LITERATURE AND WESTERN MAN by J. B. Priestley

LITERATURE AND WESTERN MAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This is a survey of Western Man in his literature over a period of five centuries, an attempt to enable the contemporary reader to enjoy the great works of the past as well as the present. While based on wide ""desultory"" reading, it is not a work of scholarship and here and there Priestley has issued several self-protective interdicts. Even those less knowledgeable may entertain a few afterthoughts; no ""genius"" for Flaubert who ""might have written a masterpiece""; so little mention of Donne. What Priestley has attempted is to select the most representative writers of each century and to show them in relation to their age- whether philosophers or dramatists or novelists or poets or essayists. The temperament of the individual writer concerns Priestley as much as his work- and it is here that Priestley is at his most intuitive and evaluative. It is his felicity with the right few words (i.e. Shakespeare, the ""gigantic ordinary man of good will""; Henry James ""tiptoeing along interminable airless corridors""; Goethe ""creating his works within the larger containing act of self-creation"") which enables him to do so much for so many in what is a relatively short work. While his survey begins with the Whole Man in the late Middle Ages, and proceeds through the Ordered Garden of classicism to the luxuriant romanticism of France, England, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia, it finally reaches the mid 19th century. Here literature breaks away from the ascendant middle classes and is overtaken by the malaise of modern man, deepened in the 20th century when the artist truly reveals the insecurity of the inner world- the distemper of our time. In the larger sense, Priestley has given psychological as well as social directions to his ""journey of Western Man"".... Always far more than an inventory or index of the many, many writers with which it deals, this is quite an achievement, relaxed in tone, apt in insight, lively in interest, and it makes a vast body of literature approachable to the general reader toward whom his book is directed. The publishers will help to see that this audience is reached with major promotion.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1960
Publisher: Harper