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The Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms.

CHRIS BALDICK'S The Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms [Pp. x + 246. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. 12.95[pounds]] is an exemplary performance, which I have consulted again and again -- so much so that I all but forgot how it came to be lying on my desk: not for my enjoyment and enlightenment, but for review. The coverage is excellent, Classical literatures, foreign literatures, Critical Theory, Rhetoric, Prosody, and above all, English literature. Whatever Baldick writes on is not merely expressed concisely and elegantly, but with that rare distinction that he seems to be in harmony with every dated literary taste and every once-new vague of Critical Theory as well as with current writing and thinking. As a result of that empath(et)ic handling -- surprisingly, Baldick has no entry for empathy, probably because the term is more psychological than literary -- very occasional sharpness revealing a lack of sympathy is noticeable; as when, s.v. objective correlative, there is reference to T. S. Eliot's

rather tangled argument of his essay ~Hamlet

and his Problems' (1919), in which he asserts

that Shakespeare's Hamlet is an ~artistic

failure'. The range is great, and yet Baldick is accurate throughout. The examples he adduces to illustrate his entries are always well selected and always clarify the terms.

The following very minor points occur to me for the author's consideration as he prepares the next edition, for, no doubt, there will be many further editions. He has no entries for episode (much in use in discussing ancient drama, but also in Beowulf criticism -- episodic is in Baldick's book), maker (or, better, Scottish makar), marginalia, narratage, pamphlet and pamphleteer, rapportage, saint's life or vita, and word-play (there are entries for paronomasia and pun). The origin or originators of some terms are not given, thus s.vv. Dada (name of a journal) and Weltschmerz (Jean Paul). S.v. Dada failure to mention Kurt Schwitters is to be regretted, for he was involved with it both in the visual arts and in literature; Merz, Schwitters's own brand of Dada, hardly merits an entry in a book of the compass of the dictionary under review, and that may explain why Baldick does not refer to Schwitters. The statement, s.v. epic, ~The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf (8th century AD) is a primary epic', needs at least some qualifying ~perhaps' or ~has been considered' or ~perhaps as early as ...'. S.v. miracle play ~non-scriptural legends of saints or of the Virgin Mary' should be changed to let ~saints' comprehend Mary; and s.v. legend, where the original application in hagiography is mentioned, it should have been stressed, perhaps reinforced by the etymology of the word, that legends of saints are written, and not transmitted orally. S.v. kenning, Shakespeare's ~the beast with two backs' might have been traced to its source. S.v. Minnesanger, Dietmar von Aist is perhaps not so prominent as to justify his appearance here as one of only three mentioned. S.v. marvellous, J. R. R. Tolkien's surname is misspelt; and s.v. pun, the noun paronomasia is misspelt.

S.v. recessive accent, Donne's extreme is given as ~for the sake of conformity to the metre, the stress is shifted to the initial position'. However, around 1600 the word had two accentuations, with stress either on the first or on the second syllable; see H. Kokeritz, Shakespeare's Pronunciation (New Haven, 1953), 333-4 and n. 3. Later poets still avail themselves of the accentuation extreme, thus Shelley, Adonais, vi: ~Thy extreme hope, the loveliest and the last', perhaps in imitation of earlier poetic usage, as well as ~for the sake of conformity to the metre'. In the fixed phrase extreme unction, that accentuation survives perhaps still in the conservative pronunciation of some Roman Catholics; cf. A. C. Gimson (ed.), and, most recently, A. C. Gimson and S. Ramsaran (eds), thirteenth and fourteenth editions of Daniel Jones's English Pronouncing Dictionary, 1967 and, first published by Cambridge University Press, 1991, s.v. extreme.

It would be wrong to end with these corrections and suggestions for minor improvements. Like all the best works of reference, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms is eminently readable because it delights by its precision of definition and surprises by the justness and often wit of its exemplification, and, as my tutor, Stefanyja Ross, said many years ago of a longer Oxford book, one is ~waylaid by OED', so now by Baldick's book: that is, when one goes to look up some term in it, one may not get to it, held by all the distractions on the way. A few of the delights with which Baldick waylays one in one's quest for some quite other term are visual: s.v. Kitsch, ~the products of the souvenir trade, especially those attempting to capitalize on "high" art (Mona Lisa ashtrays, busts of Beethoven, etc.) or on religion (flesh-coloured Christs that glow in the dark)'; many more delights are literary, including the quotations; s.v. clerihew,

Geoffrey Chaucer

Could hardly have been coarser,

But this never harmed the sales

Of his Canterbury Tales. Or, on the same page, s.v. closed couplet, lines about men from Sarah Fyge Egerton's ~The Emulation' (1703),

They fear we should excel their sluggish parts,

Should we attempt the sciences and arts;

Pretend they were designed for them alone,

So keep us fools to raise their own renown. Or, s.v. rhetorical question, both the definition and the exemplification:

a question asked for the sake of persuasive

effect rather than as a genuine request for

information, the speaker implying that the

answer is too obvious to require a reply, as in

Milton's line

For what can war but endless war still breed? And lastly, s.v. Spasmodic School, a quotation,

Dobell's dramatic poem Balder (1853)

includes the notorious line:

Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!

E. G. Stanley

Pembroke College, Oxford

A NEW edition has appeared of R. Turner Wilcox's The Dictionary of Costume Pp. [viii +] 406. London: B. T. Batsford, 1992. 19. 99[pounds]), which was first published in New York by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1969, and retains its original, sixtyish US flavour, if not earlier. For example:

Ivy League look a manner of masculine

dressing first observed among men of Yale,

Harvard and Princeton universities and some

smaller colleges. A cult of the twentieth century

based upon the conservative elegance

made traditional by Bond Street, London,

and Madison Avenue, New York.... Alas, even by the early blue-jeans age of the mid-seventies masculine elegance was not much seen among the Yale undergraduates I taught, though women graduate students often aspired to and achieved a genuine, usually informal, elegance which owed little to Madison Avenue and less to Bond Street, for which, in Mrs Wilcox's definition of the Ivy League look of pre-co-ed times, one might in any case wish to substitute Savile Row.

The book is handsomely illustrated, and altogether an attractive-looking product. It attempts to survey costume of all ages and every land, but the history of dress in England leaves out many items that might have been included. Since there is something on bands under band and band strings, something on M.B. and M.B. waistcoat might have added spice; since biretta has an entry, Canterbury cap is a regrettable omission.

There is a brief bibliography, and in it is F. W. Fairholt's excellent Costume in England (first published in 1846). More academic publications have no place in it; but H. Doll, Mittelenglische Kleidernamen im Spiegel literarischer Denkmaler des 14. Jahrhunderts (Giessen doctoral dissertation, 1932) and L. L. Stroebe, Die altenglischen Kleidernamen. -- Eine kulturgeschichtlich-etymologische Untersuchung (Heidelberg doctoral dissertation, 1904) would have been useful in correcting such inaccurate statements as,

gown from the Saxon word gunna, a long

loose garment worn by all Anglo-Saxon

women for centuries. It was also called a cote,

surcoat or robe. From the fourteenth to the

seventeenth centuries....


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Author:Stanley, E.G.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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