In my youth, neoclassicism in music – with its dinky appropriations from composers like Pergolesi, Scarlatti and Haydn – was very much the vogue. Now there is a similar vogue for neo-Victorian novels. My appetite sated on these sprawling works, with their elaborately melodramatic plots, their violent clashes, their sentimental conclusions and their larger-than-life characters, I often find myself wishing that they, too, would pass out of fashion. However, if novelists must persevere with the genre, then it is unlikely that many such offerings will equal, let alone surpass, D J Taylor’s Kept.
In a book crammed with characters and incidents, Taylor displays an astonishingly detailed knowledge both of life in England during the second half of the nineteenth century and of the writers who brought to its depiction so much vision and vigour. In the first of the notes at the end