How to Read Literature

Terry Eagleton. Yale Univ., $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-300-19096-0
Notable and polarizing English critic Eagleton provides basic instruction on close reading and literary criticism for beginners. He discusses the opening sentences of some famous works and explains how they establish tone, employ irony, or create dramatic effect. On Characterization, Eagleton explores some of Dickens's "freakish figures", Shakespeare's Othello as "a character without a context", and brings himself to task on a "woefully off the mark" early reading of Sue Bridehead in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. Eagleton (Literary Theory: An Introduction) explains different types of narrators, and the ways in which authors may reveal bias or "rig their narratives to suit their fictional purposes." He shows the process of literary interpretation in action, first with a silly analysis of "Baa Baa Black Sheep", and then more seriously delving into the themes, symbolism, and imagery of Dickens's Great Expectations. Crucially, he breaks down differences between Realism and Modernism in terms of creating characters, handling conflict, and dealing with the limitations of a narrative. He points to Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy as a subversion of Realism and an example of Modernism before its time. This is Eagleton at his most charming and an excellent guide for literature students early in their education or those seeking a refresher course. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 216 pages - 978-0-300-20530-5
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