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Monday, June 02, 2014

Blindness (1926) by Henry Green

Book Review
Blindness (1926)
by Henry Green

  Oh yes Henry Green is what you call a "writers writer."  In other words, he didn't sell many copies, but had an outsize influence on young writers.  It's the literary equivalent of the famous (and false) saying that the Velvet Underground may have been unpopular, but everyone who bought the first record went on to start a band.  Henry Green was the nom de plume of Henry Yorke, an Oxford man and Etonian who quietly worked in his families' engineering firm and wrote novels in his spare time.  He was essentially forgotten in his life time, a 60s era revival brought him to the attention of a new generation of fans.  Herman Hesse was another author of the 20s who benefited from one of the many 60s era revivals of semi-forgotten literary figures.

  Blindness was his first novel and it's a delicate tale about an Oxford student who loses his sight in a freak accident (young boy throws a rock through a train window while the guy is sitting there, and the glass blinds him.)  Like other enduring Novelists of the 1920s,  Green incorporates stream of consciousness narrative with more conventional omnipotent third person narrative and a kind of early 20th century understanding of human psychology to create a character portrait that is unusually delicate.

  He also uses the third person in dialogue, "One simply can't bear it, can one." As a character talks to his or herself.  It's mannered to the point of being distracting, and I can't think of a single other novel where the third person is used so frequently by characters to refer to themselves.  Blindness is also notable for being a very early novel with a disabled character as the protagonist- it's also one of the first to give any kind of non-comic depth to a romantic relationship between classes.  Green's blind young gentleman is a far cry from the rakes and bounders that exercise their predatory wiles on women from the lower classes in every other novel of the period.

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