Maurice Baring

I am reading Joseph Epstein’s essay, “Maurice Baring & the good high-brow,” which originally appeared in the October 1992 edition of The New Criterion. Maurice Baring was a literary critic, expert on Russian culture, novelist, and Catholic convert, who lived from 1874-1945.

Some years ago I picked up the only full-length study of the author, by his great niece Emma Letley (Maurice Baring: A Citizen of Europe, 1991). I also have on my shelf Baring’s memoir published after World War I, A Puppet Show of Memory. It is probably his best book, and includes fascinating details of his travels to Russia and experiences in the Balkan Wars. Yet for living such a full life, Baring remains the obscure acquaintance of famous authors. As Epstein says:

Maurice Baring’s is a name one generally meets connected in a secondary or tertiary way with larger names. There he stands in a photograph between his friends Chesterton and Belloc. Here he is drawn as a caricature by Max Beerbohm…. There he pops up in the journals of A. C. Benson, Arnold Bennett, Virginia Woolf, and Chips Channon. Here he is in the letters of Evelyn Waugh and Lady Diana Cooper.

There are reasons for Baring’s current lack of fame. He was arguably a greater prose stylist than some of his celebrated friends. Yet his approach may be too subtle, and his range of fictional themes and characterization too narrow, to earn him a literary revival. Still, few who have read his books have regretted it.

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