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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

CRAFT WITHOUT COMPASS Allan Rodway, The Craft of Criticism (Cambridge) £16.50, £4.50-pb

A well-known story. It is 1789, at Versailles, and Louis XVI, hearing of the Fall of the Bastille, says: 'C'est une grande révolte'. But La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt replies: 'Non, Sire. C'est une grande révolution'. In The Craft of Criticism, Allan Rodway reminds me of Louis XVI, in his failure to grasp the nature and scale of the contemporary challenge, and in his poor performance even by the standards of the old régime.

This is unfortunate, for Rodway's aims are commendable. His book, intended primarily for those at the most decisive stage in the formation of literary sensibility-sixth-formers and undergraduates-aims, through critiques of twenty-two poems (an eclectic selection, including, for instance, Keats, Cowper, Craig Raine) to show how to bridge the gap between critical theory and critical practice, a task more necessary than ever in the present confused and creative state of literary studies. But this aim is immediately hampered by the fact that Rodway's assimilation of critical concepts seems to have stopped around 1954, with Wimsatt's and Beardsley's 'intentional fallacy'. Rodway invokes this as though it were a Tablet of the Law, rather than a philosophically dubious notion, probably unworkable in practice, that has been called into question many times (see, for example, Frank Cioffi's excellent essay 'Intention and Interpretation in Criticism'). And Rodway slips in other hoary critical notions: for example, he commends Keats's 'Ode to Autumn' as 'the highest kind of art, that which conceals art' and as 'a seamless web', while criticism is defined as ...


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