Literary critic Denis Donoghue claims early on he has little to say about beauty and that what he does convey he offers indirectly. The clue to his thesis is a clear reading of his title: Speaking of Beauty
-- how and why we speak of it at all. It's fair his aim is even more slippery than tackling the value of beauty head-on. Quoting Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway
on the first page of chapter one, Donoghue hooks us on the experience of beauty itself, the ''straightness of a corridor; but also windows lit up, a piano, a gramophone sounding; a sense of pleasure-making hidden, but now and again emerging. Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life.'' What's fascinating is that by the last page of that same chapter he's already turned the tables, warning (by way of Hans Urs von Balthasar) against the laxity of letting our talk become sheer adjective or a parade of appearances, easily replaced and presented solely for our personal satisfaction. Admittedly, this is a book of sources ''rife with quotations.'' Discussing Kant, Keats, Dickinson, Hawthorne, James, Yeats, Proust and Eliot (among a host of others), Donoghue draws in Beauty's companions -- the Good and the True -- presenting the three as inseparable values of a whole. With the same sort of depth, he examines beauty's relationship to form and culminates with an extensive chapter on Ruskin's assertions of the beautiful, based in large part on the artist J.M.W. Turner. Concluding as such, Donoghue not-so-subtly suggests the human person as greatest beauty of all.
An Eighth Day View:
A foremost critic of the English language here reflects on beauty and the language that it inspires in authors from Kant to Keats, Hawthorne to Housman.
"An excellent and eloquent book."--James Wood, "New York Times Book Review"
"A beautiful book about beauty. Enormously learned, allusive, recuperative, and citational, it is a passionate meditation on what has been said about beauty in the West from the Greeks to the present day."--J. Hillis Miller
"Donoghue talks . . . with a delightful informality and absence of dogma. . . . One of the most charming features of Denis Donoghue's book is his appendix of 'afterwords, ' brief quotations on beauty from sundry writers."--John Bayley, "New York Review of Books"
"Continuously fascinating, continuously readable, the book speaks of beauty, and of speakers of beauty, in its own calm, steady voice. You won't want to lay it down."--Hugh Kenner