Early in the first essay of Sir William Empson’s last book his Chinese expertise comes in handy. He quotes an officiously vague sentence of Emile Legouis on Marvell’s use of mythology and deftly defuses its pretentiousness with his colloquial approval. ‘Excellent, but what can it mean, when translated out of High Mandarin, except that Marvell was able to believe in fairies?’ Fairies, battles with the unfortunately named Tupper over the question of whether Marvell married his housekeeper or not, the populism of the satires, politics, family and the obscure objects of Marvellian desire – all are used by Empson to flesh out his sense of the ‘firm and passionate mental operation’ going on in Marvell’s poems. The basis of all intelligent reading is the author’s intention: the discovery of biographical expression in a poem can renew it for us. Contempt for the author’s intention turns critics into vandals.
Follow Literary Review on Twitter
'There can’t be many histories of London that have given room, for instance, to the Koreans of New Malden or the Bombay Emporium of Mayfair in the 1930s.'
Jerry White on @profpanayi's 'Migrant City'.
'How do those of us who have enough to eat account for hunger? We often imagine it’s about drought, famine, lack of rain, corruption and incompetence. We need to be much more imaginative.'
@moorehl reviews 'Hunger' by @martin_caparros.
You only have until Tuesday to make the most of our Mother's Day offer.
An annual subscription to Literary Review, full access to our online archive, and a free copy of 'Miss Austen', the bestselling novel by Gill Hornby, all for just £35.