Friday, April 17, 2009

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
Angus Wilson (1956; reprinted 2005, New York Review Books)
If this novel is Trollope-like (Trollopian? Trollopezoid?), and I believe those who say it is (namely Jane Smiley, in her introduction to the paperback edition), I'm going to have to brush up on my Trollope. As it turns out, I like a nice page-and-a-half of dramatis personae, six of whom are dead, being gradually (and I do mean gradually: new characters are still turning up halfway through the book) whisked by Wilson into a single (if discursive) narrative. His protagonist, Gerald Middleton, is a sixty-something historian with a long-lost ex-mistress, a bizarrely whimsical estranged wife, and three rather complicated grown children. The social networks through which they move include a couple of different sets of the self-consciously cultured; the Historical Association of Medievalists; in a flashback, a land-owning family on whose estate a certain historical artifact was found; some faithful retainers and honest sons of toil; and a couple of gay or bisexual young men with a propensity for free-loading. Apparently Wilson was among the first 'respectable' novelists to include that final ingredient, but it fits perfectly well into the way everybody is related to everybody else--even Gerald, somewhat in spite of himself. High craft, a fair wit, highly recommended.

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