Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Our Literary Friends . . .

Graham Greene once wrote,
How seldom in the literary life do we pause to pay a debt of gratitude except to the great or the fashionable, who are like those friends that we feel do us credit. Conrad, Dostoyevsky, James, yes, but we are too ready to forget . . . all who enchanted us when we were young.
The writer who had enchanted him above all others was H. Rider Haggard, the author of classics like King Solomon's Mines, and She.

I was glad he wrote that. This was not only because I've found Haggard worthwhile (like Alexandre Dumas, he's one of those nineteenth century adventure writers who remain highly readable as entertainment), but also because of his challenge to the literary snobbery of which there is always far too much about. And especially that absurd form of which in which people claim an attachment to a Great Name from some very early age--that they breathlessly ate up the complete works of Shakespeare when they were four years old, or somesuch.

Ironically, Greene himself became the kind of friend to which people pay a debt of gratitude, because he does them credit, while those writers who enchanted them when they were young go unmentioned. Ian Fleming was among them. He was much more given to identifying his aspirations and influences with Greene (or Maugham, or Ambler, or Hammett), while slighting the pulpier writers (the Sappers and others) without whom I cannot imagine James Bond having taken the shape that he did. Still, in Fleming's defense, his affection for those friends he was happy to mention was genuine, however little it may have helped get him taken seriously by the upmarket critics.

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