Virginia Woolf, “An Essay in Criticism,” The New York Herald Tribune, October 9, 

HUMAN credulity is indeed won-
derful. There may be good rea-
sons for believing in a King or 
a Judge or a Lord Mayor. When we 
see them go sweeping by in their robes 
and their wigs, with their heralds and 
their outriders, our knees begin to shake 
and our looks to falter. But what 
reason there is for believing in critics it 
is impossible to say. They have neither 
wigs nor outriders. They differ in no 
way from other people if one sees them
in the flesh. Yet these insignificant fel-
low creatures have only to shut them-
selves up in a room, dip a pen in the 
ink, and call themselves “we” for the 
rest of us to believe that they are some-
how exalted, inspired, infallible. Wigs 
grow on their heads. Robes cover their 
limbs. No greater miracle was ever per-
formed by the power of human credulity.
And, like most miracles, this one, too, has 
had a weakening effect upon the mind 
of the believer. He begins to think that
critics, because they call themselves so, 
must be right. He begins to suppose that 
something actually happens to a book 
when it has been praised or denounced 
in print. He begins to doubt and con-
ceal his own sensitive, hesitating appre-
hensions when they conflict with the 
critics' decrees.

And yet, barring the learned (and 
learning is chiefly useful in judging the 
work of the dead), the critic is rather 
more fallible than the rest of us. He 
has to give us his opinion of a book that 
has been published two days, perhaps,
with the shell still sticking to its head. 
He has to get outside that cloud of fer-
tile, but unrealized, sensation which 
hangs about a reader, to solidify it, to
sum it up. The chances are that he 
does this before the time is ripe; he does 
it too rapidly and too definitely. He says 
that it is a great book or a bad book. 
Yet, as he knows, when he is content 
to read only, it is neither. He is driven 
by force of circumstances and some 
human vanity to hide those hesitations 
which beset him as he reads, to smooth 
out all traces of that crab-like and 
crooked path by which he has reached 
what he chooses to call “a conclusion.”
So the crude trumpet blasts of critical 
opinion blow loud and shrill, and we, 
humble readers that we are, bow our 
submissive heads.

But let us see whether we can do 
away with these pretenses for a season
and pull down the imposing curtain 
which hides the critical process until it 
is complete. Let us give the mind a new 
book, as one drops a lump of fish into 
a cage of fringed and eager sea 
anemones, and watch it pausing, pon-
dering, considering its attack. Let us 
see what prejudices affect it; what in-
fluences tell upon it. And if the con-
clusion becomes in the process a little 
less conclusive it may, for that very 
reason, approach nearer to the truth. 
The first thing that the mind desires 
is some foothold of fact upon which it 
can lodge before it takes flight upon its
speculative career. Vague rumors attach 
themselves to people's names. Of Mr. 

[new column]

Hemingway, we know that he is an Amer-
ican living in France, an “advanced”
writer, we suspect, connected with what 
is called a movement, though which of 
the many we own that we do not know. 
It will be well to make a little more cer-
tain of these matters by reading first Mr. 
Hemingway's earlier book, “The Sun Also 
Rises,” and it soon 
becomes clear from 
this that if Mr. 
Hemingway is “ad-
vanced” it is not in 
the way that is to 
us most interesting. 
A prejudice of which 
the reader would do 
well to take account
is here exposed; the 
critic is a modern-
ist. Yes, the excuse 
would be because 
the moderns make 
us aware of what 
we feel subcon-
sciously; they are 
truer to our own
experience, they
even anticipate it, 
and this gives us a 
particular excite-
ment. But nothing 
new is revealed 
about any of the 
characters in “The 
Sun Also Rises.” 

[new column]

They come before us shaped, propor-
tioned, weighed, exactly as the char-
acters of Maupassant are shaped and 
proportioned. They are seen from the old 
angle; the old reticences, the old rela-
tions between author and character are 

But the critic has the grace to re-
flect that this de-
mand for new as-
pects and new per-
spectives may well 
be overdone. It may 
become whimsical. 
It may become fool-
ish. For why should 
not art be trade-
tional as well as 
original? Are we 
not attaching too 
much importance to 
an excitement 
which, though 
agreeable, may not 
be valuable in it-
self, so that we are 
led to make the 
fatal mistake of 
overriding the writer's gift?

At any rate, Mr. 
Hemingway is not
modern in the sense 
given; and it would 

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