In fairness to James Wood, who has come in for a fair amount of criticism on this weblog, I reprint here an e-mail message he just recently sent to me. The subject is his Guardian essay on comedy in fiction.
Dear Mr Green,
You are of course entitled to whatever opinions you want about me. But you shouldn't graze on edited texts (the Guardian ran the introduction to my new book at half the length) and then invert my meaning. When I write that in the modern novel 'the reader is not to be overly helped by the author. We must find out for ourselves how much we know of a character, and we may find that what we know is that we do not know enough', and when I go on to write that 'this alternative picture comes closest to my notion of the modern novel's unreliability or irresponsibility, a state in which the reader may not always know why a character does something or may not know how to "read" a passage,' I am PRAISING precisely the uncertainty or 'irresponsibility' of this kind of comedy. The Guardian piece -- even in its edited form -- makes very clear that I promote THIS kind of comedy as distinctively modern, as the great creation of the modern novel. I distinguish this comedy from the kind of satire (the comedy of correction) which trades in KNOWABLE typologies (the miser, the hypocrite, the fool, etc). Yet you write that I 'dismiss' this comedy of irresponsibility of uncertainty. The opposite of the truth. You seem to be unaware that my forthcoming book is called 'The Irresponsible Self" -- this is a self I approve of! And though you accuse me of using religious language, the kind of modern comedy I praise is the comedy that I explicitly distinguish as SECULAR comedy (to distinguish it from the the more religious comedy of 'correction.)I know that bloggers do everything at breakneck speed -- the hermeneutics of multi-tasking -- but you should read people a bit less rapidly, and -- hey, what a notion! -- think before you write. No amount of Bakhtin will save the careless reader. Oh, and Green's Loving is a far greater book than, say, Brideshead Revisited, but no one reads Green.
To the extent I misrepresented Mr. Wood's views by relying on the Guardian's truncated version of his essay, I apologize. However, I do not think I missrepresented his relative dismissal of the "hysterical realism" (the kind of comedy Bakhtin describes) of Sterne, Pynchon, and Rushdie. Their kind of comedy is not what Mr. Wood has in mind in speaking of the "comedy of forgiveness." And I agree that Brideshead Revisited is not one of Waugh's best books. Readers should seek out instead A Handful of Dust or Vile Bodies. I don't agree that no one reads Henry Green.