by Marvin Mudrick ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 27, 1975
Mudrick hurls himself into literature with the alacrity of a local tough spoiling for a fight. Incapable of the tweedy urbanities and decorative squiggles that frequently pass for academic criticism, he has two basic stances: joyous celebration and contemptuous dismissal. Thus Lady Chatterley's Lover is ""feeble and spiteful,"" but Lawrence wrote ""the best short stories in English,"" to say nothing of ""the most incandescent literary criticism."" Boswell's Life of Johnson ""is immeasurably greater than the collected works of its subject,"" but Johnson's magisterial hatchet job on Soame Jenyns' Free Enquiry is ""the greatest book review ever written."" Mudrick is much better when working with characteristic life-giving detail--exactly what he thinks most critical scholarship buries--than handing out these gold stars and booby prizes. He is actually genial about the Memoirs of Saint-Simon, where he delights in ""The force, assurance, headlong straightforwardness, candor; the colloquial and asymmetrical ease of the phrasing. . . the absolute fidelity to a single point of view without spite or malice. . . ."" Other nice moments of generosity are an examination of Anne Elliot in Persuasion (Mudrick shook up critical opinion of dear Jane in Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery), the Lawrence chapter, and an equable survey of the Trollope oeuvre. More broadly, this book demonstrates Mudrick's conviction that contemporary criticism, especially' as represented by academic practitioners, tries to reduce literary works to self-contained mechanisms, and that it is time to rediscover the homo ex machina. This belief unfortunately brings out a less attractive (though infinitely quotable) side of Mudrick, obsessive cultivator of the most cutting sneer in the business. Joyce--himself responsible for ""that waxworks nonpareil 'The Dead' ""--still doesn't deserve Richard Ellman, who ""may be said to have invented a new mode of swinishness,"" and, in Golden Codgers, ""shambles out for his last tango with the sniggering academic reader."" This sort of vituperation may not tell us much about Ellman, but it does lavishly call attention to Mudrick's own superiority. Our own reaction to the entire critical performance (much of which has appeared in the Hudson Review) veers tempestuously between muttered profanity and wanting to stand up and cheer.
Pub Date: Oct. 27, 1975
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1975
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