248. (James Thomson)

Among the reasons Thomson’s “The City of Dreadful Night” can be enjoyed is that it is a second-rate poem that mimics one of the greatest of all poems that came before it, and that can be heard as lightly anticipating, through the by-ways of adolescent influence, one of the great poets that appears after. In its romance-quest structure, the poem owes as much to Shelley’s … Continue reading 248. (James Thomson)

247. (Stendhal)

  Stendhal is exhausting and bracing because his energy is relentless and directed relentlessly to one end: the refusal of “style.” It is sometimes said that was painfully aware that he was incapable of style; I think it likely he realized it to be an achievement. To say Stendhal has no style might seem to echo Arnold’s remark about Wordsworth. It is vastly different in … Continue reading 247. (Stendhal)

246. (William Wordsworth)

“His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot explain its character at all) is a levelling one. It proceeds on a principle of equality and strives to reduce all things to the same standard.” William Hazlitt’s insight into Wordsworth’s poetry has endured and been frequently repeated. But readers and critics of Wordsworth have been far from leveling in their appraisal of and … Continue reading 246. (William Wordsworth)

245. (Stendhal)

Stendhal’s romanticism has been described by Erich Auerbach in terms of “atmosphere,” a unifying relation of place, person, and time that we find in the works of Walter Scott and the medievalism of Coleridge and Keats; it is in fact a new conception of history, a sense that different peoples breath different atmospheres and are formed by the air that they breathe. Describing Balzac, with … Continue reading 245. (Stendhal)

244. (Stendhal)

Stendhal’s narration is a perpetual mystery of European literature; it goes hand in hand with his characterization (as narration usually does). How might the mystery be approached?  Here, as a touchstone, is an example, from the end of Chapter 15, “The Cockrow,” immediately after Julien has first seduced Madame de Renal:             Some hours later, when Julien emerged from Madame de Renal’s room, one might … Continue reading 244. (Stendhal)

243. (Franz Kafka)

Kafka’s The Trial revolves around the parable of the law; it is the hermeneutic puzzle that promises to be a key to the larger work, though no doubt others have approached the situation conversely, whereby the larger puzzle of the novel is the key for the parable. Whether or not it is appropriate to handle a puzzle as if it were a key, it demands scrutiny: … Continue reading 243. (Franz Kafka)

242. (W.H. Auden)

The conundrum of Auden’s poetry—the conundrum of how to compare its aims and achievements to those of his contemporaries and to earlier poets—consists of several parts and is best sustained by a comparison to Yeats and also to French verse. The parts in brief: 1) Auden’s sense of history is flat: the past is not absorbed into his poems as a foreign element, as alien … Continue reading 242. (W.H. Auden)