Claude Rawson

Claude Rawson is a professor of English at the University of Warwick. His books include Henry Fielding and the Augustan Ideal under Stress and Gulliver and the Gentle Reader. He is editor of the Modern Language Review.

Stewed, roasted, baked or boiled

Claude Rawson, 6 August 1992

The Intelligencer was a periodical mainly but not exclusively of Irish interest. It ran to 19 more or less weekly numbers between May and December 1728, with a longish interruption in the summer, and a single further number in May 1729. It was written by Jonathan Swift and his friend Thomas Sheridan, a clergyman, schoolteacher and man of letters, and grandfather of the playwright. It includes at least two of Swift’s important works, his critique of the Beggar’s Opera in No 3, and a reprint of the ‘Short View of the State of Ireland’ in No 15, perhaps the single most eloquent of his Irish writings, and close in time and subject-matter to A Modest Proposal, a more famous work (though not for its eloquence, or not in the same sense).

Agamemnon, Smith and Thomson

Claude Rawson, 9 April 1992

At the end of Book Two of the Iliad, in the famous catalogue of the Greek and Trojan forces, the Carians, allies of Troy, led by their chief Nastes, are referred to as barbarophonoi, literally ‘of barbarian (i.e. non-Greek) speech’. Since barbaros (an onomatopoeic term suggesting babble, which does not occur in Homer) meant ‘one who does not speak Greek’, Homer’s compound word – the only occurrence in the Iliad of any derivative of barbaros – is pleonastic, or perhaps overemphatic or fussy (according to G.S. Kirk’s Commentary, it is also ‘surprising’, because the land of the Carians was inhabited by Mycenaean Greeks toward the end of the Bronze Age’). Not speaking Greek might signify other forms of outlandishness, including primitive habits and wild or uncivilised behaviour, and the subsequent history of the term ‘barbarian’ in various languages has been ethnocentric in a sense which tended to link civilised status with possession of the approved dominant language (first Greek, then Latin, followed by the various world-languages of later imperial hegemonies). ‘Barbarian’ and ‘barbarous’ are now typically used to suggest the savage or uncivilised without any strong consciousness of a linguistic factor, but the history of modern encounters with ‘primitive’ peoples, from 16th-century Amerindians to the various subject races of more recent colonial perspectives, shows that the barbarian has continued to be conceived as speaking a non-speech or ‘jabber’. And those who, like Montaigne, adopted the traditional ‘anti-colonialist’ or relativist counter-argument that the barbarians were less barbaric than their conquerors were fond of suggesting, in a table-turning appeal to etymology, that Amerindian languages resembled, or might have been related to, Greek.’

John Homer’s Odyssey

Claude Rawson, 9 January 1992

Edward Thompson’s Customs in Common is described as a ‘companion volume’ to his The Making of the English Working Class, and rises to the occasion. It has the wide range of reference, the densely-textured documentation, a special quality of charged impressionism (sometimes tendentious, more often honourably concerned with generous perspectives and panoramic insight), the embattled moral fervour, which established the earlier book as a classic of historical scholarship and indeed of English letters. It has some occasional irritants, an overheated self-concern, a raw sense of personal slight, a dogged self-indulgence which, as at pp. 302-303, will make a bad joke, apologise for it in a note, thank a reader of the manuscript for pointing it out, keep it in for the sake of the reader’s comment, and tell you he’s doing all this and why. These are a small price to pay.

Samuel Johnson goes abroad

Claude Rawson, 29 August 1991

‘In all my dealings with the Moors, I have always discover’d in them an ill-natur’d cowardise, which makes them insupportably insolent, if you shew them the least respect, and easily reduced to reasonable terms, when you treat them with a high hand,’ The words read like something from Said’s Orientalism, the sentiments of a Balfour or Cromer, as parroted by a barrackroom sage or vainglorious subaltern, without the bland solvent of self-righteous statesmanship. In fact, they’re from Samuel Johnson’s first book, A Voyage to Abyssinia (1735), an excellent and little-noticed edition of which, by Joel Gold, appeared in 1985. They come at the conclusion of a distressing episode in which an ‘old Mahometan troublemaker, ‘the master of our camels’, is caught stealing some tent cords. When the travellers seek to retrieve them, he and the other drivers offer resistance and are subdued by ‘our soldiers’. ‘None receiv’d any hurt,’ except the original culprit: ‘He was knock’d down by one of our soldiers, who had cut his throat, but that the fathers prevented it, he then restor’d the cords, and was more tractable ever after.’

Old Literature and its Enemies

Claude Rawson, 25 April 1991

In Alvin Kernan’s book The Death of Literature there is an account of the Lady Chatterley trial. It sports a pointless and omni-directed superciliousness so relentlessly predictable that if, for example, Rebecca West is cited making a perfectly tenable statement you can rely on being told that she was displaying ‘qualities that must have once made H.G. Wells wonder what he had gotten into’.

No Trousers

Claude Rawson, 20 December 1990

Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France was published on 1 November 1790. By then, Burke had long ceased to be the dominant intellectual influence in the Whig Party. He hoped the work would restore him to that position. Instead, it began the long process of his transformation into the patron saint of a later Toryism, rooted in nostalgia, in a feeling for the evolution rather than revolution of national structures, gradualist in reform, empirical rather than abstractly ideological, and moderate rather than extremist in its principles of political action. He would have loathed Thatcherism, as Tories of that sort seem to do. His best-known political champion today is probably Sir Ian Gilmour. The type, though not lately in the ascendant, is closer to the model which has evolved over time, as Burke might have seen it, who would certainly have seen Thatcherism as the convulsive aberration. It seems only yesterday that it was possible to think of Burke as a ‘natural Tory’, both for those who liked the label and those who didn’t.

Fielding in the dock

Claude Rawson, 5 April 1990

Fielding was born in 1707 into a family in straitened circumstances but of aristocratic connections. A family myth, based on forged papers, claimed descent from the Hapsburgs. The combination of financial embarrassment and gentlemanly caste is emblematic of the whole atmosphere of his life, and is variously reflected in his writings. He turned to writing fiction for a living (and to practising law for the same reason) after his career as a prominent and successful dramatist was ended by the Licensing Act of 1737, which his own anti-Government plays helped to precipitate, and which remained in force until 1968 (in later years it functioned more as an instrument of moral than of political censorship). He is the only one among the important early novelists whose origins were patrician, and the only one also whose style and cultural loyalties were closely tied to the tradition we sometimes call Augustan, of which the dominant representatives in Fielding’s lifetime were Swift and Pope. Early in his career he sometimes called himself Scriblerus Secundus, after their famous coterie the Scriblerus Club. One of his earliest poems, however, was an unfinished mock-Dunciad against them, discovered some twenty years ago by Isobel Grundy among the papers of his cousin Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Fielding seems to have been playing on Lady Mary’s hostility to Pope and his friends, and may have hoped through her influence to secure the patronage of the Prime Minister Walpole. There was no love lost between Walpole and the Scriblerians either, and Fielding’s fluctuating attitudes to them are sometimes inverse indicators of where Fielding stood (or wanted to stand) with Walpole.

An Epiphany of Footnotes

Claude Rawson, 16 March 1989

According to Jerome McGann, poetry became desocialised as a result of Kant’s definition of the aesthetic experience as wholly and essentially subjective. A consequence for criticism ever since has been that ‘poetry’s historical and social relations are regarded as peripheral (“extrinsic”) concerns.’ Coleridge’s declaration that a poem proposes ‘for its immediate object pleasure not truth’, and his particular conception of Imagination as an internal and self-enclosed harmonisation, ‘extends and elaborates the Kantian analyses of the aesthetic experience’. McGann favours poets with a more activist or ‘illocutionary’ conception of their art: Blake rather than Wordsworth, or the Language poets rather than some more traditionalist poets now writing in America. But his overriding concern is to insist on a critical method which recognises that all poems, not just activist ones, are ‘social acts’ which cannot be understood in separation from the circumstances which attended their composition, publication, reception and subsequent transmission. Bibliography and textual criticism, whose importance to literary studies he has always seen as central rather than peripheral or ancillary, are here again brought into play in a series of eloquent and sophisticated analyses of particular literary texts, though these disciplines are always and properly treated as forming part of a larger historical and biographical matrix. The essays in this book range from the Old Testament to recent American poetry, but the main topics of investigation fall within the Romantic and Early Modern periods.

Fellow Genius

Claude Rawson, 5 January 1989

‘Farewel, too little and too lately known,’ Dryden wrote in a pompous, self-serving poem prefixed to John Oldham’s Remains in Verse and Prose (1684). Oldham had died of smallpox the previous December, at the age of 30, at the house of the Earl of Kingston, a young nobleman who had recently become his patron. He left behind a large body of work, now available in full for the first time in a magisterial edition by Harold Brooks, begun over fifty years ago. This includes the fierce ‘Juvenalian’ satires for which he is mainly remembered, but also much else: imitations (sometimes brilliant) of Horace, Ovid and other Latin poets, as well as of Greek poets, and Boileau and Voiture; ‘Pindarique’ odes of elaborate stanzaic architecture; and poems of Rochesterian obscenity.

Poet Squab

Claude Rawson, 3 March 1988

There is an anonymous portrait of Dryden, ‘dated 1657 but probably 1662’, which shows a full-fed figure with plump alert eyes, comfortable and predatory. He seems poised between repletion and dyspepsia, like a bewigged Nigel Lawson, arrested for all time at the moment of incipient eructation. James Winn says: ‘His short, squat figure later led his enemies to call him “Poet Squab”, and the plump birdlike face in this picture justifies the nickname.’ When Rochester, about 1675 or 1676, called him by that name, perhaps for the first time, in his ‘Allusion to Horace’, the idea was that Dryden couldn’t manage gentlemanly smuttiness, the ‘mannerly obscene’, though he tried:

Richardson, alas

Claude Rawson, 12 November 1987

Richardson is the Hugo, hélas! of the 18th-century English novel, as Coleridge might have said: ‘I confess that it has cost & still costs my philosophy some exertion not to be vexed that I must admire – aye, greatly, very greatly, admire Richardson/his mind is so very vile a mind – so oozy, hypocritical, praise-mad, canting, envious, concupiscent.’ These sentiments of 1805 echo and reverberate through Coleridge’s Notebooks and Marginalia and Table Talk, as well as the Biographia Literaria, to the closing weeks of his life in July 1834. He brooded with fascinated revulsion on ‘the loaded sensibility, the minute detail, the morbid consciousness of every thought and feeling … the self-involution and dreamlike continuity’, like ‘a sick room heated by stoves’ contrasted with Fielding, who resembles ‘an open lawn, on a breezy day in May’.’

The night that I didn’t get drunk

Claude Rawson, 7 May 1987

Boswell struts on. The English Experiment is the twelfth volume of his private papers to appear in the Yale Edition in the 37 years since the so-called London Journal 1762-1763 created its naughty little sensation. Only one more is due in the present series (there is a Research Edition too, but that is another and longer story), which will take us to his death, aged 54, in 1795. Perhaps the strut is becoming a waddle. The self-absorption and mediocrity of mind remain unabated, but he says that he’s ‘not so greedy of great people as I used to be’. This didn’t mean passing up the particular social opportunity then on offer, and later, when Mr Ramus the King’s page invited him to St James’s, he noted: ‘Formerly I should have jumped at such an opening. I am now too far advanced. Yet I may go.’ It’s like Crusoe feeling he can’t use the ship-wrecked money but then deciding to keep it, accelerated to the tempo of farce. One isn’t sure whether the social climbing has abated or whether a need to say so has developed: the distinction may be a fine one. Sometimes flagging energies merely take the form of talking about flagging energies.

Textual Intercourse

Claude Rawson, 6 February 1986

The title of John Fraser’s book comes from Hamlet’s most famous speech. ‘The name of action’ is what ‘enterprises of great pitch and moment’ lose when ‘the native hue of resolution’ is ‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought’: not, on the evidence of this volume, too much of a problem for Mr Fraser himself. His immediate target is litcritbiz, perennially anxious to demonstrate that books mean something other than what they say. He tells us that his ‘argumentative adolescence’, and his ‘apprentice years’ in the Sixties, were sorely fretted by Marxists, Freudians, irony-mongers and other assorted nuisances, restlessly disturbing the plain sense of things, while real life and Mr Fraser (‘human feelings and doings – falling in or out of love, fighting a war, and so on’) were taking their natural strong-willed course. For his own part, he has not, ‘at least since childhood’, been afflicted with that ‘sacred awe’ which is felt in France towards ‘the text’, and hasn’t much time either for ‘talk about non-referentiality and organic unity’. His own view, expressed in what is a fair sample of the delicacy of his idiom, is that ‘in distinguished literature the abstractions of ideologies were tested out in terms of the concretions of individual experience, rather than vice versa.’ He doesn’t like that academic ‘hunger … for metaphysics without ethics’ which ‘separates intellection from the demands of action’, and believes himself to be inhabiting a ‘Shakespearean world’ in which people derive their ‘images of future bliss or woe … from their past experiences, including their experiences of fiction, written or spoken’.’

Eating people

Claude Rawson, 24 January 1985

Cannibalism haunts our fictions from Homer to Ovid, from Euripides to Shakespeare, from Defoe to Sade, Flaubert, Melville, Conrad and Genet. It has been a theme in the vocabulary of political and racial imputation, long before and long after Montaigne’s classic essay, and in this sense among others has been a staple of satire in Juvenal, Swift and elsewhere. From Antiquity to the present, historians and ethnographers have written of anthropophagy among distant tribes, or in battle, siege or famine. Survival-cannibalism has a whole literature to itself, in ‘true accounts’, ballads and novels, including a sub-genre on plane-crashes. There are even beginning to be books about the literature of cannibalism. One theme remains largely unexplored, however: that of the ways in which, in a culture which does not on the whole practise cannibalism, we talk and write about those who do, and the reticences and stylisations which this topic has imposed.’

Textual Harassment

Claude Rawson, 5 April 1984

In a recent review in this paper, Edward Said used the word ‘narrative’ about thirty times. This might have seemed a lot even in the present state of litcritspeak, and even in an essay on, say, narrative. On this occasion, however, he was writing not about literary texts but about the Palestinian troubles: an affecting topic, on which he writes with eloquence and with a generosity of vision which deserves the respect even of those whose loyalties are opposed to his. My concern here is not with this theme, but with the role of ‘narrative’ within it. The word is used most often, perhaps, in the phrase ‘Palestinian narrative’, variously meaning or implying ‘history’, ‘story’, ‘predicament’, ‘side of the question’, ‘perspective’, ‘version of events’ and occasionally nothing at all. There is an accompanying vocabulary of story, tale, romance, but ‘narrative’ is the main word, and it acquires an increasingly bizarre orchestration as the discussion progresses. Arab diplomats are reported, in some improbable distillations of style indirect libre, as using phrases like ‘collective Arab narrative’ in their conversations with Said at the UN, and David Gilmour, one of the authors under review, is equally improbably described as being frustrated by the ‘non-narrative character of Lebanon’s problems’. Reports of events since the fall of Beirut are described as ‘pre-narrative or, in a sense, anti-narrative’. As to terrorism, its ‘indiscriminateness … its tautological and circular character, is anti-narrative’.

Little People

Claude Rawson, 15 September 1983

‘When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest,’ said Dr Johnson of Gulliver’s Travels. This might do for a put-down of Swift, whom Johnson disliked, perhaps from a sense of likeness. But big men and little men have old folkloric origins, so the idea in itself was not new: as more than one character says in Mary Norton’s Borrower books, ‘our ancestors spoke openly about “the little people”.’ Gulliver’s Travels bears an intriguing relation to children’s books. It is not ‘for nothing that, suitably abbreviated, it has become a classic for children’: Leavis’s oracular utterance, like Johnson’s, was intended as a put-down. And ‘suitable abbreviation’ has tended to mean the removal of Books Three and Four, which leaves ‘big men and little men’, usually stripped of the more stinging harshnesses of Books One and Two.

Wild Horses

Claude Rawson, 1 April 1983

The Bronze Horseman of Pushkin’s famous poem is Falconet’s equestrian statue of Peter the Great in St Petersburg. It was ordered by Catherine the Great (Petro primo Catharina secunda). Modelled on the statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, it was meant to evoke the wise emperor extending a main protectrice. Joseph de Maistre commented that one doesn’t know whether this hand protects or threatens. The statue celebrated Peter’s building of St Petersburg, that symbol of Russia’s Westernisation which Francesco Algarotti called her window on Europe (Pushkin cited Algarotti in a note: Pushkin’s various notes are not fully reproduced in D.M. Thomas’s new translation, nor in Sir Charles Johnston’s of 1981). But ambiguity has always surrounded the statue, along with its imperial subject. The city which stood for a modernised and liberalised Russia was said to have cost a hundred thousand lives in the building, and the intended manifestation of Enlightenment was often seen, in the words of the Polish poet Mickiewicz, as ‘A tribute to a tyrant’s cruel whim’. The Europeanising Tsar retained in some eyes what a student of Mickiewicz and Pushkin has called ‘the traits of an Asiatic despot’.


Claude Rawson, 18 November 1982

In Genesis 6 God said: ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth.’ He was behaving like a certain kind of satirist, and an untutored reader might even suppose that a satirical author was speaking through Him. The Houyhnhnm Assembly in Gulliver’s Travels was similarly given to debating ‘Whether the Yahoos should be exterminated from the Face of the Earth’ (a type of proposition Swift entertained in his own name from time to time), or whether they should merely be castrated, a more humanely gradualist project that would achieve the same result in a generation. The gist of these texts is that mankind deserves extermination, and they are wholesale extensions of what may once have been the satirist’s principal urge and perhaps his magical power: to kill his enemies or, in the sublimated version, to punish the world’s malefactors.


Claude Rawson, 17 June 1982

The title poem of St Kilda’s Parliament is about a local institution ‘quite unlike Westminster’, a gathering ‘by interested parties to discuss the day’s work and any other issues that needed to be talked over’:


Claude Rawson, 4 March 1982

Denis Donoghue begins, a little self-indulgently, by reprinting six short BBC talks on ‘Words’. The excuse is that such radio talks offer a simple if incomplete model for Donoghue’s conception of literary discourse: as an address to an invisible audience, or dialogue for ever aborted by the absence of a second party. Print, unlike radio, is silent. But the writer also seeks a ‘communion’ which is never achieved, and ‘style’ is his compensation for the lack, as ‘culture is a compensation for the frustrations attendant upon biological life.’

Lordly Accents

Claude Rawson, 18 February 1982

In Fielding’s Journey from this World to the Next the author comes upon Shakespeare in Elysium, standing between the actors Betterton and Booth, who are disputing about the exact emphasis of a line from Othello. Shakespeare is very lofty about it all: ‘it is so long since I wrote the line, I have forgot my meaning,’ but if any of their conjectures is right, ‘it doth me very little honour.’ He is then asked about ‘some other ambiguous passages in his works’ and, as is proper for an author talking to critics, deals even more haughtily with those who ‘gird themselves at discovering obscure beauties in an author’: ‘The greatest and most pregnant beauties are ever the plainest and most evidently striking; and when two meanings of a passage can in the least ballance our judgments which to prefer, I hold it a matter of unquestionable certainty that neither of them is worth a farthing.’


Claude Rawson, 1 October 1981

Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote The Sinking of the Titanic in German. From information supplied in the poem, which in its present form is much preoccupied with the process of its composition, he began writing it in Havana in 1969, and completed it in Berlin in 1977: the poem is thus a close contemporary of Doctorow’s Ragtime, with which it shares several features of its subject-matter, including the historical period. In between those dates, he mailed a first version of the poem from Cuba (where there was no carbon-paper), but it never arrived. So he wrote the present version, which includes glimpses of himself writing both versions, as well as other autobiographical details of his life in Havana and Berlin. This version was then translated into English by the author, and the translation is remarkable for its ease and fluency, its narrative energy, its versatile and allusive play with a variety of verse-forms and literary styles, and its command of a language foreign to the author.

Moving Pictures

Claude Rawson, 16 July 1981

Peter Porter’s imagination tends towards the epigram, but not quite in the popular sense which suggests brief, pithy encapsulations of wit or wisdom:

War and Pax

Claude Rawson, 2 July 1981

Christopher Logue’s War Music is not ‘a translation in the accepted sense’. It’s not clear why, having said this, he should invoke Johnson’s remark that a translation’s merit should be judged by ‘its effect as an English poem’, since Johnson was talking about translations, whereas Logue’s poem is a variety of ‘poetical imitation’ and belongs to a perfectly good tradition of English poems based on or played off against an older (often Classical) original. A modern model might be Pound’s Homage to Sextus Propertius, which it resembles in its style of selective ironic commentary and in some Poundian mannerisms, as in the jeering lyricism of the scene where Thetis calls together her sister Nereids, ‘kith of King Nayruce’ (Nereus).

Since I am about to comment on other people’s published reactions to Martin Amis’s novel Other People, it seems right to state in summary form my own feelings on the main matters that divided the reviewers. I thought it a remarkable work, highly readable and enjoyable, not incomprehensible or unduly difficult. I have probably not fully solved the ‘mystery’, or totally mastered the intricacies of the story’s movement between Hell and the real world. I cannot raise much interest in the ‘metaphysical’ dimension referred to in the blurb, and rather think I don’t need to. My first reading, before any reviews appeared, concurs with what I took Peter Ackroyd to be saying on Kaleidoscope, that the bulk of the narrative can be read and enjoyed in a moderately literal way as a mystery story set in London, even though the mystery turns out to be not soluble at this level. My second reading was helped by the author’s explanation on Kaleidoscope and elsewhere, which gives the game away. I found some of the heroine’s amnesiac talk too cute for comfort, but a lot of it very attractive. I came to the reviews with no expert knowledge of what John Sutherland calls ‘the fiction industry’ and ‘the reviewing establishment’. His two excellent books, Fiction and the Fiction Industry (1978) and the recently published Best-Sellers, have helped me greatly.

Southern Comfort

Claude Rawson, 16 April 1981

‘In 1979 Robert Penn Warren – novelist, critic, and dean of American poets – returned to his native Todd County, Kentucky, to attend ceremonies in honor of another native son – Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, whose United States citizenship had just been restored, ninety years after his death, by a special act of Congress.’ The scene is set for a fine old feast of Southern Nostalgia, a versatile literary property whose manifestations range from memorable poignancies of anguished belonging, self-division and loss, to a vulgar stereotype of vaguely dyspeptic graciousness, all mint-julep and magnolia and nagging resentful memories of old gallantries downtrodden. From Warren at his best, as from Faulkner, and the Allen Tate of The Fathers, we expect the former. The blurb from which I quoted arouses apprehensions of the latter. Warren’s latest book falls somewhere in between, alas tilting somewhat to the blurb.

Purloined Author

Claude Rawson, 5 February 1981

‘The starting-point for this study is Roland Barthes’s theoretical aphorism that the reader is properly the “writer” or “producer” of his text.’ By the end, it appears that the original author has changed places and become ‘the reader of his text’, while the critics go on writing it for him. And not necessarily a better reader than you or I or Ms Kappeler: ‘there is nothing in [James’s] prefaces apart from some trivial biographical data of little interest, that we as readers should not be able to trace on our own.’

Dear God

Claude Rawson, 4 December 1980

‘Imagine – if you can – God reading this poem.’ So begins this brief, stylish book, citing Herbert’s ‘Dialogue’ (‘Sweetest Saviour, of my soul …’) and asking afterwards: ‘Is God pleased with what he reads?’ Professor Nuttall’s point is that such a question would have seemed perfectly natural in the 17th century. Many of Herbert’s poems are prayers or dialogues with God. Prayers are literal addresses, presupposing a divine listener; dialogues written up after the event may be reports of transactions believed ‘really’ to have taken place. In any such transaction, God has always been deemed a direct participant.

Blistering Attacks

Claude Rawson, 6 November 1980

You wouldn’t guess it from Mr Grigson’s anthology, but satire was once a deadly activity. It literally killed, or was believed to, which sometimes had the same result. Robert Elliott’s classic study of The Power of Satire tells us that poems were used as weapons of war in pre-Islamic Arabia, and it is not only there, or in the curses of primitive tribesmen remote from our literary tradition, that this ‘power’ showed itself. It existed in the Greece of Archilochus and his descendants, and among Irish bards whose reputed ability to rhyme enemies or rats to death still excited the imagination of poets of the age of Ben Jonson or Swift.

Writing to rule

Claude Rawson, 18 September 1980

Was there such a thing as ‘Neo-Classicism’, outside the special sense of the term which art historians apply to a later period than the one over which students of literature lose so much of their composure? It seems to have existed sufficiently strongly in French studies to have produced a body of revisionist denials. The term ‘Neo-Classic’ has largely dropped out of the corridors of Englitbiz, usually to be replaced by ‘Augustan’, though one of the most loudly ballyhooed non-events in recent English studies has been an attempt to dislodge ‘Augustan’ too, on the grounds that some 18th-century authors took a dim view of Augustus Caesar. This, as someone remarked, is a bit like dropping the word ‘candidate’ because such persons no longer wear a white toga.



21 September 1995

Linda Colley (LRB, 21 September) says Boswell’s London Journal ‘is no longer in print’. It is in fact available as a paperback from the Edinburgh and Yale University Presses, and selling steadily.

Authorial Displeasure

23 February 1995

I am warmly grateful for W.B. Carnochan’s handsome remarks on my book Satire and Sentiment 1660-1830 (LRB, 23 February). In the course of them, however, he ascribes to me a ‘Tory interpretation of history as decline and fall’ and a sense of being in ‘the dark and latter days of empire’. Since I’ve never knowingly proposed a Tory interpretation of anything, and thought...


9 April 1992

Mr Matthew Leigh (Letters, 14 May) attributes to me a collection of opinions I don’t recognise myself as holding. I don’t believe in ‘rules’, or share the views he ascribes to Aristotle and Schiller. I don’t object to authorial intrusions, even in modern imitations of non-intruding authors. I disliked Logue’s sleeve pulling, which I described as sticky with self-regard,...
Mr Banerjee (Letters, 11 July) has a point. I said British universities were only relatively resistant. Polytechnics have been the main proponents in Britain of the anti-literary phenomena I described, and I think it possible that the abolition of the binary divide, in most ways desirable and long overdue, may turn out to be bad for English studies, which are characteristically immune to sensible developments...
Marjorie Perloff’s eloquent discourse on Modernist self-quotation (Letters, 4 May) is at such a tangent from my argument that I have no difficulty in agreeing with much of it, in the way I would agree that Milton wrote Paradise Lost or that Europe was at war in 1914-1918: unless, that is, she really wants to persuade us that the works of Joyce and Proust (‘to name two’, in addition...

Fateful Swerve

4 February 1988

The business of the unsavoury de Man has been proceeding predictably: smokescreens of lofty irrelevance (Heidegger, Husserl, ‘organicism’) punctuated by hot flushes of polysyllabic panic, complacencies of odium academicum designed to neutralise any idea that the real issue might be something other than Professor Norris’s opinion of ‘English-speaking philosophers’, and...

Textual Intercourse

6 February 1986

SIR: Mr Nowell-Smith defends Re-Reading English against my remark about the phrase, ‘from Hoggart to Gramsci’, and says there’s ‘nothing absurd in subtitling a book’ with these words (Letters, 6 March). These words aren’t a subtitle, but part of the substantive text of a chapter of the book, and it would appear that Mr Nowell-Smith is springing to the defence of...

Cambridge Theatre

19 August 1982

SIR: If, as Donald Davie now suggests, ‘intimidated colleagues of the late F. R. Leavis’ means everyone who taught English in universities when Leavis was alive, then either his language has become imprecise beyond normal serviceability, or his sense of reality has deserted him totally. In a writer of his eminence, such things must be felt to ‘matter’, although the work of the...

Faculty at War

17 June 1982

SIR: David Lodge complains (Letters, 15 July) that in writing about Denis Donoghue’s Ferocious Alphabets some months ago I ‘introduced a gratuitous sneer at [his] expense into a review of someone else’s book expressing views quite distinct from [his] own’. I was actually quoting from Lodge’s discussion of the same book by Donoghue, which might make my mention of him seem...

Cutting the universities

19 November 1981

SIR: Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer (LRB, 19 November) continues to be vastly pleased with himself, his university (‘Cambridge, uniquely, is free from this fault’), and the lucid hardheadedness with which he settles all the issues that need facing.On tenure contracts he repeats a currently fashionable non-sequitur that because tenure was designed to protect ‘academic freedom’ it...

Vulgar Chauvinism

5 February 1981

Claude Rawson writes: Let’s spell it out. ‘Sarrasine’ is a 30-page story broken up in S/Z into 561 numbered bits, some only three or four words long, interlarded and surrounded by a Barthesian commentary of many times that length, running to about 220 pages, not counting Annexes: an initial barbarism which compounds rather than removes the particular indecency to which I referred....

Claude Rawson

Terry Eagleton, 23 August 2001

It is remarkable how many literary studies of so-called barbarians have appeared over the past couple of decades. Representations of Gypsies, cannibals, Aboriginals, wolfboys, noble savages:...

Read More


W.B. Carnochan, 23 February 1995

Item: in 1684, there appeared John Oldham’s posthumous Remains in Verse and Prose, with a prefatory elegy by John Dryden, ‘Farewell, too little and too lately known’....

Read More

Now that the main ideas at large in the 18th century have been elaborately described, students of the period have been resorting to more oblique procedures. In 1968, in The Counterfeiters, Hugh...

Read More


Christopher Ricks, 3 May 1984

The life of Swift by Irvin Ehrenpreis is a great act of consonance. But one reviewer has deprecated the fact that Ehrenpreis does not write with Swift’s genius. So the first thing to say is...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences