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Terry Eagleton
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Literary Theory: An Introduction

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  2,684 ratings  ·  139 reviews

“This concise and lucid volume offers a satisfying survey of all the major theories, from structuralism in the 1960s to deconstruction today, that have made academic criticism both intriguing and off-putting to the outsider.” —New York Times Book Review

“Literary Theory has the kind of racy readability that one associates more often with English critics who have set their

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Paperback, 252 pages
Published May 12th 1983 by Basil Blackwell (first published 1983)
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Szplug
Eagleton deserves a lot of credit, because I can now say that I've put paid to a two hundred-plus page book on Literary Theory and never suffered a single dull moment. And while the author was fully engaged throughout—offering up energized summations and interpretations of the evolving schools of theory that developed out of the study of (English) literature and, subsequently and consequently, the structures of language itself, before launching polemical broadsides from the Marxist perch (with i ...more
MJ Nicholls
From Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory for Toddlers: An Introduction. Phenomenology: Tigger tells Pooh that he must distinguish between the phenomena and noumena of a pot of honey. That his intentionality towards the honey is narrowing his awareness of his surroundings, pushing him into a false structure of consciousness where the honey is both a perpetual fantasy and an instrument of real-life fixation. He tells Pooh he must separate his intentionalities to avoid becoming corrupted and driven by ...more
Gregsamsa
If you are one of those near-sighted, pedantic, theory-addicted lit-geeks (like myself, thank you) and you tire of trying to 'splain to folks the various -isms that spin out of the ivory tower and splat into the public square (who woulda thought that the word "deconstruct" would one day make regular appearances in Entertainment Weakly(sic)? "Not I" says this "I.") then this is THE book to pass out as a nice quick primer to strangers at the airport or, better yet, the one or two people who will s ...more
Spoust1
A very important work for me personally. What Eagleton accomplishes here is remarkable.

The body of the work is an introduction to literary criticism that goes, more or less, school-by-school according to when they came into being and grew to be popular. Eagleton is a master both at explaining the theories in terms of their formal structures and historicizing. This book contains some of the shortest yet most detailed introductions I know to the most difficult of thinkers: Derrida, Freud, Lacan,
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Jeremy
I wrote more smiley faces in the margins than I expected to.

It wasn’t until Ch. 2 that I finally realized exactly how Eagleton’s Marxism plays into his allergic reaction to literature as an objective category. He hates the idea of the academy telling the rest of the world what constitutes literature. It’s just another example of the powerful controlling the powerless, and he can’t stand it.

Poststructuralism (Ch. 4) is a historical term, because it’s describing a theory that came after structural
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Josh
I picked up this book expecting to learn a little bit about each major school of literary theory, and I wasn't disappointed. The book is a much easier read than some of the authors it references, and (I hope) may be useful in understanding those authors.

Eagleton says he would prefer to call it the "Theory of Discourse" rather than "Literary Theory" -- it's really the theory of human speech, communication, discussion, and rhetoric, in all forms. As such, it includes thinkers who studied linguisti
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Prithvi Shams
Apart from learning about doctrines like structuralism and post-structuralism, I also learned to view the "text" like I've never viewed it before. A text is not just words put on paper, it's the world of signs and signifiers(to employ the structuralist terminology) that we all inhabit. I guess it won't be outlandish to say that the whole world's a text and we're all trying to make sense of it, regardless of whether we realize it or not. The next time I read, listen or watch something, I'll be su ...more
Ellen
An introduction to literary theory?

Perhaps. Or perhaps this is more of an essay on theory from a Marxist slant.

Terry Eagleton's prefatory statement: "Hostility to theory usually means an opposition to other people's theories and an oblivion of one's own" seems ironic in a book, though innocuously entitled Literary Theory: An Introduction, that works instead to decimate most literary theory in the 60 years prior to the book's publication. Eagleton does spare Marxism (his own ideology) and femini
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Crystal
Eagleton’s book is a discussion of literary styles of the twentieth century and covers a variety of literary theories. He explores the topic of literature and offers a determination of how to judge what literature is and what does not fall into this genre. His thorough discussion of the twentieth literary theory includes theorists, models of theory and his opinion on the positive and negative aspects of each.

Lauded as a classic on literary theory, this book leaves the novice reader perplexed an
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Justin Evans
This book seems to serve three functions. First, it's a reasonable introduction to twentieth century literary theory, not including new historicism. Eagleton doesn't seem to have bothered to read much of the new criticism or the poetry associated with it (for instance, he says The Waste Land "intimates that fertility cults hold the clue to the salvation of the West"), and reads a bit too much English class structure into American life. But he's quite good on reception theory, structuralism and p ...more
Sara
Literary Theory is closely aligned with Political Theory. This is what I have taken away from this book and also understood from other theory books that I have read. The mindset of the day, the views on women, labor, ethnic groups, God, etc. all played a part in how literature was viewed and dissected and analysed throughout the years.

It was an entertaining ride, to say the least. I learned early on that Terry Eagleton is not a capitalist. He goes through the various theories from the 19th centu
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Billie Pritchett
I cannot be too upset with Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction since the book accurately reflects literary theory's preoccupation with almost everything except literature. This hostility continues to today. Because of some of the confusion in this book, some parts are not even right and other parts are not even wrong. To take an example, Eagleton criticizes phenomenology for presenting an inadequate strategy to deal with literary works. This criticism, addressed especially at Edmun ...more
Matt Hlinak
This book does a reasonably good job of explaining a very challenging subject, but I question how well it functions as an introductory text. For a person who has never studied literary theory, this book would read like a long list of names interspersed with vague descriptions of theories making wild claims of either propping up or destroying broad social and political systems. The best part of the book occurs about three-quarters of the way in, when Eagleton includes a psychoanalytic reading of ...more
Mikael Lind
The real strength of Eagleton's thought-provoking and ambitious take on literature is how well it explains the difficult thoughts of phenomenologists, structuralists, post-structuralists, feminists, psycho-analysts and post-modernists. Not often do I find such good accounts on the views of Husserl, Saussure, Derrida, Kristeva, Freud, Foucault and what have we. In this regard, Eagleton's book is a must-have in any philosophically and politically inclined literary theorist's (or linguist's, for th ...more
Lisa
I especially enjoyed the back-third of this text, which contains Eagleton's exploration of psychoanalitic theory and his exposition of all lit crit as political in nature. There is something about Eagleton's outsider/insider identity--both psychologically and sociologically--that, for me, makes him 1) an utterly fascinating academic and historical person 2) the absolute ideal guide to the sometimes epiphanous, but often pompous, exclusivist, and alchemical universe of literary theory.

Below is on
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Steven
An influential book when if first appeared in 1983 because it mapped out how and why to attack the so called “Literary Canon.” His most basic argument is that as literature replaced religion as a bearer of values it began to be used as a form of social power. The canon was a means to keep one group in power while oppressing other groups. If you want to overthrow the group in power you must overthrow their literature. Eagleton’s approach to such an overthrow is first to argue that literature is a ...more
Bill
May 17, 2007 Bill rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: critical theory dilletantes
If you only read one book about literary theory...well, who would blame you? Still, the educated layperson who wants to bump their understanding of contemporary literary criticism up to a respectable cocktail party level probably can't do much better than Eagleton's slim, thoroughly accessible introduction to the subject. Literary Theory traces the history of literature as an academic discipline from English Romanticism, through Saussure and semiotics, all the way to the fashionable heavy-hitter ...more
Andrew
I'm the wrong target audience here. After getting my English major and worming my way through the dense tangles of Deleuze, Heidegger, and Saussure, I'd like to think I emerged with some knowledge of theory, and the strengths and weaknesses of various theories. However, for the relative novice, this is an immensely valuable work. His surveys of each school of critical thought are by no means impartial, but they're always fair. And even though I have certain disagreements with Eagleton, I'm on hi ...more
El Habib Louai
I did in fact enjoy reading Literary Theory: An Introduction. I was in such great in need for a book which introduces me to the field of literary theory and it was this precise one written by Eagleton. The basic things I've enjoyed in this book and which basically drew my attention are the following: its precise treatment of every approach to literary text, its petinent illustration of each point that distinguishes one approach from another and its brief historical recount as a kind of contextua ...more
Gary
Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory defines a critical moment (pun intended), circa early 1980s, when cultural theory was spreading like an effluvia, or pollen, throughout various departments across academia, in a general trend to become known as postmodernism (or “pomo,” for short). Other authors also had appeared at the right place at the right time, but none with such remarkable command – of Marxism, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics, structuralism, poststructuralism, decons ...more
Jim
An interesting overview of some of the major literary theory movements of the 20th century. Eagleton manages to communicate the essence of the theories without making them seem too difficult for the average reader. For those who wish to dive deeper into these theories, there is an extensive bibliography included.

Eagleton is a devoted Marxist and he is not shy about peppering his discussion of these theories with liberal amounts of Marxist jargon. Personally, I found that to be charming...
Luke Echo
The chapters on "The Rise of English" and "Psychoanalysis" seemed a lot more even handed than the rest. Eagleton's depiction of Structuralism though was a bit of joke though. ... the attack on Saussure and Structuralism could be summed up basically as "not Marxist enough".

I also found the Conclusion: Political Criticism rather one-sided. Eagleton's turn towards politics itself seemed to place political goals and ideas outside the realm of ideology/literature - as though one comes to literature
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Sepide Fallah
That was actually the best theory in literature i'v ever read.a critical one.as a Marxist theory non approval.Logical,dialectical and non dogmatic.It took a lot of time for me to read it completely and grasp all parts,I have had read different books to find out this one but that costed.
sologdin
has this become the standard undergraduate introductory literary theory text yet? strident in its pro-marxist polemic, and very comical in the summation of opposing ideas (i.e., all of them herein), eagleton certainly makes for a lively presentation.
Matīss Gricmanis
A sophisticating approach to the history of literary theory. As a very tolerant guide Mr. Eagleton leads the reader through the paradigms of the XX century, exploring the underlying patterns of how and why certain theories got to be excepted or excluded from the academic viewpoint. Building from the first theoretical approaches to literary criticisms and the establishment of English as an academic discipline, he makes solid arguments why anybody shouldn't treat literature as anything we implicit ...more
Julio J.
Joseph Conrad said:
""The horror! The horror!"

Eagleton is like dat.
Andreea
I'm sure it's my fault that I didn't like this book.
Dana Mccloskey
Don't every read this unless you enjoy suffering.
Steven Peterson
Terry Eagleton's "Literary Theory" has been a most useful book to me. It has helped me make sense of a variety of theories--including the opacity of post-structuralism, the fertile ground where Jacques Derrida and deconstruction reign. And since he concludes that literature has a political purpose, the book speaks to me as a student of politics.

Why a book on a theory of literature? He notes (Page viii): ". . .without some kind of theory, however unreflective and implicit, we would not know what
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  • Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction
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  • Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings
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Widely regarded as Britain's most influential living literary critic & theorist, Dr Eagleton currently serves as Distinguished Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Lancaster & as Visiting Prof. at the Nat'l Univ. of Ireland, Galway. He was Thomas Warton Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Oxford ('92-01) & John Edward Taylor Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Ma ...more
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“If this constant sliding and hiding of meaning were true of conscious life, then we would of course never be able to speak coherently at all. If the whole of language were present to me when I spoke, then I would not be able to articulate anything at all. The ego, or consciousness, can therefore only work by repressing this turbulent activity, provisionally nailing down words on to meanings. Every now and then a word from the unconscious which I do not want insinuates itself into my discourse, and this is the famous Freudian slip of the tongue or parapraxis. But for Lacan all our discourse is in a sense a slip of the tongue: if the process of language is as slippery and ambiguous as he suggests, we can never mean precisely what we say and never say precisely what we mean. Meaning is always in some sense an approximation, a near-miss, a part-failure, mixing non-sense and non-communication into sense and dialogue.” 8 likes
“[B]y reinterpreting Freudianism in terms of language, a pre-eminently social activity, Lacan permits us to explore the relations between the unconscious and human society. One way of describing his work is to say that he makes us recognize that the unconscious is not some kind of seething, tumultuous, private region ‘inside’ us, but an effect of our relations with one another. The unconscious is, so to speak, ‘outside’ rather than ‘within’ us — or rather it exists ‘between’ us, as our relationships do.” 4 likes
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