Robert Anthony Byrne: In Memoriam

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This issue of Explorations is dedicated to the memory of Robert Byrne. Since the publication of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, his name has been associated with its
infamous protagonist, Ignatius Reilly, whose hilarious and anarchic character has generated the speculation, a wrong one, I would hold, that Robert Byrne was, for John Kennedy Toole, the unique modèle vivant of his hero or antihero Ignatius. Continue reading

A Valediction Inviting Approbation

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Robert Byrne

In due respect to the profession of those assembled or, perhaps one might say, in a spirit of vindictiveness, it seemed proper, in emulation of the silver swan or else of the foplings in The Rape of the Lock, to depart in metaphor and verse. Ergo, this piece, which, like The White Knight’s Ballad, is called Valete, is entitled A Valediction Inviting Approbation. Continue reading

The Awakening: Between Feminism and the Fin-de-Siécle

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Morris Dickstein

The dramatic ups and downs of Kate Chopin’s literary reputation make for a tale almost as good as any she wrote. Inspired by the subtle, ironic stories of Guy de Maupassant, some of which she read and translated in the late 1880s, she began writing short fiction – along with a novel, At Fault, which she published at her own expense in 1890. She had grown up in St. Louis but in the decade that followed she gained attention for her stories about the French Creole society of Louisiana, an almost closed world into which she had married. This was the heyday of “local color” writing, when regional authors, who were also pioneering realists, could place their stories in distinguished national magazines. Continue reading

“Alle shalle be wele”: T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding and Julian of Norwich’s Showings

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Jewel Spears Brooker

The epigraph of T. S. Eliot’s first major poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and the coda of his last, Little Gidding, contain the same image, enfolding tongues of flame. His Collected Poems opens with the voice of a damned soul, Guido da Montefeltro, who is being tormented in the eighth circle of Dante’s hell for giving false counsel to others, a sin committed with his tongue. Guido’s punishment, in keeping with Dante’s representation of divine justice, is a visual counterpart of the sin itself, and thus in perfect contrapasso, Guido is forever wrapped in a quivering tongue of flame. His voice merges with that of a modern deceiver, J. Alfred Prufrock, whose signature sin of endless rationalization also involves an abuse of language and whose punishment is to wander endlessly in the circular and smoky alleys of his own mind. Continue reading

Trilling and Santayana: Their Critical Connection

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Lionel Trilling’s fascination with literature and his life-long quest to explore it was based on his conviction that “all literature tends to be concerned with the question of reality – I mean quite simply the old opposition between reality and appearance, between what really is and what merely seems” (Liberal 201). Trilling was also absorbed with the role that the mind plays in this matter. From this, one is led to draw the conclusion that Trilling’s approach to literature is philosophical in the traditional and wide sense of that term from Plato down to our time. This conclusion is confirmed by his tendency to explore and use ideas of Plato, Hegel, Mill, Santayana and other well-known philosophers. It is also confirmed by his strong interest in searching the philosophical dimensions of psychologists, poets and writers like Freud, Keats, Goethe and others. Continue reading

An Interview Conducted with Kathleen Raine on July 12, 1993

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Donald E. Stanford

The audio tape of the interview that follows with Kathleen Raine is housed among the Donald E. Stanford Papers in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections of the Louisiana State University Libraries, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Some of the questions that Donald Stanford posed in the interview, which took place, in London, in Kathleen Raine’s flat on July 12, 1993, were submitted by Herbert V. Fackler (January 23, 1942 – December 18, 1999) and Joseph Riehl, both members of the faculty of English at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Kathleen Raine had celebrated her 85th birthday on June 14. Continue reading

Literary Tradition, Lionel Trilling and the Transmission of The Literary Work

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R.V. Young

T. S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” is widely recognized as a seminal essay in the development of literary critical theory in the twentieth century, finding a place in most anthologies of literary criticism as well as of modern literature. The full implications of Eliot’s typically compressed argument have not, however, been widely acknowledged; and, in the wake of the revolution in theory over the past four decades, the essential thrust of its originality has been neglected. Lionel Trilling’s “The Sense of the Past” remains one of the most perceptive responses to Eliot’s essay. A reconsideration of Trilling’s careful observations may, therefore, bring to light the crucial insights of Eliot’s occasionally oracular exposition and provide a basis for a salutary restoration of reasonable critical discourse. Trilling’s magisterial grasp of the issues at stake is especially evident when set against Harold Bloom’s agonistic theory of literary influence. Trilling, it turns out, offers not merely a critique of certain shortcomings in the New Critical account of literary works of art; he instead refines the conception of literature propounded by Eliot and his New Critical heirs and consolidates their genuine advances in literary understanding. Continue reading