Help me find some good literary criticism and analysis?
January 12, 2013 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me find open-access, reputable literary criticism and analysis?

Lately I've been reading a lot of classics and while I am certainly enjoying them, I like them even more when they are given some context or when I learn how other people interpreted it. To that end, I am looking for an online source of literary criticism and analysis. I'm hoping to find material similar to what you'd get in the back of a Norton Critical Edition. I'm not in school any more, so I don't have access to the kinds of journals that you might find at a university.

I've done a bit of googling, and mostly I'm finding Wikipedia entries, cliff notes, and student papers. I'd prefer my articles to come from more established sources. Also, as I'm doing this purely for my own entertainment, I'd really like to avoid paying for access to scholarly journals. If you have a suggestion for a book along these lines, I'd love that too. I love Erich Auerbach's Mimesis and Nabokov's criticism.

I am hoping to find a site that covers a lot of books, but the two I've read most recently are Woman in White and Tess of the d'Ubervilles.

Thanks for your suggestions!
posted by chatongriffes to Education (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Hathi Trust Digital Library's full view search option should turn up a few public domain commentaries here or there: results for "Woman in White" "Collins"; results for "Tess of the d'Urbervilles."

Many universities have open access digital repositories for theses and dissertations, and it's not hard to pull those up with a "site:edu" search, e.g. "Woman in White" "dissertation" site:edu and "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" "dissertation" site:edu.

If the dissertation includes a literature review, you may get useful synopses there of other critical approaches to the work. Likewise, pulling up abstracts in Google Scholar should offer reasonable clues.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:55 PM on January 12, 2013

You're in San Francisco? Your local public library will likely have the kind of stuff you want in a database you can access from home. Your library card and pin should be enough to get you access. Check the library's website for details. It'll be a lot easier to find these materials through library databases.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:12 PM on January 12, 2013

Oh, I noticed you mentioned appreciating book recommendations too. They're not very deep, but I suspect anyone on a 19th C. novel binge would enjoy John Sutherland's books, e.g. Is Heathcliff a Murderer?, Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?, and Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?

There are many, many overviews of critical approaches to 19th C. lit / the Victorian novel, but The Madwoman in the Attic comes to mind as a specific work of criticism that many of the survey books will mention as a touchstone.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:14 PM on January 12, 2013

A lot of great stuff (like this John Berryman essay about Shakespeare) you can read online for free through JSTOR, you just need an account, which you do not need to be an academic to sign up for.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:41 AM on January 13, 2013

Meanwhile, there are lots and lots of approaches to literary criticism. My favorite stuff is all from this century or from the early 20th Century, a little thing called New Criticism. Check out this sampler to get you started: Praising It New.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:49 AM on January 13, 2013

Thanks guys! Alas, I'm not in San Francisco proper, but I'll check out my library system.

I went to school for Comparative Literature and I guess I'm just missing the kinds of reading and thinking I used to do. I don't have any particular favorite style of criticism. In fact, the more diverse the better. The Pooh Perplex totally cracked me up--I'd love a non-satirical version for the classics.
posted by chatongriffes at 7:21 AM on January 13, 2013

Read "Tradition and the Individual Talent" if you haven't already, maybe some more of Eliot's criticism, maybe some Hugh Kenner. It's hard to answer this question without a sense of which primary texts you're reading, but New Criticism might indeed be a good starting point.

If you're interested in race issues, Toni Morrison's Playing in The Dark might be good. If you're also reading poetry, check out Helen Vendler. If you have any desire to read theory in addition to criticism, you should definitely read Terry Eagleton and Jonathan Culler. The latter's Very Short Introduction is quite good, and would help give you a sense of what's out there, as well as whether or not you want to read further into his work.

You might also be glad to know that JSTOR recently debuted a pilot program that allows free, limited access to individuals. So you do have some access to scholarly journals. You may also be able to get full access via your public library.
posted by dizziest at 7:29 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you went to school for comp lit, my suggestions might seem a little bit obvious; sorry! Feel free to MeMail me if you want suggestions for more recent stuff in specific fields. Otherwise, you might think about checking out recent MLA book prize winners-- that will get you a diversity of good, interesting stuff.
posted by dizziest at 7:39 AM on January 13, 2013

Alas, I'm not in San Francisco proper, but I'll check out my library system.

You can get an SF Library card as long as you're a resident of California. All you need is a utility bill (and you can even get a provisional card that'll work for a couple of weeks before you give them proof of residence).
posted by asterix at 2:59 PM on January 13, 2013

Gilbert Highet did a bunch of radio addresses back in the 'fifties for the educated consumer. These have been collected into a number of books. He also did heavier academic stuff, and always is a pleasure to read.
posted by BWA at 4:55 PM on January 13, 2013

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