Time for a revival of interest in Anya Seton. Six decades later her books remain in print.
Two things Mantel says that I think need underlining, as they are very important points, and she says them well:"To try to engage with the present without engaging with the past is to live like a dog or cat rather than a human being; it is to bob along on the waters of egotism, solipsism and ignorance."Which describes a great deal of what passes for both literature and cultural journalism at this time."In any event, it is wrong for critics to be prescriptive about what the novelists of any generation should write. Most of their prescriptions are issued in deep ignorance of how a novel gets on to the page. A novelist doesn't sit at the keyboard sucking her thumb, thinking "what next?" A novel arrives whether you want it or not."And this is why I'm not very convinced by those literary critics who have obvious agendas, who have a definite Idea about what they think Literature *should* be, and whose criticism therefore is more ideological than observant. One or two very highly-regarded reviewers at this time fall very much into this camp.
I'm with you, Art. Criticism should be descriptive, not prescriptive. It should try to understand, not dictate. That doesn't mean judgments shouldn't be made, only that they should be in the context of arriving at an understanding, not issuing a decree.