Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where I lead, Margaret Drabble follows

Well, not really. But my occasional posts on the forgotten art of Arnold Bennett are relevant to this, er, clarion call for armies of readers to read more of his novels and stamp on Virginia Woolf's grave. Except the last bit.

'He loved parade, stylish women’s clothes, the lavish spectacle of theatre and music hall, the great department stores, the plumbing of modern hotels, the conveniences of electricity and central heating – all such a contrast with the nineteenth-century Five Towns from which he had escaped [and which he also wrote about].'

Drabble makes a good case for the tensions between realist and modernist, provincial and metropolitan, old and new in Bennett's work. Ooh, dialectics – Bakhtin and Lukacs would have loved it. And if that seems far-fetched, here's Walter Benjamin, quoted by Drabble:

'I continue to read Bennett, in whom I increasingly come to recognise a man whose stance is very much akin currently to my own and who serves to validate it: that is to say, a man for whom a far-reaching lack of illusion and a fundamental mistrust of where the world is going lead neither to moral fanaticism nor to embitterment but to an extremely cunning, clever and subtle art of living. This leads him to wrest from his own misfortune the chances, and from his own wickedness the few respectable ways to conduct himself, that amount to a human life.'


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