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Showing posts with the label English literature

The Power of Insignificance

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 [ . . . ] the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.                                                                                     George Eliot, Middlemarch The Greatest English novel of all time Does anybody read George Eliot anymore?  I have come to believe that Middlemarch is the greatest novel ever written in the English language.  For sometime I was convinced that the accolade had to go to one of Thomas Hardy's many novels.  Hugh Hood, novelist and my professor of the 19th-century novel, assured our graduate seminar that the title of greatest and most influential novelist belonged to Charles Dickens.  The officious, online award of number one is invariably given to James Joyce's Ulysses --that novel that everyone knows about but almost no-one has read. Literature is "an a

What is Comparative Literature?

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From English to comparative literature Equipped with a collection of degrees in English language and literature, for two decades, I taught, researched and published in a field called "comparative literature."  As near as I can judge, the discipline got its English name in the early 20th century from a faulty translation of the French expression " littérature comparée ."  The literature which comparativists study isn't comparative in any meaningful sense.   It would make some sense to call the subject "compared literatures" (a literal translation of " littératures comparées ") or, even more obviously and aptly, "comparative studies of literature." However, we specialists learned to succumb and accept the terminology that got us tenure without a whimper until some first-year undergraduate asked us "what exactly does 'comparative literature' mean?" Then we mumbled and grumbled about students who hadn't done enough