Friday, July 12, 2013

The modern novel

As I write this, it's late on a hot Fourth of July, and through our open windows we can hear the constant barrage of celebration. Illegal celebration, as Illinois doesn't allow fireworks--and all the more entertaining (at a distance) therefore.

But against that backdrop, do you really think I'm going to write a post titled "The modern novel"? Seems like too big a task on a night like tonight. So I'll turn the topic over to Malcolm Bradbury, from Eating People Is Wrong:
"You are not converting me," cried Treece furiously. "All the modern novel seems to have discovered since Lawrence is that there are some people in England who change their shirts every day. I knew that already. I don't need to read modern novels."

"But you should," said Viola.

"Why?" cried Treece. "I read this one because someone said I was in it. And I am. Do you realise that the story about the professor who left the script of one of his articles among some student essays, and another tutor gave it C minus, is about me? Someone must have told this man. Even down to the bit about, 'This is good lower second stuff.' It was B minus actually. That makes it worse."

"Poet's licence," said Viola.
The joke itself is fun, of course, but what I love most about this passage is the earnestness of Treece's complaint about the modern novel. He really is an Edwardian at his core, and an early Edwardian at that--he's no Victorian, no prude, he wants to be a liberal intellectual, with all the doubting and questing that that entails, but the new and the now simply do not appeal. Usually, he can hide his distaste under the openness and relativism of his creed, but once in a while . . . it emerges in a cry straight from the heart.

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