Over the festive season I very much enjoyed reading Author, Author by David Lodge. Not wishing, of course, to put myself in the same league as Henry James when it comes to his forté as a writer, I do feel a kinship with his frustration and depression at the luke-warm reception for much of his work.

Writing in the author's voice, Lodge ponders on the reasons for this response to James's literary output: 'Some huge seismic shift caused by a number of different converging forces - the spread and thinning of literacy, the levelling effect of democracy, the rampant energy of capitalism, the distortion of values of journalism and advertising - which made it impossible for a practitioner of the art of fiction to achieve both excellence and popularity, as Scott and Balzac, Dickens and George Elliot, had done in their prime. The best one could hope for was sufficient support from discriminating readers to carry on with the endless quest for aesthetic perfection.' (P348).

How familiar that sounds, and yet Lodge meant it to represent the situation in 1898.

I will finish with James's own words, from his short story, 'The Middle Years':

'We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have.

Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task.

The rest is the madness of art.'