Seven. Kundera’s favourite number just happens to be the number of the volume of the Pelican Guide to English Literature – subtitle: The Modern Age.
I have always been confused – even 40 years ago that ‘The Modern Age’ did not include the present time – the contemporary ‘now’. And where do you go from ‘Modern’ – post-modern presumably. And then?
I have dipped in here and there. There are interesting articles on Forster, Lawrence, Joyce (a particularly good one). Ezra Pound gets a whole chapter – from which I discovered why I didn’t respond to him. Unless you have an esoteric knowledge of literature – particularly the classics – you won’t get much out of him (so much wanking really) – is literature there to communicate? If so to who? Is the greatness of literature a function of how exquisitely preciously remote it is from common understanding. Surely not. Ezra Pound is a literary cul de sac. Sylvia Plath too gets a good talking about while Becket is lumped in with the ‘Irish Contribution’ and what is said of him is hardly worth the expenditure on ink. The Lawrence chapter was good, thoughtful – it came down to one outright classic “Women in Love” – and an enumeration of the flaws of a genius. Joyce too – particularly Ulysses. People often think of this as being a difficult novel but once you get into it, it reads easily, and stinks of Dublin – where I spent time as a teenager. And then there is that one-duff-fool orgasm of Molly Bloom’s – is memory correct, does it really take up 150 pages? I don’t have a copy at hand to check (always check!) – and I said Yes!
Curious inclusion of the now long forgotten (was he ever known?) L.H. Myers – and the curious omission of significance: Malcolm Lowry. Dylan Thomas gets a few mentions while his now all-but-forgotten namesake Edward Thomas gets the full honours of a chapter to himself.
But it was for Forster that I got the book and it was interesting how awkward they were with him. What can you say about him? In the end they said he was nice and polite and was a good egg and a good man all round. I rather imagine him (Forster) as being the Number 7 batsman of the English literary cricket team of his era. Not very exciting but solid. He can keep a straight bat and all that rot. Yes, Number 7, (that number again) towards the tail end of the batting order – probably included as an all rounder, good at fielding, can do a few overs with his intricate spin.
Funny how we use the analogy of the cricket team. Dylan Thomas saw himself as at best captain of the second eleven. Myself, when I judge people I use a different analogy – I ask myself if this or that person would be someone I would choose to have in my rowing boat as we drifted away from the sinking ship. Is this a person who would be good to have on board – or would they cause dissension, anger and so on. You don’t have to be good at anything to be on my lifeboat – you just need to be solid, useful, a team player.
Where did that thought come from? Anyway, I’ve been dipping into some interesting books recently of which more later.