The Warden by Anthony Trollope

This novel is more concise than ‘Framley Parsonage’ but the reader still feels that the author could have left out more verbiage. Further, the story is distorted by the blatant sexism of Trollope. He clearly thought that female logic differed from that of the male. Nor was he comfortable about inventing the conversation of women.

This unfortunate perspective impaired the realism of ‘The Warden’ and diminished what could have been an effective ┬ápolitical novel. Trollope went so far to write:

“What had passed between Eleanor Harding and Mary Bold need not be told. It is indeed a matter of thankfulness that neither the historian nor the novelist hears all that is said by their heroes or heroines, or how would three volumes or twenty suffice!”

If Trollope had been committed to minimalism he could have spared the reader such awkward digressions.

 

Reason, Faith and Revolution by Terry Eagleton

This polemical text takes aim at the New Atheism. The lecture-based piece is scathing about the popular efforts of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Professor Eagleton is particularly rude about the work of Dawkins, even condemning him for his unpolished prose style.

Eagleton is really harsh about the political company kept by Hitchens and Dawkins. Neo-conservatives and liberals do not persuade Eagleton. However, the thrust of his male-centric argument is that the New Atheists missed the point about religion. They used science to try to understand religion, which is like attempting to use physics to comprehend poetry. Eagleton is less dismissive of the more complex analysis of Freud and Marx.

While much of the material is serious, humour is employed to sharpen the reception of the content. The comic digressions skewer parts of postmodern culture with deadly accuracy:

“Such a cult of the will characterises the United States…For some in the USA, the C-word is ‘can’t.’ Negativity is often looked upon there as a kind of thought crime. Not since the advent of socialist realism has the world witnessed such pathological upbeatness.”

 

 

 

 

The pantomime of Progress starring Alison McGovern

The politics of kindness is about avoiding personal attacks. Peaceful Jeremy Corbyn has been restrained in his response to the rabid criticisms of his ideology. Unfortunately, many of the savage attacks have come from within the Labour Party. The Progress faction has been particularly keen to derail his positive project. Progress is in the tradition of Tony Blair- keen on military intervention abroad and eager to represent the middle class at home.

Having witnessed an absurd defence of the militarist position of the Tory Prime Minister by Alison McGovern of Progress, it would be churlish not to appreciate the unintentional comedy. At a public meeting, she took hysterical umbrage when Hilary Benn was criticised for comparing modern terrorists to the fascists of the 1930s.

Modern terrorism needs addressing by subtle methods, but it has not got the military force or economic backing which fascism had. If Benn cannot be criticised for exaggerating the terrorist threat to society then the terrorists have won. If Benn is motivated by genuine compassion he could focus on helping poor people around the world who do not need Western bombs to meet their needs.

Progress is a faction without coherent principles, and a threat to what is left of the Labour Party. Its top-down approach to policy is apparently careless of the desires of constituents and the hopes of Labour Party supporters. The liberal and conservative press might welcome a resurgence of Progress because most journalists want politics to be a form of entertainment.

Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Gaskell

This sentimental tale is not one of the novelist’s major works. However, it may be a popular story for those people who are short on time. Further, there are a few interesting points about this piece of fiction.

The contemporary reader would not have had the opportunity to read it in one go as it was published in sections. This was despite the fact that the tale was brief. Apparently, the original scheme was for a longer narrative. The result is that details might have been savoured. Nonetheless, the nature of the plot means that suspense would not have developed between episodes.

The story is worth a look because of some fine writing and its nostalgic appreciation of simple lives governed in part by Christian ethics. Nevertheless, the dynamism that would transform Britain is included in the largely pastoral text. This is because the railways, a key part of industrial capitalism, are mentioned prominently.