E23F HISTORY OF CRITICISM: TOPICS COVERED IN MODULE TWO: NEO-CLASSICAL CRITICAL THEORY OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

THEORISTS

AUTHOR

(the expressive approach)

REPRESENTATION

(the mimetic approach)

READER

(the pragmatic or reader-response approach)

TEXT

(the objective or formalist approach)

GENERAL COMMENTS

Pope "Essay on Criticism" [1711]

 

!

 

Key test of all art: it should ‘hold a mirror’ up to nature; i.e. art must be judged by this criterion

U

 

P.’s focus is on the reader’s response to the work, rather than the work’s impact on the reader: to this end, he lists the causes of "judging ill" and stresses the corresponding need to strive to be objective.

!

 

Conformity to the formal ‘rules’ of representation stressed; these rules prescribe the form appropriate to the object depicted (decorum);

(where Aristotle merely describes, Pope prescribes).

As the title suggests, the main focus here is the critic (reader), what he should look for in a work, and how to accomplish this without bias

Johnson

"On Fiction" [1750];

"From The History of Rasselas: Chapter X" [1759];

"Preface to Shakespeare" [1765]

 

U

 

Literature should reflect what is universally true about human nature

(verisimilitude)

U

 

Given the impact, for good or bad, which literature has on the reader, not everything is fit to be represented

 

Is there a potential conflict between J.’s emphasis on verisimilitude and his concern for the impact of the work on the reader’s morals?

Young Conjectures on Original Composition [1759]

U

 

Originality, uniqueness and novelty, not conformity to the rules à la Pope, is the criterion of artistic greatness

     

The turn to the author here is influenced by the rediscovery of "On the Sublime" by ‘Longinus’;

 

Harbinger of Romanticism;

Wolstonecraft, A Vindication of The Rights of Woman [1792]

   

U

 

Keenly interested in the formative impact which (bad) literature has on the personality of the woman reader

 

Lockean view of human nature: women are the product of their environment, which explains their predicament

Wordsworth "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" [1800]

!

 

Like all humans, the poet’s thoughts and feelings are a product of his environment (W.’s views here reflect a growing interest in the author and the formative influence which his environment has on him)

 

Poetry originates in the "spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion" which must, however, be "recollected in tranquillity"

 

NB his account of the creative process

U

 

Contrary to previous literary dogma, the marginalised, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed are a fit subject of representation

 

Given that the goal of literature is the imitation of human nature, W. believes that rural peasants make a particularly suitable subject because in that condition one can glimpse human nature in its fundamental or even raw state, unspoilt by the trappings of civilisation

!

 

Responds to Plato’s invitation to defend poetry by arguing that poet has a beneficial emotional impact on the reader: by appealing to the emotions, his moral character can be moulded

U

 

The form of the poem must reflect the object of representation (e.g. poor characters depicted must use diction appropriate to their status, not artificial poetic diction);

 

Explains the distinction between poetry and prose fiction by discussing the role played by metre in the former

Primarily Lockean view of human identity: human nature is a product of one’s environment

 

Transitional figure at this point in the history of criticism: is he predominately Neo-classical, or Romantic, or both? (I.e does he belong to the 18th or the 19th century?)

U indicates that this concept (e.g. the author) is a major concern of the theorist in question;
!
indicates that this concept (e.g. representation) is a minor concern of the theorist in question;
A blank indicates that this concept is of little or no concern to the theorist in question at all.