Literary Theory and Criticism: An Introduction
  • Publication Date: June 18, 2015
  • ISBN: 9781554812370 / 1554812372
  • 300 pages; 6" x 9"

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Literary Theory and Criticism: An Introduction

  • Publication Date: June 18, 2015
  • ISBN: 9781554812370 / 1554812372
  • 300 pages; 6" x 9"

A new edition of this title is forthcoming.

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.


“A skillful balancing of erudition and accessibility, Anne Stevens’s Literary Theory and Criticism is a welcome and much-needed addition to the small number of books that introduce theories of literature in the classroom. Stevens deftly paints the myriad political, historical, and cultural contexts of major theoretical movements—including nascent fields such as the digital humanities—while keeping the discussion grounded and pragmatic. Moreover, Stevens not only explains methodology, but also offers method for young critics in search of a primer on literary study. Literary Theory and Criticism deserves a slot on the bookshelves of students, scholars, and teachers of literature everywhere.” — David Roh, University of Utah

Literary Theory and Criticism: An Introduction is an excellent resource that will help students understand what literary critics do, how they came to do it, and, equally important, why they do it. Beginning with Plato and Aristotle, this book provides an overview of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, before tracing the birth of literary criticism as a profession in the nineteenth century and outlining the major movements it gave rise to in the twentieth and twenty-first. In providing this historical overview and highlighting the key terms and figures that shape scholarly conversations, Anne Stevens demonstrates the centrality to the field of criticism of such approaches as postcolonial theory, feminist theory, queer theory, and ecocriticism and describes in unfailingly clear prose how each shapes our understanding of literature.” — Cristobal Silva, Columbia University

“An extremely lucid and wide-ranging guide to literary theory for undergraduates. I especially appreciated its situating of theory in relation to the development of Anglo-American literature departments over the course of the twentieth century, and its coverage of recent material, in addition to the poststructuralist canon of the seventies and eighties.” — Hina Nazar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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
    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
  • 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
    • The Printing Press
      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
    Political Revolutions
    Early Feminism
    Aesthetic Innovations
    • 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
    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
  • Lévi-Strauss and Structuralist Anthropology
    Barthes and Structuralist Semiotics
    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

  • Karl Marx
    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
      The Diversity of Literary Traditions
  • Feminist Theory and Criticism
    • Founding Figures
      Later Feminist Theorists
  • Sexuality and Queer Theory
    • Sedgwick and Butler
  • Disability and 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
    Reader-Response Criticism
    Cognitive Approaches

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 Orientalism
      Frankenstein and Homosociality
      The Sublime, the Abject, the Uncanny
  • Moving Forward



Anne H. Stevens is Associate Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For a sample from Literary Theory and Criticism, click here. (Opens as a PDF.)

— Straightforward, concise language
— Well suited to students completely unfamiliar with theory
— Final chapter models close reading and applies theoretical lenses to analyses of Frankenstein and Hamlet

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