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.
alarming possibility. He too will be ‘plucked’ in the end, perhaps before his time, as he now plucks the berries to mourn the unseasonableness of his colleague's death. To pluck a plant is to inflict a kind of death on it, even if one does so in the cause of art, and thus of the living. Milton produces Lycidas as one might attend the funeral service of a colleague for whom one had no particular affection. There is no hypocrisy here. On the contrary, it would be hypocritical to pretend to a grief
from letting us know that the narrator murdered Mathers while appearing to be focused on something else (the fact that not everybody is aware of it). If this is a blunt assault on the reader's sensibilities, it is also a faintly devious one. No sooner has the narrator made his momentous declaration than the sentence swerves abruptly aside from it (‘but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney’). This, too, is a crafty way of increasing the force of the opening announcement.
views about Wuthering Heights. This raises a whole series of questions, which strictly speaking belong more to literary theory than to literary criticism. What is involved in interpreting a text? Is there a right and a wrong way of doing so? Can we demonstrate that one interpretation is more valid than another? Could there be a true account of a novel that nobody has yet come up with, or that nobody ever will? Could Student A and Student B both be right about Heathcliff, even though their views
opaque, it is partly because she is filtered through the needs, desires and delusions of the protagonist. As one critic puts it, she is made the instrument of Jude's tragedy rather than the subject of her own. It is not surprising that after Jude's death she is no longer seen at all. To this extent, the novel itself is complicit in the sidelining of its heroine. But it is also extraordinarily perceptive in its presentation of her. * * * Jude the Obscure invites us to sympathise with Sue
an object rather than a person. Its style freezes a living woman into a still life. Contrast Updike's prose with this extract from Evelyn Waugh's short story ‘Tactical Exercise’: They arrived on a gusty April afternoon after a train journey of normal discomfort. A taxi drove them eight miles from the station, through deep Cornish lanes, past granite cottages and disused, archaic tin-workings. They reached the village which gave the house its postal address, passed through it and out along a