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This review is taken from PN Review 30, Volume 9 Number 4, March - April 1983.

THEORIES AND A PRACTICE Modern Literary Theory: A Comparative Introduction, ed. Ann Jefferson and David Robey (Batsford) £4.95
Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice (Methuen New Accents) £2.95

For a long time, the response of the English critic to literary theory was like that of Father William to his young interrogator: Be off, or I'll kick you downstairs. But the interrogator grew and multiplied, and Father William's claim to brainlessness began to seem, not ironic self-deprecation, but inadvertent confession; his threat of violence looked less like the tactic of a Zen master than the bluster of an old reactionary. His heresy was exposed; and now literary theory has become, in England too, part of a new orthodoxy which, the claims of those who pose as it heroic, embattled partisans notwithstanding, is rapidly gaining ground in institutions of higher learning.

In a gesture towards traditional English empiricism, Jefferson and Robey stress, in their Introduction to Modern Literary Theory, that theory can never replace the immediacy, the direct engagement of critical practice. They argue, however, that theory is important in three main ways: as a means of understanding and, frequently, challenging practice; as a way of accounting for disagreements between literary critics, since these are based, even if implicitly as in the case of F. R. Leavis, on fundamentally theoretical differences as to the nature of literature; and as a basis for a more coherent and self-conscious discipline of literary studies. Literary theory should consider five issues: the nature of literature- is it truly distinguishable from other verbal operations and, if so, why?; the relationship between text and author; the role of the reader; the relationship between ...


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