Yvor Winters has here collected, with an introduction, the major critical works—Primitivism and Decadence, Maule's Curse, and The Anatomy of Nonsense—of the period in which he worked out his famous and influential critical position. The works together show an integrated position which illuminates the force and importance of the individual essays. With The Function of Criticism, a subsequent collection, In Defense of Reason provides an incomparable body of critical writing.
The noted critic bases his analysis upon a belief in the existence of absolute truths and values, in the ethical judgment of literature, and in an insistence that it is the duty of the writer—as it is of very man—to approximate these truths insofar as human fallibility permits. His argument is by theory, but also by definite example—the technique of the "whole critic" who effectively combines close study of specific literary works and a penetrating investigation of aesthetic philosophies.