Literary Theory: An Introduction
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Literary Theory: An Introduction

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  2,371 ratings  ·  129 reviews
This classic work is designed to cover all of the major movements in literary studies in this century. Noted for its clear, engaging style and unpretentious treatment, Literary Theory has become the introduction of choice for anyone interested in learning about the world of contemporary literary thought. The second edition contains a major new survey chapter that addresses...more
Paperback, Second Edition, 234 pages
Published November 1st 1996 by University of Minnesota Press (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,...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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...
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.
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...more
Calder
I finally finished this book. I still can't discuss it in great detail- there's so much to know, but I will say this: I had felt some trepidation about entering graduate school in English literature; I love books, but literary theory never interested me, partly because I didn't get it and grad school is all about the theory. I know and understand little about literary criticism, cultural theory or philosophers like Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze or Husserl, Heidegger and Kant who seem to be so im...more
Elisa
Parhaimpia perusteoksia kirjallisuusteoriasta, mitä olen lukenut. Luin itse asiassa tätä jo toistamiseen, nyt ihan kokonaan. Pidän siitä maanläheisestä, elitismiä ja kaanoninvartijoita pätevästi kritisoivasta otteesta, jolla Eagleton -- kuitenkin varsin tasapuolisesti eri näkökulmat huomioon ottaen -- tässä käy läpi modernin kirjallisuudentutkimuksen kehitystä. Muistan nuorempana keskittyneeni enemmän teorian perusjuttujen ymmärtämiseen sekä melko pinnallisen kronologisen mallin konstruoimiseen...more
Dillon Rockrohr
I tried reading this about a year and a half ago and found it too difficult. It's nice coming back to a book like that and realizing that you are generally understanding it--a pretty concrete mark of progress.
He does a good job here of describing the main theories and history of literary theory, at an introductory level. One thing to note about this book, which Eagleton notes himself toward the beginning, is that he has his own opinion and isn't afraid to express it. Eagleton criticizes many of...more
Caracalla
Weak four stars, because the Marxist polecism became exhaustively futile after a while, in the face, as all this discursive writing stands, of the nihilism of post-structuralist thought. Eagleton is always able to appeal to the economic, political and general material pragmatics of the human condition in postmodernity and indeed anywhere else, however, and as a gambit, it's pretty strong although by no means conclusive, being a simple negation of the value of postmodern mores, offering little of...more
Ryan Neely
For my next class as Southern New Hampshire University, I am to read Literary Theory: An Introduction by Terry Eagelton. Apparently this book is a massive best seller, and has been for the past 30 years (not in small part, I'm sure, due to colleges like SNHU requiring it as reading). I will update my review as I get deeper into the book, but I will leave you with this at the moment:

I'm halfway through the introduction and I already feel like I am learning a foreign language. Eagleton references...more
Jake
Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction is a must read for anyone interested in pursuing an English degree at the undergraduate or graduate level. For an overtly Marxist scholar, Eagleton's analytical approach to literary history is relatively balanced. He offers clear, concise summaries of the emergence and development of all the major literary theories that one is likely to come across in academic texts alongside intriguing political explanations for their appearance at certain times...more
Jeremy
Reasons to read Literary Theory: An Introduction, by Terry Eagleton:
-To get an accessible overview of 20th-century literary theory (schools of thought covered: phenomenology, hermeneutics, reception theory [or reader response theory], structuralism, semiotics, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis. This overview of the chapters shows, first, that Eagleton gives a more British than American overview, and second, that he gives a wide-ranging overview that helpfully shows the influences of philoso...more
Angela
Though radicalism on behalf of the majority (workers in the Marxist sense, here) can smack of self-righteousness, as here, it can also make that seem justified. At any rate, this introduction to literary theory is political through and through. It's disingenuous that its subtitle is "An Introduction" rather than "A Political Perspective" or something else that would indicate its partisanship, but as the book does succeed in introducing the theories it covers, albeit through this political lens,...more
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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.” 7 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.” 3 likes
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