Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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L
e f t w i c h
— A
ng lo
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e w i s h
L
itera ture
33
of young writers—that they are “of small stature, have most of
them added nothing to English literature, are the best of them
second-raters.” For when you look into their work you find
echoes of the heroes of the moment, in several, for instance, of
Graham Greene. I am not sure of the lastingness of the master,
let alone of his disciples.
John Lehmann in his
New Writing in Europe
which deals with
the years after the 20’s, suggests that “many of the poems and
stories and novels of the writers in Great Britain and the Europe-
an countries with which I have been dealing may lose their appeal
and seem trivial or second-rate when the intensity of the events
with which they were so closely connected has faded from men’s
minds; these writers will be measured against the needs of a
new generation which may have undergone stresses far greater
than those of the 20’s and the 30’s, and against the stature of
writers still to come.”
Of course, our young Anglo-Jewish writers have talent. Or
some of them have. But as with Willie Goldman and Simon
Blumenfeld and others of their earlier generation, their fashion
too will recede and they will be found to have been, as Baron
says, small talents, not as sustained and lasting as some people
today believe. “When new geniuses are announced,” Frank Single-
ton wrote in
The (London) Times
on March 1st, 1962, “I take
note, and enquire after them two years later. Ah, the great
winnower that time is!”
The trouble is that in reading a new book we may all be
carried away by the transitory accidents of time and place and
mood, topicality. As time passes and the topicality goes, the book
loses its appeal because it does not rest on the abiding elements
of human life. Tha t is why of the shelves and shelves of books
produced in the Victorian period so little remains readable
today. “Even the literary textbooks of today,” Ford Madox Ford
reminds us in his
The English Novel,
“give you no more names
for the Victorian period than Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot,
the Brontes, Charles Kingsley, Robert Louis Stevenson, George
Meredith and Thomas Hardy. So that even the official list is a
pretty meagre one, and if I rack my brains really hard I can’t
add many names to it.” “I suppose after having studied the
matter all my life, that what is most necessary for literature, or
for any pursuit, is a standard,” Ford Madox Ford also wrote.
“If it is good you work according to its dictates. If it is bad you
gain inspiration from fighting it.”
And this word
modernism—
“nothing is more hackneyed and
yet more vague,” Professor Janko Lavrin begins his book
Aspects
of Modernism.
I t is, he says, a generic word applied to “a count­