Page 112 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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J e w i s h B o o k A n n u a l
In 1950 Norman Nicholson in a book on Wells said he did not
“claim that Wells’s stories are to be compared with the best of
Joyce, Lawrence or Virginia Woolf.” He said, “We cannot yet
make a true assessment of Wells nor plot his place in the graph
of English literature. All we can do is to read him. In the future,
when much of his work can be ignored by all except historians,
it will be possible to concentrate on the essential Wells, on his
real contribution to literature.”
As I write, the London
Times
reviewing a new book on Gals-
worthy dismisses the claim made for him there that he is a great
writer. The place of the
Forsyte Saga
it says, “will remain in the
second-class. The topmost shelf is reserved for very, very few
writers: John Galsworthy is not one of them.”
So the American reviewer of my Zangwill book was putting it
in its proper frame when he wrote: “Zangwill’s work as an
English novelist and playwright, a friend of Barrie, Beerbohm,
Shaw, Hardy, Chesterton, Bennett and Wells, falls in a period
which is now undergoing critical reappraisal.” Of course, we
must remember in our reappraisal that not everything is better
because it is “modern,” and that not everything is dated because
of its date. There is also Arnold Bennett’s reminder that we
can’t really judge new work; “to sift the wheat is a process that
takes an exceedingly long time. Modern works have to pass
before the bar of the taste of successive generations.”
As we see for instance what happened to Willie Goldman,
from the Jewish East End, who was part of the New Writing
group of the 1920’s. “Goldman,” said John Lehmann in
New
Wr i t ing in Europe
, “had attacked other Jewish writers for mis-
representing the East End by romanticising it or exaggerating
some obvious and sensational quality in it. Willie Goldman has
shown a talent,” he continued, “which when it is more fully
developed may make him into a first-rate writer.” For some rea-
son it was not more fully developed. It happened to that whole
group, and Lehmann, speaking of “the change that was begin-
ning to come over English literature in the early 30’s,” quotes
a reviewer, “This is all very different from the bizarre, clever
stuff of the 20’s.”
But the literature of the 30’s too did not stay the course.
Storm Jameson in her book
The Georgian Nov e l ,
puts her finger
on the trouble: “The Georgian novelist is not his age. He is
only a part of it—its unrest, its nostalgia for a vanished leisure,
its questioning, its off-hand courage, its ready smile. In the room
of his mind more than half the windows are shuttered.” She
says she has sincere respect for them, but “disappointingly they
do not write masterpieces,” and she is not persuaded that they
could “by taking thought add anything to their stature. Unless
it were Virginia Woolf or Aldous Huxley.” I believe that since