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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The literary criticism of Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot Brooks, Heather Alleyne

Abstract

Matthew Arnold's literary criticism has recently been recognized as exhibiting a "controlled oscillation" between various antithetical points of view. This thesis analyzes these points of view, shows how Arnold sometimes succeeded in reconciling these opposites, and then goes on to show that Eliot's literary criticism can be analyzed in the same way. Eliot and Arnold are shown to be both classic and romantic critics; that is, broadly speaking, to judge both by rules and by individual impressions. These antithetical limits are partially, but not entirely synthesized. Next, analysis of Arnold's criticism leads to the conclusion that Arnold usually judged literature by the moral ideas it expressed, but that the ideas were inextricably involved with their literary form. Eliot finds judgment by idea distasteful because of his commitment to Church of England dogma, but also tends, although with less success, toward the synthesis achieved by Arnold. Another set of antithetical viewpoints held by Arnold and Eliot are those of the disinterested critic vs. the social advocate. Again, a partial resolution is suggested. Close similarity between the two critics' views on the tradition is demonstrated, but an opposing progressive element in both men's thought is also revealed. However, the two categories are shown to be not mutually exclusive. Finally, the style and critical method of Arnold and Eliot is analyzed and is seen to exhibit antithetical tendencies. Both critics alternate between tones of persuasiveness and exhibitions of tactlessness. Both methods reveal a combination of analysis and dogmatism, although Eliot's dogmatism is always admitted to be personal opinion. Neither Arnold nor Eliot attack a critical problem from the same viewpoint at all times; they are pragmatic critics who will try any method that seems to work best at the moment.

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