Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The strange life of English literature

"Important writing, strange to say, rarely gives the exact flavour of its period; if it is successful it presents you with the soul of man, undated. Very minor literature, on the other hand, is the Baedeker of the soul, and will guide you through the curious relics, the tumbledown buildings, the flimsy palaces, the false pagodas, the distorted and fantastical and faery vistas which have cluttered the imagination of mankind at this or that brief period of its history" -- George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England.

Perhaps. It's hard, though, to find books that are both guileless enough to be informative and sufficiently well-written to be read without the aid of either a publisher's advance or a grant from the AHRB. Many of them spell "faery" like that, and without Dangerfield's excuse of mocking a poem he's just quoted.

[The Strange Death of Liberal England, by George Dangerfield (Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, 1935). Political history from the school of Lytton Strachey - somewhere that might do with reopening. You could certainly still steal this one's structural tricks with profit. A sense of inevitability (un-Stracheyish, and in the suburbs of Marxist) also gives it a tremendous shove.]

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