Minor British Novelists

Minor British Novelists

Minor British Novelists

Minor British Novelists

Excerpt

A colleague of mine has suggested that I find a more prestigious title for this book. I suppose that there must be a critical euphemism for the word "minor," but I am not interested in finding out what it is. Like the little old lady on the quiz show, I prefer a reasonable disproportion to an egalitarianism founded upon sentiment. It was this old lady who, upon being cited by the quizmaster as "seventy-five years young," electrified me and no doubt many others by retorting that she was not young, but old, and that she had thought the fellow had had enough wit to see it.

There is a minor novel, as there is a major novel. The boundaries between them are not always perfectly clear, but the territories remain well separated in the mass. Dostoyevsky is a major novelist; Disraeli is a minor one. And yet I think no one will deny that there are times when a reader will fly from Dostoyevsky to Disraeli, or from George Eliot to Ronald Firbank. Excellence is no property of sheer bulk and therefore to reassure those who are uneasy about some of the connotations of the word "minor," it may be well to revive here the distinction between "second-rate" and "second-rank." Max Beerbohm, to lead from strength, is the sort of figure one might describe as of the second rank, but there is manifestly nothing second-rate about him.

This brings us to the question of a more meaningful distinction. Among writers of high rank, I believe it is a question of conception and ambition as well as one of ability. Minor novelists are not categorically to be so considered because of deficiencies in their art, but because . . .

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