Учебное пособие по английскому языку Второе издание


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Magic Realists




Angela Carter (1940–1992)

Emma Tennet (1937 – )



Coined by German critic Franz Roh in the 1920s, the term "Magic Realist" has been most usefully applied to Latin American writers like Borges, Garcia Marques, Alejo Carpentier and Vargas Llosa. According to the revised edition of the Oxford Companion to English Literature, "magic realist novels have, typically, a strong narrative drive, in which the recognizably realistic mingles with the unexpected and the inexplicable, and in which elements of dream, fairy story, or mythology combine with the everyday, often in a mosaic or kaleidoscopic pattern of refraction and recurrence."

The label "Magic Realist" has at times been attached to Angela Carter and Emma Tennant. It is more appropriate in Carter's case. She is a writer of imagination and wit, who works most happily and inventively improvising on a theme supplied by myth or fairy tale. She is a writer in the dandy tradition, her novels, the best of which is perhaps Nights at the Circus (1984), being inconceivable written in any other manner. Style and theme are perfectly integrated, but this achieved perfection itself represents a limit which denies her a more profound resonance. Her imagination is self-consuming, unable to project itself beyond the immediate work. A great novel alters our understanding of the world beyond itself, changes our perception of that world; for all her imaginative virtuosity Carter fails to make the imaginative connections which render such an extension and deepening of comprehension possible.

Tennant is a more varied writer, and one who has shown herself more capable of interesting development. Early works like Wild Nights (1979) and Alice Fell (1981) were short, intense, lyrical, working by means of a highly charged impressionistic technique. She had already, however, written The Bad Sister (1978), a novel which took as its theme the idea of dual personality and as its literary model James Hogg's remarkable tale of demoniac possession The True Confessions of a Justified Sinner. In this novel she experimented with a method of indirect, frequently misleading narrative, which she was to employ subsequently in Woman Beware Woman (1983), Black Marina (1985) and The Women of London (1989). Tennant's fiction is based on the premise that things are both precisely what they seem, and often not at all what they seem. An interpretation of an action is, for her, a fact, but it is not necessarily, and perhaps only rarely, the truth. It is at most a partial truth. Our judgement of people is determined by our own experience and by what other people tell us. These are things worth recording, but they do not in themselves provide us with the means of coming to a true understanding. She realizes that people never see themselves as others see them, and that what is objectively ridiculous may be subjectively important. Her subject is the gap in an individual's understanding of human nature and human behaviour.

Such a subject lends itself to methods of indirect or fallible narration. She brings off the marriage of misperception and revelation most satisfactory in Woman Beware Woman, a novel dealing with a murder in Ireland, with the corrupting or distorting influence of celebrity, and with the possessiveness of love, which is lyrical, dramatic and disturbing. She is now embarked on a sequence of novels called The Cycle of the Sun of which only the first two volumes, The House of Hospitalities (1987) and A Wedding of Cousins (1988), have been published.

Here she has a narrator, Jenny Carter, who can be trusted because she is honest, and yet cannot be trusted because she is ignorant. Even while persuaded that she is telling it as she sees it, and striving to understand the significance of what she reports, we cannot rely on her interpretation because her own experience is limited, and her feelings are both powerful and confused.

In these novels Tennant is concerned to be true to emotional experience and to create the appearance and texture of the social world with fidelity. Yet this fiction also rejects the claims to authority which naturalism, the mode to which it might at first seem to belong, has always made. Her use of the innocent and confused narrator reminds us that the naturalist conventions are themselves a matter of choice, and that the same events would look very different, would indeed be very different, if the point of view was altered. Tennant undermines the authority of naturalism by reminding us that the novelist's choice of angle is always arbitrary; that any interpretation of what happens is partial; and that human beings are more unpredictable and mercurial that fictional conventions ordinarily allow them to be.

Tennant revels in the complexity of experience. It is too early to say whether The Cycle of the Sun will display the mastery of structure which alone can reconcile the author's awareness of the arbitrary and haphazard elements of life with a satisfying and integrated aesthetic. At present it can only be called one of the most interesting experiments in contemporary fiction.

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Muriel Spark (1918- )



Muriel Spark began as a sharp, funny and disconcerting observer of bourgeois life, with novels like Memento Mori (1959) and The Bachelors (1960), which attracted the admiring attention of Evelyn Waugh. Then in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she published a succession of novellas in which description was reduced to the minimum necessary for her immediate atmospheric purpose, and which achieved the dislocating clarity of dream. In all these books natural order is disturbed, most evidently in The Hothouse by the East River (1973), in which nothing is as it seems to be: the principal characters, living in the New York of the early 1970s where "sick is interesting, sick is real," were, we learn, killed by a flying bomb in London in 1944, and it is their alternative unlived lives of which we read. In Not to Disturb (1971) everything which is going to happen in the novel has already happened in the minds of the characters: the servants in a chateau in Switzerland know that their master and mistress, and the secretary who has been lover to both, will die by murder and suicide, before the deaths have taken place, and have accordingly sold their stories to the world's press and arranged for the arrival of the television cameras. These novels are probably the finest examples of "Magic Realism" in English.

Yet in the five novels she has published since 1976 Muriel Spark has abandoned this sort of experiment with time and structure. Her fiction, though still original and unsettling, has nevertheless again positioned itself in the "real" world of sense and society. She has eschewed the oddity with which she flirted. Her latest novels affirm the truth of what the French critic Nathalie Sarraute (herself the author of some of the most interesting examples of the nouveau roman) wrote in L'Ere du Soupçon: "the traditional novel retains an eternal youthfulness; its generous and flexible form can still, without resorting to any major change, adapt itself to all the new stories, all the new characters and all the new conflicts which develop within successive societies. And it is in the novelty of characters and conflicts that the principal interest and the only worthwhile renewal of the novel can be found."

Her novels represent a distillation of experience; she has always remained true to her sense that "everything happens to an artist; time is always redeemed, nothing is lost, and wonders never cease" (Loitering with Intent, 1981). Her novels are notable not for their fidelity to life, nor for an attempt to impose patterns on experience, but rather for their awareness of that strange substance whence patterns are formed. Inasmuch as the novelist's problem is to effect the perfect marriage between manner and matter, so that the novel satisfies as an aesthetic objects, while at the same time permitting the elaboration of discussible themes, then she succeeds time and again.

Nowhere is this more evident than in The Only Problem (1984). The subject might seem too large for fiction, for it is that posed in The Book of Job: "how can an omnipotent and benevolent Creator permit the unspeakable sufferings of the world?" Conversely, this short novel might seem too slight for its subject. But Job itself is a short book, and as Spark makes her hero Harvey Gotham observe, in a judgement that might be applied to the whole body of her fiction (or at least to its spirit): "moving passages about for no other reason than that they are more logical is no good for The Book of Job. It doesn't make it come clear. The Book of Job will never come clear. It doesn't matter. It's a poem."

Acceptance of the fundamentally mysterious nature of life is critical to an appreciation of Spark. Truth is beyond reason, its recognition an act of faith. But experience itself cannot be bounded by reason either. Human nature is contrary, and its remorseless selfishness always threatens to destroy the fabric which alone can sustain it. Spark's art is founded on paradox. The manner is inconsequential, but no modern writer has a clearer sense of the ineluctable nature of consequence. She has said that her narrative model is to be found in the Border Ballads, where one thing happens and then another, without explanation. Yet no one has a more intrusive authorial voice, setting us right, warning, advising, or choosing to mislead. She can write of the gravest matters in the lightest, even most frivolous, of tones, and then remind us that a thoughtless and apparently unimportant action can have the most appalling consequence, and be, in fact, a monstrous sin.

^

Margaret Drabble (1939 – )



Margaret Drabble's best work concerns a critical examination of new directions being taken by English society. Drabble's early novels established her as the representative voice of educated women of her generation. To some extent she has remained this, but her work has become much more ambitious, as it has moved away from the personal-anecdotal novels with which she made her name. Her true subject now is the moral condition of England.

She tackles this with zest and virtuosity in her most recent, and most ambitious, novel, ^ The Radiant Way (1987). It opens brilliantly. Liz Headland, a successful psychotherapist, is giving a New Years's party to usher in the 1980s. At the same time she is celebrating twenty-one years of marriage to Charles, a television producer. The duration of their marriage is "unique in their circle of acquaintance. Battle and bloodshed and betrayal lay behind them, and now they met peacefully in this large house, and slept peacefully in their separate rooms, and met at weekends over the marmalade, and would continue to do so until Charles's new appointment took him, in a couple of months, to New York." Liz congratulates herself on their achievement in language which suggests to the reader that her complacency is about to be shattered, that it is not as easy as she supposes to solve the problems of modern living. The party, handled with an assurance that is both scintillating and significant, reveals the extent of her self-deception. Her acute perceptions are not so acute. She has misunderstood her own life.

It is a weakness of the novel that this misunderstanding is not apparently intended to discredit her as a guide to the way we live now. In fact her response to the contemporary world is confused. Despite this, ^ The Radiant Way is an unusually persuasive novel. It celebrates the power of friendship and it is animated by Drabble's awareness of objects – landscape, food and drink – by her sense of the surging metropolis and the cold cities of the North. Yet it is also angry, sombre and pessimistic. Her analysis of contemporary England is harsh. She is alarmed by the sense that social obligation is being supplanted by compulsion and selfishness. Her puritanism is offended by the new individualism which flaunts wealth, is thrilled by power, and has no respect for what should bind people together. Despite the anger, she is a sufficiently subtle moralist to realize that this is, in part, the consequence of what people like herself, and those characters she admires, have successfully demanded: that is, the freedom to live their own way, by standards they have chosen for themselves. Moreover, she knows that right is rarely concentrated on one side. In a scene at the end of the novel, Liz is having dinner with her friends Alix and Esther; they discover that the police have surrounded the house, intending to arrest a young man on the top floor. Liz is hostile to the police; she calls them "a bloody disgrace ... thick as two planks ... incompetent fools"; she says "perhaps they're hoping he will take all three of us hostage and they can have a big shoot-out. They like that kind of thing." But Alix argues the cause of the police: "it wasn't their fault if they had learned confrontation, their position in urban society was increasingly untenable."

The strength of Drabble's fiction rests in its nine-teeth-century seriousness. She never doubts the importance of the social world in which we live and which she seeks to reflect. Like Byatt, she never doubts that the novel has a part to play in deepening and refining our understanding of society. She cares passionately about the way we live, and credits her readers with a similarly intense concern. If her novels sometimes lack imaginative illumination, for which she tries to compensate by writing in a torrential style, in which adjectives and tautologies are heaped up with all the exuberance of a Victorian painter assembling fruit, vegetables and the carcasses ofgamebirds for a still-life painting, she has a concomitant virtue: she never takes refuge from facts in elaborate fantasy. It is always here and now in her world; she has a respect for physical reality that is admirable and invigorating.

^

Stanley Middleton (1919 – )



Stanley Middleton is the outstanding novelist of Middle England, greatly admired by Byatt who has written that his "is a world of questing morality, without the sanction of religious injunction, upheld only by decency." This is indeed the world in which all these writers live. It is perhaps the reward of a provincial upbringing in a society where "smart" was not an admiring adjective, and where "duty" was still presented as a moral imperative.

Middleton is the Cezanne of the modern English novel, achieving extraordinary effects with apparently the most ordinary of materials. He works at the same subject again and again, and its matter is never in itself striking or remarkable. His novels are all set in the Midlands and his characters are drawn from the middle classes: schoolmasters, solicitors, businessmen, whose roots are generally to be found in a narrow chapel-going culture, which has in the course of time lost its religious element without surrendering its ethical content. Typically, his plot poses a complex moral problem: we find marriages at breaking point, people having to come to terms with retirement, bereavement or estrangement. "He works," Byatt observes, "on the borders between people where the nature of the self of the other is a mystery and a blank."

In his later novels, like "The Daysman," "An After-Dinner Sleep" and "Recovery," his mastery is so assured that he in fact dispenses with "plot" in the formal sense of the term. Instead he fastens on the haphazard nature of life. There is of course a story, but there is a story as there is one in ordinary experience. One thing succeeds another, and there is no satisfactory shape to events. To write a novel in this way is to take a great risk, for no work of art can dispense with form. The movement in a Middleton novel is internal. It is his characters' state of mind and spirit which is important, and it is by his deployment of feeling rather than incident that he contrives to give his work an aesthetically, and therefore morally, satisfying pattern. His characters are committed to a moral obstacle course, by means of which they learn, or learn again, how to go on living in the right way. Part of the strain imposed on them comes from their realization that in the modem world they have to make their own code of decent behaviour.

Middleton works tentatively, his prose echoing his characters' uncertainties and divagations. His is always an exploratory art. The sense of felt life is one of his qualities: he is admirable in the evocation of place, weather, mood, and in the isolation of significant moments in experience. He is also consistently interesting. This sounds a weak adjective of praise; yet the ability to be interesting, to make what happens to the characters he has imagined seem to matter to the reader, is not the least of the novelist's required talents. Indeed it is a fundamental one: if the writer does not possess it, all his other gifts may go for nothing.

On the whole, the people in Middleton's novels are decent, well-meaning, unremarkable; they really are the sort of people we might have as neighbours. Most of them try to be good, to be pleasant; they could even be called nice. Their ordinariness is a mark of the author's ambition. It is easier to create wild, flamboyant and extraordinary characters; the portrayal of evil is always a temptation to the writer because it is more dramatic than good. Middleton, however, brings to the depiction of ordinary humdrum undramatic life the high seriousness which less subtle and understanding writers can bring only to awful and extraordinary events.

^

Peter Ackroyd (1949 – )



Ackroyd is a dandy, self-conscious, elegant and witty. His work is marked by an extreme artificiality. It is always at some remove from life, and he never leaves the reader in any doubt that he is reading a novel. Despite naturalistic passages, often extremely effective, his inspiration generally appears to be literature rather than life. This impression is reinforced by the knowledge that Ackroyd is also a fine literary critic and biographer, who has written illuminatingly of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. But he is also a poet, with a poet's awareness of mystery.

He has written five novels. The first, ^ The Great Fire of London, derived from Little Dorrit, was a twentieth-century gloss on Dickens. Yet at the same time it was a highly individual and original work, a haunting novel of modern London – of all contemporary writers only Ackroyd reveals the poetry of modern London. It was followed by The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, which won the Somerset Maugham Award, and Hawksmoor (1985) which won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Withbread Novel Prize. Both showed his ability to get outside himself; Ackroyd's novels eschew the thinly disguised autobiography which less ambitious writers make the staple of their fiction. Both showed his talent for pastiche, a characteristic mode of post-modernist fiction. Hawksmoor offering a glittering reconstruction of late-seventeenth-century London in its exploration of the life of the architect who was a pupil of Wren and built St. Mary Woolnoth and St. George's, Bloomsbury. The novel is structurally ingenious, for a modern murder mystery is incorporated in the reconstruction, and the two plots, skilfully intertwined, play off each other. This novel, metaphysically convincing, masterly in its treatment of obsession, is Ackroyd's most assured success.

A similar technique, interweaving past and present, and employing pastiche, is used in Chatterton (1987). In one sense this novel raised the question whether Ackroyd's manner would stiffen into mannerism; yet it also, though marred by some grotesque and unconvincing caricature, revealed new aspects of his talent, in particular an ability to evoke tenderness, and a new depth of emotion evident in his treatment of the relationship between the unsuccessful poet Charley Wychwood (obsessed with the image of the dying Chatterton, the "marvellous boy" who, in the eighteenth century wrote poems in "old English" which deceived many into thinking them genuine) and his wife and small son. This ability to deal lucidly and unpretentiously with domestic emotions – and it is far more difficult to write well of a marriage than of a murder – suggested an intuitive sensitivity for which nothing in Ackroyd's earlier work had prepared one.

In his most recent novel, First Light (1989), echoes of other writers are still to be found, but pastiche has been abandoned. So has London. The setting is Dorset, and Ackroyd has written a novel in which a chief element is the sense of the past as an enduring present, a sense which throws into relief the merely provisional nature of modern urban society, and done this without falling into the portentous solemnity which has afflicted the serious English rural novel since Hardy. The novel's themes are time and the immensity of creation. Its action is concentrated on two sites: an observatory and an archaeological dig. He pictures the heavens spinning away, old forms of life trapped mysteriously under the earth – the buried treasure of race memory – and between them, men and women day to day playing out their little roles in the demanding urgency of brief time. It is the novel of a poet, a speculative book, but it is also comic, for Ackroyd's eye for human oddity is acute. These people in between, the men and women of today, are vividly, tenderly and humorously brought to life.

Ackroyd is a writer who fulfils Nabokov's requirement that the novelist should see the world as "material for fiction." He is also one who can legitimately be described as Dickensian: he has the same sense of the strange poetry of life, the same relish in human behaviour, the same awareness that comedy derives from the point of view, and he has learned from him how to give authenticity and vitality to a novel by placing naturalistic, even dull, characters at the centre and creating around them characters conceived and displayed as grotesques, who press in on the central characters and then pull away from them in a joyous celebration of human variety.

^

Martin Amis (1949 – )



Contemporary success requires a writer to be in tune with his times. Consequently his work may acquire a period flavour which may make it seem dated before it has the chance even to take on a period charm. The first novels of Martin Amis, for example, though evidently the work of a gifted writer, now emit stale gusts of the late 1960s and early 1970s; they are for the moment almost unreadable. It was not till his fourth novel. Other People (1981), that Amis began to escape from the limiting condition of being bang up to the minute, of having the ear of his exact contemporaries, and only theirs. These early books, The Rachel Papers (1973), Dead Babies (1975) and Success (1978), combined a shimmer of verbal brilliance with an adolescent desire to shock. This, however, was only a case of joining with other adolescents in shocking their elders; there was nothing to disturb readers of his own generation. They indeed were flattered by the novels, and, since the investigation of human nature was superficial, shrinking from the depiction of serious emotion, these novels were ultimately trivial and unambitious.

What makes Amis interesting, however, is the ability to develop which he has shown. ^ Other People itself was an unsatisfactory novel, principally because of its indeterminate centre; but it was disturbing as none of his previous books had been, because he was now admitting to ignorance of certain aspects of personality, which he had formerly presented with a glib assurance.

Money (1984) showed a remarkable, not unexpected, advance. Set partly in a glittering but insubstantial New York, partly in a London that offered a shoddy imitation of New York, it was at once contemporary and timeless. Money is both its theme and title, as it was the theme of Our Mutual Friend; and Amis recalls Dickens in the exuberant fecundity of language, in his startling insight and moral seriousness, without, one may say gratefully, being in any way what is conventionally and slackly called Dickensian. Money, Amis perceives, has taken on a life of its own: "All America was interflexed by computer processors whose roots spread outward from the trunks of skyscrapers until they looped like a web from city to city, sorting, clearing, okaying, denying, denying. Software America on a humming grid of linkup and lookout, with display screens and logic boards of credit ratings, debt profiles." Money, he sees, has become metaphysical. People have it without showing it, and, having it, go down into the streets and with imaginary money purchase whatever comes into their heads. This is the atmosphere in which his novel lives and the atmosphere into which he launches his greedy innocent John Self.

The narrative is offered as an exaggerated and comic version of modern life; the characterization is no more than emblematic. The vitality of the novel arises not from incident but from the author's disgusted enjoyment of the world he has summoned into being. This money world is like Coketown in Hard Times, a monstrous and inhuman creation which fascinates the author; he responds with zestful loathing.

It is the style which constitutes the book's triumph, because it is the galloping and inventive prose which carries Amis's adoring revulsion from modernity. It has an amazing range. It can carry menace: "as my cab pulled off FDR drive, somewhere in the early Hundreds, a low-slung Tomahawk full of black guys came sharking out lane and sloped in fast right across our bows"; a sentence where the rhythm is just right, and the weight rests on that word "sharking" like a fighter on the balls of his feet. It can accommodate reflection, can convey pathos and self-loathing. It is very funny and intensely visual. Whatever is sick, sad and ugly in modern urban life is caught in this style; its rare moments of beauty too.

Money is a delight to read, even though it is made of material which is disgusting and depressing. Almost everything that is good and natural and loving and lovely in life has been jettisoned; we are looking into the trash cans outside the fast-food eatery of a junk civilization. Yet from this Amis has created an entrancing work of art. There has been no novel from him since, though one sensed that Money represented a signing-off, that it was a bridge leading from his clever young man's novels to something deeper and more sympathetic. Whatever form his future fiction takes, one cannot think Martin Amis a candidate for Maugham's Italian pensione.

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