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Malcolm Bradbury's No, Not Bloomsbury is divided into four sections for a total of twenty-eight occasional essays, most of which have appeared in other places over the last decade or so and most of which have been largely recast for this volume. In the Introduction Bradbury tells the reader (almost comically, as if he/she were a freshman composition instructor asking the writer for a summarization of a term paper) that were he required to "distinguish the main themes here, I would say there were three:" 1. the "exciting revival of serious fiction" in Britain, 2. the way in which "our modern ideas, our modern sense of history and of the nature of the person, have pressed on our humanism, and affected the spirit of our writing," and 3. the "belief that literature is an international form, the novel a serious and developing mode of inquiry" and that awareness of "our most powerful fictions" leads to profound insights.
More specifically, section one reflects Bradbury's own experiences "as a writer in an age of challenged humanism," one of which is the "decline of character" or, as he puts it, "putting in the person" in modern fiction; section two, "Decades and Seasons," explores the larger fashions or movements in 20th century fictional and critical practices, especially those of the 1940s and beyond; section three deals with the contemporary reputation of artists such as Ivy Compton-Burnett, Evelyn Waugh, Malcolm Lowry, C. P. Snow, William Cooper (H. S. Hoff), Kingsley Amis, Angus Wilson, Iris Murdoch, Muriel Spark, Anthony Burgess, John Fowles, and a discussion about criticism and F. R. Leavis; section four includes essays and extended reviews about the "most important newer authors" like D. M. Thomas, J. G. Ballard, and genre problems: literary biography, the cohesion of contemporary fiction, and so on.
Perhaps Bradbury's most interesting theme throughout is related to the idea of character (or personhood, self, identity), believing as he does that the loss of interest in the construct known as character in our literature reflects what is out there in the world. Reciting what has come to be called the modernist dilemma, Bradbury says that our modern arts are "existentially bereft," and as such, referential elements "are absurdly highlighted or subverted, so that 'character,' 'setting,' 'plot,' and 'theme,' are no longer elemental but allusive." Although not any more "under the regime of modernism," contemporary literature exhibits a "steady oscillation between realistic and abstract impulses," and in a later essay of his, Bradbury includes himself, John Fowles, Iris Murdoch, and many others when he approves of Murdoch's statement that "any kind of theoretical interest one has as a novelist has to fight, often rather destructively, against one's desire to be realistic and portray real character." For Bradbury, novelists who employ these problems in the service of more interesting art works are applauded; good contemporary writers do not ignore either impulse, and, as those who have read Bradbury's essays and his novels know, neither does he. [End Page 345]