What do we mean when we talk about ‘taste’? 'Taste’ takes countless forms. There is the exclusive taste of highbrow critics such as T.S. Eliot and F.R. Leavis. There is the taste of ordinary book lovers persuaded to buy the best-sellers of the day. And there is the taste of Virginia Woolf’s elusive ‘common reader’. A taste that in the days of the Victorian reading public was founded on shared standards but now, in the age of Twitter and the blogosphere, is fragmenting into chaos.
Spanning a century of literary history, from the pitched battles fought between Eliot-era modernists and Georgian traditionalists to the political in-fighting of the Thirties, the arrival of the upwardly mobile post-war ‘New Man’ and the impact of creative writing degrees and the media don, The Prose Factory explores the myriad influences on English literary life in the past century and the way in which they have shaped our preferences.
It is also a tale of personalities – ‘star reviewers’, sniping critics, caballing editors, crusading ideologues, megalomaniac professors, Arts Council functionaries – a tale of dazzling successes and embittered failures in which gossip and intrigue are as important as intellectual zeal. Above all, it is a study of change. We live in a world where it is ever more difficult for professional writers to make a living, where the dangers of institutionalisation lurk on every corner and where critical authority is giving way to the whims of cyberspace. Wide-ranging and controversial, as interested in the newspaper essayist and the bookclub best-seller as the view from Mount Olympus, The Prose Factory is the book that D.J. Taylor was born to write.