THE CLASSIC

LITERARY IMAGES OF PERMANENCE AND CHANGE

In its original form as the 1973 T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures at the University of Kent, this must have been exhausting. One suspects that it's a great deal more manageable as a book. The subject may be inadequately described as the attitudes various literary epochs have held toward their formative pasts. Until rather recently the classics of other ages constituted a stable set of data in educated minds, although not everyone went as far as Eliot in proclaiming Europe still fundamentally a Roman province to be judged according to Roman-Christian canons. Beginning with Eliot's "imperialist" model, Kermode shows how it gradually strains at the seams when required to accommodate not only Virgil, Dante, and the Elizabethans but the more recalcitrant Milton, ambiguous Marvell, and urbanely unheroic or a-heroic English Augustans. With a provocative break in method, Kermode then abandons the Eliot framework to analyze the roles of past and present in the novels of Hawthorne. In Hawthorne's world, meanings do not stay where an observer has put them: in time ambiguity becomes instability; species are confusingly represented by anomalous individuals; progress and degeneration compete as historical processes. Such is the vision Kermode finds behind Hawthorne's deliberately perplexing narratives, and it points the way to an epoch in which criticism cannot rely on objectively "real" meanings to evaluate literary classics. Kermode concludes—by way of some rather annoying meanderings on Wuthering Heights—that in our day the genuine "classic" literary value must be a loosely structured, multi-significant inclusiveness, an ability to encompass a broad variety of interpretations. One is grateful for dozens of individual literary insights (the Hawthorne chapter alone is worth the price of the book), but Kermode employs a lot of grandiose machinery to formulate a conclusion which most students of literature have heard expressed more simply.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0674133986

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1975

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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