Outside the Academy

Robert Alter

  • Authors and Authority: English and American Criticism 1750-1990 by Patrick Parrinder
    Macmillan, 392 pp, £40.00, August 1991, ISBN 0 333 43294 0
  • A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950. Vol. VII: German, Russian and Eastern European Criticism, 1900-1950 by René Wellek
    Yale, 458 pp, £26.00, October 1991, ISBN 0 300 05039 9

These two meticulous surveys of modern criticism in all its vertiginous variety lead one to ponder what it is all about and where it may be heading. The book by René Wellek, focused on Central and Eastern European critics, is the penultimate volume of a vast project he began in the Fifties. The two previous volumes dealt respectively with English and American criticism in this same half-century, and chapters of the first four volumes of the series covered earlier critics that fall within the scope of Patrick Parrinder’s study. Authors and Authority in turn is an expansion of a 1977 book that stopped with the beginning of the 20th century. Now nearly twice its original length, it comes all the way down to the Yale Deconstructionists, the American proponents of cultural studies and the New Historicists. To judge by what René Wellek has observed elsewhere of these recent developments, he is no doubt quite happy to end his own account a generation before they all began.

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