WHAT IS THE UNITY OF THIS WORK? Kids, the T.S. Eliot essay I linked to reflects one of the principles for analyzing literature that I was taught fifty years ago. A basic question was always: what is the unity of this work? It was taken for granted that a work of literature should be unified. Thus, Eliot criticizes HAMLET because it has “superfluous and inconsistent scenes” and because the versification is inconsistent. It is a flaw for Eliot that some of the verse in HAMLET is like early Shakespeare and some of it is in Shakespeare’s mature style. Eliot was not the first to celebrate unity as a literary value. Henry James in a preface to an edition of his works referred to novels that were not unified as “…large loose baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary….” He specified THE THREE MUSKETEERS and WAR AND PEACE as examples of “large loose baggy monsters.” About his own work, he said:”A story was a story, a picture a picture, and I had a mortal horror of two stories, two pictures, in one.” I enjoyed the way that Henry James gave THE AMBASSADORS an hourglass shape, but I have always liked large loose baggy monsters.

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