reading writing

English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Complete

I just finished reading C.S. Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama.

I’m exhausted, and not (overall) excited. This is not Lewis’s fault. He has to cover so much material, so much of which bores and annoys him, that—even though he expresses his boredom and annoyance with a great deal of wit—I too get bored and annoyed. I enjoy him on writers he appreciates much more than on the other kind. It says a lot for him that even though he can make me laugh out loud, he also can describe something he loves so vividly I want to read it too, and at once, and those parts are more appealing than those that condemn.

I would, despite my exhaustion, love to read a similar survey by Lewis on later poetry with which I am at least somewhat more familiar—I’ve learned a lot from this book. I’ve checked out from the library his Literary Essays, which will be less taxing, not being 550 pages long, and An Experiment in Criticism, which I’ve already read and enjoyed, though my memories of it are hazy.

I will be interested to see how Lewis’s preferences have stood the test of time, but I am glad he had those preferences; I think prefer openly personal and opinionated literary criticism in general—certainly to literary criticism that retains all the opinion while disguising it as something impersonal.

Authors and works Lewis has inspired me to want to read (probably not right now, though part of me wishes I could read everything on my constantly expanding list right now) include:

  • Lyly’s drama
  • Sidney
  • Spenser’s Shepherd’s Calendar (even though Lewis doesn’t like it very much, it reminds me of a thing I want to do with Evernost)
  • Campion
  • Shakespeare’s sonnets, of which I’ve only read a selection
  • Drayton
  • Marlowe’s Hero and Leander
  • Tyndale
  • Hooker

In the more immediate future, I will probably read Dover Thrift editions of selected Shelley and Wordsworth that I recently picked up, An Experiment in Criticism, perhaps the other Lewis essays, and, then, The Poem Is You.

Having finished these books, I want to plunge into my two anthologies of literary theory (it will be at least the third time I attempt to read them).

I also hope to practice academic writing. Less daring topics I’d like to approach (and publish on, if I’m able) are Diana Wynne Jones (especially the truth poems in the Dalemark Quartet and The True State of Affairs), C.S. Lewis (maybe particularly An Experiment in Criticism, because it overlaps with some of my other concerns right now), and Prismanova (my Russian poet). I call these less daring because all of them are at least somewhat marginal from a mainstream critical standpoint but also because I am already quite familiar with their work.  The more daring topics I have in mind, before essaying which I mean to read a great deal, are theory-focused. I am curious about allegory—about how one could categorize the various things often described as allegory. I am eager to defend an approach to criticism (and to life) that allows the idea of truth; how much this view will be modified by my reading remains to be seen.

….from all of which you will, perhaps, deduce that the Grad School Bug is not yet dead. It is in many ways a silly bug, but it gives me a good time and motivates me to read, so go Grad School Bug!

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