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In the last month I have discovered some writers’ voices. I mean the actual voices of writers.

A big surprise was Virginia Woolf’s only voice recording from 1937. The thing that I listened for was any similarity between the speech and her written text. The recording was a one of those educational talks the BBC would give at the time. She was talking about craft, and words in particular, so it was not an ad hoc talk and that made the connection with her speech and text more of a puzzle. Her radio talk was somewhat similar but was steady, stilted and dignified as though edited by someone less attuned to rhythm. It contained many of the mannerisms of its time; the accents and stresses of a bygone age.

If Woolf was a bit disappointing, hearing Faulkner at Virginia in 1958 with his lilting Southern tenor was exciting as it contained, in parts, the strain of some of his characters. His answers to students’ questions were interesting but the voice of the man was sharply evident, not constrained to be different in a formal lecture setting. It was on the same flight of discovery that I came across Shelby Foote’s interview on meeting Faulkner. His own speech was so distinctive, almost a stereotype but with a great musical cadence to it that this prose (which I have not read) would have an almost somnolent quality.

I can recall the thrill of founding this recording of Beckett, which was a voice I had known for a while and always wondered what it was like. The distinctive lisp and here he is a very old man but there are flashes of the energy, the humor, as he reviews the direction of a play.

When I discovered Moravia in Italian I was drawn to his clarity, the logic of Italian is precise and Moravia was a great exponent. Here he exhibits all of his style, the long thoughts and the qualifying clauses, bring it together in almost classical form.

Like her erstwhile partner, Sartre, De Beauvoir is imperious to age and here impatient and firm, very Parisian and with a voice much younger than her years. It is not immediately connected to her work, not the fiction anyway; perhaps the polemical works.

By contrast Anne Sexton appears noble and confident but it is a performance. She is reading her own work and not extemporizing of which there are other recordings. It’s as if there are two operations going on at once. In a similar vein Plath’s voice has what seems to be tragic quiver of self-realization.

And to close on a fine and rich poetic voice. Robert Graves reading one of his poems. His voice seems to have so much depth, it’s a voice from another era, of course, but one that I have always liked, along with his reading of his poem, The Foreboding. And there is a small part of it Nine Avenues. Just a fragment, but one that I have absorbed and is now mine own.

Guy Cranswick
11th February 2013