Bailey, Paul 1937-

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BAILEY, Paul 1937-

PERSONAL: Born Peter Harry Bailey, February 16, 1937, in Battersea, London, England; son of Arthur Oswald and Helen (Burgess) Bailey. Education: Attended London Central School of Speech and Drama, 1953-56. Politics: "Socialist." Religion: "Agnostic." Hobbies and other interests: Music, literature, tennis.

ADDRESSES: Home—79 Davisville Rd., London W12 9SH, England.

CAREER: Actor, educator, novelist, and playwright. Actor, 1956-63, on television and with the Stratford and Royal Court theatres in London, England; fulltime writer. University of Newcastle upon Tyne and University of Durham, literary fellow, 1972-74; North Dakota State University, Fargo, visiting lecturer, 1977-79. Formerly worked in retail.

AWARDS, HONORS: Arts Council of Great Britain Award and Somerset Maugham Travel Award, both 1968, both for At the Jerusalem; Authors' Club Award, 1970; E. M. Forster Award, National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1974; Bicentennial Arts fellow, 1976; George Orwell Memorial Prize, 1976; shortlisted for Booker Prize for Fiction, 1977, for Peter Smart's Confessions, and 1986, for Gabriel's Lament; Royal Society of Literature fellow, 1982.



At the Jerusalem, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1967.

Trespasses, J. Cape (London, England), 1970, Harper (New York, NY), 1971.

A Distant Likeness, J. Cape (London, England), 1973.

Peter Smart's Confessions, J. Cape (London, England), 1977.

Old Soldiers, J. Cape (London, England), 1980.

Gabriel's Lament, J. Cape (London, England), 1986, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.

Sugar Cane, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1993.

(Editor) First Love, Dent (London, England), 1997.

Kitty and Virgil, Fourth Estate (London, England), 1998, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Uncle Rudolf, Fourth Estate (London, England), 2002.


At Cousin Henry's (radio play), 1964.

A Worthy Guest, produced in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 1973, and London, 1974.

Alice, produced in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 1975.

Crime and Punishment (based on the novel by Feodor Dostoevsky), produced in Manchester, England, 1978.

(With Tristram Powell) We Think the World of You (television play), 1980.


(With others) Living in London, London Magazine Editions (London, England), 1974.

An English Madam: The Life and Work of Cynthia Payne (biography), J. Cape (London, England), 1982.

An Immaculate Mistake: Scenes from Childhood and Beyond (autobiography), Bloomsbury (London, England), 1990, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.

(Editor) The Oxford Book of London (anthology), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor) The Stately Homo: A Celebration of the Life of Quentin Crisp, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.

Three Queer Lives: An Alternative Biography of Naomi Jacob, Fred Barnes, and Arthur Marshall, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including New Statesman, Listener, Observer, London Magazine, Sunday Times, and Daily Telegraph.

SIDELIGHTS: Paul Bailey's novels are "characterized by extreme compression," Peter Lewis wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, "in an attempt to produce great poetic intensity." Usually concerned with elderly or isolated characters who are suffering from a personal catastrophe in their lives, Bailey's work is often pessimistic. Yet, Thomas J. Cousineau stated in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Bailey is a writer who possesses a remarkable sensitivity to human relations and an exceptional gift for rendering the inner lives of his characters."

At the Jerusalem, Bailey's first novel, was described as "probably the most original, and certainly the most accomplished, first novel" of 1967 by Alan Ross in London magazine. It is set at the Jerusalem retirement home, where Mrs. Gadny has been forced to live. Her struggle against—and eventual failure to adjust to—the loneliness of institutional life is the subject of the novel. "Bailey's social comment," Miles Burrows observed in his New Statesman review, "is precise and made with an enviably light touch while never failing to be serious." This blending of the comic and compassionate results, Ross commented, in "a series of portraits remarkable for their insight and tenderness." Because of her inability to adjust to life in the retirement home, and her disturbing memories of past failures to achieve intimacy with others, Mrs. Gadny eventually "breaks and goes from poorhouse to mental institution," J. M. Carroll explained in Library Journal. Carroll found At the Jerusalem a "sad, almost clinical account of unhappiness in growing old," while a TimesLiterary Supplement critic praised Bailey for combining "mature understanding with immense control and accomplishment."

Ralph Hicks, the narrator and protagonist of Bailey's second novel, Trespasses, is also committed to a mental institution. Following the suicide of his wife, who blames him for her action, Hicks has suffered a breakdown and committed himself. In a series of short narrative fragments, Hicks examines the details of his life as a way to find some sort of sense in it. "He hopes," Cousineau wrote, "that the exploration of his past will awaken in him that sense of a strong personal identity which has until now eluded him." As in Jerusalem, the principal theme of Trespasses is "estrangement: the subtly inevitable process by which parents and children, men and women, draw tragically and uncomprehendingly apart from one another," a Times Literary Supplement reviewer maintained. The critic went on to conclude that with Trespasses, Bailey "establishes a firm place among the best of the younger novelists." Cousineau believed Trespasses "may well be Bailey's finest novel."

Estrangement is also an important theme in A Distant Likeness, the story of police inspector Frank White, recently deserted by his wife for another man. White's efforts to reconcile himself to this loss are interwoven with his daily police work and his memories and presented in a stream-of-consciousness narration. It is written, noted a Times Literary Supplement critic, "almost entirely in tiny, cryptic paragraphs collected in short batches separated by blank pages." This method is "probably less effective," Cousineau admitted, "than the more explicitly controlled technique of Trespasses." Lewis believed that in this novel Bailey is "aiming at a hyper-concentration of linguistic effect."

The "likeness" of the title refers to the similarity between White and a wife murderer named Belsey who sits silently in his cell and refuses to talk to police. Both men have failed in life and this common failure eventually moves White to give Belsey a knife, hinting to the man that he may want to kill himself with it. Instead, Belsey attacks a guard and White is arrested as his accomplice. Some critics saw the novel's short length and minimal plot as its major flaws. "No amount of ingenuity," a Times Literary Supplement critic concluded, "in the deployment of symbols, the details which echo meaningfully across the pages, the nice attention to minuscule portrayals of settings, can compensate for the final absence of the full-blooded novel which Mr. Bailey's skills might have provided. A Distant Likeness is thin stuff."

As in previous Bailey novels, the protagonist of Peter Smart's Confessions is caught in a catastrophic situation. The novel begins with Smart waking up in a hospital intensive care ward after a failed suicide attempt. Like Ralph Hicks of Trespasses, Smart then decides to write his autobiography as a means of sorting out his life. The result is an often-humorous book filled with the constant chatter of a host of eccentric characters. In fact, as Paddy Kitchen explained in Listener, the text of this autobiography consists primarily of "the dialogue of [Smart's] motley and intermittently splendid cast of relations, friends, and employers." "Peter Smart's Confessions," Peter Ackroyd observed in the Spectator, "is a sport, a game constantly threatening to get out of hand as Bailey swoops with horrid glee upon each of his characters as they alternately fumble, strut and moan through their lives." The characters, Ackroyd continued, "address the world about themselves, ferocious and furious, helpless and merciless in turn, lying and hesitating." "Irony and humour are not unwelcome in tragedy," Kitchen stated, "but too often here they deteriorate into long-drawn-out badinage. However, there are some brilliant passages." Similarly, Cousineau believed the book's humor "seems to reside more in isolated set pieces . . . than in any underlying novelistic conception."

In Old Soldiers, Bailey again deals with elderly characters who are experiencing a painful loss. The novel begins as Victor Harker returns to London for the first time in fifty years. He has come to get away from his hometown for a few days following the recent death of his wife. While visiting St. Paul's Cathedral, Harker meets Harold Standish, another elderly man. Both men served in World War I; they dine together and share their memories of that time. Harker soon realizes that Standish is not what he first seemed to be; he maintains three separate identities—a tramp, an unknown poet, and a retired army officer—and dons each disguise for a few days at a time. Standish's intention is "to escape from himself," Cousineau explained, "and the inevitability of his own death." This need to escape was triggered by an act of cowardice during the war. "I was not entirely persuaded by Paul Bailey's literal explanation of how Standish's protean obsession began," Nicholas Shrimpton of the New Statesman allowed. "But in other respects this is a marvelously skillful book, deftly constructed and full of incidental delights." Writing in the Listener, John Naughton focused his attention on the book's length, calling it "an exercise in compression, a stylistic experiment conducted to see how far a scenario can be cut to the descriptive bone while still remaining credible." Elaine Feinstien noted in her review for the London Times that "to bring us into the presence of the dead and dying and then, without the slightest precautionary numbing of ordinary emotions, bewilder us into laughter is a remarkably difficult manoeuvre. . . . [Old Soldiers], however, does just this, and gently, without a taint of black farce." Lewis dubbed Old Soldiers the "most completely satisfying" Bailey novel since At the Jerusalem.

Gabriel's Lament "is by far [Bailey's] longest work of fiction and encompasses over forty years of English life, from the early years of World War II on," stated Lewis in Contemporary Novelists. The novel tells the story of Gabriel, a writer whose life "has been profoundly affected by [his mother's] mysterious absence as well as by the overbearing presence of his outrageously eccentric father, Oswald, one of Bailey's most brilliant creations and a comic character of Dickensian stature," noted Lewis, continuing, "Oswald may make Gabriel suffer, but he simultaneously makes the reader laugh. Bailey achieves a delicate synthesis of the tragic and the comic." Identifying similar characteristics, Boyd Tonkin summarized in the Listener: "Bailey's rich comedy and wily narration suggest a link between creation and delusion that places Gabriel's Lament squarely inside a Romantic tradition." Jill Johnson commented in the New York Times Book Review that "The oppression of Gabriel is so pervasive, so persistent, that his ultimate triumph as a writer, let alone his survival, may be hard to believe," stating also that, "All Mr. Bailey's characters tend to talk like [Oswald], whose speech is mannered and inflated. This blurs the distinctness of the characters and often makes the reading hard going." Neil Philip viewed the novel more positively. He stated in his British Book News review that "Bailey maintains Gabriel's rather fussy narrative voice with great skill, and within that constraint unerringly manages a cast of almost Dickensian eccentrics."

Kitty and Virgil is a love story concerning Londoner Kitty Crozier and Virgil Florescu, a Romanian poet who has been forced to flee the dictatorship of Ceausescu because of his anti-government writings. Virgil is a born storyteller who enjoys recounting traditional folktales to the attentive Kitty. She, in turn, is an indexer for a publishing house who is trying to deal with an unpredictable family. "Kitty and Virgil are appealingly unpretentious, sincere, and witty," Ben Donnelly stated in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. Judith Kicinski in Library Journal called Kitty and Virgil "very funny yet deeply tragic," while Paul Whitaker, in his review for the New Statesman, described it as "a study of late 1980s England and Romania seen through the distorting lens of a love affair." The critic for Publishers Weekly found Kitty and Virgil to be "at once a wistful and tender love story and a harrowing account of how people from two utterly different cultures and ways of looking at the world can find, then lose, each other."

Bailey's novel Uncle Rudolf again features a Romanian character, this time telling the story of young Andrei, who is brought from Romania to London in 1937 to live with his Uncle Rudolf. Andrei has never before met his relative, and he is unsure why he has been spirited out of his homeland at all. Uncle Rudolf works as a tenor in light opera, and he enjoys some fame, but he is unhappy with performing in what he considers to be an inferior form of entertainment. Behind the scenes, Rudolf also works against the fascist regime which has taken over Romania. Told in retrospect by an elderly Andrei who is seeking to make sense of the events of his life, Uncle Rudolf is, according to Paul Binding in the Spectator, "a beautifully worked cultural fable, elliptically presented after the manner Bailey has made uniquely his own." Stevie Davies in the Guardian found Uncle Rudolf "an exquisitely composed novel," while Observer contributor Amelia Hill called the novel "a desperately sad tale; a haunting narrative by a haunted man whose inability to fuse the fragments of his childhood condemns him to an unanchored existence, floating between the old world—and words—and the new."

There are recurring themes in all of Bailey's novels, Cousineau noted. "In each novel," he explained, "the stability of the main character's life is undermined by some painful circumstance. . . . It frequently happens as well that the catastrophe is provoked at least in part by the main character's personal inadequacies . . . [and, in addition,] Bailey's characters are generally isolated from normal human relationships." Bailey's great strength, Lewis observed, is his ability to depict the isolation of his characters. "He exposes the vulnerable core at the heart of all individuals," Lewis wrote, "the strategies by which people try to disguise their vulnerability and to protect themselves from the daily assault of reality, including the inevitability of death."

In addition to fiction, Bailey has produced several nonfiction publications, including An Immaculate Mistake: Scenes from Childhood and Beyond and The Oxford Book of London. An Immaculate Mistake is a "slim, unpretentious memoir" of Bailey's life, according to Nisid Hajari in Entertainment Weekly. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly stated of the biography that it is "varying in intensity, the episodes shine with good humor." The Oxford Book of London contains various fiction and nonfiction works, ordered chronologically from 1180 to 1994, which detail life in London. In his Observer review, Anthony Quinn described the book as "a fine anthology, that should leave minds as madly divided on the place as they ever were . . . it might be said to unfold a tale of two cities within a single metropolis, one of them home to privilege, the other to privation. Bailey's artful juxtapositions keep this grim divide always before us." Oliver Reynolds faulted the book in the Times Literary Supplement for failing to include material describing key aspects of London life, such as "sport," "the Long Room," and the "twin towers." Reynolds stated that, "considering its subject matter, [it] is relatively slim; rather narrow in its choice of materials, it is one of those rare books that a reviewer might wish were longer." Praising The Oxford Book of London, Reynolds continued: "The book reads very easily, and is constantly diverting through its juxtaposition of poetry and prose, factual account and gilded memory . . . [it] is cogently ordered and consistently enjoyable."

Bailey has also published two nonfiction books on gay topics. In the first, The Stately Homo: A Celebration of the Life of Quentin Crisp, the author collects writings by an openly homosexual English author. Known for his biting humor and flaunting of conventional values, Crisp is best remembered for the autobiographical The Naked Civil Servant. Richard Canning in the Independent noted that the collection contains "well-chosen excerpts from Crisp's works and pithy recollections" by other writers. Bailey's Three Queer Lives presents biographies of writers Naomi Jacob and Fred Barnes and of entertainer Arthur Marshall. According to Cora Lindsay, on Contemporary Writers, these three people "succeeded against the odds at a time when being gay was more difficult than it generally is today." Francis King in the Spectator found that the book offers "an engaging combination of seriousness and frivolity."

Bailey commented in an interview for Contemporary Novelists: "I write novels for many reasons, some of which I have probably never consciously thought of. I don't like absolute moral judgments, the 'placing' of people into types—I'm both delighted and appalled by the mysteriousness of my fellow creatures. I enjoy 'being' other people when I write, and the novels I admire most respect the uniqueness of other human beings. I like to think I show my characters respect and that I don't sit in judgment on them. This is what, in my small way, I am striving for—to capture, in a shaped and controlled form, something of the mystery of life."



Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 14: British Novelists since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.


Antioch Review, spring, 1971.

Booklist, May 1, 1987, p. 1332.

Books and Bookmen, August, 1967.

British Book News, January 19, 1987, p. 43.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), November 23, 2002, "Books of the Year."

Encounter, September, 1973.

Entertainment Weekly, August 14, 1992, p. 56.

Guardian, September 28, 2002, Stevie Davies, review of Uncle Rudolf, p. 27.

Independent (London, England), December 18, 2000, Richard Canning, "The True Importance of Being Quentin," p. 5.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1987, p. 486.

Library Journal, April 15, 1967; January, 2000, Judith Kicinski, review of Kitty and Virgil, p. 154.

Listener, July 6, 1967; April 30, 1970; June 14, 1973; June 2, 1977; March 6, 1980; October 2, 1986, pp. 23-24.

London, October, 1976.

London Review of Books, October 23, 1986, p. 16.

New Statesman, June 2, 1967; April 17, 1970; June 15, 1973; June 10, 1977; February 29, 1980; May 28, 1993, p. 38.; September 18, 1998, Paul Whitaker, review of Kitty and Virgil, p. 53.

New York Times Book Review, May 21, 1967; October 18, 1987, p. 34.

Observer (London, England), May 28, 1967; June 17, 1973; May 29, 1977; March 2, 1980; October 22, 1995, p. 14; December 15, 2002, Amelia Hill, review of Uncle Rudolf, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, January, 13, 1992, review of An Immaculate Mistake: Scenes from Childhood and Beyond, p. 39; January 24, 2000, review of Kitty and Virgil, p. 289.

Punch, July 5, 1967; October 1, 1986, p. 59.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2000, Ben Donnelly, review of Kitty and Virgil, p. 175.

Spectator, April 18, 1970; June 16, 1973; June 4, 1977; June 14, 1980; September 26, 1998, Anita Brookner, review of Kitty and Virgil, p. 44; October 20, 2001, Francis King, review of Three Queer Lives, p. 47; September 21, 2002, Paul Binding, review of Uncle Rudolf, p. 45.

Times (London, England), February 28, 1980.

Times Literary Supplement, June 8, 1967; April 16, 1970; June 29, 1973; May 27, 1977; November 6, 1982; June 21, 1996, p. 32.

USA Today, August 6, 1987, p. 5D.


Contemporary Writers, (November 6, 2003).*