Wood on Green

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Emma Garman.

In an edited version of a lecture given last October at a conference celebrating the centenary of Henry Green’s birth, James Wood extolls the many virtues of the novelist, whom he considers extraordinarily neglected with a “genius for speech”:

Though one praises a writer for having an “ear” or an “instinct” for speech, it is not realism, as such, that one is praising. Speech, in a writer like Green, is not simply a matter, as creative writing workshops put it, of “getting it right”. Green, like Pritchett, did indeed listen to conversations in pubs and on buses–the realist’s impulse to gather from the world–yet a great deal of his genius lies in how he invented a plausible magic on the page for his speakers. The speech in novels such as Loving and Caught is consistently more savoury and inventive than it would ever have been in ordinary life. When Edith calls her little charges “draggers”, she is creating a brilliantly apt neologism for the way children drag their heels and pull on one’s adult arm. Again, it is Green’s poetry–but it is Edith’s, too, because the word does not stretch credibility; it seems possible that Edith might have come up with it. “Draggers” is a literary word, but it does not belong to high-literary diction.

Speech in Green is both real and magical, observed and invented, a report and a dance.


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