This month has been fortunate for the discovered book and essay. Previously ‘lost’ manuscripts by Ayn Rand, Harper Lee and Charles Dickens have surfaced and brought new enjoyment to readers. Well, in the case of Rand, it is really a solemn obligation and given her style, it won’t be much fun at all.

It’s probably true that Ideal and Go Set a Watchman and What is Sensational? have a pool of interest and market ready in greater proportion than the quality of the texts. Discovering an old piece of forgotten work, or youthful disjecta, is more interesting to academics and writers. With long literary careers there is more to compare with a rediscovered text, and through it discern the lines that set into the characteristic forms of the author’s style. That is the case with Rand and Dickens, both were prodigious writers. Lee is not in the same category despite the large affection.

Dickens’s essay is full of vim and energy on the subject of the poor and excoriating on the degree of public hypocrisy. I will not be reading Rand or Lee. Rand’s mature work is barely readable, and as craft, is mostly shoddy and conceited. While English was not her first language she did not reach the accomplishments of Nabokov, with whom she shares a certain temperament, but her work is pretentious poshlost and excerpts of Ideal do not modify that opinion. As to Lee: it is too simple and allegory is most resonant for a particular age group, but having read Mockingbird at the right age but left indifferent by its straight lines, there is little impetus to engage with more.

In a world of economic inequality the Dickens’s essay is still powerful. With some edits it could be served today and undoubtedly deliver to the same effect to the same targets of his outrage.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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