Family Dramas

J.A. Burrow

  • Symbolic Stories by Derek Brewer
    Boydell, 190 pp, £15.00, October 1980, ISBN 0 85991 063 6

This is a polemical book. From the time of Dryden to the mid-20th century, Dr Brewer argues, English literary culture has been dominated by what he calls ‘Neoclassicism’ – by a taste, that is, for the realistic representation of likely events. A.C. Bradley is in this sense a Neoclassical critic; and the most characteristic product of Neoclassical taste is the naturalistic novel. Since the age of Bradley and the novel is now receding into the past, we may begin to see why its sophisticated criticism failed to make sense of ‘traditional narratives’. Fairy-tales and romances are not concerned with character, as Bradley understood it; and their stories often violate the canons of probability and Johnsonian good sense. ‘Literary intellectuals’ have therefore either neglected them or else distorted them by strained naturalistic readings.

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