An Experiment in Criticism Ch 7-8
An Experiment in Criticism Ch 7-8 E-mail

An Experiment in Criticism
Chapters 7-8


Chapter 7

1.  Describe "realism of presentation" and "realism of content."  Lewis observes that realism of content is "the dominant taste at present."  He published An Experiment in Criticism in 1961.  Do you think this is still true today?

2.  Lewis breaks "true to life" realism into two categories.  Describe them.  Which type do you find more interesting to read?  Give some examples from your own reading.

3.  Lewis argues that fantasy and science fiction do not deceive readers the way more realistic books might.  Why?  What does Lewis see as "the real danger"?  Can you think of some examples that fall into this category?

4.  How does Lewis deal with the stigma of "escapism"?

5.  How does Lewis deal with the accusation of "childishness" in literature?  What should we shed as we mature?  What should we keep?

6.  Speculation:  How does the availability of "virtual reality" redefine the parameters of realism?


Nominalism:  The philosophical view that there are no universal entities in reality.  By the contrary, realism says that universals do exist.  

Idealism:  View that the essence of reality is a mental construct; it is immaterial.

C'était pendant l'horreur d'une produnde nuit:  Trans. It was during the horror of a dark night.

Adolphe:  1816 novel by French writer Benjamin Constant.  A college student falls in love with an older woman who is the mistress of a nobleman.  The book is notable for the absence of descriptions of exterior scenes, focusing on the mental and emotional interior.

Bercilak:  The true name of the green knight in the medieval poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight."

Furioso:  May refer to "Orlando Furioso" (1516), an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Aristo about conflict between Charlemagne and the Saracens.  Contains many fantastical elements such as a trip to the moon.

Rasselas:  A brief fable by Samuel Johnson written in a week in 1759 to raise money for his mother's funeral.

Candide:  A 1759 satirical novella by Voltaire, containing some fantastical elements.  A young man, Candide, has his optimism tempered by a witnessing suffering in the world through events like the Lisbon earthquake and the Seven Years' War.

Vathek (aka An Arabian Tale):  A 1786 gothic novel by William Beckford.  Combined Oriental (cultural setting) and gothic (supernatural and ghosts) themes.

Petty Cury:  Pedestrian-only shopping street in Cambridge England (where Lewis was teaching when this book was written).  

The Old Wives' Tale:  1908 novel by Arnold Bennett about two sisters who start out working in their mother's dress shop.  The book follows their lives into old age.

Balin:  A character in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring.

Kullervo:  A character in the Finnish epic poem, Kalevala.

Securus judicat:  Latin for the whole world judges right.

Myn auctour:  From Chaucer's Trolius and Criseyde.

"Arcadia":  Poem by Philip Sidney presenting an idealized view of pastoral life.

"The Shepheard's Sirena":  Pastoral poem by Jacobean poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631).

George Crabbe (1754-1832):  Poet, surgeon, and minister.  He published three volumes, each of which had "tales" in the title:  Tales in Verse; Tales of the Hall; Posthumous Tales.  

Entia rationis:  Trans. beings of reason.

Philip Sidney (1554-1586):  Elizabethan poet and soldier who wrote The Defence of Poetry (aka as An Apology for Poetry) and "Arcadia" and "Astrophel and Stella."

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599):  English poet best known for the epic poem The Faerie Queen.

William Morris (1834-1896):  A Renaissance man of sorts.  Besides being a textile designer, artist and founder of the Arts & Crafts Movement, Morris was an English writer of fantasy literature.  He was also interested in medieval works.

Märchen:  A folktale.

Chapter 8

7.  What is the "misreading" common to the literary readers that gives this chapter its title?

8.  What mistake about reading and interpreting tragedy does Lewis caution against?  Lewis wrote this book the year following Joy's death.  What signs of that loss do you see in some of his comments regarding tragedy?

9.  Lewis cautions against going to a text to find confirmation of what one already believes.  In the same paragraph, he further notes:

We are so busy doing things with the work that we give it too little chance to work on us.  Thus increasingly we meet only ourselves.  (p.85)

How might this apply to Bible reading, if at all?  How is this using art, rather than receiving it?  (You may wish to refer back to chapter 3 for a discussion of using vs. receiving art.)

10.  According to Lewis, what should we be concerned with when reading imaginative work?


Thomas DeQuincey (1785-1859):  English essayist who wrote a piece for the North British Review in 1848 titled "The Literature of Knowledge and the Literature of Power" as part of an essay on Alexander Pope.

Exeunt omnes:  In drama, a direction for all characters to leave the stage.

"a sceptered pall":  "is one befitting a king" from John Milton's "Il Penseroso."

Faibliaux -- probably fabliaux (pl):  Medieval tale told in verse and usually dealing with comic, coarse themes.

Troilus and Creseyde:  Poem by Chaucer about two lovers set against the fall of Troy.

Alisoun:  A female character in "The Miller's Tale" by Chaucer.

Weltanschauung:  German term for world-view or philosophy of life.

Nostromo:  1904 novel by Polish writer Joseph Conrad set in a fictitious South American country resembling Columbia.

"a cheverel glove":  From Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.  "A sentence is but a cheverel glove to a good wit."

Lucretius (99 - 55 BC):  Roman poet and philosopher best known for his poem "On the Nature of Things", which took a secular, non-religious view of the world.  One of the first to articulate the theory of atoms.  Lucretius' work was the topic of The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

© 2014 by Allyson Wieland