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This review is taken from PN Review 134, Volume 26 Number 6, July - August 2000.

PARTIAL SHADOWS BERNARD BERGONZI, War Poets and Other Subjects (Ashgate) £42.50

Among the more puzzling features of literary life in the last quarter of the twentieth century was a kind of prolonged critical eclipse: those literary critics, successors of Leavis and Empson, whose books had hitherto appeared from Chatto or Routledge and were to be found even in provincial smalltown bookshops, gradually became invisible to all but an academic eye; in newspapers, the likes of Cyril Connolly and Raymond Mortimer, whose substantial lead reviews had dominated the Sunday books pages, were not replaced by comparably weighty figures; while magazines in which the ordinary reader might find intelligible, authoritative critical writing (Encounter, The Listener) ceased publication. And this was puzzling because a mid-century pundit might very reasonably have predicted that the greater availability of cultural discourse, in the press and on the BBC's Third Programme, and the expansion of higher education which was to take place during the post-war decades - with the presence in new universities' literature departments of, for instance, Donald Davie at Essex, Malcolm Bradbury at East Anglia and Bernard Bergonzi at Warwick - would produce an incrementally expanding audience for the kind of criticism which remains engaged with a non-academic literary world.

It didn't quite happen like that, partly (though this is easily said) because the study of literature was inexplicably hijacked by jargon-peddling theorists, many of whom would prove incapable of constructing an English sentence; and partly because literary publishing, with its honourable regard for backlists and worthy slow-sellers, fell apart with catastrophic consequences. ...


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