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Wellek's and Austin Warren's Theory of Literature, a culminating work of the New Criticism, launched an organon of literary methodology, juxtaposing the extrinsic approach (the ""historical"") against the intrinsic (the ""aesthetic""), heartily favoring the latter and largely consigning socio-cultural matters to the outer darkness. This is to say their interests were formalistic (or ""pure""), and thus the book fittingly became a kind of vade mecum for the graduate student of the '50's. Here in a solo performance, bringing together scattered essays on Anglo-American and German literary and philosophical relations during the Romantic era, Wellek's perspective shifts and we find him working as a historian of ideas. The introductory chapter, a hitherto unpublished lecture given in 1963, offers a panorama of confluences and divergences in German and English Romanticism. The earliest essay dates from 1929, while the remaining four comprise 1943-44. The two excellent interpretations with the irrationalist designs of a Jean Paul, trying to be a prophetic forerunner and yet enmeshed in the past. There's a superbly documented debunking of De Quincey as an original thinker, and examination of minor New England Transcendentalists, and an evaluation of Emerson's puzzling attitude towards German dialectitians. It is all quite specialized. The scholarship is impeccable; the style, however, is akin to a car continually stalling on its route; the reader's interest is aroused in one paragraph, then goes into limbo in the next. etc. ad infinitum.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1965
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press