The Angel and the Author HTML version

[Literature and the Middle Classes.]
I am sorry to be compelled to cast a slur upon the Literary profession, but observation
shows me that it still contains within its ranks writers born and bred in, and moving
amidst--if, without offence, one may put it bluntly--a purely middle-class environment:
men and women to whom Park Lane will never be anything than the shortest route
between Notting Hill and the Strand; to whom Debrett's Peerage --gilt-edged and bound
in red, a tasteful-looking volume-- ever has been and ever will remain a drawing-room
ornament and not a social necessity. Now what is to become of these writers--of us, if for
the moment I may be allowed to speak as representative of this rapidly-diminishing yet
nevertheless still numerous section of the world of Art and Letters? Formerly, provided
we were masters of style, possessed imagination and insight, understood human nature,
had sympathy with and knowledge of life, and could express ourselves with humour and
distinction, our pathway was, comparatively speaking, free from obstacle. We drew from
the middle-class life around us, passed it through our own middle-class individuality, and
presented it to a public composed of middle-class readers.
But the middle-class public, for purposes of Art, has practically disappeared. The social
strata from which George Eliot and Dickens drew their characters no longer interests the
great B. P. Hetty Sorrell, Little Em'ly, would be pronounced "provincial;" a Deronda or a
Wilfer Family ignored as "suburban."
I confess that personally the terms "provincial" and "suburban," as epithets of reproach,
have always puzzled me. I never met anyone more severe on what she termed the
"suburban note" in literature than a thin lady who lived in a semi-detached villa in a by-
street of Hammersmith. Is Art merely a question of geography, and if so what is the exact
limit? Is it the four-mile cab radius from Charing Cross? Is the cheesemonger of
Tottenham Court Road of necessity a man of taste, and the Oxford professor of necessity
a Philistine? I want to understand this thing. I once hazarded the direct question to a
critical friend:
"You say a book is suburban," I put it to him, "and there is an end to the matter. But what
do you mean by suburban?"
"Well," he replied, "I mean it is the sort of book likely to appeal to the class that inhabits
the suburbs." He lived himself in Chancery Lane.
[May a man of intelligence live, say, in Surbiton?]
"But there is Jones, the editor of The Evening Gentleman," I argued; "he lives at
Surbiton. It is just twelve miles from Waterloo. He comes up every morning by the eight-
fifteen and returns again by the five-ten. Would you say that a book is bound to be bad
because it appeals to Jones? Then again, take Tomlinson: he lives, as you are well aware,