Crusoe's Island

Because William York Tindall's Forces in Modern British Literature extends itself only to 1946, and because there has been nothing as wide-ranging published since, I looked forward to George Watson's book repairing the omission. Watson, a Cambridge don, is also the author of a splendid study of English criticism from Dryden to Eliot, which I have praised elsewhere.

What is more, I once studied at Oxford with many of the men he discusses in his new book. Alas, I find in it a new Watson who thinks Eliot "perverse," Spender "flatulent," and John Betjeman to have "triumphant lucidity." True, he devotes space to the Christian revival of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but Tolkien, my Anglo-Saxon tutor and just about the most boring man in the world in his day, hated Eliot and indeed almost everything written since the Middle Ages; while portly C.S. Lewis, whose lectures I attended with Kenneth Tynan, was enraged by Eliot to the point of writing a poor parody of The Waste Land.

Unfortunately, these useless donnish prejudices are infectious. Watson's opinions stand in for critical rigor. Even the period under survey in his book is vague. Watson compares George Orwell with Evelyn Waugh (whom I used to meet in the inebriated company of Randolph Churchill), but Orwell died in 1950, and Dylan Thomas three years later. "I believe," Watson claims, "the age of the second...

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