DJ Taylor's recent book The Prose Factory is subtitled Literary life in England since 1918, a fact he points to immediately, in explaining that he looks at literary culture from the past hundred years. Rather than a discussion through an interviewer, this event is an energetic talk from Taylor, who immediately stands up to cover, chronologically, the key issues which he covers in his book.
He provides some interesting insights, looking at the changing landscape of writing and fiction, how political and social change was echoed in this, changing relationships with rise of the media, and the effect this can have on authors. it was interesting to think of the broader picture and consider the significance of these changes, particularly when asking, where are we now? Taylor looks at the rise of commercial enterprises and digital platforms saying 'never has it been easier to be a writer, but never has it been harder to make money from doing it.'
Taylor also reflects on the idea of the 'Literary novel' and popular fiction, particularly looking at these in relation to Woolf's idea of the 'common reader', or typical audiences. He expresses strong distaste for these limiting categorisations, explaining that the can be really damaging for the careers of writers when they are mislabeled or put in a box.
Taylor is clearly passionate about the subject, and brings life to a historical survey that could otherwise have been quite dry. However, on my third talk of the day I did struggle slightly from the the solid lecture style format, and definitely feel he could have benefited from the previous interviewer style to give the talk a bit more structure and pacing.
This did come to some extent in the questions from the floor where he responded well to questions about the criticism he received in reviews and also expressed his feelings more fully on current trends. Overall, it was an incredibly interesting and accessible exploration of literary culture, which Taylor did well to manage and make engaging, in this single event.
Image by Bath Festivals.