A Critic’s Article



There was an article by Rowan Pelling in The Daily Telegraph recently. Since the article had to do with literary criticism, I took an interest in it.

According to Wikipedia, Rowan Pelling is a British journalist, broadcaster, writer and stand-up comedienne who first achieved note as the editor (or “editrice”, to use her term) of monthly literary/erotic magazine, the Erotic Review. She was a judge of the 2004 Man Booker Prize. She is now a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, is working on her first novel, and is the mother of two sons.


Ms Pelling’s article (her photo is above) is as follows:

“It is easy to recall the moments in my life when I’ve been so overwhelmed by sudden shame and remorse that I’ve prayed for a meteorite to smite me on the spot. One occurred this summer, as I walked into the green room of The Curious Art Festival at Hampshire’s Pylewell Park. I greeted a friend who gesticulated to the table behind him, saying, “You must know Fay Weldon.” Yes, yes, I know – by daunting reputation – the celebrated writer and feminist icon. You could even say she’s welded on my brain, because I gave a complete stinker of a review to an erotic novel written under a pseudonym; only to be told, once I’d submitted it, that the author was almost certainly Weldon. By then, I’d dismissed the book at “fearful tosh” and opined that it read “like one of those saucy stories written by schoolgirls and passed under the desks at RE”. I considered asking my editor to soften my view as I am generally a big fan of Weldon’s oeuvre. . . . However, my first duty as a reviewer was undoubtedly to the reader, and I wasn’t sure they would be well advised to allocate hard-earned cash to a pseudo-Dennis Wheatley sex romp. So the review ran in its unflattering entirety pointing me inexorably to the day when I would stand quaking before Weldon, wondering whether it was best to apologise, or hope that merciful amnesia had drawn a veil over the episode. But long experience tells me that praise, however extravagant, will be absorbed, or taken as one’s due, while criticism, however trivial, will remain engraved on the artist’s heart. So I grovelled and blushed and the leonine Weldon was magnanimity personified.”

Ms Pelling goes on to mention several instances where authors and film-makers reacted with a mixture of hurt and venom to savage reviews by other critics.

She goes on to say: “Yes, it’s far easier to sit at your desk and take an entertainment apart than to actually write a novel and, yes, any fool with a blog can stumble home drunk and say they loved a film. The difference, however, is that you don’t feel that accountable when you tell your Facebook friends you gave a great big “Meh” to The Grand Budapest Hotel. When you put those judgments into print, however, you feel enormous responsibility; but not primarily to the work’s creators. In an over-stimulated, time-poor world it is ever more the critic’s job to steer his or her readers firmly towards what most deserves their split attention. . . . What’s certain is that not only do critics need rhino hide to function, so do writers who post painstaking works of creativity out in the harsh spotlight. I understand the desire to call reviewers to task, but an offended writer will appear more powerful if they float above the controversy with regal detachment.”

She concludes by saying: “There’s one thing all critics know: you can’t take it back.”

To Ms Pelling’s article, I can only add: “Amen!”

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