How to Read Literature

How to Read Literature

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    How to Read Literature
    Book Description:

    What makes a work of literature good or bad? How freely can the reader interpret it? Could a nursery rhyme likeBaa Baa Black Sheepbe full of concealed loathing, resentment, and aggression? In this accessible, delightfully entertaining book, Terry Eagleton addresses these intriguing questions and a host of others.How to Read Literatureis the book of choice for students new to the study of literature and for all other readers interested in deepening their understanding and enriching their reading experience.

    In a series of brilliant analyses, Eagleton shows how to read with due attention to tone, rhythm, texture, syntax, allusion, ambiguity, and other formal aspects of literary works. He also examines broader questions of character, plot, narrative, the creative imagination, the meaning of fictionality, and the tension between what works of literature say and what they show. Unfailingly authoritative and cheerfully opinionated, the author provides useful commentaries on classicism, Romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism along with spellbinding insights into a huge range of authors, from Shakespeare and J. K. Rowling to Jane Austen and Samuel Beckett.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19535-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Openings
    (pp. 1-44)

    Imagine that you are listening to a group of students around a seminar table discussing Emily Brontë’s novelWuthering Heights. The conversation might go something like this:

    Student A:I can’t see what’s so great about Catherine’s relationship with Heathcliff. They’re just a couple of squabbling brats.

    Student B:Well, it’s not really arelationshipat all, is it? It’s more like a mystical unity of selves. You can’t talk about it in everyday language.

    Student C:Why not? Heathcliff ’s not a mystic, he’s a brute. The guy’s not some kind of Byronic hero; he’s vicious.

    Student B:OK,...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Character
    (pp. 45-79)

    One of the most common ways of overlooking the ‘literariness’ of a play or novel is to treat its characters as though they were actual people. In one sense, to be sure, this is almost impossible to avoid. To describe Lear as bullying, irascible and self-deluded is inevitably to make him sound like some modern-day newspaper mogul. The difference between Lear and the mogul, however, is that the former is simply a pattern of black marks on a page, whereas the latter, more’s the pity, is not. The mogul had an existence before we encountered him, which is not true...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Narrative
    (pp. 80-116)

    Some narrators in fiction are known as omniscient, meaning that they are assumed to know everything about the story they tell and that the reader is not expected to question what they say. If a novel begins ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed,’ it would be futile for the reader to exclaim, ‘No, he didn’t!’, ‘How do you know?’ or ‘Don’t give me that!’ The fact that we have just read the words ‘A Novel’ on the title page rules out these questions as...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Interpretation
    (pp. 117-174)

    One of the things we mean by calling a piece of writing ‘literary’ is that it is not tied to a specific context. It is true that all literary works arise from particular conditions. Jane Austen’s novels spring from the world of the English landed gentry of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, whileParadise Losthas as its backdrop the English Civil War and its aftermath. Yet though these works emerge from such contexts, their meaning is not confined to them. Consider the difference between a poem and a manual for assembling a table lamp. The manual makes sense...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Value
    (pp. 175-206)

    What is it that makes a work of literature good, bad or indifferent? There have been many answers to this question over the centuries. Depth of insight, truth-to-life, formal unity, universal appeal, moral complexity, verbal inventiveness, imaginative vision: all of these have been proposed at one time or another as marks of literary greatness, not to speak of one or two more dubious criteria such as giving voice to the indomitable spirit of the nation, or stepping up the rate of steel production by portraying steel workers as epic heroes.

    For some critics, originality counts for a good deal. The...

  9. Index
    (pp. 207-216)