How to Read Literature
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What makes a work of literature good or bad? How freely can the reader interpret it? Could a nursery rhyme be full of concealed loathing, resentment and aggression? In this accessible, delightfully entertaining book, Terry Eagleton addresses these intriguing questions and a host of others.
certainly not for whoever wrote the Upanishads or the Book of Daniel. Eliot sees character as ‘a process and an unfolding’, which is not at all how Woolf or Beckett regard it. For them, human beings do not have that much consistency and continuity. The typical realist character tends to be reasonably stable and unified, more like Amy Dorrit or David Copperfield than Joyce's Stephen Dedalus or T.S. Eliot's Gerontion. As such, it reflects an era when identity was felt on the whole to be less
suspected murderer. It is hard to see how the civilisation portrayed in the book could survive if it were to become conscious of its true foundation. This is an astonishingly radical view for the novel to take. In fact, it is far more radical than Dickens himself. It is a long way from his real-life political views. He was a reformist, not a revolutionary. In this sense, Great Expectations, like some of its author's other late novels, illustrates a point we noted earlier, that a writer's
who evolve over time, like Shakespeare's Lear or George Eliot's Maggie Tulliver. Yet some of Dickens's characters are realistic precisely by being none of these things. Far from being well rounded, they are grotesque, two-dimensional caricatures of human beings. They are men and women reduced to a few offbeat features or eye-catching physical details. As one critic has pointed out, however, this is just the way we tend to perceive people on busy thoroughfares or crowded street corners. It is a
might feel it to be true of Hopkins or Hart Crane. People may continue to tip their hats to such classics long after they have ceased to mean much to them. Yet if absolutely nobody was enthused by The Divine Comedy any more, it would be hard to know how it could still be said to be a great poem. You can also reap pleasure from a literary work you regard as fairly worthless. There are plenty of action-packed books in airport bookstores which people devour without imagining they are in the
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice might have stayed perpetually unmarried. Oliver Twist might never have encountered Fagin if he hadn't asked for more, and Hamlet might have come to a less sticky end had he stuck to his studies in Wittenberg. There is another opening sentence in the Bible which rivals the first line of Genesis for rhetorical splendour. We find it at the beginning of St John's Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ ‘In the