The Millions

How to Have an Opinion: The Criticism of Martin Seymour-Smith

was a grumpy fellow. A promising poet who took up writing big reference books of literary criticism, his highly idiosyncratic 1977 survey is deliciously highbrow junk food. But like strawberry Pocky or matcha Kit-Kat, Seymour-Smith isn’t for everyone. His effort to catalogue the literary scene is full of curiously gleeful put-downs and undercooked psychoanalysis. He pronounces “by no means intelligent … seriously overrated,” sums up as “a distinguished lepidopterist” and “a minor writer of distinction,” and tenderly humiliates ’s as “brilliant … but too much so.” would be an impossible book to write today: Seymour-Smith is skeptical of literary personality at its core. The entries on particularly mythic writers like Hemingway and show a dogged commitment

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