Impure Worlds: The Institution of Literature in the Age of the Novel

Impure Worlds: The Institution of Literature in the Age of the Novel

by Jonathan Arac


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This book records a major critic's three decades of thinking about the connection between literature and the conditions of people's lives-that is, politics. A preference for impurity and a search for how to analyze and explain it are guiding threads in this book as its chapters pursue the complex entanglements of culture, politics, and society from which great literature arises. At its core is the nineteenth-century novel, but it addresses a broader range of writers as well, in a textured, contoured, discontinuous history.

The chapters stand out for a rare combination. They practice both an intensive, close reading that does not demand unity as its goal and an attention to literature as a social institution, a source of values that are often created in its later reception rather than given at the outset. When addressing canonical writers-Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Keats, Melville, George Eliot, Flaubert, Baudelaire, and Ralph Ellison-the author never forgets that many of their texts, even Shakespeare's plays, were in their own time judged to be popular, commercial, minor, or even trashy. In drawing on these works as resources in politically charged arguments about value, the author pays close attention to the processes of posterity that validated these authors' greatness.

Participating in as well as analyzing that work of critical creativity, this volume is rich with important insights for all readers and teachers of literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823231799
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 12/09/2010
Edition description: 3
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Arac is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of many books, most recently The Emergence of American Literary Narrative, 1820–1860 and Huckleberry Finn as Idol and Target: The Functions of Criticism in Our Time.

Table of Contents

Preface vii

Part I Politics and the Canon

1 The Impact of Shakespeare: Goethe to Melville 3

2 The Media of Sublimity: Johnson and Lamb on King Lear 24

3 Hamlet, Little Dorrit, and the History of Character 34

4 The Struggle for the Cultural Heritage: Christina Stead Refunctions Charles Dickens and Mark Twain 47

5 The Birth of Huck's Nation 62

Part II Language and Reality in the Age of the Novel

6 Narrative Form and Social Sense in Bleak House and The French Revolution 79

7 Rhetoric and Realism: Hyperbole in The Mill on the Floss 94

8 Rhetoric and Realism; or, Marxism, Deconstruction, and Madame Bovary 111

9 Baudelaire's Impure Transfers: Allegory, Translation, Prostitution, Correspondence 125

10 Huckleberry Finn without Polemic 155

Notes 169

Index 197

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