By David Perkins
Profoundly looking, but written with grace and lucidity. A exceptional historian and critic illuminates and solutions one of many significant difficulties of literary examine in a piece that would develop into and stay a classic.--W. Jackson Bate."Perkins writes in actual fact and concisely. Like Ren? Wellek and M. H. Abrams, he has an admirable reward for making transparent the underlying assumptions of many alternative writers."--Comparative Literature.
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Additional info for Is Literary History Possible?
This argument applies also to other past events be sides readings, since every battle, cabinet meeting, har vest, or voyage is also a unique happening and has dimen sions unknown to the historian, especially with regard to the intimate, personal reactions of individuals. But in reading literature, such personal, intimate, even uncon scious aspects of the experience are important. That the text moves and speaks to individuals at these levels is a main reason why it is read at all. If the history of litera ture were a history of responses to texts, it would have to be written with the knowledge that a large part of its sub ject is, in principle, inaccessible.
The question is whether the formal rules or procedures of written discourse, which lit erary history must obviously follow, do not necessitate that history cannot represent the past but must distort it. The writing of literary history involves selection, gen eralization, organization, and a point of view. 3D In itself, the past, we suppose, had a different being. Historians were well aware of this discrepancy in the eighteenth century, and history was then classified as a form of literature. In the nineteenth century, however, the prestige of the sciences necessitated that history be included among them.
In the face of such censure, native novelists appeared late and apologetically, armed for the most part with the triple plea that the tale was true, the tendency heav enward, and the scene devoutly American. Before 1800 the sweeping philippic of the older school had been forced to share the field of criticism with occasional efforts to distin guish good novels from bad. No critical game was more fre quently played than that which compared Fielding and Richardson. Fielding got some robust preference, Smollet had his imitators, and Sterne fathered much "sensibility, " but until Scott had definitely set a new mode for the world, the potent influence in American fiction was Richardson.
Is Literary History Possible? by David Perkins