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This article is taken from PN Review 88, Volume 19 Number 2, November - December 1992.

Donald Davie Teaching in Dublin Anne Cluysenaar

'MY ADMIRATION FOR Shelley is less than boundless.' The dark eyes mischievous but -attentive, the voice crisp, guttural, the gown worn with self-possession and professional panache - or so it seemed to me, a seventeen-year-old attending her first tutorial (it would now be called a seminar) at Trinity College Dublin in the autumn of 1953. Disbelief overcoming shyness, I remember blurting out: 'Did you say, Dr Davie, that your admiration for Shelley was boundless?' Any reader familiar with Davie's work will supply some details of the answer. And note, with some amusement perhaps, the distinctive negative syntax of his original statement.

Barely thirty, he was already clear, even pugnacious, in his view of literature, and of the tasks of literary criticism. As his students, we were invited to admire intelligence and restraint in the use of language, subtlety of social tone. We were to suspect and eschew vagueness, poetic afflatus. We were to analyse rather than enthuse, and to ask strenuous moral and social questions not only of language but also of ourselves. In return, we received the most valuable, and the most generous, of gifts from our teacher - we were taken seriously, as individuals and as potential contributors to culture.

As it turned out, that first exchange marked a difference in our temperaments which, in later years, created a certain distance between us. But in spite or more probably because of that difference, Davie's effect on my development as critic and writer was ...


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