Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

10
Review in Accent
spring 1943

David Dutches

David Daiches (1912—), a British-born critic and travelogue writer, taught mainly at Cornell University, Cambridge University, and the University of Sussex. He is the author of The Novel and the Modern World (1939) and A Study of Literature for Readers and Critics (1948), among many other books, including numerous works of literary criticism on British and American authors.

With the publication of The Novel and the Modern World in 1939, the twenty-seven-year-old Daiches had established himself as a prominent critic in Britain and America. In the following review, Daiches criticizes Trilling for attending to Forster’s ideas or “message,” rather than engaging in a literary criticism chiefly concerned with verbal art.

A literary critic has at least two primary tasks. He must demonstrate the work under discussion, so that when we look at it again we see more clearly not only what it is but where we must stand if we are to observe it as it is; and he must also provide for the work a context that makes possible fruitful and suggestive comparison. Proper analysis and proper comparison are both necessary: if I had to choose between them (and I hope I never shall) I would choose the latter, provided it were really well done. Nothing, of course, is less easy to do, or more easy to do sloppily and conventionally. But at its most profound, critical comparison can lift the scales from our eyes (and what else is the critic trying to do?) more effectively than any other kind of commentary. If one were given twenty pages in which to try to make clear the essential reality and significance of Hamlet and were told to restrict oneself either to “pure” analysis or to “pure” comparison, the latter, if perfectly done, would be more likely to include the former than the other way

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