Printer Friendly

Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism.

I enjoyed reading about fifty of these ninety-one articles (and preface) by ninety authors, and they shall be listed presently. Of the rest, the majority concern a literary period or attitude, decently treated but sometimes obscured in a critical framework too modern for it or already outdated; this heavy theorizing can involve barbarous language, and it is a pity when brilliant and wholesome literature has to fit the -isms imposed by the book's dual aim of charting both imaginative writing and a criticism too often dour and ranting. About fifteen articles I have read with distaste and profitlessly: they bristle with 'strategy' (seven in Helene Keyssar's Feminist Theatre), 'discourse', 'paradigm', 'gynocriticism', phrases like 'post-structuralist reading strategies' and 'a simple given' in J. Klancher, and Cora Kaplan's distraught question 'What and where are woman and writing when women are writing about women?' D. E. Wayne quotes, apparently with approval, the hideous English of a legitimation 'in which the goal is no longer truth, but performativity--that is, the best possible input/output equation'. Altogether, the baneful jargon of (post-)structuralism, deconstruction, semiotics, hierarchies, and the rest, imparts a fraudulence to about a quarter of the book. I was proud to see my native city and my old college, Cardiff, providing the four editors and four contributors (however little I agree with them), and I must commend the format of this strong, stout book, its generous print and its careful proof-reading: even venial little misprints are very few, but electicism might mislead, the Marxist Lukacs (whose approach can be 'debilitating') suddenly becomes plural in 'Lukacs find it easy', and mysanthropy is amiss. A bad improper if, along with ambiguous was to twice, at the foot of p. 136, all forget that 'Postmodernism' (here equated with t/v, almost) is difficult enough without ambiguity. A phrase like William Tydeman's 'incidents treated reflected hallowed patterns' is neither clear nor graceful, and in a good and honest article by Louis James, we find 'Charles Darwin was only to publish The Origin of Species in 1859'--whatever that means.

But the stimulating essays, which exhibit and criticize literature, have many powerful features. Douglas Gray's refreshing chapter, on Medieval Literature and its world, sees both the 'firm belief in the dignity of man as the child of God' and Chaucer as 'the most scientifically minded' of our great poets. David Nokes ably undermines the term Augustan. C. K. Stead on Poetry is wise and stylish, though with the obligatory slur on religion and a more congenial one on English departments. David Lindley, on the 'slippery' term Lyric, is admirably old-fashioned, calling deconstruction an 'unruly child' of New Criticism; in Literature and Music, he oddly wants a development of the theme of 'music in the politics of gender', and feels that too much verse is now 'written for the eye' for 'readers with tin ears'. Derek Brewer's Medieval Poetry is authoritative, and deserves more space to allow for recent discoveries in alliterative verse. Alastair Fowler's rich article on Renaissance Poetry (though really on recent criticism of it) is delightful throughout, letting Ricks 'outflank' Leavis's attack on Milton and Rosemond Tuve rout Empson, giving Eliot 'not a specially good ear', and treating numerology. A. J. Sambrook, in a real chapter of literary history, adds to his 'Augustan' subject warm praise of the period's hymnody--but Chatterton's Rowley was a priest, not a 'monk'. J. H. Alexander reminds us that 'the Song of Humanity . . . may also be the Song of God'. Isabel Armstrong's Victorian Poetry, ending with feminist propaganda and re-writing men's histories of politics and aesthetics, does it all with humour, giving Porphyria's Lover its best airing and concentrating on Browning, Morris, the 'anarchist and atheist' James Thomson, and the women writers. Charles Chadwick's French Symbolists may be grudged in a book mainly about English, but is practical and also sympathetic to 'the great Christian issues of sin and redemption'. John Lucas is good on the 'city' in Modern Poetry, with swipes at Thomson, Hopkins, W. Scawen Blunt, and Eliot's anti-Semitism. Leslie du S. Read is carefully non-literary on Stagecraft. Kenneth Muir is lucid and really noble on Tragedy, and Peter Thomson's Comedy is brisk, not above farce, and broadly based from Dion Boucicault to Ubu Roi, though there is scruffy material at the end. A. Gurr's Shakespeare, feeling with Auden that poetry is the exact expression of mixed feelings, ebbs and flows from nice words like wordsmith to the rancid vocabulary of semiotics, but his real use of Troilus and Cressida, even as 'deconstructionist', is effective. W. Tydeman mounts a proper attack on E. K. Chambers's Medieval Stage. Catherine Belsey has an absorbing and well-composed essay on Renaissance Drama, where Bosola neatly 'pauses to extract a meaning for the event' before reporting the Duchess's baby; E. M. W. Tillyard is scotched, and the importance of the Liberties is brought out. Derek Hughes philosophizes much on Restoration Theatre, but there is much to explain, as in his remarks on Aureng-Zebe. Jan McDonald traces our modern stage clearly and fluently, but can the Prince of Wales' Theatre bear the apostrophe? Claude Schumacher certainly manages to make the Absurd look absurd. Alan Sinfield writes well and sounds impartial, but sweepingly says that Howard Barker was 'the most fertile serious author of the 1980s'. Malcolm New initiates a new section with a compelling essay on the Elijah story, Jesus's parables, and thus Modes of Eighteenth-Century Fiction, which is excellent theologically. F. W. J. Hemmings gives The Realistic Novel much more Balzac than Britons; Elizabeth Ermath, despite verbiage, applies realism to the English novel, with Scott as the 'under-sung father of realism', Dickens's reliance on 'nobody', and sustained analogies with Renaissance painting. Nicola Bradbury's Henry James focuses on What Maisie Knew and The Wings of a Dove. John Orr, on the Modernist Novel, refers to the 'derived "isms" which are aesthetic constructs, not cultural processes'; D. H. Lawrence gets into 'a quagmire of mushiness' and worse. Peter Conradi treats British Fiction Since 1930 cheerfully, with 'little concern' for postmodernism or (post)-structuralism, which have 'found no way of addressing' comedy. Stephen Prickett's Biblical Hermeneutics is a scholarly statement, advancing the status of Robert Lowth and showing how Classical v. Romantic almost became Classical v. Biblical; his Literature and the Bible is excellent also. Michael Meehan's grave Neo-Classical Criticism grows livelier with the onset of 'legalism'. Donald Reiman on Romantic criticism is humane and well illustrated; he sees rival theorists 'bickering like Stalinists and Trotskyites'. Geoffrey Strickland's Great Traditions is gentlemanly, with time to examine Terry Eagleton's ideas on abolishing English departments, and he ends with a cautious defence of Leavis. After a bleak -isms section come John Sutherland on literary book production and reception, J. Feather on The Printed Book (and the commercial disaster of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads) and on Publishing Before 1800, David Cressy's factual and polished Literacy, and Simon Eliot expansively on Publishing Since 1800, with harsh paper duty, Mudie's, the huge pornographic market of 1845, and Lewis Carroll haggling over royalties; a medievalist must rejoice in 'hopeful developments' like Boydell and Brewer. L. Madden, very readable in two articles on libraries and bibliography, speaks of the 'torrent of American academic publications', but has to close on the universal darkness of 'online databases'. Annabel Patterson writes lightly on Censorship; Thomas Healy ends his nicely varied Literature and the Classics with Zen and motor-cycles. John Dwyer graciously upholds The Sentimental Ethic, its 'private friendship, . . . domestic hearth, . . . specifically feminine feeling', and Robert Spector is lively on The Gothic, with Ann Radcliffe as Tamora. John Stokes, in Aestheticism, while condoning deconstruction and so forth, is witty, and finds a neat Raymond Williams remark--that the opposite of aesthetic is anaesthetic; he is good on Pater and Firbank. Mick Short, in Literature and Language, is a meticulous reader willing even to use terms like 'participial adjective'. Bruce King (with a sturdy assertion of English as a world language) and the group of commentators on the various Commonwealth literatures, well demonstrate our expanding literary empire. In Peter Widdowson's final chapter, 'W(h)ither English', he need not have been so coy about the bracket for the thin pun; the |hw~ is lost now, except for many Scots, Welsh, and Irish, and a few honest pedants.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cottle, Basil
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Milton, Shakespeare, Pindar and the bees.
Next Article:A Critical Bibliography of Old English Syntax to the End of 1984 Including Addenda and Corrigenda to Old English Syntax.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |