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This review is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.

UNASKED QUESTIONS L. C. Knights, Selected Essays in Criticism (Cambridge) £6.50

It is easy enough for any critic to be less than honest about the extent to which his assumptions remain merely assumptions, even after much has been constructed over them. This is the weakness of all derivative criticism, and it is the reason for one's final impatience with Professor L. C. Knights's collection. The essays landmark over forty years of a career in professional academic criticism and teaching and the two areas of approach to literature fuse throughout the volume; the last piece, 'Literature and the Teaching of Literature', falls as apologia. But despite the timespan all the pieces are recognizably cut from the same cloth. Taken together they have an almost vintage, period quality. Leavis, we say, Cambridge, Scrutiny-and tune in or out accordingly.

'Henry James-whose "social comedy" may be allowed to provide a standard of maturity . . .' begins the essay (an early one) on Restoration Comedy. 'Maturity', left to speak for itself, is still just about intelligible. But you have only to shift your angle, say towards the exigencies of 'Interpretative' criticism, or towards continental formalism, to leave the word clustered with question marks. So with the other 'key' terms Professor Knights offers the reader, as though there were no need to think about them. And the terms tend to correlate with the approved writers; Donne, George Eliot, T. S. Eliot, Herbert, Blake, Hopkins.

This is of the essays generally, and their bent towards discursiveness (in the service of 'social context') ...


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