Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

The Point

I was supposed to write this post much earlier but i distracted myself by baking (and eating) hazelnut brownies.  But onward into the decadent world of post-war Britain!  Don’t look too closely at the gilded fixtures…they are a bit tarnished.

What is the point…of Point Counter Point?  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  However, a reader could really be thinking this at first.  This is not a singular story with a strong plot that moves in a straight line, like Huxley’s Brave New World.  This is a novel about characters, and about a certain time in history.  It is a novel of ideas.

The novel follows a group of characters in 1920′s England.  They are considered the “elite”; they are intellectual, educated, and almost all of them are wealthy.  All of the characters are connected, either through acquaintance or family ties, and much of the story is moved along by long (sometimes drunken) conversations they have on every possible subject that has at least a breath of “intellectual” merit.  Sometimes they remind me a bit of the Schlegel’s in Howards End- there is much talk of social problems but, unlike the Schlegel sisters, the characters in Point Counter Point know that they are only at leisure to discuss these injustices because they have money and education- this makes them bitter and cynical.

The characters have just fought (or have been brought up during) the “Great War” and, now that it s over, they find that their world is changed.  The poverty and injustices that were supposed to be ended are still very present.  Politics is entering a period of flux and fascism is on the rise.  Traditional religion is on the decline and psychoanalysis and more esoteric philosophies have been recently introduced.  Many feel that art and aesthetics have to be changed after seeing so much death.  These characters are supremely disillusioned; they see no point in meaningful pursuits and so spend much of their time at parties, having affairs, talking but not doing.

In a really funny passage Walter, one of our young “heroes” (and one of Huxley’s alter-egos), is working at a literary magazine.  He and one other colleague are responsible for sorting the mountain of writing sent to the magazine by those that consider themselves artists and writers.  His disgust with the current state of literature is clear;

“It was the day of the Shorter Notices.  Between them, on the table, stood the stacks of Tripe.  They helped themselves.  It was a Literary Feast- a feast of offal.  Bad novels and worthless verses, imbecile systems of philosophy and platitudinous moralizings, insignificant biographies and boring books of travel, pietism so nauseating and children’s books so vulgar and silly that to read them was to be ashamed of the whole human race- the pile was high, and every week it grew higher.  The ant-like industry of Beatrice, Walter’s quick discernment and facility were utterly inadequate to stem the rising flood.  They settled down for their work “like vultures”, said Walter, “in the Towers of Silence.”  What he wrote this morning was particularly pungent.”

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