PROGRESS OF STORIES by Laura (Riding) Jackson


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Though an American, Laura Riding (now Jackson) gained her reputation from three story collections published in England during the Twenties and Thirties--especially the original Progress of Stories, 1935. This new collection includes that 1935 material (18 stories), along with stories from the two earlier books and one more recent (1966) piece. And a reader can quickly understand why Riding has engaged a constant, small following of cognoscenti over nearly 50 years. For a start, Riding takes the word ""story"" not much differently than Lucretius took the word ""thing"": for her, a tale is a basic building-block of truth-telling, of the pyramid of ideas. Her stories, then, have gelid surfaces, are usually forbidding, and always move in a single ultimate intellectual direction. When people are involved, they invariably wear odd names (Venison, Arista, Miss Banquet, Lady Port Huntlady) and are propelled into a machine-gun series of reversals. And frequently people are quite beside the point, in fables twisting around intricate mind-play: ""The sun, in fact, was the vanity of the earth to be both the lining and the place which it lined. And the earth was permitted to be all that it needed to be to be a lining, but it was not permitted to be the place of which it could be no more than the lining."" So the primary strength here is in the often-brilliant perceptions--e.g.: ""When too many people practise nearly knowing, then sentimentality is a stale cloud lingering over the truth. . . sentimentality is then not a resignation in knowing as best one can, but an idiotic content in circumstances--a gospel of inferiority by which makeshift truth is all truth for the moment."" But most readers will find this a far-too-ratified quality--and many of those who are eager to take the intellectual challenge here will be put off by Riding's preening acerbity, her relentless allegory, and her detached, olympian stance. Cold work indeed, the product of glittering eccentricity--still, as in 1935, for a special, very limited audience.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1981
Publisher: Dial