Friday Book: The Brave Old World of English Literature
Inglis, Fred, The Independent (London, England)
Between Two Worlds: essays by Richard Hoggart
(Aurum Press, pounds 18.99)
RICHARD HOGGART'S stout new book comes out at the same time as Martin Amis's much stouter one, The War against Cliche. Collecting all his criticism, Amis recollects as gone forever the good old days when literary criticism took on the whole of civilisation and was written by such giants as... Richard Hoggart.
Well, he's still here, I'm glad to say. I might even jog Amis's memory with a quotation from FR Leavis, referred to here with Hoggart's habitual generosity and judiciousness. Leavis once said: "I don't believe in any `literary values'... the judgements the literary critic is concerned with are judgements about life." Criticism of life is still as full of life as life itself seems to be - and especially (at 82) Richard Hoggart's life.
Hoggart's is an astounding achievement. He has lived what he insists has been an ordinary life. Yet he has not only made it exemplary in itself but also turned his way of seeing it into art - by way of his great three- decker autobiography - as well as into a quite new intellectual discipline .
The point of such a discipline, canonised in his classic The Uses of Literacy, is to find a way of making judgements about life in terms of the values, meanings and allegiances expressed in customs, in work, in storytelling and in speech. Hoggart has been doing this ever since. He observed his own life in his autobiography, his home town of Farnham in Landscape with Figures, and the condition of England in The Way We Live Now. Only last year, in the beautiful collection First and Last Things, he meditated on both personal and national life through a moving first visit to his mother's last resting-place: an unmarked pauper's grave to which she was committed when he was eight.
His subject is English life, in its wonderful variety and its hard absolutes: class first; respectability, tolerance, trust; literature and its tough continuities; education and the duties of a university; democracy and freedom. …