wood on bayley


In their very different ways, the three most prominent Oxford professors of English since the war have all been populist pretenders. John Carey, scourge of Modernist ‘intellectuals’ and reliable dribbler of cold water on all forms of overheated aestheticism, comes across as the last defender of sensible English decency. Terry Eagleton, with his blokeish binarisms and comic’s patter, increasingly presents himself as the sensible Marxist alternative to toothless and ornate theory in America and continental Europe. And John Bayley, with his hospitable style and gift for canonical gossip, again and again attempts to defend the sensible common reader against academic criticism tout court – what he has variously called ‘the higher criticism’, ‘smart academic critics’, ‘the literary lads’, ‘the clever men at Yale and elsewhere’, and ‘the high-tech men’.

more from Mr. James Wood at The London Review of Books here.