Saturday, June 23, 2018

Literary Criticism | Beginning in English Liteature


The Literary Criticism simply started from classical Literature, from Plato and Aristotle’s theories. In section we will dealing with the Idea of Literary Criticism, Its beginning and modern criticism.

Sir Philip Sidney

Sir Philip Sidney is one of the first critical voices in English seriously engaged with defining poetry in terms of beauty, meaning and human interest. His reference point was the Renaissance view of art that had necessitated an affirmation of non-medieval, secular art. More than half a century later, John Dryden probed in his criticism the question of heroic writing with a view to explaining the usefulness of "some instructive moral" in ancient classical writing.


Dryden also explained some of the formal peculiarities of writing such as blank verse and rhyme and chose to introduce dignity or elevated thought through the use of the latter. However, English Literary criticism till the eighteenth century was largely descriptive and self-justificatory.
Literary criticism or criticism of literature evolved from the practice of explaining, analyzing, discussing or simply talking about plays, poems, novels. This implies that at a certain point of time, writing posed difficulties to the common reader and needed elucidation by an expert.
At the same time, literary writing tended to influence ordinary people's behavior by offering comment on the principles governing their lives. In many a situation, literary work became controversial and invited censure. Writers as such supported or opposed social interests through their writings and for that reason became prone to attacks from powerful sections in society. This was the case, for instance, in the seventeenth century England in the wake of great social upheavals. The example that comes to mind is the English Civil War, preceded by intense parliamentary debates and followed by divisions in opinion about the desirability of Restoration.
The eighteenth century gave rise to those considerations of poets and dramatists, those elaborate dissertations on literary trends by Samuel Johnson in the form of essays and 'Lives'. It appeared as though it became necessary for the English society of the day to uphold or reject certain kinds of vision in literature.


Johnson found the comic vision in Shakespeare worthy of deep appreciation. The very idea of the comic and the tragic in literature owed its origin to a large number of writers and thinkers looking towards the ancient classical texts for inspiration and guidance. Those texts, particularly of Aristotle, had placed writing under well-defined categories such as comedy and tragedy.
Literary criticism, the way we know today, assumed its specific shape in the eighteenth century. At the core of this criticism stood the vision of the author and the role and function of literature, with Johnson expecting the writer to educate the reader and create a climate of positive social values.

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The eighteenth century critical opinion denied individuals, for to the author whose job according to it was to protect, maintain and conserve the values of social expansion and progress. This critical opinion sought to impose on literature a kind of social code. Later, this opinion was taken as narrow and restrictive.

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth's 'Preface to the Lyrical Ballads' is entirely devoted to critiquing the eighteenth century neoclassical view of literature according to which the writer was supposed to follow clearly laid down principles of expression and composition. Further, Wordsworth drew attention to the fact that the established writing of the period gave no credence to the lives of ordinary people. However, as Wordsworth showed in his argument, writing would have no deep meaning and appeal unless it established vital links with the common masses-the toiling millions in the countryside or the poor deprived folk in urban centers. The second important thing in Wordsworth focused on the individuality of the writer, his/her peculiar sensibility and mental make-up. The question of the writer evolving into a creative being in the process of living through higher time had not been accepted as significantly in the eighteenth century.

Romantic movement

The Romantic movement against its historical background which registered great courageous interventions (the American War of Independence and French Revolution) by organized masses to re-shape society according to new  tradition.
At the back of Wordsworth's mind was the need of the writer to individually evolve higher stand on huge social issues. It was suggested that the interests and concerns of a writer shaped the creative mind to work in a particular way. This is how Wordsworth explained his view.

Literary Criticism : NINETEENTH CENTURY  

The critical essays for Literary Criticism  Matthew Arnold wrote - 'The Study of Poetry' and 'Function of Criticism at the Present Time,' for example, whether this criticism written in the second half of the nineteenth century made specific points about changes that literature could effect during its time.

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold's essays expect us to go into the appreciation of literature for the purpose of assessing and evaluating literature, as an important critical task. This clearly implies that Arnold was setting standards for what he considered good literature and that through this act he wished to tell the writer his/her role in the society of the time.
The whole, the nineteenth century critical thought in England is marked by this concern for understanding and interpreting society and evolving a code for the educated middle Theory classes in view of the cultural-ideological requirements of the day.
Arnold's criticism did not mark any radical departure from the existing trends but he did specify the function of good writing as well as theoretical-intellectual work. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in English literature were a period of specific cultural evolution under which rational thought as an agency of change came to be firmly established. The development of prose from a medium of ordinary conversation to that of a sophicated thoughtful activity and a complex representation of mental processes of highly sensitive individuals proves this point beyond doubt.
At the same time, literature assumed such an independent identity that it became the focus of critical debate as never before, not merely in aesthetic terms but also in relation to the life of the common people with a mission and a sense of collective behavior. Because of this, we cannot separate literature from those great movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that swept the whole continent of Europe.
It was essential, therefore, that writers reflected more and more on the nature of their involvement and the way in which this involvement induced them to select one literary form in preference to another. The important word here is 'involvement', the deep concern that writers have about their surroundings - it is this that is at the back of all his/her creative endeavor. The nineteenth century English criticism is driven by this significant urge in a thinking and culturally active individual. Critical essays of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Ruskin, Water Pater and Matthew Arnold deal in their own peculiar ways with this issue.

Literary Criticism : 20th Century THE FIRST WORLD WAR

The case of the twentieth century criticism is different from earlier Literary Criticism’s. It is not exactly an outcome of concerns for society and its problems such as inequality, deprivation, injustice, racism, gender distinct and so on - things that had been the focus of critical comment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Strange though it may seem, the twentieth century criticism has remained obsessed with literature as an art, an aesthetic endeavor, in isolation from the surroundings in which literary works (novels, poems, dramas) are produced.

T.S. Eliot

A major critical influence in the early twentieth century was T.S. Eliot whose essays brushed aside the idea of history or social dilemmas and instead propagated contemporaneity and circular time in literature.
Eliot was instrumental in taking literature away from an actually existing world into a domain that transcended time and place. His main emphasis was on man and his condition in a moral-religious universe. His kind of critical perception, in accompaniment with that of Ezra Pound shunned change and targeted social critique. It is also interesting to note that the early twentieth century criticism rejected Romanticism completely and looked for inspiration either towards the neoclassicism of the eighteenth century or Jacobinism of the seventeenth century. Combine this with a distrust for the Renaissance values of humanism and rational approach and the picture becomes complete - of a critical mission that lauded permanence and , unchangeability in preference to development and progress.
These new critical biases of the early twentieth century had their roots in the First World War and the emergence of Socialist Russia projecting the ordinary worker's and peasant's capabilities. Suddenly it became clear to a significant part of the English writing and critical thought around that time that attacking radicalism in all its manifestations was essential to conserve and protect the entrenched class interests. Thinkers  swore by reform, change and progress in environment, as against recognition of decay, human predicament or moral void. Also, for the first time, literary criticism became proactive, aggressive and intolerant in that it assumed the mantle of educating minds and sensibilities along certain well-defined principles and prejudices. 'Sensibility' denoted -  upper class individual who sought enrichment through literature. Eliot's idea of sensibility, dissociated or well-integrated, moved further away from modernity, a Renaissance category, into medievalism where human beings were untouched by doubt and self-doubt.

First World War important for two reasons: 

1) one, this point marked the final crisis of capitalism; 
2) two, it got inextricably linked with an alternative system called socialism under which the common ordinary people took the reins of power in their own hands and displacing privileged sections from centers of influence. For these reasons, western thought, ideological and philosophical, shifted from the nineteenth century humanism that swore by the concept of social roles. It is interesting to note that the whole of modernist thought took the peculiar psychological direction under which the individual occupied the center of stage as never before. Here comes to mind the romantic individual of the nineteenth century who identified himself with the common people (Wordsworth) and questioned courageously the static inane ethos of bourgeois tradition. Instead, the modernist individual stood alone, denied the existence of a positive center in society and took to self-pity. 
Think of the modernist criticism of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound that sought to propound the idea of circular time as well as impersonality. Also examine the efficacy of psychology in understanding human behavior. Under modernist critical thought, psychology alone determined the day-to-day actions and responses of the individual. In literature, the protagonist, mostly a male, thought and acted as an individual and consciously tried to set himself apart from the ordinary goings-on of the environment.
In fact, modernist thought and writing worked hand-in-hand, each strengthening the appeal of the other. Mark how assiduously and painstakingly modernist criticism analyzed symbols, metaphors and images not just in poetry but also in prose works and gave the impression that the formation of images in the writer's mind, was more important than the object that the writer's mind captured.

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