Playing It by Ear

William H. Pritchard, Author
William H. Pritchard, Author University of Massachusetts Press $22.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-87023-948-9
Reviewed on: 10/31/1994
Release date: 11/01/1994
Hardcover - 270 pages - 978-0-87023-947-2
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Best known for his biographies of Robert Frost and Randall Jarrell, Pritchard provides in this volume a refreshing variety of essays. Most focus on 20th-century poets and novelists, but other more personal essays deal with Pritchard's philosophy of teaching and his efforts to save a television soap opera from cancellation. Unapologetically old-fashioned in his defense of the literary canon, Pritchard nevertheless praises such lesser-known writers as British novelist Elizabeth Taylor. In a section on poets, he questions the inflated reputation of John Ashbery while defending John Updike's largely ignored verse. Pritchard's 1976 attack on ``the hermeneutical mafia'' (Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman and other deconstructionist critics at Yale) is badly dated but remains a delightful display of wit. Throughout the volume (and especially in his essay on gender studies by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar), Pritchard passionately rejects any form of reductionist criticism that sacrifices the experience of literature to a political agenda. He is highly skilled in polemics, but his criticism of others is usually tempered by self-deprecating humor, and his distinctive voice remains free of solemn academic jargon. (Dec.)
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