Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without (2)

Brigid Brophy (right)Brigid Brophy pic, Michael Levey and Charles Osborne let rip in their iconoclastic 1967 book.

Extracts chosen by publisher Nicholas Parsons in his Book of Literary Lists (1985)

‘ The Hound of Heaven’, Francis Thompson ‘…all the teasing femininity suggested by romantic films, or illustrated by advertisements for high quality soaps and shampoos, is caught in the lines:

With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over

From this tremendous Lover!

Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see.


The History of Mr Polly, H.G.Wells ‘The History of Mr Polly may be Wells’ revenge for having to serve an apprenticeship in a draper’s shop.’


The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy ‘…a thoroughly middle-class substitute for real literature.’


South Wind, Norman Douglas ‘A good book is not automatically written by composing a Platonic dialogue of un-Platonic length, spicing it with pastiche history and would-be witty hagiography and assembling a cast of sub-intellectual speakers.’


The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham ‘ One gets from reading this book, not the portrait of a genius but merely a string of theatrically cynical refection on life and human behaviour, tacked onto an unconvincing story. ‘


To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf ‘ We are all conducting Virginia Woolf novels inside ourselves all day long, thinking how sunset clouds look like crumbling cheese, wondering why the dinner party guests don’t go, puzzling about children growing up, noticing for the first time the colour of a bus ticket. This famed sensitivity is everybody’s birthright, and probably Virginia Woolf was applauded first by those who were delighted to find literary expression of their own commonplace sensations. To have those put in a book and called a novel…only dots can do justice to their delight.’



Collected Poems, Edith Sitwell ‘ Whatever the intention, this is the language not of feeling but of someone who has nothing to communicate and who seeks to conceal the fact behind a barrage of manner.’


Point Counter Point, Aldous Huxley ‘He writes in the half clinical, half with genteel-attention-averted manner of someone obliged to clean the lavatory ‘.


The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner’…a vain and humourless purveyor of turgid Southern tosh’.


The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis ‘ You cannot fake the ambiguous morality of myths by simply whispering your own prejudices behind your hand.’


A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway ‘…a footnote to the minor art of Gertrude Stein, an appendix to the biography of the great novelist Scott Fitzgerald, and the Ouida of the thirties’.


Looking back in 1985 to their notorious book, the three contributors to it had few regrets and no real apologies to offer.


Brigid Brophy(1929 – 95)


‘ Each of the essays was by an individual, but the choice of the works included was by consensus…’


‘…I feel sad that we missed the chance to praise Trollope’s political and psychological novels, including He Knew He was Right, The Kellys and the O’Kellysand the magnificent Palliser sequence…’


Charles Osborne( 1927 – 2017 )


‘ The popular distinction between “constructive” and “ destructive “ criticism is a sentimentality: the mind too weak to perceive in what respects the bad fails is not strong enough to appreciative in what the good succeeds.’. If one finds oneself more frequently castigating the bad than praising the good, that may be because there is so much more of the former than of the latter’ ( my italics)


‘ I was shocked by the inclusion of two titles on our list. We each of us chose sixteen or seventeen works we could do without, and did not exercise any power of veto over one another’s choices. It was not I, but Brigid or Michael, who thought we could do without ‘Hamlet’ and Wuthering Heights.I certainly would not want to be without the poetry of the one or the emotional force of the other. But I stand by most of the choices in our volume.


Sir Michael Levey(1927 – 2008 )


‘ I nominate Dryden as one of the most gravely underrated of poets…Of novels and novelists grossly underrated, I list first The Egoistand Meredith altogether as shamelessly neglected in an age of enlightened paperback publication. Too clever, witty and contrived for today’s lover of untidy novels of ‘ real life’, he would be a major figure in the literature of any other country lucky enough to possess him…’


‘For convincing politics, and politicians, and the only real family saga in English literature that really works: the Palliser novels by Trollope. Time passes there, and children grow up, and adults grow old or die, with at least as much conviction as in Proust.’


Online comments from December 2015.


‘…In the end, who is Brigid Brophy—a minor and barely- remembered writer to dismiss Emily Bronte, Melville, Whitman etc…?’


‘…cultural relativism, courtesy of postmodernism, poststructuralism and deconstruction, has collapsed hierarchies and erased the distinction between high and low, good and bad…’




‘…that is an interesting and dangerously compelling argument about Woolf…’




‘…this exercise in bile and wilful misreading ‘




R M Healey

One thought on “Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without (2)

  1. Shsha

    Interesting. Maugham is still much read– alsonThe Moon and Sixpence is the name of campsite in Suffolk also Cakes and Ale. Next Of Human Bondage!?


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