A Short History of Literary Criticism

A Short History of Literary Criticism

A Short History of Literary Criticism

A Short History of Literary Criticism

Excerpt

Aknowleme of the beliefs men have held, and still hold, about imaginative literature satisfies the natural curiosity that all thoughtful people have about the history of those ideas that have shaped their civilization. More importantly, however, such knowledge enables the reader to approach good literature with a deeper appreciation than he would otherwise have.

Whether certain critical principles enunciated in the past are valid for all time or not, the fact that they were believed to be true shaped both the form and determined the content of innumerable literary masterpieces. Thus an understanding of what a writer achieved often depends on an acquaintance with the critical doctrines he and his contemporaries assumed to be the foundation of art.

Yet, so many literary critics have practiced their trade that a complete history of literary criticism would either have to be impossibly long or would have to squeeze in so many names and dates as to be practically unreadable. This modest work, then, contents itself with offering a chart of the shifting currents of literary opinion. For clarity and brevity, the discussion of the individual critic is limited to one or two of his most important essays. Since, ideally, this commentary should be read in conjunction with the actual works of the critics themselves, an attempt has been made to limit, where possible, the observations to those essays most easily found in the standard anthologies.

Selective as such a little book as this must be, it will, the author hopes, serve as a useful and pleasant introduction to what Milton called the "sublime art. . . ."

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