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The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography Paperback – 5 Feb 1996

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (5 Feb. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571118321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571118328
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 551,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"'Not only vividly readable... but touching and memorable.' Christopher Ricks, Sunday Times" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography by Louis MacNeice is 'masterly, and the best thing Louis MacNeice ever wrote in prose.' (Geoffrey Grigson, the Guardian)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My wife loved it. An interesting insight into the life and personality of one of her favourite poets.
The book was in excellent condition well packaged and speedily delivered.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Smaller typeface than I expected. Good copy arrived promptly. Thank you.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
What it means to be middle class and an intellectual in 1930 12 Oct. 2000
By Manuel Haas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Even on the very first pages of this "unfinished autobiography" there is a hint of snobbery, but that MacNeice is aware of the snobbery he was trained to feel as a member of the middle class is one of the strengths of the book. MacNeice, a poet and friend of W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender wrote this account of his life in 1940 at the age of 33; he never got it published during his lifetime. Maybe he felt the book was too honest - which the modern reader will certainly regard as its chief virtue. MacNeice is far from being a holy man or from being a glamorous bonvivant, and he never tries to give the impression of being what he his not.
MacNeices biography is quite exemplary. He was born in Belfast as the son of an Anglican clergyman with "Home Rule" - sympathies, yet at the age of seven he was sent to a private school in England and never came back to Ireland except on holiday. He felt torn between his Irish and British identities for the rest of his life. At the same time there was the identity of the public school boy, who when at Oxford despised the serious petty bourgeois students from grammar schools, and who when teaching at Birmingham University never took his students very seriously, just because they were not middle class.
MacNeice is a lot more aloof than Auden or Spender, he never really falls for the temptation of communism, nor was he bound to be charmed by Catholicism. He tells quite vividly how he got his full share of religion while growing up in a rector's house. Northern Ireland, Oxford, Birmingham, London, Spain, France, the USA are the places where he explores different kinds of conflicts. Combined with his absolute honesty this makes MacNeice the ideal companion to show us what life was like in the 1920s and 1930s in Britain. He hardly ever mentions his poetry, so this is not just a book for poetry lovers. MacNeice's scepticism has been compared to Orwell's, but in contrast to Orwell he does not affect to be an outsider. He admits that life could be quite comfortable at the time. Just like Orwell, however, MacNeice did not fail to read the writing on the wall.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Serenade for Strings 28 Oct. 2005
By F. S. L'hoir - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I began reading "The Strings are False" because Louis MacNeice was a schoolmate at Marlborough of the Cambridge Spy and Art Historian Anthony Blunt. I was delighted to discover the luminescent prose of one of the outstanding British poets of the twentieth century. Like Blunt, MacNeice was the son of an Anglican clergyman, and like Blunt, he kicked over the traces of his religious upbringing. Unlike Blunt, however, MacNeice's revolution found expression in his poetry instead of an effort to overthrow the hierarchical British class system.

Why should one bother to read this book, which has long passed out of current circulation? MacNeice's unfinished autobiography not only sheds light on a lost age of British social history, which includes the turbulent thirties and the Spanish civil war, but it also gives one a glimpse into the life of a beautiful mind of an era that is gone forever. Moreover, "The Strings are False" leads us to the gateway to MacNeice's poetry, such as "Epilogue," which furnishes a clue to the title of his book:

Rows of books around me stand,

Fence me in on either hand;

Through that forest of dead words

I would hunt the living birds -

So I write these lines for you

Who have felt the death-wish too,

All the wires are cut, my friends

Live beyond the severed ends.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Unfinished, but unmatched 8 Nov. 2009
By A. R. Paterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
To combine political nuance with personal reflection is a trick many poets have tried: nearly all have failed. That Louis MacNeice pulled it off it time and again might seem a testament to his age, I suppose, but really should be put down to an energetic, exacting, chameleonic mind with an extraordinary breadth of reference, sympathy, and vocabulary. It must also I think reveal a talent for succinct storytelling, the results of which can be seen in this `unfinished autobiography', reissued two years ago on the anniversary of the poet's birth.

This coruscating book is indispensable reading for anyone interested in the England of the inter-war years, in Northern Ireland, the Spanish Civil War, Anglo-American relations, or in the falling of impressions on the mind of a poet whose gifts translate beautifully into prose. MacNeice visits Jack Yeats, brother of the poet and Ireland's most important painter, and describes him 'slashing the paint on thick but with subtle precision, building up obscure phantasmagorias, combining an impressionist technique with a melodramatic fancy'. Apart from missing MacNeice's acute political sensibility and knack for synthesis this describes his own prose quite well, though the results are not much like Jack Yeats's paintings: the dreams which are woven through the text, and MacNeice's penetrating exaggerations about nations and people and politics are somehow as true to life as any more sober reflection.

The book begins in America in 1940, but dives back to take in MacNeice's upbringing in cold, stony, Carrickfergus under the eye of his Protestant rector father. Still, the atmosphere of sun and fields in this early recollection might be put down to the presence of his mother, who seems to have brought life and love to the household before becoming suddenly depressed and ill, and finally leaving for a nursing home when the poet was only five and a half. A year later she died of tuberculosis (as we are informed by a note by Louis's sister), and Louis was left with little but biting memories of his few minor sulks and indiscretions towards the end and a picture of her `walking up and down the bottom path of the garden, the path under the hedge that was always in shadow, talking to my sister and weeping'. The family is taken on by a flinty nanny and the memoir becomes fittingly granity: 'showing off', as Louis learns, is now considered a sin.

Fortunately it is a lesson MacNeice never fully learnt. At school in England he adopts the character of an outsider, playing on his Irishness to form a make-believe persona, and clinging to what Louis reports as his father's nationalism. At Marlborough and Oxford MacNeice's self-possession is disturbed but we see his poetic sensibilities develop, especially in a gift for friendship. His marriage and domestic life in Birmingham are intimately described, although a real sense of MacNeice's feelings is obscured: as in his poetry, he acts chiefly as an acute observer. It is in this role he travels to Iceland and to revolutionary Spain, and his scepticism about abstract political idealism is cemented. His political engagement however is not diminished.

The memoir circles back to where we began, and we now understand what takes MacNeice to America is a private rendezvous, about which he is reticent, not simply the public concerns we have assumed. His privacy in a memoir is surprising, but he takes a classical view of the public demands of the writer: and as a Tiresias figure we realize his insight and his wanderings are not over. The autobiography itself closes with a memoir from a longtime friend opening up new avenues into his personality. The text is collated by MacNeice's old friend the classicist E.P.Dodds and sparingly annotated. But as a insight into its times as much as its author it has few equals.

Louis MacNeice, The Strings Are False: An Unfinished Autobiography. London: Faber & Faber, 1965, 2007. 288pp. £9.99.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Serenade for Strings 22 July 2005
By F. S. L'hoir - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I began reading "The Strings are False" because Louis MacNeice was a schoolmate at Marlborough of the Cambridge Spy and Art Historian Anthony Blunt. I was delighted to discover the luminescent prose of one of the outstanding British poets of the twentieth century. Like Blunt, MacNeice was the son of an Anglican clergyman, and like Blunt, he kicked over the traces of his religious upbringing. Unlike Blunt, however, MacNeice's revolution found expression in his poetry instead of an effort to overthrow the hierarchical British class system.

Why should one bother to read this book, which has long passed out of current circulation? MacNeice's unfinished autobiography not only sheds light on a lost age of British social history, which includes the turbulent thirties and the Spanish civil war, but it also gives one a glimpse into the life of a beautiful mind of an era that is gone forever. Moreover, "The Strings are False" leads us to the gateway to MacNeice's poetry, such as "Epilogue," which furnishes a clue to the title of his book:

Rows of books around me stand,
Fence me in on either hand;
Through that forest of dead words
I would hunt the living birds -
So I write these lines for you
Who have felt the death-wish too,
All the wires are cut, my friends
Live beyond the severed ends.
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