By MICHAEL CAINES
"A modern classic rarely seems able to venture out on to the bookshelves unchaperoned". So D. J. Taylor writes in the recent double issue of the TLS, in a sampling of six recently reissued novels that claim to be modern classics: "it needs a sponsor to plead its case". The sponsor being whoever supplies an adulatory preface, or an obliging line for the front or back cover, to reassure potential buyers that they are not picking up a mere modern non-classic. Louis de Bernières writing in praise of Barbara Pym's Crampton Hodnet. Candia McWilliam in praise of the "purity" and "tension" of In the Making by G. F. Green. And so on.
If you've read Taylor's piece, you'll know by now whether he agrees with such kind assessments or not. But before the books in question became "modern classics" (whatever that means), they were just novels – what did their first reviewers in the TLS make of them? Do the critics agree, across the years, and do they dare to prophesy lasting fame for any of these books? Has the critical language changed out of all recognition?