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Percy Lubbock’s 1921 volume was one of the first major works of literary criticism to focus on the novel as a form. Literary criticism itself was in its infancy, but more importantly the novel seemed a less notable subject for criticism at the time than poetry and drama. Lubbock’s book is not just an argument about fiction, but for fiction—an attempt to provide a rationale for the novel as a high art form. Lubbock’s book didn’t just influence critics; it was also a spur to contemporary novelists. Virginia Woolf vacillated between echoing and condemning his ideas. Woolf’s lengthiest engagement with Lubbock was her 1922 essay “On Re-reading Novels,” which primarily praises and extends Lubbock’s argument.
This, like E. M. Forster’s “Aspects of the Novel,” is an essential work of criticism. This is the book recommended by Graham Greene in his autobiography. He had studied this book inside out before embarking on his illustrious career. I suppose no other stamp of approval is needed after that.