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This review is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

THE RISE OF HOMO LEGENS Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook (Vol. 2), ed. E. S. Shaffer (Cambridge University Press) £17.50

In his ' "Point of view" and its background in intellectual history', Lothar Hönnighausen quotes Taine's statement that 'the critic must add to his natural and national soul five or six artificial and acquired souls'. Comparative Criticism, in which Hönnig-hausen's essay appears, shows how difficult this is, especially today, when the critic must also negotiate a labyrinth of theory.

Comparative criticism means, first of all, comparing specific texts. In this collection, Nicole Ward, in her analysis of the function of prisons as 'révélateurs of the personality' in Heart of Midlothian and La Chartreuse de Parme and David Walker, in his study of unreliable narrators, tales-within-tales, and the mise en abyme as means of narrative subversion in Gide and John Fowles, do this most effectively. The major comparative energy in Gillian Beer's essay is interdisciplinary (science and literature in the nineteenth century) rather than international, and Hönnighausen ranges wide but not deep.

Comparative Criticism contains two major theoretical essays. The main contention in Wolfgang Iser's is that 'literary texts have blanks and indeterminacies, which function as breaks in the connectability of textual segments, and which condition acts of reception in various ways'. This notion occurs in other essays in this volume, for example in Gabriel Josipovici's 'Text and voice' and, much more potently, in Leslie Hill's 'Proust and the art of reading'. But it is the ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin which figure more strongly in Comparative Criticism. In his own lifetime (1895-1975), Bakhtin linked Russian Formalism ...


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