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This review is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

DOUBTFUL HARVESTS W. W. Robson, The Definition of Literature and other Essays (Cambridge) £19.50.
Dannie Abse, A Strong Dose of Myself (Hutchinson) £8.95
Paul Auster, The Art of Hunger and Other Essays (Menard Press) £4.50 pb.
Ronald Blythe, From the Headlands (Chatto & Windus) £9.50

Most authors produce, from time to time in their lives, books made up wholly or largely of previously published essays and reviews; these often seem doubtful harvests. This is partly, perhaps, the shadow of the Protestant work-ethic; we feel that the author has not laboured enough, that he is merely recycling old, sometimes shoddy crops. Moreover, pieces written at different times, for different forums, do not always fuse together effectively. Some collections - Leavis's The Common Pursuit or George Steiner's Language and Silence, for example - achieve, by force of style, of deep preoccupations obsessively pursued, a coherence that transcends the diversity of their contents; others, the bulk perhaps, may be less books than miscellanies, with contents of widely varying quality, though possibly offering incidental pleasures and illuminations.

The title and price of W. W. Robson's latest offering might lead us to expect a coherent and substantial collection. Furthermore, to offset the suspicion of laziness, Robson provides us with four hitherto unpublished essays - on defining literature, interpretation, evaluative criticism, and the relation of the novel to truth. Robson writes in a brisk, clear style, and he is aware, in outline at least, of some of the major current issues in literary criticism and theory; but, perhaps because he is not truly disturbed by them, his analysis is not pursued very far, and falls back on 'commonsense' assumptions. 'On Liberty of Interpreting', for example, comes down to the argument that, in literary interpretation, we should take account ...


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