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.
Until yesterday I think that most of the English delegates listened with surprise to the unfamiliar, and for us sterile, disputations, expressed in a distorted metaphysical jargon. Even Ehrenburg, who to a great extent avoided such disputation, found inspiration, like the other speakers, in the same French sources, by now almost dried up. However yesterday we heard the addresses of Tvardovsky and of Aksyonov, which were expressed in the simple direct, personal tone which we are used to: for us, it was like a breath of fresh air.
It has too often seemed as though the future of an art form as great and varied as the novel consisted necessarily either in the rigid socialist realism, which so many of our Soviet colleagues offer us, or in the almost equally rigidly limited nouveau roman of which Robbe-Grillet gives us so brilliant an example. The English certainly cannot accept so restricted a choice.
For my own part, I write in a realistic way, as do many of the most interesting of my colleagues in England today. But the interpretation which we give to the realistic form is much wider than that given by our Soviet friends. For example, I am sure that English writers would not refuse Marcel Proust the title of realist, though many Soviet writers have so vigorously labelled him as ‘decadent’. And another of