Piety and Meaning

Walter Sullivan is professor of English at Vanderbilt University, the author of two novels, and, most recently, of Allen Tate: A Recollection. He is also a frequent and long-standing contributor to the Sewanee Review, in which four of the ten essays in this volume (dedicated to, among others, George Core, Sewanee's editor) first appeared.

Although certain of these pieces are stronger than others, in all of them Professor Sullivan shows himself to be a good critic, and, in some of them, a very, very good one. He is a poised and polished writer, academic neither in his prose style nor in his approach to his subject. Walter Sullivan does not—as so many contemporary critics do—regard a work of literary art as an epiphenomenon, but as an objective reality: as something made, like a Chippendale chair, a Ming vase, or a medieval cathedral. In this he reminds me of no one so much as Edmund Wilson, whose literary essays Professor Sullivan's resemble in structure, approach, and at times even in tone (though they lack entirely Wilson's habitual irascibility, Sullivan being by contrast a notably irenic expositor). Like Wilson, Professor Sullivan does not hesitate to resort to exegesis; like Wilson also, he is so skillful an exegete as to have an effect on his reader that is nearly subliminal.

"The Last Agrarian: Peter Taylor Early and Late," "Irony and Disorder:...

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