The Age of Appreciation : Reading and Teaching Classic Literature in Australia in the Early Twentieth Century

THE word 'appreciation' has probably now lost the power it once had to denote sensitive, sympathetic and detailed reflection and commentary on a piece of literature. Its currency as 'liking' or 'gratitude', whether in the vulgar-genteel register of a Kath Day-Knight, or the formulaic courtesies of a modem office environment, has dulled its analytical edge and weakened its evaluative authority to the point where it is difficult to think of 'appreciating' a writer's work as an intellectually serious operation at all. And this despite the fact that the term still retains much of its older, more rigorous meaning when applied to the visual arts, and to certain areas of the general culture - wine- tasting, for example - where both pleasure and discrimination are highly valued. Why that particular gap has opened up between literature and the fine arts over the last forty or fifty years is a nice question. What is fairly clear, though, is that the terms used to describe more reflective and analytical dealings with literature - terms like ' criticism ' and ' interpretation ' - are not now , and perhaps never were, perfectly interchangeable with 'appreciation ' . And for that reason a closer acquaintance with the term's provenance and meaning is likely to contribute to our understanding of past reading paradigms and practices, especially as regards the reading and study of literature.

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Published 1 May 2006 in Volume 22 No. 3. Subjects: Literature - Study & teaching.

Cite as: Buckridge, Patrick. ‘The Age of Appreciation : Reading and Teaching Classic Literature in Australia in the Early Twentieth Century.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, 2006. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.3f0273bc66.