The subtitle of this volume, which has by now become a minor classic in American criticism, explains the author’s purpose: to write a “study in the imaginative literature of 1870-1930”; and the dedicatory note, addressed to Christian Gauss of Princeton, explains the author’s conception of “what literary criticism ought to be,” that is, “a history of man’s ideas and imaginings in the setting of the conditions which have shaped them.” The book is, however, more limited than the subtitle might seem to indicate; it is actually a history of the Symbolist movement that began in France and spread to England and finally to America. The writers to whom Wilson directs his attention are Yeats, Valery, Eliot, Proust, Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Rimbaud, although dozens of others are dealt with in greater or lesser detail.
The importance of the book becomes more apparent if the date of publication, 1931, is kept in mind, for we then realize to what an extent it was a pioneer work. In 1931, Proust, though certainly known in this country, was read by only a few, and most of the critical articles dealing with his novel were in French. Maurois’ A LA RECHERCHE DE MARCEL PROUST did not appear until 1949. Joyce’s ULYSSES was still unprocurable in the United States, for the famous decision of Judge Woolsey that permitted its publication was two years in the future. Matthiessen’s THE ACHIEVEMENT OF T. S. ELIOT was still further...
(The entire section is 1083 words.)
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