Thursday, September 26, 2019

David Jarrett

David Jarrett (b. Llantarnam, Monmouth, 1 March 1943; d. Porlock, Somerset, 26 August 2010)

David William Jarrett was the son of Mervyn Spencer Jarrett (1906-1986), a works engineer, and  his wife Olive Elizabeth Jenkins (1907-1997), who were married in the summer of 1940.  He had one older brother.

David grew up in Llantarnam, but was educated from 1953 at the Cathedral School in Wells.  He matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford, in October 1961 (B.A. 1964; M.A. 1969; B.Litt. 1968; and D.Phil. 1977).*

He began a long academic career in 1977 at King Alfred's College, Winchester, and in 1980 moved on to teach at the North London Polytechnic. Afterwards he taught in Poland, Saudi Arabia, and France. He settled in Porlock on his retirement.

His first book was The English Landscape Garden (1978), which was followed in 1979 by a short novel (discussed below), and then by an interesting booklet, The Gothic Form in Fiction and Its Relation to History (1980), on Gothic novels from Horace Walpole on to Faulkner, Kafka, and Iris Murdoch.

His other books include Geometry, Winding Paths, and the Mansions of Spirit: Aesthetics of Gardening in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1997) by David Jarrett, Tadeusz Rachwał, and Tadeusz Sławek;  and with the same two co-authors he co-edited The Most Sublime Act: Essays on the Sublime (1996), and Writing Places and Mapping Words: Readings in British Cultural Studies (1996). A final book was Packing and Unpacking Culture: Changing Models of British Studies (2001), edited and with an introduction by David Jarrett, Tomasz Kowalewski, Geoff Ridden. 

Sphere, 1979
Jarrett's novel was Witherwing (London: Sphere, 1979: New York: Warner, 1979). It begins as a kind of heroic fantasy novel in which Witherwing, the youngest of six princes of Tum-Barlum (the name clearly modeled on Twm Barlwm, the name of a hill in south Wales, but that has no significance to the story). Owing to the botched end-result of some long-ago spell cast by his stepmother, the Queen of Dread, Witherwing has a swan wing instead of a left arm. This short novel traces Witherwing's quest of self discovery while searching for some mysterious glowing stones used by his step-mother to perform magic. With this beginning, the book sounds almost commonplace, but it is not. Jarrett seems to be setting up a standard story of sword-and-sorcery only to undermine it.  Witherwing is aided on his quest by strange and ineffectual companions, like the mute albino boy called Hutt, and the unadventurous bald wizard Kryll who burns his books for warmth ("Literature breeds distress. Thirst for learning is thirst for power, and power is death" p. 44). The tone alternates between some wild imagery and some often amusing snarkiness. But there are also long stretches of prose that are simply uninteresting. The denouement turns the book into trite science fiction, for Witherwing meets his long-lost step-mother only to find that she is one of a bunch of magisters who for ages have played games with Witherwing's world. Some of the magisters (like Kryll the wizard, or Hrasp the marauder and murderer) enter the world to play the game. The Queen of Dread did so too, and became entirely bored in the process. Witherwing, learning this, grows angry:  "But this makes a mockery of life!" (p. 126). It does, and snark only works for so long as a literary methodology. So far as I know, Jarrett never published any further fiction.  

The US edition of Witherwing features cover art by Frank Frazetta.  Readers of the time lured in by Frazetta's cover were led to expect standard genre fair, and were doubtless disappointed. 
Warner, 1979. Art by Frank Frazetta.
Thanks to Dr. Robin Darwall-Smith, Archivist of Jesus College, Oxford, for details of David Jarrett's academic career.

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