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    STUDIA PHILOLOGIA - Issue no. 3 / 2022  

Authors:  EVE PATTEN.
  Abstract:  DOI: 10.24193/subbphilo.2022.3.08

Available online: 20 September 2022; Available print: 30 September 2022
pp. 47-52



Q: Literary history, be it national, local, or regional, is perhaps the most conservative form of literary study, with many claiming that the method is outmoded. What can literary histories do to overcome both the risk of obsolescence and their inherent conservatism?

A: At the high point of its evolution, say at the end of the nineteenth century when George Saintsbury published A Short History of English Literature (which of course, was anything but short), the genre of the literary history was unashamedly conservative, dedicated to the bolstering of national identity, political outlook, culture and tradition, in a mode that defined the thinking of most European nations. Literary history was ‘monumental’, in Nietzsche’s sense of that term: it was dedicated to the solidification of the past and its enshrinement in the narratives of the present. And rightly, this kind of monumentalism has been challenged, not just in our own time but throughout the twentieth century. Rene Wellek and Austin Warren were writing about ‘the fall of literary history’ back in the early 1940s (Theory of Literature, 1942), as the devastation of the Second World War undermined any sense of a collective or shared European narrative of cultural progress. At that time, many critics would have agreed, I expect, that this critical method would not survive the aesthetic and geo-political reorientations of the post-war decades.
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