Books by William H. Pritchard

UPDIKE by William H. Pritchard
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 25, 2000

"Above all, this book should help those who haven't read all of Updike's work recognize his extraordinary ability and understand his unique contribution to 20th-century American literature."
This appreciation of John Updike's 40-year literary career is remarkable for its concise, critical assessments of nearly every one of the writer's 48 books. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

As demonstrated in these essays (most of which appeared in the Hudson Review), Pritchard's sympathetic, kinetic engagement with the canon has always distinguished him from other voices of the academy. Maybe that's because Pritchard (English/Amherst; Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered, 1993, etc.) believes less in great books than in great writing. His immersion in literature is emotional and philosophical, as well as technical and professional. Exemplifying this is his essay "Responding to Blake," which first appraises Harold Bloom's erudite yet arid response to the poet, then illuminates the critical temptation (felt by others, at any rate) to dodge full imaginative engagement. Pritchard offers similarly wise counsel in his approaches to Wordsworth, Byron, Hawthorne, and even Norman Mailer; the range of his taste summons fiction, poetry, and theory without strain. He complains tunefully about biographers (e.g., Juliet Barker, whose subject is the Brontâs). He acknowledges his —mixed feelings— about Byron's letters while seeming to admire the poet's —confirmed— skepticism. A fair-minded skepticism also seems to guide Pritchard. In the subdued, candidly bewildered title essay, for instance, he reconsiders the emotional enigmas that have driven an industry of Dickinson criticism to putty the gaps between admiration and affection for her verse. His own critical uncertainty about her revolves around the fact that Dickinson's mode of address is so elliptical and so remote that her poetic imagination becomes a currency unto itself, not easily exchanged in the marketplace where authors and readers interact. Like the other pieces, the Dickinson essay is concise and well wrought. One always has the sense with Pritchard that he has taken up his pen for a true purpose, whether to address the question of value, as with Dickinson, or the careful resuscitation of the critical reputation of Ford Madox Ford. Seemingly unswayed by our era's critical grandstanding, this professor of English reminds us that visionary criticism is an act of possibility whose highest task is not persuasion but expansion of minds. Read full book review >
ENGLISH PAPERS by William H. Pritchard
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A quietly fierce, resoundingly literate pedagogic autobiography. In an age when books are often regarded as mere texts, Pritchard (English/Amherst Coll.; Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered, 1984, etc.) is one of the few remaining champions of literature for its own sake, an eloquent advocate of letting books ``speak for themselves in such a way as to lift us into a new, absorbing world.'' Pritchard has the nerve to argue not only for the value of ``Great Books'' but also for reading's crucial role in teaching one to write and, indeed, to think. In the tradition of The Education of Henry Adams, Pritchard uses his own education as a fulcrum for trying to understand the swirl of his times. First as an undergraduate at Amherst and then as a graduate student at Columbia and Harvard, he was the beneficiary of what has often been called the ``golden age'' of American universities, a time when there was a ``virtually unanimous consensus about the best way to educate young people; about what they needed to know and the order in which they needed to know it.'' But then, as an English professor at Amherst, Pritchard watched in shock as the '60s tore this consensus apart. Some changes, including coeducation and increasing minority enrollment, were long overdue, but many, especially the gutting of core requirements, he regards as devastating. This decline of the American university has been frequently detailed but rarely with the kind of elegiac grace that characterizes this remembrance of things past. While Pritchard occasionally veers off into the esoteric and is a little too quote- happy (typical pitfalls of his profession), his intelligence and thoughtfulness are a welcome antidote to the spew and babble that have become all too characteristic of today's culture wars. A subtle, modest chronicle, yet one that often burns with a hard, gemlike flame. Read full book review >