Critical Evaluation

Henry Green, despite his publishing nine novels from 1926 through 1952, is the least-known English novelist of high artistic quality of that period. He was a part-time novelist, spending most of his time in business, writing his novels seemingly as a diversion. He tended to avoid promoting himself as a writer. There is also the matter of the technical oddity of his work. In Loving, for example, he emulates some of the satirical insights of Evelyn Waugh (with whom he associated at Oxford), but in addition there is a kind of bizarre whimsy that goes beyond Waugh. Often, there is a strange lyric quality in Green’s prose that is unsettling because it seems to appear from nowhere, in a way that is reminiscent of the work of Ford Madox Ford. Green’s fiction sometimes bothers readers because it never quite settles down, in terms of its tone, into a clearly identifiable point of view. Readers are left unsure of how to respond to the work, morally and emotionally.

Green’s rather stubborn determination to record conversations in the rawest natural form adds to the confusion. It is not simply that his working-class characters use a slangy, demotic language that is full of eccentricities and unfamiliar figures of speech; the same occurs with his upper-class characters. He is determined not to compromise the veracity of regional, occupational, or class language. Most writers, even when they are re-creating the peculiarities of spoken language, tend to edit carefully in order to avoid confusing readers, but Green seems not to care if everything is clearly understood. The conversations are often made more difficult by the maddeningly furtive intimacies, offhand asides, and associations of ideas often indulged in by people who know each other well and are living in close, constant contact. Green’s characters are talking, in a sense, to themselves; they have no idea that they are in a novel and ought to make things a bit clearer for the reader.


(The entire section is 808 words.)