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New Left Review I/29, January-February 1965

Angus Wilson

Condition of the Novel (Britain)

In these closing stages of our meeting, I should like to give you some of the impressions which I and the other members of the English delegation have received of the various speeches, and draw some conclusions.

In my country, in Great Britain, I am always urging English writers and critics to pay more attention to the great writers of the Continent, and to contemporary writing there. I don’t think there exists an enemy which makes more ridiculous, nor has worse effects on, English literature, than does our insularity. Yet what I have heard these last days has had a strange effect on me. Those who have spoken have tried naturally to name their examples and models among the great novelists of the past. We have often heard the names of Balzac and Tolstoy: less often, but still quite frequently, those of Stendhal and Dostoevsky. I would now like to offer you the following list of famous novelists now dead, none of whom was ever mentioned in the course of our discussions: Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Meredith, Hardy, Conrad, Henry James, Galsworthy, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence. Please forgive me for this nationalist disgression, but my intention is only to show that there is more than one form of insularity.

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Angus Wilson, ‘Condition of the Novel (Britain)’, NLR I/29: £3

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