The Historians and The Critics: Ronald S. Crane´s View on Literature

The Historians and The Critics: Ronald S. Crane´s View on Literature

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Ronald S. Crane’s essay concerns the way in which the literary scholar should be viewed. There are two different ideas: the historian and the critic. Crane mentions Howard Mumford Jones, placing him at one end of the spectrum. Jones believes when approaching literature, one must focus on the world and how it is changing, recording all events so those who come after him/her can understand and pass judgments based on facts. At the other end of the spectrum, Crane sets John Livingston Lowes in the foreground, stating that criticism is the only justification to literature. He does not say that we should ignore history, but rather should use it as tool to understand human emotion and to find the deeper meaning through literature.
In Crane’s argument for history, he proposes we ask what is involved in writing history and apply those findings to literature, when it is considered an art form. He says what we take from historical criticism is the same thing we take from any type of historical study: we want to know how humanity has changed. While he believes this is all good, we need to see that it is not the only thing, or the best thing, when it comes to literature. In the second section, Crane begins to show his side of the argument, namely that literary criticism is superior to that of historical criticism. Crane believes that literature is art, so before one criticizes it, one must appreciate it. Also, he states that art is meant to be enjoyed and those who read literary texts should be sensitive to that fact and thus cannot merely be “learned men.”
At the end of his essay, Crane makes it clear he believes that literary criticism is superior to historical criticism. He believes that students should read literature, not about it. His “new criticism” is one that follows pluralism and is a melding of the two previously stated ideas. Crane talks of both literary criticism and historical criticism as a spring board to fully understanding literature and believes that in the future, we can decide on what is a true critical fact rather than all these theories. He says we need to revive the classics and when that happens, the “renewed cultivation” of reading and writing will commence. This, Crane believes, is what any worthy piece of literary criticism should be based on.
The spectrum of criticism about the author is vast.

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We have Barthes, who kills him off and only focuses on the historical, Crane who only wants to focus on the critical analysis of the text itself, and Foucault who questions what an author is. Personally, I believe all the experts are wrong. Although I can see their points, and understand what it is they want from literature, I don’t necessarily believe it. When approaching a text, the reader must first and foremost keep an open mind. The reader needs to understand when and where the story takes place in order to keep an open mind. If you read Sarah, Plain and Tall without knowing when the story takes place, the fact that Sarah is a mail-order bride who moves halfway across the country would be very off-putting. At the same time, the reader must also focus on the text and not form an analysis solely based of the fact that the novel takes place in the late 19th century. Also, if one reads the lovely sonnets of the romantic poets, it helps to know for whom the poems are written. Keats writes “Bright Star” for his lovely Fanny Browne. Lord Byron focuses on his beloved Mary Haworth, whose perfection inspired many of his poems. Even Shelley, whose torrid love affairs were legendary, created many famous sonnets. One cannot form a successful critique of any work without knowing the background information from which the works were produced.

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