Skip to main content


Showing posts from October 17, 2021

Henry James reviews Charles Dickens

Dickens has receded, for me, as a writer. When I was a teen, I loved Dickens. I felt that Dickens and Shakespeare were the kings. Now I don't. That doesn't mean that Dickens isn't the king, for who am I to give out the crowns? The change is in me. That change in the novel was forecast by Henry James' review of Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. The review is a too little noticed manifesto for what I'd call modernism. It is the young Henry James here - striking a note of condemnation that sounds eerily like Wyndham Lewis in the 1920s. "Only a short time ago it might have been supposed that the English novel was not what the French call discutable. It had no air of having a theory, a conviction, a consciousness of itself behind it-of being the expression of an artistic faith, the result of choice and comparison. I do not say it was necessarily the worse for that; it would take much more courage than I possess to intimate that the form of the novel, as Dickens and Th

Survival and skin

  1 I’m not sure of this, but I think it was the seventies in which the word “survivor” became a special part of the American lingo to describe the victims of horrific childhood abuse – or the rock and roll singer's experience of a particularly strenuous global tour. Gloria Gayner's glorious anthem burned the word into our consciousnesses - that is, those of us dancing at The Florentine in 1979. Since then, the word is everywhere, and it is softly lit with connotations of being, somehow, admirable. Survivor was a term of art for Elias Canetti, too: Crowds and Power is, among other things, about victims who went under and those who survived. In the background was the monde concentrationaire, and in the foreground was Canetti’s readings from anthropology and history. His chapter on the survivor begins: “The moment of survival is the moment of power. Horror at the sight of death turns into satisfaction that it is someone else who is dead. The dead man lies on the ground whil