In his introduction to this concise selection of Keats’ poetry, Andrew Motion argues against the Tory critics of the nineteenth century; who successfully created a long-standing image of Keats as a lower-class poet of little worth. Of course, anybody with a modicum of sense knows this is wrong. John Keats found it difficult to face the barbed criticism of the Tory press, and his poetry does look to delve inside the human psyche; but to say that his poems are less valuable than his peers’ poetry is sheer snobbery and nonsense. Firstly, he died at such a young age, of something which today would be cured by a quick fix of antibiotics, that it is hard to judge how his shyness would have panned out. Unlike Byron, for example, Keats did not seek the life of the doomed poet. Secondly, there is a way of talking about political events without actually referring to them, as Shelley does, directly in the poetry. As Motion points out, Keats wrote To Autumn “shortly after the Peterloo Massacre”.
The political naivety of the British aristocracy, between the two wars, is a fit subject for a literary novelist. But rather than choosing to attack the subject from an obvious perspective–for example, that of an aristocrat–Ishiguro tells the butler’s tale. And here lies the genius of the novel, its success as a work of art, an ingenuity which largely springs from narrative inventiveness. Stevens the butler is on a much overdue trip to the beautiful Dorset countryside, through Salisbury, to visit his friend Miss Kenton, as he writes his account of what took place at Darlington Hall during those interim years. Unconsciously motivated to write by concealed romantic feelings, he begins to explore his memories of things gone past. Slowly, beyond the discussions of what makes a great butler, a series of flashes reveal a touching portrait of a man who has always put duty his first; duty to his employer and duty to his staff. Indeed, Stevens is so very dutiful, so very practiced at the art of his craft, that he goes to great lengths to conceal all political and romantic motivation. It is only on this trip of discovery, an opportunity to write down his thoughts, that Stevens gradually begins to unveil the untold observances of what really happened; to open up his mind and his heart to something beyond the morality of, and the motivations behind, his unquestioning duty.
Holden Caulfield writes like a real person. He really does. When you get to know Holden, you get to like him. He can be a bit difficult to like, I’ll admit, flunking school and all that stuff about telling lies. You see, Holden tells lies and all, but he thinks the real world is populated by phonies. I don’t know, maybe that means he’s a hypocrite or something. Anyway, he thinks all his roommates are phony, but he misses them when they’re not there. When he goes into New York, he meets moron taxi-drivers or moron lift-operators. Everyone is either a phony or a moron. That is apart from his kid sister Phoebe, ten years old, who he quite likes. Phoebe is the best thing in Holden’s life. She really is. The truth is, you see, Holden is down and doesn’t know how to ask for help. So he acts all immature and everything when he calls up and meets people. Then people just think he’s strange or something. The best thing he can do is start writing down his thoughts and all that. It really is.