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Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700-1760 Cover

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Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700-1760

Cecil Moore

The five studies collected in this volume have the common purpose of establishing a background for an understanding of eighteenth-century English literature. Some of the most popular ideas and ideals of the period are traced to their sources in contemporary philosophy, science, politics, and religion. All of the studies relate in some way to what the seventeenth century called the climate of opinion. They confirm the observation of Shelley that all writers are subjected to “a common influence which arises out of an infinite combination of circumstances belonging to the time in which they live.” All the studies belong to that older style of literary investigation to which scholarship owes its name and to which every student interested in basic ideas and the origins of concepts will sooner or later wish to turn. The first two studies, “Shaftesbury and the Ethical Poets” and “The Return to Nature in English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century,” throw as much light on the Romantic poetry of the nineteenth century as they do on the poetry of the eighteenth. The nature worship that one thinks of as peculiarly Wordsworthian is shown to lie at the heart of deism, the rationalistic philosophy of a century earlier. In “Whig Panegyric Verse,” the ideals of the Whig party, as expressed by poets of the time, are examined in relation to Shaftesbury’s moral philosophy. In “John Dunton: Pietist and Impostor,” the morbid gloom familiar in the “graveyard poets” is seen to reflect a widespread popular taste. That the melancholia of the period was so common as to be considered a national characteristic appears from “The English Malady,” which is largely concerned with the medical literature of the time.

Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700-1760 was first published in 1953. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

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Backstage in the Novel

Frances Burney and the Theater Arts

Francesca Saggini. Translated by Laura Kopp

In Backstage in the Novel, Francesca Saggini traces the unique interplay between fiction and theater in the eighteenth century through an examination of the work of the English novelist, diarist, and playwright Frances Burney. Moving beyond the basic identification of affinities between the genres, Saggini establishes a literary-cultural context for Burney's work, considering the relation between drama, a long-standing tradition, and the still-emergent form of the novel.

Through close semiotic analysis, intertextual comparison, and cultural contextualization, Saggini highlights the extensive metatextual discourse in Burney's novels, allowing the theater within the novels to surface. Saggini’s comparative analysis addresses, among other elements, textual structures, plots, characters, narrative discourse, and reading practices. The author explores the theatrical and spectacular elements that made the eighteenth-century novel a hybrid genre infused with dramatic conventions. She analyzes such conventions in light of contemporary theories of reception and of the role of the reader that underpinned eighteenth-century cultural consumption. In doing so, Saggini contextualizes the typical reader-spectator of Burney’s day, one who kept abreast of the latest publications and was able to move effortlessly between "high" (sentimental, dramatic) and "low" (grotesque, comedic) cultural forms that intersected on the stage.

Backstage in the Novel aims to restore to Burney's entire literary corpus the dimensionality that characterized it originally. It is a vivid, close-up view of a writer who operated in a society saturated by theater and spectacle and who rendered that dramatic text into narrative. More than a study of Burney or an overview of eighteenth-century literature and theater, this book gives immediacy to an understanding of the broad forces informing, and channeled through, Burney's life and work.

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The Banshees

A Literary History of Irish American Women Writers

by Sally Barr Ebest

The Banshees traces the feminist contributions of a wide range of Irish American women writers, from Mother Jones, Kate Chopin, and Margaret Mitchell to contemporary authors such as Gillian Flynn, Jennifer Egan, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. To illustrate the growth and significance of their writing, the book is organized chronologically by decade. Each chapter details the progress and setbacks of Irish American women during that period by examining key themes in their novels and memoirs contextualized within a discussion of contemporary feminism, Catholicism, Irish American history, American politics, and society. The Banshees examines these writers’ roles in protecting women’s sovereignty, rights, and reputations. Thanks to their efforts, feminism is revealed as a fundamental element of Irish American literary history.

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Barbarous Play

Race on the English Renaissance Stage

Lara Bovilsky

Like our own, early modern beliefs about race depended on metaphorical, selective, and contradictory understandings of how membership in groups is determined. Although race took distinctive forms in the past, the fallacies that underlie early modern racial experience generally are precisely-and surprisingly-the same as those in contemporary culture.

 

Exploring the similar underpinnings of early modern and contemporary ideas of difference, Barbarous Play examines English Renaissance understandings of race as depicted in drama. Reading plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster, and Middleton, Bovilsky offers case studies of how racial meanings are generated by narratives of boundary crossing-especially miscegenation, religious conversion, class transgression, and moral and physical degeneracy. In the process, she reveals deep parallels between the period’s conceptions of race and gender.

 

Barbarous Play contests the widely held view that race and racism depend on modern science for their existence and argues that understanding just what is false and figurative in past depictions of race, such as those found in Othello, The Merchant of Venice, The White Devil, and The Changeling, can clarify the illogic of present-day racism.

 

Lara Bovilsky is assistant professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis.

Be It Ever So Humble Cover

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Be It Ever So Humble

Poverty, Fiction, and the Invention of the Middle-Class Home

Scott R. MacKenzie

Before the rise of private homes as we now understand them, the realm of personal, private, and local relations in England was the parish, which was also the sphere of poverty management. Between the 1740s and the 1790s, legislators, political economists, reformers, and novelists transferred the parish system’s functions to another institution that promised self-sufficient prosperity: the laborer’s cottage. Expanding its scope beyond the parameters of literary history and previous studies of domesticity, Be It Ever So Humble posits that the modern middle-class home was conceived during the eighteenth century in England, and that its first inhabitants were the poor.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, many participants in discussions about poverty management came to believe that private family dwellings could turn England's indigent, unemployed, and discontent into a self-sufficient, productive, and patriotic labor force. Writers and thinkers involved in these debates produced copious descriptions of what a private home was and how it related to the collective national home. In this body of texts, Scott MacKenzie pursues the origins of the modern middle-class home through an extensive set of discourses—including philosophy, law, religion, economics, and aesthetics—all of which brush up against and often spill over into literary representations.

Through close readings, the author substantiates his claim that the private home was first invented for the poor and that only later did the middle class appropriate it to themselves. Thus, the late eighteenth century proves to be a watershed moment in home's conceptual life, one that produced a remarkably rich and complex set of cultural ideas and images.

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Bearing the Dead

The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment to Victoria

Esther Schor

Esther Schor tells us about the persistence of the dead, about why they still matter long after we emerge from grief and accept our loss. Mourning as a cultural phenomenon has become opaque to us in the twentieth century, Schor argues. This book is an effort to recover the culture of mourning that thrived in English society from the Enlightenment through the Romantic Age, and to recapture its meaning. Mourning appears here as the social diffusion of grief through sympathy, as a force that constitutes communities and helps us to conceptualize history.

In the textual and social practices of the British Enlightenment and its early nineteenth-century heirs, Schor uncovers the ways in which mourning mediated between received ideas of virtue, both classical and Christian, and a burgeoning, property-based commercial society. The circulation of sympathies maps the means by which both valued things and values themselves are distributed within a culture. Delving into philosophy, politics, economics, and social history as well as literary texts, Schor traces a shift in the British discourse of mourning in the wake of the French Revolution: What begins as a way to effect a moral consensus in society turns into a means of conceiving and bringing forth history.

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A Beckett Canon

Ruby Cohn

Samuel Beckett is unique in literature. Born and educated in Ireland, he lived most of his life in Paris. His literary output was rendered in either English or French, and he often translated one to the other, but there is disagreement about the contents of his bilingual corpus. A Beckett Canon by renowned theater scholar Ruby Cohn offers an invaluable guide to the entire corpus, commenting on Beckett's work in its original language. Beginning in 1929 with Beckett's earliest work, the book examines the variety of genres in which he worked: poems, short stories, novels, plays, radio pieces, teleplays, reviews, and criticism. Cohn grapples with the difficulties in Beckett's work, including the opaque erudition of the early English verse and fiction, and the searching depths and syntactical ellipsis of the late works. Specialist and nonspecialist readers will find A Beckett Canon valuable for its remarkable inclusiveness. Cohn has examined the holdings of all of the major Beckett depositories, and is thus able to highlight neglected manuscripts and correct occasional errors in their listings. Intended as a resource to accompany the reading of Beckett's writing--in English or French, published or unpublished, in part or as a whole--the book offers context, information, and interpretation of the work of one of the last century's most important writers. Ruby Cohn is Professor Emerita of Comparative Drama, University of California, Davis. She is author or editor of many books, including Anglo-American Interplay in Recent Drama; Retreats from Realism in Recent English Drama; From Desire to Godot; and Just Play: Beckett's Theater.

Before Daybreak Cover

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Before Daybreak

"After the Race" and the Origins of Joyce's Art

Cóilín Owens

Joyce's "After the Race" is a seemingly simple tale, historically unloved by critics. Yet when magnified and dismantled, the story yields astounding political, philosophic, and moral intricacy.

In Before Daybreak, Cóilín Owens shows that "After the Race" is much more than a story about Dublin at the time of the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup Race: in reality, it is a microcosm of some of the issues most central to Joycean scholarship.

These issues include large-scale historical concerns--in this case, radical nationalism and the centennial of Robert Emmet's rebellion. Owens also explains the temporary and local issues reflected in Joyce's language, organization, and silences. He traces Joyce's narrative technique to classical, French, and Irish traditions. Additionally, "After the Race" reflects Joyce's internal conflict between emotional allegiance to Christian orthodoxy and contemporary intellectual skepticism.

If the dawning of Joyce's singular power, range, subtlety, and learning can be identified in a seemingly elementary text like "After the Race," this study implicitly contends that any Dubliners story can be mined to reveal the intertextual richness, linguistic subtlety, parodic brilliance, and cultural poignancy of Joyce's art. Owens’s meticulous work will stimulate readers to explore Joyce's stories with the same scrutiny in order to comprehend and relish how Joyce writes.

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Ben Jonson's 'Dotages'

A Reconsideration of the Late Plays

Larry S. Champion

Although there has been a general revival of interest in Ben Jonson's dramatic work in the past twenty years, little critical effort has been directed to his late plays -- dismissed by John Dryden as the "dotages" of an aging mind. Through a close reading of The Devil Is an Ass, The Staple of News, The New Inn, and The Magnetic Lady in light of Jonson's own theories of comedy, author Larry S. Champion demonstrates that they reveal the same precise construction and dramatic control found in his acclaimed masterpieces. Furthermore, these works reflect Jonson's continued emphasis upon realism and satiric attack, though they may not be equal in quality or dramatic effectiveness.

The brief and undistinguished stage runs of the late plays are not an accurate gauge of their dramatic merit. Rather than indicating an enfeebled mind, these late plays reveal Jonson to be a continuing innovator -- adapting the forms of the pastoral, the romance, and the morality play to the purposes of comic satire. Previous critics have charged that Jonson was merely desirous of regaining public favor at the expense of his artistic integrity. The present study suggests, however, that Jonson in these plays was in reality burlesqueing the popular fad of exaggerated romantic comedy, which he considered a degradation of the dramatic art.

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Beowulf and the Celtic Tradition

Puhvel traces and evaluates the possible influences of Celtic tradition on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. He discusses theories of the origins of the poem, draws parallels between elements in Beowulf and in Celtic literary tradition, and suggests that the central plot of the poem, the conflict between Grendel and his mother, is “fundamentally indebted to Celtic folktale elements.” The study is well documented and rich in references to Celtic literature, legend, and folklore.

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