Art and Artist

This collection of essays, generally short, on some two dozen authors, chiefly novelists, underlines “the delight of great books,” to borrow a phrase from John Erskine.  It fits the definition that Anatole France (one of the writers treated) gave of literary criticism: “les aventures de son âme au milieu des chefs-d’œuvre” (“the adventures of one’s soul amid masterpieces”).  The straightforward approach emphasizes the ways in which authors’ personalities (understood broadly) shape or are revealed in their creations.  The book stands in striking contrast to much of what has passed for literary criticism in America in recent decades, under the unfortunate influence, absorbed too readily, of various French mandarins, among them Jacques Derrida, with their theories of authorship.  Auchincloss’s very title, implying the premise of his volume, would be nonsensical if he were to grant Derrida and his followers that, each text always referring regressively to other texts and “discourses” (as words are defined by other words), writers always speak in the voice of others, that is, no one.  “Criticism and philosophy took note of the disappearance—or death—of the author some time ago,” announced Michel Foucault in 1969.

Fortunately, independence of mind and letters of literary nobility—a...

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