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Marxist Criticism

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Marxist literary theory starts from the assumption that literature must be understood in relation to historical and social reality as interpreted from a Marxist standpoint. The fundamental Marxist postulate is that the economic base of a society determines the nature and structure of the ideology, institutions and practices (such as literature) that form the superstructure of that society. The most direct form of Marxist criticism, what has been called ‘vulgar’ Marxism, takes the view that there is a straightforward deterministic relation between base and superstructure, so that literary texts are seen as causally determined by the economic base. The selection from Christopher Caudwell’s Illusion and Reality adopts this position in discussing Victorian poetry.

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Further Reading

  • Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn (London, 1970).

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  • Peter Demetz, Marx, Engels, and the Poets: Origins of Marxist Criticism, trans. Jeffrey L. Sammons (Chicago, 1967).

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  • Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism (London, 1976).

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  • Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature (Princeton, N.J., 1971).

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  • Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (London, 1962).

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  • Ronald Taylor (ed.), Aesthetics and Politics (London, 1977).

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  • René Wellek, Four Critics: Croce, Valéry, Lukács, and Ingarden (Seattle, 1981).

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© 1988 Macmillan Publishers Limited

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Newton, K.M. (1988). Marxist Criticism. In: Newton, K.M. (eds) Twentieth-Century Literary Theory. Palgrave, London.

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