Joseph Wood Krutch Lynn Harold Hough - Essay

Lynn Harold Hough

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The men who come to life not with standards, but with a vast and varied genius of understanding are, of course, all the while having their say. And work of this sort is done with distinction and skill by Joseph Wood Krutch in his volume of biographical criticism, Five Masters. He writes of Boccaccio, Cervantes, Richardson, Stendhal, and Proust. The fleshy aspects of the experience and writing of Boccaccio he describes and interprets with skill and understanding. But he moves rather like a blind man in the dark whenever he comes to speak of his deeper ethical or spiritual experiences. In their presence he has only the rubber-stamp phrases of depreciation with which the spiritual is described by those who always look upon it from without and never from within. Probably the best work done in the volume is found in the section on Cervantes. And here, indeed, we do meet with the world of standards…. Here Mr. Krutch is bringing in principles (which in our own time have been vigorously advocated by critical humanists) because they help to explain the achievement of Cervantes. But he by no means sails under these high authorities himself. When he comes to Stendhal and Proust, he accepts them upon their own terms and does not judge them by any humanistic standards. He is never more subtle than in following the strange processes of the mind and art of Marcel Proust. You feel that he is allowing this exotic and brilliant mystic of the senses to speak for...

(The entire section is 489 words.)