March 01, 2013

Salty Literary Critique

In March of 1863, the poison pen of Mikhail Yevgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin sketched a critique of the state of contemporary literature, which was dominated by voices proclaiming the importance of content over form. Art, from the viewpoint of many writers and philosophers at the time, must first and foremost be beneficial, correct and noble, and it must inspire a sense of sympathy for the poor and weak. Form and aesthetics were relegated to the lowest of priorities. This is how Shchedrin saw the situation:

Whole phalanxes of short story writers, novelists, satirists, and dramaturges have emerged who have decided once and for all that talent is nonsense, knowledge of life is claptrap, keenness of observation is hokum, and that the most important thing is nobility of feeling. Having so decided, they are falling over one another in their attempts to demonstrate:

That education is far better than lack of education;

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