A Literary Critic

Vincent Sherry is a critic of Great War literature who seems to be highly regarded; or at least, his writings are found in the most prestigious places.  But I just can’t get on with him.

Still, I’ve been thinking about T.S.Eliot’s reaction to the war, so I went back to The Great War and the Language of Modernism. Sherry has a good basic idea – that there was tension between the English Liberal tradition and the requirements of a large-scale European war, but he treats it crudely. He takes the view that the fact of pre-war secret diplomacy invalidates the whole war effort, and reduces it to a hypocritical sham based on false language. The only people to see through this, apparently, were Pound, Eliot, and the other canonical modernists. 

Everyone else is damned as a Liberal (Sherry’s favourite term of abuse). Even Kipling is labelled a Liberal at one point!

But my main problem is with Sherry’s prose:

A heuristic fiction, a character in name only, Burbank serves nonetheless as an instrument of end feeling as potent as its design is peculiarly – now recognizably – Eliot’s.

I’ve tried hard to parse that sentence, and I just can’t work it out.

One Comment

  1. Andy Frayn
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    That really is just lazy writing in my opinion. The Cambridge Companion edited by Sherry is useful, but similarly I can’t really get on with much of his other writing.


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