An eminent liteary critic enumerates and explores five American classics
How is a classic book to be defined? How much time must elapse before a work may be judged a “classic”? And among all the works of American literature, which deserve the designation? In this provocative new book Denis Donoghue essays to answer these questions. He presents his own short list of “relative” classics--works whose appeal may not be universal but which nonetheless have occupied an important place in our culture for more than a century. These books have survived the abuses of time—neglect, contempt, indifference, willful readings, excesses of praise, and hyperbole.
Donoghue bestows the term classic on just five American works: Melville’s Moby-Dick,Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Thoreau’s Walden,Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Examining each in a separate chapter, he discusses how the writings have been received and interpreted, and he offers his own contemporary readings, suggesting, for example, that in the post–9/11 era, Moby-Dick may be rewardingly read as a revenge tragedy. Donoghue extends an irresistible invitation to open the pages of these American classics again, demonstrating with wit and acuity how very much they have to say to us now.
“Donoghue’s great gifts of intelligence and scholarship, judgment, and wit are all on display here in first-rate form. Like the American classics he analyzes, this book makes powerful claims on our attention.”—Stephen Railton, University of Virginia
"Donoghue’s confrontations with five classic American authors are fresh and provocative—not least in their willingness to link his writers’ concerns with current political issues. A must read for all Americanists."—Joel Porte, author of Consciousness and Culture: Emerson and Thoreau Reviewed
"Donoghue’s great gifts of intelligence and scholarship, judgment and wit are all on display here in first-rate form. Like the American classics he analyzes, this book makes powerful claims on our attention."—Stephen Railton, University of Virginia