English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama

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Clarendon Press, 1954 - Literary Criticism - 696 pages
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User Review  - antiquary - LibraryThing

I love this book for the splendid enthusiasm which Lewis shows for even very minor renaissance authors whom he has obviously read and enjoyed. Sometimes when I went on to read the authors he described, I did not find them as good as he did, but at least he inspired me to read them seriously. Read full review

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This book is a must-read (or at least -skim) for any serious student of the period. The critical consensus of the "Drab Age," as Lewis calls it, of the 16th century has since changed somewhat, but it's still my sense that all new scholarship defending the aesthetics of the period are basically defending against Lewis's charge. That is to say, Lewis's shadow still falls heavily on contemporary scholarship.
As for non-graduate students, there is no other book comparable to this. You could read James Simpson's updated Cambridge guide to the period, but I can't imagine anyone outside of the academy finding much enjoyment there. Additionally, Simpson wrote his book with his (perfectly convincing) academic arguments at the forefront of his mind whereas Lewis sought out as his main objective a survey of the period. The result is that Lewis's construal of the period is truly plenary as over against Simpson's limited focus on the texts most interesting to him. Further, I really like the fact that Lewis wrote this book before it became unfashionable for critics to pass judgment on what, to me, is the central question for a literary mind: is the poem in question actually enjoyable?
This book, then, is a full-blooded entry into a period by one not possessed only of a great mind but a great heart. Oh, and you also get a professional analysis of the history of ideas through which the late medieval/early Renaissance mind was passing at no extra charge.



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