Basic Aspects of Literary Study

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SUBSTANCE AND FORM. The most thoroughgoing of all distinctions in

literature, as in the other Fine Arts, is that between (1) Substance, the

essential content and meaning of the work, and (2) Form, the manner in

which it is expressed (including narrative structure, external style, in

poetry verse-form, and many related matters). This distinction should be

kept in mind, but in what follows it will not be to our purpose to

emphasize it.

GENERAL MATTERS. 1. First and always in considering any piece of literature

a student should ask himself the question already implied: Does it present

a true portrayal of life--of the permanent elements in all life and in

human nature, of the life or thought of its own particular period, and (in

most sorts of books) of the persons, real or imaginary, with whom it deals?

If it properly accomplishes this main purpose, when the reader finishes it

he should feel that his understanding of life and of people has been

increased and broadened.

But it should always be remembered that truth is

quite as much a matter of general spirit and impression as of literal

accuracy in details of fact. The essential question is not, Is the

presentation of life and character perfect in a photographic fashion? but

Does it convey the _underlying_ realities? 2. Other things being

equal, the value of a book, and especially of an author's whole work, is

proportional to its range, that is to the breadth and variety of the life

and characters which it presents. 3. A student should not form his

judgments merely from what is technically called the _dogmatic_ point

of view, but should try rather to adopt that of _historical_

criticism. This means that he should take into account the limitations

imposed on every author by the age...