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Simon Raven

Perhaps the least well known writer I am including in this series is Simon Raven. My view that he should be here is governed by my predilection for sagas, as begun most notably by Anthony Trollope in the 19th century, with the Pallisers, which was turned into a successful television serial in the seventies. The screenplay was by Simon Raven, who was in the midst then of his Alms for Oblivion series of novels, that covered a selective section of British society after the War. Before that there had been Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga, which dealt with the period around the First World War, and then Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, which looked at the generation which grew up before the Second World War, and had to cope with a radically changed world afterwards.

Raven’s series achieved nothing like the same stature, perhaps because it dealt with what seemed a very small world. However, the worlds of the other writers of sagas had also been small, it is simply that, with each generation, the influence of that small world had lessened, as society became more diffuse. And, though Raven’s characters are more resolutely dissolute than those of his predecessors, I would suggest that he also draws attention to a characteristic phenomenon of the period after the Second World War, not exactly a decline in morals but rather the developing acceptance of the doctrine that anything goes. Within that framework, I should note, Raven does show several individuals striving to live up to their own idiosyncratic, if not necessarily high, standards.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

January 2011
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