Category Archives: Literature

Pride and Prejudice again

I often wonder what Jane Austen would have thought of the intense interest in her writings more two hundreds years further on. I wonder whether it had entered her mind that her books would gain a worldwide audience, and her popularity only grow. On the second, I think the answer would be a definite no. It never occurred to her. On the evidence, all she hoped for was the publication of her novels and their acceptance.

On the first, I think she would have been stunned, flabbergasted – and appalled. Appalled at the interpretation by some who attribute political views to her she did not hold. Feminists have given her the status of a feminist icon while the evidence speaks against this.

Jane Austen was a devout Christian, leaning to the High Church of England. Her traditional Christian beliefs, which include the idea of an ordered world, would disqualify this picture before we look at other evidence. In her novels, she savages a range of female types – the stupid, the ignorant, the neurotic, the manipulative, the deceitful, the cruel, and the list goes on. The heartless Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park is perhaps the most vile female character in English fiction.

Continue reading Pride and Prejudice again

Musings of a ‘Catholic Agnostic’

Chilton Williamson Jr writes about two of Grahame Greene’s most powerful titles in the genre of the Catholic novel

The novelist Graham Greene belonged to a grand era in English Catholicism that began with Newman and ended around 1960. According to the author, his many books fall into two general categories: those works of fiction he described as “entertainments,” and the others he called simply “novels.” The latter reflect the degree to which Greene—a convert and later a self-described “Catholic agnostic” with a disordered private life—was haunted by the Faith he neither could nor wished to abandon, while persisting in his idiosyncratic understanding of it.

This, of course, is the intellectual and spiritual condition of many modern Catholics. No one, however, has explored that condition more consistently, poignantly, and dramatically than Greene did. His friend and admirer Evelyn Waugh, in a lengthy review essay of The Heart of the Matter, observed that only a Catholic could have written the book, and only a Catholic could understand it. Greene chose aptly when he took for his epigraph several lines from Charles Péguy: “Le pécheur est au coeur même de chrétienté… Nul n’est aussi compétent que le pécheur en matière de chrétienté. Nul, si c’est le saint.” (“The sinner is at the heart of Christianity… No one is as competent as the sinner in matters concerning Christianity. No one, unless it is the saint.”)

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The Ghost of Dickens Past

By Cicero Bruce|February 6th, 2020

Dickens and the Social Order, by Myron Magnet (266 pages, ISI Books, 2004)

Critics have well acquainted us with Dickens the sentimentalist—lover of the oppressed, defender of childhood innocence, decrier of England’s industrial sweatshops. But seldom have they given readers a glimpse of the Dickens with whom Myron Magnet deals in his study of Britain’s preeminent fictionist, the Dickens who had an “almost fanatical devotion to the Metropolitan Police,” who reproved his government’s failure to punish sufficiently the hardened violators of its laws, supported Governor Eyre’s notoriously violent quelling of the 1864 Negro uprising in Jamaica, and called the proverbial noble savage and annoying “superstition” that “ought to be civilized off the face of the earth.” In short, critics have said far too little about the philosophical traditionalist reconsidered in Dickens and the Social Order.

Yes, Dickens was a reformer, a radical one at that, but his reforming spirit, as Dr. Magnet carefully reveals, was checked by the intrinsic conservatism by no means shared by his present-day enthusiasts, who, for the sake of validating generally liberal aims and assumptions, prefer to focus on the sanguine aspects of his achievement. True, Dickens may have been qualitatively liberal, at least by the standards of nineteenth-century English liberalism. But he was neither a liberal per se nor a conservative liberal of any sort. He was, to make an important semantic distinction, a liberal conservative.

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The National Book Foundation Defines Diversity Down

Kevin Mims, Quillette, 7 January 2020

Last month the Huffington Post published an essay by Claire Fallon entitled “Was this Decade the Beginning of the End of the Great White Male Writer?” Fallon celebrated the notion that white men are losing their prominence in contemporary American literature and that the best books being published in America today are being written by a wider variety of authors than ever before:

“What was once insular is now unifying,” National Book Foundation director Lisa Lucas told the crowd at the 2019 National Book Awards Gala, where the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry honors all went to writers of color. “What was once exclusive is now inclusive.”

Lucas took over the foundation in 2016, at a time when the high-profile awards had a somewhat checkered record with representation. Though historically the honorees had skewed heavily white and male, that began to change around 2010. (However, there had been some other recent embarrassments, like 2014 host Daniel Handler’s racist jokes following author Jacqueline Woodson’s win for “Brown Girl Dreaming.”) Lucas, the first woman and person of color to helm the foundation, made representation and inclusivity a focus of her messaging. When looking back at the past decade, she told HuffPost in an interview, a multipronged effort to build a more inclusive literary scene has indeed paid dividends.

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Evelyn Waugh's 'Love Among the Ruins'

Peace in a Plastic World

By Joshua Hren, First Things, 12 March 2019

Western secular culture “is a kind of hothouse growth,” Christopher Dawson wrote—an artificial culture that shelters us from “the direct impact of reality.” Neither birth nor death in secular societies occasions confrontation with ultimate realities. Rather, each brings us “into closer dependence on the state and its bureaucracy so that every human need can be met by filling in the appropriate form.” Evelyn Waugh’s Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future dramatizes this sheltering. In this novella, “junior sub-official” Miles Plastic does clerical work for the “Department of Euthanasia” in a dystopian state. Plastic, whose surname epitomizes artificiality and malleability, ensures that those in line for a happy death do “not press ahead of their turn,” and adjusts “the television set for their amusement.” Although “a faint whiff of cyanide sometimes gave a hint of the mysteries beyond,” Plastic is content to empty the waste basket and brew tea for the patients. 

Because the “services” offered by the Department of Euthanasia are “essential,” Plastic has no feast on “Santa Claus Day” (December 25). After work he walks to the hospital to visit his lover Clara, who is with child, and finds “the hall porter . . .  engrossed in the television, which was performing an old obscure folk play which past generations had performed on Santa Claus Day, and was now revived and revised as a matter of historical interest.” The porter’s interest, Plastic supposes, is “professional,” for the show “dealt with maternity services before the days of Welfare.” The porter cannot look away from “the strange spectacle of an ox and an ass, an old man with a lantern, and a young mother.” “‘People here are always complaining,’” the porter says. “‘They ought to realize what things were like before Progress.’”

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Review Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Serotonin’

Lonely White Men: On Michel Houellebecq’s “Serotonin

By Louis Betty

FRANCE’S MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ leads something of a double career. A novelist of Prix Goncourt–winning distinction, Houellebecq is also his country’s best-selling author abroad and, on many accounts, currently its best. He is also reliably a prophet of current events: his third novel, Platform, featured an Islamist attack on a Thai sex resort and was published just days before 9/11; a later novel, Submission, which imagined France’s election of a Muslim party president, appeared the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and seemed a novelistic auger of the gruesome wave of terrorism that roiled France during the next few years. Whatever, Houellebecq’s 1994 debut novel, turned out to be equally prescient, though it took more than two decades for its prophecies to take shape. A commentary on male sexual frustration, Whatever, as the author of a New York Times essay argued in 2018, is a psychological account of involuntary celibacy and the violence that erotic isolation breeds.

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Evelyn and Alastair

Two more essays from Duncan McLaren’s Evelyn Waugh website. The information about Waugh’s and Graham’s relationship I have not read anywhere summarised in this way. As fascinating as ever. What a sad end for Alastair Graham.

The relationship between Evelyn Waugh and Alastair Graham in Evelyn concluded or ask Alastair

Evelyn Waugh and Alastair set out on trip to north of England and into Scotland Evelyn and Alastair’s Grand Tour

Duncan McLaren on Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell

More than six months ago I received a link to Duncan McLaren’s latest  (what shall I call it?) meandering musings on Evelyn Waugh. At the time I was bogged down with writing TONY ABBOTT AND THE TIMES OF REVOLUTION and did not have the mental space to read and post the link.  I have now got around it.

Duncan’s writings are for the extreme Waugh lover. Prepare for a wild ride. He had received a letter from someone who mentioned a meeting between Waugh and George Orwell. Duncan’s imagination took flight. Enjoy.

WHEN WAUGH MET ORWELL or “DOUBLEPLUSGOOD, JEEVES” 

A brief remark on style

While I agree in principle that fiction writers should avoid the passive voice and choose a strong verb in instead of resorting to adverbs, the passive voice and adverbs are functional part of the English language, and I use them when required by the shade of the narrative. I take my example from Evelyn Waugh who, it was said, never wrote a bad sentence. Take this sentence in Decline and Fall (chapter 9 about sports day). There were accusations of cheating:

No one spoke of the race, but outraged sportsmanship glinted perilously in every eye.

Would Waugh’s meaning be the same – have the same force – if one removed ‘perilously’ ? Or what verb could replace the already descriptive ‘glinted’ and convey the same meaning?