I T is a commonplace that the novel is a historical document, the product of its era, and this is nowhere truer than with the novel of manners. Registering the impact of society on the individual, this genre functions as both a record and a critique, represented by a long line of authors from Samuel Richardson to Anita Brookner. Any progression in the politics of the form is less clear, since some novelists of manners support the old decorum while others decry it as constrictive. To further complicate the issue, the revolts of one generation tend to become the conventions of the next. The most acute novelists of manners are inside the social framework to the point where they can render its tiniest nuances, yet also outside convention and therefore able to achieve sufficient perspective.
These authors often do not fit neatly into literary movements, as inheritors of one group and predecessors to another. E. M. Forster and Ford Madox Ford belong here, Edwardian in sympathy but modernist in their tendencies. Their peculiar centrality is a result of their situation on the fringe of a variety of movements, and though this placement has tended at times to marginalize their achievements, they have left an indelible mark on the British novel. Forster's brand of social irony, mixing muddle and grace, has become a literary hallmark, while Ford's impressionism, subordinating facts to the overall feel of the narrative, has been admired by writers from Ezra Pound to Graham Greene.
The cultural views of these two authors are an odd mixture stemming from their placement in time. The Edwardian era was an inter
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Publication information: Book title: The Columbia History of the British Novel. Contributors: John J. Richetti - Editor, John Bender - AssociateEditor, Deirdre David - AssociateEditor, Michael Seidel - AssociateEditor. Publisher: Columbia University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1994. Page number: 819.
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