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The Afterlife of "Little Women"

Beverly Lyon Clark

The hit Broadway show of 1912; the lost film of 1919; Katharine Hepburn, as Jo, sliding down a banister in George Cukor’s 1933 movie; Mark English’s shimmering 1967 illustrations; Jo—this time played by Sutton Foster—belting “I'll be / astonishing” in the 2004 Broadway musical flop: these are only some of the markers of the afterlife of Little Women. Then there’s the nineteenth-century child who wrote, “If you do not . . . make Laurie marry Beth, I will never read another of your books as long as I live.” Not to mention Miss Manners, a Little Women devotee, who announced that the book taught her an important life lesson: “Although it’s very nice to have two clean gloves, it’s even more important to have a little ink on your fingers.” In The Afterlife of “Little Women,” Beverly Lyon Clark, a leading authority on children’s literature, explores these and other after-tremors, both popular and academic, as she maps the reception of Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel, first published in 1868. Clark divides her discussion into four historical periods. The first covers the novel’s publication and massive popularity in the late nineteenth century. In the second era—the first three decades of the twentieth century—the novel becomes a nostalgic icon of the domesticity of a previous century, while losing status among the literary and scholarly elite. In its mid-century afterlife (1930–1960), Little Women reaches a low in terms of its critical reputation but remains a well-known piece of Americana within popular culture. The book concludes with a long chapter on Little Women’s afterlife from the 1960s to the present—a period in which the reading of the book seems to decline, while scholarly attention expands dramatically and popular echoes continue to proliferate. Drawing on letters and library records as well as reviews, plays, operas, film and television adaptations, spinoff novels, translations, Alcott biographies, and illustrations, Clark demonstrates how the novel resonates with both conservative family values and progressive feminist ones. She grounds her story in criticism of children’s literature, book history, cultural studies, feminist criticism, and adaptation studies. Written in an accessible narrative style, The Afterlife of “Little Women” speaks to scholars, librarians, and devoted Alcott fans.

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The Afterlife of Pope Joan

Deploying the Popess Legend in Early Modern England

Craig M. Rustici

Amid the religious tumult of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, English scholars, preachers, and dramatists examined, debated, and refashioned tales concerning Pope Joan, a ninth-century woman who, as legend has it, cross-dressed her way to the papacy only to have her imposture exposed when she gave birth during a solemn procession. The legend concerning a popess had first taken written form in the thirteenth century and for several hundred years was more or less accepted. The Reformation, however, polarized discussions of the legend, pitting Catholics, who denied the story’s veracity, against Protestants, who suspected a cover-up and instantly cited Joan as evidence of papal depravity. In this heated environment, writers reimagined Joan variously as a sorceress, a hermaphrodite, and even a noteworthy author. The Afterlife of Pope Joan examines sixteenth- and seventeenth-century debates concerning the popess’s existence, uncovering the disputants’ historiographic methods, rules of evidence, rhetorical devices, and assumptions concerning what is probable and possible for women and transvestites. Author Craig Rustici then investigates the cultural significance of a series of notions advanced in those debates: the claim that Queen Elizabeth I was a popess in her own right, the charge that Joan penned a book of sorcery, and the curious hypothesis that the popess was not a disguised woman at all but rather a man who experienced a sort of spontaneous sex change. The Afterlife of Pope Joan draws upon the discourses of religion, politics, natural philosophy, and imaginative literature, demonstrating how the popess functioned as a powerful rhetorical instrument and revealing anxieties and ambivalences about gender roles that persist even today. Craig M. Rustici is Associate Professor of English at Hofstra University.

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The Afterlife of Property

Domestic Security and the Victorian Novel

Jeff Nunokawa

In The Afterlife of Property, Jeff Nunokawa investigates the conviction passed on by the Victorian novel that a woman's love is the only fortune a man can count on to last. Taking for his example four texts, Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit and Dombey and Son, and George Eliot's Daniel Deronda and Silas Marner, Nunokawa studies the diverse ways that the Victorian novel imagines women as property removed from the uncertainties of the marketplace. Along the way, he notices how the categories of economics, gender, sexuality, race, and fiction define one another in the Victorian novel.

If the novel figures women as safe property, Nunokawa argues, the novel figures safe property as a woman. And if the novel identifies the angel of the house, the desexualized subject of Victorian fantasies of ideal womanhood, as safe property, it identifies various types of fiction, illicit sexualities, and foreign races with the enemy of such property: the commodity form. Nunokawa shows how these convergences of fiction, sexuality, and race with the commodity form are part of a scapegoat scenario, in which the otherwise ubiquitous instabilities of the marketplace can be contained and expunged, clearing the way for secure possession. The Afterlife of Property addresses literary and cultural theory, gender studies, and gay and lesbian studies.

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Afterlives of Confinement

Spatial Transitions in Post-Dictatorship Latin America

Susana Draper

During the age of dictatorships, Latin American prisons became a symbol for the vanquishing of political opponents, many of whom were never seen again. In the post-dictatorship era of the 1990s, a number of these prisons were repurposed into shopping malls, museums, and memorials. Susana Draper uses the phenomenon of the “opening” of prisons and detention centers to begin a dialog on conceptualizations of democracy and freedom in post-dictatorship Latin America. Focusing on the Southern Cone nations of Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina, Draper examines key works in architecture, film, and literature to peel away the veiled continuity of dictatorial power structures in ensuing consumer cultures. The afterlife of prisons became an important tool in the “forgetting” of past politics, while also serving as a reminder to citizens of the liberties they now enjoyed. In Draper’s analysis, these symbols led the populace to believe they had attained freedom, although they had only witnessed the veneer of democracy—in the ability to vote and consume. In selected literary works by Roberto Bolaño, Eleuterio Fernández Huidoboro, and Diamela Eltit and films by Alejandro Agresti and Marco Bechis, Draper finds further evidence of the emptiness and melancholy of underachieved goals in the afterlife of dictatorships. The social changes that did not occur, the inability to effectively mourn the losses of a now-hidden past, the homogenizing effects of market economies, and a yearning for the promises of true freedom are thematic currents underlying much of these texts. Draper’s study of the manipulation of culture and consumerism under the guise of democracy will have powerful implications not only for Latin Americanists but also for those studying neoliberal transformations globally.

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The Afterlives of Specimens

Science, Mourning, and Whitman's Civil War

Lindsay Tuggle

The Afterlives of Specimens explores the space between science and sentiment, the historical moment when the human cadaver became both lost love object and subject of anatomical violence. Walt Whitman witnessed rapid changes in relations between the living and the dead. In the space of a few decades, dissection evolved from a posthumous punishment inflicted on criminals to an element of preservationist technology worthy of the presidential corpse of Abraham Lincoln. Whitman transitioned from a fervent opponent of medical bodysnatching to a literary celebrity who left behind instructions for his own autopsy, including the removal of his brain for scientific study.

Grounded in archival discoveries, Afterlives traces the origins of nineteenth-century America’s preservation compulsion, illuminating the influences of botanical, medical, spiritualist, and sentimental discourses on Whitman’s work. Tuggle unveils previously unrecognized connections between Whitman and the leading “medical men” of his era, such as the surgeon John H. Brinton, founding curator of the Army Medical Museum, and Silas Weir Mitchell, the neurologist who discovered phantom limb syndrome. Remains from several amputee soldiers whom Whitman nursed in the Washington hospitals became specimens in the Army Medical Museum.

Tuggle is the first scholar to analyze Whitman’s role in medically memorializing the human cadaver and its abandoned parts. 

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Aftermaths

Exile, Migration, and Diaspora Reconsidered

Edited by Marcus Bullock and Peter Y. Paik

Aftermaths is a collection of essays offering compelling new ideas on exile, migration, and diaspora that have emerged in the global age. In seeking fresh perspectives on the movement of people and ideas, the essays included here look to the power of the aesthetic experience, especially in literature and film, to unsettle existing theoretical paradigms and enable the rethinking of conventionalized approaches.

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Against All England

Regional Identity and Cheshire Writing, 1195-1656

Robert W. Barrett, Jr.

Against All England examines a diverse set of poems, plays, and chronicles produced in Cheshire and its vicinity from the 1190s to the 1650s that collectively argue for the localization of British literary history. These works, including very early monastic writing emanating from St. Werburgh’s Abbey, the Chester Whitsun plays, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, seventeenth-century ceremonials, and various Stanley romances, share in the creation and revision of England’s cultural tradition, demonstrating a vested interest in the intersection of landscape, language, and politics. Barrett’s book grounds itself in Cestrian evidence in order to offer scholars a new, dynamic model of cultural topography, one that acknowledges the complex interlacing of regional and national identities within the longue durée extending from the post-Conquest period to the Restoration. Covering nearly five centuries of literary production within a single geographical location, the book challenges still dominant chronologies of literary history that emphasize cultural rupture and view the “Renaissance” as a sharp break from England’s medieval past.

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Against Autobiography

Albert Memmi and the Production of Theory

Lia Nicole Brozgal

The work of Tunisian Jewish intellectual Albert Memmi, like that of many francophone Maghrebian writers, is often read as thinly veiled autobiography. Questioning the prevailing body of criticism, which continues this interpretation of most fiction produced by francophone North African writers, Lia Nicole Brozgal shows how such interpretations of Memmi’s texts obscure their not inconsiderable theoretical possibilities.

Calling attention to the ambiguous status of autobiographical discursive and textual elements in Memmi’s work, Brozgal shifts the focus from the author to theoretical questions. Against Autobiography places Memmi’s writing and thought in dialogue with several major critical shifts in the late twentieth-century literary and cultural landscape. These shifts include the crisis of the authorial subject; the interrogation of the form of the novel; the resistance to the hegemony of vision; and the critique of colonialism. Showing how Memmi’s novels and essays produce theories that resonate both within and beyond their original contexts, Brozgal argues for allowing works of francophone Maghrebi literature to be read as complex literary objects, that is, not simply as ethnographic curios but as generating elements of literary theory on their own terms.
 

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Against Democracy:Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations

Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations

Simon During Australian Research Professor University of Queensland

This book argues that we can no longer envision a political system that might practically displace democracy or, more accurately, global democratic state capitalism. Democracy has become fundamental: It extends deeper and deeper into everyday life; it grounds and limits our political thought and values. That is the sense in which we do indeed live at history's end. But this end is not a happy one, because the system that we now have does not satisfy tests that we can legitimately put to it. In this situation, it is important to come to new terms with the fact that literature, at least until about 1945, was predominantly hostile to political democracy. Literature's deep-seated conservative, counterdemocratic tendencies, along with its capacity to make important distinctions among political, cultural, and experiential democracies and its capacity to uncover hidden, nonpolitical democracies in everyday life, is now a resource not just for cultural conservatives but for all those who take a critical attitude toward the current political, cultural, and economic structures. Literature, and certain novelists in particular, helps us not so much to imagine social possibilities beyond democracy as to understand how life might be lived both in and outside democratic state capitalism. Drawing on political theory, intellectual history, and the techniques of close reading, Against Democracy offers new accounts of the ethos of refusing democracy, of literary criticism's contribution to that ethos, and of the history of conservatism, as well as innovative interpretations of a range of writers, including Tocqueville, Disraeli, George Eliot, E. M. Forster, and Saul Bellow.

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Against Life

Edited by Alastair Hunt and Stephanie Youngblood

The contributors to Against Life think critically about the turn to life in recent theory and culture. Editors Alastair Hunt and Stephanie Youngblood shape their collection to provocatively challenge the assumption, rife throughout the humanities, that life needs to be cultivated, affirmed, and redeemed. The editors and their contributors explore how we might be better off daring to think ethics and politics, as well as the project of the humanities, in more radical terms, as a refusal to choose life. What forms of equality and freedom might emerge if we did not organize being-together under signs of life? Taken together, the essays in Against Life mark an important turn in the ethico-political work of the humanities.





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