- Guilt and Glory. Studies in Margaret Drabble's Novels 1963-80, and: Iris Murdoch's Comic Vision, and: The Divided Heroine: A Recurrent Pattern in Six English Novels
Conventional wisdom holds that dissertations rarely succeed as books. Having so many obligations—to demonstrate industry, to review the literature, to keep the peace amongst factious professorial committees—they often end up with the parts malproportioned and the intentions obscure. Roxman's is no exception.
The book is divided into three main sections, which are, however, not discrete; "it has not always been possible," Roxman says, "to avoid overlaps." This apology articulates the source of all her problems, the preference for inclusiveness rather than focus. Any of the sections could have been developed into a full length work. The first, "Margaret Drabble and the Literary Background," discusses the literary influences on the first six novels, ending with The Realms of Gold. The section also seems to fulfill some kind of requirement to review the literature, for it includes references to most of the Drabble criticism to date. It describes the literary sources of plots, images, and allusions, without ever addressing the larger questions: why, for instance, did Drabble take the plot of The Waterfall from The Mill on the Floss? What does this insight add to our understnding of the writer? of the novel?
The second section, "Moral and Other Philosophical Problems in Margaret Drabble's Fiction," is subdivided into two parts, the first, "Fate, Chance, Retribution, and the Problem of Privilege," including all Drabble's novels. The second subsection, "Deontological morality vs. utilitarianism in The Needle's Eye," comes at the named novel from another angle. Roxman comes to no conclusions about the precise nature of any of these concepts and their relations with each other. "Privilege" in particular seems to be exceptionally inclusive, finally coming to mean all those differences either social or genetic that confer a survival advantage.
The third section, "Imagery in Three Novels by Margaret Drabble," discusses The Waterfall, The Middle Ground, and The Realms of Gold. In many ways the most original, it is also the most disjointed, consisting of short, numbered discussions of individual passages. Apart from a disconcerting tendency to label images in the terminology of classical rhetoric, Roxman does a good job here. Her discussions of the sewer and pollution images in The Middle Ground are especially noteworthy, although they would have been more useful if they had included some general statement justifying the selection of these particular passages.
Roxman's ability to analyze individual passages is far greater than her ability to unify her perceptions into an overall reading of Drabble's work. Nonetheless, if the reader can struggle through the redundancy and lack of focus to the genuine insights, Guilt and Glory might still be an asset to those with a scholarly interest in Drabble.
A similar problem with focus undermines Angela Hague's book. In contrast to theoreticians of tragedy, which is more clearly defined, theoreticians of comedy have always had some difficulty in coming to grips with their topic. Hague fails [End Page 375] to negotiate the traditional dilemma; unable to decide whether the essence of comedy is an attitude or a structure, she discusses both alternatives without trying to establish the relationship between them. Although acknowledging the problem of defining the comic, she then evades it by summarizing the ideas of the most influential comic theorists from Freud to Frye. This lengthy Introduction adds nothing to the literature of comic theory and has little bearing on the ensuing discussion of Murdoch's work.
The second section, "Iris Murdoch's Comic Vision: Theory and Practice," deals in a similar way with critical commentary on Murdoch as a comic writer and with Murdoch's own "opinions about comedy." Although Hague's method is inclusive and descriptive, this discussion presents...