A friend of mine*, who just happens to be a PhD candidate in Victorian Literature, and I were discussing my last post over email, and he pointed out that the Victorians had a "fetish for Realism." The reason Hardy was singled out, and critisized for his contrivances, was that they were more in the Romantic tradition. Which brings me nicely to The Line of Beauty, a book that also deals with class considerations in heavily class-conscious Thatcherite Britain. Nick, our protagonist, comes from middle-class stock, well outside London. He went onto Oxford and met the sons of the upper class, to whom he'd be attached for several years after. While his class gaffs sometimes set him apart (example: thinking a maid is the lady of the house), and his status as The Lodger (or one who "fills out the numbers at dinner") is never far from the surface, the outsider status really revolves around his homosexuality.
He begins the novel living in the ritzy house of a prominent MP, made possible by the friendship of the MP's son, Toby. Later on, he begins a long-term love affair with an heir to a grocery-chain fortune, Wani, whom he also knew from school. While Nick's sexuality is an open secret, Wani maintains a fiancé, until his AIDs infection progresses so far as so be undeniable.
Line of Beauty takes the opposite tack from Run in dealing with class
mingling, as it lacks Romantic tricks, and sticks firmly in realism. My Vic Lit pal mentioned that we still carry some of that Victorian sensibility with us, and many people feel that "capital 'L' Literature" must still be realistic to be lauded. He also points out that even now, there's still a bit of
lingering misogyny toward women as authors. Realism, as an aesthetic, has its roots in the 18th century when male authors made a case for the literary value of their work over the romances written by women; the novel, as a form, was posited in opposition to feminine, un-literary writing.
It's definitely something for me to chew over, regarding my thesis on class-consciousness in both the contemporary and Victorian novel, but I think there's space for both schools of writing to work within my theoretical framework.
Or I'll just pretend all this never happened.
Look over there!
The Line of Beauty won the 2004 Booker Prize.
I'm editing a manuscript for a friend of mine at the moment**. I forgot how much fun it is to really get into an edit. I'm not an editor, but like 90% of the people who graduated with an English degree, I always wanted to be. It's combination substantive/copy edit, and my brain is working harder than it's had to in a really, really long time. For which I'm very grateful. I'm sure she thinks I'm doing her a favour, but it really is the other way around.
*Hopefully he won't mind me quoting him. He's a smart cookie; I value his opinion, and appreciate his help.
**Like most people, I'm better at noticing others' mistakes.