SEEING THROUGH EVERYTHING: English Writers 1918-1940 by William H. Pritchatd
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SEEING THROUGH EVERYTHING: English Writers 1918-1940

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How unsettling to come upon a critic who talks about readers--""readerly needs,"" reader ""pleasure,"" reader ""struggles,"" reader ""fun"" (!). That is the great strength of this string of unjargoned, solidly subjective essays involving seventeen British between-the-wars writers. No Joyce, Pound, or Yeats (to avoid ""the grossest simplification""); no Coward or Isherwood or Dylan Thomas. But-with a roughly chronological scheme that has Eliot's Waste Land early, Eliot's criticism midstream, and Four Quartets as a sobering nightcap--Pritchard singles out the works that best meet his down-to-earth criteria of wonder, excitement, entertainment, and human impact: Shaw's Heartbreak House; A Passage to India (Forster's not a prim nanny); Woolf's ""appetite for fun"" in To the Lighthouse; Ford's Some Do Not (rather than the totemic Good Soldier); Waugh's Handful of Dust; Wyndham Lewis' The Revenge for Love (""the outstanding political novel of the 1930s'); and, finally, ""Little Gidding."" Dozens of others are discussed, readjusting accepted estimates upward--late Arnold Bennett, early Aldous Huxley, Robert Graves, and Lytton Strachey--or downward: naked-throbbing, late D. H. Lawrence (""incidental pleasures"" aside) and Woolf's ""intolerable. . . oh-so-delicate"" The Waves. The thrust-and-parry criticism of Eliot, Lewis, and overly dismissive F. R. Leavis is drawn together and argued as ""literature,"" with its vivid plots and characters; the political poetry of the 1930s (Samuel Hynes' ""Auden Generation"") is, overall, a ""curiosity"" that Pritchard leaves ""up to the individual."" He comfortably draws from his critical colleagues, often giving them the last word, sometimes taking them on (A. Alvarez, who doesn't quite see the ""portentous fuss"" in Lawrence's poetry) for tough but balanced pummeling. This is books-on-an-island criticism, with no axes grinding and little sense of social or political or biographical forces: "". . . this could be any girl."" And, for many readers, that's the best sort, and Pritchard's best is quick, dry, conversational, and gloriously opinionated.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1977
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press