I just finished reading The Fry Chronicles, the second installment in Stephen Fry’s detailed and endlessly fascinating musings on his life and experiences. Well, that’s a lie, I just finished listening to Stephen Fry read his chronicles to me. After being given the book for Christmas, I abandoned reading it at the urging of a workmate. He, in his usual definitive way, said it was a crime to read Stephen Fry, his words make so much more sense coming from his mouth. And indeed this is true, Stephen Fry has perhaps the best and most soothing voice a human-being could possibly have, and that combined with his bubbly and rich writing style make me suddenly and completely happy. Moreover, his endearing accent and meticulous emphases highlight the brilliance and nuance of his writing, something that’s too easy to glaze over when reading in print.
At any rate, The Chronicles pick up where Fry left off in his first biography, Moab Is My Washpot. It opens with Fry’s early addiction to sugar, segues through his time in Cambridge and all the wonderful and interesting people he met there, and blossoms with his emergence as a writing and comedic force within the London artistic world. You notice Fry, a most unassuming but wonderfully sharp and talented man, gain his confidence and stumble into a truly fascinating part of recent cultural history. It ends, most dramatically, with Fry snorting his first, then second, then third, line of cocaine, and the beginning of a new, much more tormented part of his life. But on the way you start to understand both how he sees the world, how he learnt from it, and just how interesting the world he lived in was.
The Fry Chronicles is like anything by Stephen Fry, and perhaps this is true of any autobiography, in that if you don’t like Stephen Fry and what he does, you probably won’t like this book. But if you’re like me and you soaked up A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie, await his latest blog posting with a prepubescent gush of anticipation, or logged on immediately to pay ridiculous prices to see him talk away in all his stately glory at the Regent in Melbourne, then you will probably love this book as much as me, as it is Fry at his most true and natural. Personally, I will never quite understand how one could not find Stephen Fry’s writings fun, playful and sharply intelligent and his voice soothing, like an aural version of hot toffee and sponge cake.
Nevertheless, there are bits of this book that even a hater could marvel at. I’ve never been a huge reader of autobiographies, or biographies in general. I often find they don’t do much for me unless I really like the person, or they write in such a way that illuminates not just their life but the world around them. For me, Fry does both, and through this work one can see how a glorious love of knowledge, an inalienable optimism and a dedication to comedy can exist in our modern world, and indeed how important those values are to it.
But I write this ode because I found myself not just jealous of Fry’s… way, but of the world that he lived in. It’s a trend of books I’ve read recently, or in the case of On The Road, half-read, where there are these major, thriving hubs of creative, talented and fascinating people. In Stephen Fry’s London, like the London of Oscar Wilde or Christopher Hitchens, not only are there the famous names that you know made it big or were making it big then, but you can feel just from his writings the creative and artistic energy that was alive in the city.
Both in the halls of Cambridge and the corridors of the BBC, and at innumerable parties and over uncountable pastries, there was a thriving cultural community that proved the catalyst for great plays, books, television and all kinds of magnificent creations. I’m a firm believer that genius comes from a fusion of bountiful talents and sharp minds, not in the actions of one person. To take Stephen Fry out of his time is to undo him, just like any of the great artists.
So I was wondering reading it whether Australia and Melbourne has this kind of cultural community, across fields, alive and thriving. I’ve never noticed it before. Unlike Fry himself, growing up I never felt on the outside of a world and looking in, not locally anyway. Perhaps you are unaware of these things till after the fact, or perhaps our little country is just too spread out to have the central core like London culture. But at any rate what struck me in The Fry Chronicles is how much it was about others as it was about him, and how linked he was to what was happening around him. Perhaps, this kind of core is disappearing, being replaced by the intricate niche networks online, across cultures and countries. Perhaps we are all on the inside, we’re just not quite aware of it. Perhaps, there are too many little movements happening all the time to be jealous of just the one.