J.R. Ackerley’s My Father and Myself comes to Stanford

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Roger and Joe Ackerley, 1913 (Photo courtesy Harold Ober Associates)

J.R. Ackerley led an outwardly quiet life between his flat in suburban Putney and his London office at The Listener, the BBC’s weekly magazine, where he worked from 1935 to 1959.  Though he was the leading literary editor of his generation, he was in no hurry to publish his own work – hence, his controversial memoir appeared posthumously.

Now his following is growing.  It’s likely to expand further when Stanford’s “Another Look” book club takes on My Father and Myself, exploring Ackerley’s life as a gay man and his determined outing of long-held family secrets. A book discussion will be held Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Stanford Humanities Center’s Levinthal Hall.  The event is free and open to the public.

The evening will be moderated by Terry Castle, professor of English and author of  The Professor and Other Writings. She will be joined by Adrian Daub, an associate professor of German studies, and Jeffrey Fraenkel, founder of San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery for photography.  The event launches the second year of “Another Look,” founded by the English/Creative Writing Department.

It’s not the first time Stanford has had a role in beating the drums for My Father and Myself.  When Edwin Frank, a former Stegner Fellow in Stanford’s Creative Writing Program, founded the New York Review Books Classics in 1999, none of Ackerley’s books were in print.  Frank republished all four – they were among the first titles of the eminent series that rediscovers out-of-the-way classics.

Given current critical esteem, their former obscurity is surprising, but Frank cites several reasons why this was so. “He published one book early on, and it was a success.  Then he didn’t write anything for years on end. If you do that, you will have a more vulnerable career as a writer,” he explained. “My Dog Tulip was published privately.  My Father and Myself was posthumous.  We Think the World of You was published in 1963 – it was a relatively open picture of a gay relationship between two none-too-appealing people.

“Each of the books is odd,” said Frank.  “They don’t match anybody’s expectations. Ackerley’s books are not good in the way people expect them to be good.”

Read the rest here.

There’s more.  At the “Another Look” website here, you can read:

“The Many Loves of J.R. Ackerley”

J.R. Ackerley was sitting on a park bench with Forrest Reid in Hyde Park, when the older writer asked him, “Do you really care about anyone?”

In My Father and Myself, Ackerley says he pondered the remark long afterwards. “To this searching question I do not know the answer, it goes too deep; since people and events vanish so easily from my memory it may be no.”  Not everyone shares his assessment. “It is characteristic of him to report against himself – he fears he is an uncaring person,” said Edwin Frank, founder of the New York Review Books Classics.

When accused of hating the human race, however, Ackerley was quite startled: “I am not a misanthropist,” he insisted. “I like people and get on well with them; I am only a numerical misanthropist.” To stem the rising population tide, he recommended homosexuality. No one could be entirely sure how serious he was.

8Read the rest here.

“Sometimes Love Really is a Bitch” 

My Father and Myself is dedicated simply “To Tulip.”

Tulip’s identity is no enigma. Although the real name of J.R. Ackerley’s dedicatee was “Queenie,” his editors worried the name had racy connotations, even for a dog, and hence the title of his earlier book had been My Dog Tulip. It is perhaps the only story of a man and his dog in which the two are treated as equals.

Read the rest here.


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2 Responses to “J.R. Ackerley’s My Father and Myself comes to Stanford”

  1. Duncan Fallowell Says:

    Ackerley’s sister founded an elite book prize in his honour, the PEN Ackerley Prize for memoir. It is funded by his estate so your enthusiasm will help to sustain it. I won the prize in 2012 with How To Disappear which the University of Wisconsin Press published recently in the USA. Ackerley’s own work is a reminder that quality, not celebrity, has staying power. It’s nice to have both – but quality endures regardless whereas celebrity . . .

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    True, Duncan. And congratulations! Thanks for taking the time to post.

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