Letter: Morality in the crime novel

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The Independent Online
From Professor Yorick Wilks

Sir: The anger PD James's spontaneous remark on radio has caused almost certainly comes from her critics confusing a remark about the complexity of moral decisions with the question of making the right decisions. You quote a critic and author ("In the dead of night, a tale of snobbery and violence", 15 September) who describes his own protagonist as stealing confiscated drugs but still having his own morals.

If PD James was referring to a link between moral complexity and its relationship to being middle-class, so far as murderers in her fictions are concerned, then the point is so obviously true and hardly worth questioning, however much one may dislike it. The simplest proof is the difference in length and tone between, say your own editorials on moral issues and the two-line imprecations in the Sun editorial column. Unless there is no class basis to the two readerships, what more proof of her point could you want?

The critics also seem to assume that moral choices, if simple, are not really choices at all: that moral choices taken in the light of such guides as 19th-century hymns are not choices, but based on rules that could be summarised as "just do the right thing". Such exhortations and choices are simple, probably uninteresting for a novelist, and would tend to appeal to less-educated people, which is probably the best indicator we now have for what is left of class. How can anyone interested in truth or evidence object to such an observation?

Yours sincerely,

yorick Wilks


15 September