‘Anglo-Saxon attitudes’ follows 64-year-old history professor Gerald Middleton as he deals with some unfinished business both in his private and professional life. Professor Middleton has not produced a lot of scientific output in recent years, due to his suspicions about forgery involving an archaeological discovery made by his scientific father, Professor Stokesay. He has been haunted by these suspicions for several years and is finally triggered to investigate. At the same time, he evaluates his relationship with his three grown-up children, his old mistress and his wife with whom he no longer lives shares a home, although they are not divorced.
This novel was first published in 1956 and the writing style, subject matter and plot remind me very much of the novels by Iris Murdoch. As with many of her novels ‘Anlgo-Saxon attitudes’ starts by introducing a lot of different characters, which requires some effort from the reader to remember how these people are all related. Once you are familiar with the characters it becomes easier, as they explore their own lives and relationships, you feel you get to know them quite well.
I admired the way, Sir Angus Wilson is able to draw out a person’s character in just a few lines.
‘I don’t see who’d spend their money like that,’ said Mrs Cressett, placing a dish of very round home-made cakes on the table. Everything on the table was a bit like that – round, plain, solid, comfortable-looking, and hard. Mrs Cressett tended to make things in her own likeness.
In the same way, the atmosphere of a place is skillfully created
‘Sir Edgar Iffley lived in a large late-Victorian Italianate house near Holland Park. The manservant who opened the door to Gerald was as old as his master. The hall, though spacious, was dark and smelt of port wine and roast beef.’
To sum up, this is a well-written book, where people explore themselves, their past and their relationships with other people. Add in some archaeological mystery and you have a really enjoyable read. Wilson has written more novels and short-story collections. The ‘Oxford Companion to English Literature’ says about ‘No laughing matter’, published in 1967,
‘Wilson’s most ambitious and masterly novel, chronicles the fortunes of a large middle-class family, and, making brilliant use of parody and pastiche, opens up a vivid panorama of more that half a century of English cultural, political, social, and sexual life.’
Sounds promising, no?