Written in 1944, Saul Bellow’s Dangling Man begins, “There was a time when people were in the habit of addressing themselves frequently and felt no shame at making a record of their inward transactions. But to keep a journal nowadays is considered a kind of self-indulgence, a weakness, and in poor taste. For this is an era of hardboiled-dom.”
The irony of writing this on a blog, while casting an eye over a rolling Twitter-feed. What is the opposite of hardboiled-dom, an appropriate name for our self-indulgent era?
At the time of writing his debut novel, Bellow could not have predicted winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. His Nobel lecture is magnificent:
Characters, Elizabeth Bowen once said, are not created by writers. They pre-exist and they have to be found. If we do not find them, if we fail to represent them, the fault is ours. It must be admitted, however, that finding them is not easy. The condition of human beings has perhaps never been more difficult to define.
Recently I discontinued, with consternation, my reading of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. I am thankful for Steven Riddle for providing a passage and his own considered thoughts that suggests my own experience is not uncommon:
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando was first published in London in October of 1928. I remember, the book was regarded with some mistrust by one generation–my own, at that time ‘the younger’. We, in our twenties during the ’20s, were not only the author’s most zealous readers, but, in the matter of reputation, most jealous guardians. Her aesthetic became a faith; we were believers. We more than admired, we felt involved in each of her experimental, dazzling advances. Few of us (then) knew the still-conservative novels of her first period; a minority had informed itself of The Mark on the Wall and Kew Gardens, hand-printed and issued in 1919 by the original Hogarth Press. She broke full upon us, it would be correct to say, with Jacob’s Room, 1922, on which followed Mrs Dalloway, 1925; then, while we were still breathless, To the Lighthouse, 1927. What now, what next? Next came Orlando. It was Orlando’s fate to come hard on the heels of the third of those masterpieces, of which each had stimulated a further hope. We regarded this book as a setback. Now, thirty-two years later, I wonder why this should have been so.
Elizabeth Bowen – The Mulberry Tree