Nicolas Tredell

Nicolas Tredell is an extramural lecturer in literature at the University of Sussex. His book on literary criticism in the Eighties, The Critical Decade, will be published next year. He is a contributor to PN Review, which has just produced its 75th number.

Love in the Ruins

Nicolas Tredell, 8 October 1992

In Henry James’s The Golden Bowl, the Prince found by the River Thames ‘a more convincing image of the truth of the ancient state than any they have left by the Tiber’. Of course, the truth of the ancient state, like the truth of the British state at the turn of the 19th century, was not necessarily a wholly savoury one. Conrad had already imagined the great imperial waterway as leading to – and from – the heart of darkness, and by 1922, The Waste Land was to find by the Thames the signs of an imperium in full decadence. Glyn Maxwell, in 1992, offers his own vision of riparian decay:’

Uncertainties of the Poet

Nicolas Tredell, 25 June 1992

‘Fin de siècle’: the term suggests a dilution and dispersal of the cultural, social and political energies of a century, an uneasy time of uncertainties as a new era waits to be born. If this was the case in the 1890s, which still provides our chief sense of a century’s ending, how much more so in the 1990s, when the global spread of capitalism swallows alternatives, and generates, inside the whale, a shopping mall of styles, the hypermarket – rather than the museum – without walls. It is this unprecedented fusion of a superficial plurality and an all-encompassing uniformity that produces, for the poet as for others, a situation of unprecedented uncertainty and opportunity.’

Textual Harassment

Nicolas Tredell, 7 November 1991

Nervousness and nostalgia mark these three novels. The nostalgia of Christine Brooke-Rose is, surprisingly, for a golden age of character in fiction; David Caute harks back to the Sixties and the heyday of radical hopes; John Fuller conjures a world in which stories can still enchant. But these novelists are all, in their respective ways, nervous about the power of fiction to enthrall, and they live on the frontiers of representation, constantly checking their credentials, never quite venturing into full-blooded fictional territory.

Seeing yourself dead

Nicolas Tredell, 21 February 1991

Marriage, mortality, memory, the onset of middle age and the pressure of children criss-cross Andrew Motion’s latest collection. Should we treat the vivid images and incidents that comprise this volume as fragments to be fused into a unity? We might try to construct a single protagonist: a man entering mid-life, married, a father, aware of his own mortality and that of others, slipping at moments through the doors of memory into his childhood, into his adolescence, into an earlier, failed relationship. We could take up the hint of the title and propose a thematic unity, the workings of love in one life – or more precisely, if we recall the Browning poem from which the title comes, the pursuit of a love which is always elusive: ‘Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.’ Or we might follow the prompting of the blurb, which proffers ‘marriage’ as the governing formal idea. But it is questionable how far we should see these poems as the limbs of Osiris, to be gathered into the unity of one self, story or structure. That was once the favoured approach to Modernist poetry; but Motion’s poetry is, in some ways at least, Post-Modernist. It gestures towards a coherence that is not achieved, that breaks down in blankness, disconnection and inconsequence. Love in a Life offers anecdotes in search of a narrative.’

In a Dry Place

Nicolas Tredell, 11 October 1990

Autobiography is an art of reticence as well as revelation. But the 20th century, reacting against supposed Victorian prudery, takes its cues from Rousseau and Freud to urge ‘frankness as never before’: autobiography should be the scene of revelation, a public confessional, an equivalent, in book form, of the newspaper exposé that ‘tells all’. But all can never be told: one can never escape one’s life, one’s language, one’s cultural situation to give a full report. As the poem at the end of C.H. Sisson’s ‘partial autobiography’ says:

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