Spring 1950 • Vol. XII No. 2 Nonfiction |

The Understanding of Fiction

Philip Rahv's book on modern fiction, Image and Idea1, has been instructive to me in the breadth of its critical ideas. Whatever the critical ideas, they have produced an estimate of individual fictions with which one must generally agree. (I reserve chiefly the right to differ from his disparaging view of Kafka's novels.) And for myself as for any other reader this critical writing cannot but be winning because of its fine candor. The fourteen papers are very varied in the range and depth of the interests displayed, and the first thing to say of this critic is that he is in possession of all the critical categories which have come to be applied to fiction in our time. But in our reading of the magazines we meet with a great many of these, and not always without some dismay. Sometimes when they are newest and smartest they seem too comical in application, like the shapes which an arbiter of fashion requires in the hats of women; and again, when they are the staple ones used

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