chapter  7
The Characters of Danger and Desire
Pages 23

Now the pattern indicated by Abrams and others is certainly salient, and may appropriately be called a 'controlling idea', for control is indeed of prime concern in shaping the story. But to see this text as so single-minded is to repress much of it. Abrams speaks on behalf of a widespread critical orthodoxy whose general hermeneutic principles Hirsch (1967) has theorised most explicitly. Obedience to the 'controlling idea' (that same revealing phrase) of a literary work is urged with eloquent anxiety by Hirsch. A reader must submit, he contends, to 'the intrinsic genre that compels the determination of one meaning instead of another' (102). What Hirsch refuses to concede is that any such determination is not an inherent textual given but a function of particular framing acts in which a semantic restriction must be artificially imposed if the reader wishes to favour one of the registers that bear on a text. The Prelude is an instructive case of a text's own anticipation of this struggle for and against control. Repeatedly displaying discursive contradictions, it consists largely of efforts to efface them by proposing holistic, programmatic rereadings of its structure - only to bring in yet further contradictions in the process.