THE CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH NOVEL by Frederick R. Karl

THE CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH NOVEL

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The evaluation of English fiction since the 1930's draws its general conclusions at the start: the modern English novel is restrictive rather than extensive; it is more self-contained, personalized, insular; considerations of class structure-once the ""staple of the English novel"" have disappeared; and it achieves only ""chance moments of intensity at the expense of scope"". While all of this is unquestionably true, one can challenge Karl's conception of the function of the novel as ""the definition of man in his society"". This is a critical single standard which can invalidate and be invalidated by some great books (Madame Bovary, etc.) But Professor (City College of N.Y.) Karl's individual critiques are intellectually able and provide a placement and assessment of many writers: Beckett and his search for cosmic identity; Greene who approaches salvation through sin; Orwell- -the ""conscience of his generation"": the more rarefied worlds of Elizabeth Bowen, Compton-Burnett, Henry Green; the ""snivelling"" rather than ""angry"" young men; etc., etc. Karl is particularly good when dealing with Anthony Powell, C.P. Snow, Joyce Cary; more arguable on the subject of Waugh and William Golding. He scants aesthetic satisfaction and inner experience for breadth, and as such leaves the current literary scene with a sense of its localization and devitalization. But is not this ""acceptance world"" of Powell and other younger writers, with its lack of protest and loss of allegiance, symptomatic of the times? If so, Professor Karl cannot conclude, as he does, that many contemporary novels fail to fulfill the primary purpose of fiction as he defined it above.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy