Englamouring the humdrum
- Arguing with the past: Essays in Narrative from Woolf to Sidney by Gillian Beer
Routledge, 206 pp, £25.00, August 1989, ISBN 0 415 02607 5
- Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays edited by Margaret Anne Doody and Peter Sabor
Cambridge, 306 pp, £35.00, July 1989, ISBN 0 521 35383 1
Gillian Beer’s Arguing with the past, a collection of essays published in recent years (with one, on Richardson and Milton, dating from as long ago as 1968), is richly written, contains many sharp critical insights, and shows the author to have a good ear for nuances of language in the literary works she chooses to discuss. At the same time, she reveals some straining in her pursuit of the chief ‘argument’ – namely, that half-readings, ‘failed’ readings and forgettings of other authors can make up an important part of a writer’s experience and creativity.
Vol. 11 No. 24 · 21 December 1989
From Gillian Beer
When a reviewer describes a sentence as ‘baffling’ one expects to see it quoted accurately. In Arguing with the past I wrote: ‘Engaging with the difference of the past in our present makes us aware of the trajectory of our arrival and of the insouciance of the past – their neglectfulness of our prized positions and our assumptions.’ Rosemary Ashton (LRB, 23 November) changes ‘the past’ to ‘our past’, thus destroying the point of the sentence, which is that the past is not ours only: it is multiple and its inhabitants were heedless of our present concerns. Much literary analysis still assumes that works are to be praised for their ‘almost modern awareness’. I argue that the ‘relevance’ of past works to our needs often lies in their challenging unlikeness to our present assumptions.
Girton College, Cambridge