George Eliot, Joyce and Cambridge

Michael Mason

For those outside Cambridge University who are curious about recent events in the English Faculty there, and who want to assess the ‘repulsiveness’ of either party, or of both, Colin MacCabe’s book on Joyce[*] is among the few pieces of hard evidence available. One tendency of the stories coming out of Cambridge has been to represent MacCabe as an irenic figure, peaceably intent on exploring and teaching European culture and English grammar while bayed about by his attackers. To read the Joyce book is to be quickly disabused of at least this impression of what is going on at Cambridge. It is a tremendously aggressive piece of writing. Its aggression is directed both at current academic literary criticism, and at certain texts or traditions in English literature itself. For MacCabe, the two targets are connected: the literary criticism he attacks is that which makes the same assumptions about language and reality as the literature he dislikes.

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[*] James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word (Macmillan Press, 1979).

[†] Dickens and the Suspended Quotation by Mark Lambert. Yale University Press, 208 pp., £10.40, 19 February, 0 300 02555 6.