How to Read Literature
A literary master’s entertaining guide to reading with deeper insight, better understanding, and greater pleasure
What makes a work of literature good or bad? How freely can the reader interpret it? Could a nursery rhyme like Baa Baa Black Sheep 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. How to Read Literature is the book of choice for students new to the study of literature and for all other readers interested in deepening their understanding and enriching their reading experience.
In a series of brilliant analyses, Eagleton shows how to read with due attention to tone, rhythm, texture, syntax, allusion, ambiguity, and other formal aspects of literary works. He also examines broader questions of character, plot, narrative, the creative imagination, the meaning of fictionality, and the tension between what works of literature say and what they show. Unfailingly authoritative and cheerfully opinionated, the author provides useful commentaries on classicism, Romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism along with spellbinding insights into a huge range of authors, from Shakespeare and J. K. Rowling to Jane Austen and Samuel Beckett.
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.