Leon Garfield Paul Langford - Essay

Paul Langford

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The House of Hanover] takes the form of a stroll through the Hanoverian portions of the National Portrait Gallery, with a running commentary on the principal personalities of the age as they appear. It is a short book, but the approach is self-indulgent, with lengthy accounts of conversations between the author and a garrulous attendant, and a good deal of jovial jocularity. It is page forty before we actually reach the age of Hanover, though the result hardly justifies the effort of getting there. Each character is treated in a few superficial words, which convey Leon Garfield's prejudices, such as they are, but little of interest or consequence. There is no attempt to relate the artists and writers discussed to the major cultural, let alone social developments of the period, no attempt to transmit the essential flavour and character of Hanoverian England, no attempt to impose any kind of framework.

Paul Langford, "Georgian Stroller," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), July 16, 1976, p. 886.

[The Pleasure Garden] includes transvestism, prostitution, blackmail and murder. Meat for the kiddies? On the one hand Mr. Garfield has always maintained his contention that there are no books for children, only books; on the other his view of Georgian London is so enriched by imagination, persuasive detail, humour and dazzling wit that children and adults alike have no option but to surrender to his appeal. (p. 226)

The complex and flawlessly constructed plot unfolds with adequately sustained suspense.

There are too many good things here for full enumeration. One may mention briefly the brilliant character-drawing which is never very deep but always colourful, and the writing, which offers, literally, never a dull moment. Just one example: here the well-built Mrs. Bray stands beside her assistant who seems "really no more than a mere slice of a man who might have come off Mrs. Bray in a carelessly slammed door". In this, as in his mastery of colour and his control of a crowded canvas, Mr. Garfield is the Dickensian writer of our times. (p. 227)

The Junior Bookshelf, August, 1976.