I am just finishing off Cyril Connolly’s “Enemies of Promise” and finding his grand view of life, looking back, both useful and unsettling. In his short study on the brevity of life, “The Unquiet Grave”, Connolly, ever the skilled art critic, admits that his artistic views on life will invariably come back to mock him from beyond the grave because they fell so short of the mark. I noticed today that the media moguls are now conferring on President Obama the title of one of the most ‘consequential’ Presidents in that country’s history. For Connolly, that distinction would go down as a certain kiss of death, given that nothing is certain until our lives play out and the vultures descend to pick over the carcass. Reading this clear-eyed, finely-tuned autobiography of a great English literary critic, I am reminded that life for many of us will amount only to a litany of uneventful happenings resulting from settling for ‘second best’ in a world of unfulfilled promises and dashed expectations. Yes, like in Connolly and Obama’s lives, ours, too, will have moments when we actually believed we were making a difference for the good only to realize that the proverbial enemies of promise would inevitably wreck our dreams. Who are some of the traditional wreckers of aspirations? Connolly describes a few: literary styles that lack content, tyrannical teachers, bad schools, doting grandmothers, pompous prigs, absent and indifferent fathers, and unstable sexuality. In the landscape of early 20th century Britain, all these enemies dog Connolly’s young life as he tries to make his way into adulthood as a successful person. There will be classical allusions to the power of flowers run riot only to suddenly perish, fear about forbidden thoughts coming to light, and a gnawing loneliness felt as an only child bereft of affection desperately tries to cope. Reading this work allows me to begin to understand why some of us take the indirect route to success in later life. Average grades, missed opportunities, failures in love, and adolescent awkwardness all conspire to make the road in life that much harder to travel. Read anything by Connolly and you will inevitably meet up with Orwell along the way. On the way to becoming consummate journalists their paths crossed at Eton where they struggled to hold their own in the classroom, in the dorms, and on the playing fields. The Georgian cultural they grew up in failed them by perpetuating an authoritarian system intent on destroying their need for freedom and creativity.