Reviewed by Professor EA Gamini Fonseka
Guide to Literary Criticism by DCRA Goonetilleke, Emeritus Professor of English, University of Kelaniya, is really a boon to the readers of English Literature in Sri Lanka and abroad not only as students and teachers but also as journalists, critics, writers, and scholars. After going through all the sections in the book, I realized that Professor Goonetilleke has filled the vacuum in the study of English Literature left by the disappearance of books I used to read as a youth, Reading & Discrimination by Denys Thomson (1954) and Analytical Reading by VB Sosnovskaya (1974), long out of print.
As Professor Goonetilleke states, his Guide to Literary Criticism is not a reprint of his First Steps to Literary Criticism that used to be a source of inspiration for self-learning students like me in the 1970s. In fact, the incorporation of ideas of seminal influences on modern critical theory such as Morris Dickstein, in the discussion, suggests, compared to its predecessors, Guide to Literary Criticism marks a radical stance in respect of a critical response to a text. This also portrays the shaping the readers of literature should undergo in consonance with the current developments in the world of literature as well as in the visual and performing arts.
The book is in two parts: Part 1 is an elaborate view of meaning, form, and style. Part 2 contains prose and verse passages for critiques. Without realizing the meaning, form and style of a text, no criticism is possible. So as an indispensable aspect of the study of literature, Professor Goonetilleke has exemplified in his discussion that spans over some 70 pages how these vital aspects of a text are approached in an objective study. In the presentation of his approach, Professor Goonetilleke has based his exemplars on canonical texts from English literature belonging to different eras. At a time that most students and teachers are becoming lazy to research into the literature of different eras, that contain varieties of language and styles, Professor Goonetilleke’s effort would simplify the difficulties and clear the obstacles in their way to reading literature that represents different aesthetic, philosophical and historical movements. The glossary that appears towards the end of Part 1 is another useful feature of the book. Thus the book functions as guide in the real sense of its title.
Part 2 contains two sections occupied by verse and prose passages respectively. They are also not limited to a certain category or era, but represent an anthology appreciated by any sensible reader of English. While these passages remain test materials, in a separate section how these individual passages can be critiqued is demonstrated. In fact, these reviews of the passages concerned provide a model for the user to go ahead with the study of literary criticism.
By familiarizing oneself with the rationale, techniques, examples, models, and terminology present in the book, one is sure to develop confidence in embarking on reading and commenting on a piece of literature of any literary or historical period from any part of the world. In that sense, Professor DCRA Goonetilleke’s work amounts to a landmark contribution to the study of literary criticism. No matter what academic level they represent, I recommend Guide to Literary Criticism to all academic institutions ranging from secondary education to tertiary education as fundamental reading material that every student of literature should have read. I wish the book will receive a warm reception from the teaching and learning communities in Sri Lanka and other parts of the world.
(Professor EA Gamini Fonseka is the Head of Ruhuna University English and Linguistics Department )
Book: Guide to Literary Criticism
Author: Professor DCRA Goonetilleke
Publisher: Sarasavi Publishers
Price: Rs. 300