It is normally in one’s youth that one prefers rather pretentious novels, particularly if they are written in a beautiful and elaborate style, replete with quotations and abstruse references. How clever one thinks oneself to be in one’s late teens and early twenties, reading this sort of stuff before sneaking away for a quick perusal of thrillers or romances (to be disowned and despised). Later in life one finds those pretentious novels to be utterly dull and unworthy of attention.
The one exception to this rule, in Tory Historian’s experience is Michael Innes (though not in his J. I. M. Stewart persona – there the rule applies in full). What seemed utterly dull and pretentious in those halcyon days of intellectualism has, for the last few years, appeared to be amusing and entertaining with quite interesting apercus. Ha, Tory Historian can do pretentious as well.
A recently picked up novel is about the art world (they often are) and forgeries. Silence Observed is highly entertaining and has a remarkable summary of English life early on. John Appleby is now at the top of his profession in Scotland Yard as Commissioner of Metropolitan Police but still finds people approaching him informally about their problems in his club.
He muses on this extraordinary phenomenon:
There are levels of English society in which nearly all professional advice is picked up free. Cabinet ministers murmur their symptoms negligently into the ear of distinguished consultant physicians when the ladies have withdrawn from the dinner-table. Leading Queen’s Counsel know precisely what lies ahead of them when they find themselves on the right hand of brilliant and frequently dis-married hostesses. Top-ranking architects, summoned to indigestible feasts in ancient colleges, commonly take the precaution of bringing a junior staff with them and lodging them in an adjacent hotel.Tory Historian cannot help wondering how much that has changed, if at all.