Heroic Disagreement

Probably the greatest crime, of many, perpetrated by the first half of the BBC programme ‘Faulks on Fiction’ last Saturday was that it was dull.  It took me two attempts to watch the whole thing, and then only because I felt I should do so.

I had heard Mariella Frostrup give Faulks a grilling on Open Book during which she challenged him on the choices of characters represented on the programme.  During that discussion when he wasn’t patronising, he was defensive and flappy, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that I did not find him an engaging presenter.

The thesis behind the programme is that we should examine the brilliance of the British novel by examining the characters within the pages rather than worry about the biography or motivation of the author.  The first episode claimed to be an examination of the development of the idea of ‘the hero’ in British literature as it mirrored social change over the 300 years since the publication of ‘Robinson Crusoe’.

There will evidently be subsequent programmes on Lover, Snobs and Villains, and I will gird myself to endure them.

Any selection or list by its nature will be controversial; every sentient viewer who managed to stay with the programme should have been compiling their own rival list, but, having said all of that, the one offered by Faulks was disappointing in its myopic, dreary bloke-ishness.

The suggestion is that to be ‘a hero’, the character is the main protagonist and is recognisably human containing a mixture of good and bad that the reader can readily recognise and sympathise with, if not necessarily like.  Of itself it’s a thesis I can accept, the short list of 7 was, however, not one with which I had any sympathy.

There was something so profoundly unappealing in seeing Faulks and Boris Johnston discuss Jim in ‘Lucky Jim’, interspersed by clips from a BBC adaptation of the novel, that I think if I weren’t such a dedicated reader it would have convinced me that reading was a shameful activity.

To test if my dislike of the programme was unique to me I checked on Twitter to see what comments were reflected there.  My two favourites were ‘all SF needs is an Elizabethan ruff around his neck’ (to go with his tufty beard and straggly hair?); and ‘Has SF ever read a novel by a woman?’.

So, from memory, these were his selection:

Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

Tom Jones – Henry Fielding

Becky Sharpe – (Vanity Fair) Thackeray

Sherlock Holmes – Conan Doyle

Winston Smith –  (1984) George Orwell

Jim – (Lucky Jim) Kingsley Amis

John Self – (Money) Martin Amis

An alternative, deliberately controversial list, for you to criticise …….

Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Becky Sharpe – Thackery

Orlando – Virginia Woolfe

Christine Guthrie – (Sunset Song) Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Dona St Columb – (Frenchman’s Creek) Daphne du Maurier

Martha Quest – Doris Lessing

Billy Prior – (Regeneration) Pat Barker

So what do you think?  Remember the conditions – Protagonists in British novels (OK I stretched it a bit with D Lessing), spread over the historic development of the novel, with something to say about the social changes at the time they were written.

Over to you.

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