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This review is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

GOING HIS OWN WAY MARGERY MCCULLOCH, Edwin Muir: Poet, Critic and Novelist (Edinburgh University Press) np

Edwin Muir: Poet, Critic and Novelist offers no major revisions or radical reinterpretations of its subject. We are given small rays rather than bursts of light. As the title indicates, Muir is dealt with as poet, critic, and novelist, each subject taken up in more or less chronological order. The book is more biographical in tone than one expects nowadays from a work of criticism, which may be why I found the book more readable than I nowadays expect from a work of criticism.

Inner conflict is an important theme here, as indeed it was in Muir's life. The conflict is exemplified in his relationship with his native Scotland. At one point he declared, 'I am a Scotsman', and at another, 'I'm not Scotch, I'm an Orkney, a good Scandinavian.' Muir's ambivalence toward his homeland is well known, and McCulloch gives us nothing new on the subject. Yet the discussion is useful because it parallels one of her small rays, namely that his work as a critic was also conflicted. I found this surprising, for I do not think Muir's criticism has ever been considered other than, as Herbert Read noted, 'firm and profound'. But the conflict that McCulloch addresses is of a fairly complicated kind, a psychoanalytic kind to be specific: 'In reading Muir's criticism of certain early twentieth-century poetry and fiction, one senses that his intuitive imaginative response is reaching out to the work while his conscious, traditional, critical criteria are insisting that twentieth-century art ...


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