During the past fifteen years or so important changes have taken place in literary studies. These changes are the product of a variety of pressures and influences — including marxism, feminism, linguistics and philosophy — which collectively have brought about a marked increase of interest in literary theory. Perhaps the word ‘theory’ gives the impression that criticism has entered a period of abstract internal debate of little interest to the teacher or student with no immediate professional stake in it. But this impression would be mistaken, for the questions now being asked are as far-reaching as those raised in the 1920s and 30s by T. S. Eliot, I. A. Richards, William Empson and F. R. Leavis: the pioneers whose work determined the direction taken by criticism until at least the 1960s. The consensus established by such figures (and represented here by the material in Part One) has now been profoundly shaken, the main areas of contention being indicated by the material in Part Two. Till recently, most of this new work had been broadly theoretical, and comparatively little had been done about converting large statements of intent into critical practice. For a time, indeed, it seemed that critical theory might replace literary criticism as the main activity in ‘English’ and related departments.
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