De Quincey, Wordsworth and the Art of Prose by D.D. Devlin

By D.D. Devlin

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Extra info for De Quincey, Wordsworth and the Art of Prose

Sample text

Each mode of composition is a great art; well executed, in the highest and most difficult of arts. ) 'the antique or scriptural language' is everywhere employed; and there are many forms of words which have become with time 'essentially poetic' and cannot be used without either affectation or sentimentality in 'any mode of prose'. The state of the language co-operated with the religious feeling of the men who translated the Authorised Version of the Bible 'by furnishing a diction more homely, fervent, and pathetic' than would now be available.

15 Half a dozen comments over thirty years hint that if the influence of Wordsworth had been less decisive De Quincey might have moved towards some richer criticism of fiction. The picaresque tale of Sinbad is condemned because it has 'no unity of interest'. There must be no arbitrary deaths in a novel, but any character who dies must be disposed of 'agreeably to the providential forecastings of the plot itself, and by the spontaneous evolution of the fable'. A successful fable is one in which 'the incidents successively generate each other'; in the Iliad (which De Quincey treats as a novel) the story 'unfolds like a process of vegetation', and 'the close intertexture' of the several parts 'is as strong a proof of unity in the design and execution as the intense life and consistency in the conception of Achilles'.

Masson, XI, 56) De Quincey, however, did not share Wordsworth's contempt for novels and their readers, for Boz, 'that Man', and Dr. Arnold's lads; and common sense led him to find value in more kinds of fiction than fairy tales. De Quincey (unlike Wordsworth) was faced with the fact of a vastly increased reading public and an explosion in the popularity of novels which were now (he saw) the only books 'that ever interest the public' or 'reach its heart'. Any writing, even the most popular, that reaches the heart must have some degree of 'power'.

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