- Series: Oxford History of English Literature
- Hardcover: 704 pages
- Publisher: Clarendon Press; 1 edition (July 19, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0198122314
- ISBN-13: 978-0198122319
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.9 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,967,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford History of English Literature) 1st Edition
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About the Author
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was an Irish author and scholar of mixed Irish, English, and Welsh ancestry. Lewis is known for his work on medieval literature, Christian apologetics and fiction, especially the childrens series entitled The Chronicles of Narnia and his science fiction Space Trilogy.
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Top customer reviews
Since my last visit to that spot, I've read almost everything C. S. Lewis had written, in some cases many times -- except for this book.
It is almost as majestic, in its own way, as the mountain.
Here's a daunting piece of topographical data: a 92 page bibliography. Lewis takes time to briefly introduce thousands of books in it, often with notes on their quality and what you'll find. Got a couple lifetimes to spare?
But every trip begins with a single step, and Lewis is walking through a century. He gives a little more weight in this narrative to poets than prose writers, and about as much to the last 20 years of the century, as to the first 80. Not being a scholar of English literature, I found some of the early citations a bit hard to make out -- the language becomes easier for us non-specialists as the century draws on. The "wild flowers" visible on this mountain are snippets of poetry Lewis quotes. The "bears" and other wildlife might be compared to the sometimes scruffy writers, whom he describes with consumate literary skill.
One of the remarkable qualities of Lewis' work is the variety of genres to which he contributed. Tolkien may have found Narnia glib, but most of us enjoyed it. Till We Have Faces is, I think, better than some Nobel-Prize winning novels. His shorter scholarly works tend to be revolutionary in their insight and beautifully written, but less grand in their ambition. Of course he also did science fiction (fantasy), "letters" (from the devil), and theological / philosophical essays. This book, with its many peaks, reaches above the clouds. In scope and outline majestic, in detail brilliantly observed, whatever else it be, Poetry and Prose in the 16th Century is a great work of scholarship.
If you don't know anything about 16th Century literature (I didn't) should you read this book? Sure. Don't try to swallow it all in one bite, though. It took me two months to read, 5-15 pages at a time. A lot of it remained over my head; I may have to read a few more of the principles, put a walking stick in the back of my car, and return. I also want to pick up a copy of Arcadia.
Although books of this sort always, by necessity, impose artificial time lines on literature which, in the long run, do not have a lot to do with the true literary history. To study literature in the sixteenth century, one should not confine oneself to going behind or in front of the time line to get a fuller understanding of the significance of the text. However, this is not really a fault of Lewis and it is a very difficult error to correct for literary historians. However, Lewis pulls off this artificial time limit very well by clearly illustrating the many strenghts and the many weaknesses of this century's literature.
Because it is for the student of literature, much of the more radical elements of this text will be lost without a general knowledge of the preconceptions the academic world has in regard to the literature in question. The opening chapter ("New Learning and New Ignorance") stands as one of Lewis's most famous academic writing because of the sheer implications and challenges set forth in the chapter. He debunks many of the fashionable scholarly trends, focusing on how much of what the scholars say is off base. Lewis argues that the during the sixteenth century much of the literature proved extremely dull, saying the authors wrote like "elderly men". Toward the close of the century, however, something radical began to take place. There was a renewal and an elevation in quality from drab to gold, as Lewis puts it. Most literary scholars and historians think the Renaissance is responsible for this, but Lewis says this theory has no truth, because the humanists who were responsible for the Renaissance were terrible scholars and brought death to the literature they presented, presenting the classics' virtues as ills and instead focused on the way the classics said what they said. The humanists focused on the language and left the literature itself alone. Everything else about the literature they hated. Lewis continually attacks the humanists, stating that "the new learning [that of the humanists] created the new ignorance." His belief that the Renaissance never occurred in England, and if it did it was of no literary importance, is as radical a literary belief as accepting the Book of Mormon to the Bible would be to a Christian.
The rest of the book reads as a survey of the literature of the period. All major and quite a large number of minor authors are represented in this. As a textbook, this stands as fascinating reading, for Lewis constantly illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of whoever he is dealing with, and his numerous quotations from the texts dealt with show the true skill of selection to prove a point. All of the quotations give a further understanding in context of Lewis's prose. If all textbooks were written with such skill and wit, there would not be the incredible resentment (myself included) of the price tag on most college text books.
Lewis's 1938 on Donne, published in SEVENTEENTH CENTURY STUDIES PUBLISHED IN SIR HERBERT GRIERSON has made him the heretic and central enemy of all Donne scholars and fans. Here he does not attack him but helps readers deal with Donne's metre. However, Lewis only gives five pages to Donne, and he was fond of saying that "Donne's place is that of a minor poet."
The reception of this book was fair, although the most resentment came from the academic circle. People accused Lewis of, as Sayer says in his biography, grossly oversimplifying by presenting only two classifications: drab and gold. Yvor Winters goes to the extreme when she says that "Mr. Lewis has simply not discovered what poetry is."
Of all the volumes in the series this still sells the most. Sayer notes in the aforementioned biography that "many Oxford tutors still warn their students that it is `unsound but brilliantly written.' Nevertheless, or perhaps partly because of this warning, it outsells all the other volumes in this series." While it does not enjoy the monumental place in criticism of THE ALLEGORY OF LOVE, which many would argue is Lewis's most significant piece of criticism, partly because of the radical ideas mentioned above, this work stands as one of the most brilliant and enjoyable survey books every written.