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This report is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

Letter from England Gunnar Pettersson
I have always found it practical to assume that 'English fact' is better than 'English fiction'. At least since the death of Wyndham Lewis. Indeed, English fiction seems to presuppose the superiority of reality; it will ever bow down to the sovereignty of the unimagined. In the rest of Europe, since at least the turn of the century, we have been involved in one long and bloody fistfight with the real and have emerged battered and bruised, but standing. Our English colleagues have maintained a reasonably harmonious relationship with the real - despite surrealism, nouveau roman, deconstruction and all - and have ended up unharmed but unconscious on the floor.

That is, if you can call Bob Cratchit's relationship with Scrooge harmonious. From Cratchit's point of view it certainly is. Poor but happy, he asks little or nothing of his tyrannical employer, subsists without expecting any generosity of favour from him. The English imagination expects nothing in return for its unceasingly loyal drudgery in reality's offices. In fact, on being handed a turkey, its eyes fill with tears of gratitude.

This tearfulness is sometimes called 'close observation' (I suppose 'myopia' would be the most faithful translation). It is the lovingly recreated detail, the how-true-it-rings, the how-real-it-looks. This is why much contemporary English fiction seems not only myopic in European eyes, but innocent, and out of date too. For us, of course, the 'truthfulness' of a depiction nowadays deserves about as much congratulation as, say, the correctness of ...


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