Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature

Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature

Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature

Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature

Excerpt

The intention of this Dictionary is to provide a record and signed evaluations of the chief books of the important literary artists of all continental Europe -- in the twentieth century and the immediately preceding and closely related decades. It would have made no sense to bow in mechanical respect to chronology, but 1870 or 1880 proved in many instances to be points of departure corresponding to the realities of literary and cultural and political history. Victor Hugo who died in 1885 is not included because he represents earlier generations and moods; Baudelaire who died in 1867 is treated because much of later European poetry stems from him.

The contributors have read the books in the languages in which these were written, ranging from the vernacular of Albania to that of the Ukraine. Thirty- one literatures are represented because that is how many there are, and 239 specialists have done the work because that is how many were qualified and available for what inevitably became a complicated and patience-taxing group enterprise.

The total number of articles is 1167, but here one cannot say blithely because that is how many there are. When is an author important, and why, and to whom, and for how long? In a recent lively and provocative consideration of the problem, Writers and Their Critics, a Study of Misunderstanding,Henri Peyre notes that dictionaries are among the least revolutionary of human activities and, in their nature, self-perpetuating. We were indeed less likely in the present instance to turn for authoritative selection of leading writers to earlier compilations of the same scope because these are virtually nonexistent, yet editor, consultants, and contributors might have been tempted to go through the numerous current manuals and perpetuate the choices found there. We encouraged each other not to do so. A Dictionary of Received Ideas is not the object. The constant attitude has been experimental. Collaborators were urged from the very beginning to be bold, free, direct, respectful only of the original documents. In given cases, particularly of course with the extensive literatures of the great and so frequently articulate cultural powers, a number of consultants, all with special experience and knowledge, were invited to draw up independently of each other lists of contemporary writers who were in their minds outstanding. Correspondence within each group was carried on until what could fairly be called a consensus was reached. Five appraisers are not necessarily more right than one, and five conjectures, if you wish to call them that, or five hundred, do not make a certainty. At any rate the lists -- let us not . . .

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