In “Cast Aside: John Updike’s posthumous reputation,” The Skinny: Independent Cultural Journalism, a teaser reads,
“As John Updike biographer Adam Begley appears at Manchester Literature Festival this month[Tuesday, Oct. 14, 6 p.m.], we consider the posthumous reputation of one of America’s best-known writers. It’s arguably never been at a lower ebb, but should this be so?”
Never mind that it’s debatable Updike’s reputation has ebbed, because he’s always had admirers and detractors.
For a springboard, writer Jim Troeltsch uses Updike himself.
“John Updike, speaking in 2005, four years before his death: ‘Reputations do subside, is one of the conclusions I’ve drawn. Your life as a famous writer, like your life as a human being, is limited, and now that we all live so long, a lot of us live to see ourselves become faded reputations. I don’t know if that’s true of me or not—I try not to think about it too much.’ The subtext’s pretty transparent; even then Updike knew his reputation, at least as a novelist, was waning.”
Never mind that Troeltsch may have been reading too much into Updike’s statement. What follows is a discussion that begins with often-cited dismissals by James Wood, Harold Bloom, and Gore Vidal and a subsequent dismissal of the charges that Updike is a misogynist without much else to say.
“To label Updike a misogynistic narcissist and leave it at [that] is surely to miss the point. Was Proust a longwinded snob? Joyce a drunken lech? Céline a crazed anti-Semite? Yes; but do such things really matter when it comes to judging their work on its own terms (even when such odious traits are shared by their characters)?
“The novel’s a container of consciousness—the author’s. And when the consciousness, as in Updike’s case, is so great as to allow us to apprehend the world anew, to actually augment our reality—to really do this; to make us see the tea-soaked sugar cube in the shaded sandstone farmhouse—then perhaps we should put the faults to one side and say: yes, maybe this really is enough.”