Saturday, June 20, 2009

town and country

William Boyd has an interesting article in the Guardian:

Angus Wilson (1913-1991), novelist and short story writer, identified what he called an essential dichotomy in the English realistic novel dating back to Samuel Richardson in the 18th century, namely the concepts of "town" and "country" and the opposing values that they imply. The division is an intriguing one, even today, and it is still relatively easy to classify a novelist in one or the other camp. Are you essentially "urban" or are you "rural"? This is not an innocent question, as Wilson infers. To categorise yourself as one or the other is tendentious and provokes a series of unconscious judgments. In his long autobiographical essay, The Wild Garden, Wilson lists some of the antitheses that "town" and "country" respectively embody: progress versus tradition; art versus nature; industry versus the contemplative life; reason versus instinct; strained sensibility versus sturdy common sense, bohemianism versus rootedness, and so on.

Actually, the piece swerves here, and instead of a delicious disquisition on setting and psyche, Boyd talks about gaming the dichotomy and writing about...parks.

Boyd calls himself an urban novelist. I disagree; I think he's much less town than country. Thinking of his novels--Brazzaville Beach, Any Human Heart, The Blue Afternoon, and others--recalls to me the open air, the scents of nature, not brick or car exhaust or harried passersby. But, hey, they're his books; he can call classify them and himself as he likes.

I'd put myself in the country camp when it comes to novel-length fiction, though much of my short fiction is urban--and features parks. How very interesting...

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