Category: Literary Criticism

  • Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Form and Meaning in Lyric Poetry

    I’m just reading Helen Vendler’s The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Amazon affiliate link). I think she is my favourite interpreter of poetry, and this might be her greatest work. Every page is revelatory. One of her major themes is that a consideration of ‘form’ in lyric poetry is vital for a full understanding of the […]

  • CG Jung on What Art ‘Means’

    I’ve written here before on meaning in poetry and it’s a subject that continues to fascinate me. Many of our discussions at Culture Club meetings concern meaning (particularly the heated debates around meaning in Bob Dylan’s Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts), and I still suspect that this is not necessarily the question we […]

  • Analysis: Sandpiper by Elizabeth Bishop

    Elizabeth Bishop’s Sandpiper is concerned with the particular. Through a controlled tightening of focus, like the turn of the lens on a telescope, Bishop draws our attention ever closer to the minutiae of existence, of which the bird is solely conscious: from the water glazing over its feet, to its toes, to the spaces between […]

  • The Problem of Authorial Intention

    In Reading Chekhov – A Critical Journey, Janet Malcolm discusses an aspect of Chekhov’s work that is focused on by the so-called Jacksonian critics, namely his repeated references to religion. It is a kind of ‘Purloined Letter’ situation: the references to the Bible and to the Russian Orthodox liturgy have always been there, but we […]

  • Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and the Theme of Romantic Love

    In her excellent book Reading Chekhov – A Critical Journey, Janet Malcolm discusses Chekhov’s attitude to romantic love and beauty. She refutes Gary Saul Morson’s view, as expressed in his essay ‘Prosaic Chekhov: Metadrama, the Intelligentsia, and Uncle Vanya’, which reads the play as the apotheosis of the prosaic. Morson understands Chekhov to be faulting […]

  • How To Avoid Getting Chekhov Wrong – A Short Guide

    Richard Gilman has written a very good introduction to the Penguin edition of Chekhov’s plays. I always read introductions after I’ve got myself thoroughly familiar with the works in question, and I found the following passage illuminated some of the issues I was grappling with around the two Chekhov plays we’re looking at (The Seagull […]

  • Video: Bob Dylan, When The Deal Goes Down

    My favourite track from the 2006 Dylan album, Modern Times, is the song When The Deal Goes Down. The video casts a different angle on the song, and features current it-girl Scarlett Johansson in a nostalgia-drenched American dreamscape. Not too sure what the relevance to the song is, but it’s worth a look if you […]

  • The Argument Between Law and Love – A Common Theme

    When we picked the works for this month’s Culture Club, we chose them based on the concept of the supernatural, and the idea of ‘moving between different worlds’. But I’ve discovered another common theme among the major works we’re discussing (Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Powell & Pressburger’s […]

  • William Blake and the Tradition of Antinomianism

    E.P. Thompson’s excellent book on William Blake, Witness Against The Beast, provides a brilliant  analysis of the religious and political traditions which helped form Blake as an artist, and the source of ideas behind many of his poems and paintings. In it he outlines how Blake’s work can be seen as part of a strand […]

  • William Wordsworth and William Blake – Nature and Anti Nature

    Reading William Blake and William Wordsworth back-to-back brings to mind the similarities and differences between them. As they are contemporaries, and both are considered key figures in the Romantic movement in poetry, it’s natural to assume that they have much in common. But any close reading of the two reveals a different story. G.K. Chesterton […]