February 24, 2014

Only {dis}connect: Elizabeth Jenkins and Angela Thirkell


In 1946...I had an offer from Mr. Wadsworth, the literary editor of the Manchester Guardian, to review books for him. I did this for about two years. The one over which I worked the hardest was Dr. Chapman's Jane Austen:  Facts and Problems ... I was of course severely limited as to space, and I worked to the uttermost of my capacity to celebrate the exceptional qualities of the work within these limits. I was rewarded by a postcard view of Oxford, on which was written: 'Thank you, RWC.'
      I also recall the number of novels that came my way by Angela Thirkell. It was a very interesting professional experience to have to read carefully works so widely popular, by a cultivated writer, which one found abhorrent. My reading of them coincided with my horror of Marxism; I recoiled from them in indignation because they seemed so amply to justify the abuse and contempt poured on the middle classes by Marxist writers. I re-read one or two of these novels lately, and my impressions of them were even stronger than I remembered. I still admired, but with a more developed professional insight, the light touch and airy pace, and the easy capacity to place characters before the reader, but I was again chilled by the writer's insensitivity, amounting almost to moral idiocy. One of her characters complained that now there were no members of the family still in the armed forces the posts were so dull; it used to be nice to get letters from the Front; a remark only to be equaled by one from a character in another work, who, complaining of the wretched quality of the cakes, said that one might as well be still in the war again. Mrs. Thirkell's very interesting group of immediate ancestors included Rudyard Kipling but this heredity, in her written works at least, was not evident.
from The View from Downshire Hill: a memoir, by Elizabeth Jenkins

Oh, dear. :)


lyn said...

Oh dear indeed! I haven't read much Thirkell but have several of the Virago reprints on the tbr shelves. I don't think I'll ever love her, her snobbery is too evident & those quotes are awful, aren't they? Although maybe in context they're the opinions of horrible characters rather than the author, I hope?? Jenkins also sounds like a bit of a literary snob herself, looking down her nose at popular fiction so maybe it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Audrey said...

Hi, Lyn: From what I've read of A.T., even if these words (admittedly terrible) are coming from her less overtly horrible characters, I have to think she's having fun with the common idiocies of ordinary people and not really making a moral statement. But it will be interesting to come across quotes like this and see! What struck me was the vehemence of this passage, in a very short memoir that touches on things she remembers here and there. And to see this disconnect between two authors I like so much. :)

JoAnn said...

Oh my... that does seem rather harsh! I tend to agree with your assessment that Thirkell is having fun with a character rather than making moral pronouncements. Talk about disconnect... yikes.

Cosy Books said...

Ha! Well, that's me on Team Jenkins.