This work was written according to the author's introduction to the revised version between 1942 and 1943 in the midst of the great war. It was written when the former capitol of the world, according to him, London was filled with gloom. It is a reflection on literature and life, and many believe it is the masterpiece that Cyril Connally all his life strove to create.
In it he reflects on greatness in literature and on the meaning of the true masterpiece. He says,when including works by Horace, Virgil, Villon, Montaigne, La Fontaine, La Rouchefoucaud, La Bruyere, Baudelaire, Pope, Leopardi, Rimbaud, Byron in his list, that what is common to them is"Love of life and nature: lack of belief in the iea of progress: interest in , mingled with contempt for humanity. .. In feeling, these works of art contain the maximum of emotion compatible with a classical sense of form."
'Palinurus' is clearly a Francophile who in the midst of the war feels deeply the separation from the Continent, from France especially.
He writes what he calls ' the doubts and reflections of a year' in 'three or four rhythms: art, love, nature and religion.an experiment in self- dismantling , a search for the obstruction which is blocking the flow from the well and whereby the name of Palinurus is becoming an archetype of frustration."
The great critic Walter Benjamin thought to construct according to Hannah Arendt , a masterpiece made out of the quotations of other writers. Connally here devotes a good share of the text to the wisest wisdom he according to his lights could find in others. He also offers his own ruminations in part as a way of consoling himself for the personal loss which in some way sets the grieving tone of the work.
Does it amount to a masterpiece? I would almost want to answer ' for those who feel it so'.
Palinurus himself says of Palinurus in the concluding page of the volume, "Palinurus, in fact, though he despises the emptiness of achievement , the applause of the multitude and the rewards of fame, comes in his long exile to hate himself for this contempt and so jumps childishly at the chance to be perpetuated as an obscure cape."
It appears that if Cyril Connally is perpetuated in Literature it will be through this particular voyage in the heart of life and literature.