ABSTRACT

Wordsworth, Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. This remark of Wordsworth can be seen on the one hand as the baptism of expressionism in the form more or less in which it has continued to dominate English criticism, and on the other as the bestowing on it of its original sin and most tenacious confusion. For if, in place of the various criteria of ‘reality’ which the mimetic theory assumes and supplies, we appeal to the emotion which the poetry evokes in the audience, or expresses for the poet, then we find ourselves asking what emotion is being expressed, whether it ought to be attached to this action and situation, and what criteria we have for deciding whether the emotion was worth expressing. Coleridge, Arnold and I. A. Richards all attempted to solve these difficulties and, as I have suggested, one way of seeing the development of critical theory in English in the latter part of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century is as a series of attempts to bridge the gap between the poet’s inner state and the external world. (I shall say more of this in a later chapter.) In T. S. Eliot we have a critic who returns again and again to the problem, without, as we shall see, satisfactorily solving it, or, indeed, avoiding very deep confusions. In some of his writings – especially in his famous doctrine of the ‘objective correlative’ – Eliot brings out in an extreme form the logical consequences of Wordsworth’s assertion.