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Tony Grist

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Notes On The History Of The Novel [Apr. 14th, 2011|11:44 am]
Tony Grist
The greatest novelist is Balzac. Not the most perfect, not the most artistic, but the greatest.  He realised there was nothing- from Swedenborgian speculation about angels to an inventory of the furnishings of a bourgeois drawing room- that you couldn't put into a novel.  No-one before or since has crammed so much of human experience into the pages of any set of books. 

British and American 19th century novelists were hobbled by Victorian prudery and piety.  Dickens must be the most limited- the most provincial-  of truly great writers.  Towards the end of the period Stevenson confessed to keeping women out of his books because he would rather avoid sex than lie about it. 

In the late 19th century the drapes came off - and it became possible for English novelists to write as frankly about sex and religion as the French had been doing all along.  H.G. Wells - with his enormous range of interests- is the most Balzacian writer of the period. The quarter century between 1890 and 1914-  and not the High Victorian period- is the golden age of the English novel.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2011-04-14 10:48 am (UTC)
In a boxing match between Ibsen & Kirkegaard who would win?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-04-14 10:50 am (UTC)
Kierkegaard was a weedy little chap, so Ibsen obviously.
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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2011-04-14 08:10 pm (UTC)
I think the Victorian novel gets a lot of credit because it turned out to be very amenable to film and television--which remain extremely prudish.

Stevenson is funny, though. I read a lot of Stevenson as a kid and maybe I should blame him for imagining a world depopulated of women.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-04-15 08:29 am (UTC)
I understand there are new versions of Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist in the pipeline. I can't think why we should be supposed to want them.

I like your point about Victorian novels being suitable for a family audience. I think it explains a lot.
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