Charles R(aymond) Larson Omolara Leslie - Essay

Omolara Leslie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[With] some thought, the sources of irritation [in Charles Larson's book] become manifold. First, there is the title itself—The Emergence of African Fiction—which indicates a scope not attempted. African fiction is not merely African prose literature since World War II, because fictional arts existed in Africa since traditional times. Neither did African fiction in European languages emerge only after World War II; such fiction goes back to the 1880's in Portuguese Africa…. Mr. Larson's study is as generally weak on history as it is on non-Anglophone African fiction as a whole.

It appears that "emergence" is used, not in an etymological but in a figurative and personal sense of "emerging into the mainstream of Western tradition," the note on which the study's last chapter ends. (pp. 91-2)

[The] authorial personality in The Emergence of African Fiction obtrudes, moving further and further away, as the chapters progress, from careful consideration and scholarly statements to ex-cathedra dicta, exhibitionism, hearsay and personal prejudice….

African scholars such as Irele, Nwoga, Echeruo, Ogunba and Wali, among others, demonstrate more humility before their subject matter than Mr. Larson, who ascribes to himself the right to appoint deans of African letters, to challenge Amos Tutuola about his writing habits, to throw aside African culture as passing anthropology, to pretend to inside knowledge of Africa for having taught some time there, to claim knowledge of "the African reader," to intimate to this "African reader" what his aesthetic and literary preferences should be, and to speak for him regarding reasons for his likes and dislikes—which in summary are that the "average" African reader (who is never identified) cannot appreciate the lyrical, the subtle, the complex, or the cerebral….

In the opening chapter, "Critical Approaches to African Fiction," which is a fitting start to such a work and a potentially interesting study in itself, Mr. Larson does not accomplish the required scholarly task of collecting the major critical ideas or critical approaches regarding African fiction and discussing them in some depth. Rather, this first chapter skims the surface of critical thought and excludes the theoretical ideas of practising African critics. (p. 92)

Unfortunately, Mr. Larson is guilty of all the faults he self-righteously condemns. His main points are: 1. the reception of African literature by the West has, for the most part, been sympathetic (Who needs sympathy?); 2. anthropologists have been favorable to African literature because they have been interested in African cultures per se, and not literature itself; and 3. literary critics have been unsympathetic simply because they have attempted to force the African writer into a Western literary tradition to...

(The entire section is 1185 words.)