This is a collection of essays on major English literary figures by the leading Dutch critic Kees Fens. Although most of them are on nineteenth and twentieth century literature, dealing with, among others, Newman, Hopkins, Wilde, Shaw and Greene, authors from earlier periods, such as Thomas More and George Herbert, are not excluded.
Kees Fens holds that great cultural achievements are creative responses to a large diversity of traditions. The most important of these constitute the cultural heritage that is preserved and passed on in education, religion, reading and writing. For Fens, culture is first and foremost a continuity of experience, starting in one's youth, when one goes to school and to church. In assimilating the tradition, one learns that all aspects of life are culturally significant, for better or worse.
Creativity is the urge to continue to learn on all occasions. What one learns is that one's knowledge necessarily remains incomplete. Fens has a sharp eye for inconsistencies and paradoxes, in authors as well as in their work. He responds to these with humour, since, in his view, they illustrate a permanent striving for perfection.
What a great author leaves behind is his language. Language is saturated with many kinds of traditions; an author uses language to reshape the traditions he wants to perfect. A great author becomes a great teacher when he makes his readers experience his own need for perfection.