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?
Well, think about those two other terms, problems. Class. The authors use it often, mostly in some kind of phrase-package: class structure, class background, class implications, class-bound, class solidarity, upper-middle-class, boundaries of class interests, the workings of class, working-class values, author’s class experiences, a class idiom, etc. Say you were