Basic Aspects Of Literary Study Essay

3080 words - 12 pages

SUBSTANCE AND FORM. The most thoroughgoing of all distinctions inliterature, as in the other Fine Arts, is that between (1) Substance, theessential content and meaning of the work, and (2) Form, the manner inwhich it is expressed (including narrative structure, external style, inpoetry verse-form, and many related matters). This distinction should bekept in mind, but in what follows it will not be to our purpose toemphasize it.GENERAL MATTERS. 1. First and always in considering any piece of literaturea student should ask himself the question already implied: Does it presenta true portrayal of life--of the permanent elements in all life and inhuman nature, of the life or thought of its own particular period, and (inmost sorts of books) of the persons, real or imaginary, with whom it deals?If it properly accomplishes this main purpose, when the reader finishes ithe should feel that his understanding of life and of people has beenincreased and broadened. But it should always be remembered that truth isquite as much a matter of general spirit and impression as of literalaccuracy in details of fact. The essential question is not, Is thepresentation of life and character perfect in a photographic fashion? butDoes it convey the _underlying_ realities? 2. Other things beingequal, the value of a book, and especially of an author's whole work, isproportional to its range, that is to the breadth and variety of the lifeand characters which it presents. 3. A student should not form hisjudgments merely from what is technically called the _dogmatic_ pointof view, but should try rather to adopt that of _historical_criticism. This means that he should take into account the limitationsimposed on every author by the age in which he lived. If you find that thepoets of the Anglo-Saxon 'Béowulf' have given a clear and interestingpicture of the life of our barbarous ancestors of the sixth or seventhcentury A. D., you should not blame them for a lack of the finer elementsof feeling and expression which after a thousand years of civilizationdistinguish such delicate spirits as Keats and Tennyson. 4. It is oftenimportant to consider also whether the author's personal method is_objective_, which means that he presents life and character withoutbias; or _subjective_, coloring his work with his personal tastes,feelings and impressions. Subjectivity may be a falsifying influence, butit may also be an important virtue, adding intimacy, charm, or force. 5.Further, one may ask whether the author has a deliberately formed theory oflife; and if so how it shows itself, and, of course, how sound it is.INTELLECT, EMOTION, IMAGINATION, AND RELATED QUALITIES. Another mainquestion in judging any book concerns the union which it shows: (1) of theIntellectual faculty, that which enables the author to understand andcontrol his material and present it with directness and clearness; and (2)of the Emotion, which gives warmth, enthusiasm, and appealing human power.The relative...

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