In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Comparative EverythingGeoffrey Strickland
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook 
edited by E.S. Shaffer.
Cambridge, 327 pp., £12.50, November 1979, 0 521 22296 6
Show More
Show More

It is not the fault of the contributors to this volume, or even of the editor, if it reminds one of Dr Johnson’s objection to the yoking together by violence of heterogeneous ideas. Comparative Criticism is a product of comparative literature, the first chair of which was created for Francesco De Sanctis in Naples in 1871 in recognition of his services to literary history and the cause of the Risorgimento. René Wellek, appropriately, in this first volume commissioned by the British Comparative Literature Association, contributes an article on De Sanctis’ understanding of what could be meant by ‘realism’. ‘Comparative literature’, as the term was used in the 19th century, seems to have been part of the study of civilisation and to have expressed the 19th-century interest in the distinctiveness of national cultures. Mme de Staël, A.W. Schlegel and Sismondi are among its virtual originators. The usefulness of the original term derived from a passionate and often politically-motivated interest in national peculiarities and aspirations. (It obviously never occurred to De Sanctis, as a cultured European, that the study of literature could ever be confined to that of a single language.) The interest failed to survive two major European wars, and the term is today so loose in its application as to be – on the evidence of this volume, for example – almost unusable. Without some strong common directing interest, the field of comparative literature is bound to seem as vast as the human imagination, and there are bound to be within it many different kinds of specialist. If this volume lacks any obvious raison d’être, it is because this heterogeneity is made all the more conspicuous by their appearing between the same hard covers.

In fairness to Elinor Shaffer, the editor, it should be said that she has tried to give some idea of all that ‘comparative literature’ today embraces. So, too, has Paula Clifford in her ‘Bibliography of Comparative Literature in Britain: 1975 and 1976’, though ‘Britain’ here is an approximation, since not all the authors listed are British, nor are all the places of publication. It scarcely matters in these circumstances that one of the best essays in the collection, J.P. Stern’s on Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull in the light of Nietzschean views of metaphor and morality, should be concerned solely with German literature.

It is principally by asking what a literary canon is that the editor has sought to give some sort of shape to her book, though in the process it becomes clear that the canonical principle has become so elastic as to be almost unusable as well. In her respectful but uncompromisingly sensible review of Donald Davie’s Clark Lectures on the literature of the English Dissenting tradition, for example, she complains that his survey amounts to a ‘brilliant piece of canon-making for a day which epitomises criticism in our time’. The contributors to the first section of this volume seem to accept what still survives as the general view of the literary achievements of the Middle Ages, of the French and English theatres and of the German and English 19th-century novels. Mahmond Manzaloui draws attention to the curious parallels between the tragic case-histories of lovers in the Islamic haadith, the Heroides of Ovid and the western courtly romances, and David Swale (all too briefly) discusses the limitations of D.H. Lawrence when read in the light of the German Bildungsroman, with its freedom and spiritual adventurousness which is at the same time related to the sense of a given community: these, however, are minor adjustments to accepted literary history. In Part II, ‘Translation in the Canon of W.H. Auden’, Dr Schaffer’s gloomy account of contemporary attempts to impose some new order on the past turns out to be vindicated.

The Auden commemorated here is the consciously Nordic figure who liked to claim descent from the Icelandic hero of ‘Audunn and the Bear’. Auden provides a convenient pretext for discussing Icelandic and Scandinavian poetry and the career of the poet and pacifist Hans Toller, who committed suicide in 1939 and is mourned in one of Auden’s best-known poems. Harald Ohlendorf’s essay on this elegy is a comprehensive exegesis, including a prose summary and note on the rhyme scheme, though nothing on the peculiar flatness and awkwardness of the poem, its air of piously improvised meditation, which to the admirer, presumably, can seem like the honest bewilderment of a representative modern mind. The volume also includes Auden’s hitherto unpublished translation of the Icelandic ‘Sun King’, the work of a Christian skald in traditional Eddaic form, a vision of the seven heavens and of Lucifer the dragon who waylays the Christian soul. Auden’s flatness here (‘The unpredictable often may/Have sad and cruel results ... ’) is redeemed mainly by his use of something resembling the original alliteration (‘But the same maiden maddened them both ... ’). Together with the extreme grammatical simplicity, this gives the whole translation a kind of whirring resonance which lends itself to parody.

The other main contribution to this section is the translation by Leif Sjöberg and Muriel Rukeyser of Gunnar Ekelöf’s ‘A Mölna Elegy’, a work which, for all its strong personal nostalgia, and despite Ekelöf’s evident desire to relate personal to human history, reads, in this context, like the final reductio ad absurdum of the canonical principle. The poem, on which Ekelöf worked for twenty years, is the ‘attempted reconstruction of a moment’ of illumination during the autumn of 1939 on an island near Stockholm, in which the poet’s own past merges with that of civilised Europe and Asia. Few poems of this length could ever have contained more learned as well as private allusions, and there is no reader who will not be indebted to Sjöberg’s introductory analysis. The poem demands a simultaneous reading of what sound like voices from the poet’s childhood and of obscene Roman graffiti (in some of which the Latin is in Greek script).

We are reminded, as Sjöberg says, of Eliot’s account of ‘tradition’ as an ‘ideal order ... modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art’, and there is perhaps in the lunacy of all this a confused idea of tradition for which Eliot may he largely to blame. It is a confusion whose consequences are apparent both in academic criticism and in the writing of verse. If Ekelöf’s poem brings to mind Eliot’s essay on ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, it also, after all, reminds one in its technique of The Waste Land. The confusion can be identified perhaps as what, in Eliot, is a curious equivocation. The ‘ideal order’, Eliot writes, ‘is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered.’ Behind this formulation there may well lie an ill-digested Hegclianism. That Eliot should have read Webster or Marvell through new eyes after discovering Baudelaire, or vice versa, and that his personal view of tradition should have been changed accordingly, makes obvious sense. To say that tradition exists only in the minds of living individuals may also be unexceptionable. Neither proposition on its own, however, is enough to justify Eliot’s account of an ‘order’ which is clearly in his view more than merely personal. If the equivocation between order in the private and public senses went unnoticed, it may well be because Eliot, the sophisticated literary journalist, was acutely conscious, as were his first readers (subscribers to Middleton Murry’s Athenaeum), of a common culture and corresponding sense of order shared by thousands who had received a similar literary education and had a common interest in what was genuinely new. What Eliot meant by his ideal order could easily be taken on trust and assumed to be something more (what exactly could always be examined later) than the conventional prevailing view.

Both the sense of a conventional prevailing view and the reality can be seen today as belonging more and more to the past. The vast expansion of the academic study of literature has coincided – one could say inevitably – with the disappearance of a homogeneous public for new poetry, with its replacement, that is, by groups of poetry fans. It is difficult in these circumstances to think of the cultural order represented by a poem such as Ekelöf’s as other than personal and fortuitous, making the task of the academic with his learned exegesis indispensable.

Perhaps if the editor of this volume is to be criticised at all, it is for not accepting the implications of what she herself recognises as the absence of any commonly accepted view of the achievements of the recent and even remoter past, and hence any criterion for deciding what is, in more than a personal sense, of relative interest. Matthew Arnold is mentioned in her introduction as one of the pioneers of the study of comparative literature, but it is Arnold’s concern with the humane uses of literature, and his impatience, when surveying the past, with anything but the ‘best that has been thought’, that is absent from most of the contributions to this volume, and, as a principle of selection, from the volume as a whole. In Part III there is an admirably condensed and comprehensive survey of translations of Goethe by Michael Hamburger. There is also, for those not in the know, an essay by Richard Gordon on the recent research and polemics in France relating to Greek tragedy and the history of ancient societies. This, incidentally, is the one contribution in which any reference is made to the structuralism of the last twenty years. It is also almost the only contribution which is consciously controversial and argued with a corresponding pertinacity. In this respect, Mr Gordon stands out among the contributors to a volume whose ethos is not so much eclectic – eclecticism is a philosophical principle which needs to be defended as such – as institutional.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

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.

Sign up to our newsletter

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