Introducing your companion
‘A book which gives one instructions on how to do something; guide’ – this is the fifth definition of the word ‘companion’ in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. For our purposes this is undeniably the most appropriate of the six varied definitions given by this dictionary, yet we are tempted to cite definition number two as well: ‘a person who willingly or unwillingly shares the work, pleasures, worries, etc., of another: They were working companions’.
Our hesitation between these two definitions can be explained by our sense that although we very much hope that the book you are now looking at will be useful in your study of literature, we are not unreservedly satisfied with the suggestion that it will give you ‘instructions on how to do something’, and are happier with its being described as more of a ‘working companion’. The study of literature is not something that can be learned as you might learn how to replace the transmission in a car or to install a new program in a computer. Just as we do not primarily read novels or poems in order to obtain information, nor do we study literature at school or university so as to perfect a mechanical system for analysing or interpreting literary works. As we repeat many times in the course of this book, the study of literature (like that unacademic reading of literature with which it must never lose life-giving contact) is an interactive or dialogic activity, one which is important as much for the hopeful travelling it provides as for any ultimate arrival. Faced with a broken-down car, only the most fanatical of mechanics would reject the possibility of having a replacement transmission magically installed without labour were this a realistic option, in contrast to the hard work that the real world demands be undertaken. But the student of literature who reads every set text wishing that the task were completed is taking the wrong course.
Nevertheless, even travelling hopefully requires good boots, and this is essentially what we aim to provide in this book – along with a sense of being able to share your work, pleasures, worries with a printed fellow traveller that will indeed be a working companion.
This is a book to which we want you to be able to turn when a particular problem or task has to be confronted. Like all good companions, you will not want to be bothered by it all the time. But when you are faced with making a presentation in class, when you encounter a critical or theoretical term with which you are unfamiliar, when you need to know a little more about the New Criticism or what is important about the work of William Empson, then this companion will be there to help you.
The entries in Section 3 and many of the theoretical terms in Section 5 of the book have been adapted from Jeremy Hawthorn, A Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory (4th edn, London: Arnold, 2000). Many readers of this book asked for a companion volume which included more general literary and critical terms, along with those additional elements that are contained in Section 1, Section 2 and Section 4. This book is the result of such requests.
Using the companion
Parts of this book are designed to be treated as a reference work. When first you encounter the distinction between ‘story’ and ‘plot’, or you need help understanding what constitutes poetic metre, then there are entries in Section 5 to assist you. Section 3 (on Theories and Approaches) and Section 4 (on Theorists) can also be treated as you would treat a reference work. But you might also find it useful early on in your studies to read Section 3 from start to finish so as to gain an overview of the most important movements and positions that have influenced – and even in part constituted – literary studies during the past 100 or so years. If you do, then you will find frequent cross-references to Section 4, in which you can gain more useful information about many of the individuals who created and developed these movements and positions.
The first two sections in the book are designed more for sequential reading, although we hope and expect that you will want to refer back to specific issues and pieces of advice within them when the need arises. These are sections that the new student of English is advised to read at the beginning of his or her course.
As well as an index, our book contains a table of contents that is more detailed than is often the case, and we hope that you will learn to use it to find help in Section 1, Section 2 and Section 3 with particular problems and tasks. The entries in our final two sections – Section 4 and Section 5 – are organized alphabetically, so that finding an entry here should be straightforward.
In addition to a detailed table of contents and index, this book also makes use of an extensive and comprehensive system of cross-referencing, about which we need to say a few words. Throughout this book we have used small capitals to indicate a cross-reference. All such cross-references are to Section 4 or Section 5; in other words, no cross-reference will lead you to Section 1, Section 2 or Section 3. If you come across an individual’s name in small capitals, you should turn to Section 4 to follow it up; if you come across a term or concept in small capitals, you can look it up in Section 5.
Remember that cross-references may be to cognate terms, so that interpreting should send the reader to the discussion of Interpretation in Section 5. Throughout the book we have used British spelling except when quoting from, say, a source written in American English.
References are provided for secondary works, but not for primary works which we mention or quote from simply to exemplify points along the way. The Bibliography at the end of the book lists secondary works which have been cited; it does not list those works included in entries in Section 4, either as the productions of the theorist being discussed or as recommended further reading.