David Daiches (DAY-cheez) is a prime example of the old-fashioned humanist “man of letters.” Such writers consider their primary duty to be illuminating their subjects by unearthing all the information they can find and then arranging it in order. In doing so they act under the direction of no particular critical theory other than the assumption that the historical context of the work considered has much to do with the ways in which it can be understood and appreciated.
The son of a distinguished rabbi, Daiches was reared in Sunderland, England, and later in Scotland, where his parents moved after World War I. He attended the University of Edinburgh, where he earned both B.A. and M.A. degrees with first-class honors in 1934. He then attended Oxford and Cambridge Universities, receiving doctorates from both in 1939. Daiches embarked on a teaching career that would take him to many universities in both the United States and England, ending at the University of Sussex, where he spent the years from 1961 to 1977. After his retirement, he settled in Edinburgh, Scotland, and in 1991 was honored with the CBE (commander of the Order of the British Empire) for services to literature.
Daiches’ scholarly career began even before he had completed his graduate studies. At first he concentrated on general studies in the theory of literature, producing a series of books concerning the function of literature in society and attempting to establish basic principles for the study of literature. In these, especially in Literature and Society, he proves an able exponent of the so-called Genetic Criticism, which prevailed before the advent of the New Criticism. Certainly not doctrinaire, he simply argues persuasively that reading is an act of interpreting a text, that authors intend to communicate a meaning through the text, and that the best way to uncover that meaning is to learn as much as possible about authors and their times.
Daiches next began a series of what could be called practical applications, having settled the questions of general theory. The first of these, drawing upon his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, was a literary study of the King James Bible, one of the central documents in the stylistic development of English prose....
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