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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 12. September 20, 1951

Linklater — The Creator of Angelo


The Creator of Angelo

No Fizz in Avant Garde But Plenty in the Lecturer

Eric Linklater's address to a crowded C3 was interesting for more things than the subject, the Modern Novel. In the first place he was introduced by Professor Gordon who was making one of his very rare appearances on the lecture platform (for further news of rare appearances see: Van Deusen) and in the second place it was not necessary for Eric Linklater to use a microphone nor was it necessary for him to shout. Students and, we hope the English faculty staff learned as much about lecturing as they did about the novel.

After the routine complimentary introduction and deft reply the lecturer began by saying that;

"Note taking is a disgusting habit. It rots the memory and ruins the faculty of reading." These severe strictures were repeated and should benefit any other staff members who happened to be present. Salient, nevertheless, took notes.

By way of introduction there was an interesting little story about a Chinese tea house in Shanghai which emphasised the point that the purpose of the novel is to entertain, because it had its origin in the ant of storytelling. From this it was easy to criticism the extremes of seriousness which characterises the novel and its critics in modem times.

For this failing one must blame, at least in part, compulsory education and the amount of harm done by this innovation "can hardly be measured for it is not only wicked but futile." It has made Wordsworth a lantern jawed old bore simply because it has been thundered at us since birth that he is not only famous but Important.

Champagne At The Railway Buffet

The modern novel also reflected the curious divisions of modern industrial society, the specialisations, the divisions and it is now possible to say that many of the novels of the 19th century are better novels than those of this century. Cyril Connolly once said that "the only function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece." This type of intellectualism Connolly himself has lately deplored when, in a review of a novel by Stendahl, [unclear: hapjjikened] this last century writer to Champagne found at a railway bullet.

Bad Novels Have Uses

There were, of course, good and bad novels and these latter have their uses. They tell us a good deal about the popular mind and demonstrate the, tiresome interest in sexual activity which is a reaction against Victorian prudery. This reaction is similar to that of the Restoration Drama after Cromwell's puritans. In the bad novel our regrettable interest in physical cruelty and violence is also clear.

Good Novels—new Approaches

The part of the lecture devoted to the good novel began with a diversion which deplored the effect of Hollywood as an obscurer of the good things In American culture. Lionel Trilling one of their good critics whose recent book of essays "The Liberal Imagination" and excellent novel "Middle of the Journey" are available in Wellington, has had some interesting things to say about the novel.

He has pointed out the difference between the novelists of the Age of Confidence: Galsworthy, Wells, Belloc, Chesterton and others sure of themselves and the solutions they offered. By comparison the modern novelists arc tentative, interested in technique and the approach best known in the works of Virginia Woolf. They can be criticised because they lack intellectual authority, as comparisons with such masters as Balzac show.

General To Particular

Once he had placed Somerset Maugham and E. M. Forster as survivals from another age, but no less remarkable for all that he used Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene as his two modernists who have least of the particular faults he had outlined. Both wrote with emphasis on individuality, both fulfilled the Trilling ideal by involving readers in the moral life of the world. Bowen is inclined, unlike the incomparable Jane Austen, to intrude her personality while Greene, preoccupied with the problem of evil, attracts an audience because he always tells a story, surely a virtue missing in some other modem novelists.

In Conclusion

One could only hope that the tentativeness of approach, the tendency to IsolaUon and intellectual, the over specialisation and the Interest in techniques would be modified and restrained, that the division between (ho highbrows and the lowbrows would not be widened. Sir Eric Linklater hoped that novelists would come back Into the world with better techniques as a result of their Interest in technique, to tell a story, to entertain as he had been entertained in the Shanghai tea house by the story wf the judge and the beautiful woman accused of murder.

Lecturing quite clearly is an art which too few people possess. It may be an art that comes with practice in which case it behoves those whose lectures we have to make notes from to study the masters. Erie Linklater came in that class.