- Purchase/rental options available:
Pedagogy 3.3 (2003) 468-477
[Access article in PDF]
Responses from the Editors of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism
William E. Cain
Cost. True, the NATC is expensive, but the student gets a great deal for his or her money. And in my view, we do not do students a favor when we take as a top priority the cost of the books that we require. Sure, you can find an inexpensive edition of Moby-Dick, and thus perhaps you will save the students a few dollars. But if this edition is textually inaccurate and unreliable, if there is no introduction (or an unhelpful one), if there are no annotations—well, the consequence (as Robert Burton says) is that you and your students will be penny wise, pound foolish.
Money. I will not turn down any royalties I receive for my contribution to the NATC. But from long experience working on college texts and anthologies, I have learned never to assume in advance that such books will make a lot of money. Some books do well; some do moderately well; some do not yield the author or editor a cent. In addition, these books are much harder work than most people imagine. They may look easy (and, for this reason, tenure and promotion committees undervalue them), but they are enormously time-consuming, always taking months—no, years—longer than planned.
Contents. It is misguided to say that the NATC packages and contains literary theory, reducing or eliminating the conflicts, tensions, and so forth between one movement or trend and others. This anthology is comprehensive. It presents the materials, and it is the job of the teacher to help the students perceive the connections, comparisons, and contrasts between and among them.
Table of contents. While the editors of the NATC worked to make careful, responsible choices, we are pleased with, rather than wholly satisfied by, the selections. There is plenty more that we wish we had had space for. I am disappointed that we left out F. R. Leavis and William Empson, for example. My fellow editors, as well as some instructors, may regret the absence of Lionel Trilling. Someone else could argue that we should have included Kermode, Ricks, Vendler, and Poirier. Where is Neil Hertz? And so on. But regrettable exclusions were a given, something all of us knew from the outset: lots would be included, but lots would be omitted, too, for the simple reason that the space in a book is not infinite. [End Page 468]
When a book like the NATC comes along, each of us looks to see whether the table of contents (TOC) includes our favorites. No surprise there. But we need to remember that such a book is intended to reach and appeal to many instructors, and that all of them have favorite authors and selections—and therefore that no book could ever satisfy each and every person completely. Set the NATC aside for a moment, and scan the TOC of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, sixth edition. You will see that it includes seven stories by Hawthorne, plus all of The Scarlet Letter. The editors could have shortened the book, and made it less expensive, if they had offered, say, three stories by Hawthorne and no more than that. But then some instructors would have protested, "The Scarlet Letter should have been included," or "The story that I like to teach is X and you left that one out." That is why there is so much Hawthorne in the book. Though not enough: my own favorites include "The Gentle Boy" and "Roger Malvin's Burial," and neither is there. I can grumble about that fact, or else I can work productively with what has been included. And that is the approach that I take to the NATC myself and that I recommend to others.
I have to cop to the economic calculation Donald G. Marshall attributes to the makers of anthologies. The...