Pairing great writers from each generation who typify the contrasts and concerns of their age, Professor Brett explores the complex interplay between faith and doubt in English literature since the Enlightenment. Not confining himself to a biographical and historical approach, he deploys his understanding of contemporary philosophy and ideology to throw a new light on often neglected areas.
The thoroughness of treatment, displaying wide reading and considered judgement, is carried off with a light touch. To lucid argumentation is added a clear and elegant style, leading both students and general readers admirably through the discussion. Established scholars will also appreciate Professor Brett’s skilful account of the subject, which reveals previously-unseen connections and patterns.
I. Wordsworth and Coleridge
II. Carlyle and Arnold
III. George Eliot and Dickens
IV. Tennyson and Browning
V. Yeats and Eliot
VI. Auden and Larkin
Endorsements and Reviews
Of all his books, this is the one which shows most fully his remarkable range of knowledge and understanding in literature, philosophy and theology. His scholarship and critical acumen, his characteristic lucidity, impartiality, and humanity are all in evidence here in the work for which, I feel sure, he would most wish to be remembered.
Professor Tom McAlindon, University of Hull
This book is sheer delight. It contains a magnificent exposition of the main themes of Eliot’s poetry. The author’s range is immense, his erudition vast and his style eminently readable.
R.L Brett’s last book deals with a subject he made very much his own, a closely interrelated series of studies illustrating the ebb and flow of religious belief. Of all of Brett’s books, this is the one that demonstrates most fully the range of his knowledge and the depth of his literary understanding. His Introduction offers a cogent critique of the methods and results of many all-too-fashionable critical theories that conspire to dismiss all consideration of the author and his milieu from literary discussion. The book is particularly valuable for its examination of the influence of Platonism and the metaphysics of Kant and Hegel on the broad-church followers of Coleridge. The pivotal chapter on Tennyson and Browning is a model of lucidity, and In Memoriam and The Idylls of the King are perceptively discussed. Eliot’s Four Quartets are well discussed here. Brett’s book raises many important issues in modern literature, and discusses them with a particularly wide range of reference.
The Tennyson Society
This book is rich in insight and, at times, revelatory. Brett’s prose style is a joy; learned but witty, precise, yet capable of a gravity which invites comparison with the great model for this sort of criticism, The Lives of the English Poets. Brett, like Johnson, is worth reading for his own sake and not just for the light he sheds on others. Those who read for enjoyment and instruction will find it illuminating.
Peter Hatton, in Epworth Review
The merits of the book lie chiefly in its tidy synthesis of familiar material for the benefit of the general or undergraduate reader, to gratify the student looking for a general overview of the field. Brett’s particular forte is tracing the influence of philosophers and theologians on poets and novelists.
Greg Crossan, Massey University, in Notes & Queries
Perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects is the willingness to run counter to many of the prevailing schools of critical theory. Brett draws the reader deeply into the life and times of each writer and enriches our understanding of their work, their lives and the contribution they made to contemporary thought. This was an enormously satisfying book to read: the breadth of learning is immense; the style is clear and lucid; the cross-referencing, not only between pairs of writers but across all the writers, created a rich tapestry of religious exploration and honest doubt.
Journal of Education and Christian Belief
Professor Brett is particularly illuminating in analysing ‘The Ancient Mariner’. The author is equally acute and simulating when he considers other pairs. This is a profound book which repays reading and re-reading.
Dibby Grieg, in Quaker Monthly