Praise for Conrad, but Joyce is failed;Diary

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
READERS can supply their own comments but the Diary will report this straight: one of Chris Woodhead's favourite books is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. He says it "exposes the dangers of idealism".

We learn this from bookseller Waterstone's survey of writers and others on the closing century's classics and those that don't deserve the title.

Conrad's novella, of course, tells of Kurtz, a merchant sent into darkest Africa where he goes completely bonkers and becomes a terrifying but strangely charismatic megalomaniac. Hmmm.

Chris's other choices are equally interesting: Wolf Solent by John Cowper Powys is chosen for its "sexual, domestic and metaphysical dilemmas". Iris Murdoch's A Word Child is a tale for our "egotistical times".

But top of the list are The Rainbow and Women in Love by that old purple master, DH Lawrence, for which HMCI can only quote critic Frank Kermode:

"Decadence and renovation, death and rebirth, in the last days, are hard to tell apart, being caught up in the terrors." Teachers know the feeling.

Lawrence gets panned by other contributors (a "perspiring pervert" Julie Burchill calls him). Curiously, HMCI declines to name and shame his anti-classics, though he admits to difficulty with Ulysses and Proust).

The meritocrat has not disappeared. Chris writes he has "no difficulty with the concept of a 'classic'. Some novels are better than others. Classics are simply the best."

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