Saturday, 10 December 2016

The International Theme

A Brookner extract is to be found in John Gross's New Oxford Book of English Prose (1998). (Interestingly Brookner is slightly misplaced in the running order. Gross arranges his authors by year of birth, but he seems to have none for her, so he places her somewhere in the 1930s. This is probably a hangover from the muddle over her date of birth, cited by David Sexton in his article in the previous post.)

Gross selects eccentrically: the passage in A Family Romance in which Jane travels to the United States.

This gets me thinking. It gets me thinking about Henry James and indeed about several other nineteenth-century authors, and how well travelled they were, how wide were the cultural references of, say, Trollope and Dickens.

Brookner doesn't otherwise stray outside Europe. We know she travelled to the States. There is a story about her doing a signing in New York and being astonished by the queue outside the bookstore.

One thinks of James's International Theme, that depiction of the clash between innocent America and corrupt old Europe. What is the equivalent in Brookner? Like all great writers, she loves her binary oppositions, but they are different from James's: they're Europeans vs. Brits; Jews vs. Brits; outsiders against insiders; and, central to everything, Brooknerians against non-Brooknerians.

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