Obviously, this is a question I am often asked. Sometimes it is even delivered with a kind of reproach, as to say: ‘Why are you writing this biography of somebody no-one knows, rather than of someone we all know, (a celebrity) like Charles Dickens or Katie Price?’ Someone even spluttered at me: ‘But nobody has ever heard of him!’, when the speaker himself had been at a well-attended lecture not long before at which Calderon’s translation of The Cherry Orchard was discussed.
Theatre people (Harold Hobson, Laurence Senelick, Jan McDonald and many more), literary people (Percy Lubbock, E.M. Forster, Derwent May), and Russianists, have always known who Calderon is, but of course he isn’t a household name.
Viktor Shklovsky wrote ‘there are no unrecognised geniuses’, but he was wrong. Emily Dickinson, say, or Mendel, or Kafka, or Gerard Manley Hopkins, were unrecognised for a long time, and are hardly household names now!
In any case, ‘genius’ is not a Platonic Idea. Shakespeare, I would contend, is a Renaissance genius, Dickens a Victorian genius, Dante a medieval genius…which is why they have not always been recognised as geniuses by later generations. Calderon, in my view, was an Edwardian genius, and this is a variety that has not really been identified hitherto; indeed for some people it may be a contradiction in terms.
He was brilliant, and radical, in a fan of apparently unconnected fields — journalism, satire, Russian literature, drama, politics, anthropology, ballet — but until recently much of this work was not associated with him because it was published anonymously. In any case, for seventy years his and his wife’s personal papers seemed to have disappeared without trace, so that those who did want to research his biography (and there were some) could not. The extant core of the Calderons’ archive has only recently been assembled and sorted (900 letters, 700 photographs, 250 books, etc).
So it is possible now to write a detailed narrative of Calderon’s life, quoting many personal letters, and to run this blog for 1914-15. The factual, ‘historical’ answer to the question ‘Who was George Calderon?’ will be in the biography, then, but I hope readers will also find their own answer there, and in this blog, to the rather different question: ‘Who is George Calderon?’.
Next entry: 15 September 1914