Lit. Crit. (was: Re: More than you ever wanted to know (was Re: answers from Diana))

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Wed May 30 13:03:56 EDT 2001

I'm not going to quote the messages by Ania, Deborah and Melissa.  These are
taken as read, and I am merely going to say,

Can someone please explain to me what "Literary Criticism" is?

I have no idea whether I studied it.  English Lit. was compulsory at my school
up to O-level (age 16), but I don't know whether what we did was criticism.  We
did quite a bit of analysis, but it was more of the form "What is the author
doing to achieve such-and-such an effect".  Or rather, that is how I remember
it.  I remember very little of the course, so this could be selective memory; I
tend to see musical analysis the same way, and this may be influencing me.

Things that do stand out:

Of the three novels among our set works for O-level English Lit., (Hardy, Under
the Greenwood Tree; Eliot, Silas Marner; Golding, The Inheritors) the only one I
ended up liking was the one about which I had disagreements in interpretation
with my teacher.  Perhaps it's the only one that aroused any strong feelings in
me.  Oh, didn't I say?  The Inheritors.

General opinion was that the teacher I had for O-level English, Adam E----, was
a really good teacher; my brother got Barrie N-----, whose reputation was one of
teaching students to regurgitate his opinions, and yet my brother came out of
the course trying to persuade all and sundry to read Silas Marner, since it was
such a good book.  (FWIW I think it was the only set book we had in common).

On the other hand, what really put me off Mr N----- was his self-confessed
prejudice against science fiction.  (On the other other hand, when someone in my
class - probably me - discovered that one of the options we could have taken was
science fiction, Mr E---- said something like "It may be fun to read, but you
wouldn't want to study it", a classic case of literary bias, though I didn't
realise it at the time).

But to get back to my question, what sort of analysis is "criticism"?  I have
never fully understood what it is that you folks (with some exceptions) mean
when you talk about Lit. Crit.  Also a possibly revealing question, what sort of
analysis _isn't_ criticism?  (Why isn't it?  Does it have a place?  Why is that
place not Lit. Crit. courses? etc.)  All this is of course quite separate from
the good and bad criticism discussion that Ania started...

Philip.  (Puzzled, but glad he doesn't have to physically wave hands in this

PS  The syllabus we studied had loads of options, of which we had to do three,
with some complicated restrictions on which three.  These were chosen for us by
Mr E----.  We did "Shakespeare", "Novels" and "Lyrical Verse".  It only now
occurs to me that all the three set novels were historical works.  Quite apart
from violating one technical definition of a "novel", not that anyone still uses
the term that way, I wonder why this was...

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