The Prose Factory: Literary Life in Britain Since 1918 by D.J. Taylor

Review published on March 1, 2017.

Anybody contemplating A-level English Literature would do well to read this book first. I dare use the word ‘deep’ whilst discussing the content of this book, yet it is so instructional, as well as being a brilliantly constructed history of the written word from 1918 right up to the present day.

It starts with quite an obvious situation that develops after WW1 came to an end. Before 1918, Edwardian authors were firstly, mainly male; they were also vastly more educated than most of the British populace at the time. As a result, anybody who wanted to read, or even could read the few quality books then available, invariably read the self same books that others read. This gave rise to almost ‘ghetto’ literature. Then, the First World War occurred and many authors and poets died, many future prospective authors and poets also died, leaving a great dearth of literary expertise throughout the nation. This lack of substance lasted for at least an entire decade, maybe even longer.

Georgian authors were invariably university trained, thereby once again forming a mild form of a clique. This cadre of people often rubbed shoulders with the book publishers who often emanated from these self same universities. The old boy network was certainly alive and well back between the wars.

This book points this type of thing out very well indeed. It also sets out a lot of various authors’ foibles, petty they may be, but they made these characters who they were and what they are often recognised by. Too many names to mention flit across the pages; their styles of writing, content and history are viewed rather well in this book, although it is seriously for the literature buff, not being a light-hearted read by any stretch of the imagination.

The likes of Orwell, Waugh, Larkin, Powell and a host of many others all receive a decent analysis by D.J. Taylor, the author of The Prose Factory. He has seriously thought about the content within the book and reached conclusions that are hard to disagree with. It is a very entertaining book indeed, albeit one that is very difficult to rave over because the writing is somewhat dry. It did not grip me at all. I thought it might capture my attention a bit more than it did, since it is a subject close to my heart, but alas and alack.

Politics also reared its ugly head in the more recent years in relation to government grants and any access to them, which created all manner of trouble as authors and the like, who strived to do each other out of publishing deals, while at the same time maintaining an arguably political stance within different parties. Some chapters proved quite drab in content to be honest. A lot of the text basically came over as explaining the elitism and mechanisms of authorship. If you did not go to a university and were then judged by the literati, many books were immediately dismissed as not worth reading. Megalomania also rears its head in different ways through all the varied factions within the publishing/writing world and that, for some reason or other, annoyed me.

Perhaps this is the case anyway; forget the mass money spinning publications and stick with the same old, rather dull books of the 20th century.

It is a good book, well written, well researched and well documented historically, but sadly a mildly tedious read for me. D.J. Taylor has gone to a lot of trouble to produce this book, but I am afraid if just did not resonate with me.

Reginald Seward 3/1

The Prose Factory: Literary Life in Britain Since 1918 by D.J. Taylor
Vintage 9780099556077 pbk Jan 2017


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