Peter Conrad

‘There was a man who loved islands. He was born on one, but it didn’t suit him, as there were too many other people on it, besides himself.’ So begins D.H. Lawrence’s bleak little fable ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’. Lawrence’s islander wants control, sole possession, mastery of people and place. When his first island, fertile and beautiful, fails him because of the vast expense of making it perfect, he moves to a smaller one where, without love or desire, he drifts into marriage and fatherhood. Again he escapes. On the third and final island – a barren rock – his total isolation brings madness and death. The moral is clear. Lawrence thought of community as essential; without it we cannot be human.

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Back in 1964 before I left the University of Tasmania, Amanda Howard (now Lohrey) introduced me to a serious, nondescript first-year student who, she told me, would go far. Twenty years later Peter Conrad is a Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, and author of a number of well-regarded books on literature, opera, and television, with a reputation established on both sides of the Atlantic.

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At the age of twenty, Peter Conrad slammed his Australian door shut behind him. He was travelling into the ‘wider world’, away from his native Tasmania to take up his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford; he went with barely a backwards glance. Growing up as an omnivorous reader of English literature in the years of what he has called his ‘colonial childhood’, the young Conrad had become increasingly resentful at the perverse randomness of his exile. What he could only think of as an administrative error had relegated him to an Australia that seemed vacant and vacuous. When his time came, he ruthlessly withdrew his affection from parents and country. This snake-like shedding of skin was his liberation. Crossing Waterloo Bridge in August 1968, he had – like Wordsworth before him – a moment of epiphany. As the bridge ‘ran out into the Aldwych in a sunny crux of blue dust’, the young Conrad passed innocuously through the door by which he stepped into life. In confessional mode, he later celebrated this as the exact moment of his birth. That was when the years of his Australian youth were cancelled out, relegated to a phase of mere ‘pre-existence’.

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Two contrary and paramount composers

Robert Gibson


Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries
by Peter Conrad
Thames & Hudson, $49.95 hb, 384 pp, 9780500515938


Great Wagner Conductors: A Listener’s Companion
by Jo ...

Peter Conrad reviews 'The Hanging Garden' by Patrick White

Peter Conrad
Wednesday, 21 March 2012

‘Genius,’ as Arthur Rimbaud put it, ‘is childhood recovered at will.’ Rimbaud himself abandoned poetry at the age of twenty and thereafter refused to look back, but Patrick White exemplified the rule in writing The Hanging Garden. He was sixty-eight at the time, and had just completed his rancorous memoir Flaws in the Glass (1981); having d ...

Open Page with Peter Conrad

Australian Book Review
Saturday, 25 February 2012

My specialty is ghastly nightmares. In order to dream, I’d probably need to sleep more hours than I usually manage. I hate the sight of the digital clock announcing three a.m.

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