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How is a classic book to be defined? How much time must elapse before a work may be judged a "classic"? And among all the works of American literature, which deserve the designation? In this provocative new book Denis Donoghue essays to answer these questions. He presents his own short list of "relative" classics--works whose appeal may not be universal but which nonetheless have occupied an important place in our culture for more than a century. These books have survived the abuses of time--neglect, contempt, indifference, willful readings, excesses of praise, and hyperbole. Donoghue bestows the term classic on just five American works: Melville's Moby-Dick, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Thoreau's Walden,Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Examining each in a separate chapter, he discusses how the writings have been received and interpreted, and he offers his own contemporary readings, suggesting, for example, that in the post-9/11 era,Moby-Dickmay be rewardingly read as a revenge tragedy. Donoghue extends an irresistible invitation to open the pages of these American classics again, demonstrating with wit and acuity how very much they have to say to us now.
Denis Donoghue has been a key figure in Irish studies and an important public intellectual in Ireland, the UK and US throughout his career. These essays represent the best of his writing and operate in conversation with one another. He probes the questions of Irish national and cultural identity that underlie the finest achievements of Irish writing in all genres. Together, the essays form an unusually lively and far-reaching study of three crucial Irish writers - Swift, Yeats and Joyce - together with other voices including Mangan, Beckett, Trevor, McGahern and Doyle. Donoghue's forceful arguments, deep engagement with the critical tradition, buoyant prose and extensive learning are all exemplified in this collection. This book is essential reading for all those interested in Irish literature and culture and its far-reaching effects on the world.
Hailed by Frank O'Connor as one of "the greatest living storytellers," J. F. Powers, who died in 1999, stands with Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and Raymond Carver among the authors who have given the short story an unmistakably American cast. In three slim collections of perfectly crafted stories, published over a period of some thirty years and brought together here in a single volume for the first time, Powers wrote about many things: baseball and jazz, race riots and lynchings, the Great Depression, and the flight to the suburbs. His greatest subject, however--and one that was uniquely his--was the life of priests in Chicago and the Midwest. Powers's thoroughly human priests, who include do-gooders, gladhanders, wheeler-dealers, petty tyrants, and even the odd saint, struggle to keep up with the Joneses in a country unabashedly devoted to consumption.These beautifully written, deeply sympathetic, and very funny stories are an unforgettable record of the precarious balancing act that is American life.
A TWENTIETH-CENTURY intellectual of the first rank presents the case for the nineteenth-century aesthetician whose elegant subversions delivered us to modernism. Walter Pater (1839-1894) was an obscure Oxford don until 1873, when his first book, The Renaissance, exposed his argument favoring sensation over though and, in doing so, ignited a hard, gem-like flame. "Say not what it is but what it makes you see--or feel" is not something Pater ever said, but it will suffice as an encapsulation of an attitude that moved the authority of a work of art from the object to the subject, subsequently outraging the defenders of perceived truth of his time and making Pater himself a figure of controversy and even ridicule. Substituting sensationalism for sensation and reading Pater's claim for hedonism, or pleasures the soul might savor, as outright decadence, Pater's detractors far outnumbered and outranked his followers (including his fellow Oxonian and most notorious devotee, Oscar Wilde). But ever since Pater has proved, at least in the high arts, the decisive victor of the revolutions he set into motion. Denis Donoghue presents what will stand as the premier inquiry into Walter Pater's life and ideas: a work of compelling erudition unrivaled in intuitive and intellectual force, revealing with eloquence, charm, and abundant yet measured discourse Pater's centrality to the entire modernist movement. "Pater is audible," Donoghue writes, "in virtually every attentive modern writer--in Hopkins, Wilde, James, Yeats, Pound, Ford, Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Aiken, Hart Crane, Fitzgerald, Forster, Borges, Stevens." Walter Pater: Lover of Strange Souls is both an education and an inspiration for anyone at all concerned with the changing character of latter-day Western culture. Here, without question, is a classic: a critical biography that lays open the very making of the culture that both assails and sustains us.
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