Is Ian McEwan a Victorian novelist?

ReadySteadyBook proposed the notion of an Establishment Literary Fiction a while back (perhaps we shall

examine his use of language here in week 32 of our MA). Of course, while we understand perfectly what is meant, we choose to pretend that we


Anyhow, here are a few selected quotations:

ELF endlessly repeats the tropes and styles of the Victorian Novel, with its

fingers in its ears, shouting its (sometimes very good) narrative, flaunting its (sometimes very finely drawn)


The Victorian novel with a few Jamesian knobs on (lyrical Realism, ELF, call it what you will) … Its

dominance means that each year a flood of Booker-ready novels in the sclerotic genre of literary fiction are declared


McEwan’s On Chesil Beach is airless, arid, almost pointillist. Exact and pedantic — the work is

claustrophobic and inorganic … it is the laying bare of a meticulous plan … he writes to deliver his knowledge about his puppet characters … He

is, perhaps, the best exponent of Establishment Literary Fiction that we have.

Is the Victorian novel then airless, arid, pointillist,

exact, pedantic, claustrophobic, inorganic [ed. contains no carbon?] and meticulous?  Can McEwan’s work be described as Victorian with a few Jamesian

knobs? – On another blog, we are persuaded that the Victorian novel is rather totalising, that it seeks to “contain everything”, that it is ragged and

far from any notion of architectonic perfection. Does this fit in with what we’ve read of McEwan? – Obooki is confused and shakes his head. Or

perhaps Victorian is just nowadays a prejudicial term, meaning nothing (or, at least, whatever is useful to your argument) and having no historical

relevance. What is certain is we don’t want any of it, and we don’t want any Ian McEwan either.


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