Carey, John 1934-

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Carey, John 1934-


Born April 5, 1934, in London, England; son of Charles William and Winifred Ethel Carey; married Gillian Mary Florence Booth, August 13, 1960; children: Leo Jonathan, Thomas Charles. Education: Oxford University, B.A. (with first class honors), 1957, M.A., 1960, D.Phil., 1960.


Home—Churchill, Oxfordshire, England. Office—57 Stapleton Rd., Headington, Oxford, England.


Writer, educator, critic. Oxford University, Oxford, England, lecturer at Christ Church, 1958, Andrew Bradley research fellow at Balliol College, 1959, fellow of Keble College, 1960-64, lecturer in English literature and fellow of St. John's College, 1964-75, Merton Professor of English Literature at Merton College, 1976-2001. Man Booker International Prize, England, chair of judges, 2004.



(Editor, with Alastair Fowler) The Poems of John Milton, Longmans, Green (Harlow, England), 1968, Norton (New York, NY), 1972.

(Editor) John Milton, Complete Shorter Poems, Longmans, Green (Harlow, England), 1968, 2nd edition, 1997, revised 2nd edition published as Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, Addison-Wesley (New York, NY), 2006.

(Editor) James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted with an introduction and notes by Carey, 1999.

Milton, Evans Brothers (London, England), 1969, Arco (New York, NY), 1970.

(Compiler) Andrew Marvell: A Critical Anthology, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1969.

(Contributor) Christopher Ricks, editor, The Sphere History of Literature, Volume II, Sphere Books (London, England), 1970.

The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens' Imagination, Faber & Faber (Winchester, MA), 1973.

(Translator) Milton, Christian Doctrine, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1973.

Thackeray: Prodigal Genius, Faber & Faber (Winchester, MA), 1977.

John Donne: Life, Mind, and Art, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1981, 2nd edition, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1990.

(Editor) William Golding: The Man and His Books, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1986.

Eyewitness to History, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1987.

Original Copy: Selected Reviews and Journalism, 1969-1986, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1987.

The Faber Book of Reportage, Faber (London, England), 1987, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1988.

(Editor) John Donne: A Critical Edition of the Major Works, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990, revised edition with an introduction and notes by Carey published as Major Works, 2000.

The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.

(Editor) The Faber Book of Science, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1995.

The Faber Book of Utopias, Faber (London, England), 1999.

Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the Twentieth Century's Most Enjoyable Books, Faber (London, England), 2000.

(Editor, and author of introduction and notes) William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.

What Good Are the Arts?, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica. Contributor of articles and reviews to Modern Language Review, Review of English Studies, and the London Times.


British writer John Carey is the former Merton Professor of Literature at Oxford University, and is well known internationally for critical works on Charles Dickens and John Donne. Lucasta Miller, writing in the Guardian Online noted: "When fired by indignation, Carey's writing can exhibit almost anarchic levels of energy. Yet this impulse is counterpoised by a desire for order, exhibited in his scholarly, rather than purely critical, work." Miller also observed: "Much of Carey's vitriol has been deployed, over the years, against snobbery and intellectual pretension." Thus, in addition to such critical works as John Donne: Life, Mind, and Art, The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens' Imagination, and Thackeray: Prodigal Genius, Carey has also penned controversial works critical of intellectual elitism, including the 1992 title The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, and the 2006 work What Good Are the Arts?

Carey's book John Donne is, according to Michael Radcliffe of the London Times, an "exhilarating case-history of a great poet's imaginative resourcefulness. It will stretch the mind of the average reader…. It is also a speculative journey which displays confidence in reader, poet, and the arguments of the critic himself, and the confidence is catching."

Carey proposes several new interpretations of Donne's poetry that break with previous criticism. He emphasizes Donne's conversion from Catholicism to the Anglican church, his ambitious and egotistical nature, and his preoccupation with change and transformation as being the most important aspects to be considered when analyzing Donne's work. As Radcliffe noted, Carey's "case is made with a commanding intensity and wit, covering a wide area of human experience and behaviour. [Carey] stakes out patterns and an overall structure to sustain the apparent contradictions of Donne's work." Timothy S. Healy of the Washington Post Book World especially admired Carey's analysis of Donne's poetry. "Carey," Healy wrote, "spins out a running commentary on Donne's lyrics, with skill and insight…. Carey's touch on the poems is sure and delicate. When he can stop arguing theology with Donne, … he is a first-class critic and explicator of his poetry." Anatole Broyard of the New York Times called John Donne "a brilliant book."

From literary criticism and biography, Carey turns to social and intellectual history, battling what he sees as intellectual elitism in The Intellectuals and the Masses, a "seminal, disturbing, and excoriating" work, according to an Atlantic Monthly reviewer. Here Carey posits that much of the literature of what is called modernism—works by writers such as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and Ezra Pound—was based on a distrust and even an active dislike of the common man or woman. Carey, whose own roots were among such common people, "revives the old point that modernists made their writings obscure to mark them off from the pulps," as a reviewer for the Economist noted. Thus, much of the obscurantism found in the works of Joyce and Pound, for example, was, according to Carey, a conscious attempt on the part of these writers to set themselves apart from the newly educated and literate masses. Writing in Reason, Donald N. McCloskey observed that the "avant garde was in this way fleeing its bourgeois origins and keeping clear of the proletariat masses." Not only did many modernists, such as W.B. Yeats, Wyndham Lewis, and D.H. Lawrence, despise the commoner and exalt the artist as the preserver of timeless cultural values, but also some intellectuals, such as H.G. Wells, went even further, proposing birth restrictions on certain races. Carey asserts that such extreme forms of intellectual distancing from the masses had disastrous political results, in part leading to fascist ideologies.

Nick Gillespie, writing in the National Review, felt Carey "teases out the chilling implications of the elitism undergirding much of modernist discourse," yet went on to write that The Intellectuals and the Masses was "engrossing but ultimately disappointing." Gillespie felt Carey failed to prove his central thesis, that is, that modernist writing's sole purpose was an attempt to preserve the intellectuals from mass culture. For McCloskey, however, Carey's book also had wider historical import: "Carey piles up the evidence for his proposition that literary modernism and fascism are more than merely chronologically linked." Other reviewers felt that Carey took his arguments too far. Christopher Caldwell, for example, writing in the American Spectator, noted: "Unfortunately, Carey is apt to overstate the degree to which characters speak for the authors who've created them." Similarly, a reviewer for the Wilson Quarterly observed: "Carey insists upon a simple determinism where a more nuanced analysis is called for. Modernist, elitist notions could as easily be used to attack Nazism as to underwrite it, and they were." Christopher Clausen, writing in the New Leader called The Intellectuals and the Masses a "sloppy, farfetched book." A Publishers Weekly contributor had a higher assessment of the same work, however, concluding: "Carey's razor-sharp analysis is an antidote to snobbery and class prejudice in all forms."

Carey created more debate with What Good Are the Arts?, a critique of British government sponsorship of arts organizations and museums. In the book, Carey contends that such public funds could be better spent at the local level, for there is no evidence that the arts—from painting to performing arts—does anything to improve life. Carey excepts literature from such a sweeping critique, as he sees this as the only art form that is actually self-criticizing and able to further education. Marlene Seidman, writing in Afterimage, felt that "Carey's critical text challenges the reader to think about devotion to the arts and define terms that remain elusive and subject to opinion." Similarly, Terry Eagleton, reviewing What Good Are the Arts? in the New Statesman (1996), wrote: "it is to Carey's undying credit that he subjects the cultural mandarins to such withering scorn, not least given that he has been surrounded by them for half a century." For Eagleton the book is a "wonderfully generous-spirited polemic; yet it is hard not to feel that it has bitten off more than it can chew."

Carey's book also had its detractors. Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Carlin Romano found the thesis of What Good Are the Arts? "both simple and simplistic." Spectator critic Rupert Christiansen thought Carey was "at his most acerbic, combative and impassioned in this brilliant polemic," but went on to complain: "Just don't expect the question proposed by the title to be satisfactorily answered." And for Anthony Daniels, writing in the New Criterion, Carey's book "is a work of what might be called the higher destruction: the giving of good reasons to hoi polloi for not exerting themselves unduly, since where culture is concerned there is no better or worse." David Lodge, however, had a higher opinion of the same work in the London Sunday Times: "This is an informative, thought-provoking and entertaining book on a subject that rarely produces writing with all three qualities."



Afterimage, May-June, 2006, Marlene Seidman, review of What Good Are the Arts?, p. 53.

American Spectator, March, 1994, Christopher Caldwell, review of The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, p. 68.

Atlantic Monthly, October, 2002, review of The Intellectuals and the Masses, p. 141.

Bookseller, October 14, 2004, "Booker Global Judges," p. 61.

Contemporary Review, April, 2000, review of The Faber Book of Utopias, p. 221.

Economist, September 5, 1992, review of The Intellectuals and the Masses, p. 96.

National Review, November 7, 1994, Nick Gillespie, review of The Intellectuals and the Masses, p. 81.

New Criterion, October, 2006, Anthony Daniels, review of What Good Are the Arts?, p. 4.

New Leader, December 27, 1993, Christopher Clausen, review of The Intellectuals and the Masses, p. 16.

New Statesman, September 27, 1999, Tom Holland, review of The Faber Book of Utopias, p. 84; June 20, 2005, Terry Eagleton, review of What Good Are the Arts?, p. 48.

New Statesman and Society, September 22, 1995, Jon Turney, review of The Faber Book of Science, p. 32.

New York Times, May 30, 1981, Anatole Broyard, review of John Donne: Life, Mind, and Art.

Observer (London, England), June 19, 2005, Kate Kellaway, "John Carey: Academic, 71, Oxford."

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 24, 2006, Carlin Romano, review of What Good Are the Arts?

Publishers Weekly, November 22, 1993, review of The Intellectuals and the Masses, p. 55.

Reason, July, 1994, Donald N. McCloskey, review of The Intellectuals and the Masses, p. 60; April, 2006, Nick Gillespie, review of What Good Are the Arts?, p. 49.

Spectator, June 4, 2005, Rupert Christiansen, review of What Good Are the Arts?, p. 37.

Sunday Times (London, England), David Lodge, review of What Good Are the Arts?

Times (London, England), May 14, 1981, Michael Radcliffe, review of John Donne.

Utopian Studies, winter, 2000, Michael Jackson, review of The Faber Book of Utopias, p. 120.

Washington Post Book World, May 3, 1981, Timothy S. Healy, review of John Donne; July 5, 1987.

Wilson Quarterly, spring, 1994, review of The Intellectuals and the Masses, p. 84.


Guardian Online, (June 4, 2005), Lucasta Miller, "Relative Values"; (June 11, 2005), Blake Morrison, review of What Good Are the Arts?

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Carey, John 1934-

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