Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Twentieth-Century Humanist Critics

Twentieth-Century Humanist Critics: From Spitzer to Frye

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
  • Book Info
    Twentieth-Century Humanist Critics
    Book Description:

    The Twentieth-Century Humanist Criticsrevisits the work and place of eight scholars roughly contemporary with Anglo-American New Criticism: Leo Spitzer, Ernst Robert Curtius, Erich Auerbach, Albert Béguin, Jean Rousset, C.S. Lewis, F.O. Matthiessen, and Northrop Frye.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8504-8
    Subjects: History, Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    In the course of our culture wars there appear, from time to time, statements repudiating earlier approaches to literary study, approaches that preceded the advent of theory and the postmodernist outlook. The repudiation often refers directly to the New Criticism, denouncing the New Critics for elitism, for proclaiming one and only one acceptable method of reading, for isolating literary texts from history and denying their ideological content and context, and for imposing a narrow literary canon of conservative writers, the leading critics themselves being men of the Right. There is a tiny kernel of truth to the accusations, although the...


    • 1 Leo Spitzer; or, How to Read a Text
      (pp. 15-28)

      Leo Spitzer, Ernst Robert Curtius, Erich Auerbach, Karl Vossler, and Helmut Hatzfeld form a circle or current of German-language academic criticism that was the finest in their day and, many believe, is comparably important today. This generation of German and Austrian scholars combined vast scholarship and historical knowledge with a rare literary sensitivity and imagination; they specialized in all three major Romance literatures, from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century; and they authored a rich, extensive corpus of original critical scholarship. Spitzer, whose career spanned some fifty years and who reached the summit of his profession first in Marburg...

    • 2 The Continuity of Western Literature: Ernst Robert Curtius
      (pp. 29-42)

      In 1983 Earl Jeffrey Richards publishedModernism, Medievalism, and Humanism: A Research Bibliography on the Reception of the Works of Ernst Robert Curtius.¹ Over the next ten years a number of major conferences were devoted to Curtius: at Heidelberg in 1986, at Bonn in 1986, and at Mulhouse and Thann in 1992. The proceedings of all three colloquia were then published.² Haijo J. Westra, of the University of Calgary, reviewed the Heidelberg collection in the 1992Canadian Review of Comparative Literature.This review, an insightful, well-written essay, gives the impression of being, among other things, a jeremiad against Curtius. In...

    • 3 The Evolution of Western Literature: Erich Auerbach
      (pp. 43-56)

      Conferences at Stanford, Marburg, and Groningen commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Erich Auerbach’sMimesis.¹ ’Tis sixty years since – more than sixty – when appeared the first German edition of a scholarly volume that was recognized immediately to be one of the great books of criticism in our century.² Charles Muscatine reviewed the English translation as ‘one of those rare books that speak to everyone in the literate world.’³ René Wellek, who had reservations aboutMimesis, nonetheless characterized it as follows:

      a book of such scope and breadth, ranging as it does from Homer to Proust, combining so many methods so skillfully,...

    • 4 Albert Béguin and the Origins of Literary Modernism
      (pp. 57-69)

      Albert Béguin was a leading member of the French-language current designated as the critics of consciousness or the Geneva school (l’École de Genève). This phenomenological school of criticism came into prominence as a school in the 1950s and 1960s as the most important element of the French-languagenouvelle critiquein reaction against traditional French literary scholarship – that is, the positivist literary history à la Gustave Lanson associated with the Sorbonne since the latter decades of the nineteenth century. Béguin, his older colleague Marcel Raymond, and their younger colleagues and disciples, Georges Poulet, Jean-Pierre Richard, Jean Rousset, and Jean Starobinski, are...

    • 5 Academic Criticism at Its Best: Jean Rousset
      (pp. 70-84)

      Like Albert Béguin, Jean Rousset is Swiss, a critic and scholar associated with Frenchnouvelle critiqueand the Geneva school. Like Béguin, he spent a number of years teaching in Germany, where he was influenced by German literature, architecture, and intellectual life. In other respects, however, Rousset differs from Béguin and from the concern with consciousness deemed central to the Geneva critics. Born in 1910, he is, except for Frye, the youngest figure whom I examine in this book, and he is also the only one whose work came into being in its entirety after the Second World War. As...

    • 6 C.S. Lewis and the Discarded Image of the Middle Ages and Renaissance
      (pp. 85-100)

      Unlike the other scholar-critics discussed in this book, Clive Staples Lewis is much better known as a Christian apologist and writer of fantasy literature than for his contribution to English literary studies. The Oxford don and (toward the end of his career) professor at Cambridge achieved world fame and something approaching cult status for, among other works,The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, andThe Chronicles of Narnia. As a result, Lewis has benefited from the kind of attention accorded to major creative writers: more than 150 books and hundreds of articles devoted to him, in whole or in part, including...

    • 7 The Search for an American Usable Past: F.O. Matthiessen
      (pp. 101-117)

      The vast majority of critics whom I discuss wrote, in addition to other studies of importance, a single, massive book which launched or consolidated their fame and which is their primary contribution to the profession. Francis Otto Matthiessen, however, is perhaps unique in that his 1941American Renaissancehelped launch and define an entire professional field of inquiry.¹ The scholars who have written on Matthiessen all emphasize the man’s importance and the unique contribution made by his masterwork.²

      At a time when literary studies in the United States were divided between a newly emergent New Criticism still in its formative...

    • 8 Northrop Frye’s Totalizing Vision: the Order of Words
      (pp. 118-138)

      This book culminates with a chapter on Northrop Frye, arguably the last great humanist critic and the first major theoretician. Frye has probably written more and has had a greater impact on literary studies than any other scholar-critic in our century, in the English-speaking world at least. Between 1947 and his death in 1991 he authored thirty books and edited another sixteen; his collected works, including correspondence, student essays, notebooks, and diaries, in the process of publication by the University of Toronto Press, will add up to more than thirty volumes. As of December 2004, the first fifteen have been...


    • 9 Discussion
      (pp. 141-184)

      Eight critics, three languages (German, French, English), and the educational and academic environment of seven national traditions: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. What do these scholars of literature have in common? How can we place them in literary and cultural history? How are we to differentiate them from their predecessors and their successors?

      We find patterns of shared interests. Spitzer and Curtius were impressed by the Spanish Golden Age as a milestone in the history of literature and as a cultural phenomenon that affected both of them emotionally. Spitzer, Curtius, and Auerbach all...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 185-220)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-248)
  9. Index
    (pp. 249-267)