Imogen Tink explores the history behind one of Birmingham's most well-renowned theatresWritten by Imogen Tink on 19th May 2017
Book Review: ‘Criticism – Ideas in Profile’ by Catherine Belsey
Catherine Belsey gives a fresh and interesting perspective on the often difficult field of literary criticism, according to Culture critic Holly Reaney
“Belsey focusses on the criticism of the literary arts tracing its concept, origins, and application with a great enthusiasm and intrigue
Criticism is a concept which underpins many of our degrees, especially in the humanities. It's a topic to which many of us have dedicated at least three years of our lives, whether that be criticism of literature, history, art, music or one of the many other subjects which are grounded in criticism. It is both our secondary reading and our own essays. However, a knowledge of its origins and development is something that sounds both tedious and disinteresting. This is exactly what Belsey explores in this book, focusing on the criticism of the literary arts tracing its concept, origins, and application with a great enthusiasm and intrigue.
Despite being the basis for academic study, criticism transcends academia, as Belsey writers 'all made objects are entitled to their own criticism'. So,, we are all critics, making the conclusions and approaches Belsey explores applicable to everyone - even if we aren't studying for a literature degree. Furthermore, Belsey manages the hard task of not coming across as heavily academic, making it an extremely accessible and enjoyable insight into criticism. However, she doesn’t patronise, instead she walks a middle ground of being both heavily informative but in way which you can easily follow and understand. In this way, it is very similar to the well-known and loved ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series.
“This is a book that helps you read it, it doesn't try to make anything unnecessarily difficult as many academic texts have a tendency to do
Belsey's exploration of the origins of literary criticism is fascinating (despite sounding tediously dull). This is an area that often is over-complicated and dense, yet Belsey made it enlightening and clear. The short fact files give insight into key figures, which is endlessly useful if you have no idea who they are and it saves you having to stop reading to quickly google the figures. These fact files are included as small bitesize blocks on the pages where they are relevant instead of being hidden in an appendix in the back of the text. This is a book that helps you read it, it doesn't try to make anything unnecessarily difficult as many academic texts have a tendency to do. Accessibility is definitely at the forefront of this series, and it's refreshing.
“The book’s physical construction also is noteworthy, being made of delightfully thick paper, it feels quite luxurious in comparison to that of my course books
It is not often that I would praise a book's physicality in a review - never judge a book by its cover, right? However, the bright orange cover is simple yet effective, serving as an excellent embodiment of Belsey's clarity of expression. Furthermore, the book’s physical construction also is noteworthy, being made of delightfully thick paper, it feels quite luxurious in comparison to that of my course books.
I would be fascinated to read more books from the 'Ideas in Profile' series and strongly recommend checking them out. I think the 'Shakespeare' one looks especially interesting. I strongly believe that Belsey's book should be compulsory reading for English undergrads but it is also a fascinating read for those who want to know more about their own relationship with literature and their role as a critic in the wider world.