Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature

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A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's Mimesis still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality has taught generations how to read Western literature. This new expanded edition includes a substantial essay in introduction by Edward Said as well as an essay, never before translated into English, ...

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Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature

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Overview

A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's Mimesis still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality has taught generations how to read Western literature. This new expanded edition includes a substantial essay in introduction by Edward Said as well as an essay, never before translated into English, in which Auerbach responds to his critics.

A German Jew, Auerbach was forced out of his professorship at the University of Marburg in 1935. He left for Turkey, where he taught at the state university in Istanbul. There he wrote Mimesis, publishing it in German after the end of the war. Displaced as he was, Auerbach produced a work of great erudition that contains no footnotes, basing his arguments instead on searching, illuminating readings of key passages from his primary texts. His aim was to show how from antiquity to the twentieth century literature progressed toward ever more naturalistic and democratic forms of representation. This essentially optimistic view of European history now appears as a defensive--and impassioned--response to the inhumanity he saw in the Third Reich. Ranging over works in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and English, Auerbach used his remarkable skills in philology and comparative literature to refute any narrow form of nationalism or chauvinism, in his own day and ours.

For many readers, both inside and outside the academy, Mimesis is among the finest works of literary criticism ever written.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The compass and the richness of the book can hardly be exaggerated. This is true too of the originality of Mr. Auerbach's critical method which is at once encyclopedic and microscopic, combining the disciplines of philology, literary criticism, and history."—The New York Times

"One of the most important and readable books in literary criticism of the past 15 years . . . The author, beginning with Homer and the Bible, traces the imitation of life in literature through the ages . . .touching upon every major literary figure in western culture on the way."—Publishers Weekly

"One of the great works of literary scholarship. . . . Auerbach's method . . . is to fasten with fastidious sensitivity on some stray phrase or passage in order to unpack from it a wealth of historical insight. It is his combination of scholarly erudition and critical astuteness which is most remarkable."—Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books

"Written with the authority that comes from deep learning and full of information worth knowing. Princeton's 50th anniversary edition of Mimesis has an introduction by the late literary and cultural critic Edward Said that by itself is worth the price of the book. It's the only preface I know of that I wish were longer, serving as both an analysis of Auerbach and a ramework placing him in his scholarly and historical context. . . . Princeton's reissue of Mimesis is both timely and symbolic."—Guy Davenport, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"[Mimesis] offers not just an eminent reading of the Western canon, but a mighty lesson on how to write. . . . I don't think a more significant or useful book of criticism has been written in the half-century since Mimesis was published. What's more, I can't imagine that anything like it will ever be written again. . . . [In] producing such a rich, strong book on how to read, Auerbach composed a virtual manual on how to write, one I've referred back to again and again since the day, almost two decades ago, when I first happened upon it."—Jim Lewis, Slate Magazine

London Review of Books - Terry Eagleton
One of the great works of literary scholarship. . . . Auerbach's method . . . is to fasten with fastidious sensitivity on some stray phrase or passage in order to unpack from it a wealth of historical insight. It is his combination of scholarly erudition and critical astuteness which is most remarkable.
Los Angeles Times Book Review - Guy Davenport
Written with the authority that comes from deep learning and full of information worth knowing. Princeton's 50th anniversary edition of Mimesis has an introduction by the late literary and cultural critic Edward Said that by itself is worth the price of the book. It's the only preface I know of that I wish were longer, serving as both an analysis of Auerbach and a ramework placing him in his scholarly and historical context. . . . Princeton's reissue of Mimesis is both timely and symbolic.
Slate Magazine - Jim Lewis
[Mimesis] offers not just an eminent reading of the Western canon, but a mighty lesson on how to write. . . . I don't think a more significant or useful book of criticism has been written in the half-century since Mimesis was published. What's more, I can't imagine that anything like it will ever be written again. . . . [In] producing such a rich, strong book on how to read, Auerbach composed a virtual manual on how to write, one I've referred back to again and again since the day, almost two decades ago, when I first happened upon it.
London Review of Books
One of the great works of literary scholarship. . . . Auerbach's method . . . is to fasten with fastidious sensitivity on some stray phrase or passage in order to unpack from it a wealth of historical insight. It is his combination of scholarly erudition and critical astuteness which is most remarkable.
— Terry Eagleton
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Written with the authority that comes from deep learning and full of information worth knowing. Princeton's 50th anniversary edition of Mimesis has an introduction by the late literary and cultural critic Edward Said that by itself is worth the price of the book. It's the only preface I know of that I wish were longer, serving as both an analysis of Auerbach and a ramework placing him in his scholarly and historical context. . . . Princeton's reissue of Mimesis is both timely and symbolic.
— Guy Davenport
Slate Magazine
[Mimesis] offers not just an eminent reading of the Western canon, but a mighty lesson on how to write. . . . I don't think a more significant or useful book of criticism has been written in the half-century since Mimesis was published. What's more, I can't imagine that anything like it will ever be written again. . . . [In] producing such a rich, strong book on how to read, Auerbach composed a virtual manual on how to write, one I've referred back to again and again since the day, almost two decades ago, when I first happened upon it.
— Jim Lewis
The New York Times
The compass and the richness of the book can hardly be exaggerated. This is true too of the originality of Mr. Auerbach's critical method which is at once encyclopedic and microscopic, combining the disciplines of philology, literary criticism, and history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691012698
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/1968
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 6.09 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Erich Auerbach, before his death in 1957, was Sterling Professor of Romance Languages at Yale University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition ix
1. Odysseus' Scar 3
2. Fortunata 24
3. The Arrest of Peter Valvomeres 50
4. Sicharius and Chramnesindus 77
5. Roland Against Ganelon 96
6. The Knight Sets Forth 123
7. Adam and Eve 143
8. Farinata and Cavalcante 174
9. Frate Alberto 203
10. Madame Du Chastel 232
11. The World in Pantagruel's Mouth 262
12. L'Humaine Condition 285
13. The Weary Prince 312
14. The Enchanted Dulcinea 334
15. The Faux Dévot 359
16. The Interrupted Supper 395
17. Miller the Musician 434
18. In the Hôtel de la Mole 454
19. Germinie Lacerteux 493
20. The Brown Stocking 525
Epilogue 554
Appendix 559
Index 575

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