“Matthew Arnold made the horrible prophesy that literature would increasingly replace religion. It has, and it's taken on all the features of bitter persecution, great intolerance, and traffic in relics. All literature becomes a sacred text. A sacred text is always exposed to the most monstrous exegesis; hence we have the spectacle of some wretched scholar taking a pure divertissement written in the seventeenth century and getting the most profound ambiguities and social criticisms out of it, which of course aren't there at all.”
His conclusion? “It's an industry, you see.”
If Lewis had got his way, the Oxford English Syllabus would have gone no further than 1820 and Jane Austen. While this might seem a bit radical, imagine all those blue-stockings on both sides of the Atlantic who would have had cause to thank him for saving them from having to wade through oceans of bad Victorian books while trying to convince themselves that Moby Dick is the great American novel.
But, you may ask, how could the world live without definitive editions of and critical essays on Joyce, Lawrence, Pound and Eliot?
The answer, I think, is in the question.