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Connie Williams

Professor Carroll

May 26, 2000

The Beginning\'s of Literary Study - For Dummies J

A Modified Version of R. L. McGuire\'s Passionate Attention: an introduction to literary study.

Literature and criticism

Authors basic assumption of a book- the reading and the study of literature cannot and do not take place outside the context of human values.

One\'s unique personal experiences are from whence their values are formed. These values come to light as a reader reads or a writer writes.

Literature is a record of specific personal perceptions: H. Read-the outer image of inward things.

Literature proves the richness not the limitations of being human.

Literary criticism is discernment-the ability to see.

The student needs to form their own critical criteria and offer an interpretation of the work based on those criteria.

Judgmental reviewing is narrow and only one aspect of literary criticism. The value of criticism is not that it lays down laws that any reader must follow, but that it offers a new way of seeing a literary work, which may not have been possible to the reader.

For example in the critical analysis of a poem the reader might look for the connections between words, stanzas, structure and ideas.

The four basic approaches to literary criticism are:

1) the mimetic

2) the pragmatic

3) the expressive

4) the objective

Mimetic approach- describes the relationship of the literary work to the world or the universe in which the work was conceived or being read.

Pragmatic approach- describes the effects of the work on its audience.

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Expressive approach- proposes the study of the relationship of the work to the writer: biographical, psychological, history, culture.

Objective approach- is that which studies the work in and for itself without reference to the world in which it exists, its effect on its readers, or the works relationship to the author.

The work for itself

Objective criticism- the study of a literary work is done without reference to the mimetic, pragmatic, or expressive possibilities of interpretation. This type of criticism regards the literary work as an object in and for itself because it is art and the work of an individual artist.

The literary work is a craft, a constructed pattern of words, and the basis for our speculations, for its truth, its revelation, and its power.

Descriptive Critical Activities- seeks primarily to describe a text. It is the approach to the work for itself in its simplest form. It is employed on revisions, editions, and on the finished version. Concern lies with the resulting product and its theme or central idea.

Generic criticism- study of the work for itself, the types of literature this criticism employs is poems, novels, and plays.

The study of poetics or prosody is the learning of basic metrical patterns and verbal effects: iambic, tetrameter, couplets, alliteration, rhyme, etc.... This type of study serves to remind us of a vital aspect of the writers\' art. The writer is a craftsman of sound and effect as well as ideas. Keep in mind that writers can be conventional or unconventional.

Thematic approach- attempts to bring the various aspects of form as well as content together to make a statement about the subject of a work. It may also concern itself with the message or moral of that work.

Unity- if a literary work can generate its own meaning by virtue of its internal coherence, then a critical method can concern itself with that esthetic universe.

Unity of Theme- all of the work is about the same topic.

Unity of Imagery- all the images contribute to the same general vision, implication, theme, or central image.

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Unity of Tone & Form- the parts of the work fit together and support each other. According to Coleridge,

But if the definition sought for be that of legitimate poem, I answer, it must be one, the parts of which mutually support and explain each
other; all in their proportion harmonizing with, and supporting the purpose and known influences of metrical arrangement. . .(McGuire 22).

New criticism- shows interconnections with emphasis on the work.


Mimetic criticism- is that which asks how a literary work is important to any of the worlds to which it is related. The best place to begin a survey of mimetic approaches is with the connection between the work and the time in which it was written.


1) discover the extent of the departure or conformity of the work from the era/culture in which it