Brooke–Rose, Christine 1923-
Brooke–Rose, Christine 1923-
Born January 16, 1923, in Geneva, Switzerland; daughter of Alfred Northbrook and Evelyn Rose; married Jerzy Peterkiewicz (a writer and university lecturer), 1948 (divorced, 1975). Education: Somerville College, Oxford, B.A., 1949, M.A., 1953; University College, London, Ph.D., 1954. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, people.
Novelist, critic, and university lecturer. Freelance literary journalist in London, 1956-68; University of Paris VIII, Maitre de Conferences, 1969-75, professor of English and American literature, 1975-88. Military service: Worked with British Intelligence in the Royal Air Force during World War II.
Society of Authors Traveling Prize, 1965, for Out; James Tait Black Prize, 1966, for Such; Arts Council Translation Prize, 1969, for In the Labyrinth; Litt.D., University of East Anglia, Norwich, 1988.
The Languages of Love, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1957.
The Sycamore Tree, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1958, Norton (New York, NY), 1959.
The Dear Deceit, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1960, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1961.
The Middlemen: A Satire, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1961.
Out (also see below), M. Joseph (London, England), 1964.
Such (also see below), M. Joseph (London, England), 1965.
Between (also see below), M. Joseph (London, England), 1968.
Thru (also see below), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1975.
Amalgamemnon, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1984, Dalkey Archive (Normal, IL), 1994.
The Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus: Four Novels (includes Out, Such, Between, and Thru), Carcanet (London, England), 1986, reprinted, 2006.
Xorandor, Carcanet (London, England), 1986, Avon (New York, NY), 1988.
Verbivore, Carcanet (London, England), 1990.
Textermination, Carcanet (London, England), 1991, New Directions (New York, NY), 1992.
Remake, Carcanet (London, England), 1996.
Next, Carcanet (London, England), 1998.
Subscript, Carcanet (London, England), 1999.
Life, End Of, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 2006.
Gold (poetry), Hand and Flower Press (Aldington, Kent, England), 1955.
A Grammar of Metaphor (criticism), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1958, 2nd edition, 1970.
(Translator) Juan Goytisolo, Children of Chaos, MacGibbon (London, England), 1959.
(Translator) Alfred Sauvy, Fertility and Survival: Population Problems from Malthus to Mao Tse Tung, Criterion (New York, NY), 1960.
(Translator) Alain Robbe-Grillet, In the Labyrinth, Calder & Boyars (London, England), 1968.
Go When You See the Green Man Walking (collection of short stories), M. Joseph (London, England), 1969.
A ZBC of Ezra Pound (criticism), University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1971.
A Structural Analysis of Pound's Usura Canto: Jakobson's Method Extended and Applied to Free Verse, Mouton & Co. (The Hague, Netherlands), 1976.
A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1981.
Stories, Theories, and Things, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1991.
Invisible Author: Last Essays, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 2002.
Author of radio plays. Contributor of short stories, critical essays, and reviews to London magazine, Observer, Spectator, Modern Fiction Studies, Sunday Times, Times Literary Supplement, Revue des Letters Modernes, Quarterly Review of Literature, New Statesman, and other periodicals.
An author of experimental fiction, Christine Brooke-Rose has produced numerous works that reveal her fascination with language and her playful, postmodernist philosophy on the aims and methods of fiction. She is perhaps best known for her novels Xorandor and Verbivore, in which she uses science fiction techniques to explore the perils of nuclear proliferation and the information technology age. Brooke-Rose is also highly regarded internationally for her literary scholarship, put forth in books such as A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic and A ZBC of Ezra Pound. Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist Morton P. Levitt described the author as "a ‘European intellectual,’ one who is capable through her education and interests of bridging gaps between cultures—this at a time when English culture seems particularly hostile to foreign concerns."
Brooke-Rose's immersion in language began in childhood. Her mother was Swiss and her father British; three languages were spoken in her home, and much amusement was derived from mingling their peculiarities in creative ways. After wartime service with the British Intelligence, Brooke-Rose attended Oxford University and London University, completing a Ph.D. in Middle English in 1954. She worked as a journalist and reviewer throughout the late 1950s and also published the first of her many novels during those years.
"Christine Brooke-Rose's earliest books were always deft and alert fictions about love, loss, death, faith, about people and a continent of troubles," wrote Ihab Hassan in the New York Times Book Review. The author's first two books, The Languages of Love and The Sycamore Tree, concern themselves with conventional relationships and are written in a conventional manner. With her third novel, The Dear Deceit, however, Brooke-Rose began to experiment, in this case reconstructing a man's life from death to birth and revealing his character flaws as they become progressively more youthful. According to Richard Martin in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, the justification for Brooke-Rose's strategy in The Dear Deceit "is contained in the conviction that stories are subservient to their narration, since fictionality implies an intellectual adventure, whose fascination is rooted in its own imaginative invention."
A long and serious illness changed the course of Brooke-Rose's career soon after that. Her fiction abandoned any semblance of narrational linearity and became innovative and experimental, first in the manner of the nouveau roman and later in the postmodernist tradition. Out, published in 1964, has drawn comparisons with Alain Robbe-Grillet's La Jalousie for its limited point of view and precise scientific terminology. The novel's topic, however, shows science fiction overtones: set in a future in which Caucasians suffer from radiation poisoning, the text is, among other things, a meditation on race relations. Such, her 1966 novel, follows its central character from a near-death experience back into life, again with a nod to science fiction.
"In many respects Such contains most of the characteristic elements of the four books that follow it," noted Martin. "First there is the introduction of a basic strategy upon which the narrative rests, in this case a persistent use of the planned reiteration of phrases, sentences, and even whole passages. This device, which sends the reader back into the text, has the double effect of both underlining the artifice of fiction and of giving the reader an increased sense of complicity with the author." This sense of the reader's complicity is extended and developed through Between and Thru, the latter of which "is a novel about the writing of the novel, and exposure of fiction's fictionality, and, in the end, a deconstruction of itself in a riotous, typographical carnival which unites the author's two vocations, the novelist and the literary critic," explained Martin.
In Books and Bookmen, Eric Partridge described Thru as "remarkably readable, providing you accept the principle that a book does not have to be easy reading in order to be good." Stylistic complexity and verbal pyrotechnics are hallmarks of many of Brooke-Rose's books. The author herself told Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs in an interview published in the Review of Contemporary Fiction that she enjoyed constructing "writerly texts," or "the text which the reader is writing with the writer." She added: "I want to share my writing with the reader. Of course, that means the reader has to wake up and see what I'm doing. All the writers of the postmodern movement are doing this; I'm not the only one. Many people say that my novels are difficult; indeed, a lot of people complain about it, but when my fans say that, it's a compliment. They go back and see that I've done this, or that. They say my books are slow reading, and consider this a pleasure. If I achieve that, then I'm very pleased." This goal is reflected in Brooke-Rose's 1984 novel Amalgamemnon, which uses only future, conditional, subjunctive, and imperative verb forms while abounding in verbal sophistication and puns depending upon several languages. In the London Observer, Lorna Sage called Amalgamemnon "an elegant, rueful and witty word-game about what it feels like to be a word-addict—worse, a writing addict—in the brave new world of communications technology."
Brooke-Rose has always had a creative and critical interest in science fiction, publishing both short stories in and essays on the genre. Her 1986 novel Xorandor and its 1990 sequel Verbivore combine her interests in language and the deconstruction of the novel with an imaginative look at an alternate intelligence and its potential for affecting the human race. "This is ‘science fiction’ of the subversive sort, where the inalienable right to doublethink is under attack," observed Sage in the Observer. New York Times Book Review correspondent Thomas M. Disch noted that in Xorandor, Brooke-Rose's "verbal pyrotechnics are deployed in the interest of heightening and enriching her story, which is always riveting." Xorandor and Verbivore tell the story of a series of sentient stones, possibly of extraterrestrial origin, who feed to the point of over-saturation upon human information technology and nuclear waste. Nevertheless, both novels still play with language and with the relation of fiction to the "real world," the author's longtime concerns. In her review of Verbivore, Sage concluded: "We used to assume that novelists like [Brooke-Rose], concerned with the nature of language and such … were esoteric specialists. In fact, she's become dauntingly clear."
Brooke-Rose penned an autobiographical work in 1996, Remake, which Gabriel Josipovici of New Statesman and Society called an "intellectual adventure." It is mostly the story of her life as a young writer, living in London with a poet, and is full of the puns and plays on words that are prevalent in much of her work. The latter sections deal with her success as a novelist and separation from her husband. Josipovici noted that Remake is "a moving and compulsively readable" memoir.
In Brooke-Rose's 1996 novel, Next, she creates a fictional tale in which she imagines the lives of London's homeless people. The book contains the quirks that her writing is known for, including twenty-six characters, whose names all begin with a different letter of the alphabet. She also focuses on the diversity of dialects found within London, lending authenticity to her eccentric characters. Brian McHale of the Review of Contemporary Literature stated that Next places Brooke-Rose "firmly in the lineage of the great twentieth-century city novels."
In Invisible Author: Last Essays, Brooke-Rose does what most writers deem as "taboo": she writes about her writing. The book consists of six lectures the author has given, discussing the narrative sentence. She notes that the past tense has historically dominated writing, giving authors authority, but leaving the text remote and somewhat aloof. Brooke-Rose advocates for the more personal style of narrative, using the present tense, but not first person. Reviewing the work in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Richard J. Murphy concluded: "Greater exposure to the fiction and criticism of Christine Brooke-Rose would benefit us all."
Brooke-Rose's reputation as a critic is perhaps best summed up by Bernard Bergonzi in Encounter. Bergonzi called the author "a highly competent critical technician, who can do all jobs herself, from the most fiddling up to the largest; she has a stimulating capacity to switch within a page or two from the intensive reading of a small unit of narrative to a wide historical sweep." Brooke-Rose is known for her essays on science fiction as well as for her extensive work on the poems and writings of Ezra Pound.
Brooke-Rose has continued to write experimental fiction into the new millennium. Her 1999 novel, Subscript, though linear in form, attempts a distillation of about 4,500 million years of life. Writing in World Literature Today, Elizabeth Powers found it "Brooke-Rose's most engaging work, despite its un-Aristotelian time scale." The author takes the reader on a journey from the initial combination of individual cells up to the agricultural revolution in "an impressive addition to Brooke-Rose's challenging oeuvre," according to Powers.
More memoir in form, her 2006 novel, Life, End Of, features an octogenarian writer who lives near Avignon, as does Brooke-Rose. The author recounts this elderly lady's daily concerns, such as her failing body, as well as her history, including her marriage to a Polish poet, as Brooke-Rose was in real life. Spectator critic Lee Langley noted: "The pleasures of Life, End Of are numerous and satisfying: [Brooke-Rose] can spin from the profound to the frivolous in half a sentence, analysing, criticising and commenting on a thousand questions, moving and wonderfully funny." Similarly, Simon Cooper noted for Australian Broadcasting Company Radio National: The Book Show Online: "Amid all the punning and allusions Brooke-Rose can, within a few paragraphs, reveal how friendships die within the gaps and pauses of an otherwise banal conversation."
In the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Brooke-Rose remarked: "I still think that people should take pleasure in reading, that it is up to the writer to write in such a way as to direct the attention of the reader to the richness of possibilities of language. Because otherwise we're just going to lose language, this sloppy, almost un-English English that everyone is talking. People are just not aware of the solidity of their language. It's sliding away. Of course, something always comes to replace it, but I still think that unless we do something the whole reading and writing capacity is going to just disappear." She concluded: "Do what? Well, all one solitary writer can do is to fight against this consumer-product attitude, to make people enjoy working with you."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Birch, Sarah, Christine Brooke-Rose and Contemporary Fiction, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1994.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 40, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 14: British Novelists since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Little, Judy, The Experimental Self: Dialogic Subjectivity in Woolf, Pym, and Brooke-Rose, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1996.
Modern British Literature, Volume 1, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Books and Bookmen, September, 1975, Eric Partridge, review of Thru, p. 47.
Choice, October, 2002, P. Wolfe, review of Invisible Author: Last Essays, p. 276.
Encounter, June-July, 1982, Bernard Bergonzi, "A Strange Disturbing World: The Conflicts in Criticism." pp. 58, 60-67.
Listener, November 23, 1972, review of A ZBC of Ezra Pound, p. 718; August 14, 1975, review of Thru, p. 221.
London Review of Books, November 18, 1982, review of A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic, p. 18; November 7, 1991, Lorna Sage, review of Textermination, pp. 26-27; April 4, 1996, Gabriel Josipovici, review of Remake, p. 3; April 6, 2006, "Flinch Wince Jerk Shirk," p. 17.
Modern Language Review, April, 1994, Paul Hansom, review of Stories, Theories, and Things, pp. 427-428.
New Statesman, December 31, 1971, review of A ZBC of Ezra Pound, pp. 928-929; July 25, 1975, review of Thru, pp. 118-119.
New Statesman and Society, March 8, 1996, Gabriel Josipovici, "World within Word," pp. 41-42.
New York Review of Books, February 8, 1973, review of A ZBC of Ezra Pound, p. 3.
New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1985, Ihab Hassan, review of Amalgamemnon, p. 20; August 3, 1986, Thomas M. Disch, review of Xorandor, p. 10.
Observer (London, England), November 18, 1984, Lorna Sage, review of Amalgamemnon p. 29; July 20, 1986, Lorna Sage, review of Xorandor, p. 23; February 25, 1990, Lorna Sage, review of Verbivore, p. 68; October 20, 1991, Michael Walters, review of Verbivore, p. 60.
Poetics Today, winter, 2002, "‘You Are Here’: Reading and Representation in Christine Brooke-Rose's Thru."
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1989, Richard Martin, review of The Dear Deceit, Such, Thru, et al, pp. 80-90, 110-123, and Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs, interview with Christine Brooke-Rose; summer, 1999, Brian McHale, review of Next, interview with Christine Brooke-Rose, p. 127; spring, 2003, Richard J. Murphy, review of Invisible Author.
Spectator, November 4, 1966; review of Such; January 15, 1972, review of A ZBC of Ezra Pound, pp. 75-76; July 12, 1975, review of Thru, p. 52; March 25, 2006, Lee Langley, "Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel," p. 39.
Times, October 28, 1999, Alex O'Connell, p. 52.
Times Literary Supplement, October 20, 1966, review of Such, p. 953; October 31, 1968, review of Between, p. 1218; November 20, 1970, review of Between, p. 1347; June 2, 1972, review of A ZBC of Ezra Pound, p. 624; July 11, 1975, review of A ZBC of Ezra Pound. p. 753; October 12, 1984, review of A Rhetoric of the Unreal, p. 1168; July 11, 1986, review of Xorandor, p. 767; July 20-26, 1990, David V. Barrett, review of Verbivore, p. 782; November 1, 1991, review of Textermination, p. 20; October 8, 1999, Paul Quinn, review of Subscript, p. 24; July 26, 2002, "To Be, or to Be Revenged?," p. 6; March 24, 2006, Ali Smith, "The Armchair, the World: Christine Brooke-Rose and the Evocation of Self," p. 21.
Western Humanities Review, fall, 2005, "Who Could Have Read the Signs? Politics and Prediction in Gertrude Stein's Mrs. Reynolds and Christine Brooke-Rose's Amalgamemnon."
World Literature Today, spring, 1983, review of A Rhetoric of the Unreal, pp. 353-354; summer, 2000, Elizabeth Powers, review of Subscript, p. 592.
Australian Broadcasting Company Radio National: The Book Show Online,http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bookshow/ (September 11, 2006), Simon Cooper, review of Life, End Of.
Fantastic Fiction,http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (November 11, 2007), "About Christine Brooke-Rose."
Ready Steady Book,http://www.readysteadybook.com/ (January 8, 2006), Dai Vaughan, review of Life, End Of.