D J Taylor: What Jordan has in common with Trollope

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The Independent Online

Quite why the cult of the celebrity novel should have purists quaking in their galoshes is a mystery, as the origins of the genre go back at least as far as the early Victorian period. Thackeray's Pendennis, for instance, contains a portrait of Percy Popjoy, whose masterpiece is ghosted for him by a hired hack. The path that led us to Naomi Campbell, titular author of Swan, who famously met her amanuensis once backstage at a Paris fashion show and regretfully declined the proffered bag of typescript on grounds of length.

But if there is continuity between Trollope's Lady Carbury, who gets her books reviewed on the strength of her genteel connections, and Katie Price, there is also a hulking modern distinction. Lord Birt could be heard the other day lamenting the "tabloidisation" of the media. What he was really complaining about is the democratisation of these things - the very common idea, endlessly reinforced, that anyone can do anything, that each of has a story to tell.

The annoyance with which professional writers customarily greet these new arrivals stems less from sheer snobbery than from an outraged puritanism, the assumption that success has to be worked at, that writing is difficult and not to be sub-contracted. But instead of sneering at Miss Price and her brave attempt to infiltrate the library shelves between Powell, Anthony, and Pullman, Philip, we should be agreeably flattered. We inhabit a world that is largely erected on a foundation of stupidity, in which lack of intelligence is seen almost as a point in one's favour. And yet here is Miss P humbly sitting down to produce not an LP or a DVD on pole dancing but a novel, bless us, a practically Victorian aspiration of which Samuel Smiles would be proud. Good to have you with us, my dear. That festival rostrum, where you and I and perhaps Professor Carey can discuss developments in recent fiction, is already booked.