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This review is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

BLURRING THE BATTLE-LINES JOHN LUCAS, Starting to Explain: Essays on Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry (Trent Books) £9.99

John Lucas writes not only as a veteran critic of English literature but also of what he sees as a received notion of Englishness, which he treats as an ideology based on class-consciousness. The present book, consisting of essays and reviews written over the last twenty years, though valuable in its own right, will inevitably be seen as a series of footnotes to his highly influential England and Englishness which appeared in 1999. There is common to both an abiding concern to see literature in its social and historical context. For Lucas the poem no less than the novel is a product of its time, and what it says is best interrogated in relation to the intellectual and social currents out of which it arose.

To put it in this way may seem unduly restrictive - and it is clear that Lucas's own political leanings very much inform his emphases and his starting-points. For example, in the context of the 1920s, though he doesn't deny the greatness of Yeats and Eliot, he is concerned not to let these authoritative, not to say authoritarian, figures monopolise the scene: he sets against them poets such as Ivor Gurney and Edgell Rickword who, for Lucas, are not only important poets in their own right but also offer a more generous and richer vision of England.

There is, inevitably, a certain amount of special pleading here. Gurney in particular is a poet of importance, about whom Lucas has written ...


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