TALKING BACK TO EMILY DICKINSON

AND OTHER ESSAYS

As demonstrated in these essays (most of which appeared in the Hudson Review), Pritchard’s sympathetic, kinetic engagement with the canon has always distinguished him from other voices of the academy. Maybe that’s because Pritchard (English/Amherst; Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered, 1993, etc.) believes less in great books than in great writing. His immersion in literature is emotional and philosophical, as well as technical and professional. Exemplifying this is his essay “Responding to Blake,” which first appraises Harold Bloom’s erudite yet arid response to the poet, then illuminates the critical temptation (felt by others, at any rate) to dodge full imaginative engagement. Pritchard offers similarly wise counsel in his approaches to Wordsworth, Byron, Hawthorne, and even Norman Mailer; the range of his taste summons fiction, poetry, and theory without strain. He complains tunefully about biographers (e.g., Juliet Barker, whose subject is the Brontâs). He acknowledges his —mixed feelings— about Byron’s letters while seeming to admire the poet’s —confirmed— skepticism. A fair-minded skepticism also seems to guide Pritchard. In the subdued, candidly bewildered title essay, for instance, he reconsiders the emotional enigmas that have driven an industry of Dickinson criticism to putty the gaps between admiration and affection for her verse. His own critical uncertainty about her revolves around the fact that Dickinson’s mode of address is so elliptical and so remote that her poetic imagination becomes a currency unto itself, not easily exchanged in the marketplace where authors and readers interact. Like the other pieces, the Dickinson essay is concise and well wrought. One always has the sense with Pritchard that he has taken up his pen for a true purpose, whether to address the question of value, as with Dickinson, or the careful resuscitation of the critical reputation of Ford Madox Ford. Seemingly unswayed by our era’s critical grandstanding, this professor of English reminds us that visionary criticism is an act of possibility whose highest task is not persuasion but expansion of minds.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-55849-138-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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