Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity
Theodore Steinberg, SUNY Fredonia
Pub Date: 2014
Publisher: Open SUNY
Conditions of Use
Steinberg's book is comprehensive in the sense that it articulates an approach toward reading and interpreting literature and then provides several examples of that approach in action; in other words, it sets out a project and then fulfills it. No... read more
Steinberg's book is comprehensive in the sense that it articulates an approach toward reading and interpreting literature and then provides several examples of that approach in action; in other words, it sets out a project and then fulfills it. No English literature textbook with as broad an aim as this one can be comprehensive in the sense that it discusses all aspects of its subject matter. A textbook can provide an appropriate representative sample of its subject matter, however, and this is where Steinberg's book can be criticized. As other reviewers have noted, the texts that Steinberg discusses are either classical literature (the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid) or British and all written before the twentieth century, and Jane Austen and George Eliot are the only female authors included. Even granting Steinberg's desire to discuss only time-tested works, the book seems poorer for including neither any American literature (and some canonical writer like Melville or Hawthorne would surely fit Steinberg's project) nor any work by an author of color. Nonetheless, Steinberg covers his chosen ground quite thoroughly.
In a field such as literary studies, it is somewhat difficult to define "accuracy"; literary interpretation is, after all, always in some degree subjective. Steinberg is as accurate as a literary critic can be expected to be: I found no incorrect quotations of literature or of critics in his book, and he hews close to prevailing strands of literary interpretation.
Steinberg's readings of individual texts, and especially his introduction on how to read and to teach literature, will remain relevant for a long time. As time passes, they will move in and out of agreement with the shifting currents of academic theories of literary interpretation, but they will be of some value as long as the texts they discuss are still read. Steinberg's introduction, emphasizing as it does close reading and attention to the words on the page, would be of value even if no one read the texts he discusses; the skills he champions are necessary prolegomena to any more specific theoretical approach. The book is most relevant to students beginning college-level study of literature, whether they are English majors or not, as it clearly and engagingly presents a theory of how to read and enjoy literature. The content is general enough (and the writing style encouraging enough) not to put off students for whom interpreting literature is not a prime interest, yet still contains enough specifics to be of use to students encountering the texts for the first time. As other reviewers have noted, the book would also be of great relevance to adult learners seeking a helpful guide to classic literature. Students encountering these texts for a second time, or in a more intensive setting (say, a seminar on Jane Austen) would likely find the book less relevant to their interpretive needs.
Steinberg writes with refreshing clarity: his prose is accessible and engaging, and he makes no attempt to sound dauntingly intellectual.
The book is certainly internally consistent; as I have already noted, it sets out a general method of reading which it then applies to various specific works. In all cases, the specific interpretations follow the general method. To the extent that Steinberg uses specific literary terminology, he is consistent in its use; however, the book is fairly free of jargon.
This book is highly modular; in fact, it is much more likely that an instructor would use part of it in a course than all of it. The introduction could be used with profit in any introduction to literary analysis: I will use it in my Introduction to the English Major course, and it would even be of use as introductory reading for a general education literature course. The chapters on individual works would be useful auxiliary readings for anyone encountering these texts for the first time, and they are self-contained enough that they can easily be read and understood in isolation.
As I have already noted, the book moves from general method to specific application. The discussions of specific works are arranged in chronological order, and when more than one text is discussed in a chapter (as in Chapter Three, which discusses the Odyssey and the Aeneid) there are clear links of subject and themes which bind the texts together. Even though the book is quite modular, the chapters flow easily from one into the next, and reading the book straight through is a pleasant experience.
This book is freer of typographical errors than many printed books are. There are no interface issues with the PDF, which I have read all of; a quick look at the ePub text does not reveal any issues either.
As with the typography, the grammar is excellent.
The cultural relevance of Steinberg's text is problematic. While his overall premise (that reading literature should be enjoyable, and that close reading techniques can help make it so) is neither insensitive nor offensive, his choice of literary examples could be considered so. As mentioned earlier, the texts discussed are all either classical or British and all written before 1873. In addition, only two female writers are included, and no writers of color are included at all: this gives a narrower view of English literature than is necessary or, perhaps, justified. The chief problem, in my view, is that the selection of texts implies that, while reading literature should yield enjoyment, only the works of white British authors are really capable of doing so. Steinberg certainly does not say this, and I am sure he does not think it either; however, a wider variety of authors would help to show the breadth of enjoyment that literature can offer.
This is a well-written and engaging book that will be of real use to students embarking on the project of reading and interpreting literature. While not suited (nor intended) for use as a course textbook, it presents a valuable introduction to close reading and enlightening readings of various canonical literary texts.
The author does not claim the book is comprehensive, and in fact he draws attention to the limits of its chapter topics. The book is comprehensive in the sense that it marshals many reasons to study literature, but the author chooses to focus on... read more
The author does not claim the book is comprehensive, and in fact he draws attention to the limits of its chapter topics. The book is comprehensive in the sense that it marshals many reasons to study literature, but the author chooses to focus on a few favorite works to illustrate those reasons. There is evidence that the author's knowledge of the field is comprehensive, but the book itself encourages readers to make their own efforts to garner comprehensive knowledge of English literature.
The author is direct and clear about his biases toward certain periods, genres, and authors, and justifies those biases. There are several typos in the book, some of them problematic. I found the plot summaries and analyses to be accurate and error-free. You might want to be a little kinder to shepherds on page 67 (Shakespeare's Corin is actually a very wise man). You might want to give bibliomancy a name on page 68.
The author discusses several canonical works that we will continue to teach for several hundred years, but his anecdotes and analogies will become obsolete more quickly. The dated material will be easy to identify and replace; the surveys of critical responses to the works can be easily supplemented as new critical studies become available.
The text seems aimed at advanced placement high school students, college students who are not majoring in English but are taking a literature class, and adult learners who would like to know more about English literature. This audience will have no trouble understanding the author's clear and logical prose. Definitions are deftly and consistently offered, and there is no lit-crit jargon used.
The book's purpose is clear from the introduction forward, and the author's argument about the value of literature develops clearly and logically with each chapter. There is a consistent habit of using well-chosen examples, and a sensible and repeated structure in each chapter, making it possible for students to read the chapters over the course of the semester without losing sight of the pattern.
The chapters can easily be read individually and in any order, but there is a welcome tendency to recall earlier chapters in brief, relevant ways.
The works are organized chronologically, and the author draws attention to artistic and technical developments that demonstrate how the later works evolve from the earlier ones.
No noticeable distractions. The layout, in fact, is quite nicely done.
There are errors, although they seem inadvertent. On page 20, in line 11 of the quoted poem, "wen" should be "went." On page 82, the number of Shakespeare's sonnets is incorrect: it's 154. On page 84, ste-dame should be step-dame, and three-no should be three-note. There is a lay/lie error on page 95. On page 119, beards should not be capitalized. On page 131, elast should be least. One page 132, I'the storm should be i' the storm (lower case i). The opening sentence of Chapter 6 should end with a question mark. On page 150 in the last paragraph, I think "to" should be "too," but I may be misreading the sentence. On page 157, appear should be appeal. On page 193, paragraph 2, should "there" be "these"? In the chapter on _Middlemarch_, George Eliot's real name should be spelled correctly throughout: it's Mary Ann Evans. On page 224, the title of _The Iliad_ is inconsistently italicized.
This book is of relevance to students of the humanities. It covers a period of western history when most writers were male and white, but the author takes the time to explain why this is so and to offer ways in to these poems, plays, and novels for all readers.
The anecdotes become a bit wearing by the middle of the text. The analogies are good, and the gentle, positive tone will reassure readers who are new to literature. The frequent demonstrations of how to do a close reading provide a valuable model for readers, and the thoughtful efforts to link the works through cross-references make the book a coherent study. The conversational tone and the author's obvious love of the material make this an accessible, readable text for non-specialist audiences.
For what it is, this book provides an excellent overview of literary studies as a discipline within the humanities. You can't fault the book for what it strives to do--to give students a kind of traditional sense of literary studies as a... read more
For what it is, this book provides an excellent overview of literary studies as a discipline within the humanities. You can't fault the book for what it strives to do--to give students a kind of traditional sense of literary studies as a humanistic profession. But as an American educator I find the omission of American authors a bit puzzling. (Doubly puzzling when the factor in that the author teaches at an American university!) The author surveys drama, poetry, and fiction--all either British or ancient Greek. But no American literature! The addition of at least work by an American--Saul Bellow, say, or Walt Whitman--would go far to offset the way in which literature is classified as essentially a British art.
The joyful explications of the literature are infectious. The author clearly enjoys critiquing literature, and it shows in every summary, paraphrase, and explication. There are a few problems with accuracy, though. One problem is the missing translation information for Homer's "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" when these works are cited. Both Robert Fagles's and Richard Lattimore's transltions appear on his bibliography for both "The Illiad" and "The Odyssey," but the in-text citations do not specify which translation is being cited. I would also like to see a footnoted book. I'm not accustomed to reading scholarly books on Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens et al sans footnotes. Most of this discussion is strictly focused on textual commentary, so no footnotes are needed. But it wouldn't have hurt to tether certain references to outside works via footnotes. On page 59, for example, the author cites a phrase of James Joyce's "Ulysses" : "mystery of paternity." The absence of a specific footnote doesn't do much harm, but the reader might be helped along by knowing that the reference to show actually appears in Chapter I of "Ulysses" titled Telemachus" and is, I think, found in Stephen's Ballad of the Joking Jesus scene.
This book explores the world of great literature, which is found in each and every century and does not have the same shelf life as the social sciences or the health fields. The author does a very good job, however, of occasionally reminding the reader of how these great literary works intersect our own lives in the 21st century. He mentions, for instance, the problems of film adaptation of Dickens's "Great Expectations." And he addresses the online Shakespeare deniers who contend that Shakespeare did not author the plays (although to be honest I would have preferred that this unsubstantiated argument not receive any stage time whatsoever in the book!). I also enjoyed how the author made the work accessible to a broad range of contemporary students.
The book is excellently written. I have no qualms in recommending the book on this point alone. Very readable. Even though I teach some of these works and am already quite familiar with the spectrum of critical approaches to them, I still found myself pulled into the book. The chapter on Philip Sidney's "Astrophel and Stella" is worth the price of admission. And I also enjoyed the chapter on Jane Austen,
The chapters do not have as strong of a parallelism as they could. Some of the chapters are on specific literary works, such as Chapter IX, which is on Dickens's "Bleak House." But two of the chapters--V & VIII--are on authors (Shakespeare and Jane Austen). We learn eventually that the Shakespeare chapter is actually on "as You Like It" and "Antony and Cleopatra." And the chapter titled "Jane Austen" is actually a comprehensive critical survey of all her fiction. Otherwise, the book is well thought out.
Each chapter is a stand alone work and can be used on its own. I will probably be using the chapters on Shakespeare, Dickens, and Austen in future literature classes. The author uses sub-headings in some chapters (quite a few in the opening chapters) and not in other chapters. Personally, I don't view modularity as being all that important in a work of literary studies, especially if the chapters are not overly long.
The book succeeds as a text meant for a student readership while being intellectually engaging for the teacher as well. It is easy to read, makes sense in most places, and subject matter is logically sequenced in chronological order. Perhaps one suggestion would be to include more textual citations. The analyses tend to be a bit anemic in textual citations. But then again, it's a matter of taste. I like literary criticism spiced up with a lot of quotations that serve to illustrate and substantiate the claims being made in the work.
The book is probably more "old school" than some open source books. But I like it this way.. What matters here is the lliterature, the analysis, the language style, the arguments, etc.
The book is well written. It could be published by a reputable literary press. I like the style, the voice, the diction, No problems here.
The book never slights anybody, As mentioned earlier, though, it is heavily weighted towards a British view of literature. Maybe a second edition of this book could include a couple chapters that could offset this a little bit. But then again, users of this book could just add their own chapters to it, I guess.
This book isn't so much a "textbook" that students work out of; it's a book meant to be read. I give the author a lot of credit for doing this. I will probably be using this book for this reason: it's a useful and engaging book to read rather than to use.
Theodore L. Steinberg’s /Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity/ (Open SUNY Textbooks 2013), attempts to synthesize a discourse on the humanities and survey of well-known Western literary examples from Homer’s /The Iliad/ to George Eliot’s... read more
Theodore L. Steinberg’s /Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity/ (Open SUNY Textbooks 2013), attempts to synthesize a discourse on the humanities and survey of well-known Western literary examples from Homer’s /The Iliad/ to George Eliot’s /Middlemarch/. There are ten chapters in all, with nine devoted to literary discussions of specific literary works. Except for chapter 3, which contrasts Homer’s /The Odyssey/ and Virgil’s /The Aeneid/; due to the historical relatedness of the two works, each chapter discusses a single author in chronological order. Following two chapters on Homer and Virgil, Steinberg offers two chapters on English Renaissance literary works by Sir Philip Sidney (/Astrophel/ and /Stella/) and Shakespeare (/As You Like It/ and /Antony and Cleopatra/), and two chapters on Augustan authors, Alexander Pope (“The Rape of the Lock”) and Henry Fielding (/Joseph Andrews/). The last three chapters offer discussions of Jane Austen (/Sense and Sensibility/ and /Pride and Prejudice/), Charles Dickens (/Bleak House/), and George Eliot’s /Middlemarch/. Steinberg’s “Introduction” (chapter 1) situates his study of these specific authors by foregrounding his concern for teaching literature within the purview of the humanities, which he recognizes as challenged by the emphasis in education on STEM and socioeconomics that are increasingly instrumental in character. He traces the humanities to classical beginnings, to the Renaissance, and to the Enlightenment. He briefly reminds readers that part of the task of the humanities is to recognize the ironic lack of inclusiveness in historical concepts of the Enlightenment. He recognizes that the critique of the Enlightenment is implicit in the inherently skeptical nature of literature. The reading of literature then, Steinberg suggests, becomes a central act of gaining a measure of critical autonomy. Steinberg is aware, of course, that the place of reading literature in society has changed, though he doesn’t delve into the cultural reasons for this issue deeply. A few of the reasons for a decline in literary interest, he offers, ironically involve commercial and technological changes that are themselves part of the impetus for open textbooks. The open text seems to provide a space for a renewal of literary study for the contemporary reader. In this case, one finds a text that demonstrates an interdisciplinary survey of literature that makes a case for humanistic study. In his chapter on Shakespeare (chapter 5), for example, Steinberg questions how and why Shakespeare is taught, how Shakespeare might be seen as an interdisciplinary study across various departments in order to rethink the way Shakespeare’s poems and dramatic plays have been institutionalized. This cross-disciplinary concern brings in historical data about political history, poetics, linguistics and dialect, dramatic theory, and staging design. In Steinberg’s discussion of Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” the frame of the discussion seeks to contextualize the text by close reading Pope’s discourse in Augustan rhetoric. In the chapter on Fielding, Steinberg shows how the emergence of the genre of the novel can be seen in the context of an emerging bourgeois literacy allusively familiar with a wide range of literature. Steinberg reminds us that the genre of the novel must be understood in the aesthetic context that is marked by literary distinctions between “romance” and the novel, and further in terms of the various perspectives of comedy that date to classical texts.
Steinberg gives a note on citations. Citations of verse are marked by line number. Less convenient, prose citations refer to chapter number. Readers of primary texts, say of Dickens or Austen, will need to flip pages. The Selected Bibliography lists recommended translations of Homer and Virgil. Readers will have to decide upon editions of the other authors collected in Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity. Steinberg stresses the interpretive flexibility of literary study and the need for well-supported critical readings.
Steinberg’s key point is that he sees literature as essential to an understanding of the humanities. Since his subject matter in chapters 2-10 pertains to literary efforts spanning two millennia it would appear that this material has survived the intellectual history throughout the development of the liberal arts. Readers should bear in mind that Steinberg’s literary discussions demonstrate his thesis about the value of literature for the humanities, and that he refers to primary texts that readers will acquire separately. One might interpret that question of relevance and longevity, a question related to the survival of canonical literature, in terms of the literary-critical field. The book tangentially or indirectly implies developments in literary criticism, but the text is situated in the appreciation of canonical literature rather than in opening questions of ideology and a metacritique of the canon itself.
The text is lucid and perspicuous. Steinberg’s prose is a pleasure to read and the book seems to be targeted to undergraduates, teachers, and adult life-long learners. Steinberg write that “authors want to communicate to their readers, so they are not likely to hide or disguise what they are saying, but reading literature also requires some training and some practice. Good writers use language very carefully, and readers must learn how to be sensitive to that language…” (6-7). This point represents Steinberg’s own values for writing and shows his assumption that reading is interactive and requires a transaction. If writing must be clear, which this book is, there is also a need for readers to meet the writing in the space of the text.
Steinberg’s title alludes to the binary nature of his purpose: to rhetorically appeal to readers about the value of literature and to exemplify his approach to literary study. Teachers considering this text will notice that Steinberg’s mode of literary explication and exegesis may be at once consistent with his philosophy of the humanities and at the same time divergent from literary-critical foci they wish to foreground.
Steinberg’s text seems most interesting as a unified demonstration of his approach to literary study as part of an overall view of teaching in the humanities. On the other hand, the parts of the text—the introduction on the value and aesthetics of literature, for example, or the various chapters on particular authors and works—may conceivably be used separately as modules in readings courses, or as supporting articles in literary surveys. Again, the reading level is clear enough for undergraduate general education courses.
Following the front matter and the table of contents, the book is divided between an introduction that presents a thesis advocating literary study as central to the humanities, and situates the analytical chapters, which comprise 90% of the book, such that overall the text demonstrates an approach to literary analysis workable for general readers.
The text I have reviewed is offered as a PDF file or and ePub file.
The text’s language and presentation is immaculate.
The text’s central claim that literary study is culturally relevant to the humanities in general (or the liberal arts) could be qualified by reminding readers that the texts under discussion are canonical texts of Western literature. In the Introduction Steinberg reminds us that interpretation is perspectival and the history of Western literary development traces an increasing recognition of class, gender, and ethnic differences. Some of these issues reappear in individual chapters on specific authors and texts, especially chapters on Pope, Austen, and Eliot, which consider the gender roles of readers of literature. Steinberg also delves into aspects of social class in several chapters: the role of theater in Shakespeare’s London, for example, or the provincial social world of Eliot’s /Middlemarch/.
Steinberg’s larger purpose is to offer a model for teaching and learning literature by grounding the centrality of literary study in a contemporary sense of the (potential loss of) value of the humanities. Part of Steinberg’s effort is to reconnect readers with “Literature” and “Poetry.” Much of what motivates his book is that a public disconnected from literature and poetry becomes disconnected with humanity and the attendant interests in human rights, ethics, and civics. Part of his solution lies in the way we can rethink reading by stressing aesthetic enjoyment of texts, demystifying literature, allowing for a more openness to interpretation, and by conveying a deeper interest in literary language.
At the time when study of the Humanities in general and literature in particular is under constant attack, this book pursues a noble goal of insisting that reading of literature is an important and necessary component of education. Since... read more
At the time when study of the Humanities in general and literature in particular is under constant attack, this book pursues a noble goal of insisting that reading of literature is an important and necessary component of education. Since Steinberg’s book argues that reader’s enjoyment is the main purpose of the study of literature, the concept of “comprehensiveness” does not seem to be an applicable criterion in evaluation of this book. Rather, from the onset of the book Steinberg aims to establish the artificiality of the long standing distinction between literature and fiction and to explain that, while literature always stands in need of interpretation, there are no hidden meanings in most works of literature so that anybody can enjoy reading. His primary audience seems to be readers beyond their college years, but even so, some chapters of the book can be used to introduce the inexperienced reader at college level to such complicated poetic works as the "Iliad" and the "Aeneid", teaching of which always presents a challenge in the classroom. Although in his theoretical part of the book Steinberg dwells very little on theoretical approaches to literature such as formalism or post-structuralism, he offers comprehensive and helpful readings of important canonical texts of the Western canon ranging from Homer to many examples taken from British literature. The choice of these texts for case studies is never fully explained and it can be argued that it is not broad enough (for example no American, French, German, or Russian texts are included, texts that are considered influential for the formation of the Western canon if one indeed accepts the existence of it). Instead, this textbook draws heavily on the examples from English literature of the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the nature and the challenge of this kind of textbooks is that none of them can claim exhaustive approach: they are supposed only to whet the appetite of the reader and Steinberg’s book accomplishes that.
This book adequately addresses existing interpretations of the literary works chosen as its case studies. One might agree or disagree with certain close readings provided by Steinberg, but overall each case study covers the main questions arising in the classroom discussions for every literary work chosen. Steinberg does not reference any other secondary sources and because of that the reader does not see any other perspective but his. While it obviously limits his arguments, Steinberg provides convincing textual evidence from the primary sources which give the reader a taste of the literary work under discussion.
This book can be used as a valuable introductory textbook for students not majoring in humanities or for adult learners. Most similar commercial textbooks outlive their usefulness by trying to address the most prevalent theoretical approaches. This book aims to offer more inclusive and coherent introduction to the study of literature.
The writing of Steinberg’s book is transparent, crisp, and engaging. Since it targets a non-specialist reader, it avoids the obscure terms of literary criticism and it explains and unfolds definitions that a non-specialist reader might find difficult. I think, however, that some key terms of literary criticism can be introduced and used without confusing the reader.
The book is consistent when analyzing every work of literature chosen as a case study. At the center of every analysis is reader’s engagement and enjoyment as well as an accessible explanation of why this particular work of literature continues to attract readers’ interest and enjoys longevity. The book, however, avoids drawing any intertextual or philosophical conclusions thus making the discussions at times superficial and oversimplified. Some discussions also do not provide enough of a political context which in case, for example, of Vergil’s Aeneid is absolutely crucial for understanding the literary agenda of the author.
This book would be difficult to use in its entirety for any particular class, but the parts of it might be relevant to the contents of a specific syllabus, especially in foundation literature courses that aim to provide an understanding of literature in the form of a survey rather than address specific details.
The book does not follow a particular line of argument or theoretical framework adhering instead to explaining to the readers why a particular work of literature has value and provides pleasure. While this rather broad approach can be seen as a shortcoming of the book, it also provides easy transitions from chapter to chapter and engaging discussions free of tediousness.
The interface works fine. The chapter divisions are clear and helpful.
The text is well edited.
As I stated at the beginning of this review, this book is extremely timely because it insists that there is a reason why certain books of literature must be read even at the time when the attention of audiences is so thinly spread and targeted by numerous other distractions. The book makes a convincing argument that the aesthetic value of literary works that for hundreds of years constituted Western literary canon remains unchanged and that cultural literacy is not a thing of the past. While I always opt for diversity in choosing literary works in my own classes, I can see that Steinberg’s own choices of including certain works into this study and excluding others stem from his scholarly interests as much as from establishing cultural continuity.
In conclusion I wan to emphasize that I read Steinberg’s book with pleasure. I can also see how it can be used in the foundation classes which introduce students to conventions of literary criticism and basic concepts of writing a coherent literary analysis.
Theodore Steinberg has written a book that rejects “comprehensiveness” as a goal of introductory courses in literature or the humanities, so I’m not sure it’s fair to evaluate him using this particular criterion. What I mean to say is: whereas... read more
Theodore Steinberg has written a book that rejects “comprehensiveness” as a goal of introductory courses in literature or the humanities, so I’m not sure it’s fair to evaluate him using this particular criterion. What I mean to say is: whereas most “introduction to literature” textbooks will review a wide variety of approaches to literature without privileging one over another, Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity is a work of polemic that insists on the reader’s pleasure as the primary purpose of literary study and approaches the question of how to read from that perspective—subordinating the philosophical and political questions undergirding much of contemporary literary study and theory. Steinberg has no interest, it would seem, in approaching the question of how to read literature in a comprehensive fashion, systematically, and his audience seems to be “adult learners” in search of continuing education rather than a college freshman preparing for an introductory course offered by the English department or college teachers (the three different audiences he acknowledges in a prefatory note). But even if Steinberg has no interest in introducing students to formalism, post structuralism, or any of the other ideological lenses through which literature is so often read in the academy, his study is unnecessarily narrow in at least one other respect: after his opening chapter offers a theory of reading, Steinberg provides nine chapters delving into case studies of specific texts. He offers excellent close readings of canonical texts from The Iliad and The Odyssey to Bleak House and Middlemarch, but the vast majority of his examples are drawn from British literature. It would have been natural—and would have broadened the range of his readers’ conception of literary development and scope—if a few American texts (such as Moby-Dick and Uncle Tom’s Cabin) or, perhaps, other foundational pieces of world literature (the Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, and Faustus, for example) had been the focus of chapters rather than so many examples from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. He references a wide array of texts but chooses to focus on a relatively narrow selection of books. To his credit, those books include a fair amount of generic diversity: works of poetry, novels, and drama.
Literary studies is not a field in which questions of accuracy often arise, but Steinberg’s work is certainly accurate in its presentation of facts and prevailing interpretive opinions.
Because Steinberg’s book seems aimed primarily at adult learners continuing their education after the formal opportunities of high school and college have passed, this book will continue to be a valuable learning resource long after the modish textbooks geared more pointedly toward college freshmen and sophomores entering a new disciplinary world have been replaced by newer offerings espousing the latest and greatest in literary theory. His readings of these classic texts will always be useful introductions for the general interest reader; they are accessible and insightful without aiming for anything like an exhaustive approach, jargon-free and well-written.
As noted immediately above, the writing is excellent and accessible. Because Steinberg writes for a non-specialist reader, he avoids technical terms and, when language unfamiliar to a general audience does crop up, a definition is sure to follow.
The book is certainly internally consistent; as noted above, it differs from other textbooks aimed primarily at college students, in that it eschews literary theory and takes the reader’s experience, his or her joy in the journey of reading, as the primary aim and purpose of study. Most other comparable textbooks emphasize the philosophical or political aims of literature, and so this volume may not be regarded as “consistent” with others in its class.
While I would not use this text in its entirety to teach a class introducing literary study to college students, each of the case studies is a valuable gateway for students approaching the text for the first time. The book’s modularity is, for that reason, one of its greatest strengths, allowing teachers to assign a relatively brief essay foregrounding significant themes without giving away the book’s ending.
Although I would have preferred (as noted above) a more varied selection of texts, the logic by which Steinberg selected his texts is completely understandable. Indeed, the transition from Iliad to Odyssey to Aeneid seems fairly inevitable and sets the stage for his later discussino of Alexander Pope’s “Rape of the Lock” and Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews. Transitions from chapter to chapter are well managed, and reading the book feels more like indulging in conversation with a well-read friend than following a particular line of argumentation.
No errors: the text is well edited.
At a time when the canon is being discarded as a relic of patriarchal values and Western cultural imperialism, Steinberg’s book—simply by virtue of the titles it chooses to focus on—offers an impassioned defense of the aesthetic value of books commonly identified as classics. His volume defends cultural literacy as a common good and implicitly asks readers in the academy to reconsider their relatively recent turn to texts defined by the diverse identities of their authors. I personally would have appreciated a chapter focusing on the Narrative of Frederick Douglass or a novel by Salman Rushdie, but Steinberg’s work is certainly a contribution to our ongoing debate over what (and who) is read in literature classrooms.
I want to stress that Steinberg's book is excellent at what it does--introducing canonical texts to adult learners. I'm simply not convinced that it should be thought of as a text for college freshmen and sophomores being introduced to disciplinary conventions and history.
Steinberg's text offers students and teachers a specific range of material on key classic literary authors and texts with chapters focused on Homer, Sir Philip Sydney, William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Charles... read more
Steinberg's text offers students and teachers a specific range of material on key classic literary authors and texts with chapters focused on Homer, Sir Philip Sydney, William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot. The Introduction makes a convincing argument for the value of studying literature as a human endeavor, as well as lays out what readers might expect from the textbook in terms of language, culture, and the enjoyment of canonically significant literary texts. Each chapter offers significant contextual information on the authors and texts of focus. Steinberg is also able to make literary texts that are often quite daunting for students, such as The Iliad, approachable and understandable. The chapter on Shakespeare, which Steinberg acknowledges was the cause of some trepidation for him as an author, provides an overview of The Bard’s oeuvre and dominant writing themes, which would be useful in a survey course or humanities based class; however, the chapter’s limitations are that it only goes into great detail on As You Like It and Antony and Cleopatra. Each chapter does include multiple and thorough textual examples, although Steinberg does suggest that the text is most useful as a supplement to readings of the full-texts in his analysis and not a replacement. This should be kept in mind when considering teaching plans, especially considering that Steinberg’s textbook is over two-hundred pages long and many of the works he examines are also lengthy. The most significant limitations of Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity are that female literary voices are under-represented (only two of the ten chapters directly examine women authors) and more contemporary texts are excluded (as George Eliot’s 1870s Middlemarch concludes the textbook). With this said though, Steinberg’s defines his scope as classic literature within the Introduction so the texts he selects for analysis are not unexpected and definitely fit his intended purpose.
The textbook provides accurate information in terms of literary analysis from Steinberg’s perspective and theoretical standpoint. Steinberg does not reference outside sources, other than to cite the primary texts he is working with, so all material in the textbook is solely from one perspective, which can present certain limitations in terms of teaching diverse readings. There are also some spots where more contextual information on the authors or texts included would be useful, especially for humanities based courses where students may not be familiar with less well-known authors such as Sidney or Eliot. Steinberg does, however, seem to consistently back up his arguments and analyses with convincing textual evidence and conscientious appraisals.
The textbook examines classic texts and authors, so its longevity and relevance are almost certainly assured for years to come. The relevance of this textbook is especially keenly geared toward introductory courses in literature or the humanities because it clearly assists students in grasping key elements of the included works through straightforward explanations. Also, Steinberg’s argument for the enjoyment of literature as a way to read history, cultures, and humanity in general is one that many in education will appreciate.
The text is written in crisp and clear language, which makes it particularly accessible for students that are not literature majors. Steinberg breaks down complex texts in easily understandable thematic and topical ways. He also provides clear character examinations to help guide readers. Each chapter is approximately twenty to thirty pages, which allow for steady pacing in reading assignments and teaching preparation. If students have read the texts included in this textbook they should have little to no problems following Steinberg’s chapters. Potential negatives in terms of clarity are that the chapter lengths might present some difficulties for 100-level students; however, the text’s readability is high and should help combat this issue. Also, more defined sections within each chapter would likely help with student accessibility of the concepts presented.
The book is consistent in its presentation of information, chapter arrangements, conceptual frameworks, and in pursuing the author’s goals of teaching the delights of classic literature.
The textbook is organized into chapters that focus on one specific author and related text. Assigning individual chapters seems most logical approach. The most useful modular aspect of this text is that individual chapters may be assigned without the need for students to read the entire book, thus making the textbook a helpful resource for specific needs of instructors that are not teaching all of the literary texts included.
There are clear chapter distinctions according to specific authors and chronology. The arrangement of information in each chapter is logical and well-progressed.
There are no interface issues to note.
The textbook seems free of grammar errors.
The texts and authors included in this textbook are considered to be classics of the literary canon, which work to ensure the cultural relevance of the book as a whole. There broad range of texts included in the book also allows instructors to teach a wide variety of literary periods from the Greeks to the nineteenth century. The cultural limitations of the textbook lie in the fact that a lack of more recent authors or literature might dissuade some students. In addition, the limited discussions of current literary studies “hot topics,” such as gender, race, economics, materiality, or cultural studies might also create difficulties in teaching this textbook in a course where these concepts are key components of the class.
Steinberg does important work here in examining classic literary texts and moving to make them enjoyable and accessible for today’s student. This book offers great potential in helping to bring conversations about the importance and pleasure of literature into discourse within humanities classes.
The book is not at all comprehensive and doesn't set out to be. That's what makes it wonderful. It's a guided tour through some of Professor Steinberg's favorite works of literature, making the case along the way for the enjoyment of literature,... read more
The book is not at all comprehensive and doesn't set out to be. That's what makes it wonderful. It's a guided tour through some of Professor Steinberg's favorite works of literature, making the case along the way for the enjoyment of literature, for the value of reading, and the importance of the humanities: "I have chosen these particular works not because they are 'important' but because they are among my favorites and because I want to share my enjoyment of them with readers who might feel that one has to be a specialist to read them." The works he chooses are discussed chronologically, starting with some classics--The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid--and then settling down in England for the rest of the book. It could be seen as arbitrary and/or too influenced by and outdated idea of the canon, but I say if that's what he knows and loves, then more power to him. It also happens to be, mostly, what I know and love. There is an unintentionally humorous page after the classics section called "The Middle Ages," saying, essentially, sorry there's nothing on the Middle Ages, but see my other book. Since the whole premise of the book is that it's a personal selection, this seems unnecessary. The book is, however, a fairly comprehensive guide to how (and why) we read, think, talk, and write about literature, and it's in that spirit that I will be offering it to my students.
The historical and biographical information that was in my area seemed accurate. None of it is credited directly in the text, probably because he's thinking of it as common knowledge. There are general references at the end of the book. Like "comprehensiveness," the idea of "bias" is a bit tricky with a book like this since, again, it is unabashedly personal and based on his tastes. But he explains those wonderfully, often at the beginnings of chapters, talking about the mysterious reasons we're drawn to things in a way that I found very refreshing. It would be suspect to some in a professional context, but since it's written for students, he's allowed to talk about things like appreciation and emotion, that are such taboos in modern critical discourse. And yet he never talks down. To me this book is a welcome throwback to an earlier era of criticism. He does very occasionally get carried away by an odd hobbyhorse, as in the quote below, which he admits is a digression. This may be seen as a kind of bias. To my mind, this example is comically hairsplitting. When people say a narrative viewpoint is cinematic they mean, obviously, that it's LIKE modern cinema, not that cinema actually inspired it: "If I may digress for a moment, let me note that contemporary critics are fond of pointing out that earlier writers use cinematic techniques. What we see here, however, is not that Eliot is using a cinematic technique, in which the camera moves closer to the subjects it is recording. Eliot preceded cinema. If cinema is using a technique that is similar to Eliot’s, then cinema is being novelistic, not the other way round."
As I say above, this book is deliberately and gloriously old-fashioned and as such can never go out of date.
I very much like the way it's written. It's not insulting to peers, and yet it would be perfectly clear, even engaging for a good undergrad student. Here's just one example where he very concisely and uncontentiously explains something that's always hard for me to get across to my students: "When we read literature, our focus has to be on what the words say, not on what the author intended. One reason that we have to take this stance is that an author’s words, even an author who is totally in control of those words, inevitably say more than the author intended. It even happens that the words may mean something that the author did not intend. " The only instance I noticed where you could possibly accuse him of not explaining a term is when, in the Sir Philip Sidney chapter, he describes how a "Romantic poet" might have approached the same subject, without explaining what Romanticism is. But that might be asking too much--and might also have been insulting to readers who already know.
Yes, he brings similar emphases and methods to every text. Every chapter has most of the following: reading hints and what to expect, what's hard about the text for a modern reader, historical and biographical backgrounds, close readings of individual passages, attention to why and how it's enjoyable, a moral/character dimension, and much more. But it's not schematic. There are no headings, thank goodness. It's discursive and free ranging, not repetitive. He deals with issues as they come up--gender politics in the Jane Austen chapter, social inequality in the Dickens chapter.
Yes, while he does carry similar themes through the chapters, as I mention above, it could easily be assigned in pieces. His themes are so commonsense and human that they don't require one to read the introduction. For myself, I plan on assigning the introduction, in which he deals with misconceptions about symbols, messages, and "what the author meant," in every literature class I teach from now on. In my upcoming online Survey of British Lit class, I'll definitely use the chapters on "Astrophil and Stella" and "Rape of the Lock." Anyone who happens to be teaching any of the texts he covers should have no hesitation in assigning that chapter by itself.
The flow is simply chronological. It doesn't continuously build an argument. But that's what makes it so useful as an OER. The organization within chapters is very logical, and I've touched on that a bit above, in the "Consistency" category.
No problems, although I did find myself thinking more than once that the paragraphs sometimes get awfully long, for a text that will most likely be read online, not in hardcopy. I know the intention was to make it look like a "real book," but I wonder if it might have been better to acknowledge the way it will actually be used and lightly apply some principles of visual design for online reading.
I did not notice any grammatical errors--and I was looking.
Within the limitations of the texts chosen--all firmly canonical and European--the text does a fair job of bringing out issues of social power, when relevant. I mentioned above the Jane Austen and Dickens chapters. There is an assumption that great literature is universal and anyone should be able to read it and respond, but I didn't notice much questioning of that idea. He doesn't attempt to address how students from non-white-European backgrounds, or even non-privileged backgrounds, might respond to these texts. But that might be another book.
I thank Professor Steinberg for the book, and applaud him for taking a stand that the enjoyment of literature matters, and that it's worth paying attention to our heart's response to it, not just our head's. It shouldn't be a controversial idea, but it is.
This book covers a wide range of material, from Homer to George Eliot, from Shakespeare to Jane Austen. Other chapters focus on Sidney, Pope, Fielding, and Dickens. read more
This book covers a wide range of material, from Homer to George Eliot, from Shakespeare to Jane Austen. Other chapters focus on Sidney, Pope, Fielding, and Dickens.
This book offers an argument for the "the value and delight of reading literature," without watering it down, and for the power of the written word. Content is accurate and unbiased, and the argument of the book is stated upfront in the Introduction.
Unfortunately, challenges to the Humanities don't seem to be going away, so this book will likely have a long shelf life. The texts it deals with are timeless--Shakespeare, Homer, Jane Austen, etc.--and show no signs of becoming obsolete. The argument, that literature can delight and instruct, is an old argument, but needs to be articulated in fresh and new ways. This book makes an original contribution to the latter need.
This book is written in clear prose. with a straightforward argument about the value of literature and of the humanities. Very little jargon is used, which helps make the point that the Humanities "are among the things that make us human," and thus should be accessible to a broad audience.
This book offers a consistent introduction to the inexhaustibility of several representative texts from the canon of important works of literature. The author consistently returns to the question of why literature matters in each chapter. The book is written with an overt acknowledgment of the author's personal opinion of the value of these texts, and the author is clear about stating those views upfront.
This book is ideally designed to be read in sections, since each chapter deals with a major author and/or text. One could only read/assign the chapter on Shakespeare without much adjustment needed.
The book is clearly structured, with an introduction that sets out the principles and aims of the book, followed by individual chapters organized by author and text. The organization is straightforward and logical, and the argument is easy to follow through each chapter.
There were no issues of interface.
I did not notice any grammatical errors.
This book deals with works of literature that have endured for numerous centuries, while making the case that these works will continue to be relevant into the future. Examples range from ancient texts to nineteenth-century texts, including a close focus on two women authors--Jane Austen and George Eliot.
I hope that this book will have a significant impact on the value of the Humanities in contemporary culture and discourse.
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1:Introduction
- Chapter 2:Homer, The Iliad
- Chapter 3:Homer, The Odyssey and Virgil, The Aeneid
- Chapter 4:Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella
- Chapter 5:Shakespeare
- Chapter 6:Pope, “The Rape of the Lock”
- Chapter 7:Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews
- Chapter 8:Jane Austen
- Chapter 9:Charles Dickens, Bleak House
- Chapter 10:George Eliot, Middlemarch
About the Book
Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity attempts to make the study of literature more than simply another school subject that students have to take. At a time when all subjects seem to be valued only for their testability, this book tries to show the value of reading and studying literature, even earlier literature. It shows students, some of whom will themselves become teachers, that literature actually has something to say to them. Furthermore, it shows that literature is meant to be enjoyed, that, as the Roman poet Horace (and his Renaissance disciple Sir Philip Sidney) said, the functions of literature are to teach and to delight. The book will also be useful to teachers who want to convey their passion for literature to their students. After an introductory chapter that offers advice on how to read (and teach) literature, the book consists of a series of chapters that examine individual literary works ranging from The Iliad to Charles Dickens' Bleak House. These chapters can not substitute for reading the actual works. Rather they are intended to help students read those works. They are attempts to demystify the act of reading and to show that these works, whether they are nearly three thousand or less than two hundred years old, still have important things to say to contemporary readers.
About the Contributors
Dr. Theodore L. Steinberg serves as Distinguished Teaching Professor in the English Department at SUNY Fredonia, where he specializes in medieval and Renaissance literatures, though he teaches in a wide variety of areas. His publications include studies of medieval and Renaissance English literature, medieval Judaica, modern epic, and Yiddish literature. He encourages students to see the contemporary relevance of older literatures and the importance of the humanities, particularly literature, in the development of civilized life.