Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Novel that changed the world?

Melvyn Bragg is off on another of his intellectual sweeps. One of the quiet pleasures I had when running a video publishing house was buying up films from Border TV in which he was the presenter, and zapping his presence as much as possible for the video release - talking heads don't bear repeat viewing on video, and his was more irritating than most.
In choosing twelve books that changed the world, he includes such things as patents and the Football Association book of rules (his books are limited to UK ones) and excluded all novels, thinking no novels have actually changed the world.
I wonder. Novels have defined nations, were important enough in the Soviet Union to be passed around as samazdat editions. Hard Times was a campaigning novel which worked at switching a certain Victorian mentality and provoked increased social awareness at a crucial time. Satanic Verses was a pretty crucial playground in which participants got to exercise the fundamentalist doctrines that have plagues this millennium.
My own vote though would go to D.H.Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. I bought my first copy from a second-hand bookstore in Loughborough as a kid. Inside the front cover it said the edition was 'expurgated'. I went to another bookstore, looked up the word in a dictionary, and threw the book in a wastebin. Lawrence didn't live his life, his book wasn't the subject of an extraordinary trial, in order for censorship to get in the way of the reader's experience.
The trial of his book (imagine, a book being on trial) was a battle for modernity. A major stroke was played and won in the ongoing battle against censorship, against the oppression by one part of society of another. The trial question 'would you let your servants read this book?' showed how clearly the issue was not just one of sex but the maintenance of a hierarchical social order. Writers were given tremendous freedom of thought and language (my own new book, Slippery When Wet, an older English matriarch's affair with a young Bengali, would have been impossible without this precedent-I've faced enough lawyers with my own books as it is!).
Lady Chatterley's Lover was brazenly, wildly contentious. It took on the social order. And it won. We're a more openly sexual world as a result, less class-ridden, less repressed, we have continued to access more equality of gender and sexual orientation.

The FA Rule Book did not bring football into being. It established a new form of hierarchical rule. FIFA is now an immensely wealthy and powerful institution as a result. Lawrence posed individuality, freedom of expression, against the stifling of it. Let's hear it for the writer!


Blogger louie said...

I agree. The most obvious writer who comes to mind is Solzhenitsyn, but I would also list OLIVER TWIST, JANE EYRE, LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER, FRANKENSTEIN, UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, ANIMAL FARM and 1984.

8:43 PM  

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