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Frank Laurence Lucas (1894 – 1967) was an English literary critic, poet, novelist, playwright, political polemicist, and Fellow of King's College, Cambridgemarker.

He is now best remembered for his scathing attacks on the poetry of T. S. Eliot during the 1920s, and his book Style (1955), though students of Aristotle's Poetics will relish reading his Tragedy (1927, substantially revised in 1957). His most important contribution to scholarship was his four-volume Complete Works of John Webster (1927), the first collected edition of the Jacobean dramatist since that of Hazlitt (1857), itself largely a copy of Dyce (1830). T. S. Eliot called Lucas “the perfect annotator”; and all subsequent Webster scholars have been indebted to him, notably the editors of the new Cambridge Webster (1995-2007).

The poets to whom Lucas returned most often in his publications were Tennyson (1930, 1932, 1947, 1957) and Housman (1926, 1933, 1936, 1960); these are among his most sensitive studies. He adopted the contextual approach at a time when it was considered a heresy (it is now orthodoxy again), including biographical detail and discussing the “psychology” of writers. Ever conscious that literature could influence for good or ill, he praised authors who were defenders of sanity and good sense – men like Montaigne and Johnson – or compassionate realists, like Homer in the Iliad, Euripides, Hardy, Ibsen and Chekhov. “Life is ‘indivisible’,” he wrote. “A public tends to get the literature it deserves: a literature, to get the public it deserves. The values men pursue in each, affect the other. They turn in a vicious, or a virtuous, circle. Only a fine society could have bred Homer: and he left it finer for hearing him.” Lucas condemned the trahisons des clercs of the twentieth century, and used his Cambridge lectures and writing to champion timeless civilised values and to campaign for a responsible use of intellectual freedom. “One may question whether real civilisation is so safely afloat,” he wrote in his last published letter, “that we can afford to use our pens for boring holes in the bottom of it” (Times Literary Supplement, 12 May 1966).

Steeped in Greek and Latin literature, Lucas dedicated much of his time to making accessible to modern readers the most living portions of the classics through verse translations. His Greek Poetry and Greek Drama (1951, 1954; many reprints) were praised for their grace and fidelity, and were hailed by reviewers as “Cambridge’s single-handed answer to the [collaborative] Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation”. With its introductions and notes it was a monumental project – nothing on this scale had been attempted by a single translator before, or has since. His versions pre-suppose, however, an understanding of metre and the caesura, and a taste for a poetic style closer to Morris than to Pound.

What Lucas wrote about Housman’s Name and Nature of Poetry in 1933 sums up what he himself aspired to as a literary critic: “… the kind of critical writing that best justifies itself before the brevity of life; that itself adds new data to our experience as well as arguing about the old; that happily combines, in a word, philosophy with autobiography, psychology with a touch of poetry – of the ‘poetic’ imagination. It can make acceptable even common sense. There are sentences here which recall the clear-cut Doric strength of the Lives of the Poets ...”

Lucas was a formidable controversialist, and his impatience with the obscurantism of much contemporary poetry and criticism made him in the interwar years one of the foremost opponents of the new schools. “As for ‘profundity’,” he wrote, “it is not uncommonly found also in dry wells; which may likewise contain little but obscurity and rubbish.” If it was a lost cause, it nevertheless made for some lively criticism, and his attacks on the Criterion and Scrutiny critics have their place in the history of Modernism.

The scholar’s wit and verve that mark Lucas’s literary studies are present in his creative work. Of his novels the best received was Cécile (1930), a “tenderly brilliant story of France on the eve of the Revolution” (New Statesman, 24 May 1930). “For grace and style and insight into character,” wrote Kathleen Tomlinson (Nation and Athenaeum, 7 June 1930) “Cécile is reminiscent of Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin. Only reminiscent, for Mr Lucas has a more profound philosophy, or wisdom, and is not content with the challenge and interplay of the individual, but extends his psychological understanding to classes and nations.” As a poet Lucas was a polished ironist. Early collections were mostly personal lyrics or satires, but he came to specialise in dramatic monologues or narrative poems based on historical episodes “that seem lastingly alive”. His most original play was The Bear Dances: A Play in Three Acts, the first dramatisation of the Soviets to reach London’s West-end stage (Garrick theatre, Oct.-Nov. 1932; revived by various repertory theatres in the North of England in the later 1930s), written at a time when Cambridge University (in his words) “grew full of very green young men going very Red”.

Outside literature, Lucas’s “north-bank” thesis on the location of the Battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.), based on his 1921 solo field-trip to Thessaly, is now widely accepted by historians. John D. Morgan in his definitive “Palae-pharsalus – the Battle and the Town” (The American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 87, No. 1, Jan. 1983) writes: “My reconstruction is similar to Lucas’s, and in fact I borrow one of his alternatives for the line of the Pompeian retreat. Lucas’s theory has been subjected to many criticisms, but has remained essentially unshaken.”

In the 1930s Lucas was widely known for his outspoken attacks in the British Press on appeasement. “This is the voice of the England I love,” wrote a correspondent from Prague in 1938, “and for whose soul I was trembling when I heard about the welcome given Mr Chamberlain on his return from Munich.” As a brilliant linguist with infantry and Intelligence Corps experience from 1914-18, proven anti-fascist credentials and a scepticism about the Soviet Union, Lucas was one of the first academics recruited by the Foreign Office in 1939 to Bletchley Parkmarker’s Hut 3. Here he became a central figure, working on the Enigma decodes as a translator and intelligence-analyst.

Works

  • Seneca and Elizabethan Tragedy (1922; in paperback, Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • Euripides and his Influence (1923)
  • Euripides' Medea; partly in the original and partly in translation (1923)
  • Euripides' Medea; translation (1924)
  • Bekassy, Ferenc: Adriatica and other poems; selection with preface (Hogarth Press, 1925)
  • Authors Dead and Living (1926; Housman essay reprinted in the Critical Heritage series, ed. Philip Gardner, 1992))
  • The River Flows; novel (Hogarth Press, 1926)
  • Complete Works of John Webster; edition in four volumes (1927)
  • Tragedy in Relation to Aristotle's Poetics (Hogarth Press, 1927)
  • Time and Memory; poems and translations (Hogarth Press, 1929)
  • Cecile; novel (1930)
  • Marionettes; poems (1930)
  • Eight Victorian Poets (1930)
  • The Art of Dying - an anthology; edited with Francis Birrell (Hogarth Press, 1930)
  • The Wild Tulip; novella (1932)
  • Ariadne; poem (1932)
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson - an anthology (1932)
  • Thomas Lovell Beddoes - an anthology (1932)
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti - an anthology (1933)
  • George Crabbe - an anthology (1933)
  • The Bear Dances: A Play in Three Acts (with Introduction: The Gospel According to Saint Marx) (1933)
  • The Criticism of Poetry (1933)
  • Studies French and English (1934)
  • From Olympus to the Styx; written with Prudence Lucas (1934)
  • Mauron, Marie: Mount Peacock, or Progress in Provence; translation (1934)
  • Poems, 1935; poems and translations (1935)
  • Four Plays: Land's End (Westminster theatre, Feb.-March 1938, 29 performances); Surrender to Discretion; The Lovers of Gudrun; Death of a Ghost (1935)
  • The Awakening of Balthazar; poem for the Abyssinian Red Cross Fund (1935)
  • The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal (1936; in paperback, Hesperides Press, 2006)
  • The Golden Cockerel Greek Anthology; translations (Golden Cockerel Press, 1937)
  • The Woman Clothed with the Sun, and Other Stories (1937)
  • The Delights of Dictatorship (1938)
  • Doctor Dido; novel (1938)
  • A Greek Garland; a Selection from the Palatine Anthology; translations (1939)
  • Journal Under the Terror, 1938 (1939)
  • The Vigil of Venus; translation (Golden Cockerel Press, 1939)
  • Messene Redeemed; verse drama (1940)
  • Ten Victorian Poets (1940; Hardy essay reprinted in the Macmillan Casebook series, editors Gibson & Johnson, 1979)
  • Critical Thoughts in Critical Days (1942)
  • Tennyson, Poetry and Prose; edition (1947)
  • The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite; translation (Golden Cockerel Press, 1948)
  • Aphrodite - two verse translations, the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and the Pervigilium Veneris (1948)
  • Gilgamesh, King of Erech; poem (Golden Cockerel Press, 1948)
  • Homer: The Odyssey; translated in selection (Folio Society, 1948)
  • Musaeus: Hero and Leander; translation (Golden Cockerel Press, 1949)
  • Studies French and English; revised version of the 1934 essays (1950)
  • Homer: The Iliad; translated in selection (Folio Society, 1950)
  • Literature and Psychology (1951)
  • Greek Poetry for Everyman; translations (1951)
  • From Many Times and Lands, Poems of Legend and History (1953)
  • Greek Drama for Everyman; translations (1954)
  • Style (1955; in paperback with footnote translations: Collier Books, 1962, Pan Books, 1964)
  • Tragedy: Serious Drama in Relation to Aristotle's Poetics; revised version of 1927 study (1957; in paperback with footnote translations: Collier Books, 1962)
  • Tennyson (1957)
  • Webster: The White Devil; revised edition (1958)
  • Webster: The Duchess of Malfi; revised edition (1958)
  • The Search for Good Sense: Four 18th-Century Characters: Johnson, Chesterfield, Boswell, Goldsmith (1958)
  • The Art of Living: Four Eighteenth-Century Minds: Hume, Horace Walpole, Burke, Benjamin Franklin (1959)
  • The Greatest Problem, and Other Essays (1960)
  • The Drama of Ibsen and Strindberg (1962)
  • Strindberg: Inferno; translated by Mary Sandbach, introduced by F.L. Lucas (1962)
  • The Drama of Chekhov, Synge, Yeats and Pirandello (1963)
  • Greek Poetry; translations, revised and renamed version of 1951 edition (1966)
  • Greek Drama for the Common Reader; translations, revised and renamed version of 1954 edition (1967)
  • Greek Tragedy and Comedy; translations, renamed version of 1954 edition (1968)
  • The English Agent: A Tale of The Peninsular War; novel (1969)


Other writings

  • "The Boar"; short story (Athenaeum, 10 September 1920)
  • "The Fortune of Carthage"; short story (Athenaeum, 28 January 1921)
  • "The Brown Bag"; short story (Cambridge Review, 6 May 1921)
  • "The Battlefield of Pharsalos"; report on a field study (Annual of the British School at Athens, No. XXIV, 1919-21)
  • "The Reverse of Aristotle"; a discussion of Peripeteia (Classical Review, August-September 1922)
  • "The Waste Land"; a review (New Statesman, 3 November 1923; reprinted in the Macmillan Casebook series and the Critical Heritage series)
  • "The Duchess of Malfi"; essay (New Statesman, 1 March 1924)
  • "Playing the Devil"; theatre-review of The White Devil (New Statesman, 17 October 1925)
  • "English Literature" (University Studies, Cambridge 1933; editor Harold Wright)
  • "Poetry Examined by Professor Housman" (Cambridge Review, 8 June 1933; review of Housman’s Name and Nature of Poetry)
  • "Mithridates - The Poetry of A.E. Housman" (Cambridge Review, 15 May 1936; reprinted in the Critical Heritage series, ed. Philip Gardner, 1992)
  • "Julian Bell"; a memoir (Cambridge Review, 15 October 1937; reprinted in The Cambridge Mind, editors Homberger, Janeway & Shama, 1970)
  • "Proud Motherhood (Madrid A.D. 1937)"; poem (Poems for Spain, 1939; editors Spender & Lehmann; reprinted in The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse)
  • History of Hut 3, Public Records Office documents, ref. HW3/119 and /120
  • Poetry; Epic; Ode; Elegy; Lyric; Pastoral (articles in Chambers's Encyclopaedia, 1950-66)
  • "On the Fascination of Style" (Holiday, March 1960; reprinted in The Odyssey Reader: Ideas and Style, 1968)


Political letters

  • Germany, Europe and Peace (Week-end Review, 16 September 1933)
  • Germany and Europe (Week-end Review, 21 October 1933)
  • Abyssinia : Our Duty (Daily Telegraph, 25 July 1935)
  • Italy and Abyssinia (Daily Telegraph, 31 July 1935)
  • Italy’s Claims (Daily Telegraph, 7 August 1935)
  • An Italian Teacher’s Political Views (Manchester Guardian, 9 August 1935)
  • Impartiality at Cambridge (Manchester Guardian, 14 August 1935)
  • Home-truths from Italy (New Statesman and Nation, 24 August 1935)
  • Reply to an Italian’s defence (Morning Post, 12 October 1935)
  • Mussolini’s War (Manchester Guardian, 14 October 1935)
  • Mr. Bernard Shaw’s Letter (The Times, 24 October 1935)
  • The Italians in Tripoli (Manchester Guardian, 11 January 1936)
  • Congratulations to the University of Heidelberg (Cambridge Review, 14 February 1936)
  • The League’s Abyssinian Front (Manchester Guardian, 12 March 1936)
  • British Policy in World Crises (Manchester Guardian, 22 September 1936)
  • Democracy and Progress (Time and Tide, 10 October 1936)
  • Blackshirt Marches and Meetings (Manchester Guardian, 23 October 1936)
  • “Non-Intervention in Spain” (Manchester Guardian, 16 February 1937)
  • Barbarities of Modern War (Manchester Guardian, 14 May 1937)
  • The National Government’s Foreign Policy (Manchester Guardian, 6 September 1937)
  • Pacifism and Panic-Mongering (Manchester Guardian, 1 December 1937)
  • Pacifism and Air-Raid Precautions (Manchester Guardian, 7 December 1937)
  • The Absolute Pacifist Position (Manchester Guardian, 15 December 1937)
  • Mr. Chamberlain’s “Realistic” Policy (Manchester Guardian, 10 March 1938)
  • To the Editor of The Times (Journal Under the Terror, 17 March 1938)
  • An Open Letter to Lord Halifax (Journal Under the Terror, 12 May 1938)
  • Labour and the Popular Front (New Statesman and Nation, 14 May 1938)
  • Air Defence (Daily Telegraph, 16 May 1938)
  • Britain and Political Refugees (Manchester Guardian, 20 May 1938)
  • Refugee Jews and England (Manchester Guardian, 26 August 1938)
  • The European Crisis (Manchester Guardian, 15 September 1938)
  • The Munich Agreement–and after (Manchester Guardian, 4 October 1938)
  • The Refugees in Czechoslovakia (Manchester Guardian, 3 November 1938)
  • The Two Voices (Manchester Guardian, 7 November 1938)
  • After Barcelona (Manchester Guardian, 7 February. 1939)
  • Germany and World Empire (Manchester Guardian, 10 February 1939)
  • Hitler as “The Friend of Peace” (Manchester Guardian, 24 February 39)
  • Friendship with Germany (Manchester Guardian, 8 March 1939)
  • German Opinion about England (Manchester Guardian, 15 August 1939)


Adaptations of Lucas's work

Margaret Wood's play A Kind of Justice (1966) is based on Lucas's poem "Spain 1809" (From Many Times and Lands, 1953), the story of a Spanish village woman's courage during the French occupation in the Peninsular War.

Biographical

• L. P. Wilkinson: F. L. Lucas in King’s College Report, November 1967• R. H. L. Cohen & M. Pottle: F. L. Lucas in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)


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