Yet another book on critics and criticism by Terry Eagleton, the most celebrated among the present-day cultural and literary critics of Britain! And it is a book on the heroes of a bygone era as well. Surely another book on TS Eliot, IA Richards, William Empson, FR Leavis and Raymond Williams—may be with the exception of the last named, who is still regarded as a guru of the prevailing cultural studies approach—will likely have as few takers as, for instance, another book on the English novel from Dickens to Lawrence.
However, Terry Eagleton does nothing without a plausible reason. And, of course, he can always be trusted to make that most arid of subjects, criticism, come alive with his punchy writing. Besides, despite the reign of the new gods of theory and critique in the academia for the past half century or more, the daily work of teaching of literature in the English classrooms across the world is still being conducted in the style of these early critics belonging to the pre-theory era. As such, Eagleton’s warm and even-handed account of these critics, though liberally spiced with his famous takedowns and jibes, is particularly welcome. It is reassuring indeed that after doing a demolition job on them along the road to his own critical visibility he has set out to set the record straight.