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A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory.

This vast book is mainly enjoyable, responsible, and useful; I must list at once, with some severity, the features that are otherwise. First, the limerick, which in these compilations makes authors lose sense and decency--Myers and Simms (1985)'s one specimen was obscene, sadistic (even unto death), and broken-backed, Baldick (1990)'s 'less offensive' one was on sexual perversion and misrhymed: Cuddon prints fifteen, seven being depraved. The last is cruel doggerel (well, he 'cut her bloody throat from ear to ear'), one with its lewd word asterisked is sleazy but called 'innocuously obscene or pornographic' and actually 'famous', six are metrical deviants and hardly succeed, and then two extra examples under macaronic are filthy but coyly asterisked. What is wrong with our wits? The limerick is a powerful and joyous instrument, and not to be wasted on this dross.

Secondly, two bad stylistic tricks: the rounding-off of the many catalogues with 'to name/cite/mention only a few/handful' very frequently and 'not to mention' (when mentioning) uncountably; and the affected was to/were to for the simple past tense with no suggestion of anything's being arranged, fixed, ordered, destined, etc. This deplorable 'idiom' gets going on page 1, lines 11 and 22, though the model statement has just glared out candidly in line 9--'Annie Horniman . . . who was later the pioneer'. A dire example occurs (385) of the similar to be without motive: the audience at a spine-chiller passed out 'to be revived by the management with cordials'; likewise (128) a press Licensing Act lapsed in 1679, 'to be renewed in 1685'.

The many misquoted poems are strident in a book so concerned with metre (called 'meter' without warning), including things that have no relation to English: molossus; Pherecretean (sic); rocking rhythm (can this mean anything at all?); Welsh, Irish, and Serbian measures. The chosen notation is shaky: dactyl is a vertical bar + two breves (215), a macron + two breves (921), an accent + two breves (passim). With so much pedantic display, the handling of poetry is unreliable. How can one seven times misquote a poet so precise as Pope?--Les for Less (51), a whole rhyming line omitted and score printed for store (390), born for borne and and for yet (408), 'Placed on this isthmus of a middle state' for Plac'd and state, (678). William Browne did not say (300) 'thou has slain another', or Ralegh (301) 'Time, that takes our trust', or Yeats (668) 'beauty born |out omitted~ of its own despair', or Gray (723) 'To captive linnet which enthrall? Why idle progeny succeed' (which suggests total incomprehension), or Henley (818) 'Two birds among the bows were met'. The customary misprinting of Greek is avoided throughout (save in muthogenevein, 562) by using our alphabet; the one risked Greek-script sentence (674) has four mistakes in its five words! A gratuitous full stop, and an omitted the, in Auden and William Watson (29, 272) erode sense and metre. Lupton wrote on London and the Countrey (not Long and Country, 137), Guazzo (not Guaazo, 201) was translated in 1581, Pereda wrote Sotileza (not Sotilega, 610), Ottarsson and Askald (882) were two different skalds and not one with four names, Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus (not Sisphus, 968), Chatterton was dead seven years before c.1777 (690) and--a howler--did not 'produce' . . . Felix Farley's Bristol 'Journey' (501). Guides Bleux is not good French. Hopkins's St Winefred had no Spanish Uncle Bueno (794), two famous poets (297, 817) were really spelt Bacchylides and Oehlenschlager, and Orm was a poet, not a poem (858). But critical and bibliographical material remains impressive: novel (43 pp.), ghost/horror/detective story, character, children's books, comedy, conceit, danse macabre, plagiarism and its justification, slang, sonnet, travel books. Expendable things are properly muted: 'what might be called "technical terms"' (xvii); automatic writing ('Nothing of any importance survives'); Tolkien (C. S. Lewis was 'a far better writer', 142); the claims of Christabel (144); post-structuralism in a clever and hideous article, (de)structuralism 'inaccessible to many, and even very abstruse'; Lacan's prose (358), lipogram; jargon of many kinds, tenor and vehicle being in a 'thicket' of it (660); discourse, which 'may be any number of things' (the author is impatient, but doesn't skimp); epic writers and new humanists 'too big for their books'; an aspect of feminism in his coining sufferingette (580); Noh gestures 'as arcane as Byzantine cricket'; A Glastonbury Romance merely mentioned (614); pathetic fallacy likewise; drear wastes of semiotics/semiology dismissed in one page, Leavisite in five lines, lettrism as 'mere gimmickry'; the modern misuse of scenario ignored; the barren concept of superstructuralism coldly put; strategy called 'a jargon term', estridentismo which 'soon fizzled out', and a splendidly null note on the unconscious.

Hopkins (isn't it time to shed his 'G. M.'?) has to exemplify beyond his deserts, and the schematizing of the myth of sprung rhythm is excessive. I agree that the 'technical exegesis' of some of Cuddon's scansion 'verges on impertinence', but--as with all else--he tries very hard and sensitively, with nice phrases like Dionysus as the god of 'permissiveness' (53) and slang like orismology 'which this dictionary is in aid of'. The stem of genethliacum is Greek, Gesta Historiale isn't good Latin (367), and we need help with pronouncing enallage and ploce. The Michigan Middle English dictionary deserves a place despite its sloth and cost, the Revd. John Skinner's diary belongs with Woodforde and Kilvert. The lake poets were called Lakers (480) partly from Cumbrian lake, 'to idle, play'. The stone screen at Newark has merely two sixteenth-century paintings of the Dance of Death. The 'Albanian epic cycles' (955) must refer to the nineteenth-century Skanderbeg epic of Naim Bey Frasheri. Willy-nilly isn't 'will he? nill he?' (704) but two conditionals, the latter negative, with will meaning 'want'.

BASIL COTTLE University of Bristol
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Author:Cottle, Basil
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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