The essay argues that a work’s reputation as a great book is a function of the number and diversity of dialogues it inspires in literature, art and criticism (in the form of allusions, translations, adaptations, parodies, performances and interpretations). After outlining some basic types of (genuine and pseudo) dialogue that can be found in day-to-day communication and in literature, the essay focuses on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as a test case for the dialogic approach to great books. A brief survey of the magnitude and variety of echoes and dialogues this work has inspired throughout the ages provides ample evidence for the new approach. Against prevalent theories of literary history and canon formation—explaining a book’s reputation in terms of either aesthetic values or of social hegemonies—the dialogic approach offers an elegant explanation for the gaining of literary reputation and for its fluctuations.


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pp. 335-353
Launched on MUSE
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