Professor John Kersey Reviews Literary Essays

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Literary Essays
by Sean Gabb
Hampden Press, London, 2011, 183pp
ISBN: 978-1-4478-1728-4 
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Review by John Kersey, 28th December 2011

Eminently Readable
by John Kersey

This book is well worth buying for its sustained, remorselessly constructed demolition of the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy alone. Indeed, this is an essay that should be required reading wherever English literature is taught.

It is obvious from the first page that Gabb is an analytical thinker, and indeed his approach puts one at times in mind of the late J. Enoch Powell's sublimely logical exegeses. Words are weighed carefully and care is taken to avoid their waste or ambiguous usage; as Gabb states in his Introduction and expands at length, "Everything must be subordinate to clarity." Such an achievement is the more remarkable given that Gabb writes rapidly and prolifically.

I wonder whether the purpose of such a volume, aside from the worthwhile subjects it addresses in the author's expectedly trenchant style, is not to pass oblique and disparaging comment upon the current aesthetic both in literature and in its criticism. Not a word of this book acknowledges the postmodern ethic that has come to dominate university literature departments other than to dismiss it en passant. The tone of the writing is something almost lost from contemporary discourse; a persuasive voice based upon a certainty both of objective values within literature and of the relationship of those values to the author's subjective opinions, the latter being the more trenchant because it is clear that they are departures from fixed points rather than the mere petulance of fashionable discourse.

As such, this is a valuable work in reminding us that English conservative commentary continues to be a living tradition, and a worthwhile contribution to the tradition upheld by such figures as Roger Scruton.  

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