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This report is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

Comment C.H. Sisson
'I had to write an essay on Donne and I found Cleanth Brooks.' So Catherine Belsey, reporting on her intellectual adventures as an undergraduate (P·N·R 85). It could easily happen. I have often been struck, in recent years, by the proportion of shelf-space, in university libraries, given to secondary material. There was, of course, always some secondary material there, even sixty years ago, when I first started looking round such places. It was not always material of the first quality, even in those relatively enlightened days, A.C. Bradley and Stopford Brooke representing the academic prejudices of the early part of the century. But at least such things occupied little shelf-space, the space being occupied overwhelmingly by the greater and lesser authors of the period in question. The variety set the menu for three years of undergraduate reading, and if one looked inside Stopford Brooke or A.C. Bradley, it was only to make clear, in an essay, that one viewed the matter differently.

But now, what happens? Plus ça change, perhaps. If Bradley and Brooke represented the prejudices of their age, Catherine Belsey, clearly, had been bathed, from the first, in those of her own, 'brought up,' as she says, 'to be critical of the régime, on the left, but in a fairly unspecific way.' You will have read about the highly conventional course of her development in Nicolas Tredell's interview. (It is of course part of the orthodoxy of the sixties to pretend that there was nothing conventional about ...


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