E491 MATTHEW ARNOLD QUESTIONS
Assigned: "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" (802-25). Suggested: "Preface to 1853 Poems."
"The Function of Criticism at the Present Time"
1. What is the nature of the "critical effort" (806), and what, according to Arnold, is the "highest function of man" (808)? How do we know this to be so? Can criticism fulfill this highest function, or is it the case that only art can do so?
2. What, according to Arnold, are the elements with which literary genius works? What precisely is the "grand work" of literary genius? What is it not? To what extent is literary genius therefore dependent upon the age in which it works? (808)
3. What relationship does Arnold posit between the "critical power" and the "creative power"? Why can't there be a truly great period of literary creation without criticism? What, for instance, was the problem with the romantics' exercise of their creative genius? (808 bottom-810)
4. How does Arnold analyze the French Revolution? What was the Revolution's greatest strength, and what was its "greatest error"? How does this analysis of the Revolution relate to Arnold's claims about "the function of criticism at the present time"? (810-11)
5. How is Edmund Burke's career, in Arnold's view, an example of "living by ideas" and therefore a counterbalance to the errors of the French Revolutionaries? How does Arnold explain his phrase "living by ideas"? (812-13)
6. What notion "hardly enters into an Englishman's thoughts" (813-14)? How is this missing notion essential to criticism? How does Arnold define criticism and its goals on 814-15? For example, what one italicized word on 814 sums up the rule criticism ought to follow? (813-15)
7. What forces in current British life, according to Arnold, are getting in the way of intellectual progress? What is his complaint on 817 about the newspaper headline "Wragg is in custody"? (815 bottom-817)
8. What objections does Arnold anticipate against his view of British society's need for critical activity? What social vision is he offering -- who or what will be the agent of change, and when will that change come about? (817 and following)
9. What is Arnold's final definition of criticism? Does this definition seem convincing after all his elaboration and argumentation? (824)
10. If you have read some of John Stuart Mill's work, how does Arnold compare to that author in the objects of his social criticism? In what regard might Arnold differ from Mill? (general question)
11. Towards the end of his essay, Arnold describes his notions of the modern nation and the individual's place within it. For those who have read T. S. Eliot's claims about poetry and criticism in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," how might Arnold's notions be a source for Eliot's ideas? (824-25)
Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-97429-4.