnatural Pursuits (1993). Pinter directed two of Gray's most interesting later plays, The Late Middle Classes (1999) and The Old Masters (2004)....

If the characteristic Gray protagonist in his plays seemed to be close to autobiographical, there was no confusion in his diaries. He published eight volumes (one posthumously) in which he wrote frankly (and very funnily) of sexual desire, failure, fantasy, and jealousy; of loneliness, guilt, and shame. The diaries, both in form and content, were unrestrained, but for all that they were no less plays than his plays, albeit monologues for a not-quite-solipsistic, sometimes bitter, often loving, amiable, humane, vulnerable, intelligent, droll, melancholy, curmudgeonly protagonist who was often fuelled by immense quantities of alcohol-mostly champagne-and always, until he renounced both, by nicotine. The pleasures of drinking and smoking and the need, with the onset of illness, to renounce them-as well as the prospect of renouncing life itself-provided the narrative momentum of much of the diaries. As the fine dramatist that he was, Gray gave the writing of them a sense of spontaneity with an artlessness that was supremely artful, using the present tense as if memories and the act of recording them occurred simultaneously. Words flew out of him...: on tyranny, racism, sharks, rats, dogs, cats, flies, DTs, childhood, sex, murder, friendship, death, the power of fiction, lesbian fantasies, and more. It was the literary equivalent of the way in which thoughts come unbidden into one's mind when one is lying half awake in the early morning or drifting unmoored during the day.

.....Gray didn't moralize in his plays or his diaries: 'The moral is: you can learn nothing from experience, at least in my experience'. That may be true, but there were few who wrote about their experience with such honesty, self-knowledge, and, above all, such wit. The moral impulse at the heart of all his work was derived from this: the fault lies not in systems or societies or institutions but in ourselves alone. The success of the diaries brought about a reassessment of his plays. His extraordinarily fertile output came to be regarded not as a talent spreading itself thinly but as a writer whose prolific nature-like Dickens's-was part of his genius. Recognition came with the BAFTA writer's award in 1990 and a CBE in 2005 for services to drama and literature.

Gray married twice. On 25 June 1965 he married Beryl Mary De Haan (b. 1936), a photo researcher at the BBC, daughter of William Charles Kevern, a welfare officer. They had two children, Ben and Lucy. The marriage was dissolved in 1997, and on 22 February the same year he married a fellow lecturer at Queen Mary College, Victoria Katherine Rothschild (b. 1953), daughter of (Nathaniel Mayer) Victor Rothschild, third Baron Rothschild, zoologist and public servant.

Like his colleague Harold Pinter, called by many the world's greatest playwright, Simon Gray left a wife of decades to marry a woman with aristocratic connections and intellectual accomplishments.

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