All this talk about Historical Fiction and I realize that I recently finished reading the first part of John Dos Passos’ excellent U. S. A. trilogy, The 49th Parallel. It’s so good and compelling that I can’t believe I didn’t read it years ago. Of course, my true but oft repeated excuse is that I was trained to eschew American literature and have only tried to catch-up in my waning years. My work was always Keats, Joyce, Wycherley, and Milton; who knew there was great writing in America? … and Dos Passos is a great writer. Reading his fiction makes writers like Hemingway even more disappointing.
It’s not one of the big ones but The Spoils of Poynton is a novel by Henry James and I read it!
Let’s stop and consider Henry James. Difficult to read; never-ending, complex, convoluted sentences; known more for avoidance than for having actually been read; more painful than a Merchant Ivory production. Scary, even. Except for a brief stint, I have successfully avoided Henry James and, until fairly recently, almost all classical American Literature. I never took a college level course in American Literature. I did maintain a great interest in American poets and American playwrights, but I thought the fiction writers were worthy of my disdain, at least the older ones. Oddly, I considered experimental writers as being outside of any nationalistic concerns in many instances, I probably didn’t even know the author’s nationality … experimental writers were their own literary species.
But I have over the last ten or twenty years been trying to catch up on American Literature, having discovered that it’s not all bad. Still, the stories about Henry James haven’t enticed me to start reading his works. The few that I have read haven’t really left me with fond memories. But I got a copy of The Spoils of Poynton at the Book Exchange and since it wasn’t too long, I started reading. What I discovered was a moderately interesting drama by the proponent of Trans-Atlantic Literature … an American writing about society in England and Europe. Thinking back, I seem to remember another novel which was about a New England family that was visited by members of the English society. Exciting?