Saturday 24 December 2016

More Women than Men

In Howards End is on the Landing Susan Hill reviews her collection of books. She eventually gets round to Anita Brookner's novels. Could they, she wonders, have been written by a man? Hill has no answer to this somewhat unpromising question, and indeed can offer little illumination more generally on a writer she's plainly a fan of. Counterfactuals seldom do lead anywhere very profitable. Nor it is especially fruitful to enquire into the gender profile of Brookner's readership. Brookner knew she was read by men as well as by women; the topic is covered in interview. Men probably do read her differently, but there are surely other variables to be borne in mind: race, age, sexuality, class. Ah yes, class. Do non-Brits realise how significant, how over-riding a factor social class is, even today? What was Brookner's? Or was she, as a child of immigrants, somehow outside the system? - like Kitty Maule, 'difficult to place'?


  1. Her child-of-immigrants status might have given her a bit of an outside view of certain social classes. But I think her characters very definitely inhabit a world that is closer to the 1% (to shorthand a swath of various types of privilege) than they are to the 99%. In almost all of her work (maybe all?) her characters buy, sell, and inherit flats in a way that is incomprehensible to anyone who ever had to find a cheap place to live. Similarly, money is generally only mentioned to assure us that the characters don't need to worry about it. And her characters have longstanding retainers with solicitors and accountants and professionals of that sort. I know that there are other factors that play into social class, but the economic status of most of her characters inoculate them from the worst effects of social stratification.

  2. It is true that most Brookner characters are part of what Victorian novelists call the Upper Ten Thousand. Some though - Julius Herz, Zoe Cunningham - face genuine housing problems. I don't think I resile from my view that in England most things are about class. Many thanks for comments. Have always loved your Brookner blog.


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