Wednesday 20 March 2013

Old and young writers

photo source

After reading The Easter Party by Vita Sackville-West (see previous post), which included a little section where Lady Quarles propounds her thoughts on philosophy and theology - a little overdramatic, and seemingly Vita's own views put into a character who, for a page or two, became a puppet - it got me thinking.

It is a truism that the very young proclaim their beliefs most assertively, and that the old have been humbled by their experience of life into an unprovocative wisdom.  That isn't my experience of reading novels.  Yes, young writers often throw forth their theories with earnest abandon- but also, it seems to me, with a sly awareness of their own audacity.  Novelists at the end of their careers (and, at 61, Vita Sackville-West was not exactly old when writing The Easter Party, but she was nearer old than young) seem to dismiss all other theories as the babblings of youth, and put forward their own (however subjective) theories as some sort of obvious truth.

Does this tally with your reading?  Any thoughts?


  1. But what about the confused middle? ;)

  2. I'm on the 'older' side and I still 'proclaim' my 'beliefs most assertively.' :<) There are those who say you get more conservative as you age, but I'm quite the opposite. It is interesting to think about writers in this context, and I should pay more attention.

    1. Completely agree with you as I too am at the top end of the age spectrum but not that close to quietly dropping off the perch yet. I find many older people can be quiet assertive and less conservative as they age. It's the beauty of having the experience and knowledge we carry with us.

  3. I can't say that I have ever read with that particular thought in mind. But it did occur to me when reading The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen that there were often long passages where Bowen would rattle on about how "one feels" as if everyone felt that way, which I found irritating at the time.

  4. I don't know anymore. Thirty years ago in my youth I would have been on the side of youth. But I find myself edging out of middling ground with just as much attitude as I ever had and actually feeling more confident in my beliefs and my brain and what I think about life etc. Even just taking the author Elizabeth Taylor as a simple example, reading all her books in one go I found they improved as she aged - there was more depth and more rounded writing. A first novel is not the same as say a group's first album (showing my age there!) - writers develop as they practice their craft and I think a lot of older people are actually less conventional because they cease to care what other people think about them - I know I feel like that! Yay for the oldies!

  5. But this assumes you know how old each author was at the time of writing! I can honestly say I've never thought about that. Does one become more or less intransigent with age? And is financial security or success with the literary establishment more of a factor than age?

  6. I recently read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. She was only 23 when writing this novel. It blew my mind. Ever since, I am convinced it really doesn't matter how old an author is.


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