chapter  5
14 Pages

Write about what you used to know: remembering and place

Awhile ago in a charity shop I came across a scuffed little hardback calledWriters On Themselves, a collection of essays broadcast by the BBC Home Service in the early 1960s by such literary luminaries as Rebecca West, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (and such subsequent obscurities as Thomas Hinde, Richard Murphy and John Bowen). Each of the essays is interesting, but the best of them is the short introduction, written by the art critic Herbert Read, who summarises one recurrent theme of the writers’ recollections in this way:

What most of these writers describe is not a psychological process (the process of writing), but the occasion, particular or general, of their first awareness of a vocation. It was usually what William Sansom calls ‘a flash of childhood memory’, supporting a general theory put forward by an American psychologist (Ernest Schachtel) which maintains that all creative energy in the arts springs from this desire to recall the images and intensities of feeling that lie hidden behind the veil of childhood amnesia. The ancients thought that the Muses were the daughters of Memory, and all writers would agree that their moments of vision are a rending of this veil. For childhood we may sometimes substitute a difficult adolescence, or even traumatic experiences of war and love, but most psychologists agree with Wordsworth, that the child is father to the man, especially when his mind searches the memory for significant images.