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Definitions: Essays in Contemporary Criticism   By: (1878-1961)

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DEFINITIONS

ESSAYS IN CONTEMPORARY CRITICISM

BY

HENRY SEIDEL CANBY, Ph.D.

Editor of The Literary Review of The New York Evening Post , and a member of the English Department of Yale University.

NEW YORK

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author wishes to acknowledge the courtesy of The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine, The Century Magazine, The Literary Review of The New York Evening Post, The Bookman, The Nation, and The North American Review for permission to reprint such of these essays as have appeared in their columns.

PREFACE

The unity of this book is to be sought in the point of view of the writer rather than in a sequence of chapters developing a single theme and arriving at categorical conclusions. Literature in a civilization like ours, which is trying to be both sophisticated and democratic at the same moment of time, has so many sources and so many manifestations, is so much involved with our social background, and is so much a question of life as well as of art, that many doors have to be opened before one begins to approach an understanding. The method of informal definition which I have followed in all these essays is an attempt to open doors through which both writer and reader may enter into a better comprehension of what novelists, poets, and critics have done or are trying to accomplish. More than an entrance upon many a vexed controversy and hidden meaning I cannot expect to have achieved in this book; but where the door would not swing wide I have at least tried to put one foot in the crack. The sympathetic reader may find his own way further; or may be stirred by my endeavor to a deeper appreciation, interest, and insight. That is my hope.

New York, April, 1922.

CONTENTS

PREFACE

I. ON FICTION

SENTIMENTAL AMERICA FREE FICTION A CERTAIN CONDESCENSION TOWARD FICTION THE ESSENCE OF POPULARITY

II. ON THE AMERICAN TRADITION

THE AMERICAN TRADITION BACK TO NATURE THANKS TO THE ARTISTS TO DAY IN AMERICAN LITERATURE: ADDRESSED TO THE BRITISH TIME'S MIRROR THE FAMILY MAGAZINE

III. THE NEW GENERATION

THE YOUNG ROMANTICS PURITANS ALL THE OLDER GENERATION A LITERATURE OF PROTEST BARBARIANS A LA MODE

IV. THE REVIEWING OF BOOKS

A PROSPECTUS FOR CRITICISM THE RACE OF REVIEWERS THE SINS OF REVIEWING MRS. WHARTON'S "THE AGE OF INNOCENCE" MR. HERGESHEIMER'S "CYTHEREA"

V. PHILISTINES AND DILETTANTE

POETRY FOR THE UNPOETICAL EYE, EAR, AND MIND OUT WITH THE DILETTANTE FLAT PROSE

VI. MEN AND THEIR BOOKS

CONRAD AND MELVILLE THE NOVELIST OF PITY HENRY JAMES THE SATIRIC RAGE OF BUTLER

CONCLUSION

DEFINING THE INDEFINABLE

I

ON FICTION

SENTIMENTAL AMERICA

The Oriental may be inscrutable, but he is no more puzzling than the average American. We admit that we are hard, keen, practical, the adjectives that every casual European applies to us, and yet any book store window or railway news stand will show that we prefer sentimental magazines and books. Why should a hard race if we are hard read soft books?

By soft books, by sentimental books, I do not mean only the kind of literature best described by the word "squashy." I doubt whether we write or read more novels and short stories of the tear dripped or hyper emotional variety than other nations. Germany is or was full of such soft stuff. It is highly popular in France, although the excellent taste of French criticism keeps it in check. Italian popular literature exudes sentiment; and the sale of "squashy" fiction in England is said to be threatened only by an occasional importation of an American "best seller." We have no bad eminence here. Sentimentalists with enlarged hearts are international in habitat, although, it must be admitted, especially popular in America.

When a critic, after a course in American novels and magazines, declares that life, as it appears on the printed page here, is fundamentally sentimentalized, he goes much deeper than "mushiness" with his charge... Continue reading book >>




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