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Reviews 247 but presented in a manner that offers nothing new to those familiar with Zagorin's work, and without contextual commentary to help those new to the author. David Tulloch Department ofHistory Victoria University of Wellington Zwicker, Steven N. ed., The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 16501740 , Cambridge, University ofCambridge Press, 1998; paper; pp. xxiii, 334; 5 b/w illustrations; R R P AUS$33.95; ISBN 0521564883. As a relatively recent genre, literary 'companions' function both as referen works, providing introductions and knowledge about contexts, and as critical compendia , exemplifying and contributing to the relevant and current critical debates. To declare that the present volume fulfils these mixed expectations in relation to a diffuse period of English literary history is to make a point much in its favour. Chronologies of 'Events and Texts' and 'Contemporary Lives', and an index which lists authors, texts, historical periods ('Interregnum'), events ('Popish Plot') and causes ('Jacobitism'), help to meet the demand for a work ofreference. The Companion ensures inclusivity by approaching its material from two directions: seven commissioned essays deal with 'Contexts and Modes' and seven with named writers. Each contributorfindsa way to resolve, within the limited space allocated, the two-fold requirement for a comprehensive survey and an original analysis. It is fascinating to observe the variety of methods and emphases adopted. A major strength of the volume, reflecting a recent if fragile consensus in Critical approach, is its resistance to constructing hierarchies among the very large number of authors considered. A n exception is the essay contributed by the editor, which begins by asking: 'Is there a writer in the history of English letters who more completely defines an age than John Dryden?' (p. 185). A nebulous hierarchy of authors is suggested by the frequency with which some names, and not others, recur in essays across the two Parts. However, the Companion achieves an overt democratisation, in that the quotations, descriptions and analyses empower the reader to choose among authors and to follow up ideas. The earlier authoritarian approach to a literary education, which demanded study of the 'great' works of an age, however uninteresting they might have been to individuals, has apparently been renounced. 248 Reviews This critical coming of age is nowhere more obvious than in the space allocated to w o m e n writers. Like the males, they are discussed in context, as independent contributors to culture; there is no hint at a female literary ghetto. Some readers will remember a time not so distant when such an achievement by a mainstream critical work was unimaginable. Three of the eight authors named in the chapter headings to Part T w o are female. Patricia Springboard's essay pairs Mary Astell with John Locke, while Donna Landry's discusses the literary and personal interactions of Pope and Lady Mary Wortly Montagu. In Part One Margaret A. Doody's perceptive study explains how the distrust of gender norms and political truths prevalent in the Restoration produced a sense of instability in the written language, and provided w o m e n writers with some freedom 'to deal with their own anger, desire and questioning' (p. 69). Literary theorists repeatedly warn us, however, of the illusory quality of freedom and resistance, and the Companion does not elude the consequences of this. In aiming, laudably, as the Preface claims, 'to introduce students to English literary culture in one of its most volatile and politically engaged moments' (p. xi), the editor and authors may have been seduced to a degree by the seventeenthand eighteenth-century power structures they so perceptively observe. The volume focuses more directly on politically-engaged London literature, especially satires, at the expense of writers who lived in the country, or who were disempowered, or who had interests other than politics, sex and personalities. In its tendency implicitly to mirror, in the texts and authors selected for extended discussion, the urban, even court-based preferences of the period, and to pay attention to the literature which is most accessible to the deeply disillusioned political assumptions and secular interests of the present, the volume could be said to embody a new critical authoritarianism. I am referring here to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 247-249
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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