John Middleton Murry

John Middleton Murry

John Middleton Murry

John Middleton Murry

Excerpt

The portion of John Middleton Murry's work which is itself of the most literary value and is the most likely to appeal to posterity is his literary criticism. If, as I think, its importance has been somewhat underestimated during his life, it is because the prominence he attained as a literary personality was largely the result of his work in other and more widely controversial fields. As the editor of several periodical journals at successive periods of his life, he was involved in contemporary social and political argument; he wrote books about pacifism, communism, religion and theology. His autobiography, and the autobiographical element in other books that he wrote, drew attention to his personal life and moral strivings to an extent that is not expected of a literary critic, and, in his own days, alienated rather than attracted sympathy with his earnest, almost prophetic conception of his literary vocation. In his output and in the public reaction to it there was much that tended to divert attention from those works of his which will have the most enduring claim upon students of English letters.

Middleton Murry was a literary critic by propensity and by profession. Such was his own conception of his calling, and the destiny predicted for him by D. H. Lawrence in the early days of their intimacy. He was one of those writers, never very numerous, who are able to re-interpret the literary heritage and re-affirm its values, not in academic seclusion but in the dust and confusion of the journalistic arena, sensitive to the aspirations of the present and in conflict with its evils. They study the works of genius in order to make them relevant anew to the questions of current discourse, not only to vindicate criteria of literary expression. The critic with such a vocation needs a liberal education in history as well as in letters. In the cultural . . .

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