Nonsense at Hay Festival

Oh really, what crap. It’s only snobs and supercilious critics who think bad novels are bad novels. Excuse me, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a bad novel is just a bad novel.

Trollope, whose restrained prose is as elegant as the lady herself, poured haughty scorn on the pretensions of the literary genre, and in particular the “grim lit” the critics seem to adore “that makes you want to slash your wrists”.

Well that’s wrong for a start. ‘Restrained’ prose? Well sure, I suppose. That’s one way to describe it. One might say the same of a train timetable, or a laundry list, or a tax code. That couldn’t be a nice evasive way of saying bland and dull, could it? Or could it. True enough, Trollope’s style isn’t florid or frenzied or melodramatic, but it’s not very interesting, either. It’s an okay, serviceable stringing-together of flat, banal language that gets the story told, and nothing more. I would hardly call it elegant! Though whether it’s as elegant as the lady herself or not, I have no idea. For all I know she’s a slattern on a level with Don Quixote’s Aldonza, and what looks like patronizing newspaper boilerplate is actually a hilarious joke that means Trollope’s prose is about as elegant as a Paris urinal. Or to put it another way, here’s a journo talking about literary style in language that shows she doesn’t know what it is. No wonder she takes Trollope and Cooper at their word.

An “inherent puritanical strain in the British psyche” was responsible, Trollope claimed, for this “silly” prejudice against popular fiction. Happy endings, or even ones offering a glimmer of hope were considered outrĂ©. “Reading shouldn’t be this much fun, we think. Naturally, we are hung up on this, we distrust anything that is readable and fun…”

That may or may not be true, but even if it is, does it necessarily follow that Trollope’s novels are good? Of course not. The way to answer the question whether they’re any good or not is to look at the novels themselves, not the putative motives of the people who think they are not good.

And she found an unexpected ally in the critic and novelist DJ Taylor, author of a new book on George Orwell, the paragon of the simple, well-crafted sentence, who managed to be both popular and literary.

More sly implication and non sequitur. Leaving aside the question of Orwell’s popularity, which was pretty non-existent for most of his career, what would his being both popular and literary have to do with the matter in any case? Does the fact that one of his several biographers agrees with one thing Trollope says somehow make Trollope an Orwell-equivalent? If so, how?

One bad move after another; perhaps I should hand it all over to Julian.

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