Saturday, February 6, 2021

Reading Franklin Library authors

 Since beginning a collection of Franklin Library leather-bound books, I’ve read three novels that are not now and may never in the future be considered “literary classics”: Graham Greene’s The Human Factor, Mickey Spillane’s The Killing Man, and Nelson Demille’s The General’s Daughter.  If I manage to read an entire novel, I have probably suspended disbelief for the most part while doing so.  But afterwards I ought to be willing to find words to describe whatever it is I do believe about a novel, taking into consideration that many novels I read long ago have not aged well when I recall them.  For example, I read Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, and thought them at the time  his best.  But now in retrospect they seem heavy-handed social criticism.  The Hardy novel chosen as a Franklin Library classic is The Return of the Native, and I do not (now) disagree.  I have reread that one a couple of times and may read it again. 

The three novels first mentioned are Franklin Library “signed first editions.”  Of the three, Spillane’s seems least likely to live long enough to every be considered a classic.  Spillane began his writing career by writing brief stories for comic books, and this novel seems rather like that.

Graham Greene’s The Human Factor is very well written and as long as Greene was being amusing, the novel was enjoyable, but after revealing that his main character, Castle, is a spy, he becomes less enjoyable.  Castle while stationed in South Africa fell in love with his confidential informant, who is black and not able to get a passport to travel to England.  The only person willing to help him is a Russian diplomat who later asks for seemingly harmless information from time to time.  When it becomes obvious to MI-5 that there is a leak, Castle’s partner who always seems to win at the race track, is thought the spy and poisoned by Castle’s boss.  Castle is outraged and eventually confesses in a round about way to show his boss that he killed the wrong person.  After that Castle is whisked off to Moscow where he is assigned drab living quarters and may not be able to have his wife and child join him for a number of years.  Greene was enjoyable while he was having his characters talk cleverly to each other, but he later became as drab as Castle’s Moscow living quarters.  The novel was written in 1978.  The Cold War ended in 1989.  I doubt that The Human Factor will ever be considered a Classic.

I enjoyed Nelson DeMille’s The General’s Daughter thoroughly, from beginning to end.  However, this novel is in the “detective-fiction” genre.  Will any novel written in this genre ever in the future be considered a “classic”?  I suppose it’s possible.  Hollywood considered this novel good enough to make a movie from it.  DeMille may have elevated this novel above most detective fiction by taking on the inequity of a woman (the general’s daughter) being gang-raped during West Point training and then having it covered up “for the good of the Army.”  Assuming these inequities will have been significantly reduced in the future, much as those Hardy railed against, will Demille’s novel still seem interesting to a first-time reader?  He, at least has an advantage (to Americans) that Hardy didn’t.  The detective in this genre is cleverly and amusingly sarcastic, and Demille’s Paul Brenner is very good at sarcasm.  Even so, when this genre dies, assuming that it one day will, will The General’s Daughter still be there, standing on its own merits, to be declared a classic?  Maybe. 

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