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THE NOVEL IN ENGLAND BETWEEN THE WARS N. J. ENDICOTT ANY critic's list of the serious novelists whose books were most widely read in the early nineteen-twenties would have to include Galsworthy, Wells, Bennett, Conrad, Maugham, perhaps Huxley. But with one exception, neither the temper 'nor the experiments of the period were best represented by these names. While the later work of the greatest novelists is more often than not both up to date and up to level, this is not true of the Edwardians. 'Who would compare The Man oj Property with Galsworthy's efforts as published in the Cosmopolitan, or OJ Human Bondage with The Painted Veil.? In the time-honoured way, it was the pleasure, if not duty, of the new writers to enlarge the gallery and empty some of the niches. The Edwardians stemmed, for the most part, from the line of evolutionary and sociological-criticism going back to the eighteenfifties and eighteen-sixties. Those who followed them were, of course, influenced by the som" ewhat later enquiries and theories of anthropology and experimental psychology, and were also part' of a general European literary movement. The psalmist's "I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made" is the prefatory quotation to.Andre Gide's L'Immoraliste, and in his study of Dostoievsky (whose star was never so high as in the nineteentwenties ) Gide writes: " "And I believe that this explains why Dostoievsky, with all his genius, has been rejected by certain intellects, in the name of occidental culture. Because one may observe that in all our occidental literature , ',' the novel, with few exceptions, is occupied with the relations of men to each other, , .. hut never, almost never, with those between the individual, and his self, or God. The miracle achieved by Dostoievsky is this: that each of his characters, and he created a whole race, exists first as a function of himself," The critic Benjamin Cremieux, in his XXe Siecle, Premiere Sfrie, goes a little further. What passionately interests us, he writes, in the heroes of earlier novelists (and he names Dostoievsky with Balzac and Stendhal and others) is their acts. But if Proust "refuses to explain his characters by the principal acts of their lives, it is because he refuses to see in an act the faithful projection of the depths of human personality. Now it is this underlying life of his heroes that Proust means to 18 THE, NOVEL IN ENGLAND BETWEEN THE WARS 19 show us.'" With a different idea of the content of the buried life, D. H. Lawrence, in a letter of 1925, exclaims : "I am in entire sympathy with your idea of social images ... there is no newstarting reality left. Nothing springs alive and new from the blood. All is chemical reaction, analysis, and precipitation of social images. One fights and fights for that living something that stirs away down ... and creates consciousness} but the world won't have it." In England one of the most pertinent (if often quoted) attacks in the reaction to Edwardian novelists is Virginia Woolf's paper delivered first to the Heretics Club at Cambridge, in 1924. "Here," Mrs Woolf claims, ~the British public sitting by the wri ter's side and saying in its vast and unani_ mous way: Ola women haye houses. They have fathers. They have incomes. They have servants. They have hot water bottles. That is how we know they arc old women. Mr Wells and Mr Bennett and Mr Galsworthy have always taught us that this is the way to recognize them. It was right that the creative activity of the Victorian age should be followed by books that make you feel that you should do something, joi-n a sotiety, or more desperately, write a cheque, but the Edwardians were never interested in character in itself, or in the book in itself; they laid all the emphasis on the fabric of things. • And not only do the Edwardians come in for this rebuke; we are told that even the young Georgians o( just before the war, E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence especially, spoilt their early work because they compromised and unsuccessfully tried...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 18-31
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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