Sunday, 19 February 2012

Respectable Log-Rolling

At the beginning of January 2012, I wrote to the editor of Private Eye to comment on their traditional New Year log-rolling* feature, which contained in my opinion an unwarranted attack.

Dear Editor

I do take issue with your singling out of D.J. Taylor for pretentiousness in his review of Professor Coustillas's magisterial Life of George Gissing (Part 1) under your terms for inclusion within the 'obscurely highbrow' category of literary reviews for 2011 (PE no. 1304). Professor Coustillas is the chronicler most venerated by Gissingites and a plainer speaking critic of this 19th century master one could not find. Anyhow, the works of Gissing are anything but obscurely highbrow. It's because they are subtle dramas of social realism written in perfected plain English prose that they are so admired.

My letter duly appeared in the January 25 2012 Issue 1306, and I felt I had staunchly defended Gissing's greatest champion against gross charges of high brow elitism, unwarranted in respect of both the biographer AND his subject.

I hasten to declare my interest.

I am a devoted disciple of Gissing, and admire his neutral prose style. And like Gissing, I don’t actively shun the passive voice or negative form of statements if they add variation to the texture of one’s prose.  I have no doubt that this attitude flouts today's convention, which holds that the active voice should dominate one’s writing style.

Funnily enough, shortly after shooting off my letter to PE, I found myself re-reading Morley Roberts on the idiosyncracies of his pal, Gissing.  Roberts writes: ‘On more than one occasion, as it was known that I was acquainted with Gissing, men asked me to write about him. I never did so without asking his permission. This happened once in 1895. He answered me: "What objection could I possibly have, unless it were that I should not like to hear you reviled for log-rolling? But it seems to me that you might well write an article which would incur no such charge; and indeed, by so doing, you would render me a very great service.” ’

So there it is. Log-rolling is quite respectable according to GG !

*Log-rolling = The exchanging of favours or praise, as among artists, critics, or academics.

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