Literary Criticism

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The Literary Criticism of Matthew Arnold

Letters to Clough, the 1853 Preface, and Some Essays

Flemming Olsen was for many years Reader in English Literature and The Teaching of Literature at the University of Copenhagen. His courses included Shakespeare, Fielding, Wordsworth, Arnold, and Eliot. He has written several books and articles, including: Elements of Textual Analysis, Active Grammar, and Thomas Arnold the Teacher. In 2008 the University Press of Denmark published his Between Positivism and T. S. Eliot: Imagism and T. E. Hulme; and in 2010 Sussex Academic published his Leigh Hunt and What is Poetry?

“Yet he is in some respects the most satisfactory man of letters of his age.”
T.S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism

Many of the ideas that appear in Arnold’s Preface of 1853 to his collection of poems and in his later essays are suggested in the letters that Arnold wrote to his friend Arthur Hugh Clough. Analysis of the Preface reveals a poet who found a theoretical basis for poetry (by which he means literature in general) in the dramas of the Greek tragedians, particularly Sophocles: action is stressed as an indispensable ingredient, wholes are preferred to parts, the didactic function of literature is promoted – in short, the Preface reads like the recipe for a classical tragedy. It is a young poet’s attempt to establish criteria for what poetry ought to be. He found the Romantic idiom outworn. Literature was, in Arnold’s perception, meant to communicate a message rather than impress by its structure or by formal sophistication. Modern theories of coalescence between content and form were outside the contemporary paradigm. T. S. Eliot’s ambivalent attitude to Arnold – now reluctantly admiring, now decidedly patronizing – is puzzling. Eliot never seemed able to liberate himself from the influence of Arnold. What in Arnold’s critical oeuvre attracted and at the same time repelled Eliot? That question has led to an in-depth analysis of Arnold as a literary critic. This book begins with an examination of Arnold’s letters to Clough, where “it all started”, and proceeds with a close reading of the 1853 Preface. A look at some of the later literary essays rounds off the picture of Arnold as a literary critic. This work is the result of Reader and Review comments of the author’s well received Eliot’s Objective Criticism: Tradition or Individual Talent?

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-710-0
Paperback Price: £17.95 / $27.95
Release Date: November 2014
Page Extent / Format: 96 pp. / 216 x 138 mm
Illustrated: No



Leigh Hunt

chapter one
The Intellectual Landscape of the Mid-VictorianAge

chapter two
The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough

chapter three
The Preface of 1853
The Poet’s Task
Models: Classics, Moderns, Shakespeare, Representation, Parts and Wholes
Form, Clough, Carlyle
Concluding Remarks

chapter four
Influences: Goethe, Sainte-Beuve

chapter five
The Schools Inspector
The Essays

chapter six
Arnold as a Literary Critic
The Function of Criticism at the Present Time
Terminological Vagueness
Maurice de Guérin
Concluding Remarks



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