Sunday 26 February 2017

Political Brookner

I recently, in an expansive moment, recommended Anita Brookner to a colleague. (I almost never proselytise in this way; nor am I much given to expansive moments.)

This colleague is a political creature. She subscribes to the Guardian, is a member of the Labour Party, and likes the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. She calls me (unfairly and inaccurately) a wicked Tory.

Afterwards (when the moment of expansiveness had passed), it occurred to me to wonder how my recommendation might appear politically. My colleague is a Brookner innocent. What will she make of Brookner?

The question of Anita Brookner's politics is a vexed one. Plainly Brookner, like her characters, lived in comfortable circumstances. The ease with which her characters buy and sell London properties is notable, though not particularly remarked upon. Later characters, such as Julius Herz, do face a more challenging housing market. Nevertheless, there's probably lots of material in Brookner for a Marxist critique.

Brookner's own political pronouncements were few and far between. I have noted before her glancing criticism of Tony Blair, and I seem to recall an approving mention of John Major's ill-fated 'Back to Basics' campaign in the 1990s (I've never been able to find the reference).

But altogether she comes across (to me, at least) as apolitical. Her life and her views seem, like Ralph Touchett's in The Portrait of a Lady, 'exclusively personal'. But of course being exclusively personal is a luxury not available to everyone; Ralph is free to indulge himself in this way because he's ill, but also because he's rich. Henry James knows this, and I know it too. I also know that some people believe our every choice is political, and that the apparently least political writers can reveal their allegiances unconsciously. One thinks of Edward Said and his famous reading of Mansfield Park: Mansfield Park, home to brutal slave-owners.

I wonder again what I have revealed about myself in recommending Brookner to my colleague.

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