Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Not to pick on the British, but...

Michael Wood's recent piece in the LRB touches - by way of Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending - on that "elusive stupidity of intelligent people." And by people, Wood means the British.

The essay is a funny one at times and includes lots of little insights into the English character. These include references to a "certain self-admiring obtuseness" as well as the belief - at least among some - that "deference" amounts to one's "due."

The best part of the piece comes at the end, though, when Wood turns serious and makes a quiet point about modern literature.

His suggestion amounts to the idea - in the work of Barnes and elsewhere - that fictional characters walk a fine line these days between "ironically miming [their] own helplessness" and "taking refuge in old and comfortable evasion."

To a certain extent, we all walk this line...


  1. Thanks for the link, but how can a non-user read the whole stuff??

  2. Is there such a thing as "the English character"? And do you mean as represented in fiction or as experienced in life? I can't help thinking that the old class divide still exists in UK literary fiction, in terms of the choice of subject matter, social position of characters, locations and so on, reflecting the Oxbridge (and possibly public school) education or otherwise of the authors. There is surely more plurality now than there was in the days of Wodehouse for instance. I'm reminded of the saying, "Generalisations are always false (including this one)."