Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Mysteries of English Life

My father thought that Dickens would uncover the mysteries of English life. Instead, I grew up thinking that everyone had a funny name. Life was really rather a relief after this panorama of social injustice.

The ghost or the shadow of Dickens, hovering over A Family Romance from the beginning, steps into the footlights in chapter 2:
Having effectively divorced themselves from home and family, [my parents] felt free to invent their lives, as if they were characters in Dickens.
(Brooknerians often feel the need or have the leave to invent their own lives. It's a favourite locution of Brookner's. Incidents in the Rue Laugier, I think, also employs the phrase.)

Then there's Brookner's use of Dickensian phrasing. Compare these:
...family ties which [my parents] had long ago sought to sever, so as to be all in all to each other...
A Family Romance, ch. 1
...my mother and I and Peggotty were all in all to one another...
David Copperfield, ch. 8

Dickens-style characters also raise their heads. One thinks of Jane's schoolfriend's Scottish aunts Kate and Nell, ladies of great innocence and virtue, travelling down to London every year with their cargo of typical goods, always keen to get on with some 'serious baking' (ch. 4).

As The Princess Casamassima was for Henry James, A Family Romance is Brookner's most Dickensian novel, and Jane Manning one of her most English protagonists: 'English and unafraid', as she puts it.

The mysteries of English life were at last, perhaps, uncovered.

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