Bernard Sharratt

Class in the Novel

Attitude to Class in the English Novel: From Walter Scott to David Storey

By Mary Eagleton and David Pierce

Thames & Hudson 159pp £8.95 order from our bookshop

This book left me brooding – about some doggedly entangled problems. Class. Novel. Style. The third first. As writing, it’s a pallid effort, ‘competent’, a compromise tepid style, little bite, no pressure – except briefly: something quickens when sexual exploitation or physical work is the focus, and the whole last chapter, on post-1950s fiction, is tighter, edgier, sharper. Maybe the dual authorship had a dragging effect; but something else nagged at my mind while reading, a sense that much of the book is somehow dutiful. In one sense, that’s obvious: the novels discussed, from Scott to Storey, and even the passages selected for quotation are often so predictable as to be wearisome – the whole enterprise seems already folded into the material, some gentle prising and out it would pop, a book already written just awaiting an author or two actually to put it into prose. And Eagleton and Pierce do the job reasonably well. Indeed the impression of inevitability ought to prompt compliments. So why this unkind sense of complaint?

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