How to Read Literature

How to Read Literature

Terry Eagleton

Language: English

Pages: 232

ISBN: 0300205309

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.

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New Left Review, Volume 320 (March - April 2014)

New Left Review, Volume 320 (March - April 2014)

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single sentence, the novel sets a deliciously scandalous scene: an eighty-one-year-old man in bed with a boy, yet a man distinguished and respectable enough to have a servant (we assume this is what Ali is), and to be worthy of a visit from an archbishop. He is also cultivated enough to use the word ‘catamite’, which is not often to be heard on Fox TV. The fact that he seems unembarrassed by his situation might suggest a certain English sangfroid. One of the achievements of the sentence is the

that these contradictions went to the heart of people's identities. To show men and women as they really are is to show them as changeable, inconsistent and self-divided. The idea of character as unified and coherent struck Brecht as an illusion. It repressed the conflicts within the self which might make for social change. In one of his short stories, Herr Keuner, who has been absent from his village for many years, returns home, and is cheerfully informed by his neighbours that he hasn't

which is one reason why they can be subject to a whole range of interpretations. It is also one reason why we tend to pay closer attention to their language than we do with bus tickets. We do not take their language primarily as practical. Instead, we assume that it is intended to have some value in itself. This is not so true of everyday language. A panic-stricken shout of ‘Man overboard!’ is rarely ambiguous. We do not normally treat it as a delectable piece of wordplay. If we hear this cry

suffering or sexuality, does not guarantee it major status. It may deal with these things in a supremely trivial way. In any case, these universal aspects of humanity tend to assume different forms in different cultures. Death for an agnostic age like our own is not quite what it was for St Augustine or Julian of Norwich. Grief and mourning are common to all peoples. Yet a literary work might express them in such a culturally specific form that it fails to engage our interest at all deeply.

allusion to a renowned Russian dancer (‘like old, grey, mad Nijinski’). The way Quilty is thrown through the air by the impact of the shot is wittily converted into a graceful leap in ballet, rather as the extract itself converts a squalid slaying into art of the highest order. One notes the beautifully, comically understated touch ‘somewhat morose’, as though Quilty's reaction to being filled with lead is to feel a bit down in the mouth. ‘as if I were tickling him’ is another splendid piece of

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