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Before offering a concise introductory and bibliographical survey of literary theory and
criticism in the various periods of western literature, I should like to make a preliminary remark
about the relationship between literature and literary criticism.
No poem or prose work was ever created by the direct application of a fixed sytem of
rules and formulas. It is true that in the past, and particularly before 1800, poets and prose writers
were expected to apply certain normative rules and techniques. All the same, we may safely
assume that these rules were pushed into the background of the writers consciousness during his
creative moments so that he did not handle the language at the direct dictate of studies in poetics
and rhetoric. This would explain why so many, and precisely of theory.
In spite of the independence of the text with respect to the rules of critieism, we do need
some knowledge of the history of literary criticism for a proper understanding and interprelation
of literary works. Theorizing about literalme always means attempting to systematize the literary
presuppositions that are characteristic of an international period. One of ways getting to know
these is the theory thaht has been preserved in writing. Since the poct lives and works in the
literary climate of his age, he assimilates into his writing these general presupptions about the
form and function of various types of literature. In this respect, the extent of his theorclical
knowledge is not the decisive factor. For us, however, it is casier to interpret his work if, by
familiarizing ourselves with the history of literary theory, we come to know something about the
views on literature that prevailed in his age.
Of all the factors that condicion our outlook on literature, the literary situation we
ourselves live in is by far the most effective. It directs our mind to certain aspects of poetry and
prose while at the same time it makes us neglect others, it gives rise to both alienetions and
affinities, as a result of which contemporary writers may become strangers to us and authors
from the past our comtemporaries
In western European countries, the present literary situation is an entirely ope one, a
situation even of suspense. Literature cannot be said either to exist or to be coming into

existence; it just happens, in the sense that it comes and goes by chance. The poet experiments;
in doing so, he puts into use a vast amount of constructive power and subcounscious material in
order that he may hit upon something essential-by accident. Each poet is expected to create his
own poeties; a great many poems have language itself for their subject . each novelist pratices a
geme that moves between death and strange resurrections. Structural and other formal questions
are the major topics of western literary criticism today, althoungh it would decidedly be doing it
an injustice to represent it as lacking in moral and social concerns. In eastern European countries,
by contrast, the present literary situation appers to be closed. At anyrate, it is rooted in firm
theories, guarded by party discipline. There, ideological questions hold first rank in literary
discussions, althounght the artistic value of a work is also recognized. Even if the differences
between the two situations are not considered, it is obvious that the literary situation a person
finds himself in will condition his attitude toward literature and literary history. We view both
from the prespective of our own generation.
A confrontation with literary situations of the past will meet scholarly standards only if
we are familiar with the literary prespectives people had in those days and take them into account
in our studies. This knowledge helps us to understand the texture and tenor of a work, to grasp
the purport of its ideas, images, and symbols, to apprehend the forces that shaped the criticism of
those earlier times. It will save us from ascribing to a writer an originality he did not possess and,
on the other hand, from denying to him the qualities he did excel in. we, therefore, have to learn
as much as possible about the literary criticism of the past. To be sure, we shall be seeing it
through the eyes of twenticth-century man. This is however the fundamental position of a student
in the humanities. Our study is never without self-discovery and self-affirmation; that is why
history has to-be-and is-rewritten agin and again.
A favorite method of literary study is to compare two authors with a view to grasping the
individuality of their respective work and talents. The inducement toproceed in this way may be
occasioned by apparent similaritics in their personalities and situations. Far from being a search
for presumned influences (whether or not these were based upon interrelationship and familiarity
with each others work), this simultancous critical observation aims at aecentuating the creative
reactions of the two writers differ in situations that have elements in common for both of them. If
both authors belong to the same epoch in western literature, they have their enttural and literary

milieu in common, in spite of important peculiarities that are due to their respective national
traditions in these fields. They are likely to have gone through the same philosophical
development (which more or less directs the general trend of literary thingking). Their
corresponding and diverging attitudes toward the main international currents of thought and
sensibility with regard to literature reveal the nature peculiar to each of them. Interpretation of
these attitudes requires a thorough knowledge og those trends in thinking and feeling. If, for
instance, we compare Diderot and sterne on the basis of the traits they have in common in both
being men of feeling, we can do justice to each only if we inquire into the changing traditions
of sensibility of the time. A proper comparison between marcel proust and henry james requires
an analysis of their specific, although different, relations to such phenomena as art for arts
sake and impressionism.
Lack of knowledge about the historical patterns of literary thingking will account for
insufficient understanding jungen werthers (1774), we find following passage in werthers letter
of june 21, 1771 :
Wenn ich des morgens mit sonnenaufgange hinausgehe nach meinem wahlheim und dort im
wirtsgarten mir meine zucherebsen selbst pflucke, mich hinsetze, sie abfadne und dazwischen in
meinem homer lese; wenn ich in der kleinen kuche mir einen topf wahle, mit butter aussteche,
schoten ans feuer stele, zudecke und mich dazusetze, sie manchmal umzuschutteln; da fuhl ich so
lebhaft, wie die ubermutigen freier der Penelope ochsen und schwein schlachten, zerlegen un
braten. Es ist nichts, das mich so mit einer stillen, wahren eunpfindung ausfullte als die zuge
patriarchalischen lebens, die ich, got sei dank, ohne affectation in meine lebensart verweben
As readers, we are awere thaht the image we have before us respresents a moment of
bliss experienced by young wearther. He is happy because his whole being is pervaded by a calm
and pure feeling, oveked, as we see, by a situation on which he bestowns a patriarchal character.
The image functions in the rhythm of weathers inner self, to which the structure of the novel
conforms. Every time this young man of storm-and-stress mentality feels his soul exposed to the
imminent danger of being overwhelmend by the crushing sensation of the infinite, he escapes
into the quite enclosure of simple surroundings, thereby restoring the balance of his emotional
life. The passage here selected contains one of the images of his sheltered life. As readers, we

take for granted the somewhat curious construction of this image. rustic reaping and home
cooking, penelopes suitors, and the biblical patriarchs are all together in a setting of sugar peas
and butter, kitchen, saucepan and knife.
Some knowledge of literary trends in young goethes time will provide a fuller and
deeper meaning to the composition of this image than even the interested reader might otherwise
grasp. Why does wether read his homer? Because the verses of the ancient greek poet were at
the time thought to be nature harmonized into poerty-the voice of the golden age, the youth
ofmankind still manifest with its artless and pure manners and customs. Neither the georgies nor
the eclogues of virgil are in the hands of the pea-cooking werther, but rather the works of thaht
poet of nature who had by then superseded his roman rival. The scene reflects the growing
interest of the age in greek poerty and, bevode all, one of the sources of this phenomenon. Viz..,
eighteenth-century primitivism. This trend linked the greek of the heroic period with the Hebrew
patriarchs. The fathers of the old testament were also people of the golden age, shepherds like
those who appear in the poem of Theocritus. To view the bible, particulary the old testament, as a
work of literature, as oriental poertry, was a trend of the time. Goethe mentions the simple
utensils of the village housewife, a theocritan touch that is in harmony with the other components
of the image. He lays stress on this part of the scene, possibly because in the seventies of the
eightcenth century it was still shocking to introduce ordinary objects into serious literature. By
violating the rules of neoclassical decorum, Goethe presented himself as the young romanticist
he actually was when he wrote werther.
The literary criticism of the time, both its old and new elements, furnished the materials
out of which the scene was built. Knowing this, we are no longer merely carried away by the
sweeping force of the authors genius. We no see why Goethe wrote the way he did and,
moreover, how by doing so he produced something new. The complex literary apparatus of
eighteenth-century primitivism, long operative for escapist or utopian reasons, functions here in a
way it never had before. Goethe pressed it into service in order to depict the emotional life of an
Lack of knowledge about the literary trends of the past will not only result in a imperfect
understanding of a text, it can also produce misreading and, therefore, misunderstanding. Let us
suppose that wea are studying eighteenth-century European darama. thaht subject will lead us to

the drama of sensibility, which reflects the sentiments and the moral principles of middle class
people of the age. Of crouse, we have to read George barnwell (1731), a play that deeply affected
both authors and spectators on the continent. A passage of dedication written in defense of the
genre runs as follows :
What I would infer is this, I think evident truth; that tragedy is so far from losing its dignity, by
being accommodated to the circumstances of the generality of mankind, that it is more truly
august in proportion to the extent of its influence, and the numbers that are property affected by
it. As it is more truly great to be the instrument of good to many, who stand in need of our
assistance, than a very small part of that number.