Edwin Muir (essay date 1925)
SOURCE: A review of Ashe of Rings, in The Calendar of Modern Letters, March 1925-July 1927, Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1966, pp. 476-78.
[In the following review, Muir finds Ashe of Rings inconsistent and overly conventional, although he concedes that Butts has the potential to be a talented writer.]
Miss Butts is a short-story writer of ability; in Ashe of Rings, she essays the novel with much the same technique as she used for the short story. This raises the question of technique. A short digression is, therefore, necessary.
By technique is generally meant the various means which a writer uses to express his vision. As such it is in every period a collective as well as an individual thing; the expression on the one hand, of what people call the spirit of the age, and, on the other, of the personality of the writer. And as in the political realm, as indeed in human life generally, there is here, too, a conflict between the individual and the mass, between the Zeit Geist which, if it could, would make us impersonal and undistinguishable vehicles of its expression, and ourselves as individuals desiring absolute utterance for our personal visions. No absolute freedom of this kind exists, in literature or in life, as we know; and so the writer who tries to escape the spirit of the age (an attempt which must always be hopeless in any case) is likely to attain less freedom than the one who, recognising it, wrestles with it for the prize of his personality. For the spirit of the age is not only a thing which limits the writer's expression (though that it does so we can recognise when we look back even upon such a recent era as the 'nineties); it is also the thing which gives most immediately what life may reside in what he says. But that life, it almost appears, can only be tapped at its living source, as Mr. Joyce tapped it in Ulysses, when one has struggled against the spirit of the age; for in the struggle, the deceptions, superficialities and fashions of the age are stripped away until, if the writer is fortunate or honest, the point is reached where the age and he come into immediate contact, not by a conscious act merely, but through a kind of final necessity. The writer who does not resist his age, defending himself against all its claims crowding in upon him and overwhelming him, will belong to the literature of fashion. The writer who refuses to realise his age is not likely to belong to literature at all. The apparent exceptions...
(The entire section is 1042 words.)