by Malcolm Bradbury
It took Henry James to question the story, bringing American innocence to European experience, and challenging both. Stepping Westward can be seen as Henry James in reverse; it is British innocence that now goes towards American experience, in the age when Americans did indeed seem to have the future of the planet in their hands. For me, the interesting task of the book was to create it from both ends - from the standpoint of the plotter and the plotted, the man who means to make a myth and the imperfect hero who finds himself inside it, the figure who means to serve the necessary cause of history and the man who tries to field the moral values of doing so.
I was also trying to build a bridge between two liberalisms: British liberalism, anxious, critical, but historically adrift, the liberalism of personal relations and moral decency, and the harder note of what the Americans were then calling 'the new liberalism', the spirit of a time when the left-wing certainties of the Thirties had been undermined by Stalin's post-war expansionism and the cold war climate, were seeking a new tough-mindedness.
Read Margaret Drabble on Bradbury's milestone novel, The History Man.