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Literature and the Continuances of Virtue

Literature and the Continuances of Virtue

Warner Berthoff
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 306
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  • Book Info
    Literature and the Continuances of Virtue
    Book Description:

    Virtue, as used here, connotes integrity--that living force that issues from persons, societies, or texts in consequence of their accomplishing their distinctive ends. Professor Berthoff outlines the descent of the intuition of virtue from classical times into our own era and examines it as a formative presence in a series of major literary works

    Originally published in 1987.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5830-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Virtue and the Tasks of Criticism
    (pp. 3-44)

    Defending his own philosophical style, William James once remarked that every argument worth making comes out of a “field of consciousness” wider than that mandated by its declared subject and will deviate from what strictly is required because of some contingent anxiety—“the bogey in the background,” James cheerfully named it—which for the moment threatens to obstruct understanding. It may temper a little the immodesty of this book’s overall design if I say at once that I am not claiming exemption from James’s rule. Quite possibly in what follows there are turns of argument betraying a greater preoccupation with...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Virtue: A Short History
    (pp. 45-88)

    In fixing on the great matter ofvirtue, particular works of literature regularly shadow and exploit what is elsewhere being said in the exchanges that constitute historical culture. That is why criticism needs to know all it can of what at any time these correlative structures of discourse have had to say. What else in practice is the assessment of meaning in literature, and what else the attribution of value, if not a measuring of the one mode of knowing and feeling against these others, in particular against those having the greatest articulated authority? The conscious apprehensions ofvirtuethat...

  6. CHAPTER THREE “Our Means Will Make Us Means”: Hamlet and All’s Well That Ends Well
    (pp. 89-123)

    As a first test of the argument about literary meaning proposed in my title, the playHamletoffers several practical advantages. In the first place everyone knows it, and knows also various controversies about it—controversies apparently dating from its opening performances in Shakespeare’s revised version (so it has been deduced from hints that survive concerning reactions among its first London audiences). There is also the timing of its composition, which occurred at the historical moment, just after 1600, when the idea and image ofvirtuewere richly alive in general consciousness but on the point of that progressive fragmentation...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR “What Do Other Men Matter to the Passionate Man?”: The Charterhouse of Parma
    (pp. 124-157)

    With a new chapter and a new text it is worth restating main positions. First: the great subject of literature—the subject of subjects—is virtue, in the root sense of primary human capacity or potency; a property of being which can be realized in collective and communal form as well as in exemplary individuals but which in either case will be different in kind from teachable moral goodness (even when understood as the realizing force within any such goodness). Second: as virtue in this root sense regularly eludes the expectations of scheduled understanding, the most affecting representations of it...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE “Why Does One Thing Happen and Not Another?”: The Man Without Qualities
    (pp. 158-222)

    In a critical excursion emphasizing not only the subject and agency ofvirtuein imaginative literature but the categorical priority of this subject in any work of more than sentimental interest, the reasons for including as a twentieth-century instance the major work of the Austrian novelist Robert Musil can begin with its memorable title.The Man Without Qualities: the representative human creature in his essential being, stripped of all that ordinarily screens him from the fundamental process and task of existence. (The male creature, of course; but in relation to the masculine oligarchies of fifty and seventy-five years ago, releasing...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Analogies of Lyric: Shelley, Yeats, Frank O’Hara
    (pp. 223-273)

    An argument forvirtueas, in the sense here proposed, literature’s core subject is easiest made with narrative and dramatic writings. Does it apply as well—this chapter will ask—to lyric poetry? Even if we take as proven Kenneth Burke’s hypothesis that lyric symbolically encapsulates a dramatic substructure, the relative absence in lyric of transitive particulars makes for corresponding uncertainties in critical judgment. There is less material to work from; actions, motives, imaginative purposes tend to be refracted rather than circumstantially and serially detailed; the consequence-producing scene, the full behavioral environment, are the more completely left to imagination. (So...

  10. Afterword: On Some Arguments of Yves Bonnefoy
    (pp. 274-280)

    What I have chiefly meant to do in the preceding chapters is—so far as mere commentary allows—to let the projected energy and abundance of particular writings speak out for themselves, to the end of inviting readers to meet them with a corresponding imaginative buoyancy. But what else does our critical concern with literature ever properly aim at? The point has been curiously at issue in recent times. Even within reader-centered theories, that predicated responsiveness is itself disregarded as a warrant of meaning or else written off as unqualified misapprehension. A core premise in much current theorizing appears to...

  11. Index
    (pp. 281-293)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 294-294)