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About Ronald Firbank
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Author, Ronald Firbank -  Bridgeman Art Library / The Illustrated London News Picture Library, London
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Ronald Firbank

About Ronald Firbank

An Interview with Ronald Firbank

More About Ronald Firbank

Arthur Annesley Ronald Firbank was born in 1886, a grandson of Joseph Firbank, a Durham miner who later amassed a fortune as a railway contractor. His mother, to whom he was greatly attached, was an Irishwoman of considerable beauty and cultivated tastes. Owing to a weak constitution, Firbank was educated mainly at home; in 1906 he went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. Until 1914 Firbank travelled a good deal but lived mainly in London, habitué of the Café Royal, well-known for his extreme and deliberate aestheticism, his sinuous, loosely-jointed figure, and his morbid nervousness, which issued in hysterical laughter in an elaborately capricious manner. The First World War was spent in retreat in Oxford; then again until his death in Rome in 1926 he travelled widely.

Firbank's first work was published in 1905, a volume of two short stories, Odette d'Antrevernes and A Study in Temperament. Ten years later Grant Richards brought out his first novel, Vainglory. The following were published later: Inclinations (1916); Caprice (1917); Valmouth (1919); The Princess Zoubaroff, a play (1920); Santal (1921); The Flower Beneath the Foot (1923); Prancing Nigger (1924 - published in England in 1925 under Firbank's original title, Sorrow in Sunlight); Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926). All save Prancing Nigger were published at the author's own expense. An early, but fully 'Firbankian', novel, The Artificial Princess, had been put away unpublished, though in the last year of his life Firbank revised it with a view to possible publication. It appeared posthumously in 1934.

His writing was admired by a number of significant writers. John Betjeman considered his work 'polished ... like a jewelled and clockwork nightingale among London sparrows', and Anthony Powell described his creation of 'a world, in the last resort, absolutely original; one that causes a cavalcade of wish-fulfilment myths to sweep gaily past the reader's vision'. In a critical essay on Firbank, Evelyn Waugh described his 'radiant lucidity', and wrote: 'When everything has been said which can intelligently be brought against him there remains a figure of essential artistic integrity and importance ... From the fashionable chatter of his period, vapid and interminable, he has plucked, like tiny brilliant feathers from the breast of a bird, the particles of his design'.

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Author Image: Ronald Firbank - Bridgeman Art Library / The Illustrated London News Picture Library, London