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Literary Theory
The Basics
This accessible guide provides the ideal first step in understanding
literary theory. Hans Bertens:
• leads you through the major approaches to literature which
are signalled by the term ‘literary theory’
• places each critical movement in its historical (and often
political) context
• illustrates theory in practice with examples from much-read
• suggests further reading for those especially interested in a
particular critical approach
• shows not only that theory can make sense but also that it can
radically change the way you read.
Covering all the basics and much more, this is the ideal book for
anyone interested in how we read and why that matters.
Hans Bertens
is based at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.
He is the author of The Idea of the Postmodern (Routledge, 1995).
There was a time when the interpretation of literary texts and
literary theory seemed two different and almost unrelated
things. Interpretation was about the actual meaning of a poem,
a novel, or a play, while theory seemed alien to what the study of
literature was really about because its generalizations could
never do justice to individual texts. In the last thirty years,
however, interpretation and theory have moved closer and closer
to each other. In fact, for many contemporary critics and theo-
rists interpretation and theory cannot be separated at all. They
would argue that when we interpret a text we always do so
from a theoretical perspective, whether we are aware of it or
not, and they would also argue that theory cannot do without
The premise of Literary Theory: The Basics is that literary
theory and literary practice – the practice of interpretation – can
indeed not very well be separated and certainly not at the more
advanced level of academic literary studies. One of its aims,
then, is to show how theory and practice are inevitably
connected and have always been connected. The emphasis is on
the 1970s and after, but important earlier views of literature get
their full share of attention. This is not merely a historical
exercise. A good understanding of, for instance, the New
Criticism that dominated literary criticism in the United States
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