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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Books Of The Year 1911 Post by :tbirdsall Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1216

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Books Of The Year 1911

(_12 Jan. '11_)

The practice of reviewing the literature of the year at the end thereof is now decaying. Newspapers still give a masterly survey of the motor-cars of the year. I remember the time when it was part of my duty as a serious journalist to finish at Christmas a two-thousand word article, full of discrimination as fine as Irish lace, about the fiction of the year; and other terrifying specialists were engaged to deal amply with the remaining branches of literature. To-day, one man in one column and one day will polish off what five of us scarcely exhausted in seven columns and seven days. I am referring to the distant past of a dozen years ago, before William de Morgan was born, and before America and Elinor Glyn had discovered each other. Last week many newspapers dismissed the entire fiction of 1910 in a single paragraph. The consequence is that there has been no "book of the year." A critic without space to spread himself hesitates to pronounce downright for a particular book. A critic engaged in the dangerous art of creating the "book of the year" wants room to hedge, and in the newest journalism there is no room to hedge. So the critic refrains from the act of creation. He imitates the discretion of the sporting tipster, who names several horses as being likely to win one race. "Among the books of the year are Blank, Blank, and Blank," he says. (But what he means is, "The book of the year is to be found among Blank, Blank, and Blank.") Naturally he selects among the books whose titles come into his head with the least difficulty; that is to say, the books which he has most recently reviewed; that is to say, the books published during the autumn season. No doubt during the spring season he has distinguished several books as being "great," "masterly," "unforgettable," "genius"; but ere the fall of the leaf these works have completely escaped from his memory. No author, and particularly no novelist who wishes to go down to posterity, should publish during the spring season; it is fatal.

* * * * *

The celebrated "Dop Doctor" (published by Heinemann) and Mr. Temple Thurston's "City of Beautiful Nonsense" (published by Chapman and Hall) have both sold very well indeed throughout the entire year. In fact, they were selling better in December than many successful novels published in the autumn. Yet neither of them, assuming that there had been a book of the year, would have had much chance of being that book. The reason is that they have not been sufficiently "talked about." I mean "talked about" by "the right people." And by "right people" I mean the people who make a practice of dining out at least three times a week in the West End of London to the accompaniment of cultured conversation. I mean the people who are "in the know," politically, socially, and intellectually--who know what Mr. F.E. Smith says to Mr. Winston Churchill in private, why Mrs. Humphry Ward made such an enormous pother at the last council meeting of the Authors' Society, what is really the matter with Mr. Bernard Shaw's later work, whether Mr. Balfour does indeed help Mr. Garvin to write the _Daily Telegraph leaders, and whether the Savoy Restaurant is as good under the new management as under the old. I reckon there are about 12,055 of these people. They constitute the elite. Without their aid, without their refined and judicial twittering, no book can hope to be a book of the year.

Now I am in a position to state that no novel for very many years has been so discussed by the elite as Mr. Forster's "Howard's End" (published by Edward Arnold). The ordinary library reader knows that it has been a very considerable popular success; persons of genuine taste know that it is a very considerable literary achievement; but its triumph is that it has been mightily argued about during the repasts of the elite. I need scarcely say that it is not Mr. Forster's best book; no author's best book is ever the best received--this is a rule practically without exception. A more curious point about it is that it contains a lot of very straight criticism of the elite. And yet this point is not very curious either. For the elite have no objection whatever to being criticized. They rather like it, as the alligator likes being tickled with peas out of a pea-shooter. Their hides are superbly impenetrable. And I know not which to admire the more, the American's sensitiveness to pea-shooting, or the truly correct Englishman's indestructible indifference to it. Mr. Forster is a young man. I believe he is still under thirty, if not under twenty-nine. If he continues to write one book a year regularly, to be discreet and mysterious, to refrain absolutely from certain themes, and to avoid a too marked tendency to humour, he will be the most fashionable novelist in England in ten years' time. His worldly prospects are very brilliant indeed. If, on the other hand, he writes solely to please himself, forgetting utterly the existence of the elite, he may produce some first-class literature. The responsibilities lying upon him at this crisis of his career are terrific. And he so young too!

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