"EDWARDIANS: London Life and Letters, 1901--1914" by John Paterson

"EDWARDIANS: London Life and Letters, 1901--1914"

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Paterson (English/Univ. of Calif., Berkeley; The Novel as Faith, 1973) thematically arranges the Edwardian era into a series of brief studies, with anecdotes drawn from the works of Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Hueffer, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, and everyone else who was anyone then. Satisfyingly stuffed with encounters, vignettes, and aphoristic quotes, the book gives a rambling and impressionistic tour of the era after Queen Victoria, when England found itself adrift but flourishing at its imperial apex. When not quoting from G.B. Shaw, H.G. Wells, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster, and other initialized literary lions, Paterson sounds much like them, his tone ranging from the sardonic to the rhapsodic as he explores such subjects as politics, mores, art, letters, and sex in London. Cultural movements, not to mention fads, included the rediscovery of rural England (and holiday-making) and the rise of clerks and typists (and their taste for novels). All the familiar social concerns, and literary gossip, of the Edwardians--be it the Fabian feuds of Shaw and Wells, the friendships of Conrad and James, Bloomsbury's social rebellion, or Mrs. Pankhurst's suffragette protests--are treated. If this retro-perspective seems limited, it is nonetheless a reflection of a culture in which dining with duchesses was the literary pursuit of J.M. Battle, a gypsy caravan the address of the artist Augustus John, and a m‚nage … trois the minimum for Clive and Vanessa Bell. Paterson pursues the Edwardian zeitgeist across its varied and vibrant years with assurance. Enjoyable for its own enjoyment of the era, this period piece collection of literary snapshots and group portraits adds up to an engaging, if familiar, album.

Pub Date: April 5th, 1996
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee