Monday, 30 January 2017

Afterlives

What will be Anita Brookner's future literary existence? It seems unlikely either that she'll sink without trace like the once-lauded Angus Wilson, or that she'll benefit from a series of posthumous publications, as in the cases of Barbara Pym and W. G. Sebald.

Authors usually experience a dip in the period after their deaths. Kingsley Amis was all but out of print for a while, before being reissued with new covers that recast him as a writer not of the present but of some vaguely 'classic' or vintage yesteryear.

The same may already have happened with Brookner. As I've noted previously, the new Penguin covers depict Fifties and Sixties scenes, even for novels plainly set in more recent times.

Jane Austen didn't become established until the mid-Victorian era. Trollope went into decline after his death, only to go through a renaissance in World War II, when his tales of a gentler world were newly attractive. And Sir Walter Scott, in his day one of the most widely read novelists in Europe, was, by the end of the nineteenth century, practically relegated to the status of a children's writer.

Henry James, seldom popular during his lifetime, slowly gained ground through the twentieth century, and is now a major subject for study. I foresee a similar destiny for Brookner. Critical interest grows steadily. Brookner has currency on Twitter. A major Brookner conference takes place in Melbourne very soon. And no new reader ever expresses an indifferent opinion. All these are good signs.

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