Wednesday 20 January 2016

The Prose Factory

My bedside reading for the past few weeks has been D. J. Taylor's The Prose Factory: Literary Life in Britain since 1918. You can read Stefan Collini's thoughtful Guardian review here.

Taylor (who is a very accomplished novelist and biographer) trained as an historian, which is unusual  in a literary critic, and appears to have read not just everything, but everything else as well. I once asked him, between lulls in the hubbub of a literary shindig, whether there was anything he hadn't read. "The canon" he replied. Collini notes that Taylor rarely strays 'from the lower slopes of Parnassus' and he certainly takes a keener interest in the literary foot soldiers than in the generals. It's the Grub Street hacks, the editors and critics that interest him most, and his focus is largely on fiction. Having said which, my favourite chapter (and the one I found most illuminating) is about the Georgians, the once-popular, now long-forgotten poets who had the misfortune to be overtaken and subsumed by the modernists in general and The Waste Land in particular. Old Possum was a tough act to precede.

I especially admired the passage in which he quotes 'the driest of old sticks'  the 'much excoriated Edward Shanks', who in turn quotes G. K. Chesterton's eloquently blimpish view that "vers libre was no more a revolution in poetry than sleeping in a ditch was a revolution in architecture".

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