Literary Reputations in the Brexit Era

The Spectator has a review by Rod Liddle of the play People Like Us at the Union Theater in South London. It is written by Julie Burchill and Jane Robins and relates to a North London book group that is divided by Brexit partisanship. Two Leavers are ask politely to exit the group:

There is some sharp, witty dialogue and the play does a good job of reflecting the febrile and histrionic responses to Brexit from a certan tranche of affluent Remainers. But the reviews in the mainstream media have been adverse. More than adverse–eviscerating, overflowing with bile and hatred. Now, whether you think a play is any good or not is a totally subjective thing (as the liberals would surely agree). George Bernard Shaw and Leo Tolstoy both believed William Shakespeare was crap, for example. Whereas I find Shaw boring and bombastic. Each to his own.

Liddle goes on to conclude that the reviewers were not reflecting their feelings about the play itself (which he describes as “hilarious”) but about the political views of the authors. Burchill and Robins are apparently well known as Leavers. Two un-named reviewers offered in support of their negative judgments of the play the fact that Liddle himself (also a Leaver?) was in the audience that night and and was heard to be “guffawing.” He came to the conclusion that the revewers were “chronically ill-read..and not used to witnessing stuff from people with different opinions to themselves.”

He recalled his formative years as a left-wing working-class lad in the 1970s (“a more enlightened time”) when “we devoured conservatives such as Evelyn Waugh and Thomas Carlyle and Edmund Burke, alongside the lefties: Sinclair Lewis, Jack Kerouac and Karl Marx.” He doesn’t mention that Waugh’s reputation was at its nadir in the 1970s, even among such literate conservatives as there were, and stayed there until a reversal following the publication of his diaries and letters and the popularity of the Granada TV Brideshead Revisited production in the early 1980s sent a new generation back to his books. It’s nice to know that there were small cells of working-class lads such as Liddle in the vanguard of that revival. Liddle was (and is) also an admirer of John Updike despite the latter’s unpopular support for the Vietnam War. He stresses that it is the writer’s works that should be important, not his political views. The negative reviews have not apparently hurt the play; Liddle writes that it is sold out through the end of the month.


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