Literary Theory and Criticism: An Introduction – Second Edition
  • Publication Date: September 16, 2021
  • ISBN: 9781554815371 / 1554815371
  • 320 pages; 6" x 9"

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Literary Theory and Criticism: An Introduction – Second Edition

  • Publication Date: September 16, 2021
  • ISBN: 9781554815371 / 1554815371
  • 320 pages; 6" x 9"

Literary Theory and Criticism: An Introduction provides an accessible overview of major figures and movements in literary theory and criticism from antiquity to the twenty-first century. It is designed for students at the undergraduate level or for others needing a broad synthesis of the long history of literary theory. An introductory chapter provides an overview of some of the major issues within literary theory and criticism; further chapters survey theory and criticism in antiquity, the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the nineteenth century. For twentieth- and twenty-first-century theory, the discussion is subdivided into separate chapters on formalist, historicist, political, and psychoanalytic approaches.

The final chapter applies a variety of theoretical concepts and approaches to two famous works of literature: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The new edition has been updated throughout, including new or expanded coverage of Marxist theory, disability studies, affect theory, and Critical Race Theory.


“The second edition of Anne H. Stevens’s Literary Theory and Criticism builds on the strength of argument and clarity of the first edition and includes some nuanced improvements. The updated text engages movements currently impacting literary interpretation, such as Black Lives Matter. Fuller attention is given to disability studies and environmental studies, and there are new sections on Critical Race Theory and affect theory. The case studies of critical schools applied to Hamlet and Frankenstein are consistently stimulating. Stevens’s compelling and readable interpretation of the history of literary theory and criticism will be instructive for both undergraduate students and general readers.” — Sandra Singer, University of Guelph

List of Tables and Illustrations


Chapter 1: Introduction

  • Theory vs. Criticism
  • Close Reading and Literary Studies
  • Criticism through the Ages
    • Literary Studies Comes to the University
    • The “Theory” Revolution
  • Theory and Criticism Today
  • Literary Form
  • Literary Characters
  • The Importance of Context
  • The Identity of the Author
  • The Role of the Reader
  • Reading as Education, Reading as Entertainment
  • Diversity
  • The Uses of Theory and Criticism
  • Getting Started

Chapter 2: The Ancient World

  • Plato: The First Literary Theorist
    • Plato’s Republic
    • Plato’s Theory of Forms
    • The Allegory of the Cave
    • Speech vs. Writing
  • Aristotle
    • Classification
    • Narrative Form
    • Mimesis
    • Rhetoric
  • Horace’s Poetic Art
  • Quintilian’s Figures of Speech
  • Longinus’s Sublime Aesthetics

Chapter 3: The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

  • Religion and Biblical Interpretation
  • Establishing a Canon
  • Medieval Scholasticism
    • The Four Levels of Interpretation
  • Maimonides and the Jewish Tradition
  • The Secularization of Interpretation
  • Boccaccio’s Mythological Studies
  • Humanism
    • The Printing Press
    • Protestantism
    • The Growth of the Vernacular
    • New Forms
    • New Rules for Writing

Chapter 4: The Enlightenment

  • Print Culture
  • Addison and Steele and the Birth of Modern Reviewing
  • Johnson and His Dictionary
  • The French Encyclopedia
  • Skepticism
  • Political Revolutions
  • Abolitionism
  • Early Feminism
  • Aesthetic Innovations
  • Idealism
    • Kant’s Idealist Philosophy
    • Hegel’s Ideas of History

Chapter 5: The Nineteenth Century

  • Romanticism and Nineteenth-Century Poetry
  • Realism, Nationalism, and the Nineteenth-Century Novel
    • Varieties of Realism
  • Arnold, Taine, and Literary Studies
  • Karl Marx
  • Decadent Aesthetics
    • Poe’s Philosophy of Composition
    • Art for Art’s Sake
  • Nietzsche’s Radical Philosophy
  • Fin-de-siècle Fictions

Chapter 6: Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Formalist Approaches

  • The Philological Tradition
  • Saussure and Structuralist Linguistics
  • Russian Formalism
  • Anglo-American Formalisms
    • Practical and New Criticisms
    • Neo-Aristotelianism
  • Lévi-Strauss and Structuralist Anthropology
  • Barthes and Structuralist Semiotics
  • Narratology
  • Derrida and Deconstruction
    • Deconstruction in America
  • Formalism Today

Chapter 7: Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Historicist Approaches

  • Historicist Criticism in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
  • Historicism to the 1970s
  • The “New Historicism”
    • New Approaches to History and Culture
    • Foucault and Discourse
    • Greenblatt and the New Historicism
  • Bourdieu and the Sociology of Culture
  • From Bibliography to Book History
  • Digital Humanities

Chapter 8: Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Political Approaches

  • Early Marxist Theory and Criticism
    • The Frankfurt School
    • French Marxism
    • British Cultural Studies
  • Later Marxist Theory and Criticism
  • Postcolonial and Ethnic Studies
    • Said and Orientalism
    • Later Postcolonial Theory
    • Gates and the African American Tradition
    • Critical Race Theory
    • The Diversity of Literary Traditions
  • Feminist Theory and Criticism
    • Founding Figures
    • Later Feminist Theorists
  • Sexuality and Queer Theory
    • Sedgwick and Butler
  • Disability Studies
  • Environmental Studies

Chapter 9: Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Psychoanalytic Approaches

  • Freud and Freudian Criticism
  • Jungian Criticism
  • Jacques Lacan
    • Julia Kristeva
    • Heirs to Lacan
  • Phenomenology
  • Hermeneutics
  • Reader-Response Criticism
  • Cognitive Approaches
  • Affect Theory

Chapter 10: From Theory to Practice

  • The Example of Hamlet
    • Hamlet’s Organic Unity
    • Hamlet’s Theatricality
    • Hamlet in Literary History
    • Hamlet and Class
    • Hamlet and Gender
    • Hamlet’s Melancholy
  • The Example of Frankenstein
    • Frankenstein and Narratology
    • Frankenstein and History
    • Frankenstein and Political Approaches
    • Frankenstein and Homosociality
    • The Sublime, the Abject, the Uncanny
  • Moving Forward



Anne H. Stevens is Professor of English and Chair of Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

  • • Straightforward, concise, beginner-friendly language
  • • Well suited to students completely unfamiliar with theory
  • • Shows how theory can be practically applied in the final chapter, which models close readings and analyses of Frankenstein and Hamlet
  • • Second edition includes expanded coverage of Marxist theory, Disability Studies, affect theory, and Critical Race Theory