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Hers is a weirdly ahistorical account of how things "used to be." Also, I was reminded, reading her, of Diana Athill's refreshing comments in Stet, that "Caste standards — it ought not to need saying — have no right to be considered sacrosanct." I agree with you that thoughtful, well-informed criticism is a better response that what amounts, on her telling, to a kind of censorship based on taste -- critics can provide filters for, or routes through, the chaos.

"When I started out as an editor in London, unsolicited manuscripts used to come in thick brown envelopes, addressed to 'the editor' in a variety of handwriting styles, with neatly typed letters inside..."

I suppose that Walsh began her career at a time when the slushpile was still a significant means by which manuscripts were chosen. As one interviewee (a Briton working in the US) I spoke to some time ago commented, "those days are past".

In effect, what exists now is a Selector Class, and its constitution is an amalgam of acquisition editors, agents, and marketing teams (not necessarily in that order). And the criteria by which the Selector Class makes its decisions are a form of calculus, not a strict either/or based on (apparently honestly) perceived quality. Maybe there was no golden age. In another interview, Richard Nash remarked that when Michael Korda confessed that "the publishing business’s relationship to supporting literature has never been all that significant", this was a "refreshing bit of candor". But the situation -- however compromised it's always been -- has not improved.

In effect, literature needs self-publishing, uncontrolled as the phenomenon is, because the Selector Class is itself not making especially good (or what Walsh might term standard-based) choices. The issue is a complicated one, but this, at least, is a starting point for making sense of Rohan's correct observation that Walsh's article has a "weirdly ahistorical" feel.

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About

  • Daniel Green is a literary critic and sometime fiction writer. His reviews, critical essays, and fiction have appeared in a variety of publications, both online and in print. He has a Ph.D focusing on postwar American fiction and an M.A. in creative writing.

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