REFRACTIONS by Harry Levin


Email this review


Professor Levin's last work, The Gates of Horn, was a formidable study of 19th century realism vis a vis the French novel. Against such an achievement, the collection of essays he presents here is bound to seem somewhat slim. The earliest piece (and by far the worst) dates from 1947; the remaining seventeen are of more recent vintage. All relate to some aspect of comparative literature, all have been previously published, either in academic journals, literary magazines, or in symposia gatherings of one sort or another. Thus lacking a dominant theme, they tend to be a bit sketchy, or merely a showcase for Professor Levin's wide-ranging erudition. His customary method is to take a particular topic, then indulge in some intellectual embroidery, eventually arriving at some generalizing remarks, almost all of which are intelligent and persuasive, but rarely striking. The last offering, a tribute to Irving Babbitt, is the best, or at least the most moving, probably because in it Levin achieves a sort of personal touch notably absent elsewhere. Of course, for sheer scholarship intermingled with informative digressions, Professor Levin is very much a master. His analyses of mythography or of writers in exile, of Shakespeare of The Marble Faun, enter that arena of learned discourse where he is impressively at home. Then too he is equally good with the historical approach (as witness ""English Literature and the Renaissance""), and with unfolding the paramarxiste thought of such a contemporary figure as the European critic, Lucien Goldmann. On the whole, however, the book leaves this reader discontented: an air of streamlined, if elaborate, pedagogy intrudes, without any fundamental outlook.

Publisher: Oxford