- Reviewed by
The strong pictorial quality of Henry Green's novels, perhaps more than any other contemporary British novelist, frequently tempts critics to examine his text in relation to painting (see Melchiori and Praz). There is ample support for an approach using the interarts comparison in Green's own theoretical writings where he frequently implies a correspondence between words and colors or the placement of characters within a scene to the composition of a canvas. More importantly, despite the seeming simplicity of such a homology of syntax, these correspondences suggest a larger aesthetic that foregrounds the interrelations between the arts.
In A Critical Introduction to Henry Green's Novels: The Living Vision, Oddvar Holmesland's reading of Green's work constitutes an extension of the interarts approach by abandoning the notion of the individual image as separate and distinct. In place of the painterly image the author substitutes the montage trope—a tactic that calls for the reading of a set of successive images in conflict (several examples of montage are presented in an appendix, such as the conflict between matter and viewpoint or the conflict between an event and its duration). One result, Holmesland argues, is that me symbolic in the narrative is subordinate to the montage trope, and "it is in the graphic totality of the picture, in the basic clash of opposites" that the meaning resides. The appropriation of Eisenstein's montage principle as a mechanism to determine the tone of Green's text is undoubtedly [End Page 357] both useful and provocative. The definition or identification of tone, defined here as the writer's attitude toward the text, is the central problem of Holmesland's project.
Where Holmesland departs from those who have examined the pictorial connection, and where I part company with Holmesland, is in his insistence that the discrete image can only be a source of stasis. For Holmesland, the pervasive dynamism of the montage trope, not only the sequentiality of images but of their conflict, provides the only key to understanding the tone of the novels. However, such a position can result in one or two problems. The first is that one must accept the stasis of the discrete image—a proposition that Green himself would have trouble with. Green's understanding of nonrepresentational, an effect he aimed for in his novels, is closely and explicitly connected not with a sequence or collision of images but with a single painting. The other problem concerns the difficulty of defining equivalency between the individual shot and the literary text. Although Holmesland acknowledges the problem, "whether this principle of filmic montage is directly translatable to literature is more uncertain," it is ultimately glossed over. The reader is left to wonder what the textual equivalent to the shot actually is: an image? a sentence? a brief passage? particular actions or gestures? The answer is never made precisely clear.
Despite the fact that certain issues remain unresolved, this careful and intelligent study of Green's fiction is highly recommended. Holmesland's idea that Eisenstein's cinematic formula (A + B = C) might illuminate a literary text is exciting and quite original.