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Nye, Robert

NYE, Robert

Nationality: British. Born: London, 15 March 1939. Education: Dormans Land, Surrey; Hamlet Court, Westcliff, Essex; Southend High School, Essex. Family: Married 1) Judith Pratt in 1959 (divorced 1967), three sons; 2) Aileen Campbell in 1968, one daughter, one stepdaughter, and one stepson. Career: Since 1961 freelance writer: since 1967 poetry editor, the Scotsman, Edinburgh; since 1971 poetry critic, the Times, London. Writer-in-residence, University of Edinburgh, 1976-77. Awards: Eric Gregory award, 1963; Scottish Arts Council bursary, 1970, 1973, and publication award, 1970, 1976; James Kennaway Memorial award, 1970; Guardian Fiction prize, 1976; Hawthornden prize, 1977; Society of Authors' Travel scholarship, 1991. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1977. Agent: Sheil Land Associates, 43 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LF, England; or, Wallace Literary Agency, 177 East 70th Street, New York, New York 10021, U.S.A. Address: 2 Westbury Crescent, Wilton, Cork, Ireland.

Publications

Novels

Doubtfire. London, Calder and Boyars, 1967; New York, Hill andWang, 1968.

Falstaff. London, Hamish Hamilton, and Boston, Little Brown, 1976.

Merlin. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1978; New York, Putnam, 1979.

Faust. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1980; New York, Putnam, 1981.

The Voyage of the Destiny. London, Hamish Hamilton, and NewYork, Putnam, 1982.

The Memoirs of Lord Byron. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1989.

The Life and Death of My Lord Gilles de Rais. London, HamishHamilton, 1990.

Mrs. Shakespeare: The Complete Works. London, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993; New York, Arcade Publishing, 2000.

The Late Mr. Shakespeare. London, Chatto & Windus, 1998; NewYork, Arcade Publishing, 1999.

Short Stories

Tales I Told My Mother. London, Calder and Boyars, 1969; NewYork, Hill and Wang, 1970.

Penguin Modern Stories 6, with others. London, Penguin, 1970.

The Facts of Life and Other Fictions. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1983.

Uncollected Short Stories

Lines Review 38 (includes 4 stories, verse, and a film script) (Edinburgh), 1971.

Plays

Sawney Bean, with William Watson (produced Edinburgh, 1969;London, 1972; New York, 1982). London, Calder and Boyars, 1970.

Sisters (broadcast 1969; produced Edinburgh, 1973). Included inPenthesilea, Fugue, and Sisters, 1975.

Penthesilea, adaptation of the play by Heinrich von Kleist (broadcast1971; produced London, 1983). Included in Penthesilea, Fugue, and Sisters, 1975.

The Seven Deadly Sins: A Mask, music by James Douglas (producedStirling and Edinburgh, 1973). Rushden, Northamptonshire, Omphalos Press, 1974.

Mr. Poe (produced Edinburgh and London, 1974).

Penthesilea, Fugue, and Sisters. London, Calder and Boyars, 1975.

Radio Plays:

Sisters, 1969; A Bloody Stupit Hole, 1970; Reynolds, Reynolds, 1971; Penthesilea, 1971; The Devil's Jig, music by Humphrey Searle, from a work by Thomas Mann, 1980.

Poetry

Juvenilia 1. Northwood, Middlesex, Scorpion Press, 1961.

Juvenilia 2. Lowestoft, Suffolk, Scorpion Press, 1963.

Darker Ends. London, Calder and Boyars, and New York, Hill andWang, 1969.

Agnus Dei. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

Two Prayers. Richmond, Surrey, Keepsake Press, 1974.

Five Dreams. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1974.

Divisions on a Ground. Manchester, Carcanet, 1976.

A Collection of Poems 1955-1988. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1989.

14 Poems. Cadognan, France, Editions Ottezec, 1994.

Henry James and Other Poems. Edgewood, Kentucky, Barth, 1995.

Collected Poems. London, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995.

Other (for children)

Taliesin. London, Faber, 1966; New York, Hill and Wang, 1967.

March Has Horse's Ears. London, Faber, 1966; New York, Hill andWang, 1967.

Bee Hunter: Adventures of Beowulf. London, Faber, 1968; as Beowulf: A New Telling, New York, Hill and Wang, 1968; as Beowulf, The Bee Hunter, Faber, 1972.

Wishing Gold. London, Macmillan, 1970; New York, Hill and Wang, 1971.

Poor Pumpkin. London, Macmillan, 1971; as The Mathematical Princess and Other Stories, New York, Hill and Wang, 1972.

Cricket: Three Stories. Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1975; as Once upon Three Times, London, Benn, 1978.

Out of the World and Back Again. London, Collins, 1977; as Out of This World and Back Again, Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1978.

The Bird of the Golden Land. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1980.

Harry Pay the Pirate. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1981.

Three Tales. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1983.

Lord Fox and Other Spine-Chilling Tales. London, Orion, 1995.

Other

Editor, A Choice of Sir Walter Ralegh's Verse. London, Faber, 1972.

Editor, William Barnes: A Selection of His Poems. Cheadle, Cheshire, Carcanet, 1972.

Editor, A Choice of Swinburne's Verse. London, Faber, 1973.

Editor, The Faber Book of Sonnets. London, Faber, 1976; as A Book of Sonnets, New York, Oxford University Press, 1976.

Editor, The English Sermon 1750-1850. Manchester, Carcanet, 1976.

Editor, PEN New Poetry. London, Quartet, 1986.

Editor, with Elizabeth Friedmann and Alan J. Clark, First Awakenings: The Early Poems of Laura Riding. Manchester, Carcanet, and New York, Persea books, 1992.

Editor, A Selection of the Poems of Laura Riding. Manchester, Carcanet, 1994.

*

Manuscript Collections:

University of Edinburgh; University of Texas, Austin; National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh; Colgate University, Hamilton, New York.

* * *

A hallmark of Robert Nye's fiction has been his ability to harness the imagination to his will, to take the facts of everyday life and to transform them into fantastic happenings so that myth and reality become as one. The stories in Tales I Told My Mother rework the lives of literary personalities, and his first novel, Doubtfire, ranges in time and space between different worlds with remarkable ease and fluidity of style. Equally fantastic have been his children's novels which have followed faithfully C.S. Lewis's dictum that children's stories should be just as enjoyable to adults.

In later novels such as Falstaff, Merlin, Faust, and The Voyage of the Destiny, Nye created a quartet of loosely related myths from characters, real or imaginary, who exist in our collective pasts. The worlds that they people are dream-like and fabulous, half-caught, half-forgotten by the subconscious mind. And yet their darksome existence is lightened by Nye's ability to steer away from allegory by making their worlds new again and instantly recognizable: Falstaff lives in an England that is demonstrably fourteenth century, Merlin's world is one of medieval chivalry, and Faust knows a Europe shared by Luther and Calvin.

Falstaff, a novel of 100 chapters, tells the story of Sir John Falstaffhis relationship to the English aristocracy and to the giant of Cerne Abbas, his conduct at the siege of Kildare, his friendship with Prince Hal, and his prowess at the Battle of Agincourt. His adventures, often unlikely and scabrous, unfold before the reader's eyes like a medieval tapestry, and by the end of the novel he has been consumed by the myth he has created for himself, the eternal John Bull, both patriot and buffoon. Myth of a different kind lies at the heart of Merlin whose central character is at once the unmistakable Merlin of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D' Arthur and at the same time an older, more cunning figure from Welsh vernacular literature and from the poetry of the twelfth-century French poet Robert de Boron, who created a Merlin capable of seeing both past and future and thus able to connect the ancient history of the Grail with the court of King Arthur.

Faust is the story of Dr. Faust's final forty days on Earth, having sold his soul to the devil, and it follows many of the themes of the previous two novels and expands on them: a delight in mixing myth with reality, an earthy eroticism, and a fast-moving dialogue that is both funny and deeply serious. Here the story is seen through the excited reaction of his servant Kit Wagnera device which Nye was to repeat in The Life and Death of My Lord Gilles de Rais. The mythical strain was continued in The Voyage of the Destiny which tells the story of Sir Walter Raleigh, explorer, poet, adventurer, and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. Raleigh himself is the narrator and his voice leads us through the three great voyages of his life: his return from the Americas, his journey through life, and the impending transition from life to death which gives the book its title. As in all Nye's novels the writing is crisp and lucid, a mixture of scholarly anecdotes racily told and erudite low comedy.

However well crafted and ingenious these novels undoubtedly are, they pale before The Life and Death of My Lord Gilles de Rais. As with the other novels, it is based on a historical figure who has assumed mythical proportions: Gilles de Rais, one of the greatest French noblemen of the fifteenth century and a boon companion of Joan of Arc. Unlike Falstaff or Merlin, though, it has been stripped of literary extravagance and fine flourishes. One reason for the change of mood lies in the subject. Gilles was hanged and his body burned at Nantes in 1440 after he confessed to crimes ranging from pederasty to murder. The second reason, perhaps the more imperative of the two, is the overriding necessity to explore the nature of evil. Gilles has committed his crimes because he has allowed himself to be seduced by pride and vanity, two sins which he fails to recognize in himself. Over 140 children died at his hands, yet throughout his short life he believed that his behavior stood above the law.

All this becomes clear through the testimony of a priest called Blanchet who acts as the narrator and thereby distances the reader from the full horror of Gilles's crimes. This device also allows Blanchet to give his version of the truth, for he, too, was arraigned with Gilles but found not guilty. The other great character in the novel remains unseen: Joan of Arc, who provides Blanchet with the theme of redemption and Christian charity. In his earlier historical novels Nye established himself as one of the most inventive and adventurous of contemporary novelists, with an imagination of Rabelaisian proportions. In The Life and Death of My Lord Gilles de Rais he added to that wit and learning profound insights into the nature of evil and a deep understanding of matters Christian.

Two later novels offered fake-book biographies of the English-speaking world's greatest writer. In Mrs. Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway offers an insider's view of her husband, but the tale she tells is not nearly as intriguing as that of "Robert Reynolds alias Pickleherring" in The Late Mr. Shakespeare. An aging actor and a sort of Falstaff type himself, Pickleherring claims to remember all sorts of things about the Bardincluding "facts" of questionable truth. The novel was well-timed, coming as it did hand-in-hand with Shakespeare in Love at the box office: the laughs in The Late Mr. Shakespeare, however, run an even wider gamut, with humor appealing to those with greater rather than lesser knowledge of the playwright's works.

Trevor Royle

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