Saturday, 18 August 2012

Burgestoy, Tolstess

Thinking about Burgess's Napoleon Symphony recently: a really interesting novel (one of my favourite Burgess works, actually. This amazon reader has it right, I think).  But the postscript to the novel makes it plain that Burgess wrote the whole thing ridden by the nightmare of influence -- Tolstoy, of course (Voyna i mir, of course).  He doesn't say so, but I wonder if in part he used Beethoven as a structuring principle in an attempt to fight the fire of Tolstoy's withering influence with the fire of another genius.  If so, then I don't think it worked, at least not on those terms.  Napoleon Symphony is a great novel, but it doesn't match Tolstoy.

Trying to put my finger on the main difference between the two books (apart, that is, from sheer cultural stature) I wondered if it is that Burgess is fundamentally a restless, impatient writer, easily bored and fond of innovation and ingenuity; where Tolstoy is almost inhumanly patient, focussed and integral.  This latter creates an affect of Lived History that Burgess can't match.  Since I'm much more a Burgess-type personality (as a writer, I mean) than a Tolstoy one, this worries me a little. But then culture as a whole, nowadays, including the novel is much more impatient than it is patient. Hmm.

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