This book attempts to isolate the special factors that generate Wordsworth's greatness as a poet. It sets out from a dis-satisfaction with the current trend toward New Historicism in Wordsworthian criticism, and it seeks to qualify the social and historical bias of that criticism by a renewed assertion of the poetic primacy of the personal and qualitative. Taking Marjorie Levinson's reading of "Tintern Abbey" as its starting point, the book's first chapter engages that reading by way of an adverse critique. The second chapter sets forth an alternate and entirely different way of approaching "Tintern Abbey" and leads to the third chapter, which identifies "intensity" as the secret of Wordsworth's power; the permutations of that quality are illustrated by careful examinations of "Ruth", the "sports of time", and "Home at Grasmere". There follows chapters on Wordsworth's desiccation, which is seen as precisely the absence of intensity; on the aspiration of "The Recluse", which is seen to fail in large part because the personal intensity necessary to the venture had been used up in the opening of "Home at Grasmere".
McFarland then discusses the special way in which Wordsworth assumed the prophetic stance, which was essential to his greatness and was adopted in the intense personal confidence that he possessed the truth. The book concludes with a reading of "The Borderers" not as a great play but as a disposal chamber for the dark matter of Wordsworth's cosmos; the play is seen as necessary to clear the way for the purified current of Wordsworthian intensity to flow toward great poetic achievement.
`welcome on many counts: its lucid and readable style, eschewing jargon and striving for clarity; its intellectual independence of current, especially New Historicist, misreadings of Romanticism; above all its discriminating judiciousness ... Professor McFarland has resotred to Wordsworth studies a much-needed commonsense, as well as a selection of the language really used by men.
A Journal of English Language and Literature, Vol 74, No 6 (Dec 1993)
`By turns witty and pungently argumentative, the whole of McFarland's book is a forceful exercise in critical and cultural recuperation ... McFarland's book will stand as a prominent marker in the increasingly cluttered landscape of Romantic studies during the 1990s.
Times Higher Education Supplement
`... an important addition to any undergraduate library.'
Choice No 92
`a very high assessment of Wordsworth ... his conclusions here, like those throughout the book, are justified by his own critical fervour
Times Literary Supplement
`To hear Thomas McFarland speaking his mind about nonsense is almost as enjoyable as doing oneself. In his first chapter his analysis of Marjorie Levinson's reading of 'Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey' is civilised, precise, and terminally effective ... admirable lucidity and economy. The book ... is lucid, original, and stimulting to the highest degree, for this author always has something to say that is worth listening to.
Jeffrey Baker, St Francis Xavier University, The Charles Lamb Bulletin, January 1993, New Series No. 81
`The book is a significant contribution to the debate about Wordsworth's relationship to his society.
J.D. Gutteridge, Notes and Queries, June 1993
`McFarland's latest publication is a splendid and solid work of traditional literary criticism. It will strengthen the position of those English scholars who, without necessarily sharing McFarland's set of values, nevertheless resists the de(con)structive deluge of and headlong gold-rush for every critical dernier cri.
Rolf P. Lessenich, Archiv, 230.Band, 145.Jahrgang, 1.Halbjahresband 1993
`forceful ... McFarland's book possesses its own intensities and convictions
Paul Magnuson, New York University, European Romantic Review, V.4, No. 1, Summer (1993)
`it moves from things that get in the way to things which help ... It forgets - and makes us forget - the "crisis in English Studies," and speaks about Wordsworth, and about life. There is not much higher praise.
Drummond Bone, University of Glasgow, Wordsworth Circle Annual Review Issue '93, Vol.23.4
`McFarland's virtues as a critic - provacativeness and readability - are present here in abundance,
Duncan Wu. St Catherine's College, Oxford. Review of English Studies