Thursday, September 5, 2013

Charles Williams as Literary Critic

Stephen Barber
Charles Williams

Among many other things Charles Williams was a jobbing writer. In that capacity he wrote a good deal of literary criticism. There are five complete books, or rather four and a half, the last being unfinished:

Poetry at Present, 1930

The English Poetic Mind, 1932

Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind, 1933

The Figure of Beatrice, 1943

The Figure of Arthur (unfinished), in Arthurian Torso, with C. S. Lewis, 1948

There is also a large number of essays. Some of these were collected by Anne Ridler in The Image of the City, 1958, but many interesting ones were not, and I shall be referring to some of these. There is also a number of reviews of detective stories, to which I shall not be referring. And there is editorial work of various kinds, including anthologies with introductions and notes, retellings and similar work. 

A particularly important contribution of this kind was his edition of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Related to this is the editorial work he did for the Oxford University Press, which, because it is unsigned, is largely invisible to us. We know from Alice Mary Hadfield, for example, that he had a considerable part in the original Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1941), and I suspect he wrote the preface. We know that he was responsible for commissioning W. B. Yeats to compile The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936) and W. H. Auden for The Oxford Book of Light Verse (1938)2. The first was a disaster and the second a success. He may have been involved in the selection of poets for the series Oxford Standard Authors, which has some surprising inclusions and omissions. At the end of his life he would have liked to publish the book by Robert Graves which became The White Goddess. In all this work he exercised critical judgement, but, as in the parallel case of his slightly younger contemporary T. S. Eliot, it is a largely unexplored field.

Before looking at the books and essays in more detail I want to begin with some general considerations about Williams as a literary critic...

Read it all here.

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