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This review is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

CASTING DOUBT George Fraser, Essays on Twentieth-century Poets (Leicester University Press), £3.95.

This volume collects essays on twentieth-century English poets written by George Fraser during the last thirty years. These range from his early work on Auden first published in 1947, to an article on Larkin written specially for this volume. A substantial proportion of the essays is devoted to Yeats and Eliot, but Graves, Empson, MacNeice, Thomas, and Douglas receive no less lively or judicious treatment.

I was intrigued to find certain critical principles in the work of a writer so conspicuously unsystematic as Fraser, who says: "I have never had the time to think out a theory of poetics." But why embark on an enquiry into principles when it confronts us with numerous obstacles, not least of which is the atmosphere of intimacy and trust generated by Fraser's personal charm and leisurely, speculative style? Because certain disparities demand resolution. One such is the tone of the book. It is remarkably even and homogeneous for a collection of discrete essays written over many years, and one is reluctant to attribute this uniformity to so questionable a principle as Fraser's "groping tact". Coherence must be the product of the application of principles, however covert and unstartling these may be.

One common denominator of these articles is Fraser's pervasive, sympathetic presence. This can be classified as a principle only if it can be shown to be selectively shaping Fraser's expectations of, and response to, poetry. I believe it can. The qualities Fraser displays-his generosity, courtesy, broadmindedness-derive from a ...

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