Mcsweeney, Kerry 1941-
McSWEENEY, Kerry 1941-
Born 1941. Education: University of Toronto, Ph.D.
Office—Arts Building and Moyse Hall, 853 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T6, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].
Tennyson and Swinburne as Romantic Naturalists, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Canada), 1981.
(Editor) Diversity and Depth in Fiction: Selected Critical Writings of Angus Wilson, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1983.
Middlemarch, Allen & Unwin (Boston, MA) 1984.
Moby-Dick: Ishamel's Mighty Book, Twayne Publishers (Boston, MA), 1986.
Invisible Man: Race and Identity, Twayne Publishers (Boston, MA), 1988.
(Editor) Aurora Leigh, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1993.
Supreme Attachments: Studies in Victorian Love Poetry, Ashgate (Brookfield, VT), 1998.
The Language of the Senses: Sensory-Perceptual Dynamics in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Thoreau, Whitman, and Dickinson, McGill-Queen's University Press (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
Kerry McSweeney has edited and written guides to a number of classical texts, in addition to authoring several volumes of literary criticism. In his first book, Tennyson and Swinburne as Romantic Naturalists, David G. Riede in Journal of English and Germanic Philology noted that McSweeney deviates from traditional criticism of the two poets, as it has generally been more common to analyze their differences than to discuss their similarities. He commented that in the opening chapter, "Swinburne's Tennyson," McSweeney "forcefully demonstrates the effectiveness of viewing one poet from the very different perspective of the other." However, Riede noted that McSweeney's goal in the work is to discuss the common "naturalistic vision" of the two poets, a term he claims McSweeney never adequately defines. During the bulk of the study, McSweeney isolates the poets, with three chapters devoted exclusively to Tennyson and two to Swinburne. In the separation, Riede found the "important distinctions between Tennyson's and Swinburne's 'naturalistic vision' tend to be blurred." Riede commented that the chapters in which McSweeney compared the two authors directly "shows not only important similarities of vision, but also the fundamental differences that the bulk of the study often neglects." Overall, Clyde de L. Ryals in Modern Language Review found McSweeney's readings of Swinburne's poetry to be "more convincing" than his readings of Tennyson. He remarked that "although warning that he will perform 'deidealizing operations' on Tennyson, none of Kerry McSweeney's reading of about ten poems of 1830-42 gives surprising evidence of these." He found on the whole McSweeney "seems to be less interested in the 'Romantic naturalism' of Tennyson and Swinburne than in promoting a new/old attitude towards poetry in English of the period 1830-1900."
Also noteworthy is McSweeney's The Language of the Senses: Sensory-Perceptual Dynamics in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Thoreau, Whitman, and Dickinson. This study contains chapters on the authors mentioned in the title, along with a shorter chapter covering Tennyson and Hopkins. James C. McKusick in the University of Toronto Quarterly observed that McSweeney "develops a 'sensory typology' of the five writers under analysis." He applauded this vein, which is "informed by recent findings in the physiology and psychology of perception" and provides "fascinating close reading of several crucial poems in the Anglo-American Romantic tradition." He found McSweeney's investigation of Wordsworth "especially fresh and insightful," and also praised his examination of the dynamics of perception in the works of Thoreau, Whitman, and Dickinson. His main criticisms of the book were the absence of the poetry of Keats and Shelley in the study, and it lacked mention of kinaesthetic imagery. On the whole, he felt that McSweeney's work "represents a genuine advance in our knowledge of poetic form." J. L. Thorndike in Choice found the book to be "well-written," and noted that "McSweeney provides a useful and revealing discussion of sensory dynamics." Michael O'Neill in Review of English Studies observed that "incisive chapters on Thoreau, Whitman, and Dickinson … represent the best part of the book." He praised McSweeney's "especially subtle and painstaking reading" of Whitman, and felt that while the work has "some rough edges … it makes a significant contribution towards the understanding of a central concern of nineteenth-century literature."
McSweeney turns his attention to modern authors in Four Contemporary Novelists: Angus Wilson, Brian Moore, John Fowles, V. S. Naipaul. Mark Casserley, writing for the Times Literary Supplement noted that McSweeney "believes that the ordinary mediating work of criticism is undervalued today" and in turn provides "evaluations of all their novels, picking out general characteristics and dominant preoccupations." However, in his study of Fowles Casserley remarked that "McSweeney's methods bring out the didactic and repetitive aspect of Fowles at the expense of the 'richness' McSweeney praises." Claire Sprague, in Modern Fiction Studies observed that the subjects of this study "were chosen partly because little has been written about them, partly because setting Wilson and Fowles together with Moore and Naipaul removes all four from more confining categories like English or Irish or Commonwealth novelist." She found McSweeney's plot summaries to be "acute and interesting," and praised his observation of the "ordinary people" in Moore's and Larkin's work, noting that "these correlations are effective; they are rarely made in criticism about contemporary English fiction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, May, 1999, G. A. Cavasco, review of Supreme Attachments: Studies in Victorian Love Poetry, p. 1620; November, 1999, J. L. Thorndike, review of The Language of the Senses: Sensory-Perceptual Dynamics in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Thoreau, Whitman, and Dickinson, p. 538.
Journal of English and Germanic Philology, David G. Riede, review of Tennyson and Swinburne as Romantic Naturalists, pp. 587-589.
Modern Fiction Studies, summer, 1984, Claire Sprague, review of Four Contemporary Novelists: Angus Wilson, Brian Moore, John Fowles, V. S. Naipaul, pp. 370-372.
Modern Language Review, January, 1984, Clyde de L. Ryals, review of Tennyson and Swinborne as Romantic Naturalists, pp. 157-158.
New Statesman, September 9, 1983, David Montrose, review of Diversity and Depth in Fiction: Selected Critical Writings of Angus Wilson, p. 26.
Review of English Studies, February, 2001, Michael O'Neill, review of The Language of the Senses, pp. 125-26.
School Library Journal, February, 1987, Elizabeth Reardon, review of Moby-Dick: Ishamel's Mighty Book, p. 92.
Times Literary Supplement, October 5, 1984, Mark Casserley, review of Four Contemporary Novelists, p. 112.
University of Toronto Quarterly, winter, 1998, James C. McKusick, review of The Language of the Senses, pp. 241-43.*