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This review is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

OPENING THE TEXT Open Guides to Literature: Jenni Calder, Animal Farm and 1984; Walford Davies, Dylan Thomas; Roger Day, Larkin; Peter Faulkner, Yeats; Graham Holderness, Women in Love; Jeanette King, Jane Eyre; Graham Martin, Great Expectations; David B. Pirie, Shelley; Jeremy Tambling, What is Literary Language?; Dennis Walder, Ted Hughes (Open University Press) £4.95 each

At the heart of this series of literary guides lies the concept of the text's inherent openness, its capacity for eluding final definition; a critical commonplace perhaps, but one which the series editor and his contributors rightly insist upon in a context explicitly characterised as 'pedagogic'. There is, as Graham Martin implies in his editorial preface, an intimate connection between ideas of textual openness and an enlightened approach to the teaching of literature; and Walford Davies's insistence on the 'multiple meanings' of Dylan Thomas's poetry, Jeremy Tambling's reminder of 'how labile texts are, how improvisatory, how unfixed' and Graham Holderness's assertion that 'criticism should not assist the text to achieve its false ideological coherence, but should rather deny that completeness' represent not simply a shared critical stance but a means of defining a perceived relationship between tutor and student, writer and reader.

Where these guides differ from most critical studies is in their overt acknowledgement of the reader's presence; the direct form of address and the recurrent questions invite active participation in the analytical process. At its best, the technique is genuinely liberating. Martin's study of Great Expectations seems as a whole to endorse his stated concern that his readers should 'enter in [their] own terms into the interpretative debate': unforcedly conversational, tactfully instructive, with its emphasis on suggestion rather than persuasion, it admirably conveys the impression of a discussion conducted in open forum. Dennis Walder, too, in his study of Ted Hughes's poetry, reveals a keen ...


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