META NAME="Forgotten Classics" CONTENT="neglected novels forgotten authors."

forgotten classics

'Reading neglected writers so you don't have to' A Time Out column and a blog for books that seem to be undeservedly forgotten, from John Galsworthy to Rose Macaulay, from Amos Tutuola to DH Lawrence, from W. Somerset Maugham to Fanny Burney. What books do you think we should revive? If you love a writer who has lapsed in popularity please let me know! Are my choices controversial?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Out of print classics

I've been given a timely nudge and reminded that everything I'm talking about at the moment is unashamedly populist - ie. still in print. Any thoughts on stuff that is actually nearly impossible to find?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

dead white men

I've been worrying that the blog might be re-fostering a sense of the canon; ie. the idea of 'classics' is pretty dubious, politically, and the majority of writers are dead, middle-class, european white men. I guess the point is more that writers should be 'underread', rather than 'underrated'. Anyways, here are a few suggestions of anti-/ non- canonical writers or novels to supplement things:

BS Johnson, House Mother Normal
Jean Rhys, Sleep it Off, Lady/ Tigers are Better-Looking
Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote
Chinua Achebe, A Man of the People
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, A Grain of Wheat
Stella Gibbons, Bassett

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Persephone Books

Persephone books is a brilliant shop/ website/ publishing house dedicated to reprinting forgotten 20th century classics (mainly by women). They publish writers from Noel Streatfield to Eleanor Graham. The full list of their publications is at:

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

unfortunately remembered novels

Further to our project of unearthing unremembered and unjustly neglected books, what suggestions for books that really shouldn't be read but are? 

further suggestions

A few more really not particularly fashionable writers that we might revive:
George Bernard Shaw (surely due something - it is the 150th anniversary of his birth this year, is anyone celebrating?)
George Gissing
J.B. Priestley, Good Companions
Jack Common, Kiddar's Luck
HG Wells, The History of Mr Polly
GK Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill; The Man Who Was Thursday; The Club of Queer Trades
Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives Tale

Monday, April 24, 2006

And some more...

Emile Zola, Therese Raquin (in a brilliant penny dreadful 'bodice-ripper' copy)
Alan Sillitoe, Saturday and Sunday Morning (aren't Sillitoe, David Storey, Nell Dunn et al due a big revival?)
Anything by Georgette Heyer
Laurie Lee, Cider With Rosie
Andre Gide, The Vatican Cellars
Edna O'Brien, Girl with Green Eyes
Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (bitchy warts and all brilliance)
James Baldwin, Go Tell it on the Mountain
Barbara Pym, A Glass of Blessings

Other choices for columns

I went home this weekend and raided my mum's mid-60s University English student bookshelf for some more top books that haven't seen the light for a while. Here are those that I came up with:
Katherine Mansfield, In a German Pension (Mansfield is an absolute genius)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (required reading when I was 14; post-the fall of Communism what has happened to Solzhenitsyn's reputation?)
John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat
Alan Sillitoe, The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner
Cesare Pavese, The Devil in the Hills
Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin
Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield
Edmund Gosse, Father and Son
Iris Murdoch, The Flight from the Enchanter (everyone's seen the movie and read the memoir; who actually buys the fiction?)
Edgar Mittelholzer, The Jilkington Drama
Anthony Hope, Rupert of Hentzau
Lawrence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey

Thursday, April 20, 2006


I'm now casting around for books for the June column. Favourites so far are:

Arnold Bennett, Anna of the Five Towns
John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga
Sylvia Townend Warner, Lolly Willowes


This month's column in Timeout (mid-May) is going to be on Maugham's Cakes and Ale (1930), a book which itself muses on the price of literary fame, the vicissitudes of being a novelist and what makes for a good writer. Maugham, as the various quotes already blogged demonstrate, muses on ideas of quality and longevity. His novelist characters (Alroy Kea, the narrator, and Edward Driffield) represent three very different types: successful (but cheerfully middling in quality); cynical and withdrawn; and eminent. Their various qualities give the lie to the fact of transcendent and uncontextualised quality - they are jobbing writers, self-conscious about their profession and in many ways mocking those (critics, readers, the reader of the novel itself) who would see more in their novels than is there.

Maugham's matter-of-fact narrator, when discussing the qualities which have contributed to Driffield's literary fame, has this to say about beauty: 'No one has been able to explain why the Doric temple of Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty [...] Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore'. In saying such things he suggests that popularity and critical acclaim (and literary production) are social, cultural phenomena; books are good because we make them so, or because we impute something particular to them. In the end, they are as good or as useful to us as a glass of cold beer.

Maugham's urbane reductionism flies in the face of notions of genius and sublimity. He was a professional writer in the style of Trollope - knocking out his paragraphs with a clear sense of purpose rather than an address to higher ideals of beauty and humanist perfectibility. He was a cynic, but in realistic rather than negative fashion.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

forgotten classics: Cakes and Ale

another Maugham quote on 'classic' novels and the afterlife of the writer:

'The critics can force the world to pay attention to a very indifferent writer, and the world may lose its head over one who has no merit at all, but the result in neither case is lasting [...] The elect sneer at popularity; they are inclined even to assert that it is a proof of mediocrity; but they forget that posterity makes its choice not from among the unknown writers of a period, but from among the know. It may be that some great masterpiece which deserves immortality has fallen still-born from the press, but posterity will never hear of it; it may be that posterity will scrap all the best sellers of our day, but it is among them that it must choose.'

forgotten classics: Cakes and Ale

from W. Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale (1930), probably subject of my first monthly Time Out column:

'I've been writing for thirty-five years now, and you can't think of how many geniuses I've seen acclaimed, enjoy their moment of glory and vanish into obscurity. I wonder what's happened to them. Are they dead, are they shut up in mad-houses, are they hidden in offices? I wonder if they furtively lend their books to the doctor and the maiden lady in some obscure village. I wonder if they are still great men in some Italian pension.'
'Oh, yes, they're the flash in the pans. I've known them.'
'You've even lectured about them.'

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Useful websites

Reprinting neglected women's fiction:

Excellent reviews:

Reprinting and reissuing excellent/ important old classics: