Marshy Margins

Frank Kermode

  • The True Story of the Novel by Margaret Anne Doody
    Rutgers, 580 pp, $44.95, May 1996, ISBN 0 8135 2168 8

Literary criticism seems to be putting on weight in its old age – Margaret Anne Doody’s book is well over three hundred thousand words and loaded with learning, which may appal the fainthearted, but they should take into account that throughout its length it is written with verve and wit, and is by any standard an extraordinary and idiosyncratic achievement. The closest comparison available is with Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, which caused such a stir almost forty years ago. Doody acknowledges a certain affinity with that formidable work, while insisting, quite rightly, that she is trying to do something different: for one thing, it is always relevant that she is a woman, laying down a different law from Frye’s or any man’s, and combatively aware of masculine (and also British-imperialist) presumptions that can now be contested even though they retain a vestige of their classic authority.

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