Playing it by Ear: Literary Essays and Reviews

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Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1994 - Literary Collections - 270 pages
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This volume gathers together thirty-three essays and reviews by one of America's liveliest critics. William H. Pritchard's books on English and American writers and his critical biographies of Robert Frost and Randall Jarrell are well known. But for the past thirty years he has also been steadily engaged in writing shorter pieces about poets, novelists, and critics, many of which have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Hudson Review, the New Republic, the American Scholar, and the Boston Sunday Globe. The subjects range from Frost to Sylvia Plath, from Anthony Trollope to Gore Vidal, from H. L. Mencken to Helen Vendler.

Ever willing to speak his mind about other writers' work, Pritchard has also produced less than admiring, even satirical treatments of, among others, the poetry of Stephen Spender and the excesses of Yale's "hermeneutical mafia." Also included in the book are amusing reflections of his adventures as a soap opera fan and on the art of writing hostile reviews.

Pritchard never forgets that it is a critic's job to engage and sustain the reader's attention and that they only way to do this is to write well. Readers of Playing It by Ear -- the title illustrates the truth that criticism must listen to the voices of its subjects -- will sometimes disagree with Pritchard's judgments, but will rarely be bored by the way he expresses them.

 

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Playing it by ear: literary essays and reviews

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Believing that the literary critic should help the common reader hear the poem or novel itself, Pritchard (Randall Jarrell: A Literary Life, LJ 2/1/90) takes witty and cogent potshots at Yale guru ... Read full review

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Contents

Credo
1
Ear Training
3
Poets
19
Frost Revised
23
Epistolary Eliot
27
MacLeish Revisited
36
Big Spender
46
Robert Lowell 19171977
51
Almost Austen
155
Vidals Satiric Voices
161
Critics
169
Bookman
171
Santayanas Legacy
176
Henry Mencken s Prejudices
185
F R Leavis 18951978
193
B H Haggin 19001987
198

Larkins Presence
57
Entertaining Amis
75
How to Open a Pigeon
84
An Interesting Minor Poet?
91
John Ashbery
98
The Metered Updike
102
Novelists
107
Glorious Trollope
109
The Serpent Hatches
119
Fordie
125
Total Waugh
130
Pure Literature
140
Sound and Fury
147
The Old Buffer
201
Helen Vendler
208
Tolemics
213
The Hermeneutical Mafia or After Strange Gods at Yale
215
Salvos from the Gender War
227
Love Story
235
Personal Disclosures
241
Robert Frost
243
The Scholar and the Soap
249
Easy to Give Hard to Take
256
Name Index
265
Copyright

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Page 5 - The ear does it. The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader. I have known people who could read without hearing the sentence sounds and they were the fastest readers. Eye readers we call them. They can get the meaning by glances. But they are bad readers because they miss the best part of what a good writer puts into his work.
Page 5 - UNDER certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not — some people of course never do, — the situation is in itself delightful.
Page 9 - They were seated in the boat, Nick in the stern, his father rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nick trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning. In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.

About the author (1994)

William H. Pritchard is Henry Clay Folger Professor of English at Amherst College, where he has taught for more than thirty-five years.

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