René Wellek W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. - Essay

W. K. Wimsatt, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Theory of Literature"] discusses aims and methods in the expansive field of literary study. It observes and assesses both "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" avenues of approach to literature, the ways of getting at a poem, novel, or play for its own sake or for something else.

The peculiar success of the book lies in a harmony of powers often mutually restrictive: clear theoretical vision and diverse learning. There is a sense in which "Theory of Literature" may be said to recapitulate an era of revolutionary scholarship and criticism, but it is a sense which may easily be overstressed, for if properly used the book should be less a chronicle than a charter. The authors make the justifiable claim that it "lacks any close parallel." Certainly none in English comes to mind. (p. 180)

Obviously [Wellek and Warren's] book transcends the immediate needs of that perhaps mythical person, the "ordinary reader" of serious literature. The authors address themselves to theory of literature as a form of knowledge the worth of which is not to be reckoned by its simplicity or its easy applications. The no doubt difficult inquiries of literary philosophy, the whole undertaking asserts, are desirable and admirable in themselves. The ultimate bearing of these inquiries on the ordinary reader—or at least their ideal and possible bearing—will scarcely be questioned by anybody who believes that reading is an intellectual activity rather than an aid to daydreaming.

Wellek and Warren are able to see literature from any number of angles and yet realize that if the term "literature" has any meaning,...

(The entire section is 664 words.)