Playing It By Ear


This volume gathers together thirty-three essays and reviews by one of America's liveliest critics. Also included in the book are amusing reflections on William H. Pritchard's adventures as a soap opera fan and on the art of writing hostile reviews.
Read More Show Less
... See more details below
This Paperback is Not Available through
Note: This is a bargain book and quantities are limited. Bargain books are new but may have slight markings from the publisher and/or stickers showing their discounted price. More about bargain books
Sending request ...


This volume gathers together thirty-three essays and reviews by one of America's liveliest critics. Also included in the book are amusing reflections on William H. Pritchard's adventures as a soap opera fan and on the art of writing hostile reviews.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Best known for his biographies of Robert Frost and Randall Jarrell, Pritchard provides in this volume a refreshing variety of essays. Most focus on 20th-century poets and novelists, but other more personal essays deal with Pritchard's philosophy of teaching and his efforts to save a television soap opera from cancellation. Unapologetically old-fashioned in his defense of the literary canon, Pritchard nevertheless praises such lesser-known writers as British novelist Elizabeth Taylor. In a section on poets, he questions the inflated reputation of John Ashbery while defending John Updike's largely ignored verse. Pritchard's 1976 attack on ``the hermeneutical mafia'' (Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman and other deconstructionist critics at Yale) is badly dated but remains a delightful display of wit. Throughout the volume (and especially in his essay on gender studies by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar), Pritchard passionately rejects any form of reductionist criticism that sacrifices the experience of literature to a political agenda. He is highly skilled in polemics, but his criticism of others is usually tempered by self-deprecating humor, and his distinctive voice remains free of solemn academic jargon. (Dec.)
Library Journal
Believing that the literary critic should help the common reader hear the poem or novel itself, Pritchard (Randall Jarrell: A Literary Life, LJ 2/1/90) takes witty and cogent potshots at Yale guru Harold Bloom and colleagues ("The Hermeneutical Mafia") and some feminist critics ("Salvos from the Gender War") for ideological excesses that warp a work by bending it to critics' agendas. He eschews current academic fashion and offers refreshingly independent judgments of such poets as Frost, Eliot, MacLeish, Spender, Larkin, Lowell, and Updike (whose poetry he is almost alone in treating); novelists Lawrence, Ford, Faulkner, Vidal, and Trollope (in whom he finds unrecognized merit); and critics Santayana, Mencken, F.R. Leavis, and Helen Vendler. Written mostly for the Hudson Review, these 33 brief essays reveal a lively, provocative mind. Highly recommended for readers conversant with modern British/American literature.-Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, Mo.
A collection of 33 of Pritchard's essays and reviews on novelists, poets, and critics. Subjects include Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Gore Vidal, soap operas, and the art of writing hostile reviews. Many of the pieces have appeared over the past 30 years in the New York Times Book Review, the Hudson Review, and the Boston Sunday Globe. Lacks an index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615576371
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
  • Publication date: 12/15/1994
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Ear Training 3
Frost Revised 23
Epistolary Eliot 27
MacLeish Revisited 36
Big Spender 46
Robert Lowell (1917-1977) 51
Larkin's Presence 57
Entertaining Amis 75
How to Open a Pigeon 84
An Interesting Minor Poet? 91
John Ashbery 98
The Metered Updike 102
Glorious Trollope 109
The Serpent Hatches 119
Fordie 125
Total Waugh 130
Pure Literature: Anthony Powell's View 140
Sound and Fury 147
Almost Austen 155
Vidal's Satiric Voices 161
Bookman 171
Santayana's Legacy 176
Henry Mencken's Prejudices 185
F. R. Leavis (1895-1978) 193
Criticism on the Record: B. H. Haggin (1900-1987) 198
The Old Buffer 201
Helen Vendler 208
The Hermeneutical Mafia 215
Salvos from the Gender Wars 227
Love Story 235
West of Boston 243
The Scholar and the Soap 249
Nasty Reviews: Easy to Give, Hard to Take 256
Name Index 265
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)