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New Left Review I/40, November-December 1966


John Goode

‘Character’ and Henry James

In recent years the most influential critical approach to fiction in this country has been that of Scrutiny and F. R. Leavis. Briefly, this approach grew out of the rejection by Wilson Knight and the contributors to Scrutiny of A. C. Bradley’s Shakespearian criticism. Bradley’s emphasis on ‘character’ in Shakespearian tragedy was seen to have failed to take account of the ‘spatial’ totality of the plays, their existence as coherent linguistic and metaphoric structures. The search for this spatial totality was extended to the novel, and the famous series of essays in Scrutiny entitled ‘The Novel as Dramatic Poem’ expressed this desire to see a novel as a total ‘structure’. In The Great Tradition, probably the most influential of books on the novel in England, Leavis extends the notion of spatial totality to an approach in terms of the totality of the writer’s moral vision given concreteness through the form of the novel. He revised the phrase ‘moral fable’ and gave it a larger and more flexible meaning. His great tradition was the line of novelists whose spatial coherence was shaped by a moral coherence: this in turn was given validity through a fine discrimination and a life affirming energy.

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