The Critical Wager

Mostly for readers who like an intellectual challenge, this book examines what Gairdner calls “the architecture of ideology” in great detail, as constructed by literary critics from various fields such as philology, psychology, marxism, existentialism, and structuralism.


“William Gairdner has successfully achieved an original explanation of all the main critical systems which are alive today … By comparing these various approaches according to their characteristic driving forces and the problems to which they are characteristically blind, The Critical Wager makes it possible for the average reader to understand the whole progression of critical thought since the Romantic period … Gairdner writes with a rare first-hand immediacy, and an incisive and commonsensical enthusiasm which commands attention and respect.” Professor Ian Watt, Former Chairman, Department of English, Stanford University, and author of many landmark studies, including The Rise of the Novel.

“While more complex and subtle than a manifesto, The Critical Wager has something of a manifesto’s sense of historical moment. Gairdner feels all of the ideologies he examines to be equally interesting [and] to this extent The Critical Wager is an optimistic book. It is also an uncommonly attractive one, argued, as it is, with intelligence, verve, and grace.” David Halliburton, Chairman, Modern Thought and Literature, Stanford University

“…as it stands, his study is one of the most stimulating and intelligent reflections on the nature and function of criticism to have appeared in the last decade. It is lucid, honest, and has the intellectual strength to grasp the field as a whole and to relate the author’s findings to clear philosophical positions. As the import of criticism in our society becomes a weightier matter, Mr. Gairdner seems to be among those few eminently suited to construe and to deconstruct for us its claims, its prejudices, and its fruitful imperfections.” Professor Virgil Nemoianu, Catholic University of America