“Realism”

I need to do a serious post, via Williams and the critical heritage of Watt and his successors, but I ran out of time. Instead, I’ll invite you to read Patricia Lockwood’s quick shiv between the ribs of Updike in LRB. This is how it begins:

I was hired as an assassin. You don’t bring in a 37-year-old woman to review John Updike in the year of our Lord 2019 unless you’re hoping to see blood on the ceiling. ‘Absolutely not,’ I said when first approached, because I knew I would try to read everything, and fail, and spend days trying to write an adequate description of his nostrils, and all I would be left with after months of standing tiptoe on the balance beam of objectivity and fair assessment would be a letter to the editor from some guy named Norbert accusing me of cutting off a great man’s dong in print. But then the editors cornered me drunk at a party, and here we are.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n19/patricia-lockwood/malfunctioning-sex-robot (reg. req.)

It seems fair to say that all literature dates itself with the passage of time, but realistic fiction seems unusually vulnerable to this effect; or maybe the passage of time is exactly what we need to assess it more accurately.

I was also struck by Lockwood’s observations about Updike’s “habit of painting women in his fiction, rather than inhabiting them,” (taken from a sharp exchange Updike had with Barbara Probst Solomon). This seems to relevant to how we might evaluate Richardson’s critical revival in the late 20c.

DM

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Author: Dave Mazella

I am an Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston, Department of English, specializing in 18th-century British literature.

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