A Lot to Be Said

Stefan Collini

  • Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History by Joseph North
    Harvard, 272 pp, £31.95, May, ISBN 978 0 674 96773 1

Scanning recent academic literary studies for examples of what he calls ‘a genuinely critical impulse’, Joseph North picks out D.A. Miller’s subtle analysis of Jane Austen’s prose. ‘The critical voice speaking here is quite remarkable for the finesse with which it mimics the rhetorical effect it is describing,’ North writes, referring to a passage in which Miller dilates on the apparent impersonality of Austen’s writing. ‘The finesse lies in an odd place, in that Miller here reproduces Austen’s effect in an exaggerated manner, thereby training us to experience it in its more subtle original form.’ Miller’s argument is that the impersonality of Austen’s voice ‘turns out to be a cover for the shame of her person’. North comments: ‘Crucially, the critical voice that tells us this – Miller’s voice – also seems to be trying to speak impersonally, but is making such a fuss of it that it keeps failing.’

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[*] James Wood reviewed Miller’s Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style in the LRB of 4 November 2004.