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Preview: Essays in Criticism - current issue

Essays in Criticism Current Issue

Published: Wed, 04 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Last Build Date: Wed, 04 Oct 2017 11:44:24 GMT


MOMENTS OF METAPHOR Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor. By Ward Farnsworth


Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor. By FarnsworthWard. David R. Godine, 2016; £21.57 ($27.95).

STILL LESS REVELATIONS The Letters of Samuel Beckett, IV: 1966-1989. Edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn, and Lois More Overbeck


The Letters of Samuel Beckett, IV: 1966-1989. Edited by CraigGeorge, FehsenfeldMartha Dow, GunnDan, and OverbeckLois More. Cambridge University Press, 2016; £30.

Bunyan’s Way of Reading


FOR JOHN BUNYAN the Pilgrim/Christian Way is a Protestant, Nonconformist, Calvinist Way, and so a matter of reading. The Way of Salvation, getting to the New Jerusalem, is a matter of Scripture – the Big Biblical Book – and how you get at the Book’s meanings. And in offering its sensationally popular set of similitudes, or allegories, of the Christian journey, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) comprises an allegory, a case – indeed a showcase – of allegories, of reading as such. Here are allegories of biblicist Nonconformist hermeneutic in practice, in action, which surely acquire the force of allegories of reading per se, as Stanley Fish and Wolfgang Iser have powerfully suggested, and of modernist, even postmodernist, reading at that.11 This book about the Christian readerly Way, which has the Big Book about the Way, and what to do with that Biblical Book – how it might, indeed how it must, be read – as its main matters, proves, arrestingly, a kind of Hitchhiker’s Guide to what you could see as the striking pre-postmodernity of Puritan, Nonconformist reading.22

T. S. Eliot and Swift


ELIOT IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPRESSIVE and little-known of Swift’s readers. His poems are impregnated with borrowings from Swift’s poems, on which he once evidently intended to write, and his own poems show the influence of a style of light verse of which he thought Swift the ‘master’.11 The present discussion is not intended to revisit the many Swiftian traces in Eliot’s poems, but to assemble as representatively as possible Eliot’s scattered and uncollected opinions of a writer whom he deeply admired but seems not to have written about at systematic length.

Edward Lear’s Dancing Lines


ONE OF THE MOST CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES of Edward Lear’s work, as readers of it have long noted, is the presence of animal and inhuman characters and figures;11 and this owes an important debt to his early work as a zoological draughtsman, and consequent familiarity with nineteenth century classificatory science.22 Lear orders his creaturely world by a singular taxonomic imagination, and in doing so offers a redescription of the forms of relation that might be possible between humans and other animals.

Snobbery and D. H. Lawrence


IF SNOBBERY IS WHEN PEOPLE RELY on advantages which are largely adventitious – social standing, wealth, accent, or even good looks – in order to look down scornfully on others, then Jane Austen is particularly good at depicting it (even though the word did not exist in her day). There is, for example, Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, who exemplifies in a strikingly unpleasant manner the snobbery of social rank; but even more memorable is Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. Austen excels at openings, and it is hard to forget how Persuasion begins with a description of the pleasure Sir Walter derives from reading about himself and his family origins. This is in a book Austen calls ‘the Baronetage’. There, she says, ‘he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents’. This is passive snobbery, but we see it in its active form when Sir Walter takes his family to Bath and is flattered to receive a surprise invitation from a certain Lady Dalrymple. His daughter Anne says she will not be able to accompany him on the visit because she is already engaged to see an old school friend called Mrs Smith who has fallen on hard times and who lives in an unfashionable group of apartments known as Westgate Buildings. ‘Westgate Buildings’, Sir Walter explodes,and who is Miss Anne Elliot to be visiting in Westgate Buildings? – A Mrs. Smith. A widowed Mrs. Smith, – and who was her husband? One of the five thousand Mr. Smiths whose names are to be met every where. And what is her attraction? That she is old and sickly. – Upon my word, Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Every thing that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations are inviting to you.11

The Strange Romanticism of Edward Thomas


EDWARD THOMAS HAD MORE IN COMMON WITH WORDSWORTH than with any other writer, including Richard Jefferies. A list of their shared themes and preoccupations would go something like this: walking, displacement, and vagrancy; environmentalism and ecology; England and Englishness; local attachments, homesickness, and the domestic affections; rural life and the conditions of agricultural labourers; the depredations of industry, tourism, and war; the emotional significance of houses and homes; the enduring importance of songs, ballads, place-names, local history, and travellers’ tales; the fascination of nature, landscape, and wildlife – especially birds and birdsong; the vagaries of weather; the workings of memory and association; the ephemerality and pathos of human lives; the significance of epitaphs, gravestones, and country churchyards; the human history of roads, paths, and lanes; the rich symbolism of springs, streams, rivers. (The list could go on, but these are the most outstanding points of comparison.) If you were to summarise their shared modes and genres, you would have little difficulty in coming up with a similar list: an interest in encounters between strangers and fellow-travellers, involving dramatic dialogue; a preoccupation with humdrum things and obscure lives, described in a consciously informal register; a shared allegiance to Protestant traditions of spiritual autobiography, out of which comes a focus on epiphany, or what Wordsworth called ‘spots of time’; the choice of a loco-descriptive mode rooted in eighteenth century traditions, and of georgic eclogue for capturing the working lives of farmers and labourers; the use of ballads and songs with the desire to preserve popular oral culture; a love of pedestrian traditions, and of conveying walking and talking rhythms in the written word; and (last but not least) a fascination with the relation between poetry and prose – a topic on which Thomas published a long, unsigned article, ‘The Frontiers of English Prose’, as early as 1899, and which went on being of interest all his life to this prose-writer who turned latterly to poetry.11