THE MODERN SPIRIT: Essays on the Continuity of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature by Robert Langbaum

THE MODERN SPIRIT: Essays on the Continuity of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature

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Professor Langbaum has some helpful and convincing remarks to make on Victorian culture, but he has little to say that is pertinent to the literature of today. Of nineteenth century thought, he states quite rightly that the Victorians attempted ""to reconcile change with continuity and order,"" and in the best essay of his collection, ""The Victorian Idea of Culture,"" he sketches, with brevity and precision, the various post-Enlightenment motifs concerning nature, society, humanism and religion. These ideas are very broad, so it is possible to assert, as Langbaum does, that they encompass ""the modern spirit."" Yet when considering all that Langbaum leaves out, from Hegel, Marx, and Darwin to Freud, Einstein, and Wittgenstein--that is to say, what has been most revolutionary and characteristically ""modern""--the title of his book does indeed seem capricious. Wordsworth's mixture of Lockean self-consciousness and the romanticist ""principle of growth"" and nostalgia, Tennysonian grappling with faith and doubt, Browning's use of personae--on these subjects Langbaum is both illuminating and thematically exacting for he relates them to particular phases of English history, as well as connecting them to later mythmaking re Yeats, Eliot, and Joyce. The linkage, however, between the tragicomic qualities of The Tempest and certain ironic archetypes of contemporary literature is more suggestive than fundamental. Langbaum is always Scholarly and urbane, but what he is really presenting in these randomly written essays is interesting spadework on the large and promising structure he has yet to erect.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1970
Publisher: Oxford