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KEITH M. COSTAIN Early Remembrances: Pastoral in the Fictional World of John Galt I John Galt is an important if not entirely 'classic' novelist of the early nineteenth century. His importance lies in the quality of his best work and in its originality: he often indicates directions that later novelists were to take. He was, for example, the first novelist of note to have made the Industrial Revolution, its causes and consequences, the principal subject of his most accomplished work. His awareness of the magnitude of this unprecedented economic and social transformation is manifested in all his fictions dealing with contemporary life. But he recognized early in his career as a novelist that no single fiction would be adequate to examine the significance of such a fundamental change. For this reason he recreated his age in a fictional 'world' gradually revealed, novel by novel, in the serial manner of such later writers as Hardy, Trollope, Faulkner, c.P. Snow, Anthony Powell, and Richard Hughes. Each work in the series is deliberately linked with the others by a web of crossreferences , and each broadens the scope and deepens the significance of the whole.' Galt's historical insight and mimetic exactness have received welldeserved praise. What has less often been noticed is the element of idealism in his work, the element to which Jennie Aberdein drew attention when she wrote in her biography that Galt had both 'a strongly developed critical faculty and ... a power of vision which constantly pictured to him how things might and should be. '2 It is the implications of this 'power of vision' operating in one direction to which the present article draws attention. Galt wrote his most characteristic fiction at a time when, to use Carlyle 's words, there was 'a deep-lying struggle in the whole fabric of society; a boundless grinding collision of the New with the Old." Galt's generation had been born into a world largely agrarian in character but grew up in a society that was becoming industrialized and urbanized with increasing rapidity. A keen observer of this process of change, Galt was able, in his novels, to show dramatically and realistically how the growth of towns and cities, the expansion of commerce, and the intensification of industrial centralization impinge upon and conflict with established patterns of rural life so as to change its quality. Galt was not merely a witness of social change, however. Like others he experienced the struggle between the new and the old as a conflict of UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME XLVII , NUMBER 4, SUMMER 1978 0042-0247' 78/°900-0 283501.50/0 © UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS 1978 284 KEITH M. COSTAIN values and of ideals. The optimist in him led him to idealize the technical , economic, and social achievements of the age in a myth of progress focused upon the city. At the same time his conservative temperament, his feeling for traditional values, his vivid memories of early years spent in or near to the countryside all caused him to idealize the pre-industrial rural village and to transform it into the locale of a pastoral myth.4 Sir George Douglas wondered why Galt's Autobiography said so little about his inner life: we may feel sure that, in so emotional and imaginative a writer, an intense inner life must have existed and one in all probability not of the smoothest.5 The record ofthat inner life may be read, albeit indirectly, in the tension between alternative ideals that is to be found in his fictional world. The facts of his era of transition are held up to the light of scrutiny afforded by both the myth of progress and the pastoral myth; city and village pass comment on each other, thus obliging the reader to enter into the process whereby, in the writing of his fictions, Galt was himself attempting to adjust their mutual claims upon his emotional allegiance. This paper attempts to delineate Galt's pastoral vision and to assess its implications. It will show that Galt, unlike most other novelists of the early nineteenth century, is concerned to paint a socially comprehensive portrait of his age. He did not remain in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 283-303
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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