: Writing and Reading :

2019 Winter, Vol. 77, No. 1

Writing and Reading

A recent book, This Thing We Call Literature by Arthur Cyst Krystal, is a refreshing collection of essays by a contemporary critic influenced by Lionel Trilling, but who is his own critic with a bracing style and a refreshing habit of telling the truth about both writers and himself.

A fan of Hazlett and a devoted New Yorker (an urbanite), his chapter on “Easy Writers” succeeds in offending almost every kind of writer  and took me  back to Forster’s famous “And Then” remarks.

For Krystal a “literary dude” is exemplified by Kipling who once passed judgment on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes by saying that he had a written book “so he could find out how bad a book he could write and get away with it”

My own preference for a literary primer is still Aspects of the Novel (1927) given as a series of lectures for The Clark Lectureship at Trinity College, Cambridge. Forster had just published A Passage to India to great success, and he was the first novelist to be so honored. He divided his lectures to comprehend: The Story, the People, Plot, Fantasy; Prophecy; Pattern and Rhythm.  He delivered his remarks in a talkative and easy manner and took as his model the tales of Schekerazade: “We are all like her husband in that we want to know what happens next.”

His famous and simple dictum about the key to storytelling shows up in “The Story” lecture where the phrase “And then” appears repeatedly but with the guarded reservation that it should not be used too “often." His range of references is enormous and include commentaries about Bronte, Tolstoy and Gertrude Stein whom he regards as a failure because she wanted to abandon time in her stories and had “smashed and pulverized her stories and scattered the fragments over the world like the limb of Osiris, and she has done this not from naughtiness, but from a noble motive; she has hopes to emancipate fiction from the tyranny of time and to express life in it by values … She fails.”

His Aspects can be read at the end of a life of reading or as a spur to writers or readers to expand  their interest and take in Gide, Joyce, Scott or Kipling. Surprisingly there are many refernces to American writers such as Melville or D.H. Lawrence who come in for scrutiny and commentary. In short, the book is more than a good read; it is a great one.

This current issue of AR covers a great deal of literary territory and includes writers well known to these pages as well as work fresh to the literary canon.

Enjoy them all and be enlarged and enhanced by the experience. I was.

Robert S. Fogarty, Editor

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