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Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860
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Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  104 ratings  ·  7 reviews
This challenging book works towards a redefinition of literature and literary study. The texts the author examines are viewed not as works of art embodying enduring themes, but as attempts to redefine the social order.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published June 19th 1989 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1985)
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Sarah
May 31, 2007 added it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in literary/cultural theory and women writers
I'm currently reading this book to use as part of my dissertation. Tompkins looks back at novels that were popular 100+ years ago and then were dropped from the literary canon because they didn't meet the criteria of what the modernists thought was Great Literature. She shows that these books were doing important "cultural work," in that the authors had "designs" on their readers and wrote their novels in order to promote social change or change their readers' beliefs. A familiar example is Uncl ...more
Celia
Dec 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book changed forever the way I feel about literature. I had explored the idea of the canon before, and mused about why some books are considered classics and others are not, but I had not read a convincing explanation until this book. Although limited to C-19 American fiction, this book takes apart the notion that canonical works are superior in some absolute way, and repositions novels usually marginalized as inferior--bestselling novels like Uncle Tom's Cabin--in the historical context in ...more
Adrienne
Oct 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Sensational Designs is one of those foundational books if you want to know more about 19th century women and their literature. It defends sentimental literature as a valid point of discussion and of the women's lives, in contrast to someone like Ann Douglas, who, on the other side of the coin, doesn't find anything positive about these women because they didn't start a revolution in their repressive society--at least not her kind of revolution.
Bill
Feb 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all students of american literature
Shelves: nonfiction
The most thrilling piece of literary criticism I've ever read, and I read quite a bit of it during my many years in Grad school. Tompkins' analysis of several works of American fiction from 1790 - 1860 (including Uncle Tom's Cabin and Last of the Mohicans) is actually more entertaining than the works she is analyzing. The peak of new historicism.
Andrew Pisano
Sep 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
read selections. important, foundational study of sentimental fiction.
Michelle Allen
Jan 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Tompkins confirmed my suspicions about Hawthorne. Have things really changed since 1985?
April
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A really nice defense of non-canonical texts! Tompkins puts out a pretty sound argument and I have a feeling I am gong to refer to this book again and again. I love it to be quite honest.
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Jane Tompkins (born 1940) is an American literary scholar who has worked on canon formation, feminist literary criticism, and reader response criticism.[1] She has helped develop the idea of cultural work in literary studies.[2] She earned her PhD at Yale in 1966 and subsequently taught at Temple University, Duke University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.[3]